travel-section

Category : Travel

These days, there are so many products on the market that are designed to make you believe you are not only an ill-equipped traveler, but a rookie parent if you don’t pull the trigger and purchase, purchase, purchase! Truth be told, once children are in the picture, we moms know all too well that traveling light is as much a thing of the past as a guaranteed good night’s sleep. But traveling light-ish? Well that’s something we can work on.

So, let’s avoid putting ourselves in debt simply by succumbing to the pressure of “must-have mom goods,” not to mention the added cost of overweight luggage. Yikes! It’s all adds up quickly, doesn’t it? Here are a few tips we seasoned moms like to think may help.

4 Things to Leave at Home When Traveling with Kids

Ditch it: Anything the hotel provides

If you’re staying at a hotel, let the hotel do the amenities. I’ve seen a lot of vacationing parents lugging along portable cribs, only to find that hotels not only provide them to their guests but often have full-on cribs that are just as luxurious as Mom and Dad’s King size. Some hotels also provide baby toiletries, such as shampoo and lotion, so calling ahead to confirm that these things are all available can really bring down the pounds on the dreaded airport scale.

Ditch it: Diapers

Don’t got crazy on the diapers. Diapers and wipes are base necessities that can be found practically anywhere you travel. So, while I’m not suggesting leaving them behind, what I am saying is chill a little bit when you’re packing them. Make sure your carry-on is stocked with enough — and a little extra — to get you through your flight (and whatever problems or delays that flight brings with it). But don’t fill your suitcase with boxes of the stuff and trust that no matter how far you travel, there will be diapers close by. Warning: If you are a diaper label chaser, you may have to leave your brand allegiances behind

Ditch it: Luxe travel gear

Admittedly, I’ve been sucked into paying top dollar for lavender rainbow toiletry bags and monogrammed soother holders, but the reality is that cute takes up a lot of space. There is nothing like a good old fashioned Ziplock bag to hold everything your child needs to make her sojourn comfortable, from Tylenol to teething rings and everything between. If you really feel you’re missing out on the personal touch that comes with monogramming, grab a sharpie and do it up!

Ditch it: Space-sucking sleep devices

Sleep is important, portable “sleep-aids” not so much. We all know how it is to be obsessed with our child’s sleep and travel often fills the weary parent with nightmarish imaginings of the dreaded “off schedule,” sleep-deprived child. But there are things we can do to keep our child’s sleep in check, such as bringing along a small white noise machine and a few creature comforts from home, like a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket. Still, there are a few products on the market that are costly, space-taking and unnecessary. Take portable blinds, for instance. Although, these smartly designed, suction-cupped black-outs do keep the dark out of the room, they also need to fit on the window, which come in all shapes and sizes. Figuring out a few MacGyver tricks, like how duct tape and garbage bags really keep out that pesky sun, can really help you out on budget and space and they also make you feel a bit like an action hero!

Trust us, we don’t blame anyone for getting caught up in the ever-growing market of mothering and we all love to shop. But if you do want to save room for that crazy deal on those Louboutins, we’ve got you covered! `

This post was contributed by Erin Hershberg.

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5 Reasons to Vacation with a HomeAway House Rental

My family loves to travel. This summer we spent the entire month of July on the road exploring everywhere from the peaks of Switzerland to France’s most famous city, from the mountains of Steamboat, Colorado to a few nights river rafting the Green River in Utah. While our trips often combine a variety of hotels and camping, on this trip, we tried a new way a stay: renting three different homes around the world from HomeAway. Today I’m highlighting one of our favorite HomeAway stays in Paris’ Latin Quarter and five reasons you should consider renting a home on your family’s next vacation. (Seriously, folks. These were the views out of our two apartment windows. #heaven)

Why You Should Use a Paris House Rentals

Reason #1: Enough room for all

Raise your hand if you love cramming in a hotel room with your kids? Me neither. Traveling as a family of five can make it tricky staying in a hotel… especially as my boys get bigger. Many of the hotels in Europe wouldn’t allow five people to stay in one hotel room and those that do in the states, often end up with us feeling cramped with a combination of too much luggage piled around folded out hide-a-beds or rolled-in roll-aways. At our flat in Paris, there was a large bedroom that gave my husband and I plenty of room and a separate living area with a convertible couch for my boys. We not only had the space we needed, but we didn’t need to tiptoe around in the dark when our boys went to bed. Plus, there was a spacious bathroom, a full kitchen, and a dining table that could seat all of us for meals.

Travel Breakfasts for Families

Reason #2: Save money by eating in

I love eating my way through a new country, but with three growing boys in toys (who are always hungry), this can be an expensive activity. By renting a home instead of staying in a hotel, my family was able save a ton of money by having many of our meals in. We picked up cereals and fruit and the nearby market to make breakfasts quick and cheap, pre-made sandwiches to take with us when we went out to explore and even made dinner at “home” a few nights. Besides the money we saved, I loved being able to explore the shops and farmer’s markets of a new country. A Paris sunset, an open bottle of wine, my kids occupied with UNO? I was in heaven.

HomeAway dinner in Paris

Reason #3: Experience the city as a local

Don’t want to feel like a tourist? Many hotels are located in busy areas that are filled with souvenir shops and American-ized menus. In contrast? Our HomeAway rental was located on the 6th floor of an apartment building in the Latin Quarter. The street was filled with local markets and little cafes with waiters who didn’t speak much English. Instead of a hotel shuttle, we took buses and the metro to get around and spent the afternoon walking through the nearby Jardin des Plantes where locals sat, read and let their kids play.

Jardin de Plantes

Reason #4: Insider tips from your host

HomeAway rentals are owned by real people who get in touch via email or in person to give you the inside scoop on the area. Our Paris apartment host not only helped provide directions to get us from the local train station to the apartment, but met us on arrival to give us tips on the best place to get a fresh croissant for breakfast (just three doors down), how to walk to the Seine River (just a block away) and the DIY rentable bike station (the first 30 minutes are free and there are drop-off stations all over town!) hidden around the corner from the local market, something we never would have found on our own.

seine

Reason #5: The amenities you really appreciate

Sure mini soaps and robes are nice at a hotel (really, I do love me some robes). But you know what kind of amenities I really appreciate when we travel as a family? Free laundry. Because, well, kids. And kid games in the drawers. And a wine opener and real glasses. True there is no one hanging up your towels and remaking your bed each day at a HomeAway, but renting a home or apartment when you travel gives you access to all sorts of other amenities that are a whole lot more useful than someone making your bed.

washer

For your next family vacation, check out HomeAway or their collection of other home rental partners (VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com) to find an apartment, condo, cabin, house or even a boat (Yes, boat! We looked at a few options when we stayed in Amsterdam!) for your next getaway.

We were reimbursed for our stay in Paris. Opinions expressed are our own.

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St. George Island Florida Vacation Guide

St. George Island, Florida has been our vacation destination for 10 years now and it’s become our little family’s happy place in the sun. Located on the Eastern edge of the Florida panhandle, St. George is one of the last unspoiled barrier islands and one of the most beautiful, undiscovered, pet-friendly and relaxing areas in all of Florida. If you’re on the lookout for a beautiful, affordable, non-touristy vacation spot, look no further than St. George Island.

Where to stay on St George Island Florida

Get to know the island

St. George Island is located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 miles East of Panama City, on what’s appropriately named The Forgotten Coast. It’s a long narrow barrier island that separates the Gulf from the Apalachicola Bay, creating a natural estuary that produces some of the most delicious oysters in the world. The island is connected to the mainland by a 4-mile bridge, which takes you over the Bay from Eastpoint, Florida. St. George is 22 miles long, but only a few blocks wide, making it an easy walk from the “bay side” to the “beach side” of the island.

The island consists of three main areas: (1) St. George Island State Park, which takes up 10 miles on the Eastern end of the island; (2) St. George Plantation, a private gated community consisting of 900 multi-million dollar homes and estates, which occupies the Western end of the island; and (3) a public strip of land in the middle that consists of restaurants, shops, private homes and public beaches.fun things to do with kids on St George Island florida

Where to stay

While St. George does have a handful of inns and hotels, it has an overwhelming abundance of incredible homes, condos and estates that can rented out all over the island. There are three main property rental companies on the island: Collins Vacation Rentals, Resort Vacation Properties and Fickling & Company. Whether you’re looking for a small condo or cottage on the beach for a couple, a nice-sized private home with a pool for a family or a multi-level villa for your entire extended family, you’ll have a variety of options, locations and amenities.

Houses are usually rented by the week during peak seasons and come with lots of amenities like WiFi, private pools, fireplaces, ocean views, beach access and grills. Whether you’re right on the beach, across the street or with “beach access,” the beach is never more than a short walk away. Most homes (as well as the beaches and restaurants) are also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your pups along, too! The island loves dogs and they’re welcome nearly everywhere you go! And if you want to “ruff” it, another fun option would be camping in the State Park, either in a tent or an RV, dogs are welcome there as well.

fishing with kids on St George Island

What to do

St. George Island is an outdoor adventurer’s dream, there are so many great things to do to get you outside and back to nature! The Gulf side of the island has twenty miles of gorgeous uncrowded white sand beach, perfect for shelling, fishing, sunning, sandcastle-building, swimming and playing in the surf. The bay side of the island is miles of pristine bay marsh, inlets and oyster bars, perfect for fishing, crabbing, watching wildlife and sunset viewing. St. George is covered in bike paths and hiking trails for anyone wanting to explore. Kayaks and boats are available for rental, or hire a charter and guide for a day of fishing, dolphin-spotting and shelling. If your kids are into treasure-hunting, there are tons of geocaches on the island as well. I’ve got an intro guide to geocaching with kids on my blog, if you need a primer. There are also a handful of shops and boutiques in town for anyone looking to stock up on souvenirs, as well as a playground for kids, the visitor’s center and the St. George Lighthouse.

where to eat on St George Island florida

Where to eat

You won’t find anything fancy or posh on St. George Island, but if you love seafood, this place is paradise. There are only a handful of restaurants on the island and none require reservations (most don’t even require shoes). The Blue Parrot is our family’s favorite, with its expansive deck right on the beach, tiki bar and views of the ocean. Order the softshell crab sandwich with conch fritters and a mango daiquiri and thank me later. Paddy’s Raw Bar, on the bayside of the island boasts incredible Apalachicola Bay oysters, tons of beers on draft and live music on the patio in the evenings. And if you’re not a seafood fan, BJ’s Pizza is the perfect place to pick up pizza, subs, salads and appetizers. If you want to cook at home, there’s a small grocery store on the island with all the necessities as well as seafood trucks offering daily fresh catches of shrimp, halibut, snapper, grouper and shucked oysters.

St George Island 5

Tips from a veteran vacationer

After 10 years of vacationing on St. George Island, we’ve come to love this place as our own and enjoy sharing our knowledge about the island with anyone looking for a laid-back family vacation. Here are a few things you may not read in a traditional guidebook.

  1. Rent a golf cart – there’s no better way to explore the island than by renting a golf cart for the week. While it may be easy to walk from the bayside to the gulf, the island is 22 miles long and you’re going to want to check out everything it has to offer. Instead of dealing with buckling kids into their carseats in a hot car, get a golf cart for the week and enjoy cruising to a new section of beach, to the playground or into town for ice cream. You can get nearly everywhere you want to go in a golf cart and never have to worry about parking!
  2. Nightlife – the nightlife on St. George is wild…and no, I do not mean bars or partying! Make sure you pack your headlamps and flashlights and hit the beach or bay to discover the wildest nightlife around…crabs! When the sun goes down, the crabs come out and they are so much fun for kids to chase and catch. You can also discover tide pools filled with snails, hermit crabs, sand fleas and other interesting aquatic life.
  3. Apalachicola – just on the other side of the Bay Bridge on the mainland is a hidden gem of a town called Apalachicola. This quiet little river town is home to some of the best seafood restaurants and raw bars around. Take a stroll through town and check out the adorable boutiques, gorgeous oyster boats lined along the river and the hauntingly beautiful cemetery covered in willows and moss.
  4. Bring your dogs – for as long as we’ve been vacationing on St. George Island, we’ve been bringing the entire family, which consisted of dogs before we ever had kids. Franklin County prides itself on being incredibly dog-friendly and our four-legged friends are welcome on the beach and in many of the shops and restaurants. You’ll see dogs out with their families everywhere, making this a pet-lover’s paradise.
  5. Old Florida charm – if you’re used to vacationing on 30A or Sanibel, you may be in for a shock on St. George. You won’t find any high-rises, chain restaurants or mega-markets here. There are no fancy eateries, delis or coffee shops. There are no arcades, putt-putt courses or movie theaters anywhere close. This island is small, quaint and secluded, which is exactly what we love about it. But don’t worry, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how warm and friendly the people are, by how unspoiled the waters are and how uncrowded the beaches are. This is undiscovered all-natural Florida at its finest. Be prepared to choose your own adventure and provide your own entertainment.

St George Island 6

Have you ever been to St. George Island? What’s your favorite Florida vacation spot?
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When I was younger, I loved road trips. There’s something so liberating and fun about them. Unlike some people, I actually love long car trips.

Then we had kids.

What was once one of my favorite ways to spend a week or two became an ordeal that was, on a good day, an ordeal.

Having a trip with one kid in the car isn’t awful. But when you have two, that’s when the real “fun” begins. Maybe you’re one of the lucky parents with the rare duo who get along like angels, but my two definitely weren’t!

Here are my tips and advice for surviving a long road trip… with kids.

7 Essentials for Surviving Family Road Trips

7 Essentials to surviving family road trips
1. Plan ahead

Before we had kids, we’d head out on a trip and figure out where we’d stay along the way. Sometimes we got nice deals on motels (or hotels), but it’s a pretty huge gamble when you have kids along with you. It’s so much easier to have things planned out before you even step foot in the car.

I’m a huge fan of Airbnb. A lot of the time you can find better deals than you’d get at a hotel, plus the places are so much nicer, because they’re private homes.

You could also figure out where you’re going to stop to eat and stretch your legs. If there are any hokey attractions you’re interested in, it’s time to figure out when and where they are along your route.

Don’t forget to pack everything you’ll need, including ample changes of diapers, towels, extra and appropriate clothing (especially if you’ll be heading somewhere warm), toys, games, and food. I’ll get into those more later.

2. Safety: It’s always first

First and foremost, before you leave, it’s important to make sure any car seats are safe and properly installed. If you’re not sure, most fire departments will check that they’re properly installed, free of charge. It’s something I’d recommend just to be sure.

Don’t think your child needs a car seat? All states have different laws, and you very well might end up driving through one that requires your child to be in a car seat! You can see the car seat laws for all 50 states on the official government website.

Also, bring along a first aid kit with the essentials, along with lots of water and snacks, and always have a working flashlight in case you have to deal with a late-night car breakdown.

Don’t forget a car charger for your cell phones, and get lots of sleep before you leave!

If your child is in a rear-facing car seat, do yourself a favor and get a backseat mirror. They install so that you can keep an eye on them in your rear-view mirror, giving a lot of peace of mind. Trust me.

3. Don’t forget the entertainment

Pack a special bag for each of your children, full of their favorite distractions — coloring books, toys, video games, stickers, travel board games, or anything you feel is appropriate!

Pro tip: Avoid things that make a lot of noise. That can get a little, shall we say, annoying over the course of a 12 hour road trip.

Something I really like to do is to pack a few wrapped up surprises that they won’t expect. Nothing changes a kid’s mood like a little surprise present! Just be sure to space them out over your trip and not give them all out at once.

4. McDonalds playareas: Your secret weapon

While I don’t personally endorse feeding your kids McNuggets, the fact is that McDonalds playareas are a really great way of letting your bored little passengers burn off some of that extra energy they’ve built up by sitting in the car all day. Instead of slapping each other and fighting, they can jump around in the ball pit for 15-minutes and get rid of all that energy.

If the weather is nice, you could even stop at a park along the way for a picnic and playtime! It’s also a lot cheaper. Bonus. Plus, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to burn off some energy and stretch those legs. It really helps.

5. How To handle food

Your kids aren’t (hopefully) used to living on fast food, and feeding that to them all day is a recipe for disaster. I don’t know about you, but if I eat more than one meal of fast food during a day, I feel pretty awful, especially if I’m sitting in a car. The last thing you want is to end up being the family who has to stop as a gas station rest room to relieve their upset stomachs!

Packing your own healthy food and snacks is definitely the way to go. Everyone is going to feel a lot better with good, healthy stuff in their tummies… including you.

If you can fit a cooler in the trunk, even better! You can load up with cold stuff, or even stop at grocery stores along the way for things.

6. Travel around sleep schedules

This may or may not work for you. Some people prefer to travel when their kids are asleep, during the night, usually. Of course, that obviously means that you’re going to have to drive all night, but if the idea of driving all day with kids brings fear to your heart, this is an idea.

If you don’t want to go to this extreme, you could do something as simple as leaving in the morning, so that by the time lunch rolls around, they can eat in the car to keep them occupied and drive the irritability away.

Then, after that, they’ll probably fall asleep, and you’ll have free reign to drive in peace!

7. Just have fun!

Above everything else, just aim to have fun! That’s what road trips should be, and there’s no reason why yours won’t be if you plan ahead. Try to laugh and just enjoy the trip. Stop, take pictures of things along the way, sing songs and play games, and just make it as lighthearted as possible.

If you have any other tips for surviving road trips, we’d love to hear them!

This post was contributed by guest writer, Jennifer Taylor. When she’s not writing for her blog, MomTricks, she can usually be found chasing after her own two wonderful kiddos. And, when time permits, trying to figure out where her lovable pug, Max, is hiding.

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Stay tuned for a series of posts about how to make the most of your Disney Dream Cruise! We’re happy to have one of our parent travel experts give us the scoop on what parents need to know about booking, arrival day, what to do on the ship, and even debarkation. Happy sailing!

Disney Dream Cruise

Disney Dream Cruise: Embarking tips for parents

You’ve made it! You’re at the ship… now what?

Once you get to the port, you’ll go through an airport-type security line and take an escalator up to the main terminal. If you are traveling Concierge, you’ll have a special area for check-in where process is expedited. If not, simply get in the line and wait for an agent. They’ll check your passports and take photos of everyone in your party. They’ll use these check-in photos  for facial recognition so when the ship photographers take pictures, they know which cabin to file them under. They’ll also review all the documentation you filled out online before you left home and your kids will receive their special wristbands that they can use to enter the Kids’ Club. Finally, you’ll get a boarding group number.

They will start boarding the ship around 11 a.m. — Concierge level travelers and frequent cruisers will be in the first group. It moves fairly quickly.

While you wait, there are opportunities to meet a few of the Disney characters. However, don’t fuss about this too much, because you’ll encounter them many more times over the next three days. There’s also a viewing area hat has some nice perspectives of the ship, which is really incredibly large.

You’ll also get a “Personal Navigator” newsletter that has a comprehensive look at everything going on at any given time. Don’t get too overwhelmed… there is a lot of stuff offered! This information is also available on the cruise app to keep it handy when you’re on the ship

Time to board

When your boarding number is called, you’ll walk across the ramp and there will be a lineup to take a souvenir boarding photo. This is worth waiting for — you’ll be glad you did it later!

Now, you will actually board the ship. This is a real highlight and the first of many special Disney touches that you’ll encounter. Someone will ask your family name and they’ll announce it over the ship’s PA system: “Welcome aboard the Greenspoon Family!” and you’ll walk through a receiving line of applauding, white-jacketed crew members and directly into the ship’s atrium on the third floor.  If you want to capture this moment on video, make sure your camera is ready before you walk on!

You are on your own to explore the ship! If you’re in the Concierge cabins, a crew member will take you up to the Concierge lounge on the 12th floor, where there are light snacks and drinks, and a member of the team will go over your itinerary for the next three days. If not, the very first thing to do is to make whatever reservations you need to… as quickly as possible.

Get booked… ASAP

If your kids want to see the Disney princesses or the Frozen characters, you absolutely need to go to the guest services desk on the third floor (right where you enter) and get tickets. These are among the most sought-after events on the ship, so do it early. If you’re in Concierge, they will book these for your ahead of time. The Princess Greeting is in the atrium and you can watch it easily, but you can only get in the line to meet the characters if you have tickets, of which there are a limited number. The Frozen Meet and Greet is even more popular and is actually hidden at the Animators Palate restaurant. The guest services desk is also where you can make changes to any of your other activities, including your adult only dining reservations, spa appointments, and Castaway Cay activities.

While you wait for your cabin

The next order of business is to get some lunch. The buffet restaurant, Cabanas, is on the 11th floor and you should make your way there as soon as you can because people will start lining up like they’ve never seen food before and it will be difficult to find a table. This is actually a really good buffet — the selection is impressive and everything is very fresh.

After lunch, you have all afternoon to explore the ship. The cabins are not ready until about 1:30 p.m. or so (unless you are in the Concierge cabins on decks 11 and 12, which are ready pretty much when you board). If it’s a nice day and you’re early, this is a good time to check out the pool deck on 11 and even ride the Aqua Duck water coaster. There is also a sports activity deck on 13 with basketball and a mini-golf course. The Kids’ Club areas are in “Open House” mode, which is the only time adults are allowed in. There are two clubs on deck five — The Oceaneer’s Club and the Oceaneer’s Lab. It is definitely worth checking these out as your kids will be really into them. They have different play areas, including a replica of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. The ship has something like 80 counselors who you can meet and have them explain what they do.  Our 3-year-old loved the Oceaneer’s Club so much that we could hardly drag him away from it.  They even group the kids according to age range, so there will be no shortage of other children to play with.

Another fun thing to do is to play the “Midship Detective Agency” game, which you can do at midship on deck four. You’ll see the kiosk, which explains the rules and gives you a barcode detective badge that you hold up in front of special pictures located throughout the ship. When you do this, the pictures come to life with animation and give you clues to solve a mystery. The game takes you to most of the ship’s decks and is a great and entertaining way to get your bearings.

Settling in

Rooms are ready at 1:30 p.m., so most people tend to disappear for a while to check them out around that time. The cabins are small, but well designed. Basically, think of your cabin as a sitting room by day and a bedroom at night, when your cabin host will make the beds magically appear out of the wall or the ceiling. The cabin host/hostess is a great resource and we found ours went above and beyond for us (even getting special Frozen sheets for our son’s bed, when she found out he liked the princesses). Bathrooms are split, meaning there’s one with a toilet and sink and another with a tub and sink, which is a thoughtful touch that allows two people to get ready at the same time.

The lights in the cabins are a little tricky to figure out.  You need to insert your room card into the slot beside the door in order for the lighting system to work. In order to avoid forgetting your card when you leave, a neat trick is to use a different key card (e.g. the one from your hotel room the night before) instead.  Any card will work.

Tip: Your luggage will arrive between 1:30 and 4:00 p.m., outside your cabin door.

At 4 p.m. you’ll have to attend a mandatory lifeboat drill. This requires you to show up at a specific assembly area, which is clearly marked on your room card. Don’t go too early… but also don’t be late. You can expect a 15-minute lecture, which they take attendance at, so you don’t want to be the one who’s holding the rest of the ship up.

Bon voyage!

Once the lifeboat drill is over, there is the “Sailing Away Party,” which begins around 4:30  p.m. on the pool deck. It will get quite crowded, so a good option is to watch it from up above on deck 12. No matter where you watch, this is a not-to-be-missed event that’s a lot of fun with high-energy music and the first of many appearances by Captain Mickey Mouse and the rest of the characters. It all leads up to the blast of the ship’s horn (“When You Wish Upon A Star”) and the boat heading out toward open water.

Early seating dinner is about an hour after the Sailing Away party, so if you’ve chosen that seating, you might want to freshen up at this time. Dining attire is informal, but the meals are an adventure in themselves and quite elaborate. The waitstaff is also incredible with the Disney touch very prevalent in everything they do!

M-I-C… see you real soon!

Before you know it, the three days are over and on the last morning. You will have breakfast on your last day at the restaurant you were assigned to for dinner the night before. If you have the early seating for dinner you’ll have an early breakfast (6:45 a.m.). There are options for leaving the boat, including one of putting your bags out the night before and collecting them after you get off the ship. For what it’s worth, we preferred to do the “Express Walk-Off,” carrying our own bags off the ship early at 7:30 am. This is a good option if you have an early flight leaving MCO and want to get to the airport as quickly as possible. You’ll also have less of a line to get through U.S. customs, because you’re off the ship before everyone else.  The crew wants everyone off the boat by 8:30 to 9:00 a.m., at the latest, so you’re not missing anything by staying on board that extra time.

Another thing to consider is when your flight home leaves. If you take the Disney bus from the port to the airport, you might have to wait until it’s full before it leaves, which could take some time. It might be better and faster to arrange for private transportation to the port, so that an SUV or minivan is waiting for you after clearing customs.

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Stay tuned for a series of posts about how to make the most of your Disney Dream Cruise! We’re happy to have one of our parent travel experts give us the scoop on what parents need to know about booking, arrival day, what to do on the ship, and even debarkation. Happy sailing!

Disney Dream Cruise Booking Tips for Parents

Disney Dream Cruise booking tips for parents

There’s actually a lot you can do before your sail date on a Disney Dream Cruise. If you have booked one of the Concierge cabins, some of this won’t apply because you’ll have access to dedicated group of concierge hosts whom you can email or call directly, beginning 120 days before your cruise. The concierge staff will take care of just about everything for you, including reserving shore excursions, securing tickets for activities on board, booking spa appointments and dinner reservations at the adult-only restaurant, and locking down private cabanas on Castaway Cay, among other things.

If you aren’t in a Concierge cabin, make sure you take note of these tips! Beginning 75 days out, you’ll be able to make reservations for certain things and check-in online through the Disney Cruise website. This is a must! I have heard that some people do this at 12:01 a.m. of the 75th day out, so make sure you’re ready to take advantage of the time frame. At this time, you can reserve spa appointments, book excursions, and importantly, register your kids for the Kids’ Clubs. This will save serious time when you get to the port terminal on your sail date!

The most important thing though, is to book your port arrival time.  In my mind, there are two options — either arrive as early as possible, or as late as possible. Either way helps you avoid the crowds… remember, there are 4,000 passengers on the ship, all checking in on the same day! For what it’s worth, I think early arrival is best, because it gives you time to explore the ship before it leaves port.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have a way of getting to the Port – it’s about 45 minutes from MCO. There is a Disney Cruise Line bus that leaves from area B1 in MCO. The buses start leaving around 9 a.m. and if you’re staying at the Hyatt Regency in the airport, they’ll take care of your bags right from the hotel, which means you just have to show up at the bus check-in with a carry-on bag. Make sure to put bathing suits, sunscreen, sunglasses, and anything else you need for the day in that carry-on because you won’t see your luggage until late in the afternoon. If you’re on-board early, you can take advantage of the pool deck and the Aqua Duck water coaster ride when there are less people!  

You’ll also want to choose your dinner seating as soon as possible. There are two choices: 5:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. There are advantages to both. If you are going to attend the evening shows in the Walt Disney Theater (worth doing!), keep in mind that they are timed around the dinners. So if you’re in the late dinner seating, you’ll go to the early show at 5:30 p.m. and if you’re in the early seating, you’ll go to the late show at 8:30 p.m. The shows last about an hour.  

There are three main restaurants on the Disney Dream: Enchanted Garden, Royal Palace and Animators Palate. You’ll have the opportunity to experience each of them during the cruise, with the same table number and waitstaff every evening.  Your dining rotation is printed on your room card — AER means Animators Palate the first night, Enchanted Garden the second night and Royal Palace the third; EAR is Enchanted Garden, Animators Palate and Royal Palace, etc. Of the three, Animators Palate is the one you don’t want to miss. Without giving anything away, there is a fun interactive premise behind it, which the whole family will enjoy.  If you’re going to book one of the Adult Only Restaurants (Remy or Palo) do it on one of the non-Animator’s Palate nights. We didn’t dine at Remy or Palo, but I hear it’s worth it… especially if you have someone to look after your kids!  Again, if you’re not traveling Concierge, you’ll want to book your reservation for Remy or Palo as early as possible because slots fill up quickly.

Another fun thing you can do pre-cruise is to schedule a call from Mickey Mouse for your kids. You can do this through the Disney Cruise website. Obviously, it’s a pre-recorded message, but you set the date and time a few days before you leave and sure enough, the phone rings and the message plays, inviting you to join the gang for a cruise. This was a huge hit with our 3-year-old. He talked about it non-stop!

I would also recommend pre-booking the cruise photo package. The ship photographers will take lots of photos of your family over the three days and you save money by buying the USB key of all the photos before you leave.  

Also, make sure to download the Disney Cruise App before you leave home. You’ll want to have it on your phone because it will be a great way to send text messages when you’re at sea. It also has all the information on what’s happening on the ship at any given time. Note that you’ll basically be “off the grid” when you’re not in port, unless you’re willing to pay very expensive roaming charges. The App uses the ship’s intranet and allows you to send texts to other passengers for free.

Finally, another thing you can do is bring your own alcohol on board. They let you bring a six-pack of beer or two bottles of wine (carry-on baggage only).  We didn’t do it, but a lot of people seemed to and planning ahead to bring these items with you as you board is essential.

 

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Planning a family vacation with little kids can be tough. The idea of a vacation sounds great, but organizing a trip that suits everyone’s needs is a challenge! With my mom celebrating a milestone birthday this year, she wanted to go away as a family. She wanted to be relaxed while spending time with her family. We spent a lot of time thinking about where we should go where we would be able to do just that and we decided on Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Tips for Taking Kids to Atlantis Bahamas

A trip for everyone in the family

Rewind to six years ago when I went to Atlantis for the first time. I was newly married and my husband and I went for a few days on our honeymoon. We stayed at The Cove and there was not a child in sight — perfect for newlyweds. This time around, we stayed at The Royal Tower and our experience was completely different, as you can imagine!

Activities for Kids at Atlantis Bahamas

When we arrived, it didn’t take long to see that it was the perfect place for everyone, including my parents, my 21-year-old brother, and my kids, who are 2-years-old and 4-years-old. As you stand in the lobby, you can see the floor to ceiling aquarium a floor below.

Keeping cool and having fun

Atlantis Bahamas has so much to offer kids of all ages, but my kids couldn’t get enough of Splashers. We spent most of our days doing just that, splashing in the water, which is three feet deep. Jonah went up and down the numerous slides more times than I can count, while Addison went down the little slide and played in the water fountain.

Atlantis Splashers

Bathing suit available at Target.

Children who want to go on the water slide need to get a bracelet from any of the towel desks by the pool before sliding.

When we weren’t submerged in the water at Splashers, we were relaxing on the tubes on the Rapids River. The Rapids River is not the same as the Lazy River, but we are a family of daredevils, especially Addison, so we strapped life jackets on the kids and went for a ride! The resort offers free one day use life jackets in all sizes that are available throughout the property.

The Best of Atlantis Bahamas for Families

Don’t worry, there are water slides for you, too, Mom! We had a little too much fun racing down the slides (oh, I won every time)! With eight fun-filled water slides to choose from, you will have the time of your life! Get close to the sharks without worrying about getting a bite — take the Leap of Faith or the Serpent slide throughout the shark tank and enjoy the view.

Young_boy_with_dolphin_1757_high

The Atlantis has so much to offer for families with kids and family members of all ages — it’s truly the best multi-age destination. Go rock climbing, swim with the dolphins, interact with the sea lions, or go snorkeling. Whatever you do, enjoy every minute. The Atlantis is worth savoring!

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5 Tips for Visiting Italy with Kids

The beautiful UNESCO coast of Southern Italy, Costiera Amalfitana —known to you as the Amalfi Coast — has always had a reputation for honeymooners and couples. With the romantic setting and picturesque cliffs, I can see why.

However, this wondrous location is also a perfect setting for families of all ages.

For the past eight years, my favorite part of exploring the region has been seeing the children playing soccer in the hidden piazzas, discovering the off-the-beaten path playful beaches, and joining my vendors and their families during a typical lunch near the sea with some of the freshest food you could imagine.

5 Tips for Visiting Italy with Kids

5 Tips for taking kids to the Amalfi Coast of Italy

With so many wonderful excursions available and small towns to explore, I wanted to share some tips on the best way to make the most out of your family fun escape to the Campania region of Italy!

1. Finding the best place to stay

Each area of the coast has its own unique feature. Keeping in consideration budget, how many times you have visited Italy, and the ages of the children, this can make all the difference.

Here is a quick breakdown of the areas and my thoughts:

Sorrento: Although, not technically on the Amalfi Coast, it is still just a 30-minute ride away and the most convenient, practical, and safest place for families to explore. You can easily get on just about any boat to reach the islands of Capri, Amalfi, or Positano. Plus, it’s a bit closer to trains, buses, and the airport.

The town of Amalfi: The town itself is a bit crowded. However, I do still think this is a good location for families who want to make the most out of their trip. It is a much smaller version of Sorrento, but works well if you really want to say on the actual Amalfi Coast. There are restaurants, gelaterie, and it has several boats going out from the port and even a bus that goes up to Ravello!

Positano: This town may be one of my favorite locations in all of the world so I would, of course, recommend staying here… but only if you have an active family. There are about 1,100 steps from the very top of the town to the main beach and you will most likely need to take some steps to get up or into your accommodation (it is located on a cliff). However, if all the family can take the walk, I say it is sure is worth the experience. There are wonderful hikes, great beaches, and some great pastry shops in town to enjoy!

Quick Tip: For ages 14 and under, consider Sorrento. For ages 14+, Consider Amalfi and Positano.

5 Tips for Visiting Italy with Kids

2. Relax at the best beaches in town

The Amalfi Coast is known for its seaside, of course. The beaches are set up with chairs with umbrellas, there are restaurants nearby, paddle boards and kayaks to rent, and local shops to explore. There is really all you need to keep everyone happy!

I recommend heading before 10 a.m. for the best experience. You also will have more sun time! Remember, the Amalfi coast is on a cliff, so you only will have the sun for the early part of the day on most of the beaches.

Quick Tip: Consider visiting Tiberio Beach if heading to the island of Capri for the day to join other local Italian families.

3. Explore the ruins of the region

When visiting a beach-side town, do you want to explore the archaeological sites? Yes!

Pompeii is one of the most incredible places in the world! What an experience for a family to see this site and learn together!

If you book a tour guide, you can experience the best parts of the site in just two hours. Plus, I always find children are amazed with the view of Mt. Vesuvius in the background and the fresh granita (lemon ice drink) available outside the site. My advice… don’t skip the ‘Scavi di Pompeii.”

Quick Tips: Explore Pompeii after 3 p.m. for the best experience and least crowds. Also, consider a private driver to take you there. The trains may be cheaper, but I always feel it is safer and a time saver to just invest in the driver.

5 Tips for Visiting Italy with Kids

4. Try these great activities during vacation

Whether you are in a local restaurant or private home, a great way for families to bond is through a cooking class. What I also love the most is choosing a group class so you is meet other families from around the world during the experience. Bonus: Rain or shine, this activity works!

With some many wonderful locations from Sorrento to Positano, you are sure to find something wonderful to explore when hiking. These trails can lead you to breathtaking views, hidden beaches, and even small towns where they make their own mozzarella!

If a private boat is not in your budget, don’t forget to utilize the local ferries from for a way to experience the coast by sea.

Quick Tip: Take the last ferry back for a sunset view. You can even buy soft drinks and snacks on board for an impromptu picnic!

5. Don’t shy away from visiting during the summer months

As a travel consultant, I hear often that my clients would like to avoid the busy months for travel. However, the summer is the only time this region is fully open and it’s the longest vacation time for the kids, so go ahead and enjoy it!

If you are worried about hitting the crowds, simply contact a travel expert like myself or book at least seven months in advance and you will be sure to still have an authentic and enjoyable experience even with the crowds.

As someone who lives half the year in Italy, I can say that even after 100+ times of visiting the Amalfi Coast, it gets better and better. The warmth of the people, the perfect temperature, the fresh food — all I can say is that your family will be forever grateful.

Take a chance and introduce your loved ones to a region that is the heart of the Italian summer. Let’s start to make the spread the world: Amalfi Coast is open to all ages and family travel too!

Cassandra Santoro is the CEO and Founder of Travel Italian Style. As a personal trip planner and luxury small group tour operator, Cassandra is an expert in slow-travel and authentic experiences throughout Italy. Learn more about her at travelitalianstyle.com.

 

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This is a sponsored blog; while the views expressed here were genuinely mine, consideration was paid to me by PADI to review this product.

Discover Scuba Diving for PADI Women's Dive Day #padiwomen #padiwomensdiveday #sponsored

Discover (or rediscover!) scuba diving for 2016 PADI Women’s Dive Day

Scuba Diving is an incredible adventure! The 2016 PADI Women’s Dive Day is coming up and it is a day you won’t want to miss — it truly is a day like no other, a day to share a life-experience with current and new friends. If scuba diving in on your list of things to do, whether it be for the first time or the hundredth, Women’s Dive Day is the perfect day for you.

July 16, 2016 marks the second annual PADI Women’s Dive Day. It’s an annual celebration of women in scuba diving and provides special opportunities for more women to enter the sport of scuba diving.

Join 2016 PADI Women's Dive Day #padiwomen #padiwomensdiveday #sponsored

During PADI Women’s Dive Day, PADI Dive Centers and Resorts, dive clubs, and other organizations around the world will offer female-friendly dives and events, ranging from first-dives to shark dives, beach clean-ups to special speaker engagements, and much more. Some PADI Dive Shops will also offer the opportunity to try scuba diving, for the first time, through the PADI Discover Scuba® Diving program. Others will focus on PADI ReActivate™, which gives lapsed divers the opportunity to refresh their scuba skills, rediscover the sport they love and reactivate their dive certifications!

Have you tried scuba diving?

The inaugural 2015 PADI Women’s Dive Day event was an historic day for diving. More than 6,000 divers from 65 countries participated in 335 special events on all seven continents. The PADI photo album on Facebook shows how women — some with their families — from all over the world enjoyed the 2015 event.

How to Participate

If you would like to participate in PADI Women’s Dive Day, you can find an event near you or get more information on the PADI website.

If you’re not yet a PADI-certified diver, you can contact your local PADI Dive Center or Resort to get started or you can explore options in the PADI course catalog.

If you are already a PADI-certified diver who is interested in participating in a the 2016 PADI Women’s Dive Day event, please contact your local PADI Dive Center or Resort to see if they’re hosting an event – and encourage them to get involved, if they’re not already.

You can also visit the PADI blog to read all of the details about Women’s Dive Day.

Get under water and have the time of your life! Tag us using #savvysassymoms to share your experience with us!

 

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10 Summer Travel Must-Haves for Toddlers

With summer right around the corner, many of us are thinking about family vacations. Traveling with young kiddos — especially active toddlers — can be daunting, to say the least, but the time together and the memories made on the other end usually make it all worth it. When traveling with toddlers, you have to go into it with a good attitude, lots of snacks, and fully equipped with the right gear. Here are some of our favorites to travel with:

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Trunki
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Versitile Diaper Bag
Baby Jogger City Mini
Toddler Travel Must-Haves- Beco Toddler Carrier
Toddler Travel Must-Haves- lil gadgets Headphones
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Portable Toddler Bed
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Mess-Free Activities
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Hand Sanitizers That Smell Amazing
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Wheels for the Airport
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Yummy Face Wipes
1. Trunki

I think I’m late to the party, but we just discovered Trunki and my boys love them. They have lots of fun packing them for a trip, they feel independent pulling them through the airport, and have a blast going for a ride during a layover.  (Trunki, $50)

2. Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F. Bag

When traveling with young kiddos, a versatile bag that can be worn as a backpack is a necessity. While this is technically a diaper bag, I consider it an everything bag, with a perfect design and easy to wipe fabric for traveling. (Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F., $180)

3. Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller and Glider Board

There are a number of great travel strollers out there, but my go-to still remains the Baby Jogger City Mini. With a truly simple one-hand fold, a lightweight design, and its ability to accommodate any of my kiddos, it has been on many trips with our family. With multiple kiddos in town, especially non-stroller riders, attaching the Baby Jogger Glider Board is a lifesaver. (Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller, $250 & Glider Board, $85)

4. Beco Baby Toddler Carrier

I never leave home without a carrier — I find babywearing both convenient and calming for my little ones, especially when we’re traveling. For toddlers, Beco makes a great carrier that’s comfortable, well designed, supportive, easy to adjust between parents, and available in some great patterns. (Beco Baby Toddler Carrier, $180)

5.  lil gadgets Connect+ Kid’s Headphones

I’m not going to lie, technology can be a lifesaver during traveling situations with my little guys. I’ve learned the hard way that headphones are a must for plugging into our own devices or to TVs on the plane. These headphones from lil gadgets are great — they’re sized for little ears, volume limiting, come in cute colors, and use Shareport, which allows you to connect multiple pairs to one device without a splitter. (lil gadgets Connect+, $20)

6. Shrunks Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed

I love this bed and it has been on countless trips with our family. It’s perfect for kiddos who are out of a crib, but do too much rolling or wiggling for a hotel bed. It’s surprisingly lightweight and easy to tuck in a suitcase. (Shrunks Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed, $79)

7. Melissa and Doug Water Wow

I always stock up on fun new activities for our trips, hiding them until the day we leave to keep their novelty alive! I love Water Wow pads because they allow the kids to color and feel creative without the mess of markers or the hassle of loose crayons.  (Melissa and Doug Water Wow, $5)

8. The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray

Germs are pretty much unavoidable when traveling. I try not to stress out about it, but I do keep hand sanitizer handy and distribute it liberally. The Honest Company spray is my go-to for keeping germ-free when we travel. It isn’t filled with harsh chemicals and I love the scents.  (The Honest Co. Hand Sanitizer Spray 2-pack, $6)

9. Go-Go Babyz Travelmate

With a young toddler, I find bringing a car seat onto the plane the easiest and safest way to ride out the flight, and a travel cart is definitely the easiest way to get schlep the seat around airport.  (Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, $90)

10. Neat Cheeks

Messy faces are inevitable when you’re eating out and in the car during your trip! These wipes are beyond handy, as well as being a natural and easy was to keep your favorite little faces and fingers clean.  (Neat Cheeks Peach Wipes, $5)

What are your must haves when traveling with your little ones?

 

This post was contributed by Rebecca Spear as part of Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts. You can find more from Rebecca on her blog, Mainely Mama.

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