Travel Lessons Learned in 2015

December 28th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

As we prepare for a new year and start planning our family vacations, our team is reflecting on our travel experiences — and the valuable lessons we learned — in 2015.

Arches National Park

“This year I learned how to work with my teenager’s school calendar rather than against it. Missing even a day of school means a lot of make-up work for him, and he hates it. So, we make the most of long weekends, and eke out extra hours on those half-days. If it’s a road trip, these few hours can give us a good head start on the driving. If we have to leave on a school day, he’ll go in for the first two periods, and I’ll pick him around 9 a.m.. At least he’ll get his science lab work done, since that can’t be done at home at all!” — Traci L. Suppa, Go BIG or Go Home

“As kids get older, it gets easier to get out and explore on your own. Find well-marked trails near your home for an easy weekend getaway with minimal costs. Trade in your on- week resort budget for a summer of camping and adventures. Try something new even if you don’t think your family will enjoy it. You may be surprised.” — Sarah A. Pittard, Solo Mom Takes Flight

“If you try something out of your comfort zone, you might inspire your children to do the same or at the very least make them smile.” — Stacey Zable

“For kids too old for a stroller, but too young for lots of walking (like my 7-year-old daughter), a foldable scooter that fits into a suitcase can be a lifesaver!” — Andrea Guthmann

“Take an inexpensive shoe bag with you — I bought mine for $7.99 in Target. Hang it in your room and keep books, shoes, tech devices, etc. in the pockets. Cleaning staff will kiss you.” — Wendy Irvine

“We as parents need to loosen up on the reins when traveling together as a family. This means not planning everything to a T, this providing the space and time to go off track and explore the nooks and crannies of a place. More importantly, loosening the reins means allowing your children to make decisions on behalf of the entire family. Give them a few options ahead of visiting a new town or as you embark upon a long road trip, and let them pick where to go and what to do every so often. They will feel a sense of empowerment and you will watch your kiddo slowly blossom into a seasoned traveler with a passion for the thrill of discovery.” — Jeff Bogle, Out With the Kids

“Cheerfully embrace the needs, interests and developing skills of your growing family members, and you will find joy, enlightenment and personal growth!” — Jackie Perrin

What did you learn while traveling with kids in 2015? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sailing on Disney’s Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise

December 25th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

I’m an “extender.” If you listen to my husband, I extend Sunday evenings and need gallons of caffeine to get out of bed on Monday afternoon. I extend showers and rack up disturbing water bills. But my favorite extend? Summer! Blink and it’s over though, right? That’s why I hustled summer straight into Christmas this year.

I mentioned to my husband that Disney’s Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise would be a brilliant value deal for our family (more on my train of thought in a moment). We’d sail out of Port Canaveral in Cocoa Beach, Florida, on Disney’s Fantasy and head for the Caribbean.

If you’ve ever wondered what Disney’s Very Merrytime Cruise is all about, take a look:

We boarded the Fantasy in early December. A friend told me to usher my boys immediately to Deck 11 to ride the Aqua Duck minus lines. The tip worked. My boys rode the waterslide eight times in a row before needing lunch. And see the guy in red shorts? Disney is the only cruise line that stations a lifeguard at every pool.

Aqua Duck on Disney Fantasy

The first evening we gathered in the ship’s lobby to watch Mickey and Friends light the towering Christmas tree. The Disney characters wowed all with a small show and lots of waving.

Mickey and Friends on Disney Cruise Line

Character meet-and-greets happened several times a day throughout the cruise. My kids and I are big Stitch fans and stood in line with other Stitch fans to get this shot.

Photo Op With Stich on Disney Fantasy

Food is king on every cruise, and Disney is no exception.

Dessert on Disney Cruise Line

I didn’t see any Christmassy food on the ship, except for a gleaming hot chocolate display when Santa was on scene for pictures. But if you sail the week of December 25th, seasonal cuisine and Christmas cookies play a big role.

Hot Chocolate on Disney Fantasy

The lobby is also home to an enormous gingerbread house.

Gingerbread House on Disney Fantasy

This is a photo of my husband and boys chilling sans video games, phones and laptops. A fabulous trip where devices are ignored? My idea of slaying the great beast.

Veranda on Disney Fantasy

On the fifth day of sailing, the line to see Santa was opened for about an hour and a half. Then the queue closed, but we guests continued to wait. And wait. And wait. After about an hour of waiting, I surrendered and released my boys from queue-prison. I did get this shot of Santa when he first arrived.

Santa Claus on Balcony on Disney Fantasy

I managed to wrangle my two into building a gingerbread house.

On our last day, the ship backed into port at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay. From our veranda we could see the giant Christmas tree on Castaway Cay’s dock. Disney trenched its own port making it a breeze to debark and race to the island-fun.

Disney offers several Castaway Cay excursions like feeding stingrays, snorkeling, parasailing, boating, running a 5K, riding an aqua trike (that’s me waving), and loads more.

Aqua Tricycle in Front of Disney Fantasy

Here’s how I sold my husband on the trip: I explained that Disney offers rockin’ fares for kids 2 and under. Kids between the ages of 3 to 12 are charged a higher fare. And once the darlings hit their teens, prices are bumped up again. Prices and price-bumps vary depending on the cruise, so plan on cruise homework. My husband realized that we needed to sail before the teen price-bump.

My suggestion? Sail on Disney while the kids are still tickled to dress up like princesses for dinner, don buccaneer rags for pirate night, and glimpse Tinkerbell flying through a live show in the Walt Disney Theater. Make awesome memories. It’s the only way to truly extend childhood.

— Wendy Irvine

Wendy Irvine is a homeschooling mom of twin 12-year-old beach fanatics. Follow Wendy’s family travel tips on Twitter @WendyIrvine.

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A U.S. Virgin Islands Itinerary for Families

December 23rd, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Considering a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands? Follow this itinerary for a chance to see — and relax on — all three major islands.

St. Croix

St. Croix
Start your trip in St. Croix, the largest of the islands. The island is famous for its history — best experienced in the cities of Christiansted and Frederiksted — and preserved land. Take a boat to Buck Island Reef National Monument, where you can while the day away on the beach, or challenge your family to a hike. You won’t find water sports here — the real charm is in the quiet and peace of the remote island. Of course, there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches throughout St. Croix, and many of the island’s resorts offer beautiful locations right on the sand and surf.

Hotel Recommendation: The Buccaneer

St. Thomas

St. Thomas
Take a short flight (as in, 20 minutes) to St. Thomas, where you’ll want to spend a day or two of your time. The best way to experience the island is via a sightseeing tour (try Island Tours VI) or of course, a trip to the beach. While the capital city of Charlotte Amalie is a popular stop for visitors, it mainly comprises high-end jewelry stores that won’t be of interest to kids.

Hotel Recommendation: Secret Harbour Beach Resort

View of St. John

St. John
You can opt to stay in St. John (there are two major resorts and small hotels), or you can simply stay in St. Thomas and take a ferry to St. John — the ride is just 15 minutes or so. Once you reach St. John, we recommend another sightseeing tour to truly take in the scope of the island, which is predominantly preserved by the National Park Service. You’ll see amazing vistas and if you’re lucky, the island’s famous wild donkeys. Be sure to spend some time in Cruz Bay (right by the ferry marina), where you’ll find unique stores and restaurants.

Hotel Recommendation: The Westin St. John Resort & Villas

— Amanda Geronikos

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New Teen Experiences at Tamarind Resort in Barbados

December 21st, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Want to wow your teens in 2016? Consider a stay at the Tamarind by Elegant Hotels in Barbados, which is offering two new seasonal programs just for teenagers.

Pool at Tamarind by Elegant Hotels

Aerial Cinematography Class
If your teen has ever taken an interest in drones, this resort is for them! Tamarind is offering an Aerial Cinematography Class in which teens can fly drones over the entire resort, which extends 750 acres! Afterward, they can take home a DVD of their shots and video. The program is offered during the month of October and around the holidays.

Amateur Filmmaking Workshop
Have a teen who loves to be in front of the camera? Let them participate in this workshop, in which a drone captures their resort experiences over a two- to three-day span. After filming, resort staff work with teens to edit the footage, teaching them how to cut and splice clips. Then teens are able to take a DVD of their experience home.

Tamarind also offers complimentary water sports, activities for kids and tweens, nanny services for infants, four restaurants and suites with mini-fridges and views of the ocean.

— Amanda Geronikos

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