Archive for December 2011
December 30th, 2011
Sometimes I wonder how my family fits it all in. Life with a teen and tween is busier than I ever imagined which makes me appreciate our time together traveling even more.
It’s time to explore new places and relax, instead of finishing homework and racing off to swim practice. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit some fabulous places this year. And along with great destinations came equally impressive family-friendly hotels and resorts.
JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa
Narrowing down the best of the bunch wasn’t easy, but if you can find the time, I’ve got five you should fit into your family’s 2012 travel schedule. You won’t be disappointed!
And, by the way, I’m listing them in order of my family’s stay, not in order of preference.
Incredible jungle lodge setting in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Laguna Lodge, Tortuguero
Complete with a 24 hour chocolate milk bar, Laguna Lodge was our home away from home during our family vacation in the Jungle of Costa Rica. Tortuguero, Costa Rica, population 1200, is in the middle of nowhere. It has a small airport, but most visitors opt for the two hour boat ride.
Laguna Lodge offers clean, comfortable, rustic rooms in an incredible jungle setting. My girls don’t especially enjoy sleeping together when we travel, so the fact our room had three beds, a queen and two twins, meant a better night’s sleep for all!
If the crocodiles, sloths, birds and monkeys don’t keep you busy, Laguna Lodge will. Kids of all ages can run on the soccer field or volleyball court, or head straight to the family pool. Adults looking for peace and quiet can stake out a spot at the adult only pool.
Family horseback riding on the beach in Costa Rica
JW Marriott, Guanacaste
Our stay in Guanacaste was perfect end to a 10 day Costa Rica adventure. Designed to be the actual “vacation” part of the trip, it was just what the family needed. The JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa is an immense property where you can do just about anything.
My recommendations; take the family horseback riding on the beach, zipling or hunt for a turtle nest in the tropical bird and wildlife sanctuary. The kids swam miles in the resort’s infinity pool. It’s the largest in Central America.
With them so well entertained, I took a two-hour walk on the beach … and after leaving the resort boundaries never saw another soul. It was just me and all the shells I could carry. Pure bliss!
Sand castle building school at the Hyatt Huntington Beach
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach
You can’t not have fun at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. It’s impossible. If the scenic stretch of the Pacific Ocean just out the back door wasn’t enough, Slyders water playground will make your kids think you’re a star for finding the perfect vacation spot.
The water playground has three mellow but fun water slides, an enormous 25-person hot tub, a wading pool for little ones, and a large family pool. The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach poolside café has great kid-friendly options, if you can get the kids out of the water.
Surf lessons, Dig It! sand castle building school and kite flying lessons will easily fill the rest of your day. When the sun goes down, try keeping everyone awake for s’mores and a dive-in movie.
Family-friendly Stanley Park in Vancouver
Fairmont Pacific Rim
Every now and then I get to sneak away without the kids. On a trip to Vancouver with a college friend I fell in love with the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Less than a couple years old, it’s a newcomer making its mark on the Vancouver hotel scene.
Designed with five star standards and amenities, it’s sophisticated and comfortable at the same time. With stunning harbor and mountain views from just about every angle, the location can’t be beat.
In the heart of the Vancouver, a quick walk will take you to popular Vancouver attractions like Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium and the Gastown area. The fact that I didn’t have the family with me is my excuse to go back sooner as opposed to later.
Bee keeping Carmel Valley Ranch
Carmel Valley Ranch
Want to do something unique with your kids? How about a visit to a 500 acre playground? Carmel Valley Ranch loves kids and kids at heart. Their “playlist” of activities includes suiting up and learning the ins and outs of bee keeping, distilling lavender, and hiking with the deer and wild turkeys who are lucky enough to call Carmel Valley Ranch home.
The River Ranch Complex has a small playground, Junior Olympic Pool, an oversized hot tub, soaking fountains, bocce ball, basketball and tennis courts. Whew!
Whatever you do, don’t leave without swinging on one of the resort’s iconic tree swings. When’s the last time you were on a swing? Too long I bet.
So many choices to little time. Get out the family calendar and make reservations. Don’t let homework, school fundraisers and track meets steal all your weekends.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
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December 27th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
It never occurred to Jody Halsted and her husband not to travel with their children. Frequent travelers since the age of 3 months both girls are seasoned travelers with stamps in their passports and airline miles to their names. Jody shares her family’s travel adventures at Family Rambling and Ireland with Kids.
Omni Mandalay in Los Colinas Kid’s Fantasy Suite
It’s a shame Omni Hotels aren’t in every city in the US as the staff are always courteous, the rooms are consistently lovely and the level of kid-friendliness has my girls anticipating every visit.
During a recent trip to the Dallas area we were privileged to stay in the Kid’s Fantasy Suite at the Omni Mandalay at Los Colinas. This 2 room suite on the 23rd floor can be described only as incredible.
Omni Mandalay in Las Colinas
While there is no kids’ club at this hotel you’ll find a few fun things on property and nearby to keep the kids busy. A play area in the rear courtyard is a fun addition for young guests while the walking trail around Lake Louise, just behind the hotel, is terrific for a morning jog or an evening stroll. Your kids can also “check out” an activity case from the front desk.
Omni milk and cookies delivery
Fantasy Kid’s Suite
It’s unlikely, however, that you children will need the extra activities if you check into the Kid’s Suite.
The suite itself consists of two large rooms connected by an inner door. The kids room is huge and features its own bathroom, with special green frog towels, a large desk with reams of paper for artistic works, a comfy couch and chair perfectly placed for cozy chats or watching movies on the flat screen TV. But the most popular feature of this room, for my girls, was the pair of twin beds covered with stuffed animals waiting to be cuddled.
Each evening brings a delivery of milk and cookies, perfect for ending the day on a sweet note.
Just through the connecting door is the parent’s oasis, the King Suite. With a plush sitting room, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake, work desk and comfy king bed, it’s easy to forget the kids are just next door.
The bathroom is large and gleaming with a spacious vanity, bathtub and walk in shower.
While adults don’t get milk and cookies in the evening, they can receive complimentary beverages in the morning, as well as free wifi, by simply joining the Omni Select Guest program.
The Omni Mandalay in Las Colinas is centrally located to both Dallas and Fort Worth making it easy to enjoy an afternoon at the Fort Worth Stockyards — a must see when you’re in the area!
Photo Credit Jody Halstead of Family Rambling. Jody received discounted accommodations at Omni Mandalay. Her opinions are her own and she was not asked to express any particular point of view.
Review of Omni Mount Washington Resort on Ciao Bambino
Review of Omni San Francisco Hotel on Ciao Bambino
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December 21st, 2011
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
You could easily pass the Surf & Sand Resort as you drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach and think it was just another nicely renovated hotel. And when you step inside you might think it’s a hip hotel, perfect for that girls’ night out or romantic weekend. And it is.
So what about the kids?
When you step inside with kids you receive the same great service as everyone else and knowledgeable concierges who know exactly what families need. The Surf & Sand Resort exudes what Laguna Beach is all about — understated and classy, yet a place where flip flops are always welcome. It’s a casual hotel that takes vacation seriously.
Beachfront in Southern California
Location, Location, Location
Surf & Sand Resort is literally on the beach, any closer and you could dive off your balcony into the ocean. It’s a 15-minute walk (a little longer if you take the beach) past restaurants and shops into downtown Laguna Beach, where you’ll find more shops, restaurants, and galleries. There’s also Main Beach, the downtown hub and a great family hangout with a playground and tidepools.
When you need a break from the beach, one of the best playgrounds in the area, Bluebird Canyon Park, is a five minute stroll from the hotel. The rocket tower will have the kids scrambling to get in. During summer, the free city trolley stops in front of the hotel and can take you to South Laguna, downtown or to the Festival of the Arts.
The location couldn’t be any better if you want to explore Laguna Beach.
Oceanfront rooms hang over the sand
Rooms Impossibly Close to the Ocean
All but three rooms have ocean views. The oceanfront rooms are so close to the water’s edge that the sea air permeates the room and you almost feel like you’re on a boat but minus the rocking waves. The view from the balcony is of the jagged Laguna Beach coastline and you’ll commonly see shore birds and dolphins. If you’re lucky and visiting at the right time you may see a whale.
The staff goes out of their way to make your stay memorable and they anticipate what you need before you ask for it. We experienced this level of service throughout the hotel from the turn down service to the restaurant to the valets.
We ate in Splashes restaurant, an upscale venue where locals go for special occasions. It has one of the best views in Laguna. We ate indoors and it felt a bit quiet with kids; however, if the weather had been warmer, we would have eaten outside with the gorgeous view of the ocean. During summer you’ll find more families here.
While this may be an upscale restaurant, no one blinked an eye when three teenage girls scampered through the dining room on their way back from the pool. This casual vibe is found in all areas of the hotel.
En suite camping
Highlights for Kids
My 8-year old screamed “there’s a heater under the bed!” when we walked into the room. Much to his chagrin I told him it was just lighting under the bed and that he would not be sleeping in a heated bed.
He was especially amused by the earplugs provided for guests who find the crashing waves too loud for sleeping, as well as the little note in the room letting guests know that if the feathered friends leave a special present on your balcony, you can call the front desk to let them know. We were on seagull watch all day.
However, the biggest hit by far, was the tent that was set up between the beds. It had Cars and Barbie sleeping bags inside it and a little bag of s’mores for each child. This provided endless amusement and for parents, there’s a hole in the back so you can see what’s going on inside even when the front is closed.
My 6-year old thought it was “kind of cool that they setted up that tent” and she slept in it that night. The sleeping bags were perfect to curl up on the balcony lounge chairs. My daughter liked the tent so much she had another guest at the pool convinced that he should ask for it next time he brought his family.
The most obvious highlight for kids is the beach. It’s just so easy to go down for awhile yet have your room and the restaurant right there if you need anything. I’d also recommend a beach walk to downtown Laguna Beach. You’ll have an adventure scampering over rocks and climbing up the beach access stairs when the tide is too high and then back down again — it’s a fun way to get to dinner!
Kids’ kayaking expedition with La Vida Laguna
Close to Wildlife
While there is no kids club here, during summer months there are kids’ activities at the pool and the concierge can arrange anything and everything. We tried a 2-hour kayaking expedition with La Vida Laguna through the Laguna Beach kelp beds and around seal rock. Our guide, John, gave us kayaking instructions before going out that we mostly forgot once in the water but it did make the kids more comfortable.
We saw a lot of wild life including sea lions frolicking and barking near us, ocean birds and garibaldi, the state fish. On other days you may see dolphins and different varieties of fish. John was knowledgeable about the area and taught us how to “shoot” the kelp bulbs at each other — which takes some practice.
My 8-year old thought this was fun and told his friends all about it at school. This is a great way to see the local wildlife and get some exercise in the process.
If You Go: We loved the hotel picnic lunches packed in sand buckets. The food is outstanding and it is a fun way to eat lunch. The chocolate chip cookies are to-die-for (you can find them in the café too).
A big thank you to the OCeanfront for setting up this experience. Be sure and head to their website for information on Orange County’s 42 miles of beautiful coastline.
Photo Credit: Kristi Marcelle
Kristi and her family received a one-night complimentary stay at Surf & Sand Resort. She was not asked to express any particular opinion about her stay.
Celebrating the holidays at Disneyland
5 kid-friendly activities in Los Angeles
Behind the scenes tour at San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park
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December 19th, 2011
You can spend months planning a family vacation only to find when you actually hit the road that it’s the unexpected stuff that steals the show. Case in point, critters. Animal meetings on family adventures are often surprises that tend to lead to success.
I did more traveling than I’ll admit to before it clicked that Kids & Kritters are a great traveling combination.
Swamp monsters from the Everglades
Chevrolet Volt Sunshine Road Trip
When I was invited to take my teen on the Chevrolet Volt Sunshine Road Trip from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Key West, I thought it was a great trip for a teenager. There’s plenty to see and do, with some stretches of road to catch-up on Algebra or take a much needed nap. Amazing animals never crossed my mind.
We Have Arrived
Our road trip began in sunny, Southwest Florida on the warm Gulf of Mexico. I have family in that neck of the woods, so I had a nice feel of familiarity as my daughter and I jumped in our Chevrolet Volt.
Other than adjusting to the fact you can’t hear the car when it’s running, hitting the road for the first time in an electric car was pretty seamless. My teen navigator was in charge of all the bells and whistles like XM Radio and OnStar. She seemed to master the basics in the half-hour drive to Naples.
Cuter swamp critters
All sorts of things call the sandy beaches of Southwest Florida home. Along with empty and still occupied seashells, sandpipers and pelicans are pretty predictable residents. But don’t forget to keep scanning the Gulf of Mexico, you never know when dolphins might come cruising by.
Jump on US 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail, and the world changes dramatically in 30 miles. From pastel painted seaside city to subtropical Florida swamp. Home to 14 endangered and nine threatened species of animals, the Everglades is one of America’s more under-appreciated chunks of the National Park Service.
There are some animals I bet most families could live without seeing. Venous snakes, including water moccasins are found throughout the Big Cypress National Preserve. But there are plenty of cuter critters like wading herons and egrets. A cluster of more than a hundred beautiful white birds in the middle of a swamp got and held my daughter’s attention.
Sunning alligators are usually pretty easy to find. Turn off onto the unpaved Turner River Road or head a little farther east to the Oasis Visitor Center. Raised wooden walkways offer secure kid viewing locations for any possibly anxious parents.
Don’t leave without going inside the Visitor Center. Kids love the stuffed Florida Panther on display and the bathrooms are clean!
Moon jellyfish at Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Light at the End of the Grassy Tunnel
Everything changes once again when you hit Miami and roll toward the Florida Keys. Key Largo, the first and largest Key is home to America’s first undersea park. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is home to North America’s only living coral reef.
Take a ride on a glass bottom boat or go snorkeling to meet all sorts of colorful critters like coral, moon jellyfish, sea fans and plumes. My daughter gave a slight shudder when she learned she had glided past numerous barracudas.
Theater of the Sea
Don’t Forget Your Suit
As you continue to head south, I think the critters get cuter. Maybe it’s the stronger sunshine. Pelicans pull at your heart strings for the fish you’re supposed to feed the tarpons at Robbie’s Marina. Smile at a sea turtle or swim with dolphins, rays or sea lions on Islamorada at Theater of the Sea.
Dolphin Research Center
If the kids are asleep or happily entertained in the backseat, don’t stop, log some more miles and stop at the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key at mile marker 59. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to “promote peaceful coexistence between marine mammals and humans and the environment we share through research and education and to operate for the advancement of such research and education.”
They offer more than a dozen creative ways to meet dolphins and sea lions. If the kids aren’t old enough to get wet, they can meet a dolphin and hold a t-shirt for the dolphin to paint. When finished the masterpiece is yours to keep. I can’t think of a better souvenir!
An iguana catching rays
The Side of the Road
As you take in the view, pay attention to what’s looking right back at you from the side of the road. Huge iguanas are a common sight, out catching some rays. As you get closer to Key West you might spy some Key deer. Bright yellow road signs warn you when to start looking.
Six-toed cat at Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum
Cock a Doodle Do
Go for a walk with the kids and count all the roosters. Chances are you’ll lose count before you make it to the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum.
The kids don’t need to know anything about the famous writer, all they’ll care about are the polydactyl or six-toed cats. Hemingway loved these unique cats and when he lived in the house in the 1930’s he had 50 to 60 of them. Today 44 of their “grand kittens” call the grounds home. Hemingway named his cats after famous people and the tradition lives on today. With names like Harry S. Truman, who knows the kids might learn a little history while they’re there.
Chevrolet covered Dana and her daughter’s expenses during the Volt Sunshine Road Trip, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.
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December 15th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Michelle Duffy is WanderMom, the co-author of the how-to family travel book Traveling with Kids, and a co-founder of the incredible travel blogger fundraiser (going on right now!) Passports with Purpose. She just returned from an insane world tour with her 12 and 14-year-old boys in tow where they visited 26 countries in 365 days.
The logistics involved in a trip like this are massive. Of course, it was worth every minute of work in the end. Michelle’s stories are nothing short of astounding. Be sure and follow WanderMom as she recounts her adventure. Their full itinerary is available on her Family World Trip page.
I recently interviewed Michelle to get the scoop on her trip. I’m in awe! You’re my family travel hero Michelle.
Family travel Iran
What inspired you to take this round the world trip with your kids?
When I first met my husband he had a visa ready to go for Australia. His bags were packed, but then I came along and a year later we had a Green Card for the US. We were only planning a short while before continuing on — you know how that goes, with work, family, and kids in play, time goes right by. We knew that if we didn’t take our trip soon we’d never have this experience with our boys.
Your boys are 12 and 14. In retrospect, is this a good age range for this kind of travel?
For me the ideal ages are 8 and 12. I could have done without the teenage drama that comes with traveling with a 14-year-old (on the other hand, we were able to get a few date nights into our trip). The main thing is for kids to be able to carry their own bags, be aware of the difference in cultures, and still enjoy simple entertainment like playgrounds.
How long did it take you to prepare?
We planned our trip over the course of 18 months. Six of those months were truly active getting finances in order and packing up our house. We did very little pre-trip booking.
We figured out our overall itinerary by looking at weather patterns in conjunction with travel time between our target destinations (the BBC has a wonderful climate tool). Our goal was to hit destinations during their spring and summer months as this made packing much easier. Be sure and read Michelle’s Round the World Logistics posts on her blog for nitty gritty details on how they planned this trip.
Did you use Round the World airline tickets?
We investigated RTW tickets and found that they are best if you are leaving from the US or UK and plan to include Australia and New Zealand in the itinerary. If not, which was our case, it’s more cost effective to book stand-alone routing.
Where did you stay?
We lived on $150 a day including food, activities, and accommodations. As a result, cost was an important factor for us. We stayed in mostly hostels although every once in awhile we’d get to splurge for something really fabulous. Read RTW Travel – How Much Does it Cost for more insight on the expense side of extended family travel.
What was your biggest nightmare?
Without a doubt it was the day we lost our son Brendan in the jungle. We were zip-lining in Laos and got separated — he was lost for seven hours. This was truly terrifying as we were in a remote location with no easy way to access a doctor if he was found injured.
When the search party came back after darkness fell without him and said they had to stop searching, we were beside ourselves. A half-an-hour later he turned up.
It turns out he had walked down the wrong path down the mountain. He ended up at a local village dehydrated and crying. Fortunately, although the villagers spoke no English, the zip-line is the largest employer in the area and they were able to figure out where he came from after seeing his harness.
You home-schooled your kids. How did this work in practice?
It was tough. You learn quickly how difficult it is to teach and explain new concepts to kids. A parent-turned-teacher has to assess work, explain content, correct work, and make sure everything gets done.
The flip side is that we figured out that the essentials are really reading, writing and math. We stayed focused on that and were able to accomplish what we needed to in four hours or so of work per week.
Now that you are back, how have your kids settled in school?
It’s like they never left!
How did people react to your trip before, during, and after you returned home?
Before: Friends and family either looked at us and said “fantastic” or thought we really had lost our minds this time. People were convinced we’d lose our kids in “all those weird” places we planned to visit.
On Road: We met everyone from backpackers to grandparents on the road. Every single person we met along the way was impressed at what we were doing, how we were doing it, and the ultimate impact it was having on our kids.
After: We were relaxed and happy — it was obvious to everyone that we thrived during our travels.
Passports with Purpose 2010 Cambodia school opening
What was your most memorable trip moment?
We were able to attend the opening of the 2010 Passports with Purpose fundraising project, the opening of a new school in Cambodia. 120 kids from 4 to 16-years-old were there to honor us at the school entrance. It was so cool and emotional to share this experience with this community, as well as my family!
Hurray! Passports for Purpose 2011 is only accepting donations towards prizes until December 16 at 11:59 PST.
Photos courtesy of Michelle Duffy
Ciao Bambino’s Passports with Purpose Prize Courtesy of Fairmont Scottsdale
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December 13th, 2011
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Kids enjoying the beach at The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai
I just got back from a whirlwind week at the annual International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) show in Cannes, France. This invite-only event for the luxury travel community brings exhibitors (hotels, destinations and service providers) together with buyers (travel agencies and tour operators) to dialog about the latest and greatest trends and offerings in luxury travel.
I attended ILTM as media to cover our beloved space, Family Travel. I’m thrilled to report that the luxury travel community absolutely has families on their mind.
The reason? More and more luxury consumers are bringing their kids along for the ride from weekend getaways to multi-stop itineraries to multi-generational gatherings. There’s a heavy international focus at this show and interestingly, there seems to be no geographic limitations on where people are traveling with kids.
Kids rice planting program at Mandarin Oriental in Chang Mai, Thailand
Evolution of Luxury Travel Consumer
The Future Laboratory kicked off the week with an analysis of the current luxury consumer. Today’s luxury travelers are all about the experience. They want to engage with destinations (not just observe them or feel removed from a sense of place within a hotel) and to experience places in a memorable and fresh way. As a result, there’s less focus is on material goods (“gold taps”) and more focus on an enhanced state of being.
There’s a growing demand for craftsmanship and sustainability. Simplicity can be luxurious too — it’s no longer about excess and flash.
In short, luxury consumers are seeking more authentic travel experiences.
One & Only Le Saint Géran’s KidsOnly Summer Garden Program
How Do These Trends Impact Family Travel?
Luxury-focused suppliers must find ways to enhance the travel experience for children, not just their parents. Pint-sized robes and slippers in the room are no longer sufficient. To attract families, hotel brands are putting serious thought into creating meaningful interaction for every age.
I saw evidence of this in spades as I interviewed exhibitors. Even hotel brands from whom I expect kid-friendly lip service seem to have something truly special up their sleeves for families.
The market has radically changed from when I started Ciao Bambino in 2004!
AcquaMarine Kids’ Program at Acqualina Resort
Luxury Brands Offering Extraordinary Family Experiences
Brands like the Four Seasons are a luxury favorite within the family travel community with unbelievable service and creative, highly personalized offerings for families. See my recent post about our family experience at the new Four Seasons Marrakech for insight into why this brand is so loved by parents and children alike.
One benefit of ILTM was the ability to access the top luxury brands in one room. Comparing and contrasting offerings is an interesting task — I have many things to share over the next few weeks about my discoveries at ILTM. To kick things off, here are five examples of extraordinary offerings from luxury brands for families.
By no means is this list comprehensive! Stay tuned as I roll out more details about what the luxury community is offering families in 2012 and beyond over the next few weeks.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Dhara Dhevi | Chang Mai, Thailand
The laundry list of engaging cultural experiences the Mandarin Oriental is offering to kids is astounding. From rice planting, to kids’ Thai cooking lessons, to Thai dancing, to kick-boxing, to elephant treasure hunts — to say that this hotel is offering cultural exposure to their junior guests is an understatement.
Jumby Bay (A Rosewood Resort) | Antigua, Caribbean
Jumby Bay is offering eco-centric programming for kids around conservation for the now-endangered Hawksbill turtle. Kids who stay at the resort from June through November are given the opportunity to observe and participate in preserving these animals.
Acqualina Resort & Spa | Miami Beach, Florida
Acqualina offers an award-winning marine biology enrichment program called AcquaMarine to help kids learn about water-related subjects in a fun and interactive way.
One & Only Le Saint Géran | Mauritius
Children who participate in the KidsOnly supervised club at One & Only’s Le Saint Géran become mini-gardeners under the instruction of the resident gardener and care for the KidsOnly herb garden.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai | Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The extensive kids’ program in Dubai includes a daily schedule of themed activities from art, to cooking, to fitness, to science to crafts. Of course, families wouldn’t travel all the way to Dubai to just stay at the hotel. They’ve got that covered too and have a ready list of cultural and urban excursions including desert safaris, cultural tours, and visiting one of more of the Dubai’s outrageous water parks.
Each brand listed above provided their respective photos for this article
Tips for finding and booking family-friendly luxury hotels
Ciao Bambino recommended kid-friendly luxury hotels
Luxury family safari in Africa
Family-friendly getaway at Rosewood Sand Hill
Review of Four Seasons Marrakech for families
Family-friendly luxury at Bowood in Wiltshire, England
Family-friendly luxury in Florence at Villa La Massa
Kid-friendly spa hotel in the Italian Lakes Region
Luxury Family Hotels
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December 12th, 2011
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
A Disney family vacation is on many wish lists this season. For good reason, Disney is guaranteed entertainment for every age.
When you enter Disneyland during the holiday period, you’re effortlessly transported into your own little winter wonderland. It looks like a classic Christmas card with garland-wrapped lamp posts tied with big red ribbons. The bows are tied just right and for some reason, there never seem to be any strings of lights out.
Disney’s incredible attention to detail is apparent in all of the holiday attractions — when it “snows” on Main Street, you may forget for a moment that you’re in Southern California.
Holiday Haunted Mansion
Holiday Favorites and a Frontierland Surprise
The holiday Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World are done so well that I wish they’d stay a little longer. There is no FASTPASS service available but don’t be deterred by long lines as they move quickly.
Nightmare Before Christmas
The Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion is described during the ride as a “collision of two holidays”. The frightful characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” show you their version of Halloween and Christmas.
Nothing is as it seems. Just as you smell the aroma of gingerbread you are greeted with a lively “ginger-dread” house scene. We couldn’t take our eyes off the frightful scenes. Note, little children may find them too scary and like the bright and cheery scenes from It’s a Small World better.
Holiday It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World. This classic ride transforms into a world holiday celebration in several languages. The traditional “It’s a Small World” song is joined by Jingle Bells and other holiday favorites.
Our family had lots of fun trying to find all the holiday changes. Look closely and you’ll see that goats have turned into reindeer and tropical flowers have turned into poinsettias. You could easily ride several times and still not figure out all the holiday changes.
A Christmas Fantasy Parade. My six and eight-year-old sat mesmerized during this 40-minute parade. Guests begin staking out their spots an hour early so be prepared. The parade is a feast of color and characters with Mickey and Minnie ice skating, waving princesses, dancing reindeer and some very cute Santa’s helpers at the end.
Santa’s Reindeer Round-up. During the holidays, Big Thunder Mountain Ranch in Frontierland is home to Santa and his reindeer. The reindeer didn’t seem very impressed by all their visitors, but Santa was very interested in what the kids had to say.
Mrs. Claus even made a visit in the line of waiting families. There’s also a coloring craft table where the little ones can color reindeer hats and pictures.
A Surprise. This surprise has nothing to do with Christmas but one of the things I love most about visiting Disneyland with kids is that we always discover something new. Our musical chairs with the Alice in Wonderland cast still ranks as our favorite but on a short cut (or long cut) to the Haunted Mansion we stumbled upon the Shootin’ Exposition in Frontierland.
We’ve passed it before but I always thought it wasn’t appropriate for my kids. I’ve changed my opinion. The kids shoot at all kinds of targets and if you hit one, a bird may fall off its’ branch or a squirrel may pop up out of a stump. For 50 cents this is easy amusement.
Two holiday attractions we missed were the lighting of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and holiday fireworks – we just couldn’t fit everything in — they’re on the list for next time. Disneyland holiday decorations and attractions are featured through January 8, 2011.
If You Go: If you are planning a full day at Disneyland with your family consider using the lockers to store extra clothing for nighttime. The temperatures drop considerably when the sun goes down and it feels more like winter than you might imagine.
Kristi and her family received complimentary admission to Disneyland. She was not asked to express any particular opinion about her experience.
Photos courtesy of Kristi Marcelle
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Disney Cruise Line vacation review
Kudos to Disney for allergy-friendly practices
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December 10th, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Kimpton Hotels recently hosted five writers in five cities across the country as part of a holiday blogger getaway event.
My family loves Kimpton as this kid-friendly brand offers a fresh departure from typical hotels with updated décor and whimsical themes. We stayed at Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge for our family getaway and it was quite a treat!
Kid-Friendly Hotel Marlowe
To start, the location is ideal for families of all ages. The address reads Cambridge, however, you are just over a bridge from downtown Boston. This puts you just steps from the Museum of Science (read more about this fantastic family attraction on Top 5 Kid-Friendly Excursions in Boston).
Additionally, this area is surrounded by acres of open park space to explore along the Charles River. Canal Park is next to the hotel and the Charles River just across the street.
Most images of Boston include the Charles River. There’s a huge bike path along the river where families can walk, bike, scooter or rollerblade — it’s gorgeous! Watch the crew teams from Harvard and Boston University or the multitude of sailboats. The open space is ideal for all ages.
To top it off, Hotel Marlowe offers complimentary bikes and kayaks for guest use. If that is all too serene, you can swing along to the back of the building and hit the Galleria Mall.
Cambridge is a foodie’s haven. Given all the great restaurants in Cambridge and Boston, you can’t go wrong. We always love Oleana, a famous Mediterranean restaurant, who grow all of their produce at a farm right next to our house. Flour, my favorite bakery in the area, is just around the corner. Bondir is new to Cambridge and was just named as one of Bon Appetite’s Ten Best Restaurants in America for 2011.
The kids loved the hotel from the moment we entered the “living room.” Kimpton creates welcoming spaces where guests experience the hotel in a comfortable and inviting setting.
With color rich furniture and a fire to warm you up, the space is funky and very kid-friendly. We arrived during the evening wine hour where guests are treated to complimentary wine and a hot chocolate bar for kids. It took just minutes for my kids to start playing with the fun topping combinations including marshmallows, chocolate chips and fresh whipped cream — yum!
The rooms have recently been renovated at the Marlowe and our room was beautiful, with lots of glass overlooking the Charles River. My kids were immediately drawn to Fray, our fish for the night and the telescope. Kimpton doesn’t want you to get lonely so they always put a pet fish in the room.
Clearly, this fish drew the short stick because my 4-year old just couldn’t stay away from its bowl. That was great until she decided to give it a few items to play with —ugh!
Each child was given a thoughtful Kimpton Kids bag full of little toys based on their age. My favorite item in there was the ABC Boston book that also serves as a journal with questions about favorite area attractions.
Boston Holiday Highlights
Boston is packed with fun during the holidays and our concierge provided a great list of options. We started out volunteering a few hours for Heading Home at the Prudential Center, which was teaming with holiday activities. After work, we headed to the top of the Prudential Center to see the Skywalk, a guided view over the city integrated with the story of immigration and its impact on Boston.
Next stop was the Mapparium, a three-story painted glass globe— which I find so cool — at the Christian Science Center directly across from the Prudential Mall. By this point, we were tired and hungry and ready to lounge back at the Hotel Marlowe. We had a delicious dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Bambara. The casual atmosphere and unassuming food is perfect for families.
The Marlowe is an ideal hotel for family movie night, our post-dinner activity. We cozied up together in our animal print robes and rented a great movie. The next morning we walked across the road to the Pompeii exhibit at the Museum of Science. What a fabulous stay!
Kimpton Hotels offered Ciao Bambino complimentary lodging and breakfast. We weren’t asked to express a particular point of view.
Kimpton Hotels Giveaway
Please note this contest is now closed. Congratulations to Lucia Jones, the happy winner of a two-night Kimpton getaway with her family!
Here’s how to enter:
1. Leave a comment below answering the question, “At which Kimpton property are you dreaming about staying this weekend?”
2. Leave a comment on each of the other four participating family travel bloggers’ Kimpton hotel reviews and giveaways. Go to Mother of all Trips, Hip Travel Mama, Pit Stops for Kids and The Vacation Gals‘ posts and answer the same question.
That’s it! Five easy comment-style entries for this giveaway, and maybe it’ll be you who will win a fun, relaxing mini-vacation. Entries close Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 11:59PM PST. The winners will be announced Monday, December 12, 2011.
Promotion Rules: The Kimpton Hotel Holiday getaway prize is a gift certificate for two-night stay at any Kimpton Hotel in the Continental US and is valued at $500. Up to five entries per person. No purchase necessary to enter. Void where prohibited by law. You must be a US resident, 21 or older to participate. Employees, partners, agents, vendors, or immediate family members of Mother of All Trips, Hip Travel Mama, The Vacation Gals, Ciao Bambino, and Pitstops for Kids are not eligible to enter. This is a random drawing, so odds of winning will depend on number of entrants. Rules are governed by the state of Washington. Hip Travel Mama, The Vacation Gals, and other participating sites reserve the right to cancel, suspend, and or modify a promotion if any problem corrupts the administration, security or proper play of the promotion. In the event of a dispute as to the winner’s identity, entries will be deemed made by the holder of the email account associated with the entry.
Entrants agree that Ciao Bambino, The Mother of All Trips, or any of the other participating sites are not responsible and cannot be held liable for any unauthorized intervention, technical errors, printing errors, mail delays and any other errors in connection with the administration with this program.
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December 8th, 2011
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
The holidays are a perfect time to stock up on inspiring travel gifts for kids. As family travel becomes more mainstream, there are more and more beautiful options from which to choose.
Conveniently, the gift-giving season corresponds with holiday travel so the gifts get to be tried out right away — always a bonus!
Skip Hop backpacks
I love creating this list every year. It’s a great excuse for me to test out new products and indulge in the latest toys and gear. Last holiday season, we highlighted our favorite travel items in Travel Gift Ideas for Kids of all Ages — this list is still very current and worth a re-visit.
In addition, Summer Travel Retail Therapy offers useful travel items families for all family members. Here is what caught my eye this season.
Milan Art Kit
Art Packs - My favorite category and appropriate for every age!! I often find myself drawing while on vacation. I love the Messenger Style Tooth Bag from Milan because it’s all contained in the four zip pouches with colored pencils, markers, ruler, eraser, etc. and they are removable. Perfect for distributing among multiple children.
For the older kids, this beautiful Double Decker set from Milan is very smart. I also loved these marker and pen sets from Dilly Baby. Chalkboard mats travel well because they are reusable and double as a placemat.
Prepackaged Toy Kits - Kid Kits packs age appropriate toy bundles for the busy parent looking for easy, eco-friendly entertainment on the go. Also, Kids Travel Happy will whip up a travel toy kit personalized for your child.
Suitcase & Backpacks - Let’s start with the cute gear. Come on, who are we kidding, it’s as much for the moms as it is the kids. These suitcases by Beatrix are adorable. Also, the Zoo Backpacks by Skip Hop are durable and irresistibly cute.
Toy Carriers - Does your child love toy cars? Look at this fun and space efficient Car Carrier that doubles as a play mat. Something a little more versatile that carries toys and your child if needed is the Trunki.
Travel outfits - Great travel clothes are comfy, look cute and travel well (patterns are great to hide spills). I love the 5-piece sets from Tea because they all mix and match. Plus, their cotton is so soft and lasts forever. Their boy clothes are suitably boyish enough and their girl sets have very cute lines.
Barefoot Books World Atlas
School Age Kids
The Barefoot Books World Atlas - This Atlas is worthy of it’s own post. I can’t recommend it highly enough. First, it’s gorgeous. The illustrations are beautiful! The information is interactive using flip-up sections and uniquely interesting tidbits.
My kids have poured over this atlas repeatedly and learn something new every time they pick it up. If you are familiar with Barefoot Books then you know about their dedication to sharing global stories accented by stunning illustrations.
Cameras - There are plenty to chose from, but I love this new 12 MP waterproof camera from Kodak – Easyshare Sport C123. With a great price, just $73, you get a lot more bang for your buck than with the little kiddy cameras, which often cost more. New this year is the “Easy Share” feature, which links directly to the social media sites.
Books - The new Kindle family of products offers touch screen and color. Personally, we still love the black and white, now starting at just $79. It’s easy on the eyes, doesn’t have issues with glare and not having a backlit screen helps my kids fall asleep better when reading at night. As far as packing light, it doesn’t get better than the kindle. No lugging heavy books around – ideal for travel.
Mobile Desks - When you are on the go, you have to hit the books, mobile desks are ideal. They help us stay organized with pens, pencils, etc. while providing a good writing surface. These new ones from PB Teen are super stylish.
Spinners - My new favorite type of suitcase. Using the upright cases allow you to rest a carry-on bag on top of the suitcase and not contort your arm back behind you. These just glide right beside or in front of you. There are many options out there, but I love these Britto suitcases by Heys. You can also find a variety of Heys products sale. My kids just got them all at TJMaxx.
Coats - REI is a wizard with kid coats. These raincoats are perfect for travel. Seriously, why do kids clothes have to be so darn tempting? This pint-size trench coat from Burberry is adorable!
Apple has made travel easier for everyone. Let’s face it, screen time limits go out the window when we are on the road. From my little one watching Dora to my husband watching Modern Family, Apple deserves a standing ovation from us travelers. It’s even fun finding all the cool gear to go along with the products.
Covers – iPads, iPhones, iEverythings are valuable, so how do you protect them on the road and from your kids? Look at these creative products: Speck iGuy for the iPad, a soft doll version Woogie, cute animal cases like this Turtle and this toddler Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case for the iPhone and iTouch. Finally, these will save your phone when your toddler gets a hold of it.
Headphones - These are so important for kids 2 and over. Even 2 to 6-year-olds have a hard time with earphones, so comfort is key! I love this new headband (also offered as a skullcap). The headband will need to be pinned because it is adult size, but still a worthwhile option. These cute animal headphones by Califone are offered in different animal variations.
Tales2Go - We use this app every day. It offers a collection of music, stories and books. My little one loves the silly songs, like “Who Stole the Cookie”, while my older kids appreciate the current novels. A year subscription is $99 and makes a perfect family gift.
For the tot that has it all or wants to give back, here are some great travel related charities that are easily understood and appreciated by children.
Heifer International Gift Catalog – Pick from a menagerie of animals and learn about the country at the same time.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – The Adopt an Animal Gift Program is ideal for kids! Did you swim with turtles on your last trip or see a Killer Whale at Sea World? This program offers a huge selection of animals to symbolically adopt and includes a stuffed animal, certificate and gift bag
Defenders of Wildlife – Wildlife Adoption Center offers 27 animals to adopt and information about the animal. With the same concept as the WWF, this also makes an excellent gift for kids!
If you need more little trinkets and tricks for plane rides, check out Entertaining Kids on Planes.
December 5th, 2011
Sharon from Tauck Bridges
We don’t write about things we haven’t personally experienced on Ciao Bambino; this is a big reason we have such loyal readers who know they can count on our advice. But we can’t do everything and our mission is to provide broad insight about traveling with kids. Consequently, there are times when it makes sense to feature sponsored posts written by a service provider versus us.
Today, we’re featuring a sponsored post from Tauck Bridges, the family-focused brand of Tauck, the award-winning global tour operator. Although I’ve been on a Tauck trip through Norway and it was indeed incredible, it was not a family trip. For their first post on Ciao Bambino, I asked Sharon Bell, the Brand Manager for Tauck Bridges, to educate us about what they offer to traveling families.
Why would a family even consider a group tour? Read on …
As the mother of three, I want to give my children the best possible foundation for a successful life. I want them to be exposed to different cultures and traditions, share new discoveries that will open their eyes to the world around them and encourage them to expand their horizons and understanding as they learn new ways to do new things.
One of the best ways we’ve found to do this is through family travel. Always inspiring, travel can be life changing. It is transformational, eye opening, exciting, wondrous and engaging for travelers of every age — and can be one of the most rewarding gifts you can ever give to your children.
Introducing Tauck Bridges
That’s the idea behind Tauck Bridges, part of the award-winning, family-owned Tauck travel company brand. Tauck Bridges is dedicated to family travel. They believe that seeing the world changes you for the better, broadening your perspective with new appreciation for the inhabitants and places of our miraculous planet.
Tauck Bridges offers 15 different vacations in North America, Europe, Latin America and Tanzania, designed explicitly for families looking to explore the world together in a meaningful, enriching way. All-inclusive, Tauck Bridges trips are meticulously planned and seamlessly choreographed so that adults and kids can enjoy themselves – and each other – without worrying about any of the day-to-day details.
Each trip is managed by an experienced Tauck Director who handles all the logistics for you, from hotels and luggage to sightseeing and on-tour transportation arrangements, admission fees, meals, activities, insider information, special visits and even tipping. And they know how to keep the fun going with a friendly smile and a singular passion to make your family vacation the very best it can be.
Learning and Cultural Discovery are Paired with Fun
With Tauck Bridges, learning and cultural discovery go hand-in-hand with fun. After experiencing a family reunion on Tauck Bridges riverboat cruise down the Danube, 7-year old Daniel used one of his 3rd grade vocabulary words to describe his vacation: “I saw and learned ‘extraordinary’ stuff on my riverboat trip with my family. The crew was very friendly. They did magic tricks and made warm pretzels. In Vienna we had dinner at a palace and I got to put on a medieval helmet in a castle …”
A Connecticut father summed up his thoughts on Tauck Bridges in a way time-pressed, busy parents can really relate to. “Three days into our Tauck family trip, it dawned on me: I was worry-free. But it was more than that … I was so at ease, I was playing with my kids like I did when they were small. And it hit me just how much they missed that. And how much I missed it. For those incredible 8 days, we explored some of the coolest places in the world together. And, all at once I was their father, their teacher and their best friend. Words can’t express how much that meant to me. Thanks for such a wonderful gift.”
Sharing Discovery Together as a Family
Traveling with Tauck Bridges is more than just seeing the landmark sights in the places you explore together. It’s about sharing the discovery together as a family and experiencing exclusive access to treasured sights and private events that only Tauck Bridges can deliver.
Tauck Bridges trips are like no other tours you will find. With 86 years of destination experience, family expertise and a drive toward creating innovative, unique itineraries, every Tauck experience is extraordinary. Tauck Bridges crafts itineraries that immerse family travelers in different cultures and in nature, sparking a passion for discovery and inspiring a sense of wonder in the world in which we live.
Exploring Italy with Tauck Bridges
When thinking about meaningful travel for my family, Italy is at the top of my list. It’s a great destination for families to explore together and Tauck Bridges offers two weeklong vacations there with lots of enriching and Tauck-exclusive activities that everyone will enjoy.
For example, in Rome, along with pre-reserved tickets for a wait-free visit to the Colosseum, you’ll enjoy a very special after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums so you, your children and the other families you travel with can take in Michelangelo’s masterpiece without crowds.
The Renaissance comes to life in Florence on a guided tour and through the expert eyes of a local art historian who shares insights on what you’ll see in the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Accademia. A pizza dinner with Tauck Bridges isn’t just about eating this favorite Italian treat, it’s also about learning how to make it with a chef with everyone lending a hand!
Private boat rides bring you around the canal city of Venice, where you’ll also be treated to a soulful serenade on a gondola, and a mask-making demonstration with skilled artists.
In Sorrento, families spend an evening on a local farm, seeing how cheese is made and dancing the Tarantella. Sightseeing on the Isle of Capri is more fun by private convertible car. A funicular ride, jet boat adventure and private cruise along the Amalfi Coast are exciting ways to really take in the spectacular beauty and lifestyles in this part of Italy – and they’re all included with Tauck Bridges.
The Lynn family of Pennsylvania called their Tauck Bridges vacation to Italy “far and away, THE BEST TRIP OF OUR LIVES! This goes for every one of us, Steve, me and all 4 kids. So many things made such an incredibly memorable experience – our once-in-a-lifetime private to tour in the Vatican Museums, the pizza making and mask making events, the ‘dream’ gondola serenade, the fabulous local guides, THE FOOD, just everything … It does not get any better.”
Whether it is Italy or any other Tauck Bridges trip, you can be sure of an extraordinary experience for the whole family. Did I mention that Tauck Bridges includes just about every vacation expense, including all gratuities, in one up-front price with no hidden fees? The peace of mind of knowing the full cost of your family vacation before you leave home is another great Tauck Bridges advantage that parents like me really appreciate!
You can learn more about Tauck Bridges at www.tauckbridges.com, along with watching videos of the real-life excitement families share with Tauck Bridges in the American West on Red Rocks & Painted Canyons and Cowboy Country, on Costa Rica: Jungles & Rainforests and in Italy on Italia Bella.
If you have any questions, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to help.
Sharon Bell, Brand Manager Tauck Bridges and mom of Griffin (16), Camryn (12) and Kayla (12)
Sponsored post by Tauck Bridges. Photos courtesy of Tauck Bridges
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