Disney Dream: Offerings by Age Group

August 2nd, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Sure, many cruise lines cater to families with activities for each age group, but after a recent voyage aboard Disney Dream, we decided Disney Cruise Line is one of our favorites. There’s something — most of which is included in rates — for every person in your party, from the young to the young at heart.

It’s A Small World Nursery
Age Group: 6 Months to 3 Years
Housed in a colorful, yet calm room, It’s A Small World Nursery offers a play area with games, toys and books, plus a giant, flat-screen TV. Scheduled activities include storytime and arts and crafts. There’s also a separate area for naps, complete with cribs and swings, plus an Acclimation Zone that allows youngsters to adjust to their temporary surroundings. Fees are $9 per hour, per first child and $8 for all others, per hour.

Disney’s Oceaneer Club
Age Group: 3 to 12
This area offers Monsters Academy, Pixie Hollow and Explorer Pod, but the most popular (understandably so) is Andy’s Room, where life-size versions of the film’s toys await eager kids. Remember Buster, the weiner dog? You can literally climb through him before landing in Andy’s bed, where you can watch TV on what looks like an old-school set-up. Rex, Hamm and Mr. Potato Head (and all his accessories) round out the fun for youngsters.

Disney’s Oceaneer Lab
Age Group: 3 to 12
Disney’s Oceaneer Lab provides a means for children to get creative, via an Animator’s Studio, where they sketch — and often bring to life — their own characters, and Sound Studio, where they can make music and listen to their creations. Organized activities include Monsters, Inc. Open “Mike” Night and Get the Hook!, a scavenger hunt with crime scenes and clues.

Age Group: 11 to 14
‘Tweens aren’t forgotten at Edge, where they enjoy hi-tech fun. Offerings include an illuminated floor for dance parties and a video wall that stretches 18 feet! Got a ‘tween-aged comedian? They’ll love That’s Hilarious, where they’ll learn the art of improvisation through movie scene skits and games.

Age Group: 14 to 17
Teenagers who are too cool for their parents will appreciate an escape at Vibe, which offers exclusive splash pools, a sundeck, smoothie and coffee bar, dance club (with a DJ), media room, video game area and more.

The District
Age Group: 18+
The District is mom and dad’s version of the Oceaneer Lab. In this exclusive area, adults are treated to a wide selection of bars and lounges. Standout selections include Skyline, where a video wall rotates images of different cities, at the same time playing music reminiscent of said city, and Pink, where the decor itself — pink bubbles and subtle inspirations from Dumbo — are featured. Meridian, though located between Palo and Remy (the ship’s fine-dining restaurants), remains a somewhat hidden spot — opt to enjoy a cocktail on the outdoor deck.

–Amanda Geronikos



Five Family-Friendly Weekend Events in New England

August 1st, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Looking for something fun to do with the kids? Here are five family-friendly festivals, fairs and events taking place across the New England region this weekend.

Maine Lobster Festival
July 30 to August 3, 2014
See the art show, eat the pancake breakfast, laugh and play at Smokey’s Greatest Shows Carnival, watch a children’s parade and so much more at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland, Maine. Be sure to visit (and watch your child compete!) on August 3 for the Children’s Cod Fish Carry and the Children’s Lobster Eating Contest! Admission is $8 for adults and $2 for children between 6 and 12; children 5 and under are free. Admission is free for everyone on Sunday, August 3.

For more information, visit the Maine Lobster Festival website.

Newport Jazz Festival
August 1 to August 3, 2014
Enjoy smooth, sultry music in Newport, Rhode Island all weekend long at the Newport Jazz Festival. During the festival, food and craft vendors from around the region will offer interesting bites and souvenirs to take home. Admission starts from $40 per adult and from $15 per child or student. Gates open at 10 a.m. daily, with performances beginning at 11:30 a.m. on August 1 and at 10:30 a.m. on August 2 and 3, 2014.

For more information, see the Newport Jazz Festival website.

Vermont Festival of the Arts
August 1 to September 1, 2014
Check out art from around Vermont and the region at the annual Vermont Festival of Arts in the Mad River Valley all month long. Kids will love painting their own creations and dancing to the live music. Family workshops will take place and live music and food vendors will keep everyone entertained.

Call 802-496-6682 for information on tickets and visit the Vermont Festival of Arts website for a schedule of events.

Gore Mountain Craft Fair
August 2 and 3, 2014
The free Gore Mountain Craft Fair offers families live entertainment and a plethora of artists from the Adirondacks and beyond. Enjoy food, shopping, hiking, biking, mini golf and more around the area, as well. The fair is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and is free for all guests.

For more information, visit the Gore Mountain Craft Fair website.

Lyman Orchards Sunflower Maze
August 2 to August 24, 2014
See if you can find your way out of the 350,000 red and yellow sunflowers at the Lyman Orchards Sunflower Maze in Middlefield, Conn., which opens August 2 and runs through August 24. The $1 admission is donated to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. And if you can, visit again on August 16 for the Peach Fest, where live music, food and outdoor activities for every age will keep kids smiling. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit the Lyman Orchards website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Four Pet-Friendly Hotels for the Dog Days of Summer

July 31st, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

We’ve almost made it through the Dog Days of Summer, or the steamiest part of the season traditionally recognized as July 3 to August 11, but it’s not over yet. In honor of the Dog Days, here are four pet-friendly hotels for your family and your furry friend to enjoy.

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
Cool off in Chicago, otherwise known as the Windy City, and book a stay at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago. The hotel’s newest Waldorf Woof program is perfect for your four-legged friend. Your dog will enjoy a bed, bowl, doggie bags and a toy. Plus, they can order from a gourmet, dog-food menu. After enjoying the hotel’s amenities for your pooch, head to Tails in the City — a luxury pet boutique and enjoy 15 percent off your purchase. Rock out during the entire trip to a special “dog pod” playlist, with pet-friendly songs like Hound Dog and Who Let the Dogs Out.

Rates start from $395 per night. A $45, non-refundable deposit is required per pet. Maximum weight per pet is 30 pounds.

TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort
With 48 pet-friendly suites offering gulf front views along St. Petersburg, the TradeWinds Island Grand Beach Resort is a great place to escape for the entire family. The Pet Play Zone offers an area for owners to relax while their pets do the same with 4 Paw massage treatments. The Doggie Accessory Center is also available for all guests (via a room key) and contains toys, leashes and doggie bowls so your pet is truly comfortable on vacation. Pets must not exceed 80 pounds and there is a two-pet maximum per room. A nonrefundable $30 per night fee will be charged to the suite.

Rates start from just $200 per night with the Family Package.

The Cloister Sea Island
Enjoy a seaside getaway in Savannah & Golden Isles and bring your pet along! Stay at The Cloister Sea Island and your pet will receive the proper treatment, with “Happy Dog” shampoo, a gourmet food menu, doggie bowls, treats and a bed. The resort requires guests to keep pets on a leash at all times outside of the room or suite. A $175, nonrefundable pet fee per room is required and pets may not exceed 35 pounds.

Rates start from $505 per night, but take advantage of the resort’s current Beach Club Package for even more savings!

The Muse Hotel New York – A Kimpton Hotel
Let your animal friend feel like a VIP (Very Important Pet) at the Muse Hotel New York. Part of the pet-friendly Kimpton Hotels brand, this New York City property, located in the heart of Times Square, offers complimentary accommodations for pets. And when your pet accompanies you to the hotel, they’ll enjoy a comfortable bed, a VIP amenity delivered to your room, food and water bowls, a leash and plastic bags for pups and pet-sitting, walking, massage and acupuncture services can be arranged for a fee. Rates start from $339 per night.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Cultural Adventures in Maui: Outrigger Canoeing

July 30th, 2014 by Lissa Poirot No comments »

On a recent trip to Maui, I had the pleasure of experiencing the Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment program while I was staying at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. The programs have been developed to provide cultural and environmental excursions led by naturalists to help guests develop a deeper appreciation for the environment they are visiting. At the Ritz, programs include Coastal Walk and Tide Pool Exploration, Cities Under the Sea, Maunalei Magic, Sea Kayak Coastal Tours, and my chosen adventure, Outrigger Canoeing.

I elected for the outrigger canoe adventure to truly immerse myself into Hawaiian culture. I, along with a family of four and our guide, learned from the very start that to work a 45-foot-long outrigger canoe, you have to work as a team. As a team, we were not coddled; we had to help prepare the canoe and move it from the shore to the water, and then had to learn how to paddle together. Unlike traditional paddling using our arms, we learned outrigger canoe paddling requires the use of all body parts, from our legs to our torsos to our shoulders. (I felt it the next day!) Before setting off, our guide, Tim Lara, completed the traditional prayer to the ocean and the environment to allow for a safe journey.

Setting off on our three-hour journey into the morning rain, we encountered a pod of dolphins (roughly 50) and although we took a moment to watch them swim and play, we had to keep paddling on to our shore destination. Coming ashore, Tim showed us natural spring pools near the tide that bubbled water from underground and was cool and safe to drink. He showed us how to make rope from coconuts we found on the shore, and even had a drink of coconut water from a young coconut. Tim explained to us how Maui was once divided to support and sustain themselves with the water from the rain forests at the top of the volcano right down to the shore, again with everyone working as a team.

Getting back into the canoe, we spotted sea turtles and crystal clear waters and decided it was the best place to stop to snorkel. Tim had a guide book of the local fish we would see, and as we swam, pointed out urchins and fish to us. Then we returned to the hotel shore, and once again, our team pulled the canoe in, cleaned it and put its protective covers on it. Any trash we had seen in the ocean had come back with us to dispose of properly. The excursion had been a lot of fun, but also taught us so much.

I learned from Tim that he works with the Ambassadors of the Environment program, but also operates a tour group that does this for those who are not staying at the Ritz. Maui Kayak Adventures leads groups on trips to Molokini, Turtle Town and Honolua Marine Preserve, and his commitment to the environment is evident. (It’s the reason he joined the Ambassadors of the Environment programs.)

As I later walked along the shores of Wailea’s and Ka’anapali’s beaches during my stay on the island, I saw many outriggers set up for early morning adventures with groups of guests unsure about what they were doing, helping move the canoes to the ocean and paddling into the ocean. Maui is proud of its culture and works hard to keep it alive, and it appears most resorts on the island are happy to help guests experience adventures that give them a taste of Old Hawaii. I enjoyed my tour with the Ritz’s Ambassadors of the Environment (and have enjoyed its programs in California and the Caribbean). I highly recommend families take the time to experience the island through this program, or with similar programs at other resorts or independent tour groups.

(Note: The family I toured with had 13- and 15-year-old sons, and the boys loved swimming with sea turtles, paddling close to dolphins and making rope from coconut. If these teens could be happy for three straight hours, just think how much the rest of the family will also enjoy it!)

– Lissa Poirot



Cozumel with Kids: Off the Beaten Path Attractions

July 29th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

While we visited Cozumel, we wanted to get off the beaten path after a day seeing the nearby attractions. We had the opportunity to leave the terra firma of Cozumel twice. We took a boat to the neighboring Isla Pasion, and we explored the underwater world off its shores in a real submarine.

Passion Island / Isla Pasión
Some of Cozumel’s best beaches aren’t on the hotel properties. Instead, you can visit beach clubs on both the west and (less crowded) east side of the island. For a fee, you’ll get access to the water and beach chairs and hammocks, and changing facilities. In many cases, there will also be a playground and water play equipment, and a bar or restaurant. One of these — Passion Island — is actually a small private island one mile off the coast of Cozumel, and only accessible by boat. It’s also one of the best beaches you may find anywhere, and completely worth the excursion.

When you arrive on Passion Island, either by a leisurely catamaran sail or a heart-pumping speed boat, you pass through a small collection of thatched-roof structures, including a casual restaurant and bar, a few shops for souvenirs and hair braiding, and even a small “spa” dispensing massages. Beyond that are rows of covered palapas with hammocks swinging underneath. From there, it’s about 50 feet across cool white sand to the calm aquamarine water.

Once you’re in the clear Caribbean Sea, there are even more hammocks hanging low enough so that you end up lying indulgently in the water! For the kids, there are inflatable structures you can climb on. My teenage son loved the challenge of trying to get across its long arm, although he looked like a competitor on the show “Wipe Out,” and quickly ended up in the surf.

The best feature for younger kids is the supervised play area on the beach, which included a play house, basketball nets, a row of painting easels, and even some hoop toss games.

Your admission fee to Passion Island is actually a daily “all-inclusive” fee, which includes food and beverages. The attentive wait staff will bring you drinks on the beach. When it’s time for a bite, the chef prepares not only basics like burgers and chicken fingers, but delicious fish dishes and fresh guacamole.

Atlantis Submarine
Cozumel has become one of the world’s most popular scuba diving and snorkeling destination, due to its location on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a 13-mile-long, 11,000-acre protected coral reef system. It’s the world’s second largest barrier reef, second only to the great reef in Australia.

If you want a different vantage point than what you can see through a pair of goggles, consider taking a ride on the Atlantis Submarine, a true submersible vessel that brings you to depths of more than 100 feet to get up close views of the reef’s underwater life.

Your submarine dive adventure begins on board a boat that takes you along Cozumel’s west coast to the dive site, where you climb into the submarine. Inside, the vessel seats nearly 50 people, and it’s completely climate controlled. The crew will explain, in both English and Spanish, what you’re seeing during the 45-minute excursion. There are also helpful illustrated cards hanging near each window with pictures identifying the most common fish that live in these waters. Through the large circular windows, we saw sponges, colorful fish like Red Snapper, Queen Angle Fish, and Yellowfin Grouper, eels, giant hermit crabs, and so many different types of corals. Depending on the season, you may see sharks and stingrays.

The visibility is amazing, especially when there are no clouds and the sunlight reaches the bottom. We reached El Pared, or “The Wall,” a drop off where the depths reach 2,000 feet, then turned around. A high point was gliding alongside the shipwreck Felipe, through which several scuba divers were swimming, their location obvious by the stream of bubbles from their tanks.

– Traci L. Suppa

Traci L. Suppa drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.

Four Resort Restaurants That Will Cook What You Catch

July 28th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

If your family loves to fish, then these are the resorts for you. Resorts along the Southwest Gulf Coast of Florida and the Gulf Shores of Alabama are encouraging guests to reel in their own dinner. Whether you have your own boat and bait, or you tag along on a fishing trip for a day, stay at one of these four resorts and let the onsite restaurant cook what you catch on your next vacation.

The Hyatt Regency Sarasota’s You Catch ‘Em, We’ll Cook ‘Em program allows families a chance to fish for the day before enjoy their catch for dinner at night. The Sarasota resort’s onsite eatery, Currents Restaurant, has a new Fresh Catch program, which offers guests the chance to relax while the team of chefs prepares the fish to their liking.

Enjoy surf fishing on the beach at The Beach Club and see what you can catch. Bring your fish to the Village Hideaway — the onsite restaurant at the Gulf Shores, Ala. Resort — and allow them to prepare it any way you like.

The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village offers its Hook N’ Cook program for families and fishermen alike. See what you can catch off the Southwest Gulf Coast and have one of the chefs at one of the two, onsite restaurants — Marker 92 Waterfront Bar & Bistro or the Nauti Mermaid Dockside Bar & Grill — cook it for you.

Cruise through the water of the Gulf Shores of Alabama on a fishing trip or catamaran and try to catch a fish! The Café Palm Breeze at the Perdido Beach Resort will cook it for you. Enjoy your fresh fish for lunch or an early dinner.

Cook what you catch program process vary per resort, but average around $17 each.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz