Archive for May 2011
May 30th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
As families head into summer, a mild panic starts to set in as we finalize travel planning and seasonal activities with our kids. Of course, all the upcoming fun is a great excuse to shop!
Here’s our summer travel retail therapy “like” and “want” list. I love that these ideas from moms living on both coasts in the US and across the Atlantic are varied, yet all help make travel easier and more enjoyable. What’s on your list?
Being forced to pare down travel accessories and clothing means everything I bring on a trip has to be fantastic and useable. Here is what caught my eye this season:
Backpack: Thank goodness they are back in style! You can carry all the things you need while have your hands free to help your kids. Check out Tory Burch’s version. The black is practical, but the orange/pink combo is downright fun!
New Suitcase: Mine has logged to many miles and needs to be replaced. For international travel, carry-ons can only be 20” high. Given that I can’t give up any extra space, I’m going with the wide body option with spinners. The spinners allow you to not only rest a bag on it, but also slide sideways down the airplane aisle. Briggs & Riley (not the prettiest but looks like the biggest and has a terrific warranty). Rimowas hardbodies also have fun color choices and are very durable.
Tote: I love totes! They carry a ton and many purposes. I always have the same small purse that I toss into my big totes. I’ve been eyeing the classic monogram Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM Tote ($750-$1300)
Travel Wallet: I want something pretty that holds my passport and my travel documents, so they don’t get lost in my big travel tote. I love the Smythson Travel Clutch, but that’s a bit too pricey for me ($780). This beauty does double duty, remove the inner document folder and you can use it as a clutch They also have a zipped currency case that Oprah recommends.
Aspinal Travel Wallet
For now, this little red patent leather travel wallet from Aspinal is going to be the one for me. They have a huge selection of fine leather travel accessories.
Camera Accessories: The Tamron 18-275 Lense for my Nikon illiminates the need to swap from my short lense to my long zoom lense. These are few and far between because of the earthquake. The newer ones are much lighter than the previous model — phew.
To glam up and soften up my camera strap, I found Mod Straps. With many color options, they have one to go with each mood!
Cannon Powershot D10
I’m a wanderer. When I visit someplace new, I tend to wander with my girls to help us get the lay of the land and that inevitably leads to shopping. That said, I don’t typically spend much money buying things before a trip. It’s a budget practice, so when I find that must have, like that fabulous purse in Sevilla, Spain, I have no guilt.
Camera: But I am only human, and when we were getting ready for our Spring Break Adventure to Costa Rica, I decided I had to have the Canon PowerShot D10 waterproof and shockproof camera to catch the kids above and below the waves. Did I really need it? No, but I’m thrilled I’ve got it.
Brush-on Sunscreen: Since we spend so much time in the water, it can feel like I spend hours of the day applying and reapplying sunscreen, especially on the girls’ faces. I really want to try brush on sunscreen. Coolibar and Sephora: Bare Escentuals both look like winners. Ever tried them? Let me know. Summer vacation is coming.
Fairy Princess Palace Book
I don’t seem to approach packing for my family the same way that most of my girlfriends do. I don’t lay clothes and toys and stuff on a spare bed weeks before takeoff. I don’t spend hours shopping in preparation and I don’t pack tonnes of stuff to keep my kids occupied en-route and on arrival.
Kids’ Suitcase: Our ride-on kiddie suitcase Trunki, however, has become invaluable in the airport. You can whizz your kids around the airport on these and they are much more practical than a pushchair.
Travel Toys: My kids can play for hours with their Fairy Princess Palace book, it’s a book that pops up into a dolls house style castle complete with paper doll fairies, secret passages, opening doors and even a bathroom with pop up toilet seat. It also has a story with it so can double up as a bed time story too and packs up flat just like a standard book.
Jo Malone Vitamin E Lip Treatment
Airline luggage fees have made me rethink how I pack for vacation. We now often travel with carry-on luggage only and I am tired of hoisting up heavy bags into the overhead compartments.
Luggage: The eBags Mother Lode eTech Mini 21″ Wheeled Duffel is light, has several packing compartments and a very convenient outside zipper pouch for the liquid carry-ons. My 5 year old will use this bag for our upcoming trip to France.
Sandals: Fit Flops were love at first try. For the first time in my life, I have a pair of sandals that I can walk in all day and never have sore feet – my arches are singing me love songs in these! I have three pair and they range from beach casual to black patent going out casual. They are very light so I always include them in my packing list.
Lip Gloss: You’re either a lip gloss or a lipstick fan and for me it’s lip gloss all the way. Jo Malone makes a thick, rich lip treatment that is perfect for colder weather or the dry air on airplanes. It has a light scent like vitamin E or honey and has SPF 15. And the best part – shipping is free and you get a couple of samples with your order.
Bingle Privo by Clarks Walking Shoes
Nothing screams “I’m a tourist” like tennis or running shoes worn while not exercising in Europe. That said, walking is a big part of travel and you need something comfortable for all terrain conditions.
Walking Shoes: Privo by Clarks is a fantastic middle ground. I have the Bingle style — they are “sporty” but not gym shoes. They are slip-on (ideal for flying) with textured “bumps” inside that make them oh so comfortable.
My other travel luxury these days comes from carrying 1-2 Eminence Organics face masks with me. This organic skincare line smells divine and they have an array of treatments that are rejuvenating after long travel or sightseeing days when your skin feels dehydrated and dirty.
My favorites include the Blueberry Soy Repair Masque and the Stone Crop Masque … but the entire list will have you drooling. Can’t decide? Buy one and ask for samples.
2011 summer vacation ideas
Best apps and kids travel games
Best baby, toddler, and kids travel gear
, Trip Planning
May 26th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
If Day 1 in London with kids is about an introduction to London’s royal heritage and iconic sites, an ideal Day 2 is one where you roll your sleeves up and dig into a neighborhood.
The best way to learn about a place in a meaningful way is to go on a walking tour with a professional guide. Not all guides are created equal, but the good ones give you perspective you can’t get on your own.
Finding a guide who is experienced with children is critical; you need them to be patient, not be offended when kids don’t listen or take interest in what they say, and most importantly, tailor information with kid-friendly lingo and content.
We decided on a half-day tour with Context Travel. This company runs consistently excellent tours throughout Europe (offer US tours too). They have a dedicated Family Program focused on engaging kids. Nancy has done the London Food Tour with her 4 kids and loved it.
Kensington Gardens, South Kensington, and Knightsbridge
We decided to do a Context-guided tour of of Kensington Gardens, South Kensington, and Knightsbridge.
Although I lived in London 10 years ago, I was amazed to discover what I didn’t know about the history of this area. We started our tour with a walk through Kensington Gardens and learned about it’s history and the current use of Kensington Palace by various members of the Royal Family (it’s also where Princess Diana lived).
We were lucky to have our tour on a gorgeous spring day. London in good weather makes all the difference in the world. Absolutely everyone is out and about when sun is shining (given the typical grey weather — this is a population that appreciates a nice day).
Normally, I’d say that you don’t need to see a park with a guide. In London’s case, however, the numerous parks are full of history and stories so it’s worthwhile to wrap at least one park into a walking tour.
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
The highlight of Kensington Gardens for families with young children is most definitely the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. The centerpiece is a huge wooden pirate ship, a giant sandbox, and numerous paths and places for children to explore.
TIP: At age 8, our son still had a fun running around here, but it didn’t interest him for long. Princess Diana Memorial Playground is toddler and pre-school heaven and must be on every itinerary for children that age.
Once we got a brief bit of playtime in, we continued our tour at the Albert Memorial. Our guide used this iconic monument as a way to describe the reign of Queen Victoria and her great impact on London and the world.
Although I can’t say this particular site ranks as a school-age favorite, it’s a visual way to tell an important story. The strategy worked — she had our son’s attention and he even engaged her in a flurry of follow up questions.
From there we hit two of London’s must-visit attractions with kids: London’s Natural History Museum and Science Museum. These museums are engaging for kids of all ages. And, they are free! Amazing. Our guide introduced us to both museums at a high level on our walk, and we went back and viewed the exhibits on our own.
TIP: The hours are from 10a to 6p daily (10a to 5:50p for the Natural History exhibits). Both museums have extensive exhibits. Leave a block of 3 to 4 hours open if you want to see both museums. Even then, you’ll need to spend some time on the web or with their brochure to create a priority list of things to see.
We took the time to see the IMAX movie about the Hubble telescope when we were at the Science Museum. Thumbs up. For more details on what to do in each museum, be sure and read Heather on Her Travel’s post highlighting the specific exhibits at these family-friendly museums.
We also did a brief walk through of the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is an often overlooked museum (guilty as charged). Our guide took us through a few of the rooms to demonstrate the great variety of artifacts on display from all over the world. An incredible place.
The Victoria and Albert Museum would also be a good venue for an art-focused kid-friendly guide or even just a podcast that walks you through the displays of interest to kids.
TIP: The dining hall at Victoria and Albert received rave reviews from our guide and I can see why. We lost the time to eat there, but given another opportunity, I would absolutely go here for lunch. Stunning design and the food looks delicious. Fast and on the loud side, i.e. perfect with kids.
Our guide walked us to Knightsbridge for the final leg of the tour. Home to the world-famous Harrods department store, Knightsbridge is another good stop for retail therapy. We hit the Harrods’ toy department and it was indeed impressive, but Hamleys remains our favorite.
TIP: Is Knightsbridge a must with kids? Not really. If you have tweens and teens who are into shopping, Harrods is an eye-popping treat. Otherwise, if you must, this is one stop that can be moved down the priority list.
This is all you can fit into Day 2 if you engage a guide and want to hit the museums. It provides some play time which is key, and a good break from just moving from monument to monument.
We finished Day 2 with dinner at Daphne’s restaurant offering authentic Italian food in a cozy setting. This place has been around forever and attracts devoted locals as well as tourists. The restaurant is delightful year-round with a conservatory roof that opens up in pleasant weather. It’s upscale, but the early seating has plenty of families.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels London
72 Hours with Kids in London: Day 1
72 Hours with Kids in London: Day 3
Family-friendly museums in London
Family-friendly dining in London
Top things to do with toddlers in London
Top kid-friendly activities in London with kids
Ciao Bambino recommended kid-friendly walking tour guides
, United Kingdom
May 25th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
The topic for this months’ Travel Blog Mob post is travel ideas that make us smile. While there are many things about travel that give me the grins, there is one constant eurphoria producer — ice cream.
In Florence? Gelato tasting May 25-29, 2011!
The irony is I’m not one of of those people that goes crazy for dessert, but I do love the thrill of hunting for incredible artisan ice cream. Moreover, this is a travel activity your kids will enthusiastically join and a way to inspire them to explore a neighborhood with you.
Clearly, I’m not the only one that relates travel to ice cream. In any city, the cult-favorite ice cream shop will have a line out the door with locals and tourists alike. The Bi-Rite Creamery in San Francisco is a good example of this; day or night, rain or shine — people of all ages and interests travel near and far to experience this treat.
In Italy, experiencing gelato is an essential part of traveling in Italy. A gelato a day keeps the doctor away when we’re in any Italian city.
There is heavy debate about who makes the best of the best. It depends on your priorities. Do you like creamy ice cream or a crisp, ice-focused style? Chocolate or fruit flavors? Is all-organic important? Do you want chunks of something inside or for the ice cream to be smooth and texture-free?
We were just in Florence and stopped by Vivoli, a much-revered gelato producer near Santa Croce. It is indeed amazing — I’m still dreaming about my scoop of pear — but it is not my absolute favorite. Neither is San Crispino near the Trevi Fountain (Via Panetteria,42) in Rome; although it has a passionate following and should be experienced by all … it is still not my absolute favorite.
For me, the ultimate grand prize goes to Amorino. I’ve always had this gelato in Paris and was worried that my favorite gelato maker wasn’t Italian (needless to say, a crime) — but I’m thrilled to report that it looks like they are indeed Italiano.
Amorino doesn’t have a staggering long list of flavors … but what they do have is astoundingly good. Creamy with such powerful flavor you can’t believe it. Bourbon Vanilla, Caffe Puro Brasile, Pistacchio Sublime, Mango Alfonso d’India … Ok, I’ll stop this evil activity, but have a look at their website and you’ll see what I mean.
All I can say is that if you are anywhere near an Amorino shop (there is one in New York!), run don’t walk. Here’s a list of Amorino locations.
What is your favorite ice cream experience? Weigh in!
More posts from the Travel Blog Mob:
The Vacation Gals: Happy Hawaii Happy Travels
Wanderlust and Lipstick: Best Books on Bhutan
Wandering Educators: Moving Overseas Will Make You Smile
Spot Cool Stuff: The World’s Best Chocolate Shops
Traveling with MJ: Travel Makes Me Smile
May 23rd, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
View of Tower Bridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral
72 hours in London will go by very quickly — there is quite simply too much to do in and around the city with kids to even make a dent in that long list of attractions you should experience.
My first tip is the most important. Forget about what you should see – stick to an absolute priority list and count on the fact that you will be back at some point. London is big. Seeing London takes time. Rushing through London detracts from the experience and impact.
We were there over a glorious spring weekend in April. To be honest, we didn’t follow this advice and regretted it. We tried to do too much and ended up in a cranky place. As a result, I have loads of tips to share. So many, that I’m breaking this post up into a few articles.
Strategy for visiting London with kids
At a high level, the key is to organize your days by location so you don’t waste time and money getting from one place to another.
Crowd gathering before the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
As Nancy points out in her top kid-friendly activities in London with kids article, the concept of royalty is new and novel for kids visiting England.
We started our sightseeing with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The ceremony starts at 11:30a on most days (see the schedule to confirm details). Our hotel recommended that we get there at least 15 minutes early … we did not do this and paid the price. It was packed and my 8-year-old didn’t see a thing. He couldn’t wait to leave! Not the desired result for our visit …
TIP: Don’t make this mistake — get there early or don’t bother, particularly over prime tourist periods. In addition, we weren’t sure where to stand, but later determined the best place is not out in the traffic circle where the ceremony begins, but near the palace gates.
After the ceremony, we hopped on the double-decker tour bus at Green Park for a city overview. You can’t see anything from the tube in London so the tour bus option ends up being an affordable and enjoyable way to get around. The price you pay, however, is that traffic can be painfully slow and kids may end up bored.
Exhibiting the latest and greatest toys at Hamleys
I remedied our rough start with a stop at Hamleys toy store on Regent Street. A better bet is to save this stop for the end of the day (so you don’t have to carry any purchases around and kids won’t be distracted from the sights), but the bus drives right by at the beginning of the tour, so it made more sense to visit early in the day.
This isn’t just any old toy store! It is truly one of the most amazing toy experiences anywhere (the best we’ve seen by a long shot). We loved the all the demonstrations of cool and unique toys — you could be entertained in here for hours. I set a time limit before we walked in the door (highly recommended).
Regent and Oxford Streets are shopping meccas (particularly for chain stores); the nice thing about Hamleys’ location is everyone can take a few minutes for retail therapy within a relatively small area.
Then it was back on the bus for a drive by Westminster Abbey and Parliament. These buildings do not disappoint, but ensure you give your kids an overview (including photos) before you see them in person to maximize interest.
TIP: When your kids see the London Eye they will want to stop. Don’t assume you can show up mid-day and won’t have a giant line. The best strategy to ride the ferris wheel is to show up when it opens at 10a (see the full schedule here).
Stairwell leading to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral
After all the time sitting on the bus, we needed to burn some energy. I can’t think of a better way to exhaust every member of the family than climbing to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Climbing Europe’s historic monuments with school age and up kids is a terrific way to engage them in what they are seeing. What a difference it makes! We climbed the Duomo in Florence earlier this year and I got the same reaction — intense interest in the experience versus a cursory glance.
TIP: The climb to The Golden Gallery (the highest point of the outer dome at 280 ft) is 528 steps. The steps become progressively more narrow and are very, very steep. This is not appropriate for toddlers and very young children (the exception would be an infant in baby bjorn-style carrier).
If you are claustrophobic or afraid of heights, one workaround is to just walk to The Whispering Gallery (only 259 steps) where you will still get a feel for the climb and get close to the unbelievable architecture without having to endure the intense part of the stairs. Despite the eye-popping view at the top, we had the most fun whispering to one another across the dome.
Pedi-cab ride back to our hotel
We ended our Day 1 with an evening performance of The Lion King — given our recent trip to Africa, this show was our first choice, but there are a number of kid-friendly shows from which to choose.
See VisitLondon’s list of Children’s Theaters in London for ideas. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gets rave reviews. I’ll see if our “London Mum”, Anna Tobin, can put together a list of family favorites in the next few weeks.
The photo above was taken after our pedi-cab ride back to the hotel. In retrospect, I’m going to give this a thumbs down for families. Although it was exciting, it was a little too exciting as London’s traffic makes it dangerous (vs. our experience in Rome down back streets which was much more fun).
Stay tuned for more on 72 Hours in London later this week.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels London
72 Hours with Kids in London: Day 2
72 Hours with Kids in London: Day 3
Top kid-friendly activities in London with kids
London Eye photos and tips
London Double Decker Bus photos and tips
72 hours in Amsterdam with kids
72 hours in Rome with kids
Information for expatriates in London – InterNations
, United Kingdom
May 19th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We are avid hikers and took our son on his first trail when he was just a few months old. Now that we live in Switzerland — the land of epic hiking — spending time exploring new terrain is a regular all-family activity.
I get a constant stream of family travel tips from various writers in my inbox every day. I have to admit that many of them are simply too basic to publish or seem written by people who don’t actually have children.
When I received an email this week with tips for teaching kids to enjoy hiking this summer by Jeff Alt, an avid outdoors enthusiast, I took some time to see if his advice was worthwhile. Indeed!
Hiking in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho
Here are Jeff’s tips for hikes with kids that resonated most with me. See his full list tips on www.jeffalt.com.
Let children lead
We are bad about this. Our son can be a giant loiterer and following him may mean we never really get anywhere, but we do make him the “leader” periodically and this helps with engagement.
Go high tech
Use gadgets — GPS, pedometers, headlamp flashlights, geocaching — to make hiking more fun. Jeff suggests taking kids to a local orienteering course to learn how to use a GPS and compass together. I’ve never heard of these courses, but it sounds like something that would be offered at REI. I love this idea!
Involve kids in choosing the hike and planning
We don’t do enough of this and pay the price accordingly. Buy in is key or you’ll be bribing your kids all the way up the trail. If they choose where to go, kids will be much more likely to be excited about enduring the hike with a smile.
Jeff also suggests ordering maps and guidebooks, and having the sent to your kids.
Choose a trail that allows easy access to amenities
One of the things I love about hiking in Europe is the plethora of mountain huts where you can hike to a hot meal. Part of the enjoyment of hiking and camping with kids is the adventure of living without our day-to-day luxuries, but this does mean more work for parents. A happy medium is a destination that has infrastructure and the opportunity to feel like you are truly out in the wilderness.
Acquire the right gear
For kids that are walking up the trail (not riding in a backpack), nothing sours a day faster than inappropriate shoes and clothing. Investing in either hiking boots or kids athletic shoes with a rugged sole is a must, as is layers. Jeff also suggests deet-free bug repellent.
Pack favorite food
When kids get tired and cranky, nothing provides a faster cheer up than a favorite snack. Jeff offers a terrific list of packable treats including dehydrated fruit, cheese, energy bars, cheese and sausage, candy bars, and nuts. We always pack a “surprise” treat to be opened only at the hiking “destination”.
Carry a first aid kit
We don’t consistently do this but it is a very good idea, even for short hikes. Scrapes and cuts are likely on trails. Cell phones are totally unreliable, so it is always smart to let someone know where you are, as well as to pack extra water and supplies.
Teach good backcountry ethics
Kids can learn to pack out trash, take nothing form the woods but memories and pictures, and property backcountry toilet habits.
All of Jeff’s tips are spot on. I’d add that it’s important to take the time to specifically communicate the age of your kids to whomever you are getting hiking suggestions from — whether a tourist office or another hiker. When we were in Zermatt last summer, our server at a restaurant recommended a hike that ended up being on the side of a very steep ravine. One slip from any of us and that was that.
We ended up turning around mid-way up the trail. The bottom line is that the wilderness is not Disneyland and has real hazards. People without kids or even those with older kids, may be too far removed from your stage to dish out reliable advice about age-appropriate trails.
More about Jeff Alt
In addition to walking the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, Jeff Alt has walked the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and trekked across a 50-mile path of Ireland with his wife, young daughter, and extended family. He and his wife emerged from the church doors on their wedding day with backpacks. His son was taken on his first hike at 8 weeks.
Alt is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). His adventures have been featured in media nationwide including: ESPN, Hallmark Channel, the AP, CNN-Radio, NPR, and more. Alt’s award-winning books, A Walk for Sunshine and A Hike for Mike, have been reviewed in Library Journal, Chicago Sun Times and more.
For more information visit www.jeffalt.com
Route de Narcissus, kid-friendly hiking in Switzerland
Best Lake Tahoe hikes with kids
Green travel with kids
Great outdoors family vacations in Idaho
Camping with kids tips
, Trip Planning
May 18th, 2011
It’s called the Sunshine State for a reason. Every year thousands of snowbirds flock to Florida to escape the cold winters that typically blanket the Northeast and Midwest section of the U.S. If you’re not familiar with the term, snowbirds are people, typically retirees, who have a second home in a warmer location. In other words, grandparents who seek sun.
It can be a dream come true for grandkids and oh yeah, their parents.
Florida with Kids
For years, I’ve taken my kids to Southwest Florida for Easter to see an assortment of relatives and get a much needed boost of vitamin D. For the typical visitor, most Southwest Florida attractions are in Lee and Collier county. Lee County is to the north, about two hours below St. Petersburg and includes well-known destinations like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. To the south is Collier County. It best known locales are probably Naples and Marco Island, but it also includes a good chunk of the Everglades and is an easy two hour drive from Miami.
When they were little, entertaining my girls was a no brainer. Playing on the beach and swimming the warm Gulf of Mexico always meant success. Throw in some ice cream and I was a hero.
But as my girls got older, the trip evolved. Orlando and all things Mickey are little more than three hours away. We’ve taken the road trip more than once with great success. If you can get past the crowds, Disney World offers something for all ages and the Kennedy Space Center is just truly, out of this world.
But this year, we wanted to stay in Collier County, closer to our home base of Bonita Springs. Having just returned from a kid-friendly Costa Rica adventure, we were still tired and truly hoped to do some relaxing. But could we relax without our 10 and 12 year-old daughters getting bored?
Get Wet and Sandy
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you probably know by now, I’m a beach person. I grew up on Long Beach Island, NJ (some of the best beaches around) and I’ve successfully passed on the love of sand to my kids. Bonita Springs sits on the border of Lee and Collier counties. Most folks walk onto the beach at the main entrance just after crossing onto Little Hickory Island. It’s tempting to drop your towel at the first patch of open sand. But if you can keep the family moving, head to the water and hang a left. In a matter of minutes you’ll leave the crowds behind.
Space to Spread Out
Once you’ve settled in you’ve got plenty of choices. The warm, mellow waves of the Gulf of Mexico are inviting and kid friendly. The shell-littered sand makes for great castle building material. Or grab that sand bucket and go hunting for sea shells.
If your kids are older, and are entertained by all the surprises a beach can give, head south toward Barefoot Beach Preserve County Park. You can decide when you want to turn around, but if you can walk the approximate 3 mile stretch to the end of the beach, the reward is huge. During one of our walks we came across a horseshoe crab, ray starfish and pounds of stunning seashells. Put extra sunscreen on your back, because you’ll spend lots of time bent over, staring down into the sand.
Don’t worry about getting lost, just follow the beach. You’ll know when you’ve hit the end, because you won’t be able to go any further. The end of the line and the beach is Wiggins Pass. This is also one of my favorite beach runs, the sand is level and not too squishy. So if you manage to get some time away from kids get out there and enjoy!
Get the Kids Wet
If you weren’t hot when you started walking, there’s little doubt you will be when you’re finished. The Gulf waves are warm and gentle. Don’t be surprised if you find a few sand dollars when you dive in. The only downside is there are no lifeguards on duty.
Vacation Water Toys
If you want a little more action, check out all the water toys you can rent at Bonita Jetski & Parasail, Inc. There’s jetskis, parasailing, Hobie Cat Sailboats, Aqua Cycles and a long list of other things to choose from. Everything’s out on the beach near the main entrance to the beach, so you can’t miss it and the guys that run it are fun and friendly.
Take a Dip
This is without a doubt one of the best kept secrets in Southwest Florida! A family gem. The Sun-N-Fun Lagoon is a must do on your Southwest Florida itinerary. It’s located in Naples, inside the North Collier Regional Park. The water park is a county park, and my kids had so much fun, one day wasn’t enough. We spent two entire days getting drenched.
The main attractions are the five water slides. I did them all with my kids and enjoyed every minute. There’s no death-defying drops or twisting out of control, just good, wet fun. Kids must be 48″ to ride. If you’ve got a little one who doesn’t make the cut don’t worry. This park was designed with all ages and sizes in mind. The Tadpole Pool has a slide, swings and plenty of other great features and is just for ages 6 and under. Turtle Cove is for kids 5-12. It has a jungle rope-style pool crossing, assorted floating animals kids can climb on and a number of creations that spray water everywhere. But wait there’s more. The park also has an oversize family pool, a dive and lap pool, interactive water fountains and a relaxing lazy river.
Did I mention there are lifeguards are everywhere, watching and talking to the kids. Both my daughters were asked how old they were. The snack bar is even impressive. Hungry families can order entire pizzas without blowing the entire vacation budget. I’m convinced the person who designed this park was a parent.
Kids Love Collier County Vacations
And so do their parents. When it was time to come home, even my husband and I felt like we had actually had a vacation. And we actually had the tan to prove it!
We spent most of our time this trip in Collier County, but there’s plenty to keep the family entertained in Lee County as well. Stay tuned.
Ciao Bambino recommended Florida family hotels
Disney World with tweens
Walt Disney World vacation tips, enjoying the park without rides
Walk Disney World tips for all ages
, North America
, Tween Travel
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May 16th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Spas are the one place in a hotel where you can count on adult-focused relaxation. When we (parents) finally have the time for pampering, we want the experience to be amazing.
Our Italophile readers will be happy to know that we feature a few excellent spa-focused hotels on Ciao Bambino. Kid-friendly in this case doesn’t mean kids are allowed IN the spa (no thank you) — but it means that these hotels provide kid-specific infrastructure to allow parents to visit the spa … guilt-free.
L’Albereta Luxury Spa Hotel
L’Albereta has been on my must-stay list for several years now. Known for extraordinary cuisine and a state-of-the-art spa, this is one of those luxury properties that has appeared consistently in top guides including Andrew Harper and Relais & Chateaux for years.
I finally had an opportunity to see for myself what the fuss is about over Valentine’s Day weekend.
Savvy hotel managers around the world understand that families make lucrative guests and are worth the extra resources involved in catering to them as they book the largest rooms, eat more food, and use more hotel services than the average couple.
Not many spa hotels cater to families. I find this deeply ironic. Who is more in need of a day at the spa more than frazzled parents? Who appreciates “the works” at a spa more than a woman who has just given birth?
L’Albereta figured out that the best way to give parents (new and old) the chance to take advantage of their world-class spa is to provide children-focused care and activities. Note, this doesn’t make the hotel a kid-centric Disneyland experience. Rather, the hotel offers top notch adult amenities in a kid/family-friendly way.
Henri Chenot Spa
When I reviewed the spa treatment list before our arrival, I knew this wasn’t an ordinary spa. In addition to the usual suspects, L’Albereta offers every wellness treatment imaginable from acupuncture, to diet analysis, to hydro-aromatherapy, to medical-grade peels, to a good old Swedish massage. The treatment list is so extensive that there isn’t a treatment I can think of that is not on it and many I can’t decipher, let alone pronounce!
To be honest, I had never heard of Henri Chenot before my visit to L’Albereta. What I learned is that his wellness methodology is highly-respected and combines the best of western and eastern practices. I was blown away by my sampling of treatments which included an energetic facial treatment and hydro-therapy session that left me glowing for days.
You can choose to book just a few treatments or opt for a full diagnostic work up that involves a comprehensive well being assessment by medical staff and a full dietary detox program. Not that I can imagine being on any sort of diet in Italy …
Spa treatments are complemented by a fitness center with a dedicated personal trainer, classes including yoga and pilates, as well as an outdoors fitness course onsite. L’Albereta also features one of the most appealing indoor spa pools I’ve ever seen.
The key to making the spa even a possibility for parents is Maty’s Club, their kids’ entertainment center for ages 3 and up (younger children can play there with a parent or babysitter).
The Maty’s Club kids’ facility here is not a comprehensive activity-based kids’ club where kids can go day after day and never do the same thing twice, but it is an entertaining and safe place for young kids to hang out for a few hours at a time.
Toddlers will want to play here forever. School age kids have a more limited array of things that are of interest, but the staff is creative and offers activities like art lessons and kid-friendly docent led walks around their glorious sculpture garden.
The kids’ center is well suited for a morning or afternoon session at the spa and then you can do an all-family excursion to nearby Lake Iseo or Lake Garda. There is also an indoor swimming pool that is perfect for kids (separate from the spa pool).
I didn’t try the diet-focused spa cuisine, but the other meals we had at L’Albereta were absolutely delightful and delicious. The restaurant is the ultimate Italian fine dining experience by Gualtiero Marchesi and they went out of their way to make sure we felt comfortable with our 8-year-old in tow.
For those with really young kids or not brave enough to bring their kids to a 3 hour meal, room service can be served in your room or elsewhere. There is also a lounge area serving lighter fare.
We also had Sunday brunch in their library with a spectacular array of fresh Italian goodies. The library features a billiards room which entertained the kids at the brunch. Perfect!
The nearby towns are local and picturesque. We liked combining an onsite dinner with a meal at a nearby village.
Ambiance and Setting
The ambiance and setting at L’Albereta is divine. Eclectic, decadent, modern, and cozy are all adjectives that apply. More than anything, it feels authentic and is uniquely decorated by the owner where many of Italy’s luxury properties look alike in one way or another. Not so here. Set on acres of vineyards, the leafy grounds are absolutely idyllic.
Working L’Albereta Into an Itinerary
Located just 1 hour from Milan and 2 hours from Venice — L’Albereta is an easy stop on any Northern Italian itinerary.
Have 7 Days?
Milan for 2 nights, L’Albereta for 3 nights, and Venice for 2 nights is a nice combination. Or, you can skip Milan and hit Lake Como for 3 nights, L’Albereta for 2 nights, and Venice for 2 nights.
Have 14 Days?
If you have 14 days, you can easily combine this Northern Italy itinerary with Tuscany. Florence is a 2.5 hour train ride from either Milan or Venice.
Big city trains work well in Italy — you can even combine this itinerary with Rome (fly into Milan or Venice, train to Rome, and fly out from there). See Jessica of WhyGo Italy’s recent train travel in Italy tips post for the latest scoop and must-read travel information on Italy train travel.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy and L’Albereta. Ciao Bambino received complimentary accommodations at L’Albereta; we were not asked to express any particular point of view.
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May 13th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We’ve had an unbelievably warm and sunny spring in Switzerland this year. So much so that the flowers are blooming a few weeks earlier than usual.
I’ve been waiting all year for the fields of Narcissus in the mountains around Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) to bloom. Hooray, they are finally here and do not disappoint! Two of the best known places for Narcissus viewing are in the mountains above Montreux — Glion and Les Avants.
We opted for Les Avants as the valley is gorgeous and we did this “family-friendly” hike last fall. I’m using quotation marks intentionally here — what the Swiss call family-friendly and what I call family-friendly are two different things. That said, the Route de Narcisses loop is doable and fun with school age and up kids.
Just note there are some real hills to ascend/descend, even after taking the funicular railway to Sonloup for the start of the trail.
If you don’t want to spend the time or energy doing the full Route de Narcisses hike, you can also park or take the train to Les Avants and just walk up the final part of the trail. This is where the bulk of the flowers are located anyway.
You’ll walk uphill to get there, but the distance is short and it takes only 15 minutes to reach the flowers. This is also a good option for little legs and parents carrying kids in packs that don’t want to go far.
Fields of flowers are everywhere right now and we found Narcissus in other mountain pastures too. The smell is less fragrant than I expected — but still wonderful and appreciated by kids (and dogs) too.
I’ve learned that the tourist offices in Switzerland are phenomenal. If you have questions about this hike or others in the area, be sure and take advantage of the Montreux Riviera tourist office — they answer the phone and speak English.
For more Photo Friday posts, visit Delicious Baby.
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May 12th, 2011
Dana from FindandGoSeek.net
There is no doubt that ski resorts are designed for winter fun. But when the snow melts and the spring flowers appear, there’s a magical transition from winter wonderlands to summer playgrounds.
Ski trails turn into hiking and biking trails. Meadows become ideal settings for summer fairs and festivals. Ice-skating rinks become fishing ponds and ski programs become summer camps. Best of all, lodging usually is discounted with great off-season rates.
Adventurous families can soar to new heights at Smugglers’ Notch Zip Line Canopy Tour. This 2 1/2 to 3 hour tour takes riders through mature stands of hemlock, white birch, and sugar maple. This is best suited for kids ages 8 and older. We experienced it first-hand this winter — what a ride! On hot summer days resort guests can cool off at one of the 8 pools outdoor pools or get their thrills on the 140-foot waterslide at Notchville Park.
The resort offers all-day kids camps at the Summer Fun University which provides activities that challenge, educate and inspire kids ages 3 to 17. Unlike many other resort camps, Smuggs’ breaks children up into small groups based on age allowing for programing that is tailored around the kids’ specific interests and goals. Special Interest Camps allow kids ages 9 to 17 to narrow their focus on a specific summer sport or hobbies like skateboarding or tennis.
Trapp Family Lodge
After the last snowflake disappears, the hills of Vermont once again claim their status as the “Green Mountains”. The Nordic ski trails at the Trapp Family Lodge become hiking and walking trails and families can even enjoy a guided Trapp Family History Hike.
Beginning May 15, miles of mountain bike trails open all over the property. Bring your own bike, or rent from their fleet children’s cruisers up to full suspension bikes. The Kids Club and Activity Center keeps kids busy with weekly activities like harp lessons, sing-a-longs, and arts & crafts. Families can take in some of the breathtaking views from the outdoor heated pools or explore a local swimming hole. Sound of Music fans shouldn’t miss the von Trapp History Tour – our family loved it.
Okemo Mountain Resort
Adrenaline junkies are going to love the new Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster at Okemo. Unlike the parking lot view of amusement park rides, this one features a really picturesque scene. Sled-like cars carry two riders in comfort but can be handled easily by one. The drivers, riding in front, are in control of the speed and this gives them a unique hands-on experience. Fair warning: drivers must be at least 48” tall to operate the sled, and passengers must be more than 36” tall to ride the coaster.
Okemo also has two pool complexes designed for families. Think spiral slides, splash pools, fountain features and basketball nets. The fun doesn’t stop there. This summer, Okemo introduces a four-hole family fun course, offering beginner golfers the chance to tee it up without the pressure of championship course play. With holes that are only 60 to 100 yards each, families can enjoy a condensed, fun round of golf at an affordable hourly rate.
Stowe, Sugarbush & Pico
There are lots of ways to traverse a ski mountain after the snow is gone. At Stowe, families enjoy stunning views while on the Gondola skyride up to the peak of Vermont’s highest mountain, or take a thrilling ride down on the alpine slide.
If your not descending one of the 25-mountain bike trails at Sugarbush you can zip across them on them on their 800’ zipline. At Pico Mountain little cowboys and cowgirls can ride through the trails and meadows on horseback. There are even pony rides for the littlest ones in your group.
If you are looking to get outside and play this summer there is no better place than the Green Mountains of Vermont. For more information on other ways to explore Vermont while you are here, check out FindandGoSeek.net, Vermont’s Insider Guide to Kid Friendly Fun.
Photos courtesy of: Smugglers’ Notch Resort, Trapp Family Lodge, Okemo Mountain Resort and Stowe Mountain Resort
Dana Freeman is the founder of FindandGoSeek.net, a hyperlocal destination for families to discover what to do and see in their local communities. She’s also the Editorial Director, aka Miss Magpie, of northern Vermont’s Find&GoSeek. As a compulsive fun seeker, Miss Magpie, is out there taking copious notes on what her family encounters.
Trapp Family Lodge review on Ciao Bambino
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Things to do in Vermont on Uptake.com
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May 10th, 2011
Nestled in the beautiful Kentish countryside is Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife (of six) of Henry VIII. An easy hour drive from south London, Hever is a favourite with my children, not least because it has an amazing water feature.
They also love the fact (as do I) that Anne and Henry are there, strolling around. Recently, the English papers have lamented what they call the “disneyfication” of their heritage sites, including the increase in historical characters such as these. Unless done very badly, I could not disagree more. When history literally comes alive for children they are not only more likely to remember it, but it takes on meaning otherwise impossible in a simple historical reference. At a place like Hever this is even more important as the moment in history captured is fleeting indeed. Henry is still in love and he doesn’t yet know how his body is going to fail him.
Hever Castle History
If you know nothing of Tudor history, here is a very brief explanation. After more than 20 years of marriage to his brother’s widow Katherine of Aragon, and only a girl for an heir, Henry VIII fell passionately in love with Anne Boleyn. In order to make her his Queen he broke with Rome, put himself at the head of the Church creating the Church of England (Anglican Church in the US), divorced Katherine and married Anne.
Unfortunately, Anne did not give him the boy he so desperately wanted, but another princess, Elizabeth. Henry grew tired of Anne and was ultimately persuaded by her many detractors that she was a traitor, and she lost her head. Henry went on to marry four more times and died a bitter man in an obese, disease-ridden body. But at Hever today, all is still well. It is a glimpse of a life together that has become famous more for its death than even the child they produced (Elizabeth I).
Meet The Tudors
My Katherine particularly likes Anne Boleyn, and so when, on a recent visit, Anne herself nodded at Katherine and said “good day young miss” Katherine blushed red with delight. As Henry was injured (jousting accident) he didn’t go out to ride, but organized an archery display instead, encouraging the young (and not so young) visitors to have a go at shooting at a wooden deer or bear. Archery is a tricky sport, and it turned out that my young Stephen was the best of my lot, producing a “well done young sir,” from one of the noblemen.
Visiting the Castle
The castle itself is magnificent, but gets crowded quickly. Happily, because we were going into HER castle to see HER things, the wait to get in was endured without fuss (oh the power of those actors!). Admission to the castle is later than the grounds, and as the day goes on the line gets longer and longer; try to go soon after it opens. Once inside the flow of the crowd does tend to move you along quickly. This works well for children as lingering is almost impossible. Less good for anyone who wants to study an object for more than a minute.
Many of the rooms have been carefully restored to their Tudor splendour, including a sumptuous hall and Anne’s bedroom. Also on display are two of Anne’s prayer books with her own writing in them. Stunning as they are, seeing her own hand, and knowing she had no idea of her fate, did make me feel odd.
All the restoration work was done by William Astor, of the British branch of the Astor family, at the beginning of the 20th century. The Astor family owned and lived in the castle (and grounds) from 1903 until 1981; family photos and mementoes are still on display in the upstairs rooms.
Hever Castle Grounds and Gardens
The grounds are magnificent, and well deserving of the many prizes received over the years. Local residents clearly use the grounds as a neighbourhood park, with lots of soccer balls being kicked around. The adventure playground includes a zip wire, an enormous saucer swing and a castle-shaped structure to run around in and climb.
The award-winning gardens are stunning, especially the Italian Garden which was designed to display William Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture. Beyond the Italian Gardens is the Loggia (fantastic backdrop for a family photo!) and the lake. Row boats can be hired, something we always leave too late, but it does look fun (even romantic, for those without an entourage of children). The Yew Maze is surprisingly tricky until you realize the key (won’t spoil it) — but even then it entertains as children are always convinced there is an even better way to reach the centre. Recently, an hour long walk along the lake opened. I am sure it is lovely, but as it begins at the Water Maze, the highlight of Hever Castle according to my children, I doubt I will ever experience it.
The Water Maze is fantastic. Just be ready to get wet. Some children come prepared with swimsuits, the rest have very soggy clothes … so unless is it a blazing hot day you might need to save it to the end. The stated object of the maze is to make it along the path WITHOUT getting wet. Ha Ha, who wants that?
The true object is to soak oneself and all those around you, as thoroughly as possible. I did feel (briefly) sorry for the well dressed adults who dared to try — but really, just leave it to the kids and let them have a great time! It is the perfect way to end a day filled with history, action and beauty.
Hever Castle is open daily March-October and Wed-Sun from November-December. Like many castles in England, Hever Castle offers seasonal ghost tours and special Christmas events. Parking is free.
Photos courtesy of Anne Aboucher
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