5 Infant Travel Essentials

April 7th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

I am and have always been a light packer, but since becoming a mom, that title has morphed into something a little different. When you have a baby, there really is no such thing as packing light. You will always be loaded down with more stuff then you ever could have imagined before your little bundle of joy came along. I will say though, that after numerous road trips with my now nearly two-year-old, I have packing down to a science, and a lot of that has to do with paring down the gear that we haul along with us, because really you’ll never use half of it. Eschewing the obvious, like diapers, wipes, a car seat, food and jammies, here are my infant travel gear essentials.

Boba Air. I am so in love with my Boba Air baby carrier. It is a soft-sided buckle carrier that can be worn on the back or front, and is actually designed for travelers. It is made of ripstop nylon and has military grade buckles so it’s lightweight, but still very sturdy. The biggest perk! The whole thing rolls into itself and closes with a zipper. So when not in use, it’s only about seven inches long and can easily be thrown into your day bag. If your baby hasn’t yet reached the 15-pound minimum, consider a wrap like the Moby are a Baby Bjorn.

Graco Pack ‘n’ Play. My son has always slept in his own bed and in his own room since he was six weeks old, so one of our biggest issues when traveling is sleeping arrangements. With the exception of one camping trip, our Graco Pack ‘n’ Play has been our go-to travel bed for the baby. A basic model is affordable and small enough to fit in tiny hotel rooms. We’ve even managed to squeeze it into closets and bathrooms so we can hang out in the main room while the baby sleeps soundly through the night. I also love the look of both the Phil & Teds and Baby Bjorn travel beds, so if you have more room in your budget, you may want to check those out.

Dundee Mills Burp Cloths. These burp cloths are one of my most-loved mommy secrets. They are great for all sorts of things in addition to diapering and burping – you can use them to clean up spills and messes, as a changing pad, as a nursing cover, or even just as a super-soft lovey for a fussy baby. I never leave home without at least a couple even now that my son is in the throes of toddlerhood.

Phil & Teds Smart Stroller. I am obsessed with our Phil & Teds Smart stroller. It was the one thing I had to have without compromise before my son was born, and I have gotten endless use out of it. It is constructed from high-end materials, making it comfy and durable, is insanely lightweight for a convertible stroller with a sun shade and parcel basket and handles extremely well on all sorts of terrain and in most weather conditions. It’s a dream and accommodates newborns all the way up to older toddlers.

Sleep Sheep. I try to get my son to sleep at a decent hour even when we’re traveling, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to hit the hay early as well. White noise is perfect for muffling any noises made while the adults are still up and moving about. The Sleep Sheep by Cloud B is not only adorable, but it’s cozy to cuddle with, will be a familiar item for your baby when you’re away from home, and will by you some extra time to hang out in the evenings.

–Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

Shayne is an adventurous 20-something mom to a toddler, freelance travel writer and part-time mommy blogger at Mamas Latinas.

Adventure Sundays: A Weekend in Lake Placid

April 6th, 2014 by Lissa No comments »

It’s been a rough winter for my family in Pennsylvania, and you would have thought we would have preferred to head south for a winter getaway. Indeed, we thought we were a little crazy to head north, but after the Winter Olympics wrapped up, we were in the Olympic spirit and decided to head to Lake Placid in New York’s Adirondacks for a quick getaway. And we hardly even noticed the cold!

We arrived in Lake Placid on Friday afternoon, pulling into the quaint little town situated, oddly, on Mirror Lake (Lake Placid is actually just a little further up the road!). Our hotel was located right on the lake, the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. The cute resort afforded scenic views from the lobby, where we could see little ice skaters on the lake preparing for their hockey tournament taking place that weekend. As a pet-friendly hotel, we were able to bring our lab, Ripley, along for the trip, and we were given a condo-style room with ground-floor access so letting Ripley outside and taking her on walks was easy. The kids loved their bedroom with bunk beds, and we also had a king bedroom, eat-in-kitchen and living room with gas fireplace (some of the rooms are lucky enough to have wood-burning), and a large bathroom with a tub.

After unpacking, we bundled up and headed into town. The hotel is located along the main street, which is filled with shops and restaurants. Although the temperatures were 17 degrees, it just felt like a brisk walk as we got acquainted with the town. Of course, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, when my kids see Ben & Jerry’s, they must have some; it is a vacation tradition. So we walked around town with ice cream cones, visiting the numerous shops filled with Adirondack trinkets and decor. Crepes are a must at Big Mountain Deli & Creperie, where they have 46 different sandwiches representing the 46 different peaks in the Adirondacks. (I would have preferred 46 different types of crepes, but then again, I would never be able to try them all!) There will be a line, no matter what time of day, but wait in it and try the awesome crepes!

On Saturday morning, we visited the hotel for breakfast, again with views of the frozen lake, and then headed to Whiteface Mountain, just down the road, for some time on the slopes. The kids were entered into a ski school program to learn how to snowboard. Although the ski instructors were great and the kids had fun, I was disappointed that they didn’t offer them a mid-size slope. It was either take the carpet and make a small run or hop on the lift for a large green run. They have done better at other mountains, and while we thought the mountain was nice, it was a bit crowded and didn’t offer many blue trails.

After skiing, we decided to visit some of the Olympic sites. Lake Placid is home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, where the Miracle on Ice took place (when USA beat the favorite-to-win Russia in the semifinals). A large complex with ice skating is located just opposite the Golden Arrow, so we walked to the Olympic museum housed inside. It’s a small museum but it was very interesting to see medals from winter and summer Olympics, showcasing different countries and in varying sizes and shapes. (Not all are round!) The museum houses Olympic athletes’ clothing from Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies and their competitions, and various equipment from bobsleds to ice skates are on display. A large television in the back runs the Miracle on Ice hockey game on constant loop all day, as well.

After visiting the museum, we walked to the nearby Lake Placid Brewery, which is housed in an old church and the most popular of all the restaurants in town. (The wait was an hour, but they had a play area for the kids.) This place must be packed again in the summer, with their front lawn facing Mirror Lake and two balconies also providing outdoor seating.

Back at the hotel, the kids wanted nothing more than to go swimming in the indoor pool. The oversized pool area received a new look recently, and provided Adirondack chairs for parents watching their kids play, and two large hot tubs. The changing rooms didn’t provide any place to leave items and didn’t provide much, but served their purpose so we didn’t have to walk outside in our swimming suits.

On Sunday morning, we decided to visit the Olympic Ski Jump attraction, which is where the 1980 ski jumpers flew through the air. Visitors can take an elevator up to the top of the highest jump to get a sense of just how high the athletes fly, and while we visited, there were a number of jumpers practicing and training that we could watch take off from various heights. The nearby Bobsled Experience gives visitors a chance to ride in a bobsled with a trained driver, allowing normal folk to experience the thrill. The kids were just a hair to short for the ride and we adults? Well, we chickened out. (There is also a skeleton experience, but traveling 30 miles per hour, face first, was equally scary!)

Overall, it was a nice weekend jaunt, and the area was so quaint we would love to return in the summer, when the leaves are on the trees and the lake is crystal clear.

Tip: If planning to visit the Olympic sites, purchase the Olympic Passport for $32 for free admission to multiple sites and discounts on the more expensive attractions, like the bobsled.

–Lissa Poirot





Kids’ Spa Menus at Occidental and Paradisus Resorts

April 5th, 2014 by Lissa No comments »

While there are many parents who relish adult-only spas during family vacations at all-inclusive resort chains, there are many of us with daughters who enjoy some girl time at the spa. Occidental Hotels & Resorts and Paradisus Resorts offer a special YHI Spa for Kids, that includes treatments that kids can enjoy alone, or with their parents. The spas, found at the all-inclusive resorts, provides six treatment options:

Only for Girls provides a manicure, pedicure and facial for both mother and daughter for a 120-minute service.

I’m Not a Little Girl teaches girls about beauty treatments during a facial that explains sensitive skin during a 25-minute session.

I’m a Star provides color highlights and makeup application in an 80-minute session for kids.

Always a Princess provides a 60-minute manicure and pedicure for young princesses, while Caribbean Flavor provides full or half head of hair braids.

Guy’s Things is a special treatment for the both that offers dads and sons a 25-minute massage.

For more family-friendly spa resorts, see 10 Best Kids’ Spas Resorts.

–Lissa Poirot





Universal Orlando Express Pass vs. VIP Experience

April 4th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »


On a recent trip to Universal Orlando Resort, we had the chance to embark on a VIP Experience, which might as well have been a VVIP Experience. We literally went from ride to ride and bypassed all lines.

But isn’t that the same advantage an Express Pass provides, you ask? Not exactly… Here’s how to decide which pass is best for your family’s trip to the theme parks:


2-PARK EXPRESS PASS

Cost Range: $35.99 to $119 Per Person, Plus Tax
What It Includes: As a 2-Park Express Pass holder, you’ll be able to visit participating rides – one time each – over the course of one day at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You won’t have to stand in line for rides as long as regular pass holders do, but you’ll still have to wait nonetheless, since many people opt to purchase Express Passes. 1-Park Express Passes are also available and listed from $29.99 per person. Still, the prices for these passes can go upwards of $119 per person, making the 2-Park Express Passes the most valuable choice.

1 DAY/TWO PARK EXPERIENCE

Cost Range: $189.99 to $249.99 Per Person, Plus Tax
What It Includes: The 1 Day/Two Park Experience entitles you to seven hours with your own tour guide in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. It also guarantees you won’t wait in any lines for rides, and will visit a minimum of eight attractions (though we can almost guarantee you’ll visit more), chosen by the tour guide. 1 Day/Two Park Experiences are available for a maximum of 12 people, and are offered in a group setting, so if your family of four, for example, has booked this tour, you’ll essentially explore the park with eight other people you don’t know.

If you’d like a private tour of the parks, you’ll want to opt for a 1 Day/2 Park Exclusive Experience, which entitles a maximum of five people to see Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on their own terms — the tour guide won’t choose the rides; those decisions will be entirely up to your group. Of course, for a tour like this, you’ll pay even more — prices start at $2,199 per group (about $440 per person).

All VIP Experiences allow families to visit behind-the-scenes locations that others can’t access; for example, you’ll have a chance to get up close with “aliens” in the ‘Men in Black’ Immigration Room, which closely resembles the one featured in the film trilogy. Other perks include discounts on food and merchandise, complimentary valet parking and a souvenir lanyard, which you’ll wear during your tour.

Similar to Express Passes, VIP Experiences are also offered for individual parks (Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure), though they don’t offer as much value either. 2-Day/2-Park Exclusive Experiences are available, as well.

TIPS

- If you opt for a 1 Day/Two Park Experience, realize that you might be paired with a group of different ages and interests. This could be a problem if you have toddlers who want to spend a majority of time in Seuss Landing, but are touring the parks with a group of college students who’ve set out to ride every roller coaster.

- A notable difference between the 1 Day/Two Park Experience and the 1 Day/Two Park Exclusive Experience is the later provides less of a “tour” feel — you’ll just go from ride to ride, possibly hearing bits and pieces of information in between. In the 1 Day/Two Park Experience, your tour guide will often stop to give you information about each ride and other notable happenings in the park.

- Both Express Pass and VIP Experience prices vary upon dates, with the highest rates listed during the week of Easter, June through August, and the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day. Plan your trip — and budget — accordingly.

Amanda Geronikos





Baltimore Honors the 200th Anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner

April 3rd, 2014 by Lissa No comments »

It was 200 years ago when Francis Scott-Key penned the poem that became our nation’s anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner.” To honor the special anniversary, Baltimore is celebrating all summer long with events for the whole family. Take a look at what Visit Baltimore has lined up:

Exhibitions
What:
Family of Flagmakers: The Women Who Created the Star-Spangled Banner
Where: Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Museum
When: Now Open
The first exhibit to focus on the life of Mary Pickersgill, maker of the Star-Spangled Banner Flag, her family, household and neighborhood. Family of Flagmakers includes several interactive areas in the exhibit, including a station where you can measure yourself against the 2-foot stars, touch reproduction fabric, and attempt to hoist the flag’s weight.

What: For Whom It Stands: The Flag and the American People
Where: Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture
When: May 17 – November 16, 2014
Few people realize that Grace Wisher, a young African American indentured servant in Mary Pickersgill’s household worked on the flag that became a national symbol. Wisher’s contribution to American history will be honored with this major exhibition that is an investigation into the history and representation of the U.S. flag as an icon. “For Whom It Stands” is a 3,200-square-foot exhibition featuring more than 75 works of art, artifacts, documents and photographs.

What: A Very Visionary Star-Spangled Sidewalk
Where: American Visionary Art Museum
When: Through September 2014
A free, outdoor art celebration depicting our nation’s beloved national anthem in an engaging, family-fun and informative format playfully welcomes both visitor feet and wheelchairs into an up-close and personal viewing experience. 520 linear feet of sidewalk has been transformed into a visually creative interpretation, line by line, of our national anthem.

What: The Star-Spangled Banner: A Patriotic Song
Where: Maryland Historical Society
When: Now Open
The Maryland Historical Society is home to the oldest known surviving manuscript of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Along with this national icon, the Star-Spangled Banner Gallery showcases paintings and artifacts, which tell the story of the brave Defenders of Baltimore who fought to protect our country from the British. Currently on view is The Star-Spangled Banner. A Patriotic Song. Published by Carr Music Store in Baltimore in 1814, it is one of the few remaining copies of the first edition of the poem set to music that we know as our national anthem.

What: “O” Say Can You See: The Star Spangled Banner in Sports
Where: Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum
When: Now Open
The Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum features a 3-D film that reveals the genesis of our national anthem being played at sporting events throughout America. The song has a sporting origin dating back to the first game of the 1918 baseball World Series. The short film, screened on an exciting, new projection technology, also celebrates the anthem’s place in sports by featuring a composite playing of the song pulled from dozens of renditions dating from the 1930s to the present.

Events
What:
Bicentennial Fife and Drum Muster
Where: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
When: June 28, 2014
The patriotic summer kicks off with more than 80 musicians performing an afternoon Tattoo ceremony. Participants include units from Fort George, Crown Forces, Fort McHenry and others.

What: Grand July 4th Celebration
Where: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
When: July 4, 2014
Flag talks, cannon-firing, parade through Federal Hill, celebration of the nation’s birthday the early-Republic way with toasting, songs and the public reading of the Declaration of Independence at 3 p.m.

What: Star-Spangled Spectacular
Where: Inner Harbor
When: September 6-16, 2014
Baltimore is the birthplace of the national anthem and the focal point in the celebration of its 200th anniversary in 2014. The commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 will culminate with Star-Spangled Spectacular, a 10-day celebration featuring re-enactments, fireworks, the Blue Angels’ air show, tall ships, naval ships and special commemorative events.

Families can use the Star-Spangled Banner Pass to explore sites related to the War of 1812 and the penning our national anthem with savings of up to 15 percent off individual prices. The pass is $18 for adults, $17 for 16 to 18, $8.50 for 7 to 15, and free for under 7.





7 Insider Tips for Universal Orlando

April 2nd, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

It’s a big year for Universal Orlando ResortCabana Bay Beach Resort, the parks’ newest value hotel, has officially opened, and Diagon Alley is expected to open this summer. Throughout the year, Universal CityWalk will undergo an expansion, too, which will include eight new venues.

If you’re planning a trip to the theme parks in the near future, consider these lesser-known tips, which we discovered on a recent trip there:


1. Visit in September
There’s really no such thing as a “slow time” at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure — the theme parks are consistently packed. According to one Universal Orlando VIP Tour Guide, however, September (after Labor Day Weekend) is a great time to visit, since kids have gone back to school. In fact, the park will often close early, he says — at 6 or 7 p.m. — because business is slower than usual.

2. Ride ‘The Forbidden Journey’ Last
The most popular ride in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (and perhaps all of Universal Orlando Resort) is ‘The Forbidden Journey,’ housed inside the giant, iconic castle. If you and/or the kids easily sicken from rides (and even if you don’t), consider visiting the attraction last, or just before you have some downtime, as the intense motion-simulating effects may make you queasy. Another Tip: If you have little ones who are too small to ride ‘The Forbidden Journey’ or simply don’t want to go on it, you can still tour the castle — you just have to ask a staff member.

3. Want Butterbeer? Go to ‘Three Broomsticks’
Another popular icon in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is Butterbeer, a sweet, frothy drink (non-alcoholic), best served frozen. The park has several Butterbeer stands with visibly long lines; annual passholders tell us they’ve never even had butterbeer because the lines are just too long. That doesn’t mean you have to forgo the treat though. Instead, visit ‘Three Broomsticks’ — the restaurant’s lines (if you can even call them that) move quickly, and you’ll only wait a few minutes to get your food and Butterbeer. Pumpkin Juice and a separate kids menu are also available.

4. Don’t Miss ‘Ollivanders’
Technically, this tiny shop isn’t an attraction, and we’re told you won’t even find it listed on park maps. It’s actually one of the most unique experiences in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter though. You’ll still wait in a long line to get inside, but once there, you’ll enjoy an interactive experience in which one muggle (audience member) is chosen to test several wands until one of them “chooses” him or her. Afterward, other muggles can purchase their own magic wands, too.

5. See a Free Show
Several television shows, including “IMPACT Wrestling” and “La Voz Kids” (a Spanish-language kids version of “The Voice”) are filmed at Universal Studios Florida, and on taping days, you can actually attend a showing at no additional cost (you’ll still need to have Universal Orlando Resort tickets though). Free tickets are distributed at 10 a.m. on the Blue Man Group Walkway at Universal CityWalk, though it’s still recommended you arrive to the studio one hour before the doors open. Information about showtimes and locations is usually provided in park maps and online.

6. Reconsider Dining in Seuss Landing
There are four restaurants in Seuss Landing, though only two of them serve full meals (the others serve frozen treats), and of those two, only one of them is truly open — ‘Green Eggs and Ham Cafe’ is usually closed. In fact, annual Universal Orlando Resort passholders tell us that in the past few years they’ve visited the parks, the cafe has only been open a handful of times. They attribute this to the restaurant’s location on Zax Bypass, a less-traveled walkway. For more food options, you might want to consider dining in another part of the park.

7. Consider Skipping Express Passes
Even if you purchase Express Passes, you’ll have to wait in lines with everyone else who has paid for this privilege. If your trip to Universal Orlando Resort is a once-in-a-lifetime treat, consider splurging on a VIP Tour, which allows you to go from ride to ride and truly bypass long wait times. Plus, VIP Tours give you a chance to check out some behind-the-scenes spots that both regular passholders and Express Pass owners can’t access.

Amanda Geronikos