Archive for October 2011
October 31st, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Since we’ve been highlighting multiple ways to explore DC through Dana’s posts about Touring the White House, Choosing Kid-Friendly DC Tours, and DC Kid-Friendly Museums (to name a few) — I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.
Last spring, I tried to hunt down some new ways to explore Washington DC with my kids as they’ve been there many times. This is the follow up post about the innovative tours that got my kids re-energized about exploring Washington DC.
First stop on DC by Foot tour, Ford’s Theatre
What do you know about Lincoln’s assassination?
Now, we all know that he was shot, but have you ever learned about what preceded the event and the details involved? Steven, our guide from DC by Foot, turns his gifted storytelling into a 2-hour captivating tour covering the details of that famous day.
Not only does he bring the story to life, but he also has you walk the path that President Lincoln followed that very night to Ford’s Theatre. My kids were riveted by his engaging story, but heads up — there are some gory details! Of course, that is what draws some in, but for younger kids, it may be too much. Ages 8 and up are ideal for this tour.
We booked a private tour with DC by Foot, which was terrific, because my kids could ask a million questions. Steven, an IBM consultant during the week is a history buff during the weekends.
Steven’s tour and story is based on the intelligence he’s gained from pouring over the court documents from the trial of John Wilkes Booth. My 10-year-old son proved he was in fact paying attention when he said, “I had no idea that he also plotted to kill the Vice President and Secretary of State!”
The group tour is offered for free (tips are welcomed of course!) and covers 1 mile on foot. Contact DC by Foot directly for private tour pricing and current schedules.
Getting set up for Spy in the City tour
Are you meant to be a spy?
The Spy Museum is a big hit with kids in DC, but if you have done it before or looking for a way to get the kids really engaged, look at their Spy in the City tour where each participant is given a GPS spy unit that gives step-by-step instructions.
You have to go to different locations and enter information that decodes messages to complete your mission (i.e. break up the imaginary spy ring). My kids loved it.
I would note, however, that there is a limited age range with this tour. If kids are too young, it will be frustrating because they won’t be able to read the instructions or enter the information. Now, if they are too old, they will not buy into it. 7-12 is the best age range for this tour.
There are two tour options. One is covers 1 mile and is $14 per person. The second is 1.5 miles and $16 per person.
Ciao Bambino recommended kid-friendly hotels in Washington DC
Tips for getting a tour at The White House
Choosing between kid-friendly tours in Washington DC
Exploring Washington DC museums with kids
Washington DC family trip planning tips
10 new ways to experience Washington DC with kids
Washington DC with kids, top planning resources
Washington DC attractions, favorite family activities
, North America
, Washington DC
October 27th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
The great state of Colorado is a skier’s dream with epic conditions, varied terrain, and a long list of ski resort options for all abilities and interests. Selecting the right ski resort for a winter family vacation takes a bit of legwork to ensure it will meet the needs of every person in the family (see How to Find the Best Family-Friendly Ski Resort for my list of critical things to consider).
I visited Keystone, Colorado this month and although it’s still pre-season, I can see why so many families opt for this resort over others. We’ve skied at over 15 different resorts as a family in California, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Switzerland, and France; now, I’m adding Keystone to my bucket list. Here’s what captured my attention:
River Run Village
Why Keystone Resort Made My Family Ski Vacation Must-Try List
I’m showing my cards here. While I love to ski, I’m all about the full experience, not just the quality of the ski terrain. Ski resort development has gone haywire over the past decade and I appreciate resorts where you are looking at nature, not at freeways and an endless sea of condos. Hello Keystone!
In addition, you have a sense of place in Keystone. It has a distinct low-key Colorado vibe versus the feel of a European ski village.
When you have to fly get to a ski resort, easy access is key. Keystone is a 2-hour drive from Denver International Airport (90 miles) via Interstate 70 — a well-maintained highway throughout all weather conditions.
Vail/Eagle Airport is 65 miles from Keystone via Interstate 70 and has direct flights from many major US cities.
Note: Interstate 70 is the gateway to many Colorado ski resorts and can be backed up on Friday and Sunday afternoons. If possible, avoid driving during these times.
Renting car can be expensive over winter months as the least expensive option is not the safest option. The Colorado Mountain Express, a door-to-door shuttle from the Denver Airport, is a convenient alternative to renting a car.
I gave it a go this trip and found it stress-free! Shuttles run frequently during ski season, the drivers are friendly, and most importantly, everyone gets to relax. Hooray, this is a way for the vacation to actually start at the airport.
Once you get to Keystone, there’s a free resort shuttle to get you around town.
Family-Friendly, Affordable Accommodations
Keystone Resort has a wide array of upscale-yet-affordable accommodations, particularly when compared to other ski areas with similar quality amenities and services.
We stayed in the River Run Village Condominiums. The mountain-style condo units are well-appointed, comfortable, and feature excellent kitchen facilities. The village an array of boutiques and restaurants; in addition, there’s a Children’s Center, play area, and they are about to open an ice skating rink.
Standard hotels and inns are available in Keystone too — click here for a list of options.
Nothing leads to cranky parents faster than schlepping, losing, and ultimately re-buying ski equipment when you have to park cars in a land far, far away from the ski area. River Run condos are a short walk from the slopes. For accommodations that aren’t a stroll away, the shuttle runs resort-wide.
Children’s Ski School
I can’t comment on the quality of the children’s ski school, but they offer comprehensive programming for ages 3 and up. One nice feature is that kids who aren’t potty trained yet still have a place to go. Kids from 2 months and up can enroll in daycare in the Children’s Center.
Mom, Dad and Kids Do Cool Stuff
Franky, some ski resorts are so focused on kids that the experience is not rewarding for parents. One stand-out activity in Keystone is snow cat skiing in the bowls around the resort. These guided tours include a catered lunch. There’s also a snow cat shuttle available for $5 per use to expert terrain.
For less adventurous parents, the spa at the Keystone Lodge is excellent. I gave one of their massages a try; thumbs up — this was not one of those half-hearted rub here and there hotel massages, but the real deal by a seasoned masseuse.
For kids, there’s a mountaintop snow fort with a long list of creative kids’ activities called Kidtopia.
Keystone is part of the Vail Resorts portfolio which means the resort is well-funded and operates at a very high standard. Skiing is a dangerous sport — meticulously run resorts are a must with kids. It’s a matter of safety and there’s zero room for flexibility here.
This also means that families skiing at Keystone access cutting edge ski products like EpicMix, where individual skier stats are tracked and uploaded on a dashboard. Login to your computer or mobile phone after a day of skiing to review what everyone accomplished. Amazing!
Photo Credit: Amie O’Shaughnessy
Vail Resorts paid for Ciao Bambino’s transportation, accommodations, and a spa treatment. They did not ask us to express any particular opinion. All of our assessments and opinions are our own.
Tips for planning the best family ski vacation
Tips for finding the best family ski resorts
Thumbs up for family ski chalets in Europe
Little ripper ski tips
, North America
, Rocky Mountains
October 26th, 2011
Living less than an hour from San Francisco, my family has a long list of go-to favorites that can easily fill the occasion when spare time might actually sneak into the family calendar. Exploring the Presidio, getting clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf or exploring Golden Gate Park are just a few of the things that pop into my mind. But I leave room on the list for new finds like San Jose, California.
Where is San Jose?
San Jose is located about an hour south of San Francisco. The third largest city in California, it boasts the highest median household income in the nation and is home to more than 6,000 technology companies. Being tech savvy is a way of life in these parts, whether you’re 4 or 40.
Making medicine at the Life Tech Gallery
The Tech Museum
Just the mere thought of kids and museums is enough to make even the seasoned family traveler let out a little sigh. Breathe easy, this is not the case at The Tech Museum. There are hundreds of hands-on exhibits and interactive displays. I wouldn’t recommend planning anything else in the afternoon because chances are no one in the family will leave without a fight.
Take the Jet Pack Challenge. Parents, I’m talking to you too. It’s a simulated spacewalk that lets you get a feel for what it’s like to use an astronaut’s jet pack. You sit in a chair and move toward targets using blasts of compressed air.
Then head to the Upper Level and go straight to the Life Tech Gallery. Grab a pair of gloves and goggles and take a hands-on lesson in how scientists make medicine. Kids actually work in a lab-like setting and cross jellyfish protein with bacteria. A docent is on duty, but an impressive computer program walks them through the process step by step. They can even get online the next day and see how their samples are growing.
You won’t be able to cover the entire museum in one day. It’s easy to get involved in an exhibit, than realize half an hour or more has gone by. It simply takes time for kids to do things like design their own roller coaster and then go for a ride.
Don’t leave without seeing a show at the Hackworth IMAX® Dome Theater. The eight-story theater is the only domed IMAX® in Northern California. It seats 295 people and shows a variety of movies from inspirational and educational titles like Born to Be Wild to feature films like Harry Potter. There’s a snack bar where you can buy and even flavor your own popcorn. The kettle corn flavor was a hit with my family.
Part of The Tech Museum’s Mission is to engage people of all ages, but it resonates with that sometimes tough to please tween and teen set. That said I think any kid, kindergarten age and up will have a great day here.
Mammoth play area at Children’s Discovery Museum
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
After raving success at The Tech Museum, I was a little concerned about our planned visit to the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. It had big shoes to fill. Geared toward kids 10 and younger, I hoped my 10 year-old would have fun and my 13 year-old wouldn’t be bored to tears. I worried for nothing. Though the focus may be on younger ones, families with kids a range of ages will have no trouble here. With 150 interactive exhibits designed and built on-site, there’s something for everyone in the family.
Meet Lupe! In the summer of 2005, a San Jose resident walking his dog along the Guadalupe River, discovered the skull of a Columbian mammoth just a few miles from the Museum. The juvenile mammoth, affectionately named Lupe, would have roamed the area about 14,000 years ago, now she’s the center of attention at CDM. Lupe’s actual skull and femur are on display along with a full size replica of the now famous museum resident. There’s also mammoth bone dig pits and a great, but simple mammoth-style play area.
WaterWays is like a magnet that pulls kids from across the museum. Colorful plastic balls that are moved about by water that gushes, rushes and soaks busy hands. Smocks provided but not mandatory. If your kids are the type to work at getting soaked bring a change of clothes. There’s a drying rack in the garden for wet t-shirts if needed.
Who doesn’t like bubbles? Bubbalogna is a small area of the museum dedicated to making bubbles. Forget those little plastic wands. This is bubble making to the amazing extreme. Three fairly simple, but clever stations give kids the chance to make and pop bubbles of all shapes and sizes. My girls were setting bubbles airborne that were easily bigger than they are.
The Wonder Cabinet offers so many great things all rolled up into one. This area, complete with a closing door, gives infants, toddlers and preschoolers a place of their own. There’s a safe area designed just for crawlers who need some moving time and the carousel area is a great place to take a preschooler on the verge of a or recovering from a meltdown. Add in art, puppets and so much more, little ones could be ready for a nap before they’re ready to leave. Again, geared at the younger set, but older siblings are not turned away.
Overall, there is very little signage in the museum, the exhibits speak for themselves. By the way, my 13 year-old has already asked to go back.
Mummy smiling at The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
This one-of-a-kind museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America. There are more than 4,000 artifacts in the museum’s collection. Like many parents, I’ve taken my girls to the traveling King Tut Exhibition but nothing prepared me or them for what we saw on our visit to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.
Have you ever seen a mummy smile? A real mummy, not the kind you see roaming the neighborhood on Halloween. The Rosicrucian has four human mummies on display. One with a nearly full set of teeth. There are also numerous mummified animals on display, but I’d bet the mummified bull’s head gets more attention than the cats and falcons and baby crocodiles.
When you enter the museum, pick up a Passport to Ancient Egypt for your kids. As you make your way through the museum, kids can collect stamps and write about things they learn, like why both Egyptian women and men wore eyeliner. (I won’t give away the answer). The passport also contains a great chart that deciphers the Hieroglyphic Alphabet.
When you get the Passport be sure to ask what time you can go on a guided tour the full-scale rock tomb replica. If you have to change your schedule to do the tour, change your schedule. Your flashlight wielding guide will take you step by step through the chambers of a tomb. The lighting, the walls covered in hieroglyphs and the grand sarcophagus make you feel like you are actually inside a real tomb.
Older elementary school aged kids, tweens and teens will learn the most on a visit to the Rosicrucian. There’s a good amount of reading that needs to be done to explain the rare artifacts in front of you. Strollers and food and drink are not allowed. That doesn’t mean younger kids won’t enjoy the coolness factor that comes along with the Museum that has four mummies, it just means your visit will most likely be faster and convince you to come back again. The mummies aren’t going anywhere, and at least one will always greet you with a smile.
, North America
, San Francisco Bay Area
, San Jose
October 24th, 2011
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
Thank you to everyone who entered our Luxury Family Travel Giveaway sponsored by CiaoBambino, Poshbrood and LuxuryTravelMom. We had almost 3,000 entries and it’s easy to see from the comments we received that our readers love Four Seasons hotels and resorts as much as we do!
We’re announcing the winner of the Four Seasons Resort Nevis package valued at $6,000. The winner receives a 4-night stay in spacious ocean-view accommodations for two adults and two children. The package also includes family golf and tennis, a private monkey tour, Sea Turtle Camp for the kids and a luxury beach house with butler for the day for the parents.
And the winner is…..Laure Latham! Laure is an outdoor enthusiast from San Francisco who blogs about family and the outdoors at Frog Mom. We hope to hear all about your outdoor adventures at Four Seasons Resort Nevis. Congratulations Laure!
To learn what lucky lady won the trip to Four Seasons Boston, go to Luxury Travel Mom.
To learn what lucky lady won the trip to Four Seasons Vail, go to Poshbrood.
A huge thank you to Four Seasons for generously donating these prizes. Follow the Have Family Will Travel blog to learn more about family travel experiences at Four Seasons hotels and resorts around the world.
And we can’t forget to thank all of our travel blog friends that helped spread the word about this giveaway – we appreciate your support.
If you are new to Ciao Bambino and liked this contest, you’ll be happy to hear that we have quarterly hotel stay giveaways. We focus on families but one look at our hotel portfolio and blog will tell you Ciao Bambino is not just for kids.
Ciao Bambino used Random.org to select the winners from all qualifying entries.
October 21st, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I kicked off 10 day tour of Morocco with my family in Marrakech this week. We’ve had a marvelous stay at the new Four Seasons Marrakech, but otherwise the highlight here is without a doubt the exotic medina, the largest of its kind in North Africa. More on that soon!
As I begin my coverage of Morocco on the Ciao Bambino blog, I want to acknowledge that we are not impervious to feelings of uncertainty in coming here so soon after April’s horrific terrorist attack in the heart of the city in Jemaa el-Fnaa square.
As we’ve all learned over the past decade, terrorism can happen any time and any place. As a consequence, my motto is that we might as well go to the destinations of our dreams (within reason).
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
We stood in front of the site of the bomb, the Argana restaurant, pictured here with the scaffolding. Until the facade is repaired fully, the construction (and views of the destruction) are a grim reminder of lives changed and lost.
It’s one thing to read about a terrorist incident across the world, it’s another to stand in front of it’s remains. Although this image will stick with me for months and years to come, I feel safe amongst the Moroccans who care deeply about the health of their country. They want and need tourists.
Experiencing local fashion in a Marrakech souk
I’m certainly happy to be here and will cherish every minute. I can already share that Moroccan people love children and being here with kids is a rewarding in every way.
Stay tuned for my complete Morocco with kids series from planning to our destination highlights beginning next week.
, Photo Friday
October 19th, 2011
One of many churches scattered around the island
Where and What is Malta?
Malta is a shy little archipelago suspended in the middle of the Med. Its modesty is part of its charm, but boy does it have a lot it could brag about. One of its islands is home to what is thought to be the oldest free-standing building in the world. The Egyptian pyramids and Britain’s Stonehenge are youthful in comparison.
If America were lucky enough to find the Ġgantija temples on its soil, it would have turned them into a prehistoric theme park, transporting visitors back to its creation in around 3200 BC. If they turned up in the UK they would be crawling with tour guides, covered in do not touch signs and have a gift shop on every corner. Either way you would pay through the nose to get a glimpse.
As it is they are found at the bottom of a dusty dirt track on the Maltese island of Gozo. And, after handing over an entrance fee that equates to the cost of an ice-cream, you can wander right up to the ancient stones and reach out and stroke them, or attempt to pick them up as my six-year-old did as she tried to figure out how the prehistoric locals managed to schlep the five ton blocks of limestone up the hill.
Inland sea on Gozo
Things To Do in Malta with Kids
Malta’s laidback approach to its past opens a door into history that is too often shut and kids love that they can just peek through it for a couple of hours and then jump back into the pool.
Take them for a stroll around the walled medieval city of Mdina, ending up with a tour of its dungeons, hop on a boat that will take you into the Blue Grotto one of a serious of caves on the coast of Comino; or go for a swim in the inland sea in Dwejra, Gozo, created millions of years ago when two limestone caves collapsed.
The islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino are easily accessible from each other by ferry and once on the islands most attractions are just a short car or bus ride away.
Posing for a photo on the cliffs of Gozo
Loved by snorkelers, Comino is the baby of the islands at just 3.5 square metres. Gozo is the pretty, sleepy little sister to Malta, which is the largest and most buzzy of the islands. All three enjoy year round sunshine and are surrounded by an often invitingly warm sea.
There are a growing number of resort hotels springing up on Gozo and Malta, from which you could easily enjoy a fortnight without going off site. It would be a shame though. Opting for bed and breakfast, and exploring new places to eat every night is one way of ensuring that you do get somewhere beyond the tourist gloss.
Malta is heavily influenced by its Italian neighbour and kids are welcomed in even the most expensive restaurants at any time of the day or night. So go out late afternoon and take in some of the country before eating some of it, most of what you find on your plate is grown or caught locally.
Bay view from Westin Dragonara Resort
We stayed at the Westin Dragonara, a great luxury family hotel, that is as laid back as the country it resides in. It boasts of having the largest family bedrooms on the island and they are very roomy with large balconies. For those who don’t like sharing with their kids you can opt for the Bay Suites, which also come with a kitchen and living room.
In typical Maltese style, the hotel doesn’t shout about the fact that it actually has two lovely spacious pools. You can’t miss the first one it winks invitingly at you from the reception area. This is the grown-up chill-out pool, but follow a footpath past it that takes you through a tunnel and you emerge blinking at the livelier family pool where kids activities are provided most mornings in the season. It took us two days to discover this.
The so called private beach, isn’t much, there is a much better public one just around the corner, but the sundecks scattered around the hotels rambling peninsular are fantastic and if you don’t fancy the pools you can step into the sea.
There are several restaurants on site. Quadro is lovely for an on-site, fine dining experience expected of a five star. Although the food is good and fresh at The Terrace buffet the experience is more four star than five, it is not exceptional. The hotel is on the doorstep of the increasingly sophisticated town of St Juliens, however, and there are excellent local restaurants just a short stroll away overlooking the harbour at Spinola Bay.
October 17th, 2011
In a house with kids, it’s easy to lose a weekend. I’m sure you know what I mean. With homework, swim meets, birthday parties, you can forget to take some time to just relax. I can’t do it sitting at home. The list of things to do is too long, so I try to plan fun family adventures right in my Northern California Wine Country backyard.
This was one of our best summer’s yet. Splashing on a hot day at the Francis Ford Coppola Winery, riding through Chalk Hill’s Vineyards with Wine Country Trail Rides and ziplining through the redwoods. Now I can add a California Castle to the growing list.
Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa is located in California’s Napa Valley, in the small-town setting of Calistoga. If you’re not paying attention you’ll drive right by it on North Saint Helena Highway. But once you make the turn and start your way up the driveway, the Tuscan castle will make a dramatic first impression. It took 15 years to build the 121,000 square foot castle with 107 rooms (95 devoted to winemaking) a church, drawbridge, moat and yes, even torture chamber.
You might be curious to know how a castle found its way to the middle of Napa Valley? It’s a childhood dream come true.
Castle owner, Dario Sattui, of V. Sattui Winery fame, explains it best in a welcome message posted at the entrance to the castle.
“I built Castello di Amorosa (Castle of Love) because of my passionate, all-consuming desire to create something extraordinary, to honor my Italian heritage, because of my deep love of medieval architecture, and because of my commitment to making superior wines in a magnificent setting.” Dario Sattui
Kid Friendly Tours
“That knight suit is my new Halloween costume,” declared my 10 year-old daughter as we were getting ready to start our tour.
My girls were the only kids on the tour, but our guide Henriette hooked them right in when she asked if they had ever seen the movie Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler. Turns out parts of the movie were shot at the castle, and my girls were quick to remember the scenes as we got moving.
Tours last about 1-1/2 hours in length. Along with learning about winemaking, you’ll learn fascinating things about the castle itself. Sattui spared no expense making the castle as authentic as possible. Handmade antique bricks were purchased and shipped from Europe. Painters were brought from Tuscany. All the ironwork was hand-forged by Italian artisans. The ironwork dragons and stone gargoyles have definite kid appeal. My kids enjoyed finding whatever lurked around the next corner. And some of those corners are dark. Two-thirds of the castle is below ground.
Gargoyles aren’t the only surprise. Keep your eyes open for Lancelot and Guinevere, the resident felines. Lancelot has been known to accompany tours every now and then. You’ll spend about an hour walking, the tasting will take up the rest of the tour time. Take a sweater, the wine caves can be chilly.
My kids had just about had it when it was time to taste, so I didn’t expect to be able to linger very long, but when we entered the small tasting room reserved for tours a special kids table was set and ready to go with crayons and castle inspired coloring sheets. They headed straight for it, leaving my husband and I in the dust. We made it through 2, maybe 3 tastings before one wandered over to see what we were up to.
While the adults were enjoying a selection of Castello di Amorosa’s italian style wines, the girls we sipping from the winery’s bottled Muscat of Alexandria, also known as California grape juice. The next thing you know our guide Henriette had also delivered chocolate to their table.
Wineries can get crowded and noisy, so the private tasting room that came along with the tour was nice perk for families.
I’d recommend making a reservation for a guided tour. If you’d just like to do a tasting and not tour the castle, reservations are not necessary. When you arrive, instead of heading for the main tasting area, look for a smaller tasting area that is home to the Knight’s Room. Right next to the tasting bar is a large table covered with crayons and castle coloring sheets for kids of all ages. The table was full of kids and folks I’ll call kids at heart, showing off their artistic side.
“Tons of families come in and out everyday,” said Castello di Amorosa employee Kelly Valles. “How many castles do you get to go in in California?”
My girls couldn’t wait to get to the castle store to buy the sea salt chocolate they had sampled, along with their own bottle of Muscat of Alexandria. Their own bottle put in a fancy wine bag that they weren’t letting go of. Mom the Sherpa was happily, albeit temporarily, out of work.
It was time to head home, and think about dinner and homework. Just one catch, when you leave the castle you exit on another side of the property. Home to sweeping views of vines and a few lucky sheep, chickens and peacocks. You know what happens when kids and critters get together.
That’s okay. I wasn’t in any rush to get home to that to do list.
Editorial Note: Dana and her family were given a complimentary tour of Castello di Amorosa. She was not asked to present any particular point of view in her coverage of the experience. Photos by Dana Rebmann
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino
Wine Country Trail Rides with kids
Francis Ford Coppola Winery swimming pool
Five kid-friendly activities in Napa Valley
Napa Valley with kids, exploring the Oxbow Market
Ziplining with Sonoma Canopy Tours
, Napa Valley
, North America
October 14th, 2011
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
The first thought that came to mind when I heard that Disney was building a resort on Oahu was that it would be another Disneyland in Hawaii.
Disney didn’t just build a hotel, put in a Luau and call it a Hawaiian resort. They integrated Hawaiian culture with Disney quality and service in every aspect of the resort.
The name Aulani means “the place that speaks with deep messages”. The beauty of Aulani is that there are many different messages: fun, relaxation, family time, and adult time to name a few. Bob Iger, President and CEO of the Walt Disney Company summed up the philosophy at Aulani very simply, “Aulani has something for everyone to do but not necessarily all together.”
Everyone’s message can be different. And my message? I left Aulani with a deep appreciation for Hawaiian culture and storytelling that I’d never experienced in previous trips to Hawaii.
View of the beach at Disney’s Aulani Resort
Review of Disney’s Aulani Resort for Families
The creation of Aulani took over five years from concept to opening and a key factor was finding and creating the perfect location for families. The lagoons at Ko Olina fit the bill. Calm waters mean easy swimming for families and a stroller-friendly walking path winds around nearby lagoons and resorts.
There are too many activities to mention all of them. Here are the highlights:
Water Activities: Pool, Beach and Snorkeling
Main pool area: Waikolohe Valley is where most of the water action takes place and is a mini waterpark. You’ll find pools, hot tubs, waterslides (look for the hidden whale carved into the rocks that spouts when you go down the slide), and a water play area for younger kids with slides and lots of spraying water.
Two areas to note: Makai Preserve and Rainbow Reef. Makai Preserve is a sting ray feeding experience and Rainbow Reef is a manmade snorkeling lagoon stocked with over 1200 fish. The experience is akin to snorkeling in an aquarium and is very easy with young children. There is an additional fee for these activities and you can keep your snorkel equipment until the end of the day.
Snorkeling: The lagoon in front of the resort does have snorkeling although it was just okay. If you take the path past the JW Marriott you’ll come to two small lagoons. The first often has sea turtles and is best in the morning before the water gets too choppy. If you continue on, you’ll come to a second lagoon in front of a Luau area that is shallow and completely protected and great for small children because the fish are visible from the surface. The path can be rocky so bring good walking shoes.
Fish Feeding: The JW Marriott holds a free fish feeding everyday at 7:30 am. Meet at the beach rental shack in front of the Marriott. Anyone is welcome. The fish are basically “trained” after 10 years of this program and show up en-masse for the daily feeding. Each person is given a small bag of fish food.
Kids’ Club Playground
Two Other Entertainment Activities Worth Mentioning
At breakfast one morning Joe Rohde Sr. VP, Walt Disney Imagineering said “We [Disney] tried to create things at Aulani that the kids would notice before the adults”. The Menehune Adventure Trail, a scavenger hunt around the resort grounds using a smart phone and narrated by Aunty from Aunty’s Beach House is a perfect example. Kids look into rock holes and bushes and water areas as they try to solve riddles and puzzles. The trail takes at least 45 minutes to complete.
The Starlight Hui is a modern take on the traditional Luau show and engages adults and kids alike with interactive songs and spectacular dance. It’s offered several nights a week.
Aunty narrating the scavenger hunt on the Menehune Adventure Trail
Aunty’s Beach House
If you’ve been on a Disney Cruise and have used the kids’ clubs on the ship, Aunty’s Beach House will be familiar. Aunty’s feels like your grandma’s house and is split into two sections; Aunty’s side is for younger children and Uncle’s side is for older children. There is also a backyard complete with tree house and surf-themed patio. They have it all here; dress up, interactive computer generated games, a movie lounge and science classes. Kids Club is for ages 3-12 and is complimentary. Lunch or dinner is an additional charge.
There is a spa treatment for every age here – even babies. Parents can learn how to massage babies to help them sleep better and relieve colic. Young children can participate in a family massage and teens have Painted Sky which is part open spa, part hang-out room. Adults can luxuriate at Laniwai, the adult spa. I loved my lomi-lomi massage here.
Menehune statues are scattered throughout the resort
Rooms are upscale with Hawaiian accents and a sprinkle of Disney characters mixed in the décor. Guests can choose from traditional rooms or if available, Disney Vacation Club villas that come with separate bedrooms and kitchens.
And if you find yourself wanting to try additional activities, book an excursion. Excursions by Adventures by Disney and local partners are top-notch. I can vouch for the quality of the Hawaiian Fireman Surf School – I was certain I was ready for the North Shore after my lesson!
If you go: Rates begin at $399, check the website for current pricing and offers. Aulani is located 30-40 minutes by car from the Honolulu airport.
Editorial Note: Disney hosted Kristi Marcelle for the grand opening celebration of the Aulani resort. Photos courtesy of Kristi Marcelle
Hawaiian Fire surf lessons at Disney’s Aulani Resort
Best of Hawaii photo tour
Big Island of Hawai’i with kids
Oahu with kids
Kauai with kids
Maui with kids
10 Surprises on the Disney Dream
Preparing for Disney Dream Cruise
Disney Cruise Line vacation review
Tips for an optimal Disney Cruise
Kudos to Disney for allergy-friendly practices
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October 12th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Travel writer Pauline Frommer is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host on WOR NewsTalk Radio 710 and publishes a series of award-winning worldwide travel guides. Pauline has been traveling since she was a child and now shares her passion for exploring the world with her daughters, ages 8 and 12.
I was fortunate enough to take her guidebook seminar at the annual Travel Writers and Photographers Conference in Corte Madera, California and witnessed first-hand how Pauline evaluates and describes experiences. Her remarkable insight and engaging descriptions flow naturally. If you want to be inspired to travel — with or without kids — meet Pauline. You can follow her on Twitter @PaulineFrommer.
Pauline Frommer and her family in Northern Ireland
What is your favorite destination with your kids?
Anyplace that has outdoor attractions. I’ve raised city kids so when they go to places that have natural features, or even just water, they will spend hours playing outside. Even our European vacations include days spent out in the open. We recently visited Ireland and my kids loved scrambling over rocks and simply being outside.
Do your kids share your passion for travel?
My little one does and the older one does not. They are very different kids. My older daughter takes after her father and needs hotel downtime while my youngest can constantly be on the go. We try and make it work as a family but sometimes we choose to split up.
As my older daughter is now 12, social interaction is paramount. Tweens start to have trouble being out of touch with their friends back home. So, to keep the peace, we make sure to give her time to email and text her buddies.
Is there any destination you wouldn’t go with kids?
It depends on the age of the children. When my kids were babies I was nervous about taking them to places without good medical care. Now that they’re older, I wouldn’t bring them to Iran, Iraq or crazy dangerous regions. There are some countries that people consider dangerous that I take a more nuanced view of, like Mexico for example. It’s a huge country and while I wouldn’t bring them to the border regions, there are many areas that are safe where I’d have no qualms visiting with my daughters.
I use British and Australian government travel advisory websites for research into safety issues as they give more detail and are level headed. Information sources are important.
What resources do you use when planning a trip?
I use guidebooks authored by writers who visit every major hotel in an area and dozens of minor ones. As a result, their recommendations are based on a large pool of information. In addition, many guidebook writers live in the destination they cover so they constantly have access and updates on resources. This perspective is essential as many people who write reviews on user-generated sites have just visited one place with no comparative data points.
What are your tips for incorporating budget travel into family travel?
Don’t assume that budget travel is not possible with kids — they might actually prefer it. A big tip is that kids love to rough it. They get excited about traveling to interesting places and staying at unusual accommodations that aren’t standard hotels. Kids are happiest when they’re in a tent in a national park. The outdoors is the cheapest type of vacation.
We were in England recently and had a great time at a bed & breakfast with no bathroom in the room and no TV. This forced my kids to go to the lounge where they met other kids.
Hostels can be great too, as they love meeting the teen and early 20’s travelers, but one of the best things for families to do is to rent an apartment or exchange their home with another family. Rentals have access to a kitchen; this is helpful given that food can be tricky with kids. My children pick at restaurant meals and then are hungry an hour later. And when you exchange homes with other families, they come with bikes, games, and socket covers.
Budget travel also teaches a moral lesson. If a vacation is a luxury blow out, it becomes more about the room service and the size of the swimming pool and less about the destination itself. Travel is not about the hotel but about the history and culture of the places you’re visiting.
WOR710 is hosting a giveaway right now for $5,000 in airfare, a $500 American Express Gift Card, and a 5-year membership to HomeExchange.com.
Entries must be received by 11:59 EST on October 14, 2011. Click here for more information.
October 10th, 2011
October is here and even though I’m still not quite ready to say goodbye to summer, I have to admit a tinge of excitement because my family’s Halloween countdown has begun. You don’t have to be a kid to get into the spirit of Halloween in Northern California. All you have to do is enjoy a sense of mystery and know the way to San Jose.
Winchester Mystery House by Harshlight on Flickr
Winchester Mystery House
About an hour south of San Francisco, the city of San Jose is home to the Winchester Mystery House. In 1884, Winchester rifle heiress, Sarah Winchester bought an unfinished farm house. With an income of $1000 a day her hobby it seems was living in a house under construction. Over the course of 38 years the farm house grew into a seven-story mansion with 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 stairways, 47 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, and 6 kitchens.
But it’s not just the Winchester Mystery House’s size that intrigues visitors. Winchester had an perplexing sense of design; staircases lead to nowhere, doors open to solid walls, a window built into the floor, upside down posts, doors without doorknobs and closets with a mere inch of storage space.
Winchester had construction workers on the job 24 hours a day for 38 years. Work stopped when she died September 5, 1922 leaving many rooms in the house unfinished. Think bare walls, missing plaster and exposed floor boards.
No one knows why she built the house the way she did. She bought the property after the deaths of her husband and infant daughter and legend has it she was convinced by a medium her family was being haunted by the spirits of others killed by Winchester rifles.
Convinced the deaths of her daughter and husband were caused by these spirits, Mrs. Winchester feared she was next. In order to save herself, her medium told her to move west and build a house for the spirits, and as long as construction never stopped, she would never die.
Who knows, maybe she thought a door that opened to a wall would confuse the spirits as well, and keep them away from her. It’s the type of story that screams telling, especially at Halloween.
Touring the Winchester Mystery House by flashlight
Halloween Flashlight Tour
The House and Gardens are open all year long for tours. But if you can make the trip in October, book a “Halloween Flashlight Tour.” This is not a haunted house. By the light of the moon and your souvenir flashlight, you’ll tour the mysterious mansion. Your guide will share stories of ghost sightings and strange phenomena reported over the years. Is it a little creepy? Sure. But no one is going to jump out at you and scream “boo!”
I’d say kids age 8 and up will enjoy the adventure and playing with the flashlights in the dark. The tour lasts about an hour and 15 minutes. By the time you’re finished you’ll walk more than a mile so make sure everyone is wearing good shoes and has a sweatshirt.
Curse of Sarah Winchester Maze
Haunted house lovers, this is for you. The Curse of Sarah Winchester Maze takes about 20 terrifying minutes to fearfully make your way through, which I’m told makes it one of the longest haunted attractions on the West Coast.
With 60 roaming scare performers, a fog machine and a hallway with flexible moving walls that try to make you a thinner person, this is not for the faint at heart. It’s recommended for kids 13 and up, but know your kids.
My 13 year-old wouldn’t even consider it, and I wasn’t about to try and convince her. My 10 year-old begged to go. After a fair amount of discussion, I gave in. She made it halfway through and decided she’d seen enough. She didn’t freak out, just decided being scared wasn’t as much fun as she thought it would be.
The Maze and the Flashlight Tour are two separate events, so families with kids a variety of ages can easily divide and conquer. There’s an indoor snack bar and huge gift shop where fraidy cats can wait in brightly lit peace.
Think of happy thoughts before you head to bed and get a good night’s sleep. My family spent the night at the Fairmont, located in downtown San Jose. The hotel’s central location is within walking distance of some many of San Jose family-friendly favorites like the Children’s Discovery Museum and The Tech Museum. (Both museums are gems. Full posts coming soon.)
Snoopy’s Costume Party at California’s Great America
Trick or Treat Practice
In keeping with our Halloween theme, the next day we headed to California’s Great America for Snoopy’s Costume Party. Open weekends through October, kids 12 and under are encouraged to come to the park in costume and trick-or-treat with Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang. About a half-dozen trick-or-treat stations are set up in the Planet Snoopy section of the park. The stations are close together and in an area with a number of mellow amusement rides for the younger set. Pumpkins and fun Peanuts Halloween decorations are at every turn so bring your cameras, photo opportunities abound. Families with kids a variety of ages need not worry. My 13 year-old was more than welcome with her younger sister and the lure of candy made her more than happy to take part.
With school back in full swing and popular weekend commitments like soccer games and football games dominating many family calendars, a trip to an amusement park might not be at the top of the list, but I think now is actually the perfect time to go. Lines were short and we moved from one ride to the next with little delay, that is until my girls saw what I will fondly call a bubble party. If it has a name, we couldn’t find it on a sign or the park map. We had seen clumps of bubbles blowing through the park all afternoon but had no idea where the sparkly clusters were coming from until we wandered into the party area in the All American Corners section of the park.
A simple but brilliant idea. Two squares formed with hay bales. One for younger kids and one for the tween and teen group. Inside each square were bubble machines working overtime. But these weren’t the type of bubble that went airborne right away. They were heavy and tended to stick around until a good wind came through. The result, bubbles, bubbles everywhere. At its deepest point, my girls had bubbles up to their waist, in their hair, just everywhere.
It’s like a giant bubble bath, just not quite as wet. I was smart enough to have my girls shed some extra layers before they went in, which assured dry clothes to put on when they came out. They went in but never came out, until the bubble machines were turned off at 5:30pm when the park closed for the day. But not for the night…
Up close with a creepy clown
California’s Great America Halloween Haunt is held during select nights in October. Your day ticket to the park won’t get you through the gates. It’s a special ticketed event and requires a separate ticket for admission. This is not for the faint of heart. There’s no age requirement, but the park is very upfront with prospective ticket buyers, warning folks they don’t recommend the event for kids under the age of 13. Parental discretion is key. Though the majority of the crowd was teens and up, I saw babes-in-arms and strollers rolling through the park.
“Here they scare you if you want it or not,” said Michaela a mother from Concord, California. The Halloween Haunt is a yearly tradition in her family. She started bringing her daughter when she was in second grade, but she’s quick to admit her daughter, now 11, has never been the type afraid of “blood and guts.”
Halloween Haunt is an in-your-face type of event. Creepy clowns and an assortment of gory monsters wander the park freely, on the lookout for victims to scare. They can jump out at you at any time, and if you run, chances are they will chase you. There are haunted mazes and special shows in addition to the park’s collection of rides.
The Great America closes from 5:30p until 7pm to make the switch from happy amusement park to haunting hallows. Most folks don’t stay for both, they pick one or the other. But like many families, I have a kid that fits into both age groups, so I wanted to check out both sessions. Instead of leaving the park and coming back, we had dinner at the Pre-Scare “Boofet” Dinner. Just about when my kids had finished dessert, a cast of ghostly ghouls came visiting. They had fun scaring adults and kids alike as they made their way through the dining area, then lead us into the park a few minutes before the official opening time, a big perk for the hardcore amusement park type. It wasn’t a great amount of time, but it meant my family was first in line to jump on a favorite roller coaster.
My girls didn’t think much of the assorted monsters roaming the park. There were actually a good amount of laughs and smiles, especially when I was the one who got spooked and nearly spilled a drink all over myself. But then the sun went down. Once the park was dark, the mood definitely changed for the scarier. And I noticed the more tired my kids became, the more worried they became about being scared.
Crowds were light so we easily hit the favorite rides, but at 10 and 13, neither of my girls were interested in the haunted mazes or scary shows. When we made our way back to the infamous bubble party and saw it was still closed, both kids agreed they were ready to call it a night and asked if there was a way to avoid being scared on the way out.
No Wimps Allowed
Bottom line, know your kids and their limits. If your family falls into both categories, I’d err on the side of caution and roam the park during daylight hours. You’ll have more energy and the benefit of bubbles. Both events offer great fun that will surely get you in the holiday mood. Whether it’s happy or haunting is up to you. Either will be sweet.
Dana Rebmann and her family received complimentary lodging and activities in San Jose courtesy of TeamSanJose. She was not asked to express any particular opinion or point of view. Photo Credit all but Winchester Mystery House main photo is Dana Rebmann.
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