Archive for January 2012
January 31st, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Many families prefer renting apartments in European cities as they offer more value and living space than traditional hotel rooms.
My issue with apartments is that standalone units can be a quality risk unless you are diligent about checking references (see my post on finding the best family-friendly vacation rental for more tips and links to resources). Moreover, the management of an apartment may be nonexistent which leaves you without someone to help with planning and logistics in a foreign environment.
This is the exact reason we don’t profile many standalone apartments or villas on Ciao Bambino, but instead prefer to recommend managed options where guests have access to amenities and resources.
One such option in Florence is via Windows on Italy, an agency owned by the Ferragamo family. Many of the apartments offered are owned by the agency versus individual owners; they are decorated and serviced with care. It’s a perfect middle ground for families who want apartment living and reliable quality.
The only thing to figure out is location and style – as the units are spread across Florence. I’ve seen many of their properties over the years, we’ve had readers stay in them, and I stayed in one last year. Favorites include: Della Robbia, Michelangelo (where we stayed with a small terrace overlooking the Duomo) and Cellini.
At the time of inquiry, be sure and make clear that you want something age-appropriate which means minimal stairs and dangerous obstacles for babies and toddlers as older buildings in Florence may have hazards. Apartments are available for short and long term rentals, although minimum rental requirements vary by unit.
If an apart-hotel where units are centralized is more appealing or you’d prefer to stay in a hotel with full amenities and staff, be sure and check out our Florence family-friendly hotel recommendation list.
Editorial Note: This is not a sponsored post. We’ve sent many happy clients to Windows on Italy over the years. I was given complimentary lodging last year so I could experience one of their units myself. I was not asked to express a particular point of view. As always, we never personally endorse anything on Ciao Bambino we don’t believe in and would recommend to a friend.
Ciao Bambino recommended Florence family hotels
Things to do in Florence with kids
Most popular family-friendly itinerary in Italy
Family-friendly luxury in Florence at Villa La Massa
Fantastic personal chef in Tuscany
Art and culture camp for kids in Italy
January 30th, 2012
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
If it’s possible to be infected by a country … I am. Ever since we returned from our trip to Turkey, I just can’t seem to let it go.
I’ve supplemented my fascination by reading multiple historical and fictional books about this country. With beautiful cookbooks in hand, I’ve been whipping up wonderful Turkish dishes capped off by Turkish coffee. Although if truth be told, my family has about had it with this!
What’s so appealing? Straddling Asia and Europe, Turkey is an intriguing, rich, and exotic destination. Not only is it culturally interesting, but Turkey is serene and beautiful. Every day I learned something unexpected. Our visit was truly a mind-opening experience! Our trip last summer was without our children, but I’d love to return with them in tow.
10 Reasons Why You Will Love Turkey
Hagia Sofia in Istanbul
From the earliest times Turkey has been at the heart of our civilization. The history is palpable and a visit sweeps you right into to the days of the Romans and Ottomans. The ruins in Ephesus and other locations throughout the country bring you close to its ancient heritage.
This was our first stay in a predominantly Muslim country. With 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, I felt compelled to gain a better understanding of this religion. The Hagia Sofia mosque highlights the critical religious role Istanbul has played throughout time and offers a stunning visual lesson in religious history.
Village woman selling her textiles in Sirince
The people of Turkey are a welcoming and expressive people. Like Italians, Turks adore children. Kids are everywhere. Often you’ll see dads lifting and kissing their children. It was a joy to watch families interact. As a guests, you are honored in Turkish culture and everywhere you turn people are welcoming you to their country.
Whether it is the call to prayer echoing through the air, the pre-prayer pattern of washing, or the ritualistic scrubbing at the hamman, the rhythm of the culture is alluring and beautiful to observe.
Jams in a local market
Flavorful spices, fresh cuisine and delicious sweets will delight your palate. The food is healthy, fresh and fun to eat. Indulging in the Turks’ well-known passion for sweets is a delight.
From the chaotic Grand Bazaar to the exotic Spice Market, you get a glimpse of energetic local life when you step into these markets. The wide array of unique offerings makes Turkey a wonderful shopping destination. Apple Tea, Red Pepper Paste, Hand Hammered Copper dishes, jewelry, ceramics and of course, the rugs — all make fabulous souvenirs!
Inside Topkapi Palace in Istanbul
Geometric patterns and brilliant colors incorporate Asian, European, and Moorish design. Some neighborhoods are reminiscent of France or Italy, while others feel distinctly Middle Eastern.
From the forested rugged north to the gorgeous arid coastline of the south, the variety of landscapes provides a diverse area to explore with a wide variety of activities. Some regions have unusual rock formations, like Cappadocia with its towering chimneys.
View from Marmara Bodrum Hotel
Turkey is surrounded by water and nowhere do you feel that more than in Istanbul as the city is perched along the romantic Bosporus.
The elegant Turkish Riviera is both stylish and low-key. The water along the coast is amazing clear, making our four-day boat trip a glorious escape comprised of basking in the sun punctuated by refreshing dips in the sea.
Stimulating and Relaxing Destination
My favorite destinations are both culturally stimulating and relaxing. The ruins, cities, and gorgeous coastline together ideal vacation combination.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Solomon
Istanbul, Turkey for Photo Friday
Ciao Bambino recommended Europe Family Hotels
Traveling with kids in Asia on the Ciao Bambino Blog
January 26th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
This post is sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority. All the thoughts and opinions conveyed in this post are my own. My only regret is that Switzerland is so far from Hawaii; after writing this post, I’m ready to hit a Hawaiian beach!
I’ve enjoyed some of the world’s most incredible islands including Mauritius, Bora Bora in Tahiti, and Bali. All are fantastic in one way or another, but Hawaii remains at the top of my list for the ultimate tropical escape with kids.
The Hawaiian Islands have the exotic elements of a foreign locale and none of the hassle; you don’t need a passport, everyone speaks English, and you can eat and drink worry-free.
Hawaii is one of those destinations families revisit year after year. It’s astoundingly diverse. Visitors can have radically different experiences within a single trip. Each island has unique ecosystems and related activities. I’ve been to all the main islands — Maui, Kauai, Hawaii, Oahu, Lanai — and appreciate each of them for different reasons.
Moreover, the huge advantage of Hawaii from a family perspective is the sheer array of accommodation options available from beachfront villas, to amenity-rich condo resorts, to lavish luxury hotels.
Favorite lifetime sunset on Maui
How to Choose?
Deciding where to go in Hawaii is the planning challenge. I’ve highlighted my take on the differences between each island below. I’ve also mentioned a few accommodation favorites from Ciao Bambino’s Hawaii family hotel portfolio.
The last time I was in Maui I experienced a sunset so spectacular that I can still picture it vividly today. The daily ritual of watching the sun go down on the West Shore of Maui is the ultimate cure for stressed parents.
Although Maui is very developed, the trade-off is that it offers extensive tourist infrastructure for every taste and budget. Wailea is upscale with stunning beaches, excellent shopping, and hosts a few of Hawaii’s best luxury hotels. For families, the Fairmont Kea Lani is a steady Ciao Bambino reader favorite with exceptional kids programming and activities.
The other popular coastal stretch for families is around Kaanapali Beach as it hosts a huge number of accommodation options including a plethora of condo-hotels like Kaanapali Alii where units have full kitchens and laundry. Hip Travel Mama raves about the new Honua Kai Resort and Spa and its aquatic playground for kids of all ages.
My happy little man on the beach in Kauai
I adore the old-school vibe of Kauai and the lush landscape. There are pockets of Kauai that are as exotic as any place I’ve visited in the South Pacific and Asia. Hawaii-based writer Kris Bordessa wrote a guest post for us on things to do with kids in Kauai — these photos tell all. The landscape of Kauai is nothing short of astounding.
Poipu is a spectacular beach area with sunny weather. For value, we love Kiahuna Plantation; condos are spread across endless flat grass — toddler heaven! Plus, you are walking distance to the adjacent mall where you can get a daily Puka Dog — my favorite Hawaiian treat.
Jennifer Miner of The Vacation Gals raves about the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. It’s been 10 years since I’ve stayed there, but I have fond memories of their outrageous views and elaborate pool.
If you don’t mind a bit of rain, the North Shore of Kauai is stunning, rugged, and an adventure paradise. One of our readers sent us a review on the luxurious Koloa Landing condos with exceptional furnishings and services for this category of accommodation.
Many people associate Oahu with busy Waikiki when in truth there is so much more to this island than this urban stretch of sand. It’s absolutely possible to escape the crowds on Oahu.
Moreover, given the number of flights that go in and out of this island, it can be the best bet for finding affordable airfare.
The star of the show these days for families is Disney’s new Aulani Resort. Kristi was there for the opening and reports that this resort has something for everyone. Disney did an excellent job integrating Disney themes and quality standards with local culture and traditions. Read Kristi’s complete Aulani review for details.
I also must mention Turtle Bay on the North Shore of Oahu. I haven’t stayed here in a few years but would go back in a heartbeat. Ocean view means ocean view here and the waves crash right below guest rooms versus other properties where ocean view is code for bringing binoculars.
Picture perfect toddler sand pool at the Fairmont Orchid Resort
The big island of Hawaii is a striking place with a black lava landscape and emerald blue water. If you want to get close and personal with a volcano, this island is for you as Kilauea is still spewing lava and ash.
The West Coast of the Hawaii is optimal for families with a long list of exceptional accommodations. For luxury seekers, Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is idyllic with the usual laundry list of top-notch Four Seasons amenities and services. Special features include an amazing saltwater lagoon with over 4,000 fish.
I grew up going to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and many families return to this property religiously year-after-year. The bay here is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen on any island. Hawaii’s stand-out hotel options also includes the Fairmont Orchid with a wonderful protected swimming area for families as it has minimal waves. You can also get to the Hilton Waikoloa Village for their famous dolphin experience program from any of these West Coast hotels.
If you have plans to visit Hawaii this year, Aloha! I’m jealous.
This post is sponsored by The Hawaiian Islands, where you could be Living in the Moment on Hawaii Island.
, Big Island
January 25th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Navigating a ski resort in Europe is not an intuitive experience. Many of the resort areas are vast and comprised of multiple ski areas within a single destination. Language barriers create additional complexity.
Last week’s Photo Friday post featured Grindelwald in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland. Grindelwald is a stunning winter destination and the ultimate Swiss Alps ski experience. Due diligence, however, is required to ensure you experience more pleasure than pain. It’s worth it!
A few things to know and consider:
Finding Beginner Ski Terrain
Unless your kids are accomplished skiers, it’s essential to understand where to find the beginner terrain. In Switzerland, these slopes are identified on ski maps in blue.
Note, however, that blue runs are usually not optimal for true beginners or very young children. What’s nice about Grindelwald is that they have an area called Bodmi that is dedicated to true first time skiing for kids and adults alike. Bodmi has a magic carpet going up a gentle slope and a button lift up a slightly higher, easy slope. This area is filled with kids skiing and sledding. There’s a rental shop and ski instruction right at the bottom of the hill. It couldn’t be more family friendly!
The other nice thing about Bodmi is there are no advanced skiers here so families don’t need to worry about being run over or into — the number one concern when skiing with kids.
As luck would have it, Ciao Bambino Approved Hotel Bodmi is just steps away from this kid-friendly wonderland. I just stayed here for a second time and recommend it highly for comfortable, clean, and friendly accommodations run by a charming Swiss family. Read my review for details and to get best pricing using our availability button.
The Jungfrau Region includes three lift systems: Grindelwald – First, Kleine Scheidegg – Mannlichen, and Murren – Schiltorn. Welcome to skiing in Europe. Each one of these areas is vast and can occupy ski enthusiasts for days at a time. On this trip, we only skied at Grindelwald – First, however, the tourist office has confirmed that there are significant blue runs within each lift system.
Transportation Between Ski Areas
The transportation network in Grindelwald is extensive and relatively efficient. A train, bus, or gondola is required to move from one lift system to another and this can take time.
HOT TIP: You can buy ski passes that incorporate all three lift systems in a daily pass, but I wouldn’t bother with kids. There is plenty to do within any one of the single ski areas and going back and forth is logistically intensive.
If you are visiting the region for a week, you can experience all the different areas. Grindelwald – First and Kleine Scheidigg are 30-minutes via train or gondola from one another. It’s significantly more complicated to get over to Mürren just for the day as it involves a few transfer points. My recommendation is that you stay in Mürren when you ski in Mürren, even if this means switching accommodations during the week.
Transportation Within Ski Areas
At Grindelwald First, it’s only possible to ski to the base via red runs (intermediate). Depending on where you are staying, this will most likely involve skiing to a place where you take a bus back to your accommodation. Busses run every 30-minutes or so depending on the period.
A one-day ski pass for kids ages 6 to 15 is 31 CHF per day. Weekly passes are available. As a rule, the kids passes are 50% off the adult passes and ages 16 to 19-year-olds can access passes at a 20% discount off the adult pass price.
HOT TIP: You can buy a special package on Saturday where kids up to 15 ski free with their parents! The crime is I was just there on Saturday and paid for our son to ski (boo hiss). I wasn’t aware of this package. Now you know.
One thing that is different about lessons in Switzerland is that there is usually an array of ski schools in larger resorts (vs. just one school like we have at US resorts). Every village has a an official Swiss ski school and private schools. I can’t comment on the quality of one choice over the other at this point.
HOT TIP: It is important to note that on weekends, it is usually impossible to have a single child join a group lesson. Most group lessons are week-long courses where the same kids join an instructor each day of their vacation.
Private half or full day lessons are available over weekend days. This solution is quite expensive for a single child (more or less 250 CHF for a few hours). If you are traveling with a few families and can coordinate lessons, this is the best way to make weekend lessons cost-effective.
Toboganning is an extraordinarily popular activity in Switzerland. All of the ski resorts in this area have marked toboggan runs and it’s common to see as many people carrying sleds on the gondolas as skis and snowboards.
HOT TIP: There is a 15k(!) toboggan run that goes from Faulhorn to Grindelwald. It is the longest toboggan run in Europe according to MySwitzerland.com. Note, that getting to the top of the run involves a 2-hour hike. To avoid the long walk, families can take the bus to BussAlp and ride the last 8km of the run.
We learned the hard way last weekend when we arrived at the popular (and delicious) Berghaus Bort that lunch can be an insane affair if it is ill-timed.
HOT TIP: Arrive for lunch no later than Noon. Reservations are recommended at any kind of hot spot.
Grindelwald – First gets more sun from December through early February. In late February through April there will be more sun in the other areas as well.
As a consequence, First can get slushy in the afternoon towards the end of the season and will be the first to close, typically in the middle of April. Murren is the last to close towards the end of April.
Thrill Seeking Older Kids
Young adrenaline junkies can use the First Flyer zip-line for free with their ski pass. Note that the minimum weight limit is 35 kilograms or 77 pounds. When you see the First Flyer in person, you will understand why this rule is in place.
Ciao Bambino recommended Switzerland family hotels
How to find the best family-friendly ski resorts
Thumbs up for family ski chalets in Europe
Summer things to do in Grindelwald with kids
January 23rd, 2012
For many families, a trip to a children’s museum while on vacation is typically a compromise of sorts. Mom and Dad sacrifice an afternoon to entertain the kids, when secretly there are other places they’d rather be exploring.
Factor in children that range in age from toddler to teen and the family dynamic gets even more complicated. In other words, it’s really hard to make everyone happy. Hard, but not impossible, for families who include the California Academy of Sciences in their San Francisco itinerary.
California Academy of Sciences
Rich in History
Founded in 1853, just three years after California joined the United States, the Academy is the oldest institution of its kind in the West. That said, this museum is anything but old. Over a three year period beginning in 2005, the Academy was completely rebuilt. Re-opened in 2008, it’s the greenest museum in the world.
Walk on a Living Roof
It’s really a number of museums housed under one incredible Living Roof, home to more than 2 acres of native California plants. From the construction-design perspective, the Living Roof does amazing things like prevent water runoff and provide insulation, but it also creates a habitat for bees, birds, butterflies and other critters. And on a clear day, you get a great view of San Francisco’s amazing Golden Gate Park.
Out of this World Planetarium
The Morrison Planetarium is the largest all-digital dome in the world. My family was lucky enough to catch two shows during our visit, both equally impressive. Live presenters help you see the planet in a new light, and since the shows are live, no two are exactly the same. Presenters talk and adapt to their audience. For example, if they have a crowd full of families they can make the show more kid-friendly.
The Planetarium is very popular. Tickets are handed out first-come, first-served, at a cart just outside the Planetarium. Go grab tickets first thing when you arrive at the Academy, or run the risk of being disappointed.
Making the history of the universe kid-friendly isn’t an easy endeavor. The Academy recommends its shows for ages 7 and up. Children 3 and under are not allowed, so the family may need to divide and conquer.
Claude the albino alligator
Go on Safari
African Hall offers visitors a unique way to travel the African continent and get good look at some of the animals that call it home. More than a dozen displays use taxiderm specimens from the Academy’s vast collection, while others use live animals. I think the living, breathing and very playful colony of penguins is the show stealer.
Eight year-old Johara from Kentfield, California agrees with me. “It has all these penguins and they’re cute!”
Claude the albino alligator is arguably the Academy’s most famous resident. In the wild, he’d be a goner, but in San Francisco he’s a celebrity of sorts. A couple years ago when he turned 15, he got quite the party, including cake and party hats. His soft and cushy costume character double is often seem in the Academy posing for pictures.
Happy butterflies in Rainforests of the World
Rainforests of the World
The academy’s living, four-story rainforest is housed in a 90-foot diameter glass dome. It’s incredible to look at from the outside and even more amazing once you’re inside. With average temperatures in the low 80′s it’s also nice place to warm up on a foggy San Francisco day.
Only so many folks are allowed to visit the rainforest at a time, so be prepared to wait in line. If the family’s debating on what to next and there’s no line, consider yourself lucky and go for it.
38,000 animals live in the Steinhart Aquarium
When you leave the rainforest you’ll find yourself in my family’s favorite part of the Academy, the Steinhart Aquarium. It’s home to 38,000 live animals, every color of the rainbow, from around the world. Seadragons, jellyfish, and sharks just to name a few.
The Aquarium’s Philippine Coral Reef Gallery is one of the deepest exhibits of live corals in the world. The Northern California Coast Gallery shows what plays below the surface of San Francisco’s watery backyard.
Sleep with the fish at the Penguins + Pajamas sleepover
Penguins + Pajamas
As you might have already guessed the California Academy of Sciences is a pretty popular place. Anywhere from 2-5,000 people come to check it out everyday. You can escape the crowds if you’re willing to show off your pjs. About once a month the Academy hosts the Penguins + Pajamas sleepover.
Campers get full access to the Academy, plus extras like live animal demonstrations, crafts, late night cookies and milk and a special gift. (No, I’m not going to give away what it is)!
The night my family roughed it in the Aquarium, there were less than 400 people rolling out sleeping bags with us. Less is definitely more. And yes, we actually slept, but I highly recommend bringing an air mattress.
If you spend the night, you also get admittance to the Academy the following day. We spent a fair part of the next day exploring and taking a second look at some favorites, but we still didn’t see everything, so we’ll be back.
Photos courtesy of Dana Rebmann
Dana and her family received complimentary admission to the California Academy of Science’s Penguin’s & Pajamas Sleepover, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.
Ciao Bambino recommended San Francisco family hotels
Things to do in San Francisco with kids
Tips for checking out San Francisco’s tourist spots
Zeum San Francisco, a museum your kids will love
Things to do in the Presidio with children
Visiting Angel Island with kids
, CA Academy of Sciences
, North America
, San Francisco
January 20th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
When you ski in the Alps, you’re skiing mountains not runs. The sense of open space is incredible and one of the things that makes skiing in Switzerland so epic.
Here’s a shot of our 9-year-old Devon skiing in Grindelwald, Switzerland last weekend. Believe it or not, this was taken on a bluebird Saturday, i.e. where are the other people?
It’s not that the resort was not crowded — it was. It’s quite simply that there’s so much skiable terrain that in good conditions, you can always find uncrowded slopes.
The other remarkable aspect of the Alps is the sheer size of the mountains. In the Jungfrau Region, they tower over you at all times. It’s exciting and at times unnerving.
I’ll write a full post with tips for skiing in Grindelwald in the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out more Photo Friday posts on Delicious Baby.
Ciao Bambino’s family-friendly ski list
Ciao Bambino recommended Switzerland family hotels
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
Off the Beaten Path in Abelboden, Switzerland
Top Swiss attraction, visiting Trümmelbach Falls
Kid-friendly hiking in Mürren, Switzerland
Lake Geneva, Switzerland boat tours
Switzerland tourist attraction resources
Things to do in Grindelwald with kids
, Jungfrau Region
, Photo Friday
January 18th, 2012
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Bandos, Maldives. Photo courtesy of Nattu on Flickr
Something about moving into a new year and staring at an empty calendar gets my mind spinning about travel — where to go in 2012?
The first item of business is blocking off precious vacation days. Once that task is complete, the fun work begins. What places are top of mind year? I put the question to Amie, Dana, Anna and Kristi, as well as to my children.
As my kids are getting older, their input has become more valuable. When I asked them what places are on their bucket list and I was surprised and interested by their thoughtful responses. Their answers ranged from tracking our family heritage through the Ukraine and Poland, to exploring Mayan history in Belize. Additionally, they were ready to take on more physical challenges with a multi-sport or biking trip.
Here’s are a few of our kid-friendly vacation ideas — we’d also love to hear from you. What’s on your 2012 bucket list? When we posted the question the other day on our FaceBook page, we got great feedback. Keep it coming!
Kid-Friendly Vacation Ideas
Nancy (kids 12, 11, 8, 4)
Glamping at Paw’s Up in Greenough, Montana
Belize: My older daughter is very interested in exploring the Mayan ruins and would love to go to Belize. Sun, sea, animals, and history — sounds like a great trip to me!
Croatia: The multi-sport Backroad’s Family Tour of Croatia looks amazing. Croatia seems a bit daunting to plan, so a perfect solution is to let the experts handle the details. I’ve consistently heard great feedback from families who’ve used Backroads.
Southeast Asia: Laos, Cambodia and Thailand offer an interesting culture, lush landscapes, friendly people and thrilling elephant trekking — all the makings for a wonderful adventure. We have been waiting for our youngest child to be a little older to go. Now that she’s almost 5, we are good to go in the near future. The excellent information featured on My Little Swans has my attention.
Farm Stay in Tuscany: I’ve been dying to do a week in Tuscany at a farm. My concern with renting an independent house is that it will be too isolated.
I’m looking for a way to experience the simplicity Tuscan village and farm life. A family-friendly working farm, with a luxurious pool of course and delicious food, fits the bill. Our Tuscany portfolio has many agriturismo options — I’m on the hunt for just the right place.
Glamping: Saying that my husband is not a “happy camper” is an understatement. Yet these two “glamping” (glamour-camping) resorts, El Capitan Canyon in Santa Barbara and Paws Up in Montana, look like they could do the trick. Comfort and the outdoors all rolled into one.
Dana (kids 11 and 13)
For the record, I consider myself way too young to have a bucket list. But as the mother of a teen and tween, I definitely have a list of places (in no particular order) I think would be especially fun to go with my girls.
Oia in Santorini, Greece. Photo courtesy of Adrian Zweger on Flickr
Australia : Since my first scuba dive in the Florida Keys, it’s been a dream to dive in Australia. With warm water, and incredible scenery above and below the sea, it’s a dream trip. Both of my girls are strong swimmers and will soon be old enough to dive as well, so it shouldn’t be much longer.
Christmas Markets or “Weihnachtsmarkt” in Germany: I imagine them as everything I like wrapped up in a pretty package. Beautiful lights and decorations, artists’ wares and delicious foods I’ll never find at home.
Greece: Too many historical sights to mention, warm water, sandy beaches, and white washed villages. Greece is my kind of vacation — plenty to do and explore, followed by great beaches to escape to and do nothing.
Grand Canyon: Remember than Brady Bunch episode? I’ve put off this trip because I wanted the girls to be old enough to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon near the Colorado River and spend the night. Now I just need to find time on the calendar to make it happen.
Alaska Cruise: Whales, eagles, seals, glaciers and so much more. Everything about the Alaska wilderness sounds incredible. Catching a glimpse of the aurora borealis, or the northern lights, would be part of the itinerary.
Kristi (kids 7 and 9)
Blue Footed Booby in Galapagos Islands. Photo courtesy of Derek Keats on Flickr
Wisconsin: I spend a couple of weeks in Wisconsin every year visiting family but I’ve never experienced the top family-friendly resorts in the area. I have my eye on the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva. It has a year round waterpark and a ski hill in the winter. The Kids are Grand program has scheduled programs for kids ages 4- 17 every day of the week.
Yosemite National Park: Yosemite will be our first national park visit as a family and hopefully the beginning of a life-long love affair with the US National Park system.
Galapagos Islands: I went on a Galapagos Islands (Ecuador) cruise with my parents when I was a study abroad student in Quito; it was the most memorable trip that we took together. The wildlife and natural rugged beauty of the Islands is unforgettable. I’m ready to share this adventure with my kids!
Anna (kids 8 and 6)
Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière in Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Lyon: The city of Lyon in France is a fabulous base for winter skiing and also an amazing city break. My kids will love exploring the Traboules, secret passages that criss-cross the city, and Lyon has wonderful parks and museums.
Rhodes: You don’t visit the Greek island of Rhodes for the beaches, but it has some fantastic luxury family resort hotels, and is within a few minutes of Rhodes town, a pretty ancient walled city. This looks like a great place to catch some soft European winter sun.
Amie (kid 9)
Nancy is right. There is something about the start of a new year that gets all of us thinking about new destinations. As usual, I’m going big.
Skiing in Davos Klosters, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Davos Klosters tourism
Botswana: After our incredible family safari experience in Kenya and Tanzania last year, I’m ready for another animal adventure. Botswana has an extremely diverse and rich ecosystem. The trick is finding kid-friendly lodging and service providers. Stay tuned!
Davos Klosters: We’re heading to this iconic Swiss ski mecca in March. Rumor has it that in Davos Klosters the skiing and activities are as fantastic for kids as they are for adults.
Dubai: While we are living in Europe, a visit to Dubai is a must. Sand skiing? Not your average family activity. I can’t show Devon pictures of the waterslides yet because that will be that — I’ll never hear the end of it until the trip is planned!
The hotel choice is overwhelming and many seem closer to amusement parks than hotels. The Ritz-Carlton is more our speed and the brand does a great job with kids. I heard all about the Ritz-Carlton Dubai’s extensive kids program at ILTM this year. All sound fabulous!
Maldives: The Maldives has been a steady entry on my bucket list every year. Monique’s post about her Four Seasons stay pushed it back to the top of the list. The blue and clear water looks absolutely insane. Plus, there are those nasty predictions that it might disappear forever in the not-to-distant future. Time is of the essence.
Sardinia: This is one of he few popular tourist destinations in Italy we haven’t covered on Ciao Bambino. Sardinia is rumored to be gorgeous (hopefully the environment will not suffer ill effects from the recent Costa Concordia disaster).
I’ve struggled with hotel research in the past but I have what looks like two excellent candidates to visit on my list: Forte Village Resort and Chia Laguna Resort.
, Trip Planning
January 16th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I stayed at one of our longtime Ciao Bambino Approved properties last summer, Internazionale Domus, and was reminded why this apart-hotel is such an exceptional option for families visiting Rome.
Internazionale Domus is located on the Piazza di Spagna
Located on – literally – one of the most coveted and picturesque squares in Rome, the Piazza di Spagna, Internazionale Domus guests need only to walk out their door to be immersed in their adventure. Many of Rome’s major attractions are walking distance from here, not to mention that wandering the streets in this neighborhood is a joyous activity in and of itself.
Some of the best shopping in Rome is right here, as is an array of excellent restaurants and cafes so all-family meals require few logistics.
El Greco Apartment
Apartments and Suites Available
The apartments and suites in Internazionale Domus sleep from two to ten people. Some units are equipped with kitchenette facilities.
In a city where space of any kind is offered at a premium, Internazionale Domus is truly a wonderful option for all ages. The kitchenette facilities make simple meals and snacks viable, and the location is convenient enough that families can get back for a nap and not have those logistics ruin the day. Tweens and teens will love the epic loitering scene in the piazza.
Décor is traditional. Internazionale Domus is not a “be seen” place or for style mavens. It is, however, extremely well-maintained, comfortable, and spotless.
Main corridor linking suites and apartments
Parents Need to Know
Internazionale Domus is not a usual hotel with a lobby, concierge, and doorman. There are no meals offered here, although they do provide discounts at Babington’s Tea Room next door and delivery service from some local restaurants is possible.
There’s a front desk with daily hours, but it is not staffed round the clock. That said, everyone that works at this family-owned property is very friendly and can book reservations, tours, airport transfers — whatever you need with notice.
The building is old with steep stairs, but here is a small elevator available to transport luggage upstairs.
As wonderful as the location is for some travelers, it requires consideration. The fact is that the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most popular attractions in Rome and it’s filled with people day and night. Rooms have double-paned windows and are quiet, but this doesn’t change the fact that this is a location that is always busy and bustling. If a quiet Roman neighborhood is what you have in mind, look elsewhere.
Internazionale Domus has a sister property in the same building, Relais Pierret, with suites and apartments that sleep one to four people. Basic amenities and services are identical to those at Internazionale Domus.
How to Book
Remember that we have a booking service for any property listed on Ciao Bambino. The price to you is the same as if you did all the work. The plus for families is we help ensure you get the best set-up to meet your needs.
Either use our Internazionale Domus Check Availability Form, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. JT is our dedicated client services manager and is amazing!
Photos provided by Internazionale Domus
Ciao Bambino family-friendly review of Internazionale Domus
72 hours in Rome with kids
The creepiest place in Rome
Kid-friendly walking tour guide in Rome
Understanding Rome’s neighborhoods, where to stay in Rome
Rome iPhone apps
January 13th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Edge of Sahara Desert sand dunes at Merzouga, Morocco
Ever since I watched (and re-watched) the movie English Patient, I’ve dreamed of seeing the Sahara Desert sand dunes in North Africa.
When I planned our family trip to Morocco in October, I was determined to include sand dunes in our itinerary. A task that proved challenging and ultimately, impacted every stop we made on our trip. I quickly realized that no matter how you organize sightseeing stops in Morocco, a trip to the dunes involves 10+ hours of driving through remote parts of the country.
Moreover, the logistical challenge isn’t just about getting there, it’s also about what you do once you arrive. Staying in a hotel outside the dunes is possible, but will not immerse you in the experience. Staying in a tent in the dunes is the way to dig into this destination.
Together these trip requirements mean that a tour operator to handle the driving, touring, and camp selection is a must. Safety and security are top of mind. Moreover, you need a way to make an inherently tiring trip, fun for all.
I had an extensive search for an operator who would and could find a way to make this long journey kid-friendly. I had a few operators try and talk me out of going, while others quite simply couldn’t provide enough details or customization. Kensington Tours, however, didn’t shy away from the challenge.
Little boy paradise
Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes
As I scoured the web for information, Erg Chebbi came up again and again as the hot spot for sand dune excursions.
Admittedly, I was in a dangerous trip planning place as I had a very specific vision (huge, reddish dunes that go on forever) for what I wanted to see which meant that anything “less” than that would leave me disappointed.
As a consequence, I ended up selecting Erg Chebbi as our dunes venue as it was the “safe” bet for meeting my vision. The trade-off is this area has more tourists than more remote desert spots like Erg Chegaga. In the end I weighed priorities and determined being solo in the desert wasn’t important to us.
That said, in the end, the number of groups we ran into were very small. I go back to point one here. It takes time and effort to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco and only determined travelers will keep it on their itinerary. There’s no “just passing through” these dunes.
First camel ride
Sunset Camel Trek
Getting to the dunes involves a hour of on and off-road driving through a barren stretch of desert. Experienced “desert drivers” and well-equipped cars courtesy of Kensington Tours ensured this trip was stress free. We arrived at the Erg Chebbi sand dunes just in time to hop on camels for a sunset ride.
Hello sand shadows
Was it worth it?
Every expectation was exceeded. Everything about these dunes is surreal and vivid — the color, the shadows, the sky. There’s nothing about this place that is familiar or usual — the very essence of experiential travel in my book.
Not as comfortable as it looks
Xaluca La Belle Etoile
La Belle Etoile private tented camp
As soon as the sun went down, we headed back to our accommodations for the night, a private tented camp run by the Xaluca group called La Belle Etoile.
Given the middle-of-nowhere inhospitable setting, these tented camps are decadent with beds, running water including an in-room toilet and shower, and electricity. The highlight is the campfire in the middle of the tents under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen, with enough pillows and carpets to keep you comfortable for hours.
A night at La Belle Etoile includes live Berber music and dancing, and a typical Moroccan feast. Electricity is turned off at 10p but lanterns and battery-charged night lights are available.
Dunes at sunrise
We woke up at 5:30a to watch the sun rise up over the dunes. A must-do desert activity as the morning light rising over the sand is magic.
Our local driver was born and raised in the desert
At the end of this journey you are left with nothing short of utter amazement that these hardy people have found ways to live in the midst of miles and miles of sand.
For more Photo Friday posts go to Delicious Baby.
Xaluca La Belle Etoile hosted us as part of our media tour with Kensington Tours. They did not ask us to express any particular point of view.
Ciao Bambino Desert Adventure with Kensington Tours
Morocco with kids trip planning tips
Family-friendly sustainable tourism in the High Atlas Mountains
Kid-friendly tour of the Marrakech Medina
Family-friendly review of Four Seasons Marrakech
, Adventure Travel
, Erg Chebbi
, Photo Friday
January 12th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
Recently named the number one resort in the United States by Condé Nast Traveler readers, The Resort at Pelican Hill is a unique destination. It’s located on the Newport Coast, between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach in Orange County, California on a gorgeous strip of hilly coastline.
While not directly on the beach, the resort sits on a hillside that offers spectacular views of the ocean and Catalina Island.
Coliseum swimming pool is 3 foot deep throughout
Resort at Pelican Hill Review
Pelican Hill is an experience not a hotel stay. You don’t come here because you need a place to stay; you come because you want the Pelican Hill service and ambiance. Guests that stay here know that their every need will be taken care of by exceptional staff.
There are 204 bungalow rooms and 128 two, three and four bedroom villas spread out over an expansive 500 acres including a 400-acre golf course that winds around the resort grounds. There is no “hotel” in the usual sense. The reception and check-in area has a restaurant, cafe and shops, but the bungalows and villas are located in other areas of the property.
The expansive grounds mean that it can be a long walk from your bungalow or villa to the pool or restaurant so there are shuttles everywhere. Golf carts and black Cadillac Escalades transport guests around the property.
If you prefer to walk, request a room or villa close to the walking path although be prepared, there is something mesmerizing about a golf cart ride for kids – ours begged us for these shuttles even when we could easily walk.
Indoor/outdoor living at the Villas at Pelican Hill
The villas are vacation rentals with incredible amenities and services, and they are well-suited for families. The villas are located in a gated area and have their own clubhouse complete with a full-sized pool and lounge area.
My family of four stayed in a three-bedroom villa — at 2,500 sq ft it is huge. The living areas and patio with ocean and golf course views are very spacious and have plenty of room for small children to move around.
The villas set-up is more akin to a residential neighborhood than a resort; had we stayed longer I have no doubt that my kids would have been playing outside with the “neighbor kids”. We saw children riding bikes and scooters all around the villa streets.
The standout feature of staying in a villa is the service that comes with it. All villa guests have access to personal butlers and staff 24/7. Yes, it’s decadent. We weren’t there long enough to need them, but they will grocery shop, make reservations and shuttle you anywhere in the nearby area. There is no request too small or too large.
There are multiple dining options here. The top restaurant is the Italian Andrea and this looked lovely for a special occasion or an adult-only dinner.
For families, the Coliseum Pool and Grill is a great fit. Get a seat outside with a view of the gorgeous round pool that sparkles with 1.1 million mosaic tiles. If the kids are restless, it’s easy to get up and walk around.
If you want to feel like you’ve gone somewhere without actually leaving the resort, take a shuttle to the Pelican Grill which is located at the golf club. This has nice views from the outdoor patio. And for a treat, the Caffé in the main reception area has gelato and they’re happy to let you to let you taste test before you choose.
Family frolic at Crystal Cove
Things to do at Pelican Cove
My kids raved about Camp Pelican. And why wouldn’t they? Being the only kids there on a weekday meant that they got to explore the resort – I had given approval for swimming and on-property walks. This is a beautiful kids club with well thought-out indoor and shaded outdoor spaces. I liked that the kids could easily move outside and play ping pong or do crafts on the picnic tables.
The counselor was well trained and I was comfortable with her taking the kids around the resort. Depending on the number of kids, they may go on walking excursions or to the kids pool which is adjacent to the kids’ club.
There is also an off-site teen adventure program that can include kayaking and beach excursions or shopping in Laguna Beach.
The spa is what you would expect from Pelican Hill – beautiful and spacious with outstanding service. There was always an attendant nearby asking the guests waiting for treatments if they needed anything. While I’m not a big shopper, the spa gift shop is worth a sticky beak. They have unique gifts including horoscope tea of the month and specially blended bath products.
The golf course was here before the resort was built in 2008 and Pelican Hill is known as a golfing destination. Golfers here are treated to gorgeous ocean views. There are 36 holes of golf and many options for adult and kids’ clinics.
A 5-minute shuttle ride takes you down to Crystal Cove beach, located on a beautiful stretch of undeveloped coastline. There are tidepools and biking and walking paths. Pelican Hill guests have complimentary beach butler service when available.
There are two dining options for families including the historic Ruby’s Shake Shack for burgers and the more upscale Beachcomber which is located on the beach. This place is busy so reserve far ahead for a table during sunset.
Kristi received two nights complimentary accommodations from The Resort at Pelican Hill. She was not asked to express any particular opinion. Photos courtesy of The Resort at Pelican Hill and Kristi Marcelle.
Read the Ciao Bambino Approved review of Resort at Pelican Hill and check availability
, Luxury Hotels
, North America
, Orange County