Archive for July 2012
July 30th, 2012
Kara Mayer Robinson
Ciao Bambino has been checking out the kid-focused Camp Omni program at Omni Hotels & Resorts around the country this summer. I reviewed the Omni Parker House last month. Ideally located across from the Freedom Trail and just a few blocks from Boston Common, the Public Garden and Faneuil Hall, this classic family-friendly hotel makes it easy to explore Boston’s top attractions.
Planning a visit? Here’s my list of must do activities in Boston with children.
As part of the Freedom Trail walk, you can tour the inside of the U.S.S. Constitution (for free)
Walk the Freedom Trail
Step outside the Omni Parker House and you’re front and center on this 2.5-mile brick-lined route that takes you past 16 historic sites like the Old State House, Paul Revere’s House and the Bunker Hill Monument.
Frolic around Boston Common
This beloved city park has everything a kid wants: grassy areas, frog statues, a pond named after a turtle and a fully-equipped playground.
Relax at the Public Garden
So pretty with its weeping willows! Here kids can ride in a swan boat, feed swans and ducks, and climb on tiny bronze duck statues from Robert McCloskey’s classic book “Make Way for Duckling.”
See it all from the Skywalk Observatory
Take an elevator up to the 50th floor for 360-degree views of Boston. Even better at night.
Tour Fenway Park
No reservations necessary for this family-friendly behind-the-scenes of this famous ballpark, home to the Boston Red Sox and the famed Green Monster. Runs daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Visit the Boston Children’s Museum
If you have little ones they’ll thank you profusely for taking them here, where they can frolic in a room devoted to bubbles, conquer a massive climbing structure and visit the simulated home of TV and book character Arthur and his pals.
Learn and play at the Museum of Science
There’s something for everyone – even non-scientific minds – a planetarium, IMAX theater, simulator experience, and all sorts of hands-on fun with objects of all kinds.
Walk the North End
Looking for memorable cannoli? Look no further than Mike’s Pastry Shop. Don’t let the around-the-block lines scare you: they move fast. But before you indulge, pop into just about any North End restaurant for an authentic, delicious Italian dinner.
Devour the chowda at the Union Oyster House
This oldest restaurant in America (est. 1826) has a table named after JFK, who regularly hung out here to read newspapers and down a bowl of chowda. You’ll love the loud, vibrant vibe and mouthwatering seafood in this Boston classic.
Go to the Franklin Park Zoo
We’ve been to plenty of zoos over the years and this one consistently tops our list. See gorillas (acting strangely human), zebras, giraffes, kangaroos, lions, tigers and wildebeest super close up and without too much walking.
Editorial Note: Kara received complimentary accommodations at the Omni Parker House. As always, the opinions expressed on Ciao Bambino are our own.
Kara Mayer Robinson is an award-winning writer published in Parents Magazine, American Baby, Pregnancy, Time Out New York and more. Photos by Kara Mayer Robinson
Summer at Camp Omni at Omni Parker House Boston
Ciao Bambino Approved review of Omni Parker House hotel
Camp Omni getaway at Omni San Francisco Hotel
Weekend getaway at Omni Los Angeles at California Plaza
Mother-daughter stay at Omni Berkshire Palace in New York City
Kids’ Fantasy Suite at Omni Mandalay in Dallas, Texas
Interlocken Resort in Colorado for families
, Camp Omni
, North America
July 29th, 2012
There’s more to the Northern California Wine Country than just grapes and well-traveled families may know it better than any other visitors. While more and more wineries like Coppola, Castello di Amorosa and Chalk Hill are raising the bar when it comes to making wine country more family friendly, summer is the time of year when the area really heats up, especially if you’re a kid lucky enough to land a spot in the Kids’ Culinary Camps at Ramekins.
Learning the art of making home made pasta
“This is your kitchen today,” said Lisa Lavagetto, Ramekins Chef Ambassador and Junior Chef’s Camps Instructor.
The four day camp is in some respects like a culinary tour around the world. During their week in the kitchen, teens learn how to prepare foods from Italy, Mexico and Asia. There’s also a day of baking, for those kids with a sweet tooth. Toss in knife skills and good sanitation habits and you’ve got the makings for some busy camp days in the kitchen. It’s designed for kids ages 13 through 17, but tweens with the skill and desire are also welcome.
Though a majority of the kids seem to live within an hour or two of the cooking school, teens far away from home are not unusual.
“She is an absolute addict of the Food Network,” said Bonnie Barnes, grandmother of 13 year-old Riley. Barnes lives in Atlanta but comes to visit her grandparents every summer. Junior Chef’s Camp was a Christmas present.
Lavagetto has a lesson plan of sorts for the camps she teaches, but they’re all subject to change after the first day, when she gets a true sense of the teens’ skill level. The more advanced the kids, the more advanced the culinary creations.
Ravoli for lunch
Along with the more obvious cooking lessons, some science sneaks into play when learning to work with yeast to make things like pizza and pasta dough.
“It’s the carbon dioxide that the yeast expels that makes your bread rise,” said Lavagetto to the group.
Why dough needs time to rest, what activates glutons and how to properly knead dough are things even many parents were never taught when they learned to cook.
Have you ever made pasta by hand? It’s an art in its own right, and watching 14 teenagers come together to makes the dough, run it through a hand cranked pasta machine and then turn the thin pasta sheets into stuffed ravoli is impressive. And yes, they also made the stuffing and red sauce that eventually wound up on top.
On the first day of camp, in addition to ravioli, the budding chefs made stromboli, lemon curd tarts and an appetizer of homemade ranch dressing with fresh veggies on the side. At times they were and made a mess. Some kids had flour on their faces and all over their originally black aprons, but they also did a pretty good job of cleaning up.
Mistakes were made. When preparing the ranch dressing, after mixing in fresh parsley, a couple kids realized chopping the leaves first might give them a better result. Fingers turned white as they pulled out leaves and put them back on the cutting board, to spend more time practicing their knife skills. It’s a mistake I doubt any of them will ever make again and the end result was something they all enjoyed.
“There’s a ton of food, so don’t feel bad if you can’t eat it all. We’ve got to go boxes, so you can take it home to share with your family,” said Lavagetto.
Ramekins Culinary School & Inn
The camp runs from 9a-1pm, giving visiting parents some precious time to do something for and by themselves, like wine tasting. Another perk for parents is the leftovers. My daughter’s leftovers made up a big portion of dinner that evening.
Ramekins also offers summer Kids’ Culinary Camps designed for younger students ages 7-12 along with a kids’ cooking class every month. When the holidays roll around, kids can choose from sweet options like gingerbread house workshops, holiday cookie classes and brunch with Santa.
Parents can save a little gas and make the culinary getaway even sweeter by staying at The Inn at Ramekins above the cooking school. The small bed & breakfast has 6 rooms ranging from $225 to $325 per night.
Dana observed while her daughter was hosted by Ramekins for one day of the Junior Chef’s Camp, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
Kid-friendly Napa Valley and Sonoma hotels recommended by Ciao Bambino
All-family Segway tour in Sonoma County wine country
Review of Castello di Amorosa tour for families
Sonoma County zipline for kids
Napa Valley wine country trail rides for families
Francis Ford Coppola Winery swimming pool
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July 27th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
When you think of a California beach vacation images of surfers and waves come to mind. Add family and kids into the mix and images of sand castles and beach umbrellas come into the picture. All this plus truly spectacular cliff top view of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island with top-notch service is what families find at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel.
Located in Southern Orange County, an hour from Los Angeles and San Diego, the resort is a convenient location for day trips up and down the coast. It’s well-suited for families that want activity or relaxation (or both). Foodies will enjoy the emphasis on high-quality fresh ingredients while parents appreciate the amenities available to entertain kids.And Fido? He’s welcome too. There’s even a “Yappy Hour” the first Thursday of the month for guests and local dog owners and their pooches.
Working together! during an Ambassadors of the Environment eco-adventure
A Beach for Everyone in the Family
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is located on a cliff surrounded by three miles of beautiful Californian coastline. The beach has a snack bar, restrooms, large grassy lawn area and walking paths that connect to canyon trails – all are paved and good for any type of stroller. If you have tweens or teens, this is the local summer hangout and the place to “be seen”.
As a guest of the hotel you have access to the complimentary beach butler service. The hassle of trekking from the parking lot to the beach, loaded down with gear vanishes. Beach butlers drive guests down to the beach, set up chairs, umbrellas and even a tent for your little ones and they’ll build sand castles with your kids on request.
Enjoying a big pool where siblings can have their own space
Family-Friendly Amenities and Services
The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel sees many families pass through their doors and their focus on family-friendly amenities is evident throughout the resort. There are grassy areas for toddlers to run, basketball and tennis courts, a ping-pong table and a play set with swings and slides for younger kids.
The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is also one of only three Ritz-Carlton properties to offer eco-adventures through the Jean-Michel Cousteau affiliated Ambassadors of the Environment program. This is not a kids’ club; these are eco-adventures for kids and families that feel more like a science camp. Instructors are highly qualified and my nine year was impressed by how knowledgeable and “cool” the instructor was – “shooting” kelp bulbs was just one of their adventures.
I knew the three hour program was a winner when the kids took us down to the beach the next morning to “teach us” what they learned. They also brought home the remnants from a dissected owl fur ball – who knew that owls can’t eat fur or bones? Parents receive a DVD and summary sheet at pick up.
A tent, a treat and a cuddly pal greeted the kids in their room
A Glamping Experience
Cries of “there’s a tent in the room” flew out of my kids’ mouths as they saw a tent set up in their room with a little stuffed animal tucked on their pillows to keep them company. My 6-year-old never looked at the bed again; she was hooked on “Glamping”. Tents come with an electric lantern and are available with certain family packages.
Tent aside, rooms are what you would expect at an AAA Five Diamond resort; updated with modern conveniences like an iPod docking station. Note: Some rooms are near outdoor event lawns and noise can be an issue. It may be worth checking what’s going during your stay.
Guests dining at Raya get a coastline view
Dining for Every Occasion
The main dining restaurant is the Pan-Latin Raya but don’t think burrito, think churros with Kahlua crème brulee (to die for) with a killer view. EnoSteak is date-night worthy and while you can bring the kids, there were mainly adults in the restaurant. The Market Place is just that. A gourmet market and café with a hip TV corner where you can watch a variety of sports games. The Dana Pool Café has a smaller menu filled with classic sandwiches and salads.
The Club Floor – A Surprising Value for Families
This is my second experience with The Ritz-Carlton Club, the first was at The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale and I’m convinced that this can be a great value for families; it’s definitely worth checking the rates. The Club is located on a wing of the fourth floor, accessible only to Club guests. The Club lounge offers light breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks and beverages throughout the day including selected alcoholic beverages. What makes the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel Club standout is the service. Guests are greeted by name and it feels like a “hotel within a hotel” experience.
If you go, don’t miss the melt-in-your-mouth Couva Chocolate Pate with cherries and candied orange at enoSteak. The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is the only restaurant in the U.S. that has this estate grown Valrhona Grand Couva chocolate from Trinidad.
Rates for a family of four start at $375 and include the beach butler service and outdoor sports courts.
Editor’s Note: The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel provided complimentary accommodations, meals and activities on the trip. They did not ask us to express any particular opinion. Photos by Kristi Marcelle
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Favorite springtime activities in Orange County
Kid-friendly museums in Los Angeles
Sea World Entertains and Educates
San Diego Zoo Safari Park
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, Luxury Hotels
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July 20th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
Laguna Beach is an artsy, hip, yet casual beach town in southern California. It’s a walking town with a Socal vibe and it always seems to be hopping. This city is an exceptional destination for families; it has a plethora of dining and hotel options, endless beach and water activities, and one-of-a-kind shopping boutiques on cozy, European-feeling tree-lined streets. Here’s my list of favorite summer things to do in Laguna Beach with kids.
Sawdust Art Festival
The Sawdust Art Festival offers crafts and art projects for kids
If you spend time in Laguna Beach, you’ll see how art is incorporated into everyday life. The bus stop benches are works of art and painter’s palettes replace the standard city banners hanging from light posts. The summer Sawdust Art Festival is a family-friendly, casual art show and event. Only local Laguna Beach artists can participate.
Kids are welcome here. There are glass blowing demonstrations, complimentary art classes and pottery classes for a fee (they’ll ship your finished project home for you too!). Check the schedule for class times. The festival grounds are compact and may be tough to negotiate the wood chip floor with a stroller. There is a restaurant and music, mainly on weekends. This is a two –four hour activity.
Kayak to Seal Rock
There is nothing more exciting than seeing a California sea lion lazily glide past your kayak, almost as if saying “catch me if you can” which of course my nine year old and I couldn’t.
Pre-kayak instruction on the beach is informative and fun
La Vida Laguna offers two hour kayak tours out of North Laguna Beach. The tour includes kayaking instruction (helpful but lost on my six and nine year old five minutes into the trip) and a guided narration through the kelp beds where we searched for local fish and learned how to “shoot” kelp bulbs. The highlight is reaching seal rock where sea lions and seabirds gather and frolic. If your kids don’t know what “guano” is before the trip they will afterwards.
Set Sail in Search of Blue Whales
The coast off Laguna Beach is full of marine life. There are megapods of dolphins (it’s an unbelievable feeling to be surrounded by more than 1000 frolicking dolphins), sea lions, seabirds and the most popular attraction, whales. There are a variety of whales throughout the year but the two main whale watching seasons are winter for migrating gray whales and summer for blue whales.
Between whale and dolphin sightings, guests on the R/V Sea Explorer get hands-on with science experiments
The Dana Point harbor, 15 minutes south of Laguna Beach has three whale watching companies that offer narrated tours. Dana Wharf offers tours on a catamaran and has a galley with food and drink for purchase.
If you’ve ever seen whales in southern California mentioned on the national news chances are you know Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. Capt. Dave’s tours are on a catamaran and have a unique underwater viewing pod so guests can see the marine life below the waves. There is no food or drink for purchase but Mrs. Capt. Dave’s triple fudge brownies await guests on the ride back to the harbor.
The third whale watching cruise is with the Ocean Institute on their marine research vessel, the R/V Sea Explorer. This is the most educational tour; it’s like a mini science lab and is hands on. There are a variety of activities where kids and adults can identify and touch sea life brought up from the bottom during the cruise. Unfortunately, from experience, I can tell you that the only food on-board, besides hot chocolate and water, is saltine crackers for passengers feeling seasick.
Experience History and Explore Tide Pools at Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove retains its history while providing modern amenities for beach goers
Crystal Cove State Park is located just north of Laguna Beach. Once privately owned, the area was home to a thriving beach community. In 1979, the land was sold to the state of California and in 2001 the beach cottages that lined the shore were vacated and subsequently renovated for public vacation rentals.
Crystal Cove has two dining spots; Ruby’s Shake Shack which overlooks the beach and has limited seating and the Beachcomber restaurant which sits on the sand and requires advance reservations – the setting is spectacular. There is also a small souvenir store and restrooms. If you have an opportunity, both the Crystal Cove Alliance and the Crystal Cove State Park offer nature programs and hikes for families. The tide pools here are full of sea life at low tide.
Climb the Rocketship at Bluebird Park
Kids can be the captain of the rocket ship at Bluebird Park
Bluebird Park is a dream for kids and the parents that are watching them. It’s located off of Bluebird Canyon Drive near downtown Laguna. The free trolley has a stop near here.
The park is set in a neighborhood and is fully enclosed. It has a separate playground for younger children, bathrooms, shade, picnic tables, and unique playgroup equipment that you don’t see anywhere else including slides built into the hillsides, a new age merry-go-round and an iconic rocketship with climbing tower and slides. The large mosaic turtle at the far end of the park is perfect for climbing.
If you go: Forget trying to park in downtown Laguna during the summer instead use the free trolley that’s very popular with tourists, locals and especially kids.
Editorial Note: La Vida Laguna and the Ocean Institute hosted Ciao Bambino for review purposes. We were not asked to express any particular opinion.
An Afternoon at the Montage, Laguna Beach
Surf & Sand: A Kid-Friendly Hideaway in Laguna Beach
Best hotel and resort kids’ clubs
5 kid-friendly activities in Los Angeles
Favorite springtime activities in Orange County
Kid-friendly museums in Los Angeles
, Laguna Beach
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July 19th, 2012
Some of you may remember, at the start of the New Year, Ciao Bambino put together our 2012 bucket list. It’s an impressive list that highlights phenomenal destinations to travel with kids like Dubai and Greece. This summer I was lucky enough to visit one of the destinations on my list – Australia! But I won’t check it off the list, because I’m going back and taking the whole family with me. I just got back from Queensland and the list of things to do with kids is amazing …
Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas
I’m not the screaming type. When I got the email saying I had been selected by Tourism Queensland to visit Australia, I was speechless. My older daughter grabbed my phone and read the email on her own before I could get the words out myself.
My Qantas direct flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane was just under 14 hours. Long flights are tough, no matter how old you are, but it was one of the most comfortable flights I’ve taken in a very long time. From the moment I sat down I was taken care of. Traveling solo isn’t the norm for me and I had to laugh when I sat down next to a family of five with kids not quite school age. Qantas attendants made sure they had everything they needed, including a colorful, fun travel pack full of toys and activities to help entertain during the flight. Did I mention after a great nap I had the most incredible cheeseburger for dinner?!
A quick connection in Brisbane and I was on my way to Cairns in less than a couple hours. I always go for an aisle seat, but in this case get a window. If you aren’t already over the moon excited, the view from the air as you prepare to land in Cairns is enough to have you jumping out of your seat.
Play at Anzac Park
After landing in Cairns, I headed north to Port Douglas. Both destinations offer access to the Great Barrier Reef, and both are worth time on your travel itinerary. The drive to Port Douglas takes about an hour, but there’s so much to see, time will fly by. Sugar cane lines the highway, but the closer you get, the more the views of the water open up.
Port Douglas, located at the end of a peninsula, is a relaxed beachside town. The birds typically make more noise than people. The small downtown area is focused around a four to five block stretch of Macrossan Street, There’s plenty of boutiques that attract visitors attention, but this is where locals shop too. One of the only two grocery stores in town can be found here, along with a Target. If you’re from the United States, take a minute to stroll through to see what the popular store is like down under.
For two nights in Port Douglas, I stayed steps from Four Mile Beach at Mandalay Luxury Beachfront Apartments. Along with being steps from the water, I loved that all of the units have full kitchens and a washer and dryer, making them a perfect fit for traveling families. The accommodations are ideal, but the attentiveness of the folks who call it home might be Mandalay’s biggest plus. Raelene Hall and her husband Derek manage and live on the property with an outgoing pup named Milo. They happily answer questions, give directions and advice.
Don’t be surprised if you run into them, with Milo of course, when you head to see the sunrise on Four Mile Beach. It’s not unusual for visitors (especially those suffering from jetlag) to get up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise, but it’s not always something the local population takes to.
On Four Mile Beach you won’t be alone. Walkers, runners, yoga classes, you name it everyone comes out to enjoy the start of the day. The sand is pretty compact, so folks ride their bikes in the sand, which means strollers are a breeze. From the downtown area of Port Douglas, you come on to the beach at the far northern end. There’s a large payoff waiting if you’ve got the energy to walk the long stretch of beach headed south toward Cairns. It’s not quite four miles like the name implies, but it is a good walk. Make it to the end and there’s a good chance you’ll have the beach to yourself.
Must-see aquarium at Zinc restaurant
Do Some Climbing
The shorter walk through town is just as scenic, but requires gaining some altitude. After you walk on Four Mile Beach from downtown Port Douglas, immediately turn left. You can’t miss the white steps that climb up the cliff side. When you reach the top, you’ll have a great view of Four Mile Beach and beyond.
If the kids are done, head back down to the sand. If they’re asleep in the stroller and you’re still in the mood to move head toward Flagstaff Hill. (The folks from Mandalay will be happy to show you exactly how to get there on a map.) You’ll be on paved roadway the entire time, but it’s definitely a bit of a climb. But when you reach the top, the views from Flagstaff Hill will leave you more breathless than the walk. If you don’t want to tackle it foot, the area is easily accessible by car.
Whether by car or on foot, when it’s time to head back down toward sea level, be sure to stop at Anzac Park. There’s a large grassy area overlooking the water that’s perfect for kids to run or lay down and take a nap in. There’s also a nice playground. If it’s Sunday, wander through the market to see the mix of crafts, souvenirs and fruit and vegetables. Keep your eyes open for wedding festivities at St Mary’s by the sea. With beach-themed stained glass windows and the perfect view to say “I do,” nuptials need to be booked a year in advance.
Coconut Grove comforts of home
The Center of the Albeit Quiet Action
From the St Mary’s, the downtown stretch of Macrossan will be in sight. Wander down and you’ll find numerous shops, tour providers that will take you to all sorts of area destinations like Cape Tribulation and the World Heritage Daintree Rainforest, and restaurants. Zinc Restaurant is a spot to add to your list, especially if you’re considering trying kangaroo. There’s a kids menu for little ones who aren’t so brave and hours of entertainment thanks to the restaurant’s aquarium. At around 20,000 litres, it is the largest privately-owned aquarium on the east coast of Australia! But it’s not out in the open, front and center. You have to find it. Think of it as a scavenger hunt of sorts to entertain the kids.
Along Macrossan you’ll also find a number of vacation apartments for rent. In Port Douglas, apartments are more the norm than standard hotels rooms, a win for families visiting the area. Coconut Grove is the newest addition to the offerings of luxury vacation apartment rentals. The complex has 33 spacious three bedroom apartments that overlook the bustling main drag, with high-end shiny stainless steel appliances from head to toe and an outdoor terrace with barbeque cooking area. Terrace Pool Apartments are a luxury for traveling families, offering a private swimming pool and spa. Though all apartments have three bedrooms, the layout allows them to be booked as 1 or 2 bedroom accommodations as well.
Space to spread out makes for a good night’s sleep. With so much on the itinerary, your family’s going to need it. Stay tuned for more posts in the coming months on my incredible trip to Queensland, Australia!
Editorial Note: Dana’s trip to Australia was hosted by Tourism Queensland, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
Australia with kids road trip through Southern Australia
Top things to do in Sydney with kids
Photo Friday at the Sydney Zoo
Christmas on the Great Barrier Reef
July 17th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Dreaming of a villa vacation in Italy with pristine countryside views in every direction, a plethora of incredible outdoor spaces for lounging, kid-friendly luxury hotel quality interior design, and exceptional service? Sound too good to be true? It usually is as the Italian villa rental market in Tuscany is tricky with thousands of seemingly good options and just a handful of truly exceptional homes, particularly when you add kids to the mix.
We struck gold this summer when I booked Podere Palazzo, located deep deep in the countryside where the regions of Lazio, Tuscany, and Umbria meet. If you are mulling over a 2013 holiday villa rental in Italy, it’s time to get busy because this villa sells out year-after-year. But it’s not too late to be one of the lucky guests for next season!
Expansive outdoor spaces enable every member of the family to decompress
I don’t like independent villa rentals for single families in the Italian countryside — you are too isolated without the benefit of the services and social environment offered at group oriented accommodations. In the countryside of Italy, I love the agriturismo category (farm stays) with kids. We call them “resorts” on Ciao Bambino and they usually include apartment-style accommodations with room to spread out, plus a shared swimming pool. They are a terrific value for the quality…
That said, if you are planning a multi-generational trip with extended family or traveling with friends, a villa rental is an amazing option. In our case, we had two families with kids ages 6, 8, and 9. Here’s a look at what we loved so much about Podere Palazzo.
Heated swimming pool
Family-Friendly Review of Podere Palazzo
Glorious Outdoor Spaces
When renting a villa in the summer months, the quality of the outdoor spaces for kids and adults alike is critical. When you are not sightseeing, you will likely be swimming or lounging outside. If these spaces are not appealing for the adults or work for kids, the enjoyment factor will go down exponentially. A highlight of Podere Palazzo is the huge number of hangable spaces from the pool, from the al fresco dining table to hammocks strung through the trees.
The swimming pool is offset enough from the main villa so parents don’t need to be outside all times supervising their kids. Moreover, the pool is cleaned every day. This is a huge perk! I can’t tell you how many villa pools are not appealing and ornamental because they are dirty. The best part, however, is that the swimming pool at Podere Palazzo is heated. This is rare in Italy! Even with hot weather, a heated pool is much more pleasant for all.
Excellent grassy yard for kids to run around
Flat grass should not be taken for granted in Italy as there are plenty of lovely villas that don’t have a good place for kids to run around. Not so here. Podere Palazzo offers just enough grass for kids to kick a ball or play with the croquet set provided by the owners.
Picture perfect al fresco dining table
Al fresco dining is a must to take advantage of Italy’s warm summer nights. Palazzo Podere has a wonderful dining table just outside the kitchen with seating for 10-12 people. The owners have thought of every detail as evident in the high quality outdoor lighting (on a dimmer!) so you don’t need to run inside when the sun goes down.
Luxury Hotel Quality Interior Design
The design of Podere Palazzo is magic. It’s fresh, creative, stylish, and fun while feeling luxurious and kid-friendly. The quality is as nice — or nicer — than many of Europe’s design hotels that charge a pretty penny for their rooms. Moreover, the owners have added just enough personal touches via art and books to make it feel like home, not just a sterile rental.
The house features four king-bedded rooms and one room with twin beds. There’s not a bad room in the house — all are spacious and three of the king-bedded rooms have an en-suite bathroom. Especially with a group, having equal room options makes things so much easier as nobody feels like they are getting the short end of the stick. See my How to Rent a Villa with Friends and Stay Friends article for more tips on optimizing the home rental experience.
Spacious and comfortable rooms with king sized beds
Palazzo Podere does not have air-conditioning but it doesn’t need it as the property is set on top of a bluff and has a constant breeze. Key to making the set up comfortable, however, is the presence of screens and this villa has them on every, single window. This is essential! Bugs are part of life in the Italian countryside and miserable wouldn’t begin to describe the experience of having to keep windows open without any bug protection.
The kitchen is well-equipped with all you need to prepare even the most elaborate meals. There’s an outdoor wood-burning fireplace and grill ready to roll with wood and matches. Plus, there’s a dishwasher, microwave, large refrigerator, freezer, and a coffee maker. The owners also stock an honor bar of reasonably priced (and delicious!) Italian wines.
Kid-approved Pienza in Tuscany is a 45-minute drive from Palazzo Podere
If there is one Families Should Know to understand about Podere Palazzo it’s the location. Although the setting is absolutely extraordinary with fantastic views from every window, the tradeoff is that there’s no fast way to reach the A1 highway and most sights of interest are at least a 45-minute drive away. We made the most of our week and visited Orvieto, Pienza, Montepulciano, Bagno Vignoni, and Siena for day trips, but we definitely felt like we spent a good amount of time in the car.
That said, it’s critical to understand that, if you put a villa of this quality an hour North nearer to the heart of tourist central, the price would double. It’s also very fun to be in the midst of local, small towns where you discover little gems. In Podere Palazzo’s case, for example, we treasured our amazing dinner at La Parolina in the village hamlet of Trevinano, just a 2-minute drive from the villa.
Meticulously placed chairs provide quiet spots to take in the scenery
It’s a risk to rent a villa directly from an owner without a local management company available to address issues and questions. Podere Palazzo’s owners are Italian, but reside in Chicago. This is a non-issue here as the owner’s sister lives in Rome and is available via her mobile 24 x 7. There is also a caretaker on the property daily to take care of the pool and garden. We felt safe and comfortable at all times.
We also used the owner to book a welcome dinner (phenomenal meal cooked by the owner’s sister), a babysitter, and used him to answer random questions that came up during the week. He was always immediately responsive.
I checked two references before booking this villa. I recommend that you always do this for an unknown rental that is not recommended by a friend or reliable guide like Ciao Bambino. If you want to know what to ask, see my tips for using VRBO article.
Palazzo Podere Age Rating
We know that different ages have diverse needs and provide age ratings for all the Italy family hotels we recommend on Ciao Bambino. Podere Palazzo is not a good place for toddlers. There’s a big pond in addition to the swimming pool that is close to the house. There are too many doors leading right out to the garden to feel good about safety when parents are occupied. Otherwise, the villa is perfect for school age kids and up.
For more information and availability requests, go to the Podere Palazzo website. Pricing runs from $4,450 to $9,650 per week. The villa sleeps a maximum of 12 people.
Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy
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July 16th, 2012
Kara from The Vacation Gals
There’s never been a better time for families to spend the weekend at the Omni Interlocken Resort in Broomfield, Colorado. Conveniently located between Denver and Boulder, the resort makes a great home base for exploring either city, as well as the communities in between. While the resort caters to business travelers during the week, it rolls out the red carpet for families on the weekend. And with the current Camp Omni promotion, available through mid-September, kids enjoy some special perks.
Here are the highlights of my recent stay with four children between the ages of 10 and 12: my son and daughter, my nephew and my daughter’s friend.
Camp Omni backpack is filled with treats for kids of all ages
Family-Friendly Review of Omni Interlocken Resort
Camp Omni Amenity Pack & Perks
On arrival at the 390-room Omni Interlocken, kids receive a cinch backpack filled with a make-your-own string lanyard kit, s’mores-flavored marshmallows, water bottle and a little activity booklet with a hotel scavenger hunt – which they loved doing, since the end surprise is a “dirt and worms” sweet treat.
The Camp Omni promotion also includes a $10 resort credit for each child, which can be redeemed in the on-site gift shop or restaurants. Plus, there’s included complimentary breakfast for kids in Meritage restaurant or via room service; though we received complimentary coupons that I, as an adult, could use, too – score! The kids felt ultra-fancy ordering room service each morning; this was super convenient for me, as we wanted to get out the door early each morning to enjoy some Denver-area attractions (see below).
Finally, the Camp Omni package features 15 percent off deluxe room accommodations for a two-night stay. Typically an Omni “Camp Counselor” (an on-site concierge) will call your family to make any dining reservations or other arrangements, such as tee times or spa appointments, before you arrive.
Rooms with two queen beds are comfortable and ideal for families
We were able to spread out in two connecting rooms, which I think is ideal when you are a party of five or more. Sure, we could have made it work with two queen beds and a rollaway in a standard room, but we sure appreciated the extra space; the older girls had their own quarters, while the younger boys bunked with me.
Décor in the rooms are classy and comfortable, and from our sixth-floor accommodations we enjoyed a view of the distant Rocky Mountains.
Multiple pools enable families to spread out
Swimming Pools and Golf Courses
The Omni Interlocken has not one, but two outdoor pools and a large hot tub. The pools are right next to each other, so kids can alternate between the two, if one gets a little crowded. A pool bar offering a light menu and drinks is open daily through the warm-weather months.
We’re not golfers, so we didn’t take advantage of the 27 holes on three distinct 9-hole courses. But I’m told that the courses are excellent, offering great views of area open space and the Rockies. Practice facilities include a fully landscaped driving range and chipping and putting greens
Paved recreation trails begin right outside the hotel’s front door
Families can borrow cruiser bikes to explore the paved recreation trails that begin outside the Omni Interlocken’s front door; just ask the concierge or pool-area towel attendant for a hiking/biking map. Use of these bikes and helmets – sized for adults and kids – is complimentary.
Every Saturday through the summer, representatives from the nearby Butterfly Pavilion visit with some of their creepy-crawly friends, such as tarantulas and scorpions. The butterflies don’t travel well due to temperature fluctuations, so I suggest a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion to see those winged creatures up close.
On Friday and Saturday nights “dive-in movies” are shown outdoors in the pool area.
Tap Room has two foosball tables and a Wii for kids to use while waiting for meals
We had an outstanding meal one night in Meritage, serving contemporary American cuisine with a slight French influence. The salads, soups and entrees – such as steaks, seafood and pasta – that we sampled were great. Highlights included the flatiron steak my nephew ordered (which he deemed “One of the best steaks I’ve ever had”), as well as the Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes and delicious mozzarella.
The other night we were on property, we had a late supper in the Tap Room, a casual bar/restaurant that has two foosball tables and a Wii for kids to use while they wait for their meals to be served. The menu of “Regional Sliders” is vast – choose from Albuquerque Fire, a burger topped with guacamole and roasted tomato salsa, or Tennessee Moody Blues, with slow-cooked smoked pork, Jack Daniels braised onions and cheddar cheese. My vegetarian daughter said her Caesar salad was excellent.
As I mentioned, the kids ordered room service for breakfast each morning, opting for silver dollar pancakes and oatmeal with berries. I ate breakfast in Meritage one day, ordering the muesli with berries and Greek yogurt; other “healthy” items include protein smoothies and steel cut oats. Guests can also go big with the banana split waffle or smoked salmon benedict. At Morsel’s in the Omni Interlocken lobby, you can get Starbucks coffee to go, as well as take-out bagels, croissants, pastries or breakfast egg sandwiches.
Water park adjacent to Elitch Gardens is a huge summer hit
Broomfield Area Attractions
The Omni Interlocken is in a corporate neighborhood – major companies like Vail Resorts and Staples have business offices here – but within walking distance is the Flatiron Crossing shopping complex, with dozens of stores and restaurants. A 15-minute drive brings you to Westminster, and the Butterfly Pavilion, as well as Water World in Federal Heights. That’s where we spent one day, and the kids had a blast playing in the massive wave pool, and tackling the speedy body slides and raft rides at this 64-acre water park – one of the biggest (if not the biggest) in the United States.
Downtown Denver is about a 30-minute drive away, where you’ll find Coors Field (check to see if the Colorado Rockies are in town for a home-field baseball game), the Downtown Aquarium, Children’s Museum, U.S. Mint, and the wildly popular summer attraction Elitch Gardens.
We spent a whopping 9 hours at this downtown theme park, which offers roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, carousel and dozens of other rides for all ages, not to mention a variety of carnival games and daily live shows. But it’s also adjacent to a water park, whose admission is included in the daily ticket price. The kids spent most of the morning in the water park area, where wave pool was again a big hit, and then spent the afternoon and evening on the coasters and spinning rides in the main theme-park area.
I recommend both Water World and Elitch Gardens for summer family fun in the Denver area. Just be prepared for crowds – arrive early when each park opens, and be prepared to stay until closing time, as your kids won’t want to leave!
To get the full scoop on our Camp Omni experience at the Omni Interlocken Resort, check out the video montage of our stay:
Camp Omni is priced from $155 per night, based on 2 children per room, per night.
Editorial Note: Kara received complimentary accommodations and meals at Omni Interlocken Resort. Water World and Elitch Gardens provided complimentary tickets for the day as well. Photos by Kara Williams
Kara Williams is a Colorado-based freelance travel writer who co-owns the award-winning blog The Vacation Gals.
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July 12th, 2012
I discovered Canada last year during a no-kid trip to Vancouver. It took me just three months to make it back to British Columbia, this time to explore Richmond with my daughter. The list of great neighborhoods and activities grew quickly, but when it came to getting the feel of classic Canada, the third time was the charm.
Halfway between Ottawa and Montreal, the Fairmont Le Château Montebello, exudes Canada. The pictures, as amazing as they are, don’t prepare you for what you see when you turn in the entrance and head up the driveway to the hotel lobby. This hotel is a great choice for a family vacation in Canada with kids. Here’s why …
Fairmont Le Château Montebello
World’s Largest Log Building
Back in 1930, 10,000 red- cedar logs traveled by train from British Columbia to build the immense structure that from the air, looks like a six-pointed star. Thousands of laborers worked around the clock completing the building in a record three months. According to lore, the local priest was conveniently sent on a trip to Italy, so working on Sundays wouldn’t be a problem.
For the next 40 years it served as a retreat for the exclusive Seigniory Club, whose elite membership included former Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, Prince Rainer and Princess Grace of Monaco. The last part of the hotel to be completed is the first thing that captures your attention when you walk into the lobby – the six-sided stone fireplace. Check-in, drop your bags in your room and set out exploring. If you see a shiny golden retriever come darting by, don’t be alarmed, that’s just Monte. More on his job later, but feel free to take a few minutes to make a fuss over him.
Largest indoor hotel swimming pool in Canada
Where to Go First?
It’s just one of many decisions you’ll have to make during your stay. I recommend heading through the lobby to the underground tunnel. If you head out the back of the property and walk along the Ottawa River you’ll find the marina. Maybe next time you can come by boat? Head the other direction and you’ll discover the outdoor pool and horse stables.
The list of summer activities for the family to choose from is long. Swim in the outdoor pool or in the largest indoor hotel swimming pool in Canada. Go horseback riding, bicycling, kayaking, play mini-golf or get behind the wheel at Canada’s only Land Rover Experience Driving School.
What might be one of the Château’s most popular pursuits isn’t listed in the official activities guide. Visitors young and old, sign up and patiently wait for their turn to walk Canine Ambassador Monte. He was trained by the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind Association to be a guide dog. Due to his “incredible social skills” the folks at Fairmont Le Château Montebello offered the Golden Retriever a new career where he gets to socialize constantly.
It’s not uncommon to see hotel chefs in full garb, especially on the back side of the hotel, headed for the herb and flower garden. Watch them work because there’s a good chance you’ll see something they harvested on your dinner plate at Aux Chantignoles. The dinner menu includes many Canadian specialties and locally produced cheeses. A kid’s menu is also available if nothing catches your young one’s eyes.
One of Canada’s Sweet Sides
If you can tear the family away from Le Château, head into Montebello. The town has a certain charm that comes in part from a population of less than a thousand people. It’s an easy walk from the hotel to the Montebello Train Station. Built in 1931, with the same red cedar logs used to construct the Fairmont, it has a tourist information center but your nose will lead the way to the star attraction.
ChocoMotive is an artisanal chocolate company where you can watch chocolatiers at work behind a glass-walled kitchen. See how long it takes the kids to find the chocolate dispensing gumball style machine. No coins necessary, so once they find it, the gig’s up. There’s also a tiny café that serves up tasty sandwiches and salads, in case you try to convince the family to eat some “real” food.
One of Parc Oméga’s Cutest Residents
One of Canada’s Wild Sides
Montebello is most likely home to more animals than people and you can get to know many of the furrier residents at Parc Oméga. After you enter, your first stop should be the gift shop to stock up on carrots. My recommendation, get at least one bag for every kid and kid at heart. The 1,500 acre park is a drive through safari.
As you roll along, it won’t take long to discover many of the animals are more than eager to say hello because they know lunch has arrived! Grab a carrot and you’ll make a new friend, or two or three. The park asks you keep your windows half closed, so the animals can’t stick their entire head in the car, and trust me they will try.
Along with all sorts of deer, you’ll see boars, geese, raccoons, bison, wolves and if you keep your eyes peeled maybe even a moose that’s known to hang out with a friend that’s a goat. But the highlight of the experience for my daughter and I were the bears.
There were so many, it was hard to decide which window to look out of until we caught sight of a momma bear and five feisty cubs. The car came to a halt and we squealed at high octaves as the cubs romped and rolled, often on each other. One sibling made a successful escape, climbing a nearby tree to watch the playful ruckus from above.
When my daughter declared she wanted to take one home, I knew there’d be a new stuffed animal taking up residence in the carry-on. That’s ok.. we packed light. There was plenty of room on top of the chocolate.
Rooms at the Fairmont Le Château Montebello range from $195 USD – $303 USD per night.
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Dana and her daughter’s trip to Canada’s Outaouais Region was hosted by Tourisme Outaouais and Tourisme Québec, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own.
, Luxury Travel
July 10th, 2012
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
As the Omni Mount Washington Resort comes into view, the majestic setting of this historic luxury family resort nestled in among the White Mountains captures your attention. The hotel looks like a castle perched up on a hill, surrounded by the gorgeous golf course greens at the base of the Bretton Woods ski mountain.
The Bretton Woods area is one of the best all-season outdoor recreational spots in the Northeast. To get an overview, check out my article on fun things to do in New Hampshire with kids.
Family-Friendly Review of the Omni Mount Washington Resort
Room to Sprawl
We easily settled into our large family suite in the main Omni Mount Washington hotel, complete with both lovely historic details and updated finishes like the white marble bathrooms. The hotel recently finished a $60 million renovation that — while respecting the historic nature of the hotel — added modern amenities, including a lovely spa and outdoor pool area.
The common areas speak to a former era of grandeur, complete with a beautiful wraparound porch where cocktails are served at sunset. The lower level of the hotel feels like a “mini town” according to my kids with the multiple restaurants, an arcade, a post office, and a few charming stores. Thank goodness for the well-stocked kids’ store — I forgot my 4-year-old daughter’s suitcase and had to buy a couple items. The merchandise is adorable and well priced.
Camp Omni Perks
Omni Hotels & Resorts goes beyond check-in gifts to offer a variety of special experiences that kept my kids completely thrilled throughout our stay. From the milk and cookies at bedtime to afternoon popsicles by the pool, my kids felt like VIPs! The $10 gift cards to use at the hotel shops adds a fun element as they work to decide what to purchase. The biggest hit with my crew was the s’mores-making box that we roasted at the fire pit on the deck.
The complimentary breakfast buffet is delicious, with multiple stations including an omelet bar. For those with allergies, it’s good to note that they were allergy aware and offer a gluten-free station.
Family activities are offered continually throughout each day: an outdoor activity like badminton or frisbee games, an indoor craft, and finally, a nightly family movie. My kids enjoyed cookie decorating and watching Despicable Me. What I like is that the activities engage the whole family.
No worry though, when you are ready for that much needed “parent only” time, there is the added option of a kids’ club.
Healthy, kid-friendly fare is plentiful
Well-Designed Dining Options
The hotel has many options for family dining. You can go the traditional route with a dressed-up dinner in the main dining room. We opted for Stickleys for its casual indoor and outdoor setting.
I am very impressed by the variety of options on the kids’ menu. All too often the choices on the kids’ menu are limited to unhealthy selections. Omni has done a great job in this area, having some of the traditional items available, but also a few more sophisticated, healthy choices. The kids’ portion of filet mignon and salmon were nightly favorites with my crew.
While we waited for our entrees, my kids kept busy running around with other kids on the sprawling lawn in front of the restaurant. What a relief! Keeping four tired siblings sitting peacefully wasn’t going to happen. That space to play is just what kids need.
We also took advantage of the easy poolside dining. Our fun didn’t have to stop as the kids were able to play and then come out to eat at their leisure. For a quiet break in the afternoon, there is a lovely afternoon tea. They have a special tea for the kids complete with a tray of little treats. The overall balance between traditional and casual settings within the hotel provides just the right mix for families.
Hiking right from the Omni Mount Washington Resort
The natural beauty of the surrounding area makes the outdoor activities the star attraction. Moreover, Omni has brought in or developed all kinds of unique activities like the Canopy Tour, the mountain scooters and dog sledding. The barn itself loooks like an estate, appealing to the equestrians in the group. There is also an extensive golf and tennis program.
The activities desk is quite the hot spot and the concierge was helpful in determining which activities would be best for my kids’ wide age range. I love the nightly delivery of the Daily Bugle, their newsletter that outlined the next day’s activities.
It’s worth noting that many activities were an additional cost. However, the indoor and outdoor pool along with the hiking trail right at the base of the property were more than enough to keep my family entertained.
We love hiking the easy, wooded trail that follows a gorgeous stream. The stream creates beautiful views and perfect swimming holes. There are tons of butterflies, frogs and insect to keep our family naturalist, JoJo, engaged. Meanwhile, crossing the stream and sliding down the rocks created —aka natural water slides — adds just enough adventure to satisfy older kids.
Visit to the Muddy Paws Dog Sledding tours and rescue group
Hands down, our favorite off-site activity was going to Muddy Paws, a kennel and group that gives all-season dog sled tours. Stay tuned for a follow-up post on this group as it was such a meaningful experience. If you get a chance, don’t miss the opportunity to ride with them! Karen and Neil, the owners, rescue mushing dogs and the money they earn from the tours helps fund their rescue efforts. It was truly amazing! Kudos to the Mount Washington Resort for supporting them!
To get the full scoop on our Camp Omni experience at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, check out the video montage of our stay:
Click here to check availability and rates at the Omni Mount Washington Resort. Camp Omni is “From $155 per night, based on 2 children per room, per night.
Nancy and her family received complimentary accommodations at the Omni Mount Washington Resort, but as always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photo by Nancy Solomon
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July 8th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
A Disney vacation is a treasured family event. Staying at a Walt Disney World hotel while you’re visiting is the icing on the cake as kids will be immersed in Disney magic 24 hours a day.
A spectacular view from our balcony of the giraffes having breakfast
Before leaving for our recent Disney Fantasy Cruise, I spent two nights at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a deluxe category Disney hotel with unique amenities. The African-themed resort has several savannas filled with African animals but it never feels like a zoo. While you’re guaranteed to see animals, it’s always a surprise when and where you’ll encounter them.
We loved the viewing platforms with rocking chairs that are scattered throughout the resort and the large windows lining the hall corridors where you might get a glimpse of an animal. While I knew that I was nowhere near Africa, the Animal Kingdom Lodge does transport you to another place. The animals and the African décor throughout the resort feel authentic.
The pool is a refreshing break after a day at the Disney Parks
Take Time to Enjoy the Amenities
A Disney World vacation can be hectic as families try to pack in as much time at the parks as they can, often leaving little time to spend at the hotel. If you stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, it’s worth carving out time to relax at the resort and enjoy the long list of onsite amenities.
The pool area is fantastic for kids and adults alike. The pool has a slide and gradual entry for little ones. At night the area is hopping with marshmallow roasting, outdoor movies and nighttime animal viewing with night vision goggles. These activities are all complimentary. There is also a good sized playground with shade near the pool.
The animals are the true stars at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are viewing areas, some with binocular scopes, set up around the resort and helpful wildlife guides are available to answer questions. It’s so relaxing to just sit and watch the animals and exciting to observe whatever animal might amble into view.
Book a Room with a Savanna View
While I don’t always think a view is worth the additional charge, this is an exception. Waking up to giraffes and zebras and gazelles grazing in front of your room is spectacular. Get up early to see the most animals as they tend to be less active during midday.
We stayed in a standard room with two beds on the Arusha savanna. Our room was almost a ten minute walk from the lobby — no exaggeration — at the very end of the savanna near the gates.
The main lobby decor sets the mood for your African adventure
Pick your Favorite Family Dining Option
It’s a Disney hotel and even the upscale restaurants are kid-friendly. If dining is a priority, Animal Kingdom Lodge has a variety of choices for families ranging from counter service to fine dining.
The hotel has three restaurants: the upscale Jiko, buffet-style Boma, and The Mara, a self- service option that is open all day. There is another very popular fine dining restaurant, Sanaa, that is located in the villas which are next door to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Jiko and Sanaa are often fully booked for the prime dining times so call ahead if you want to be assured you can eat at a time that’s convenient. We tried both Jiko and The Mara. Jiko has good service and high quality food that is tasty without being too complicated, and of course there is always the kids’ menu if needed. The Mara is reasonably priced and has portions that are large enough to split.
It’s easy to find healthy food options and I was surprised at how reasonably we could eat at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I’m not a fan of buffets so we skipped Boma, although it was always packed.
Tranquil nooks and animal viewing areas give the resort a calm and relaxing feel
Families Should Know: The Location
The one complaint that the Animal Kingdom Lodge receives is that it’s too far from the other parks. Animal Kingdom is only a ten minute bus ride away from the hotel, but depending on your luck with the buses, it can take 30-90 minutes to reach the rest of the parks so you could spend up to three hours in transit, a sizeable chunk of time. On the flip side, the hotel is completely relaxing and takes you away from the crowds.
As mentioned above, our room was almost a ten minute walk from the reception. This was fine for us but if you have a family member that is not able to walk so far, this could be an issue. The upside of this location is the plethora of animal viewing areas en route to the lobby.
Rates for a family of four start at $265 including self-parking.
Editorial Note: Kristi received one complimentary night during her two night stay as part of the Disney Fantasy media cruise. As always, all of the opinions expressed on Ciao Bambino are our own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle
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