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Friday, November 22nd, 2013
On this dreary, drizzly Friday, I’m thinking back to three weeks ago, when my daughters and I began a 7-day adventure that took us to Orlando, St. Thomas, and St. Martin, all part of a press trip sponsored by Universal Studios and Royal Caribbean. We kicked off the trip by staying at the incredible Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, which is designed to make you feel like you’re in Hawaii, or Bali, or someplace similarly tropical and exotic. (If you’re feeling more of a European vibe, consider Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, modeled after the Italian village and including an authentic piazza and boat-filled harbor.)
The next morning we met up with our group to take the brief walk over to Universal Studios. The weather was uncharacteristically rainy, which made me so grateful for the fact that much of Universal’s best attractions are indoors. We started with the Despicable Me ride; my girls, ages 5 and 8, both loved it and were very happy to be able to take a picture with an actual Minion afterward. Shrek 4-D was another hit–especially the part when the Donkey sneezed and we all got sprayed (with water). It’s so much fun to do 3-D with kids, watching them swat at and duck from the stuff coming toward them, and Universal is long on 3-D offerings, including the new Transformers ride and Terminator 2. Then we went to what’s arguably the park’s most popular attraction, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’d just started reading Harry Potter with my older daughter, Julia, the week before, so that she’d have a frame of reference. Her little sister, Lila, didn’t have the first idea who Harry was, but she still got into the spirit as soon as we got to the enormous Hogwarts Castle. While Lila was too small to ride the main event, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, she absolutely loved the smaller-kid-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff. (And I thought it was very cool that she, along with all the other shorties, were given an official certificate granting her and four guests front-of-the-line access to the Forbidden Journey once she’s tall enough. I’m holding on to that!) After all the adrenaline-pumping rides, we took it down about 20 notches and spent a while in the Dr. Seuss-themed part of the park, which suits the younger crowd very nicely.
If you’re considering a trip to Universal Orlando in the near future, you’ll be happy to hear that come March, they’ll have a brand-new budget-friendly hotel option in Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The resort offers 900 family suites that sleep six (as well as another 900 traditional hotel rooms) and there’s a special offer going on right now with rates as low as $104-$134 per night. Find out more here or by calling 888-273-1311.
Come Sunday, we boarded the Freedom of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean ship that serves more than 3,600 guests. The Universal/Royal Caribbean combo is a nod to the growing trend of “double-duty vacations.” We didn’t know it yet, but my children were about to have five of the most fun days of their lives. Seriously. Throughout our trip, the girls would spontaneously say things like, “Who’s having the best time EVER?” and shoot their hands in the air. They’d ask if we could live on the ship. They’d say they wished Daddy “had a house in St. Martin so we wouldn’t have to go home.” (Believe me, I wish Daddy had a house on St. Martin, too.) The moments that really stuck with us:
- The Dreamworks Character Breakfast, with special guest stars Puss in Boots, Fiona, and Shrek
- The Tiaras and Teacups Party, where about a dozen little girls served their moms tea and cupcakes (their favorite part) while being taught about table manners and proper etiquette (my favorite part). This was part of the Barbie Premium Experience, a special package you can buy separately that gets your child a slew of Barbie toys and goodies along with the chance to be in a fashion show and participate in other fun events all week. At $349, this add-on isn’t cheap, but Royal Caribbean does offer significant discounts from time to time, so definitely ask about that when you’re booking.
- Strolling through the Promenade one night and finding ourselves in the middle of a flash mob dancing to “Thriller” (I’m a sucker for Michael Jackson)
- Turning on the Dreamworks channel in our room at any hour and catching bits of movies like “Kung Fu Panda” and “Madagascar,” and watching “The Croods” in the ship’s movie theater
- When Lila won (okay, co-won) a hula-hooping contest during Family Disco Night and left with her own medal
- Coming back to our room at night to see which origami towel creation our stateroom attendant, Desiree, had created. The girls formed a bond with Desiree as soon as we arrived at our room, and they loved giving her high-fives and hugs all week. In fact, at the Tiaras and Teacups party, all the kids left with a piece of Barbie stationery, on which they were asked to write a note to someone they appreciated. Lila wrote hers to Desiree, thanking her for keeping our room so clean. Very sweet.
- The ice skating show. (Fun fact: Royal Caribbean is one of the largest employers of ice skaters in the world.) We got there just as the performance started and I didn’t realize it would be so packed, so we had to split up. From my vantage point a few rows behind Julia and Lila, I got to watch a second show: My girls swiveling their heads from one end of the rink to the other and then zipping back to stare at each other in amazement and exclaim “WOW” and “Did you see that?!” after every skater’s jump. When the show ended, Julia ran up to me and said, “That. Was. AWESOME!” (Had I thought to pack the girls long pants and socks, they could’ve skated themselves during the many open-ice sessions during our cruise.)
- Swimming in the pools, splashing in the “H2O Zone” water park, and chilling in the hot tubs. (It’s worth noting, though, that there are no lifeguards on the ship. Staffers definitely keep an eye out for kids–I watched one hustle over and scoop up a little girl who slipped and fell–but the onus is 100% on parents.)
- Our excursion on St. Thomas: We sailed on the party boat Kon Tiki over to a private beach for a few hours. The water was the perfect temperature and the scenery was gorgeous, but the highlight for my kids was the on-board entertainment on the way back to the ship. Backed by a steel-drum band, two post-college guys danced the Macarena, started a conga line, and performed a very impressive limbo. (My girls later separately confessed to finding the guys “cute.” I can’t disagree.)
- Our balcony. With all of the excitement on board the ship (and I’m only scratching the surface), some of my favorite moments were spent sitting outside, watching the waves as we sailed. It was such a peaceful setting and I felt so grateful to have the chance to experience it.
As I said, this vacation was nearly a month ago, but it’s stayed with my children. Just last night at bedtime Julia said, “I wish I was still on the ship.” Lila told me last weekend that she wants to go with her sister and her cousin on Freedom of the Seas for “16 weeks” when she’s in high school. Our on-board neighbors told us that this was their 15th cruise; it’s the only way they travel. I’m wondering if my girls, bolstered by the memories this cruise gave them, will follow in their footsteps one day?
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Thursday, September 26th, 2013
I went into this summer intending to camp for reals. My family of four is very good at renting cabins. But tent-camping would save us a lot of cash, and the way we like to vacation, that is becoming necessary. Plus I feel like camping is a childhood rite of passage, something my kids should experience.
FIRST HURDLE: BAD MEMORIES Two years ago we borrowed a friend’s tent. There was a thunderstorm, and my then-6-year-old was having tummy issues, so he needed to be walked or carried uphill through mud to the bathroom every hour. The memory is seared in my brain, so there is no getting over this hurdle. Just around it.
SECOND HURDLE: NO TENT This was not supposed to be a hurdle, because I bought a tent a year ago, thinking that last
year would be our summer of camping. (Instead it was our summer of sheepishly upgrading, from bare KOA cabins to their deluxe models with a bathroom
.) But I can not
find our tent. Where can a tent hide?! I’ve searched the basement and under beds. But tents are so small these days, like the size of my travel toiletries bag. Someday I will probably find it tucked under the bathroom sink but for now…I have no idea where it it.
THIRD HURDLE: I WILL SLEEP ANYWHERE BUT THE GROUND, APPARENTLY I just didn’t realize it until my first campout of this summer. My son and I joined a group that included about a dozen second-grade boys, one of whom was celebrating his birthday, plus the birthday boy’s parents. I was offered room in any of the many tents, including the grown-up one, but…I slept in the SUV I drove. And was pretty psyched to do it.
I thought I would redeem myself on our big family trip to Yellowstone National Park
. We had a campground reservation. We had no tent, but I had a half-baked plan to buy one nearby. My husband thought the plan was dubious from the start. I think his exact words were “That’s f-ing crazy.” In the end, we coughed up about $180 for four of us in a no-frills hotel room in the park
So yea, we didn’t camp there either. But we saw buffalo, and they were awesome!
FOURTH HURDLE: I LOVE ME A RESTAURANT We had our third chance to camp in Montana. But I wasn’t sure if the campground was in driving distance to a restaurant. ‘Cause oh yea, I don’t know how to cook on a campfire. I mean, I can roast marshmallows. But our usual M.O. is to stay at a campground that’s an easy drive to someplace where people serve dinner to us while we talk about roasting marshmallows later. Outside our cabin.
FINAL HURDLE: I MAY NOT BE A TENT GIRL My last hurrah of the summer was a trip to Disney World. Did you know they have an awesome campground where you can stay for like $54 a night
? Of course, you need a tent, or an RV. As I pictured my weary, park-warrior, pool-swimming self coming home to a tent each night…well, it should be no surprise that I caved. I booked us into a Fort Wilderness Cabin
So maybe I am never going to be a tent-camper. But my summer of not camping still included fire pits, glow sticks, drinking my morning tea under the trees, animal sightings, stick collecting, and stargazing. It was fantastic. And maybe cabins are all the “camping” that my kids need. I will work on trimming our vacation expenses some other way. Like, maybe stopping the restaurant habit. Anyone have campfire recipes they want to share with me?
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Tuesday, September 24th, 2013
My little family has always loved the outdoors but our trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park was by far the most spectacular and exciting. My nearly 7-year-old daughter and nearly 5-year-old son found these five things the best of the best in YNP-GTNP:
1. Animal Spotting. All kids love animals and most love seeing them in zoos, but nothing compares to seeing them in the wild. Within minutes of leaving Jackson Hole airport and taking to the highway, we spotted antelope grazing alongside the road. A little herd was just galloping along. Not long after crossing into YNP did we get stuck in our first of many animal traffic jams: a herd of bison had decided to meander in the middle of the road. People were hanging out of their cars (We even popped out the sun roof of the loaner Buick Enclave we were driving!) and snapping shots. I was glad I had forked over the big bucks for iPods for my kids because their biggest thrill was taking their own pics and videos of the animals through the car windows. We also got to see a grizzly bear, moose, an otter, and even a sly little gray fox. Bald eagles flew over head and very crafty ravens followed us for any dropped snacks. Almost as exciting as seeing animals in person was spotting their footprints and scat along the trails. We read some kid-friendly animal track and scat books before we left and the Junior Ranger pamphlet also has a handy cheat sheet. My daughter spotted what we’re convinced were elk, coyote, bear, and wolf tracks. If you can also get your hands on some binoculars, do, preferably one for each kid so there’s no fighting. We also relied on the kindness of strangers who let the kids peer through their super powerful ‘scopes to see wildlife from afar, notably a grizzly feeding on a bison.
2. It Stinks! Literally Yellowstone stinks — as my son says: “The earth is farting!” The smell of sulfur wafts through most of the YNP, especially in geyser country near Mammoth, Norris, and Old Faithful. At first the kids were put off by it, but the smell became something they loved to hate. (See them holding their noses in the pic.) The gurgling, spitting, and yes, farting, earth was so incredible and unlike anything they’d ever seen before that the smell just made it all the more intense and exciting.
3. The Awesome Echo. The landscape of YNS and GTNP is filled with steep mountains, canyons and wide plains which offers amazing sound effects. Wind can whistle through the trees so loud that it sounds like a waterfall is around the corner even when it isn’t (even though there are tons of amazing waterfalls) and the potential for echo is unlike any I’ve heard. The kids loved shouting out “Echo! Echo!” to hear their voices ring back at them after bouncing off the canyon — our hike along the Yellowstone River had a spectacular echo. (And the kids’ shouting had the added benefit of scaring away the bears.)
4. The Freebies. We were in YNP and GTNP after the summer rush in September (a beautiful and less crowded time to go) so we there weren’t a lot of other kids around. But the Junior Ranger Program and the Yellowstone Xanterra kids program were still active. Both organizations give kids booklets to fill out and color during their trip. They ask which animals they’ve spotted, what sites they’ve seen, teach and test them on nature trivia and even provide little incentives. (The books come in handy when mom and dad need a break.) Xanterra’s yellow booklets (handed out at the hotel dining rooms) send kids on a scavenger hunt where they get stickers at the biggest attractions. Once their sticker page is full they get a free gift. (The Junior Ranger program is similar but we didn’t manage to meet all its requirements.) My kids were delighted with their gift– adorable fuzzy stuffed black and grizzly bears that they carried around with them the rest of the trip like pets.
5. The Majestic Landscape. We hike a lot in the northeast where we live, but at 4 and 6 years old my kids start whining after 3 miles on any trail. We started our week on the above mentioned 5 mile (completely flat) hike along the Yellowstone Canyon and the kids never asked when we’d reach the end. And when we announced the next day we were going on another hike, and another, there were cheers rather than groans. That’s because around every corner of every trail there was something new to see — the dramatic canyon view (and smell) of Calcite Springs below in the case of Yellowstone Canyon. And waterfall after waterfall — Mystic Falls Trail and Fairy Falls Trail in YNP were especially popular and dramatic. The spurting, farting, gurgling geysers and colorful funky hot springs amazed them over and over (Fairy Falls also offers an awesome view of the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring). Perhaps most popular were the gurgling mudpots, maybe because they were so dangerous it was too exciting to be bored – just off the path is boiling earth !!! (Artist Paint Pots trail is a fascinating one for kids and it’s short too). And on our very last day, in GTNP, we walked along the Hermitage Trail (starts at Colter Bay Marina) with the Tetons towering above us. It was a sunny day and after four and a half hours of hiking my son finally said, “Are we almost done yet?” And by then we were. We were all sad to go.
Read my other post about what parents need to know before going to Yellowstone and share your own travel tips.
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Monday, September 23rd, 2013
I just got back from an amazing trip with my family (husband and two kids, ages 4 and 6) to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone is like no other place in America, or even on earth. It’s a wonderland for parents and kids alike. But it does require a lot of planning.
1. There’s no TV, radio, or (gulp) wifi in Yellowstone inns, hotels, and lodges. Likely you are going to Yellowstone to get away from your crazy busy life and will welcome being off the grid. (I did manage to get Verizon and AT&T cell connection at Old Faithful Inn, but it was spotty at best.) Even if you are welcoming connecting with nature, it can be a challenge to travel with kids without a little help from Netflix or their favorite wifi based apps, especially during long car trips to and from attractions (Yellowstone is a big place!). Consider bringing portable DVD players, game systems, or downloading movies and apps in advance on your devices so you’re prepared. And you can never have too many crayons or colored pencils– the Park hands out Junior Ranger booklets and other pamphlets to kids frequently and having them on hand makes for a great distraction while waiting for dinner. (We found that the hotel dining rooms were short on crayons outside of brown and black which makes it a challenge to color in the Prismatic Spring!)
2. Weather changes can be drastic. We woke up our first day to 40 degree weather (see pic at right); by noon we had stripped off our hats, gloves and jackets and were wearing our tee shirts on the Mammoth Terraces. The next day it snowed — a few inches fell in a couple hours, leaving the Park covered in blanket of white and even closing roads. We were still nursing our sunburns from the day before! We traveled in mid-September when it can be cooler, but everyone I spoke with says that the weather can change from super hot to freezing, even in the summer. Dress in layers and carry a backpack with hats and gloves and plenty of water when hiking. Even in a few hours the weather can change 20 degrees.
3. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car. Yellowstone is more than 3,000 square miles and there’s only one major figure eight highway connecting it all with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. We found the drive from attraction to attraction breathtaking — every mile has something to see whether it’s a herd of bison on the side of the road, a giant cavern dipping before you, or a bald eagle flying overhead –even my kids put down their headphones to look out the windows and shriek at the amazing nature on the other side of the glass several times a day. But still, you are in the car a lot. It can take 2-3 hours to get from Old Faithful to the Yellowstone Canyon or to Mammoth Terraces to Yellowstone Lake … or wherever you want to go depending on road closures, animal jams, and just plain distance. So if you have the option, bring or rent the bigger car with ample leg room and/or amenities. We spent the week in a new Buick Enclave and it was perfect — we had a DVD player for the kids when they were tired of the view (or just tired period) and plenty of space for all our hiking gear and snacks. (The sunroof also came in handy for snaps of grazing animals — see us at right!)
4. Food can be hard to find. The Park is vast and if you are between junctions (the intersections where many attractions are located) or stuck in a bear jam (seriously!) you could find yourself hungry and, worse, with hungry whining children. The Park restaurants, grills, and cafeterias (located at most junctions) are first come, first served for breakfast and lunch and there are often long lines, especially in the summer months (we traveled in September and it was hard even then.) Dinner at the few sit-down restaurants are reservation only and they fill up fast — book ém when you book your room. Plus, the food can be pricey — we couldn’t get away with less than $40 for our little family of four for breakfast or lunch at any of the restaurants. (The to-go sandwiches are $10 each!) If you can, bring a cooler and pack lunches and snacks; there are tons of great, well-marked picnic spots and you can always replace your ice and fill up with water at the major junctions.
5. Animals can be dangerous. There are signs everywhere telling you to be careful of the bears, elk, bison, antelope, moose, and other animals that make their home in Yellowstone, but it’s important to note again here and especially for children. Do not let them get close to any animals — we took pictures of bison and elk through our car windows (see my son’s pic, at right!), and out of the top of our sunroof — they can charge and trample children (even adults). People are hurt every year in the Park by getting too close. Also, if you plan to go hiking — and I highly recommend that you do — it’s the best way to see the Park and get away from the crowds — note that the threat of grizzly and black bears are real. Do not let children run ahead of you on trails (bears think something running is food worth catching) and make noise. Luckily making noise is easy for most kids; but on longer hikes it can be harder to keep the conversation rolling. For our hikes on the Fairy Falls, Mystic Falls, and the Yellowstone River Picnic/Speciman Ridge Trails we sang several songs, including “Going on A Bear Hunt” over and over! We never saw a bear on a trail, but we did see a grizzly on a road side pullover through binoculars (how I prefer to see a large mammal that can eat my young). Also consider buying and learning how to use bear spray.
Check out my other post about our trip: What Kids Love Most About Yellowstone. And be sure to share your tips for traveling to Yellowstone and other national parks with kids!
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Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Walt Disney World in the August heat. With my two girls, ages 6 and 2, and a wife who is seven months pregnant.
Friends questioned our sanity.
It was a blast.
Sure, it was hot, and rained almost every afternoon. And we had our (normal, everyday) challenges, including occasionally sluggish kids, disagreements over what to do next, and increasingly frequent tantrums from the younger one. But watching my normally reserved 6-year-old light up in excitement at her first glimpse of Cinderella’s castle and my 2-year-old give bear hugs to every character we encountered, there was no doubt we’d chosen wisely for our vacation.
I’d visited Disney several times as a child, but wow, has the place grown since I last went 20+ years ago! We stayed at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort—one of the newest and the biggest of Disney World’s now-25 hotels (up from the two or three that existed back then). We had a large one-bedroom suite, three swimming pools to choose from, and many fun movie-themed elements all around. It was a full 20-minute drive to the Magic Kingdom, but regular bus service made the comuting easy. (Full disclosure: Our trip was partly paid for by Disney, for which I am extremely grateful.)
My memories of visiting Disney World as a kid are all about rides, more rides, and the occasional parade or encounter with Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. And those are all still there, many of the rides virtually unchanged since then. But in four days, we went on only a handful of rides, instead spending our time with that newer Disney obsession: princesses!
Although I’d heard that the place was now thoroughly infused with princesses, I was still surprised at how much the, um, princess-industrial complex defined our experience. And thankfully so, considering my kids were not so excited about many of the rides. For my older one especially, finding ever-more princesses—even ones like Mulan, who she hardly knew of beforehand—was one of the most exciting parts of the trip. Despite the often-long lines, she’s wait her turn, collect their autographs, and take photos with them. We went to a couple of princess-themed meals, and she even had a “princess makeover” at, yes, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
I was continually surprised and thrilled at my older daughter’s eagerness to buy into the fiction (what we called in high-school English “willing suspension of disbelief”). If you ask her, she will tell you outright that these are actresses dressing up as princesses, that Rapunzel’s flowing hair is a wig, and that the woman playing Cinderella sleeps in a regular home at night and not in that impressive castle at the end of Main Street USA in Disney World.
And yet, there she was, hugging them and posing for pictures, eager to find the next one and the next one. She, who is usually too shy to speak to adults, would ask them whether they remembered her from an earlier encounter, and at one point expressed hope that Cinderella would recognize her because she was wearing the same clothes as she was earlier in the day.
Between princesses, we did manage to catch some rides and encounter Disney more like the way I did as a kid. My little one loved “it’s a small world,” as you can see in the video below, while the older one took to the calm of the PeopleMover. I’d worried that Epcot would be too older-child focused for them, but they both loved the Journey Into Imagination ride, after which we visited different “countries” in Epcot’s World Showcase .
And me? I loved the Main Street Electrical Parade, the after-dark procession of brilliantly lit up floats and dancers, as brilliant and festive as I remember it. I took my older daughter twice, returning with her to the park after we put her younger sister to sleep to buy snacks and get a curbside seat.
With all the change coming up in our lives—new school year, new baby, even new sleeping arrangements at home—we felt our kids needed a period of extra attention and fun. At Disney, we let them call the shots (more or less!), and mission accomplished.
While there, the cynic in me kept rolling my eyes at the inescapable, constant invocations of the “magic of Disney.” (When my wife called housekeeping after our younger daughter vomited all over the older one’s bed, the receptionist, following Disney protocol, wished her, “Have a magical evening.”) But seeing my kids’ reactions to all they experienced, it was hard not to use the “m” word.
Yes, it was magical.
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Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
When Hurricane Sandy blasted the Jersey Shore last fall, my thoughts immediately went to Cape May. I took a family vacation there the summer before and was completely charmed by the town. After seeing news footage and Facebook photos of the devastation of the New Jersey coast, I had assumed the worst had happened. Fast-forward three months: I’m researching a Parents magazine story on the 10 Best Beach Towns for Families. I’ve narrowed my picks to a “short list” of a hundred or so towns that have great water quality. Cape May is on the list. So I made a call to find out what shape the town is in now. And much to my delight, I learned that Sandy largely spared Cape May, taking a last-minute turn in the other direction.
Cape May stayed in the running to be included in the story, and when other factors—like inland family fun and nature activities—were considered, it ended up being number five on Parents best list. Here are a couple of highlights from my family’s long weekend in Cape May, and you’ll find many more family-friendly activities in my story on the town.
My daughter’s favorite memory from the trip was an inexpensive program we signed up for at the Nature Center of Cape May. Staff cast a net in the ocean to see what creatures they could find, and then told the kids about them. The kids got to touch the little critters before safely returning them to the water. By the looks of it, all the kids in the program that day had a blast and learned quite a bit from this hands-on experience.
We went to the beach that was across the street from Congress Hall, where we stayed. Even though we were there in mid-August (peak season!), it didn’t feel crowded. And it was very clean!
At night, we checked out the shops at Washington Street Mall, a three-block outdoor promenade filled with adorable, independent shops like Bath Time (where we bought custom-blend bubble bath). For a treat, we ended up enjoying egg creams (a combo of chocolate syrup and seltzer) from Dellas 5 & 10.
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Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Who doesn’t love Little Critter? We read the books all the time (see my son Joe with our favorite, about going into the city with Mom, down below) and I was thrilled to talk with the author and illustrator, Mercer Mayer, also shown, on the eve of his launch of the Little Critter app for iOS, Android, Nook and Kindle devices.
Q: First, what is Little Critter?
Mercer Mayer: “He technically is identifiable, but I don’t tell anybody what it is.”
Q: Is he based on you as a child? Or your own children?
MM: “Everything you do as an author is from that well of your own childhood. I got some advice many years ago from a publisher to ‘Just start with your childhood and lie like hell.’ Little Critter is full of things that happened to me as a child and then I exaggerate when I imagine what a kid might go through.”
Q: You have kids of your own, right?
MM: “Three boys and a girl, and now grandkids. They just added to the whole pastiche. I would love to find a way to get this into a book: When my eldest boy was 9 years old, he would never go to bed. I would throw him up in the top bunk and he’d scream that he was hungry, or had to go to the bathroom. Then one night he said he was sick. I didn’t believe him…and then he threw up all over me.”
MM: “I write about situations that kids get into that can be overwhelming. But now my books are getting an extra kick in the pants with the apps! There are more possibilities with them.”
Q: The apps sound like they’d be good for Spring break and Summer travel.
MM: “The games are simple for 3- to 7-year-olds. There’s animation and the story pops out. So there’s reading, and it’s educational, but also games, such as a hidden alphabet and color-by-number. The GamePak includes DigiStix, which are interactive stickers that a kid can move around. I know some apps are just for reading, but these two create a whole little world of adventure, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Q: Are you still writing new books?
MM: “Yes, I’m working on Just a Kite now and finished up Just a Little Love. I write about three a year. I’m still doing it. I guess I don’t know how to stop!”
You can get The Trip-Little Critter Reading Adventure for $3.99 at all the usual channels (iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Barnes & Noble). And for the first 30 days of the launch, you can buy the additional The Trip-Little Critter GamePak for $2.99 (after that it goes up to $3.99). The GamePack is the one that includes more than 175 cool DigiStix digital stickers.
Want the chance to win both the apps and also a signed giclee print from Mercer Mayer? It’s this collage of Little Critter and his baby brother with their toys, and would look great in a kid’s room! It’s officially worth is $75 but I think it’s fairly priceless. Leave a comment below, up to one a day between now and the end of the day on Wednesday, March 27th. After that we’ll pick one person at random to win both the print and a code for the apps, worth about $83 all together.
You can click here to read our official rules. Goody luck!
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Monday, November 12th, 2012
Kids (my kids), don’t read this. Because if you do, you’re going to want to go to Palm Beach, Florida, where your mom and I escaped for a rare and well-deserved getaway. Yes, we framed it as a business trip, and there was some “research” involved. But truth be told, it was the type you both love—infinity-edge swimming pools, white-sand beaches, expansive ocean views, fancy restaurant meals. Okay, really. Stop reading.
Our visit took us to two of the nicest resorts in the area. First was The Ritz-Carlton (pool and ocean view pictured to the right), a Spanish-style low-rise that’s quietly elegant, with intimate service (the waiters knew my name by the second evening at Temple Orange, which features local grouper and a wonderful Friday night seafood buffet), terraces so close to the ocean you can sit out and listen to the surf (we did—often), and one of the coolest spas I’ve ever seen. At Eau Spa we were treated to a couples massage and dry float, after which we relaxed in hanging chairs that were reminiscent of baby swings—and just as comforting. The kids wouldn’t have liked our abandoning them to be personally pampered, but they would have been in good hands: Their stay in the kids club, Aquanuts, for ages 5 and up, is complimentary while you’re having your spa treatment. And it looks like a blast: During our visit the kids’ indoor room was decorated like a Halloween fun house, so the little ones could trick or treat when they’re weren’t swimming or playing games. This resort definitely likes families: It recently started a special meal plan for guests 12 and under, including fun-but-healthy choices for $35 a day. And while it’s not cheap, low-season rates start for a relatively modest $199 per night.
To my surprise our second stop, The Breakers (pictured to the right), was equally child-friendly. I had images that this grand dame, built by Henry Flagler in 1896, might be stodgy. But the owners have invested $250 million during the past decade to ensure that it is the very model of a modern luxury resort, with a spa, four pools (some designed for families, some for quiet), yoga and Zumba classes (my wife raved about them), snorkeling right off shore, paddleboarding (it’s a lot harder than it looks!), two golf courses, and 10 tennis courts (I got rained out—frown). But it also has mosaics and tapestries straight out of the gilded age. Our Sunday brunch at The Circle, a gorgeous room with sweeping ocean views, featured a chilled seafood bar with Maine lobster and a dessert bar to die for. It was truly among our most amazing dining experiences ever. Since this wonderful extravagance might have been wasted on our kids (or at least an extra drain on our wallet), we likely would’ve put them in the Coconut Crew Camp (for ages 3 and up). But The Breakers has plenty else to keep young children busy and happy (we saw many of them during our visit). The Family Entertainment Center has a game room, craft room, arcade, movie room, playground, and outdoor sports court. If you eat at the adjacent Italian Restaurant, the kids can run off and play (fully monitored) for no extra charge while you enjoy your meal in peace. While undeniably a splurge, The Breakers is worth it, especially during low season, when rates start at $289 per night, including continental breakfast and kids meals and day camp.
For us, though, it was romantic, and a reminder of how relaxed vacations used to be before kids (sigh). Still, we would have liked them to be there for two off-site activities: Lion Country Safari, a drive-through zoo and safari-themed amusement park; and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center (pictured to the right), where injured sea turtles (which nest by the thousands on the adjacent Juno Beach) are rescued and rehabilitated. My daughter fell in love with Winter the dolphin when we got to meet her a couple of years ago, and I have no doubt that she would have an instant crush on these cute creatures too. Next time we’ll have to bring Matthew and Isabella along. Maybe.
Photo 1: The Ritz Carlton
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Photo 2: The Breakers
Photo 3: Loggerhead Marinelife Center