Archive for February 2012
February 29th, 2012
When you think of the Northern California Wine country, chances are you think of wine. Maybe even grapes. But not kids and not Segways. Things are changing in wine country. Visitors of all ages are welcome.
Gone are the days of leaving the kids at home. Families are on a roll and sipping their way through adventures worth bragging about to family and friends.
Everyone Can Do It
Part of the beauty of a Segway is that just about everyone can do it. I don’t consider myself particularly coordinated, and will admit to being slightly concerned. It was a feeling similar to the first time I went zip lining, and since I lived to write about that, I figured getting on a Segway wouldn’t be any different.
There were a handful of adventurous seniors on my tour with Segway of Healdsburg, one couple in particular who had come for the adventure after dropping their grandkids off at school.
Speaking of kids, they’re welcome on the tours. The only requirements they must be 12 years old and 100 pounds and 3 feet tall.
When you arrive for your tour, you’ll fill out some paperwork, be fitted with a helmet and then given one on one instruction on how to Segway. There are specific ways to step on and off and to stop and go. There is definitely some balance involved, but the Segway does a majority of the work for you. You’ll spend about 15 minutes getting a feel for your new form of transportation before you graduate from turtle mode.
What’s turtle mode you ask? When you first start learning how to maneuver on a Segway, it will be in turtle mode, which essentially keeps you from going too fast too soon. If you look down toward your handle bars you’ll be able to see a little turtle on the digital read out. Once you feel like you’ve got a handle on it, the turtles disappears and you’re ready to roll through wine country.
Single file you’ll take off, headed for your first winery. For most of your journey, you’ll be traveling on low traffic roads, just like a bike would. You will definitely see some cars pass by but don’t be concerned and don’t be surprised if you get a few waves from curious onlookers, just be careful steering if you wave back.
Enjoy the View
Any nerves you might have had will disappear once you start rolling. Chances are, you’ll get lost in the scenery. Sonoma County vineyards change season to season. Whether bursting with grapes ready to harvest in the fall or sleeping for the winter, the views will impress.
Raise a Glass
Our first stop was Christopher Creek Winery. After getting a few tips on how to charge uphill, we headed up the winery’s steep driveway. Success all around. Everyone made it up without a hitch and the view was an additional reward. It was harvest time and we watched as the grapes were separated from their stems and started on their way to becoming wine. Be sure to look for the vines that are more than a century old. If you can’t find them, just ask, folks are happy to point them out.
My husband and I enjoyed wandering around the winery so much that we never actual made into the tasting room, which in my mind is a good reason to go back. Kids on the tour will not be bored. They can learn Segway maneuvers while their parents sip with a smile on their face.
In less than a half-an-hour we were back on our Segways and off and rolling to take in more scenery. Along with endless rows of vines, you can look forward to seeing horses and gardens that will impress. Taking pictures during the tour is frowned upon. Guides don’t want folks taking a tumble when they’re trying to snap the perfect picture, so they do it for you. Guides are armed with cameras and are snapping pictures as you go. A few days after your tour all the photos will be available online, free of charge!
Our second tasting stop was Limerick Lane Cellars. The tasting room is bright and airy, but I was particularly impressed by the winery’s pourer. Along with informing us about the day’s selection of wines, he was also incredibly helpful, offering dining suggestions and recommending other activities to the out-of-towners in our group.
The two-hour tour goes by incredibly fast. As we left Limerick Lane and headed back to the stretch where we first learned how to Segway, I was disappointed we didn’t have more time and I don’t think I was the only one. Overall, the group had become more comfortable and confident on their new set of wheels. I guess that just means I need to book another tour. As luck would have it, there’s a tour to one of my favorite places, the amazing redwoods of Armstrong Woods. Stay tuned.
Photo courtesy of Dana Rebmann
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino
A California castle perfect for kids and wine
Zip-line in Sonoma County
Francis Ford Coppola swimming pool for families
Kid-friendly activities in Napa Valley
, California Wine Country
, Napa Valley
, North America
, Sonoma Valley
, Tweens and Teens
February 27th, 2012
There are now dozens of low cost carriers flying across Europe’s air space, although these flights are not as cheap as they used to be, and they might not go where you think you are going. But, if you do your homework you can bag yourself a bargain.
Tips for Flying with Kids on Europe’s Low Cost Airlines
Understand Arrival Airport Location
If landing charges are cheap and there is demand for tickets, low-cost airlines will land a jumbo at any tin pot airport. Which can be good, as long as you’ve researched where it is you’re actually landing. And by this I mean pin point that airport on a map and measure the distance to the town it is named after.
You don’t want to arrive to discover that you’re in the middle of nowhere at the back of the queue for the taxi rank that is serviced by two cabs an hour.
London Southend airport, for example, has just had an overhaul and Easyjet is offering lots of new routes from there this summer. Southend, however, is not in London, it’s on the Essex coast and tagging London on to its location is really pushing it!
On the other hand, these little known airports could enable you to be first tourist in the queue to some of Europe’s undiscovered beauty spots. Ryanair, for example, flies into Nïmes, which is a relatively sleepy area of Southern France.
Stock Up on Food
Most of these low-cost airlines charge extra for everything they can think of. There was even a rumour that Ryanair would start charging for toilet usage at one point! Consequently, you will find a limited, and often very expensive, range of food and beverages on board.
So, leave some time between going through security and boarding to stock up on takeaway airport food. Buy it before going through security and it could be confiscated. Major airports generally have a good supply of food stores, but smaller ones are much more restricted so definitely eat before checking-in, in this case as your next decent meal is likely to be another country away.
Weigh Flight Timing Challenge Versus Savings Benefit
The cheapest flights are often at the most unreasonable hours. So check and double check the timing before booking. Short-haul night flights with kids aren’t worth saving a few bucks for.
Low Cost Carrier Round Up
This Ireland-based airline with around 200 routes across Europe, is the airline we alI love to hate. You take your first flight with them and you vow never again. Then it comes to researching your next holiday and yet again, despite all their chutzpahdik extra charges, they come up with the best offer and, because you’ve been with them before, you know what to expect and you prepare for it and you know what, it’s not that bad.
So if you haven’t been with them before, here are my tips. Be prepared to travel light. They not only charge you extra for each bag you stow in the hold, they have a 15kg weight limit on each bag you check-in. To give you something to compare this too, Virgin Atlantic has a 23kg maximum weight per hold bag for an economy ticket. In our first family trip with Ryanair we had to unpack three suitcases in the luggage hall in an attempt to redistribute the extra weight of each into our hand luggage. They slap an extortionate extra charge fee for every kilogram your check-in baggage is over.
To overcome this annoyance we have now bought extra light suitcases and have invested in a cheap luggage scale so we arrive at the optimum weight limit.
They also charge you extra for priority boarding and reserved seating. I don’t bother with either of these. The kids sit on their Trunkies, and we stand in-line, the priority guys are not that far ahead of us. With regards to reserved seating, I gamble on the fact that I am sure there is some law about separating a minor from their guardian, so they can’t not seat us with our kids.
You feel slightly less like cattle when you travel with Easyjet, which claims to be the UK’s largest airline, with over 600 routes across Europe. Their maximum hold luggage weight is a more doable 23kg, but they also add an admin fee and like Ryanair have a charge for infants travelling on laps. They also charge extra for Speedy Boarding. Again, I don’t bother with these optional extra charges.
This airline is not limited to Europe, but it can offer up some surprisingly cheap cross Europe flights and there are fewer added extras too, so the price you are quoted is much closer to what you will eventually end up paying. There is complimentary food and beverages and they don’t charge an additional fee to stow baggage up to 20kg per economy ticket in the hold.
This is a charter airline that largely serves the package holiday market, but they’ve entered the low-cost airfare market as a way of offloading unsold seats. You could be sandwiched between large family groups travelling en-mass and hen and stag weekenders, but it’s great for people watching.
They do charge extra for check-in luggage, but there is a 20kg weight allowance. There is an extra charge for food and you have to pay extra for reserved seating.
This airline has over 200 routes across Europe. It specialises in regional areas and is particularly good for accessing European skiing resorts. All seats are allocated before boarding, but there is a charge for economy passengers to use the hold for luggage.
If you fancy exploring the further parts of the British Isles before heading on to mainland Europe, Jet2 flies from dozens of UK regional airports. Although its ticket prices are cheap it again piles on the extras. Extra leg-room, hold baggage, reserved seating, it all comes at a cost.
This Budapest based airline flies over 200 routes across the continent and serves Eastern Europe particularly well. If you fancy visiting a place you’ve never before heard of, check out their route map. Baggage is chargeable if checked in and there are also booking fees, priority boarding fees and reserved seat fees.
Photo courtesy of EasyJet
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Great iPhone and iPad Apps for kids of all ages
Europe car rental tips from an expert
Money saving airfare tips for 2012
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, Flying with Kids
, Preferred Family
February 24th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
This is a guest post from Denise Ostuni who lives with her family in Puglia, Italy. I’ve never been to this part of Italy but it has been on “my list” for years. Denise rents a villa called Torre dello Scarparello to travelers visiting Puglia. We haven’t interviewed anyone who has stayed there, but it looks lovely. Many thanks to Denise for providing this wonderful introduction to Puglia!
We have been lucky to have Italy’s heel of the boot, Puglia, right in our backyard for the past year. Angelo decided to move back to Italy after living in the US for sixteen years. We met in New York City in 1999, got married in 2003 and had two children Isabella and Carlo now ages 3 ½ and 5. We moved to Milan in 2009 and now we reside in the seaside town of Monopoli in the region of Puglia.
Often times I’m asked the question “why did you leave one of the greatest cities in the world, New York, for Puglia?” My response is simple: “Why not?” Coming from a metropolis you appreciate enchanting locations such as Puglia even more. Who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to experience a part of Italy so invigorating and still undiscovered?
Alberobello. Photo courtesy of Yellow Cat on Flickr
Why go to Puglia?
Puglia is a region in southern Italy often overlooked by first-time travelers to Italy – especially ones with children. It is a place where ancient and deeply rooted traditions have been passed down for generations, dictating the rhythm of life. Time stands still for those who immerse themselves in its beauty.
Puglia’s eno-gastronomic offering is quite unique. The food and cooking is fresh and simple (cucina povera) and every bite has a story that takes you back to the origin of its ingredients. High quality olive oil and distinct wines are everyday staples.
Pristine Coastline and Beaches
A vast region, it has the longest coastline in Italy marked by pristine beaches. Exploring the seas and its grottos is just as important as discovering the generous land bearing citrus fruits, figs, almonds, pomegranate, cherry trees to name a few. It boasts beautiful architecture, design and local artisans influenced by the proximity to Turkey and Greece and the invasions that have marked it throughout the centuries. A canvas of secular olive trees and hills on one side and a long crystal clear coastline on the other all brought together by blue skies and bright stars. Its warm summers and mild winters make it an ideal destination all year round. There are numerous possibilities for customized itineraries.
If you only have a few days to discover Puglia with your children, here are some highlights not to miss:
Polignano a Mare
Puglia Highlights for Families
Alberobello has been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1996 and is a town where you’ll find the majority of the famous trulli construction clustered together from the 17th century. They are limestone dwellings constructed using prehistoric techniques (mortarless). Some of them still have mythological symbols painted on their roofs.
My kids have described them as upside down cone shaped houses. Speaking of cone shapes, there is a wonderful gelateria to be visited during your exploration of the city called Arte Fredda. Unique flavors and the freshest ingredients (try date-flavored gelato)! Children of all ages will have a wonderful time creating their own fairytales and stories about the trulli as they work their way around the town. Nearby there is a masseria offering cheese making lessons as well as tastings.
Cisternino is another medieval town typical of the area. You can visit the historical center, walk around the squares, take in the views of the Itria Valley and have a wonderful lunch. They are known for their fornello. It is a butcher shop with a restaurant next door. You can select your own meat, it is cooked to your liking and served to you at the restaurant. La ‘bombetta’ is a stuffed rolled meat that is typical of the area. Try Macelleria Demola Vincenzo and Arrosteria del Vicoletto. One of the many kid-friendly restaurants my children enjoyed.
Ostuni is known as the “white city”, it is a lively hillside, fortified medieval town with breath-taking views of the Adriatic Sea. It is a great place during the day but even more extraordinary at night. Just wander around the town, stop at a café by the hill-top Romanesque Duomo and soak in the impeccable scenery.
We went to one of the best beaches around Ostuni: Cala dei Ginepri near the beautiful natural reserve of Torre Guaceto. In the peak of the summer season, it was surprisingly quiet, clear and clean. We went to the beach that had a snack bar on the premise. Lunch was mainly sandwiches, hotdogs and salads. Plan ahead and you can pack a really good picnic too. It’s best to buy a beach umbrella and bring it along. You will want to spend all day there. The area is near a Nature Reserve. They have a Visitor Centre where organized guided tours, nature walks, cycling, trekking and snorkeling trips can be scheduled.
On your way back north to Monopoli, you can stop at La Marea (+39 080 482 9415) for dinner. They recently moved locations from Piazza Roma to Via Accademia di Livorno in the fishing village of Savelletri di Fasano. It is a fantastic place to try the local seafood. Depending on the season, you can get fresh sea urchins, oysters, octopus, cod fish to name a few. It is an upscale-family run restaurant.
The beautiful and talented wife/chef comes from generations of chefs. Her charming husband was a great host and will make sure your children sample the local flavors. The appetizers and specials of the day were incredible. I closed my eyes at one point and could taste all the ingredients that make up each bite.
Monopoli and Polignano a Mare
Monopoli and Polignano a Mare are both seaside towns near Bari. Monopoli has a historic center right by the town square. The kids will love to watch the fishermen repair their nets at the harbor, see the cannons along the walls of the ancient castle and play on the playground before splashing into nearby family friendly beaches – many within walking distance! Polignano a Mare’s historic center is perched on top of a cliff with breath-taking views. It has incredible sights and caves that can be reached by renting a boat (see HelloApulia below).
Aside from the spectacular towns Puglia has to offer, it also has other main attractions that kids will love. There is a zoo safari in Fasano with an incredible drive thru safari full of lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, giraffes etc. The amusement park with mostly pay-as-you-go rides is next door. The caves of Castellana are perfect for the little explorers. For more information you can check out Grotto di Castellana. In Castellana there is an outdoor activity park with rope climbing and different courses for all ages called Indiana Park. Near Ostuni there are masserias offering olive oil harvesting and tasting as well.
Denise and her daughter Isabella
Where to Stay
Monopoli and Savelletri di Fasano are good central bases to visit the sights. In Monopoli you can rent a whole house (weekly – monthly rentals) such as the Torre dello Scarparello. In the surrounding countryside the friendly and gracious owners live on the property in a separate villa. There is a beautiful garden that the kids can explore as well as olive tree groves and fruit trees spread throughout the property. In between day trips you can spend the afternoons relaxing at the beautiful pool in the nearby gardens. For more information contact tour operator HelloApulia located in Monopoli. They offer apartments, villas, masserias and trulli homes for rent as well as guided tours and excursions.
If you want to be pampered, Borgo Egnazia is the place to go: a luxury hotel, part of San Domenico Hotels and the Leading Hotels of the World. Hotel rooms and villas with pools are available – perfect for families. I’ve had the opportunity to speak to the owners and their two lovely daughters as they gave us a tour of the kids club and the teen club. It was an incredible sight to see.
Children of guests have a private club with impeccable services catering to children from 8 months to teens. At the moment, the clubs are free for those 3 years and above as a promotion. The space has an indoor and outdoor area. There is a well- designed playground near the kids club with a performance area, a zero entry pool perfect for the little ones, a hands-on children’s garden area and a restaurant. The staff is certified and well trained. Children can enjoy golf, tennis, swimming and cooking lessons. There is a wonderful babysitting service should the parents want a romantic night out.
Getting to Puglia
The region is served by two major airports, Bari (BRI) and Brindisi (BDS) and by the Italian railway system connecting it to the rest of Italy and Europe. Once you get here, I would recommend renting a car if you have children. Car hire services with a driver are available and can get you to places at reasonable prices. Be sure to pack comfortable walking shoes for you and the kids for those cobblestoned streets; a beach towel, S.P.F. lotion and hats are a must if you come in the summer.
I have barely touched the region of Puglia on this article. There are places deeper south such as Lecce, and Otranto, Altamura in the west and as far north as the Gargano Peninsula that would take days to describe. It’s a part of Italy waiting to be explored not just by adults but by children as well.
Let time stand still and enjoy an unforgettable family vacation, one filled with good surprises, great sites, friendly people, good food and wine and incredible beaches. Once you’ve discovered Puglia, it’s difficult NOT to plan your return.
Ciao Bambino recommended Italy family hotels
Italian beach vacations with kids
Tips for visiting the Amalfi Coast with a toddler
72 hours in Rome with kids
Rome and Florence car rental tips
Art camp in Italy for kids
February 22nd, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
If you haven’t been to Fort Lauderdale in awhile you may have visions of bikini clad spring breakers blanketing the beaches. That scene has come and gone …
With average winter temperatures in the high 70’s, Fort Lauderdale still sees some college students during spring break but in the last 20 years, the entire beach has undergone a renovation and rebirth. Upscale hotels, restaurants and shops have moved in and many hotels cater to families with kid-friendly activities and amenities.
Funky Fish Ocean Camp
Things To Do in Fort Lauderdale with Kids
While the beaches and warm waters are the top draw for families there are many kid-friendly activities within a 15-minute drive or walk from the main beach area. It’s an easy vacation with kids here. You can choose to relax at the pool or beach or get out and explore and still be back for nap time or afternoon water fun. We recently had a family reunion here and these kid-tested activities are at the top of my list for things to do in Fort Lauderdale with kids.
Fort Lauderdale is sometimes called the “Venice of America” because it has a system of residential canals called the Intracoastal, lined with gorgeous homes and yachts. Venice has gondolas; Fort Lauderdale has water taxis.
The iconic Fort Lauderdale water taxi is a relaxing and inexpensive way to cruise the Intracoastal. Buy a pass for the day for $20 and hop-off for lunch and hop back on for more sightseeing. Captains provide some commentary of the sights as you cruise.
Tip: Kids will be fascinated by the iguanas that hang out, literally, underneath the Sunrise Bridge, North of downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Funky Fish Ocean Camp
This ocean camp is a hidden gem for kids and their parents. Funky Fish has been in business for over 18 years and they know how to safely entertain kids in a water environment.
The 5-hour camp for kids ages 4-17 has locations at several area hotels and at $59 for the day it’s a great deal. The camp includes tie-dye t-shirt making, snorkeling in a pool, lunch and either boogie boarding or skim boarding in the ocean. Instructors are well trained and patient.
My kids had never done any of the water activities and my 8-year-old left thinking he was a professional skim boarder and my 6-yearold old, who couldn’t get the hang of skim boarding, was equally as happy with the interesting sand castle creatures she learned to build. Both kids begged for another day of camp when I picked them up.
We would repeat this camp in a heartbeat – kids love it and parents get some downtime.
Museum of Discovery & Science
Located in downtown Fort Lauderdale the Museum of Discovery & Science is the premier museum for kids in the area. With the recent opening of the EcoDiscovery center, the museum has twice as many exhibits to entertain the kids.
For the 7 and under crowd, the museum has an exceptional activities area. Our kids spent almost their entire visit here building a house with foam tiles, making bubbles and working in the “orange grove” – one of the best interactive exhibits we’ve ever experienced. Other favorites include the airboat adventure ride which feels and looks like the real thing, the storm center where kids experience hurricane force winds in a simulator and the sea otters – they are just too cute. The museum also has an IMAX theater.
Bike Riding in Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
If you’re looking for active things to do in Fort Lauderdale , this park, located on the Intracoastal, is a perfect place to go bike riding with kids. It’s small and flat. The 1.9 mile loop passes picnic areas and playgrounds. Best of all, the in-park rental company, MCruz Rentals has every imaginable type of bike rental for families: tricycles, trailers, kids’ bikes with training wheels and tandems.
They also rent canoes and kayaks and have Segway tours available for kids weighing 50 pounds or more.
IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum
Located 15 minutes south of Fort Lauderdale, and very close to the Fort Lauderdale airport, you can see the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum from the I-95 highway. This is a great little museum for a short visit. The highlight for kids is the simulated fishing experience where kids can reel in the “big one” and the wetlands walk with native turtles, birds and alligators.
Tip: The famous Rustic Inn crabhouse is less than ten minutes from the museum. This is a fun but very loud restaurant where kids and adults whack away at their crab with wooden mallets. Wait time can be long so go early and ask for outside seating.
Ciao Bambino recommended Florida family hotels
HomeAway Family Dream Vacation in Key West
Ultimate road trip through the Florida Keys
Disney World with tweens
Disney World vacation tips
The Fort Lauderdale Visitor’s Bureau and Funky Fish Ocean Camp provided Kristi and her family with complimentary admissions to attractions in Fort Lauderdale. They did not ask her to express any particular opinion.
, Beach Vacations
, Fort Lauderdale
, North America
February 21st, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
A year ago today a baby elephant, Kainuk, was rescued next to her dead mother on a reserve in Kenya and was brought to the The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Nairobi.
We fostered her just a week later when we were visiting the DSWT on the last day of our family safari in Africa. I just checked in on her status and photos on the Orphan’s Project website and Kainuk seems to be thriving. What a difference a year makes!
This is a heartwarming update for my family. DSWT rescues and supports animals who would otherwise die without their intervention. Their Orphan’s Program hand-rears milk dependent baby elephants, rhinos and other species so they can return to the wild once they are grown. Even with their help, some of the animals are just too far gone to make it. You can read the different stories on the website.
Learning about this organization and touring their facility was the perfect way to close a trip where we worked hard to share age-appropriate lessons about conservation to our 8-year-old son Devon. We met the elephant caregivers and of course, all the orphans. Questions were asked and answered. Devon is the one who selected the elephant for our family to foster.
How wonderful it is to have this ongoing touch point with our extraordinary trip to Africa, and the ability to continue to support this fantastic organization. If you are passing through Nairobi, a stop at DSWT is a must.
Even if you have no plans to visit Africa anytime soon, anyone can help save an elephant by donating directly through their website.
Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy
Tips for taking a family safari in Africa
Giraffe heaven in Nairobi, Kenya
Review of &Beyond Bateleur Camp for families
Review of Sanctuary Retreats Olonana tented camp for families
Review of Ngorongoro Crater Lodge for families
Hot air balloon ride over Masai Mara with kids
Lion hunt for Photo Friday
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, Family Safaris
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February 20th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
If you want your kids to learn to ski, you can teach them yourself (good luck with that!) or send them to ski school. A comprehensive program run by a thoughtful expert makes all the difference in the world.
A model for this is Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s Ski & Snowboard School in Califorinia. Craig Albright is the Managing Director of their program. I recently e-interviewed him for his insight on kids’ ski school best practices.
This is terrific perspective and important points for parents to consider. Thanks Craig!
Kids’ Ski School Best Practices
What is the best age for kids to start skiing?
This varies by child but usually between 3 and 5 years is ideal. Snowboarding is a little older, between the ages of 5 and 7 years.
What are some tips around keeping the experience for young kids positive?
Keep it fun! Set your expectations in line with the mantra that we want your child to believe: Snow=Fun
If we get this they will become skiers and with a lot less tears. Focus on allowing them to enjoy their time on the snow whether that is “learning to ski” or “making a snowman”… Kids can feel the pressure to perform that parents or the instructor can put on them to “ski”, “ride the lift”, ‘’learn to turn” or “keep up” and it can make for an unpleasant first experience.
What is the average class size for the Mammoth Ski School and does it vary by age?
This can vary considerably based on the timing of your visit. Visiting during mid-week non-holiday periods ensure small, personalized class sizes of 1-5 students while visiting during Holiday periods this can bump up to 6-10 students. We do aim for smaller class sizes for our youngest students. Our class size targets are: 3 students for 3-4 year old group lessons, 5 students for 5-7 year old group lessons, 6 students for 8-13 year old group lessons and 6 students for an adult group lesson.
What is the philosophy behind Mammoth ski instruction?
Mammoth Mountain Ski and Snowboard School is a member school of the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and Association of American Snowboard Instructors (AASI). PSIA/AASI embraces a “Student Centered”, “Outcome Based” teaching methodology that approaches each student as having unique wants, needs, abilities and capabilities.
This requires the instructor to connect with each guest individually to create a “Learning Partnership” — with the goal of creating lifelong skiers and riders who share our passion for the mountain experience. Though teaching technical proficiency is woven through each lesson with the hierarchy of the lesson being Safety, Fun and Learning. This system is contrary to many European systems that are much more “Technique Centric”.
What do kids love most about your program?
How fun our instructors are and our skiing trails through the woods. Oh, and the hot cocoa!
How about their parents?
That their children are taken care of in a safe, nurturing environment and that their children learn to love skiing and riding. And that their kids come back to them tired and ready to take a nap!
Mammoth Mountain Facts Facts:
-Kids lift tickets are $30 any day, all-season long
-Mammoth offers pint-sized ready terrain at Discovery Park
-Family Wagons are available to haul equipment from parking areas
-Wo0lly’s Adventure Summit has a tube and snow play area called Sled Park where no skis or snowboards are required to participate
-Woolly’s Forest at The Village at Mammoth offers childcare for infants to 6-year-olds day and night so parents have time to hit the slopes and get some parents-only evening downtime
-Stormrider Teen Sessions available on holiday weeks helps teens 13-17 years old learn new tips and tricks with an instructor they can relate to
-For more information on Mammoth Mountain, visit MammothMountain.com or call 800.MAMMOTH.
Ciao Bambino recommended family ski resorts
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Vermont family-friendly ski resorts
Colorado family-friendly ski resorts
Skiing in Europe with kids – Zermatt
Skiing in Europe with kids – Grindelwald
, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
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February 16th, 2012
Breakfast at Les Hautes Gatinieres
As a general rule, when I plan vacations to destinations, I don’t typically stay at high-end luxury resorts. I seek out places I think other Americans might not find. Nothing’s really off limits: small hotels, B & B’s, guest houses and yes, even hostels. My family has experienced, and most of the time, enjoyed them all.
I love to be spoiled. Who doesn’t? My family and I are lucky enough to have stayed at some absolutely incredible resorts. At Thanksgiving we recharged our batteries at Carmel Valley Ranch, learning about bees and lavender in between hiking the 500 acre playground. At the end of a hustling 10 day adventure in Costa Rica we landed at the JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa where the only thing that got us out of the largest infinity pool in Central America was a horseback ride on the beach. Both stays created memories that will stick for the rest of our lives. When we land at resorts, it’s for a vacation that is truly meant to be a vacation.
But there are times when we prefer to find alternative, authentic accommodations that work with our budget and allow us to really dig into a destination.
View of Lake Geneva from Lausanne
Family Travel Memories at B&Bs, Guest Houses, and Hostels
Lausanne, Switzerland 2006
Our first family hostel experience was in 2006 in Lausanne, Switzerland. As fabulous as Switzerland is, it is also phenomenally expensive. (Amie’s said it over and over again!) We were trying to keep our budget in check and landed at the Lausanne GuestHouse & Backpacker.
The view of the train tracks are not exactly 5-star, but it had everything else going for it. It was clean, comfortable, quiet and the folks at the front desk were fabulous. Everything from directions to family- friendly restaurants, to helping the tooth fairy make it all the way to Switzerland when my daughter lost her first tooth abroad! Almost six years later she still has the Edelweiss Swiss Army Knife we bought at the GuestHouse in the late hours of the evening.
Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground
London, England 2006
Six months later a fairytale wedding took us to Great Britain. Two trips to Europe in one year meant keeping to a budget was a must, but no easy task in London. Rhodes Hotel was a dream find. A Georgian House in a residential neighborhood, walking distance from Hyde Park and the must-do Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
Our family room required climbing some stairs, but gave everyone room to stretch out. This time it was my younger daughter who decided the tooth fairy needed to earn some frequent flier miles. The shiny, silver pound coin left under her pillow accompanied her downstairs to breakfast where she proudly showed off the hole in her mouth to hotel owner Chris Crias. Minutes later, out of the kitchen comes his wife Maria with a gooey chocolate crepe, perfect for a little mouth minus a tooth. Travel memories don’t get much better.
Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley
Loire Valley, France 2008
The Fourth of July took us to France’s Loire Valley for yet another dream wedding. With massive amounts of family commitments filling our days, we needed a place that could provide some much needed family downtime. We found it and so much more at Les Hautes Gatinieres.
Owner Jacqueline Gay is a dream come true for a traveling family. The two connecting rooms that serve as her family room are cozy and comfortable but it was the little touches that set her apart. Home cooked, made to order breakfasts. She cooked for my girls like only a grandmother can and usually will. Getting up was a breeze, because the girls looked forward to breakfast and then time to play in Jacqueline’s backyard with her dog Appy. After just one night, they knew what sofa to look under for some of Appy’s favorite toys.
When my daughter’s clothes somehow got dropped in a pool during a family picnic, I hung them in the shower to drip dry. Jacqueline found them when she came in to clean the room and had them washed, dried and folded by bedtime.
View of the beach in Nerja
Nerja, Spain 2009
We were supposed to go to Disneyland, but when a Kayak search turned up amazing plane tickets to Spain, we went for it. One of my less organized trips, but also one of our best family adventures.
Nerja, on Spain’s South Coast, was one of our favorite stops I think in part because we got a great taste of local life. We stayed at Hostal Lorca. With the feel more of a home than a hostal, its owners Rick and Femma and their children welcome visitors from around the world. They told us exactly where they take their kids, to shop, eat and play. Every recommendation was right on the money. And for my girls the time to play in the backyard pool with local kids was a traveling experience in itself.
There’s a kitchen area off the hostal back yard open for anyone to use and a fridge full of drinks you take and pay for using the honor system. There’s a lesson we don’t get to show our kids in practice much anymore.
Arcos de la Frontera, Spain 2009
Casa Blues is the house I would want to own if I could live in Arcos de la Frontera. Since I can’t, I’m especially glad Nick does. Originally from London, he was a wonderful host, supplying great touring suggestions and even letting the girls stretch out with homework in the dining room.
Casa Blues has just a handful of guest rooms and an apartment. The rooms were spotless and we loved waking up to the stunning view every morning. The goats in the distance were charming as well! But maybe the best part, the quiet roof terrace. We ate tapas on the terrace and just about every other meal there during our stay. An added bonus, Nick has a friendly cat named Sam who just kind of showed up one day and decided to stay. Needless to say, he’s a kid magnet.
The smaller the accommodations, often means less amenities. What can you live without? Often much more than you think. It’s a tricky balance especially for traveling families, but over the years I’ve discovered it’s the personal touches and interactions that stand out, not the size of the bathroom.
February 15th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We don’t review many products on Ciao Bambino. We stick to what we do best, sharing invaluable tips and advice about traveling with kids. I couldn’t resist, however, agreeing to give Icebreaker apparel a test drive now that I live in Switzerland.
Icebreaker’s specialty is marino wool clothing known to be breathable yet super warm. They produce a kids’ line for ages 1-14. I don’t know about you, but we endure a constant layers struggle with our 9-year-old who thinks less is more when it comes to clothing and detests feeling constricted and hot. Anything lightweight that provides real warmth is a gift for all.
Toasty despite frigid temps in Val Thorens, France
I opted to try the Kids Camper hoody as I like the idea of traveling with clothes that work for sports yet are nice enough to double as clothing for sightseeing too. Given that the past few weeks in Europe have been beyond frigid, we’ve put this dear hoody to the test!
The result? Despite skiing in single-digit temperatures, Devon never complained of the cold. And, it passes his hip enough test so he puts the hoody on without a fight. I just clicked the Icebreaker “like” button.
Good news, Icebreaker is having a winter sale right now and most items are 30% off. Check it out.
Icebreaker provided a free hoody for us to try. They didn’t ask me to express any particular point of view. As usual, all opinions expressed in this post are my own.
School Age Travel
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February 13th, 2012
Helen from Ciao Bambino
Helen Truszkowski is a new contributor on Ciao Bambino! British born and bred, Helen has worked as a travel writer and photographer for the past 20 years. She was previously travel editor at Executive Woman magazine and is the founding author behind award winning guidebook series, ‘Take the Kids:’ Her title Take The Kids … Paris & Disneyland Resort Paris is a bestseller. Helen divides her time between Los Angeles and London with her two sons, George, 16, and Jack, 6.
Now, thanks to Helen, I’m dreaming about a family trip to Oz!
In an age of kids’ clubs and summer camps it’s become the norm to have your children charmed away by nannies, nurtured in a corner of a resort well out of ear-shot. Small wonder playground parents wince when I let slip my plan to spend two weeks on a driving tour around Southern Australia. They linger on doubts about lengthy flights, searing temperatures and creepy crawlies a-go-go.
Of course Australia is huge and deciding where to head can be a complicated affair. Compelled to at least scratch the surface of this immense island, first timers like us arrive with an obligatory sightseeing schedule, making the pilgrimage to Sydney.
Our plane skims the tarmac with postcard promises of Bondi Beach, the steely Harbour Bridge and Opera House. My 7-year-old, George, fingers the map tracing our route past suburbs with outlandish names like Woolloomooloo, Parramatta, Yagoona and Cabramatta, his eyes widening. George’s mind is all set on boomerangs and woomeras, didgeridoos and gunyahs.
We spend the next day wandering the Rock’s cobbled streets, its vibrant pocket of cafes, eateries and market stalls. We (grudgingly) share our lunch with the pelicans at Sydney Fish Market – the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. On Darling Harbour, Wildlife World offers us in your face encounters with a cassowary and kangaroo, heck I even get to cuddle a koala.
George revels in the breathtaking oasis that is the Royal Botanic Gardens. It’s chock-full with vivid blue buds, scarlet rosellas, bulging she-oak and a visitors’ code that entices kids to, ”Please walk on the grass! We also invite you to smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns.”
The air hangs heavy, filled with a cacophony of caws and buzzes, as we are given the ‘bush tucker’ lowdown during an indigenous tour of the gardens. Our guide John plucks out native berries, knowing just how to turn unintelligible botany facts into enticements like, “suck on this and see what colour your tongue turns.”
Perched as the population of Sydney is on continuous coastline, a beach is never more than a ferry-ride away. Just seven miles north-east, neatly hemmed in by a ribbon of apricot sand, Manly is more mellow than its brasher sister Bondi, and with less daunting surf. Brimful of sun-bleached hair and flip-flops, Speedo-clad kayakers and paddle boarders, this is a veritable Mecca for the bucket and spade brigade.
We stroll down the lively, pedestrianised ‘Corso’ to Oceanworld to stare at the tanks teeming with great nurse sharks, sea turtles, wobbegong sharks and moray eels.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
Jet lag behind us, we collect our hire car and venture north. A half-hour drive away, the captivating Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park screams ‘bushwalk right here, picnic right now’. Its ancient sandstone landscape functions as a perfect canvas for Aboriginal rock art. Among the 2,000 year-old engravings are gigantic whales, outlandish spirits, sharks and eels. The finer points may be lost on George (to him old is old) but we wander the lines hand in hand marvelling at the Garigal clan who etched them.
Blue Mountains National Park
Pushing further west beyond the city limits, we enter the cool, eucalyptus bound haze of the Blue Mountains National Park. It is all unyielding bends, jagged precipices, canyons and gorges.
Great Ocean Road to Bells Beach
Ten more days, 1,200 miles more grinding of gears, a blockbuster drive takes us on the spectacular Great Ocean Road to the iconic Bells Beach, Cape Otway Lighthouse and Port Campbell National Park, past the magnificent Twelve Apostles, pausing on solitary beaches where our footprints are the only ones in the sand. We stay in quirky, scenic seaside towns along the way — Apollo Bay, Lorne and Port Fairy.
Mungo National Park
We enter the concluding leg of our tour at the World Heritage Listed Mungo National Park. We are met by Grahem. He’s decked out in stylish khaki, Oakley shades and a vivacious grin. The orange dust lends a smooth, bronze like sheen to his skin. “Wunna bunna bidga,“ he greets us.
This ancient riverbed is Grahem’s traditional Barkindji tribal land with a history of Aboriginal occupation dating back over 40,000 years. From the off it’s clear Grahem’s knowledge doesn’t come from books. it’s been passed down from person to person, generation to generation. Like good progenitors everywhere, he begins by telling George, ‘how the birds got their colours’, ‘why the crow is glossy black’, sketching images in the sand to illustrate each tale, then carefully erasing each scene with the palm of his hand.
We adjust our ears and eyes to the starkly sculptural landforms; to distances that seem to have no end; to silences that wrap round us like a blanket. George ping-pongs around the lunar landscape in search of things to climb.“ When you’re down, come look at this “ Grahem calls, “… jaw of a hairy-nosed wombat, bit the dust about 18,000 years ago.”
As an amber sun skims the horizon, George’s sandman is no nearer. We’ve packed such an incredible amount into the last two weeks and both learned so much. But by George, it’s worth it.
Photos courtesy of Helen Truszkowski. Complimentary accommodations provided by BushBaby Travel.
Top things to do in Sydney with kids
Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef
Bondi Beach for Photo Friday
Sydney Zoo for Photo Friday
, Road Trips
February 12th, 2012
Hans from Auto Europe
This is a guest post from Hans Ericcson of Auto Europe, a car rental broker specializing in the European market. They have a best price guarantee and excellent service. I’ve used them exclusively for my own rentals over the past eight years. When I’ve had issues, they’ve addressed them immediately — a much preferred scenario to chasing a local rental office for resolution.
I asked Hans to provide tips that are essential for families renting cars in Europe. This is outstanding information. Thanks Hans!
Roadside sunflowers in France
Is your family thinking about traveling to Europe? As an industry insider, there are several things it would be helpful for you to know. Here are things that all families should be aware of when renting a car in Europe.
One Way Fees
Watch out for “one way” fees. When you pick up your car in one country and drop it off in another, you will pay a one way fee. Sometimes the fees are charged within the same country, but not always. Generally, the farther you go from the original destination, the more the one way fee will be.
To get around a fee, sometimes you can find a town so close to the border, you can literally take a taxi to the next country. Take a look at Freilassing, Germany, and Salzburg, Austria. There are tales of people lucking out and getting a car that needs to be returned, so they don’t have to pay the fee, but the chances of that happening are fairly slim in most cases, and it’s not something that anyone can guarantee.
Child seats are pretty straight forward. If your child needs a baby or booster seat in your car at home, they will need one in Europe. You can bring your own, it should work just fine.
If you need to get one, book it in advance and ask about pricing. It may be worth changing suppliers (yes, they can run that high). If you have a toddler/infant who needs a child seat/booster seat, the rental car companies generally won’t let you leave until you have one, as it’s dangerous not to use and a liability to them.
Everyone needs their own seat belt. The rental companies can not allow you to “double up.” Make sure you let your car rental supplier know just how many people you have in your party to avoid this.
Know your gas policy. Full/Full is the most common, just keep your receipt after you’ve filled up. If you need to return it empty, the car should have an estimator that tells you how many miles you have left. Make sure you know how this before you leave the counter. You definitely do not want to fill a tank that is supposed to be returned empty!
International Driving Permit
An International Driving Permit is a translation of your license. It is not a single card but rather a booklet that has to be used in conjunction with your regular license (by itself it does nothing).
According to the US State Department, International Driving Permit may officially be purchased from two places if you are an American citizen: AAA (American Automobile Association) and the NAC (National Automobile Club). The booklet has a description of your license, and provides proof that you are who you say you are.
While most companies do not require you to have one in order to pick up a rental car, you can potentially face a fine if you get pulled over without it, especially if the officer does not speak English. It can also come in handy if you are buying something with a credit card and are asked for ID.
Manual vs. Automatic Car
If you can’t drive a manual transmission vehicle, make sure you rent an automatic. You would be shocked at the amount of people who think that they can just learn this skill on the fly while in a foreign country.
If you want to save some money and you book your trip far enough in advance, you might be able to learn. Ask your friends who drive manual would be willing to teach you in exchange for a dinner, or babysitting. It’s not always a big difference, but in some locations because automatics are so sparse, you will pay double or triple what you would for a manual.
It is a little tricky to get used to those Irish, Australian, and UK car rentals, regardless of your transmission, and isn’t something you can really practice at home.
Photo courtesy of Amie O’Shaughnessy
Money-saving airfare tips for 2012
Tips for using Rail Europe
Tips for taking the train in Italy
Top tips for road trips with toddlers
Car seat dilemma: rent or carry
, Preferred Family
, Trip Planning
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