Archive for July 2011
July 29th, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
The Wild Animal Park in San Diego has a new name, Safari Park. This rebranding sets the perfect tone for experiencing the park as unlike traditional zoos, the park is set up like a safari with expansive enclosures, letting the animals roam as if on a game preserve.
Ways to see San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park
Like going on safari, there are many ways that you can enhance your visit to the park. You can simple visit for the day, like a zoo, but be sure to wear sneakers as you’ll be walking.
Or, you can partake in some unique experiences similar to those offered on a traditional safari. A photo caravan, zip line and hot air balloon ride are all possibilities … I can tell you that I saw more animals on this hot air balloon here than the one I went on in Kenya!
More possibilities include camping overnight in a tent or a Segway tour. The guide told me that the last camp out, the guest were surprised by a baby giraffe being born — what fun! Last, but not least, if you have a budding veterinarian on your hands, they offer a behind the scenes look at their expansive vet clinic. Take note, this is not your average vet — think rhinos, elephants, giraffes, tigers and more. How’s that for an afternoon adventure?!
Behind-the-Scenes Safari Tour
I grew up going to the Safari Park. As a matter of fact, it was opened on the day I was born. Naturally, my kids have been many times, as we are sure to visit at least every year. We all have our favorite animals exhibits, like the gorillas and the lions, but on this last visit I was looking for a way to get my family more engaged with a special encounter. Given that we have a three year-old, the best option was the Behind-the-Scenes Safari.
What you get with the private tour is active learning. Instead of walking around taking in the information on the exhibit signs, you get detailed dialogue with a biologist and hands on learning for two hours. What do the elephants eat, how much, what toys are their favorites, how they are used, how they are trained with the positive reward method, how long they nurse their babies, how the pack takes care of them, etc.
For over two hours my three older kids peppered the biologist with questions. To have the undivided attention of a zookeeper for a few hours paired with behind the scenes access and a cool car to ride around in, is an incredible experience.
We started off our behind-the-scenes tour with the elephants and learned how their keepers provide care, enrichment, food, etc. We were also treated to a glimpse of a four day-old elephant who was outrageously cute!
Next, we went to see the Okapis. We have a unique fondness for this beautiful rainforest animal because we are all so excited when we remember it as an animal that starts with “O” during our car games. Then off to see the very playful Bobo monkeys. Their acrobatics and silly antics kept us laughing. Finally, we got a hands-on experience with an anteater. During this visit, we also toured the entire park.
This is perfect for people who want very active learning, people with mobility issues and anyone in a time crunch (we saw the whole park in about two hours). We came away with a rich understanding of the value and importance of the park.
What truly distinguishes this animal park from others is it’s ability to successfully breed various animals, particularly endangered species. This is accomplished through an extensive research program, as well as the park’s ability to mimic a natural setting, making the animals feel safe enough to reproduce.
Rather than having the animals confined in small enclosures, they roam hundreds of acres. It’s through programs like the ones at the wild animal park that we can teach our children about the vast number of wild species and how important it is to protect them. This very evident in their Northern White Rhino program. The have two of the seven left in the world at Safari Park! A very powerful message for all of us about the importance of animal conservation.
Note: You can take up to 10 people on the Behind-the-Scenes Safari to spread out the cost of the tour. Any of the special encounters are in addition to the admission price.
For more Photo Friday posts, head over to Delicious Baby.
Photo credit: Nancy Solomon. Safari Park hosted the Solomon family for this tour. They did not ask her to express any particular point of view.
Ciao Bambino recommended San Diego family hotels
Comparing kid-friendly luxury hotels in San Diego
San Diego family travel, top kid-friendly activities
San Diego with kids, an all-season destination
Review of Legoland’s new waterpark
San Diego Surf Camp for kids
Fun at the San Diego Zoo
How to take your kids to the zoo from MotherofAllTrips.com
, North America
, Photo Friday
, San Diego
, San Diego Zoo Safari Park
July 27th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
If you’ve been to the Italian Riviera between June and August, this scene looks familiar. For some families, this rocky stretch of coastline in Liguria is the ultimate summer holiday destination.
In fact, questions about visiting Italian beaches with kids in the summertime comes up more often than almost any other topic on Ciao Bambino. Given this, I thought it would be fun to showcase some recent family vacation photos, as well as need to know tips for visiting this area.
What town is this?
The town pictured above is Camogli and not part of Cinque Terre. Surprised?
Rick Steves seems to be single-handedly behind the American obsession with visiting Cinque Terre. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Cinque Terre. In fact, I do, but I have to admit you couldn’t pay me to stay there between June and August as it’s simply too darn popular with everyone but Italians.
The point is that there are other picturesque places to stay and visit in this part of Italy. Cinque Terre is known for being remote and accessible only from the water, although the fact is you can get there easily via train today, so the remote factor isn’t a reason to go. Moreover, you can always visit Cinque Terre and take one of the famous hikes between the villages for a day trip; you don’t need to overnight there to appreciate the experience.
Jessica Spiegel from WhyGo Italy has excellent detailed information on getting around in the Cinque Terre — a must-read if you go.
In June through August, expect people, lots of them
Here is a broad photo of the beach in Camogli. What do you notice most? People! And, this was June in a town that the average tourist doesn’t know about. The fact is that you cannot escape people anywhere on this part of the Italian coastline over the summer months.
Rocks, rocks, and more rocks
If your beach vision includes miles of sand, look elsewhere. What makes this part of the Italian coastline so dramatic is the rocky and dramatic shore. Swimming is appealing as the water is gorgeous, but you have to do a bit more searching to find the spots that are ideal for young kids.
What hotels make a good home-base for exploring the Italian Riviera?
When we visited Camogli in June, I stopped to have lunch and check in on Cenobio dei Dogi, one of our recommended hotels in the Italian Riviera and was reminded why I like it for families.
Located just south of Genova, the highlight of this 4 star hotel is without a doubt, the view. Perched on a cliff above the town with stunning sea and coastline views, guests have permanent smiles on sunny days. Although there is no flat grass for kids to run around (in short supply in this area), there are plenty of families at the pool during holiday periods.
There are a few large “rocks” that have chairs on them, as well as a small beach club where guests can go.
The food here is excellent and the service is friendly. The main public areas aren’t shabby, but they are very dated. Guest rooms, however, have undergone recent renovations and feature updated (traditional not stylish) furnishings and bathrooms.
Further south in Santa Margherita Ligure, Hotel Continental is highly recommended by Shannon Venable of ItaliaKids.com, the author of this review. Although I haven’t stayed here, I did a walk through a few years ago. Given the close proximity to Portofino, you get a bit more of the jet set factor in this area than you do by Camogli. There is also some grass for kids to roam. Rooms and public areas are fully updated, upscale, with a more modern feel than Cenobio dei Dogi.
Head to Forte dei Marmi for sand and kid-friendly swimming
If you are looking for a sandy beach paired with the ultimate Italian resort town experience, I adore Forte dei Marmi. It’s actually in Tuscany, just on the border with Liguria.
Full-service beach clubs line a flat beach with a gentle surf. Kid and adult-heaven as everybody has a chance for downtime.
Some clubs like Bagno Annetta offer a swimming pool and kids’ activities. Other favorite clubs for families are Bagno Costanza, Bagno Peppe Ponete, and Bagno Piero. Average pricing runs from 75€ to 150€ per day. During summer months these clubs are very busy; be sure have make reservations ahead of time.
When you are not on the beach — loitering is a fine art here with shopping and dining galore. There’s also a terrific beachfront promenade that is ideal for all-family bike rides. Our favorite hotel with kids is the family-run California Park Hotel with room for children to play in a laid-back setting just blocks from the beach.
I wrote a full article about visiting Forte dei Marmi for Dream of Italy earlier this season. If you are an Italophile of any sort, this newsletter is for you. Get full details here.
All photos except the exterior shot of Hotel Continental were taken by Amie O’Shaughnessy
More Summer Vacation Photos posts from the Travel Blog Mob:
The Vacation Gals: Summer Vacation in Rome – The Roman Coliseum
Wandering Educators: Top 10 Beach Towns on Michigan’s Sunset Coast
Boots n All: Our Best Days Ever
Traveling with MJ: Italian Vacation: Gondolas in Venice
Spot Cool Stuff: 3 Cool Ways to Share Photos While You Travel
Wanderlust and Lipstick: Summer (Seattle) Lovin’ – Photo of the Day
, Cinque Terre
, Forte dei Marmi
, Italian Riviera
July 25th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Although I love visiting Florence in summertime when the weather is warm, a strategy is required to avoid an all-family meltdown given that the city is compact and during prime tourist season, it’s almost impossible to escape the crowds. The majority of the city hotels do not have swimming pools or open spaces for kids to run around. A bad combination.
Enter Villa La Massa …
Villa La Massa has been in our kid-friendly luxury portfolio for a few years now. It’s located just 15 minutes from the center of Florence in Candeli, perched right on the bank of the Arno River. This is exactly what makes it a fantastic part of the all-family meltdown avoidance strategy — Villa La Massa has all the benefits of a countryside estate with seamless urban access via their free shuttle into town.
I visited the hotel recently to get an update and was thrilled with what is in place for families.
The highlight is the extraordinary amount of outdoor space for guests to relax, leaving plenty of room for adults to be pampered in peace and quiet, while kids run around around like monkeys. There is a play structure and swing set paired with flat grass that extends as far as the eye can see. This area of the hotel is absolutely ideal for kids of all ages.
In addition, free bikes are available for guest use available in all shapes and sizes. There’s a heated outdoor swimming pool, although families need to note that there is no shallow end and the atmosphere immediately around the pool area is quiet. Nonetheless, it is a place where families can cool off and happily take a break (there’s a lifeguard standing by too).
Villa La Massa is known for it’s superb restaurant and glorious terrace overlooking the Arno. Outdoor dining always feels more kid-friendly to me; there is a full children’s menu available. Kids are always given full drawing sets (the nicest I’ve ever seen at a restaurant) to help pass time during a leisurely lunch or dinner.
Room service is available anywhere on property. One of the great things about a true luxury hotel like this is that the staff will — within reason — do anything for you, i.e. asking for dinner in a spot where you will feel most comfortable is expected.
One of the best features of Villa La Massa for families is the array of guest room options available. Connecting rooms and suites are plentiful. Guest rooms are unbelievably spacious, light, bright, and comfortable. They opened up a Presidential Suite in 2009 that is essentially like having your own villa at the hotel.
Of course, the main activity from here is sightseeing. As discussed, Florence is easy to access and so is Siena (45 minute drive), and the Chianti countryside. In fact, what makes this location so appealing is easy freeway access versus the main roads into the Florence city center which will put even the happiest relationship to the test. See my article on Tuscany attractions with kids for ideas.
If you want a down day at the hotel, the property offers cooking lessons with their chef, including classes just for kids! There is also a fitness center and beauty treatment room (not a full spa). All-in-all, it’s love for Ciao Bambino as it offers some special for everyone — what we’re all about!
Use the Check Pricing button on the Villa La Massa Review page to get a customized quote with the latest pricing and family-focused offers. All of our requests go directly to the hotel, but we’ll make sure you get all the information you need.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Tips for booking luxury kid-friendly hotels
Most popular family-friendly itinerary in Italy
Things to do in Florence with kids
Climbing the Duomo in Florence
Fantastic personal chef for villa and apartment rentals in Tuscany
72 hours in Rome with kids
, Luxury Family
, Luxury Family Travel
, Luxury Hotels
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July 22nd, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
A family safari in Africa is extraordinary in every way. I’m not a fan of flying (in airplanes or otherwise), but the offer from Bateleur Camp to organize an early morning hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara with Skyship Company was too compelling to pass up.
These photos don’t lie, this adventure was absolutely phenomenal.
The sensation of floating above the African plains at sunrise is one we’ll never forgot. There are just seconds of noise as the burners are inflamed, but otherwise, the experience is fantastically peaceful. On our journey we floated just above the treetops which allowed us to get a clear glimpse of the animals below.
While some of them were spooked by the noise of the balloon, others, like these elephants, were simply curious and stopped to look up at us floating by.
The wind is the boss and determines how long you fly. Our flight lasted about an hour. On arrival, a made-to-order breakfast feast was waiting in the bush (eggs, pancakes, waffles included) – what a treat! First, however, we drank champagne and toasted to our safe landing, a long-standing tradition in ballooning.
Our pilot, Mr. Gelbart Shachar, was exceptional; of course, the experience is new and unnerving, but never did we feel unsafe. Our landing was bumpy (courtesy of a few large termite mounds) and made our 8-year-old giggle like mad.
Go figure, the pilot and I played the name game and discovered that he knows my brother-in-law. A mind-blowing example of it’s a small, small world …
If You Go
I like the hot air balloon safari for ages 10 and up. Our 8-year-old enjoyed it (the minimum age is 4), but didn’t quite appreciate the splendor of the experience and we were conscious of him disturbing other participants on their ride-of-a-lifetime. Despite the fact that he is a big boy, he could barely see over the basket edge.
Skyship Company has been operating in the Masai Mara since 2006; they work with most of the luxury lodges in the area. At $US 415 for adults and $207.50 for children (excluding the landing fee), a hot air balloon safari is not an inexpensive date. But, it’s well worth it as you see the animals and landscape from an unforgettable, outrageous vantage point.
Photos courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy. For more Photo Friday fun, head over to Delicious Baby.
Editorial Note: Ciao Bambino had a complimentary ride from Skyship Company. We were not asked to present any particular point of view in our follow up coverage of the experience.
Giraffe heaven at Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, Kenya
Africa with kids, family safari basics
Africa with kids, planning a family safari
AndBeyond Africa lodges, review of Bateleur Camp for families
Luxury family safari at Sanctuary Retreats Olonana Tented Camp
Family safaris in Africa, lion hunt for photo friday
Ngorongoro Crater with kids
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, Family Safaris
, Photo Friday
July 20th, 2011
Part of the beauty of summer vacation is being able to get up and just go. A tank of gas and a little gusto can have huge payoff, especially when the final destination for your family is a place like the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
About a two hour drive from San Francisco, the Boardwalk and summer go hand in hand. You’ll spend the first hour on the freeway, but the second hour, after you pass through San Jose takes you onto winding Highway 17 and through the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Though some may not like the twists and turns of the road, I think sheer geography deserves some credit for helping Santa Cruz stay it’s quirky, quiet, seaside-self. While San Jose and the Silicon Valley have boomed and grown, Santa Cruz pretty much looks and feels the same as when I first visited almost 15 years ago.
Santa Cruz’s beachy persona hits the moment you roll into town. Unlike other popular California seaside destinations, resorts don’t dominate the horizon. Think smaller hotels and motels, many privately owned and operated, painted in every vibrant color of the rainbow. It’s old-school funky and fabulous.
There are street signs everywhere that lead you straight to the beach and Boardwalk and you can print out a great map from the Boardwalk’s website before you leave home. The parking lots couldn’t be any more convenient. Located right across the street from the Boardwalk, you don’t have to lug around a day’s worth of much needed stuff. Grabbing what you need, when you need it, is a breeze. The Boardwalk stretches a half-mile along Santa Cruz’s Main Beach. But don’t let that half-mile distance fool you, come ready to do plenty of walking.
It might be 90 degrees when you leave for the Boardwalk, but don’t count on it being the same temperature when you get there. Dress in layers. Expect it to be cool in the morning, you’ll shed layers on sunny afternoons, but want those warm sweatshirts again when the sun sets.
That said, don’t forget the classic beach necessities like sunscreen, sunglasses and hats if your kids will wear them. If you’re planning on playing on the beach, throw a swimsuit and towel into the car as well. If your kids are still stroller age, this is not a day to leave it at home. Even if they don’t necessarily like to hang out in the stroller, when they start to get tired, they just might change their tune. Besides strollers are a great place to stash a camera and they also make perfect Boardwalk souvenir holders.
What shoes to wear might be the biggest decision you have to make. At 10 and 13, I let my girls make their own choice. They both opted for flip flops, saying they’d just take them off when they went on rides that came with a risk of losing them. It was a good call, and made going back in forth from the beach to boardwalk a breeze, but I can see it not working out so well for younger kids. Losing a shoe on the Sky Glider is no fun.
My girls couldn’t wait to get on the rides. You’ve essentially got two choices when it comes to rides. Tickets are one dollar each and each ride requires three to five tickets. Or you can buy an All-Day Unlimited Rides Wristband. There’s something about counting tickets and making sure the kids don’t lose them all when they’re upside down on the roller coaster that can quickly take all the fun out of it for me, so my advice is to go for the wristband.
If you’re debating which way to go, check out the complete list of the Boardwalk’s rides, including costs and height requirements.
So Many Choices
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has more than 34 rides and attractions, so give yourself plenty of time to explore. Two of the rides are actually National Historic Landmarks. The Giant Dipper roller coaster was built in 1924 and still probably has the longest lines of any ride on the Boardwalk. It was built by Arthur Looff who probably learned a thing or two from his father Charles. A Danish woodcarver, Looff senior built the Boardwalk’s Looff Carousel, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this summer.
Learning the history of the ride is almost as fun as the riding it. For the Grand Opening of the carousel in 1911, 100 rocking chairs were brought in so mothers could relax while keeping an eye on their children. That gives a whole new twist to going to the Boardwalk.
All Ages Will Want to Take a Twirl
My girls have been to their fair share of great carousels. Two of their favorites are in San Francisco. One is at the fabulous Children’s Museum Zeum and one is tucked away in Golden Gate Park. But they couldn’t wait to get onto the Looff carousel. I was pleasantly shocked by this, since my girls are 10 and 13 and I’m sadly thinking my carousel days may be numbered.
Why all the excitement? The rings! Turns out the Looff carousel is one of only a handful of carousels in the world with a working ring dispenser. When it was time for my girls to saddle up, they did everything but break out into a full sprint to get to just the right horse for ring grabbing.
There had been serious location plotting while waiting in line. I apparently didn’t run fast enough and wound up a few horses behind, but everytime they got a ring I knew it. And if they hit the large clown face target with the prized ring, everyone on carousel knew it.
The carousel was the perfect start to a jam packed day. Ride after ride, we made our way down the Boardwalk. In the morning and early afternoon, there were strollers and kids of all ages everywhere. Even little ones have a good number of rides to choose from. Bulgy the Whale is priceless. Think Disney World’s Dumbo, but instead of sitting in an elephant, kids fly through the air in an orca whale. This is the beach after all.
This is Not a Place for a Diet
With all of the running around your kids will be doing, they will get hungry. If you’re spending anytime on the beach, sitting in the sand, a picnic can’t be beat. (When you head to the car to get the cooler, you’ll understand why I love the fact the parking lots are right across the street from the Boardwalk, not blocks away.)
But part of going to the Boardwalk is eating Boardwalk junk food. Brace yourself, you’ve got plenty of options to choose from. Deep fried twinkies and oreos, funnel cakes, ice cream, cotton candy and caramel apples. Sugar overload is likely. My girls and I shared a caramel apple and cotton candy from Marini’s. Even freshly made cotton candy has a place in the culinary world. And just for the record, we all ate our dinner.
Ciao Bambino recommended kid-friendly hotels in Santa Cruz
Luxury family-friendly getaway at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
Napa with kids at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery swimming pool
Zip-line through the California Wine Country
What’s new for summer 2011 at Disneyland
Bay Area luxury getaway at Rosewood Sand Hill
, Luxury Travel
, North America
, Santa Cruz
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July 18th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
My 7 Links is a brilliant project by our friends at Tripbase aimed at creating a bank of blog posts that are worth resurrecting. The idea is for bloggers to publish links back to great posts from their archives that fit the categories defined below. Each blogger subsequently nominates up to 5 bloggers to do the same. Fun and useful!
Thank you Jennifer Miner from The Vacation Girls who nominated me in her 7 links post last week.
Most Popular Post
Photo Friday: Tuscany with Kids – Italy is a very special destination for Ciao Bambino. Our roots are creating incredible family itineraries in Italy and our readers still love to hear about all things related to traveling in Italy with kids. The post is both inspirational with iconic photos and helpful, as it outlines must-see basics.
Most Controversial Post
Family Vacation Photo Contest - We had a wild giveaway in March 2010 when we asked 50 families to submit favorite family travel photos and encourage friends, family, and our readers vote for their favorite photo. The prize was a week-long stay at one of our most popular properties in Tuscany, Casa Cornacchi. As the contest closed and a handful of photos were neck-and-neck in votes, people got a wee bit crazy and started adding what was considered “spam” as votes and a near riot ensued.
Passions were inflamed, but we managed to create a happy ending by asking our partner to grant both winners free stays. All ended well and we learned a few critical lessons. A big one is that contest rules need to be irrefutable and crystal clear to all.
Most Helpful Post
Italy Travel 101: How to Create a Family-Friendly Itinerary - Back to Italy for my most helpful post. Given that the list of desirable attractions in Italy is huge, families want an easy foundation from which to develop an itinerary. This post gives parents the tools they need to start building their trip thought my highlights of a basic itinerary that works well for a wide range of families with children of all ages.
Post Whose Success Surprised Me
Photo Friday: Review of Legoland’s New Water Park - We don’t have as much coverage of theme parks on Ciao Bambino as some of the other family travel sites; as a result, I was surprised to see how well my review of Legoland San Diego’s then-new water park did (and continues to do). It just goes to show how even just basic information written by parents (for parents) on dedicated kid-friendly attractions is highly coveted.
A Post That Didn’t Get the Attention It Deserved
Just Got Back from Villa D’Este on Lake Como - In retrospect I didn’t name this post correctly. Yes, it was about my glorious stay at Villa D’Este on Lake Como, but more than that, this post included must-know tips on things to contemplate when booking a kid-friendly luxury hotel. We’ve stayed at many of them and truly, not all luxury hotels want to host your kids, or do so well enough to warrant the expense.
Post I Am Most Proud Of
72 Hours with Kids Day 1 | 72 Hours with Kids Day 2 | 72 Hours in London with Kids Day 3 – I did a three-part series on how to successfully spend 72 hours in London with kids that I love. The essence of Ciao Bambino is distilling information down to reliable, digestible, and usable snippets of information that families can, in turn, use to plan family holidays that meet their personal needs and objectives.
We are always honest about our mistakes and the lessons we learn through travel on Ciao Bambino. My London planning was not perfect, but these tips will help ensure that other families avoid our pain.
Most Beautiful Post
I lost someone dear to me in June and wrote a post about her on the blog called Life Lessons from Chris Lytle. The post was tremendously difficult to write, but in the end I felt like I communicated what I needed/wanted to about this wonderful woman. In the end, many people came back and said it was a beautiful tribute to her.
As Mara Gorman (Mother of All Trips) said in her tweet about it, if you need a reason to travel, read this post. Exactly.
And now, I’m passing the baton to …
Hip Travel Mama
The Luxury Travel Mom
Taking the Kids
500 Places with Kids
Travels with Baby
July 17th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
A phenomenal kid-friendly walking tour guide can be the difference between successfully engaging children in the sights of a city or … not. We’ve recommended Paolo Lenzi to our clients and readers for years and it was fun to receive an email from Holly Schmidt asking to submit a review of his services. Here is what she said:
I’d like to submit a review for Paolo Lenzi, a tour guide in Rome who took our family through the Vatican in June. Paolo was outstanding with our children, ages 12, 10 and 7.
The Schmidt family at the Vatican
He started our tour by taking us to a quiet spot in the gift shop and showing us in a book the most significant artwork we were about to view. He got down on his knees so he would be on the same level as our 7-year-old and described in excellent English some fascinating and funny stories about Michelangelo. When we finally then started touring the Vatican, we all knew a little something about what we were looking at and Paolo didn’t have to speak over the big, loud tour groups.
He also pointed out lots of quirky details that really kept the kids’ attention, such as the strange eyes on some of the statues or the underwear painted on to the figures on the wall at St. Peter’s because the Pope was upset that Michelangelo had made them all naked! He definitely knows how to relate to children and made what could have been a long, boring tour for the children into a highlight of our vacation. We highly recommend him!
Paolo Lenzi’s contact details:
+39 347 email@example.com
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Tips for visiting Rome sights with kids (written for WhyGo Italy)
July 14th, 2011
The Northern California Wine Country is one of the world’s top destinations to visit — without your kids. It’s got a bad reputation when it comes to being family-friendly. I understand how the rumor probably got started. Kids drink milk not wine. The Wine Country has been fighting the bad rap for years, and this summer they landed a knockout punch thanks to Francis Ford Coppola.
The man who gave us Apocalypse Now and The Godfather had a vision of a winery where parents could come with their children, enjoy a glass of wine and and feel comfortable, not concerned about someone across the way giving them the evil eye. His vision became reality in Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
“I’ve often felt that modern life tends to separate all the ages too much. In the old days, the children lived with the parents and the grandparents, and the family unit each gave one another something very valuable. So when we began to develop the idea for this winery, we thought it should be like a resort, basically a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”
Francis Ford Coppola
Set atop a hill overlooking Alexander Valley, the location alone is like something out of a fairy tale. After parking the car, your first up close look at the property is the grand staircase. Don’t be surprised if your kids take off running, you’ll want to. At the top of the stairs you get your first glance of the pool.
“They’re on to it,” says Peter Brooks. “They get it.”
Brooks, wife Melissa and 5-month-old daughter Addelyn, came from San Francisco.
“We put her (Addelyn) in the pool for the first time,” says Melissa. “It’s like a day vacation.”
Sold Out Pool Days
Other folks must feel the same way. The pool opened at 11am the June Friday my family visited. By 11:30am all the lounge chairs were taken and by 11:48a pool passes for the day were sold out. So just like a vacation, a little planning can go a long way.
In this case, the phrase sold out deserves explanation. When most hear that a venue like a pool is sold out, crowds and noise come to mind. That is not the case at Francis Ford Coppola Winery. Pool Capacity is limited to 181 guests. Even full it was comfortable and quiet. That said, there are not enough lounge chairs for everyone, so if you don’t want to lounge on a towel on the grass, get there when they open to grab a chair.
The only way to guarantee your ticket into the pool is to reserve a cabine. The cabines, pronounced “ka–beens”, are private changing rooms with showers located steps away from the pool. Complete with lock and key, there are hooks at adult and kid level to hang clothes, and extra towels to use after showering. Are they a must have? No. But they are a great place to store things while you and your family are playing at the pool.
If you arrive and are told pool passes are sold out, don’t give up. If swimmers leave, more spaces become available for those willing to wait. When the Brooks family arrived later in the afternoon, they were told the pool was full but room was expected shortly so they decided to do a round of wine tasting. As luck would have it, just as they were finishing, space opened up.
Folks at the winery park want you to have a good time with your family. They’ve even created a guide to a perfect day. Read it, pack the sunscreen and camera and then get ready to relax!
The pool is actually two pools connected by what the winery calls a “swim-through.” Small fountains shoot overhead, giving you the option of going through and staying dry or getting a pool fountain shower. Most kids opt for the shower, but I saw many adults cooling off the same way.
Though Coppola’s vision was to create a place for families to come and enjoy, families aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the winery park. The park was filled with a diverse mix of people. Seniors, couples, and a group of twenty-something girls in town to celebrate a birthday. It may have been created with families in mind, but all walks of life are enjoying the final result under the watchful eyes of several lifeguards. Pool toys and floatation devices are not allowed.
My girls can entertain themselves for hours in the water, but the allure of four nearby bocce ball courts was enough to convince them to dry off and give the game a roll. It was an instant hit. We played again and again, and may have to invest in a bocce ball game set to call our own. I can easily see a game going full force in my backyard on family game nights.
There are also four game tables scattered around the winery park where you can play board games like chess, checkers and backgammon. Pick up your family’s favorite from the selection of Coppola’s favorites at Guest Services. The bocce ball courts and games are available to use free of charge.
Sometimes the perfect compliment to a day at the pool is a good book to read while you’re lounging in a chair in the sun. If you’re a kid picking out the book might be more fun than reading it. The poolside Teepee Lending Library (yes, it’s really a teepee) has a selection of books for kids of all ages. From Dr. Seuss to Black Beauty, my girls didn’t have trouble finding something they wanted to page through.
My teen worked on a puzzle book from the Teepee Lending Library while we waited for lunch to arrive from the Rosso & Bianco Pool Cafe. Servers deliver your food and drinks right to you at the pool. There’s no worrying about getting the kids dried off and dressed to go eat. It’s not a huge menu, but it covers all the basics and does them well. Sandwiches, salads and delicious pizzas.
My girls devoured the cheese pizza before I could get a taste. I should have moved faster, but I was too busy eating the Pizza Sofia I had ordered. It was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten! My husband’s lunch hadn’t arrived yet so he was digging in as well.
Swim and Taste, Taste and Swim
I watched during the day as some families that were visiting the pool together, swapped off watching the kids to go in a do a tasting. I don’t think that’s because the kids weren’t welcome, it was just the easier than drying everyone off. I made a point to wander through the winery tasting area numerous times throughout the day.
I never saw any kids hanging out while their parents were tasting, but the pourers I talked to assured me kids are the norm. Pourers are armed with juice boxes, but apparently most kids would rather borrow a book from the Teepee Lending Library and sit outside on the deck in a comfy chair or visit the kids’ section of the winery store. This freedom obviously won’t work with toddlers, but older kids, would definitely enjoy it more.
Whatever you do, don’t leave the winery park without taking the kids inside to see Coppola’s Movie Gallery. Five decades of award-winning filmmaking makes for an impressive collection. There’s the original shiny red car from Tucker: The Man and His Dream, costumes from Dracula and several Academy Awards. It’s a slice of Hollywood in Wine Country, not your typical Wine Country, but then again, it’s not your typical winery.
“Why do I care?” asked my 10-year-old when we found Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather. She couldn’t understand why it was something that made me smile.
I guess that means I’ll have to bring her back as she grows old enough to watch the famous trilogy. Actually that means waiting a while. I think we’ll try and rent Tucker now.
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino
Five kid-friendly activities in Napa Valley
Napa Valley with kids, exploring the Oxbow Market
Ziplining with Sonoma Canopy Tours
, Napa Valley
, North America
July 13th, 2011
Legoland Windsor by Dave Catchpole on Flickr
LEGO must be the one toy ever invented that is just as much fun to play when you are 33, 43 and 53 as it was when you were just three? It’s the only toy that I will happily play with my kids for hours. Which is why we were all excited at the prospect of immersing ourselves in a land of those little bricks for the day.
Most of Britain’s theme parks are little more than permanent fairground structures and best avoided, with two exceptions: Blackpool Pleasure Beach, because it is deliciously tacky to the extreme; and Legoland Windsor, because it bares no relation to any other UK amusement park.
It is also in a lovely part of the UK, just up the road from the Queen’s weekend pad, Windsor Castle. There are usually deals on offer at several nearby hotels, generally throwing in a second day at Legoland free with an overnight stay and there is enough to do on site to make a two-day pass worthwhile. Plus, you can easily spend a few days exploring the surrounding area.
Legoland Windsor is not cheap, £41.40 an adult and £31.20 a child, so you want to grab the deals where you can. You get a discount for booking in advance online at www.legoland.co.uk and there are often 2 for 1 ticket offers to be found, so do a quick web search before you set out. You can also pay extra to avoid waiting in the lines. But depending on whether you choose the premium or the standard Q-bot system and if you are visiting in peak or off peak times, it can add up to another £40 to each ticket price.
There is plenty to do at Legoland for kids of all ages, but if you have a child hovering just under 90cms in height, as I do, and one that wants to do everything her big sister does, as I do, and one that throws fantastic tantrums, as I do, hold back that visit until he or she has grown to that milestone. A lot of rides require participants to be over 90cm in height.
Nijago at Legoland Windsor by David Catchpole on Flickr
What to do first?
Once inside, you’ll find yourself on the top of a very steep hill and most of Legoland at the very bottom of it. There is a train that will take you down there, but the stroll down has been made quite fun with a series of slides and shutes to give little legs a rest en-route. Save the train ride for the way back up again.
Despite Legoland being all about Legos, when your kids look up and seen the Sky Rider and Space Tower and down to see the Chopper Squadron and Driving School they’ll want to race straight to the rides, so save the LEGO stuff for later.
Duploland, with its gentle Fairy Tale Brook ride, Waterworks wet play area and cute puppet theatre shows is the best place to start for pre-schoolers. Whilst slightly older kids will be eager to get to the traffic area where they can take their driving test, go to ballooning and boating school and put out a fire at The Fire Academy.
Other rides not to be missed are Digger Challenge in LegoCity, where you get to take control of a full-size mechanical digger; Wave Surfer in Adventure Land, where you go ducking and diving and risk getting drenched on jet-ski pods; and, the Dragon’s Apprentice mini rollercoaster in Knights Kingdom. Whilst if the lines are getting you down, the Pirate Training Camp adventure playground is quite something also.
After a morning spent being whirled, twirled and propelled around, it is now time to get back to the building blocks of this theme park. If you’ve come to Legoland after your first trip to the Capital the incredible scaled down LEGO models of London’s landmarks will hold extra wonder. At the moment they even have the Royal Wedding of Wills and Kate played out in front of Buckingham Palace. Other parts of the UK, Europe and America are also in wonderous miniature here too.
Finally, inspired by what can be done with those little bricks, head straight for the Imagination Centre where you can start experimenting with them yourself at the Build and Test and Mindstorm workshops.
The only aspect of the park that might disappoint is the catering. They are trying, but the food options are limited and not particularly appealing. Maybe pick up a picnic hamper from the yummy Italian deli-style cafe Carluccios first, they have a branch in Windsor town centre. Order in advance at www.carluccios.com
Legoland San Diego’s water park
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels London
72 Hours in London with Kids: Day 1
72 Hours in London with Kids: Day 2
72 Hours in London with Kids: Day 3
Top kid-friendly activities in London with kids
Top things to do with toddlers in London
July 10th, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
My love for spa’s started after my second son was born. He cried for hours each night and I remember thinking that I needed to go somewhere very quiet! About a year later, I discovered the restorative and rejuvenating benefits of a spa vacation.
Miraval Arizona is one that consistently makes all of the “Top Destination Spas” list and my husband and I were lucky enough to be invited on a corporate trip to experience it first hand. My husband never been to a destination spa before and assumed they would be female-focused (true for many of them). We discovered, however, that Miraval has a fairly balanced ratio of men to women.
Nestled at the base of the Catalina Mountains in Tuscon, Arizona, Miraval offers striking views of the desert landscape and immediate access to gorgeous hiking and biking. Each morning we started the day with a hike at 6:30 am, just in time to catch the sun rising over the hills. There is no unguided walking at the resort as it’s too easy to get lost in the canyons.
Miraval has luxurious single-level casitas with a Southwest motif and a fireplace. The highlight of these charming rooms is the bed; Miraval is focused on providing a truly amazing bed, complete with fine linens, feather bed and many pillows. You sink in and never want to get out after a long day of activity. As you walk the grounds, there is wildlife all around, from birds, to lizards and the local javelinas (they look like wild pigs).
The spa and fitness center are beautifully done. I liked that it’s smaller than some of the other destination spas I’ve experienced. On most occasions I was the only one in the Jacuzzi and steam room.
Sports & Services
Miraval has a broad selection of sports, classes and services to choose from. The sports range in level and unlike other spas where the sports offered aren’t adventurous enough for us, here, we found plenty of challenge. We pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone while doing the zipline and mountain biking, The zipline reminded me how much I miss that little excitement that’s simply not not available in our our quiet Boston suburb.
The mountain biking is nerve-wracking, but really fun. My husband landed in a cactus on one outing — this is not the “pampered” version! I was terrified, but exhilarated to push myself and discover that I could do it.
There’s an unlimited amount of services. I love their Thai massage with a heavenly combination of stretching and bodywork. I also got buffed and polished with a facial and body scrub. All delightful!
Let’s be clear, the days of severe calorie restriction at destination spas are long gone. You have healthy food options presented, and you can eat as much or as little as you like. The point is to demonstrate healthy versions of meals that inspire better eating habits and portion sizes.
This was a big issue for my husband up front. He loves eating and typically has two dinners each night (he’s blessed with a crazy high metabolism). He’s not interested in being hungry and wasn’t … At meals he ordered a couple entrees and found that he enjoyed the food and was satisfied.There is also plenty of coffee and alcohol available.
Miraval is focused on Mindfulness, the practice of living in the moment. Throughout the stay you’ll find that there is a unique focus on bringing your awareness to the moment and just being.
During the activities, guiding questions help you identify emotions that you might not even be aware that you have in play. Additionally, Miraval offers specialized Native American experiences (Sweat lodge, spirit journeys, Native American yoga) and the Equine Experience (become one with the horse without even getting on).
Is Miraval for you?
Basically, this is a luxury destination spa that’s perfect for those that want to exercise and relax, but not go over-the-top on the “spa” experience — you can still have alcohol and excellent food, and there isn’t a constant stream of classes and information sessions. If you already fit, you’ll still find plenty of challenging activities here. Finally, the balance of men to woman here makes it much more comfortable for couples.
Note: Tucson is beautiful, but it takes a little longer to fly there with multiple connections. We prefer flying directly into Phoenix and then renting a car and driving to Tucson.
Parents only getaway at Canyon Ranch
Parents only getaway at Spa at Norwich Inn
Amie’s top 5 babymoon destinations on Two and a Half Travelers
, Luxury Hotels
, Parents Getaways