Archive for August 2012
August 31st, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Boys and Tuscan hill towns, a match made in heaven
There’s no shortage of spectacular villages in Tuscany. When it comes to choosing the best Tuscan hill towns to visit with kids, I recommend prioritizing those with the biggest bang in a small area so logistics and walking are minimized. Located in the heart of the Unesco-protected Val D’Orcia region, Pienza tops my favorite list and we revisit this architectural gem whenever we are in the area. Here’s why:
Pienza is known for Pecorino cheese with tasting opportunities galore
Pecorino Cheese Galore
Italian cheese lovers take note, the Pecorino cheese produced in and around Pienza is to die for. Cheese shops line the streets of this village and there are abundant opportunities to taste all styles of Pecorino. Sold fresh, medium-aged and mature, trying before buying is a treat and a fun group activity for all ages. Kids love getting in on the action; we voted for our favorites in each shop and loved indulging in them each night with honey and fig jam. Delightful!
Plenty of kid-friendly nuggets to explore within this small village
Kid-Friendly Streets and Sights
If you look up idyllic Tuscan village in the dictionary, it may just have a picture of Pienza as the photo. Boasting one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Italy, Pienza is visual perfection for parents. Meanwhile, the mostly car-free streets are safe for kid-friendly loitering, plus there are just enough interesting things to explore like this historic well to keep restless bodies entertained.
It’s small enough that you can spend an hour and a half here and feel complete before heading off to lunch. A perfect half-day excursion for families.
Looking back at Pienza from the hamlet of Montichiello
Lunch for the Italy Meal Memory Book
There are a number of fantastic places to dine in Pienza, but we always return to the magificent Osteria La Porta in the nearby hamlet of Monticchiello (10-minute drive from Pienza). Honestly, I’ve eaten extraordinary meals in practically every region in Italy, but Osteria La Porta never fails to please. The simple, homemade pastas and seasonal fare is consistently tremendous. It’s well-priced and they will make special meals for kids when requested. In good weather, sit on the terrace with stunning views looking back at Pienza.
Getting to Pienza
Pienza is more or less a 40-minute drive from the main A1 highway running through Tuscany (unless you are Italian; in that case it’s a 20-minute drive). It’s a good day trip for those staying as far north as Siena or as far south as Orvieto. Otherwise, I adore staying in the part of Tuscany. It’s quiet are more arid than staying in and around Florence, but the pristine landscape with zero urban sprawl is what makes this area so magical. It’s a true escape from day-to-day stress and modern inconvenience. Ciao Bambino recommended La Foce, La Bandita, and Hotel Adler-Thermae are all a 20-minute drive from Pienza.
Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy
Ciao Bambino recommended family accommodations in Italy
Essential tips for a farm stay in Tuscany with kids
The ultimate Italy villa rental with kids
Context Travel family program in Florence
Gladiator School in Rome
August 29th, 2012
Keep the kids learning, and enjoy a great weekend in Philadelphia at the Omni Hotel at Independence Park. The location couldn’t be better for exploring Philadelphia’s historic area. A few days isn’t long enough to see it all, but here are my top picks for a family weekend in Philadelphia.
The Liberty Bell shines at night
Location, Location, Location
The Omni Hotel at Independence Park is just steps away from, well, everything you should see with your family.
Exit through the lobby’s revolving doors, and you’ll be able to see Independence Hall. My family loved hearing the bell at Independence Hall ring at the top of the hour. It’s loud enough to hear by day, but not loud enough to wake you at night.
Camp Omni Perks
My kids enjoyed the Camp Omni backpack they received when we checked into the hotel. Once we made it into the room, they didn’t waste any time inspecting the goodies inside. Young guests are also invited to do a scavenger hunt that takes them to various points in historic Philadelphia.
A little history overview will give you and the kids a better appreciation of Philadelphia. Liberty 360 is a 360-degree, 3-D panoramic movie hosted by none other than Benjamin Franklin at the Historic Philadelphia Center. (Just across from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.) The 15-minute show is long enough to cover the basics and short enough to hold younger attention spans.
Make friends with a colonist
Travel back to 1776
Independence After Hours brings history to life, with the help of some of Philadelphia’s more dramatic and well know colonial folks. The evening walking tour, that is really very light on walking, also begins at the Historic Philadelphia Center.
After walking a few blocks, you’ll run into printer John Dunlap. Hired to print the first 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence, he’s hunting for Thomas Jefferson to get the final draft of the famous document. Remember, you’ve traveled back in time to 1776.
He’ll lead you to City Tavern, the oldest operating restaurant in the United States and while he continues to hunt for Jefferson, you have time to enjoy a typical colonial meal. Be sure to taste the sweet potato and pecan biscuits, made from one of Jefferson’s favorite recipes.
The highlight of the evening is when Dunlap convinces the night watchman at Independence Hall to give you special tour. Independence Hall without crowds is a rare treat. Throw in the added plus of meeting Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and you can’t go wrong. The tour ends outside Independence Hall, less than a block from Omni Hotel at Independence Park. As you make your way back to the hotel, take a minute to walk by the Liberty Bell. It shines at night.
Signature Omni Hotel goodnight cookies
Good Night Treat
The sweet reward for a busy day of exploring will be waiting when you arrive in your room. It’s my kids’ favorite part about staying at Omni Hotels – the bedtime cookies. The portions are pretty generous, so even parents can indulge. It’s amazing how a chocolate chip cookie can virtually assure a positive ending to even the most stressful travel day.
Liberty Bell Center
The iconic bell takes on an entirely different look in the daylight and visiting this famous relic of American history is one of the easiest things to do in the city of Brotherly Love. No planning is required because no tickets are needed. Just pass through security and the mighty cracked bell will be waiting. See if you or the kids can find the spelling mistake on the Liberty Bell.
National Constitution Center
When you leave the Liberty Bell, give the kids a break and let them run in the grassy park outside. The National Constitution Center, the first and only museum dedicated to the history of the U.S. Constitution, is just two short blocks away, and you can make most of the trip through the grass. Not the type of attraction the typical kid is begging to visit, but once you get them there, be prepared to stay for at least a few hours.
The Core Exhibition begins with a timed entry to see Freedom Rising. It’s not a movie. It’s a performance really. Using a 360 degree screen, a live actor tells the story of the Constitution from its creation to today.
Meet Ben Franklin at Signers’ Hall, National Constitution Center
If you have to wait any longer than 15 minutes for the performance to begin, head upstairs to Signers’ Hall, where you can walk among 42 life-sized bronze statues of the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787, and the 3 who refused. My tween zeroed in on Ben Franklin, and she’s not the first to do so. The oldest delegate, he’s also the one with the shiniest head, thanks to the thousands of visitors who rub and polish his forehead everyday!
After you see the Freedom Rising presentation, you’ll exit into an actual exhibition area loaded with family-friendly interactive exhibits that highlight how the Constitution still plays a role in our daily lives. Kids and adults can take the Presidential Oath-of-Office, try a judge’s robe on for size and cast a vote at the Center’s Election Central voting booths.
It’s also worth checking out what temporary exhibitions are at the center. If you’ve ever eaten a Girl Scout cookie (who hasn’t?) you’ll enjoy the exhibition celebrating 100 Years of Girl Scouting. I smiled ear to ear as I walked my girls through the Bruce Springsteen exhibit created by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Dinner in the Square
If the weather is cooperating, when you leave the National Constitution Center, walk the quick block to Franklin Square. It’s all about kids and kids at heart. Along with great playgrounds, you’ll find the Franklin Square fountain, the Philadelphia Park Liberty Carousel, a Philadelphia-themed miniature golf course, and SquareBurger. The burgers are tasty and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, give the Cake Shake a try. It’s a combination of vanilla ice cream and a locally baked cupcake-like creation called a TastyKake Butterscotch Krimpet.
Just a warning, Tastykakes come in an assortment of flavors and can be addictive. You may find yourself making room in your suitcase to take some home. The Omni concierge will be more than happy to give you directions to the market, so you can pick some up on the way out of town. I’m told every now and then, the hotel even has some handy.
Rooms at the Omni Hotel at Independence Park range from $189 USD to $329 USD per night.
For a taste of what our weekend was like, check out some fun video highlights.
Dana and her family received complimentary accommodations at the Omni Hotel at Independence Park and complimentary tickets from Liberty 360, Independence After Hours and the National Constitution Center, but as always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
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
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August 27th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
We haven’t covered holiday destinations in the Great Lakes in depth on Ciao Bambino. I was offered the chance to send a family to Lake Erie Shores and Islands in Ohio for our blog this summer and jumped on it. I interviewed the Mom for feedback on their return and wrote up notes on their experience for this article. Lake Erie is on the O’Shaughnessy family travel bucket list now with American history and instant leisure in an easy-to-explore destination …
Lake Erie Shores & Islands is a fun, relaxing, and family-oriented vacation destination. In addition to world-class activities in and around the lake, there’s a huge amount of history in the area to explore related to both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The islands are a throw back to a simpler time with a Midwestern-friendly atmosphere; the pace of life is slower here and families have incredible access to a vast number of vacation amenities.
Lake Erie is known for wonderful sunsets
Where is Lake Erie Shores & Islands?
Lake Erie Shores & Islands is only an hour from Cleveland, making it a perfect destination for either a quick getaway or an extended family vacation. The activities are compressed within a relatively small area so families can pack in an incredible number of fantastic activities within even just a few days. We did and saw more in three days here than we’ve done in a week in other destinations …
Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruises
Spending time on the lake is a huge part of the joy of this area. We spent the day on a Goodtime Lake Erie Island Cruise and loved the experience. Our adventure took us to Kelley’s Island and South Bass Island’s Put-in-Bay.
Glacial Grooves State Memorial
Kelleys Island: The largest American island in Lake Erie, visiting Kelleys Island is like going back in time. There are few cars on the island so we opted to rent a golf cart to get around. To save time and hassle, book your golf cart ahead of time on the Goodtime.
The island highlight for us was Glacial Grooves Park and the amazing white sand beaches of Kelleys Island State Park. With more time, this would be a place to come back to as families were everywhere relaxing on porches, riding bikes, and playing mini-golf.
Looking out at Perry’s Monument on Put-in-Bay
South Bass Island and Put-in-Bay: Golf carts are also the preferred mode of transportation on South Bass Island. There’s a quaint waterfront area and Victorian village to explore in Put-in-Bay, as well as Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center with a small but fun-to-see cave and the challenging War of 18 Holes mini-golf course. We also loved the Butterfly House with hundreds of huge butterflies to observe from Costa Rica.
A must-visit stop on South Bass Island is Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, a 352-foot memorial commemorating Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in the War of 1812.
Insider Tips for a day on the Goodtime: Be sure and get to the dock early for boarding throughout the day so you can secure a place towards the beginning of the line as seats are on a first-come-first-serve basis. We were able to sit on the upper deck with chairs near the railing so we could see everything.
Beware, however, that Lake Erie is known for storms that can come up quickly and cause large waves. If you or your kids are prone to seasickness, come prepared. Although the Goodtime has a bar for drinks, snacks are limited so it’s best to bring snacks and lunch with you. Once you disembark, there are good places to eat, but there’s a long list of activities so a quick picnic lunch is ideal.
Cedar Point is roller coaster heaven with rides for all stomachs
If you love roller coasters this it the ultimate place for you. Voted America’s #1 amusement park, we loved Cedar Point and we are not a typical “amusement park family.” Or so I thought — we stayed at this park for 11+ hours!
We started on the small roller coasters and worked our way up to Gemini, Cork Screw, and the Iron Dragon. Note, there are even more thrilling rides to experience like Top Thrill Dragster and Millennium Force although we opted not to try them … If you want to get wet, Snake River Falls will do the trick.
Insider Tips for visiting Cedar Point: Get the Fast Lane pass. It costs extra, but it is well worth it, particularly if you are only visiting the park for one day as you wait less and ride more.
We also learned that if you stay at one of the resorts at Cedar Point, you can get into the park an hour early and ride the big coasters without lines. Another strategy is to start at the back of the park where there are fewer lines early in the day and then work your way to the front of the park.
Finally, ask the concession stands for a glass of water. It’s free, allowed everyone to stay hydrated, and helped ensure my motion sickness-prone kids weren’t impacted by the rides.
If you have more time to visit Lake Erie Shores & Islands there is so much more to do than what we experienced in our short trip. We’ll go back for fishing, kayaking, and exploring more of the rich history in this area. There are wineries, antique stores, and loads of opportunities to explore nature. Next fall is the bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie and a large fleet of the Tall Ships will be in the port in Cleveland as well as Sandusky Bay. It should be an amazing event!
Editorial Note: The reviewing family received complimentary lodging, meals, and activities to enable them to review Lake Erie Shores & Islands for Ciao Bambino. They were not asked to present any particular opinion.
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August 24th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
The Dolphin Research Center is a non-profit research facility located in Grassy Key at mile marker 59, an hour north of Key West. There are several “swim with the dolphin” facilities in the Keys but the Dolphin Research Center is unique. It’s a not-for-profit research center that’s about interacting with the dolphins through various hands-on experiences.
The dolphins almost look like they are chatting with visitors
A “Big” Keys Welcome
The Florida Keys are a quirky place – in a good way. Once you leave Miami, the landscape, the attractions and the animals are unique. One of my favorite quirks is the large landmark signs that announce attractions. Look for house-size conch shells and turtles and at the Dolphin Research Center — it’s a dolphin of course. It’s easy to put the kids in charge of directions when the road signs are this big.
All the action is out in the open at the Dolphin Research Center so families don’t need to worry about getting behind -the-scenes to see the action. While interactive programs are only for reserved guests, there is always an audience.
The dolphins that are not in programs are easily accessible in their pens, swimming around and playing with toys. There’s almost always a staff member around to tell you what’s going on. We saw a pregnant dolphin mom given water by the staff and learned that dolphins do not have a gag reflex, so the tube of water down her throat doesn’t bother her at all.
The dolphins know just what colors little girls like for their t-shirts
How to Choose an Experience
While there are plenty of things to do here without paying for an interactive program, my kids were disappointed that we did not participate in one. In retrospect I wish I had as it makes the visit more memorable.
Most visitors do sign up for an program. There are two types of dolphin interaction programs:
In the water with the dolphins. Advance reservations usually required. Pricing: $104-$650.
Out of water, on a platform. Walk-in only. Arrive early for best availability. Pricing: $25-$75.
We saw families doing all of the programs and saw firsthand that the kids that were painting a t-shirt with the dolphins or sitting on a platform throwing toys for them to play with were equally as happy as those that were in the water swimming with the dolphins. There is an experience for every budget.
This iguana caught our attention but we think he was looking for someone else
Other Animals Live Here Too
These tree climbing iguanas are all over in the Keys and this guy was letting everyone know that the dolphins aren’t the only exciting animals here. These preening iguanas are mesmerizing for kids and as we found out at our hotel pool – they can swim too!
There are California sea lions here as well lazing around, getting some sun just like the rest of the tourists.
If you are waiting for your program to begin or want to take advantage of all that’s here, pack a swimsuit, towel and snacks. There are scavenger hunts, touch and feel exhibits and more exciting -the new water splash area. It wasn’t working the day we were there but this looks like a lot of fun, especially on a hot day. The gift shop here is full of educational souvenirs.
Kristi received two complimentary admissions to the Dolphin Research Center. All opinion are her own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle
Ciao Bambino recommended Florida family hotels
Fort Lauderdale with Kids
HomeAway Family Dream Vacation in Key West
Ultimate road trip through the Florida Keys
Disney World with tweens
Disney World vacation tips
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August 22nd, 2012
Santa Barbara is one of those California places folks know about, even if they’ve never been. It has a reputation for top attractions like sandy beaches, sunny days and wine. Put them all together and you’ve got a great combination for a family vacation. Here’s my list of top things to do in Santa Barbara with kids:
Rooftop pool with amazing view
There’s a new hotel in town and its got everyone talking, or chirping. Kimpton’s Canary Hotel has a fun, contemporary beachy vibe and its location can’t be beat. Just a block off State Street on Carrillo Street, it’s a great launching point to set out exploring the town. In typical Kimpton fashion, kids are a common sight and families don’t have any trouble feeling at home.
Set Your Sights on the Sand
From the hotel, it’s about a mile walk down State Street to Stearns Wharf. We decided to head out on foot and find some lunch along the way. I underestimated the power of State Street over a tween and teenage girl. Some shopping, some ice cream, and some ohs and ahs slowed our steps to the sand, but made for a fun-filled stretch nonetheless.
State Street ends at Stearns Wharf. You can’t miss it, so no worries about getting lost. Head out to the end of the Wharf to catch of glimpse of the local fishermen hoping to hook dinner. There are some stretches with no railings, so keep an eye on little ones. There’s a handful of places to shop, eat or grab something sweet to munch on while you watch some of Santa Barbara’s best surfers catch a wave.
Ty Warner Sea Center
Kids of all ages will love the Ty Warner Sea Center. Teaming with all sorts of creatures from local waters, kids get to look and more often than not, touch. Don’t miss the Sunflower Star. Capable of traveling 40 inches in just one minute, it’s the fastest moving sea star. They’re also among the largest, growing up to three feet with up to 24 rays or arms.
Sunflower Star at Ty Warner Sea Center
Make sure to save some time to get sandy. You may think the water’s a little chilly, but the kids probably won’t notice. When they start to get tuckered, head back to the entrance to Stearns Wharf and jump on the Downtown-Waterfront Electric Shuttle. For just a quarter, it’ll take you back down State Street and in our case dropped us within blocks of our hotel. It’s the best bargain in town. Seriously, when’s the last time you paid a quarter for anything? And by the way, kids under 5 ride free.
Pool With a View
With an average 300 days of sunshine, long summer days give you the luxury of fitting in lots of activities without your days feeling like they’re jam-packed. When you get to the Canary, if the warm sun is still shining, a swim in the rooftop pool will give everyone a second wind before dinner.
Paddle Santa Barbara
Some of the best views of Santa Barbara are from the water looking back toward land. And one of the best ways to explore and get a little wet is on a kayak. Head to the “Sea Landing” boat launch area of the Santa Barbara Harbor to meet up with the guides from Santa Barbara Adventure Company. (The Santa Barbara Harbor is on Cabrillo Boulevard, west of State Street.)
Ready to get wet
Kayaking around the Santa Barbara Harbor is a great activity for school aged kids and up. If it’s the family’s first time on the water, consider a double kayak. With plenty of room for two, they give parents security and more control over safety, and give kids an easy way out if they tucker out and need a break from paddling.
Other than the actual paddling, the guides do most of the work, making the trip easy and enjoyable for families. Once they had our group fitted in wetsuits, out guides, Adam and Cody, gave us a quick but thorough lesson in paddling. After launching into the water, we had some time to practice before the navigating adventure began.
Gliding around the marina is an adventure of its own. We went underneath the hull of a moored catamaran the size of a yacht and played kayaking limbo under docks. But the highlight was leaving the harbor and gliding out to what’s affectionately known as sea lion buoy.
Sea lion buoy
There were more than half a dozen sea lions afloat when we arrived, one on top of the other, fighting for the small amount of space on the buoy to lounge about. Every now and then a sea lion would get booted into the water, but not without a feisty ruckus. Your kayak’s provides the equivalent of front row seats to the action.
Depending on the weather and waves, your guides will pick a location to beach for lunch. They’ll set up a deli style lunch while you hunt for sand dollars or just stretch out and relax on the sand.
It’s nice not having to worry about packing a lunch, but you should pack a few things for yourself and the kids. Bring sunscreen, towels, sunglasses, a waterproof camera and shoes (not flip flops) that can get wet. The guides have dry bags to help keep gear dry, and were happy to take everyone’s car keys before we “put-in”and tuck them safely away so we didn’t run the risk of losing them on the water.
The tour lasts about four hours, which means the kids may fall asleep in the back of the car before you make it to the hotel – the tell-tale sign of a perfect day of vacation.
Rates at the Canary Hotel Range from $US 240 to $US 445.
Dana and her family received one night’s complimentary accommodations from the Canary Hotel, complimentary kayak tours from Santa Barbara Adventure Company and passes to the Ty Warner Sea Center, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
Ciao Bambino Approved review of Canary Hotel
Three Days in Santa Barbara with Kids
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August 20th, 2012
Kristi from Ciao Bambino
What most surprised me about my visit to the Omni Los Angeles Hotel at California Plaza was how much I loved exploring downtown Los Angeles with my kids. In the past, Los Angeles had a reputation of being a city without a “heart” because the downtown area wasn’t developed enough to attract Angelinos and tourists. Today however, downtown is vibrant. History, architecture, and ethnic neighborhoods mix with modern art and exciting attractions. Here’s my list of the top kid-friendly activities in downtown Los Angeles:
Grand Central Market is a feast for the eyes and the stomach
Top Kid-Friendly Activities in Los Angeles
The Omni has a hotel courtesy car that will transport guests within a three mile radius of the hotel and is available on a first come, first served basis. This is a huge perk as there are so many things to do and see within that area.
Ride a Funicular. Angels Flight is a 1901 funicular located at California Plaza just steps from the hotel. For 50 cents you can ride down Bunker Hill and you’ll be one block from Grand Central Market or the metro.
Stroll Iconic Grand Central Market. Grand Central Market is LA’s oldest open air market. It’s colorful, full of casual dining options and open every day.
Check out LA’s Art and Music Scene. The Museum of Contemporary Art is located in the California Plaza and has Studio Sundays the first Sunday of the month for families. No time? Just walk through the plaza and look at the sculptures. The Walt Disney Concert Hall has daily audio tours and Saturday morning concerts for ages 5-11 at various times throughout the year.
Take a Food Tour in Little Tokyo. If you have adventurous eaters, a Little Tokyo food tour with SixTaste tours is a delicious way to get to know Japanese culture. At about four square blocks, the three and a half hour tour in Little Tokyo is not too much walking for kids. They won’t forget the sweet treats at the end.
Visit the Museums at Exposition Park. The Natural History Museum and the California Science Center (free admission) are right next door to each other. Eat lunch at the museums or bring a picnic and relax in the Rose Garden.
Eat and Play at LA Live. LA Live is the entertainment complex near Staples center and the Nokia Theatre. It’s full of restaurants and there is also a movie theater and bowling alley. This is the closest night time entertainment area for families in the downtown area.
Experience Los Angeles’ Mexican Heritage. El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is a slice of L.A.’s Mexican culture. It is touristy with lots of shops and restaurants on Olvera Street but it’s an interesting stop with kids. A family favorite is Avila Adobe, the oldest residential building in Los Angeles. It was built in 1818 and simply shows what daily life was like during this time. On many weekends, there is dancing and festivals in the plaza.
Be a Part of History at Union Station. Union Station is one of the most beautiful and most recognizable landmarks in downtown Los Angeles and it’s conveniently located across the street from Olvera Street. It opened in 1939 and still functions as the main passenger train hub in Los Angeles. Kids can really get a sense of what train travel was like and how a train station functioned – the old ticket booths are still there! Make your visit more fun and ride the metro two stops back to the hotel.
Eat Dim Sum in Chinatown. Dim Sum is small or bite-sized portions of food generally served in steamer baskets. At dim sum restaurants servers wheel carts around the restaurant with the different offerings and you choose what you want. Empress Pavilion is a famous dim sum restaurant and while there are many tourists here it’s also very popular with locals – this is the place to go if you haven’t tried dim sum.
Hike or Play at Griffith Park. The largest park in Los Angeles, Griffith Park has so many activities that you need a plan before you go. Some activities like the Zoo or hiking can take up your entire day. Others like the pony rides or Travel Town are shorter stops. Travel Town is a must if you have a little train lover. It’s a train museum (free) with a train ride and it’s also a great picnic spot. If you really like trains, adjacent to Travel Town and open on Sundays, is the Live Steamers narrow gauge train. Riders sit on top of the train and you may even see wildlife (deer) on your journey.
Editorial Note: Kristi and her family received complimentary accommodations at the Omni Hotel Los Angeles at California Plaza, but as always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Kristi Marcelle
Review of Omni Hotel Los Angeles at California Plaza
Camp Omni at the Omni Parker House in Boston
Ciao Bambino’s top things to do near Omni San Francisco Hotel
Summer playground at Omni Mount Washington Resort
Top things to do near Omni Interlocken Resort near Denver
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August 17th, 2012
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Visiting museums with kids is the perfect way to pair education with entertainment. With over 50 museums to choose from in New York, finding a kid-friendly expert who can highlight the best exhibits for different age groups is key. Natasha Schlesinger is that person. She runs art education classes just for kids in New York at ArtXplorers, as well as ArtMuse, providing museum and gallery tours for all ages.
Here’s Natasha’s round up of the best museum exhibits for kids in New York City this fall:
Photo by Metropolitan Museum of Art
Tomás Saraceno, Cloud City: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue. This is the newest installation on the roof of the Met featuring the Argentine artist’s architectural construction composed of steel, glass and mirrored surfaces. Visitors can actually climb the sculpture as it rises above the surface over 20 feet in the air. They will be able to look through it, below it, around it and observe the city in all its glory from the height.
Children 10 years and older, wear rubber soled shoes, get a ticket on the 4th floor of the museum, free with museum admission. Until November.
Art of Another Kind, International Abstraction and the Guggenheim 1949-1960: Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue. This exhibition features works from the museum’s permanent collection and examines the importance of the new style of art that originated post WWII, led by such artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, amongst many more on view.
Guggenheim curators organized the exhibit in such a way that allows the viewer to comprehend the development of this movement and how far reaching these ideas were. Kids will appreciate action painting and the various common materials used by artists such as Rauschenberg, Alexander Calder and Alberto Burri. 6 years and older. Until September 12th.
Carribean Crossroads: El Museo del Barrio in conjunction with Queens Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem. This is an opportunity to see over 400 works spread out over three museums in NY. Amazing collection of works going back to the 18th century as well as more recent 20th century expressions of personal and cultural identity by diverse artists are on view. This is a very exciting exhibit of unprecedented scope. All ages welcome. Until January 6th, 2013.
Terracotta Warriors, Defenders of China’s First Emperor: Discovery Center, 226 West 44th Street. They are over 6 feet tall, they are over 2,000 years old, they are terracotta and they are magnificent! Only 9 made it to New York out of an army of over 8,000! Still, there are about 200 other objects to see in this exhibition and to marvel on what remains behind and needs to be seen on an actual trip to China. 10 years and older. Until August 26th.
Spy, The Secret World of Espionage: Discovery Center, 226 West 44th Street. This intriguing exhibit is for older kids, as much information is to be gleaned from labels and wall text so reading is required. History is a big component of this exhibition and very interesting mementos of the past are used as materials for the exhibit.
It will excite those interested in the history of wars, politics, international relations, and the current political turmoil. 10 years and older.
Weegee, Murder is My Business: International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas. Weegee’s photography was synonymous with street crime images in the 1930 and 1940s. Here you can feel like a fly on the wall. This exhibition is not for the faint of heart. The black and white images he captured of places, people, and things associated with crime are exciting!
Weegee was the first photographer to focus on what would later be known as Tabloid journalism. These are raw and dramatic images. 12 years and older. Until September 2nd.
Ghosts in the Machine: New Museum, 235 Bowery. This exhibition, spanning 50 years with works by over 70 artists from 15 different countries, examines the role of technology in art. What could appeal to the modern generation more than that? “Ghosts in the Machine” brings together improvised technologies charged with magical powers.
It promises to excite both the mind and the eye. 8 years and older. July 18th through September 30th.
Circus and the City, New York 1793-2010: Bard Graduate Center, 18 West 86th Street. This show will surely engage even the youngest visitors with photographs, posters and ephemera of the Circus and it’s history in New York. Many of the objects will be seen by New Yorkers for the first time.
Bard galleries have an intimacy that works very well for children. Ages 2 and up. September 21st through February 3, 2013.
Ooh, Shiny! American Folk Art Museum, 2 Lincoln Center. What kid isn’t attacted to shiny, sparkly decorations? In this exhibition they will get a chance to explore basic human creativity and the need to use materials that attract the eye like this wonderful button tree. Ages 2 and up. September 12th through February 13th, 2013.
Get more information on ArtXplorers art education classes for kids and ArtMuse museum tours for families.
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August 15th, 2012
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
New Hampshire’s White Mountain range provides a natural escape from summer’s heavy heat. With the cooler nights and an abundance of outdoor family-friendly activities, it is the perfect backdrop for an active family vacation. Within the area, Bretton Woods, is known for its creative use of the mountain landscape to provide all-season entertainment for every age. Once you are used to the somewhat remote area, there’s no need to venture out as you are in one of the prettiest and fun-filled family destinations in the Northeast.
On our recent stay at Omni Mount Washington Resort, one of our first stops was at the “Activity Desk” where the concierge helped us navigate the long list of family attractions in the area. Whether you are looking for adventurous mountain fun or simply a baby sitter so that you can relax at the spa, the service-oriented staff is excellent. Most of the activities are run by the resort, however some are brought in by vetted third party vendors.
Hiking trails start right at the Omni Mount Washington Resort
1. Hiking: Free and fun, a perfect combination. There are plenty of trail options of varying degrees of difficulty very close to the property. Omni offers daily-guided hikes (starting at $40 per person), as well as a complimentary Appalachian Mountain Club lead hike on weekends.
2. Stream Swimming: Swimming in the stream right at the base of the property is a highlight. As you follow the stream up to Ammonoosuc Mid Falls and Upper Falls, the swimming areas get more daring. Although there are people who jump off Upper Falls, beware it’s more difficult than it looks due to an undercurrent and there have been fatal accidents. Floating in rafts on the lower section offered the perfect amount of adventure for us.
3. Rock Climbing: The outdoor West Wall Climb offers and 3-hour guided outdoor climb appropriate for kids 8 and older ($115-$175). Then there is also an indoor Slopeside Climbing Wall and its perfect for kids ages 4 and up ($10 for 10 minutes).
4. Ride to the Top: There are many ways to enjoy the heights in the area. Take the complimentary quad-lift at Bretton Woods to the top of the ski slope. Enjoy lunch at Lattitude 44 where the views are beautiful. Another option is to can catch the Cog Railway for a 3-hour trip on the historic train — exciting due to the very steep climbs. Finally, you can always get a pass for the Auto Road to the top of Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest mountain.
Stream swimming is not as easy as it looks
5. ATV Tours: If you opt to ride the chair lift to the top of the mountain, you can also hop on ATVs and go for a scenic tour of the area. This activity is appropriate for kids 4 and up (starts at $12 for kids and $32 for adults and lasts 1 hour).
6. Dog Sledding: Don’t miss this! This was our favorite activity, even though we weren’t able to get out on a ride. We were so interested that we toured the Muddy Paws facility and learned that this non-for-profit company uses the proceeds from the tours to support the rescue of sled dogs. I was blown away by the dedication and passion of the owner, Kate. Kids just have to be 3 to go and no worries, the dogs are so friendly! (Prices start at $45/person).
7. Zip Line: One of the areas hottest attractions! There are two ways to zip. First, is the Williwaw Racing Zip for kids 4’6 and over age 8 (starts at $15 per ride and runs about 20 minutes). Then there is the Canopy Tour, which is more adventurous, (starts at $89 per person and runs three and ½ hours). My older kids were dying to do this, however, my little one did not want to be left behind. I had done it on another trip to the area and it was thrilling. There were four adults in our group of 12 that opted out at different points because it was too scary. The rest of us loved it!
8. Horseback Riding: The barn itself looks like an estate and offers pony rides, carriage rides and equestrian instruction. Weekday, there is also a Barn Buddies program where the kids, with adult supervision, can help around the barn from 10-11am (costs vary).
9. Mountain Biking: There are extensive mountain biking trails for both cross country and downhill. If you are looking for something a little different there are also “Mountain Scooters” which are like pumped up Razor scooters.
10. Fly-fishing: The Ammonoosuc River that runs through the property provides the perfect backdrop to refine your fly-fishing skills. For teens 13 and older, there are casting clinics, however, younger children can participate on trips booked privately through the Activities Concierge.
Editorial Note: Nancy received complimentary accommodations and meals at Omni Interlocken Resort. Photos by Nancy Solomon
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August 13th, 2012
I’m putting myself in your shoes. You’re visiting the United Kingdom with kids for the first time. You want to see as much of our island as possible, but you don’t want to exhaust everyone in the process. So I’m thinking you’re here for a fortnight and you don’t want any more than five stop offs. And, although I’d love to be wearing your Jimmy Choos, I’m expecting you to be mostly wearing your Converse and to have packed clothes for every weather system.
Anyway I digress, you’ll discover we Brits love talking about the weather, because it’s so predictably unpredictable. Here are my five top holiday destinations in the UK with kids:
I’m guessing this is where you’re going to fly into and I’m going to suggest you check in and check out our Capital for four nights at least. It’s a very big city, you’re not going to see it all, but enjoy the tasting menu and then come back for a bit more when the kids are older.
Look for a hotel that is very central and within walking distance of a tube station and one of the fantastic Royal parks – Regents Park, Hyde Park, St James Park, Green Park or Kensington Gardens. We feature an array of family-friendly hotel reviews in London on Ciao Bambino. All of our options are in fantastic locations for sightseeing.
Whilst you’re in the centre take in London Zoo, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, the Museum of London, which has just been voted one of the UK’s most family-friendly museums, and hang out in Covent Garden enjoying the free street entertainers. Take in a show too, if the big musicals aren’t going to work, the Unicorn Theatre is a dedicated kids’ theatre, where there is normally something great showing.
I could go on and on, but you’re not here long and you need plenty of breaks in those parks I’ve already mentioned.
It’s so hard to pick a handful of must visits for the UK, but I think the next stop from London should be the Cotswolds, about an hour and a half away from the city by car. It’s worth hiring a car for this leg as there are so many pretty villages to visit, relying on public transport could become irritating.
After the manic urban vibe of London, you’ll probably want to choose a cute country house hotel to unwind in too and Calcot Manor, Ciao reviewed, won’t disappoint. You’ll want at least two nights here. Just enough time to visit the spa town of Bath and may be even take a dip in Britain’s only natural thermal spa at Thermae Bath Spa, have a cream tea in a nearby village, explore the Cotswold Wild Life Park and explore the host of activities on offer at the hotel. See my article on holidays in the Cotswolds with kids for a full list activity suggestions.
Next stop York, either by train or car for a couple of nights. The historic City of York has links to the Roman, Viking and Medieval eras and it’s a lovely walled city to spend time in. I haven’t stayed there but the Cedar Court Grand, is supposed to be lovely and it’s very central. Kids of all ages will enjoy the Jorvik Viking Centre on the archaeological site of the Viking city of Jorvik. Board a time capsule and prepare to go back in time as they bring that city back to life.
York is also home to the huge gothic cathedral York Minster, the National Railway museum and York Castle Museum, where a Victorian street scene is recreated for you to stroll along. If you have a car you could also take off into the countryside and explore the rugged Yorkshire Dales National Park. See our article on visiting York with kids for a more detailed list of ideas and attractions.
From York, I’d take a train up over the Scottish border to Edinburgh and check straight into the Balmoral Hotel a few steps from the station for another couple of nights.
It didn’t win the Best UK Heritage Attraction at the 2011 British Travel Awards for nothing, so a tour of Edinburgh Castle, is a must. Then there is the rather wonderful Royal Botanic Gardens, just north of the City centre, which often has family events running and the Museum of Childhood is fun to see.
The world famous Edinburgh Festival, held alongside the spectacular Royal Edinburgh Military Tatoo throughout August, is a great time to visit the city, even with kids in tow as there are plenty of events aimed at them, but – you’ve been warned – you need to book accommodation months in advance. Edinburgh is very much a festival city and there are lots of other events held throughout the year geared towards families. Be sure and read Edinburgh for kids for more insight on things to see and do with children in this historic city.
From Edinburgh you can also take a day trip out to Glasgow and the Scottish Seabird Centre. Or you could drive up to the Highlands and Loch Ness to catch a site of the Loch Ness Monster!
From Edinburgh, I’d fly all the way down to the other end of Britain to Newquay in Cornwall for four relatively relaxing days based at Fowey Hall Hotel before catching a flight back to London and then home. In between spa and crèche visits, you can visit the Eden Project, home to the world’s largest rainforest in captivity; and spend time exploring Cornwall’s picturesque coastal villages and golden stretches of sand.
Save Wales and Ireland for your next trip.
Photos by Nancy Solomon
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August 10th, 2012
The Northern California Wine Country and kids it seems are becoming fast friends. Plagued by an anti-family reputation for years, the area’s starting to score points with families. Case and point is the Silverado Resort and Spa, known as a leading destination in Napa Valley for adults to play golf and tennis. Starting this summer, kids get their own slice of the action, which makes Silverado Resort a great choice for families planning a Napa Valley family vacation.
Silverado Resort and Spa Mansion
Room to Run and Than Some
As you turn off the country lane, your first sight of the Resort will kick your vacation excitement into high gear. The Mansion, as it’s called, exudes a combination of Southern grandeur with California flair. You’ll check-in at the Mansion and receive a map so you can find your way to your home away from home.
The Resort is 1,200 acres. With 415 guest rooms, 10 swimming pools, 13 tennis courts and two PGA championship golf courses, saying there’s room for kids to run is somewhat of an understatement. The Resort area is also home to a number of private residences. A morning jog around the perimeter will run you 4.2 miles. If you’re a runner, I recommend it as a good way to get your bearings on the Resort grounds.
Room to move isn’t only found on the outside. Families have the option of booking 2-bedroom, 2-bath suites with full kitchens. Not being on top of each other is what can make a vacation truly a vacation, and with rooms set to be remodeled before the year’s out, Silverado and families have plenty of reasons to smile.
Kids perfect their swing
“Wherever that racquet face goes is where that ball’s going to go,” said tennis professional Casey Bishop-Yeakey to her group of 7 campers.
The Silverado Junior Excellence Tennis Program offers classes for beginners as young as 5, to competitive teens. My girls, ages 11 and 14 were a bit anxious about the camp. As competitive swimmers, being on a tennis court is like being a fish out of water. They came into the camp with far less experience than any of the other kids, but felt at ease within a few minutes of getting started.
After playing some games to get the kids warm and moving, a second professional joined them on the courts to help with drills and technique fundamentals. Learning a new sport can be frustrating no matter how old you are, but none of the kids seemed to be doing anything other than having fun, which is a credit to the professionals. They also did a great job keeping a couple of high energy boys who could have created camp chaos in check.
And then there’s Tex, Bishop-Yeakey’s English Labrador, and Silverado’s un-official Tennis Program mascot. His reward for resisting the urge to chase the many balls kids send flying off the courts during camp, is all the cuddling he can handle from future tennis super stars when they leave the courts.
Those not interested in hitting the courts have the option of hitting the links with the Silverado Junior Golf Academy. The Academy is open to kids as young as 3 and up. Silverado Adventure Camp is designed for kids ages 6 to 10 who are more interested in just going to camp than learning a sport. Think crafts, games and time at the pool. Parents hoping for a night out will be happy to know Night Camp is held Friday and Saturday nights throughout the summer.
Editorial Note: Dana and her family received one night’s complimentary accommodation at Silverado Resort and Spa. Her daughters’ morning at tennis camp was also hosted by the resort, but as always Dana’s thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann
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