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I am amidst a tour of baby expos, speaking, signing books, pop up stores and my favorite: getting to meet so many amazing moms, moms-to-be, mompreneurs, and Dads from around the country. When I go out on the road like this, I am fortunate to be able to bring one of my three lovely little ones with me. (Okay, that’s my favorite part if I’m being totally honest, but meeting all of you is a very close second!) As a mother of three, having that one-on-one time is invaluable and makes my work trips something for the kids to look forward to.
This time I took my youngest, Vivienne. Now that Vivi is almost one year old, she no longer instantly falls asleep once the sound of the plane engines starts roaring, and life is a little more complicated now that milk alone won’t suffice. Oh yes, how I wish the jubblies could somehow also produce a meal of mac n’ cheese with chopped strawberries on the side as easily as breast milk—wouldn’t that be amazing!
I have become quite adept at traveling with a child in tow after doing it so often and have accumulated a few tips and tricks to make traveling with a child, particularly by plane, easier for both you and your little one. Here’s my list of low-cost, quick fixes for traveling with youngsters:
1. While I recommend traveling in comfy clothes (hello flats, leggings, and a boyfriend sweater), wear as many clinky, costume jewelry pieces around your neck and wrists as possible. I can’t tell you the amount of time that can be passed looking at Mommy’s big jewelry!
2. Never be ashamed to make a shusshing noise near their ears as you try and get them to sleep amidst the hustle and bustle. Shusshing will ultimately sooth, calm, and drown out the noise around you as they try to sleep.
3. Try to book your flights for just after your child’s bedtime or during their regularly scheduled naps for the best chance of them being tired and ready for some zzzz’s once on board.
4. Take as many liquids and baby foods with you as you like. There’s no need to spend extra once you have gone through security to stock up on these must-haves. Just make sure to tell a TSA agent, and they will run the items through their own security check.
5. When the attendant announces early boarding for passengers with children, don’t do it (forgive me airlines of America). You want to minimize the amount of time you are sitting on the plane, and early boarding is a sure fire way to reach the end of your ability to entertain sooner than you’d like. Board at the last possible moment!
6. Always bring a change of clothes for you and your baby, plus something to cover those nasty changing tables they have in public places. I can only imagine what’s on them. Better still, use one of your breast feeding covers to cover your wee one on your lap while you change her diaper in a secluded corner of the airport.
7. Don’t be ashamed to think about the well deserved glass of vino with your name on it once you finally get there.
8. Use microwave steam sterilizing bags for bottles, pacifiers, and so on when traveling. Most places have microwaves, so use one to your advantage since you may encounter a lot of germs during your trip. (That’s right, I’m talking about when the baby’s bottle slips out of your bag and starts rolling around the airplane floor).
9. If your babe is less than 18 months, re-wrap some of their own toys and bring them on the trip for your kid to open. Believe me, they’ll love the element of surprise
So go forth, and travel with confidence. You will arrive…. eventually!
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.
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 Photo 2: The Breakers Photo 3: Loggerhead Marinelife Center
Parents teamed up with Embassy Suites to find out how you vacation. According to our survey, more than one half of families, consider themselves “vacation dabblers,” who sporadically take days off throughout the year for shorter, one- to two-night trips. This is a surprisingly high percentage, considering people need at least three days to benefit from time off. On the other end of the spectrum, only a mere 13% are considered “vacation maximizers,” who patiently save up vacation days for one long trip.
So what does this mean? Those two-day mini vacations gaining popularity may seem great in theory, but commonly aren’t rejuvenating enough. To help families “moremize” their vacations, Embassy Suites has started a Facebook contest to give away week-long vacations. All you have to do is go to the page and post a picture of your family’s best “vacation face.” Don’t forget to include a caption to explain how your family plans on getting the most out of your summer vacation before, during, and after.
When the contest ends on July 20th, five lucky winners will receive seven nights at any Embassy Suits Hotel, roundtrip airfare for four, and $10,000 spending cash—the ultimate vacation!
Whether or not your family wins the contest, here are some helpful vacation tips from health and happiness expert, Dr. Susan Biali, to keep in mind the next time you’re contemplating how to spend your days off.
* Looking forward to a vacation actually improves your attitude at work and makes you more productive. This is what Dr. Biali refers to as “vacation anticipation.”
* “Vacation dabblers” should make sure they spend their couple of days off relaxing—not doing errands and running around. Those aren’t real days off and defeat the purpose!
* Post-vacation memories can help to rejuvenate you when you’re stressed. Display vacation photos and keepsakes where you can see them often to serve as pleasant reminders of fun family times.
Thinking about a quick getaway for Memorial Day weekend? Before you finalize your plans, explore family-friendly places by using Google Maps Street View. If you’re not familiar with this free tool, it gives you a 360-degree street level look at popular U.S. and world destinations (zoos, amusement parks, public parks, landmarks, museums, etc.). From the comfort of your own home computer or smartphone, preview places to determine if you want to visit them in person.
Get a panoramic look at these following U.S. destinations:
You know how a typical vacation glow tends to vanish as soon as you dump all the dirty laundry from the trip on your basement floor and begin sorting it? Or maybe that’s just me. But not this time! It’s been two weeks since my five-year-old son, Julian and I headed to Grand Bahama Island, courtesy of the kind folks at the Grand Lucayan, and we’re still feeling chill. Julian has declared that he won’t remove his orange resort wristband (“until I’m an old man and die”—yipes!) and I’m still smiling thinking of all the happy little moments over our three-day trip that I hope I never forget.
Julian’s beach experience so far had been limited to summers at the Jersey Shore, so with all due respect for Snooki, he was totally blown away when I pointed to that backdrop of blue beyond our resort and told him it was the ocean. “What? Are you kidding me?” he yelled. I’ve seen my share of islandy-beaches, but the view made me as giddy as my little guy. As soon as we unpacked in our spacious, marina-view room (one of 519 at this huge yet totally low-key haven) we quickly switched into a slow-as-honey pace that was such a departure from the daycare-work-home-bath-dinner-bed routine of our usual weekdays that the whole getaway now feels kind of like a dream. After dinner at Irie’s Restaurant, where I had a yummy mahi mahi stuffed with crabmeat and Julian split the lobster-topped pasta with one of two little boys on the trip who were nearly his age (two vacay playmates? jackpot!), we returned to our room to find giant chocolate chip cookies and milk had been delivered with the turndown service. Sweet! This place clearly knows kids (and carb-loving moms!).
The next morning, we experienced one of the highlights of our trip: the Unexso Dolphin Experience. We dangled our feet in a lagoon while two incredibly charming bottlenose dolphins performed like Broadway stars with fins for us. Julian laughed his head off every time they flipped or dove, yet when it was our turn to enter the water and pet the adorable Andros, my guy simply shook his head. Not happening. After the encore though, as we headed off the dock, he spotted a macaw, ran to it, and even dared allow his little arms to be used as a perch (see the pic?). Then he looked at me and said, “Do you want to live here? Because I’m serious, I want to move here.” Me too.
The next day, more water fun. We had a picnic on Gold Rock Beach, a little slice of paradise where Pirates of the Carribbean was filmed. Mother nature seems to have made this place for kids. You can walk into the aquamarine sea for the length of a football field and still the water only comes up to a tot’s waist. Exquisite. But the water at Grand Lucayan was pretty amazing too—four pools, including two infinity pools. Julian loved sitting on a chaise lounge in our favorite of the bunch (yes, a lounger in the pool—how fantastic is that?).
We didn’t want to leave. No, that is a massive understatement. There were big, fat tears and hysterics involved. Our last night, after an outrageous Asian pupu (queue the laughter from three little boys) platter feast at China Beach, we finished packing up. Which is when a crying Julian proceeded to try to hide the boogie board we couldn’t fit in his suitcase under the bed, “so I can find it when we come back with Daddy and Celeste!”
I kind of wanted to cry, too—it was just so special to have a few unhurried days together. Time to float in beautiful waters and meet sea critters, yes. But also time to answer my son’s 42-questions-an-hour (like, “Hey, why did those people put their dishes on the floor in this hallway? That’s not nice!” “That’s called room service, Julian” and “What is this cereal? It’s so good! Is it Cheerios with colors in them?” “They’re Froot Loops, my friend, and they’re only for special occasions!” “What’s occasions?”) without being distracted by the concerns/smartphones/chaos of our inland life. And I hope we return, because the Grand Lucayan’s kids’ club, anchored by an open-air classroom and boasting an area for babies called Grandma Lucaya’s, opens after renovations in a couple months and looks fantastic. But in the meantime, I need your help: How will I ever get this kid back to the Jersey Shore?!
Grand Lucayan, Rates in season start at $259; off-season start at $159.
I was with parents of my 6-year-old daughter’s friends over the weekend, and an interesting question came up. One mom asked, “Would you ever go away without your kids?” My answer: “Would, have, and will.” The mom explained that while she and her husband have had lots of overnights without their daughters, ages 6 and 4–thanks to their own parents–they haven’t actually left town to go anywhere. She simply cannot, she says. You can guess her big fear: What if something happened to her and her husband while they were away?
I get that; the same thought has crossed my mind every time I’ve boarded a plane since becoming a mom (whether my husband is with me or not). I told her about a friend who’d felt the same way she did, and how when her sons were 4 and 7, she had the chance to join her husband on a free and pretty lavish business trip to Europe. She decided to do it. She was a wreck leading up to the trip, but forced herself to go. And everything worked out just fine. But this mom was unconvinced: “Can’t do it,” she said, smiling and shaking her head. “I just can’t.”
Recently, I spent two days with a special out-of-town guest, taking her sightseeing around New York City. We navigated Manhattan with ease, taking on diverse areas such as Gramercy Park, Flatiron District, Midtown East, Times Square, and the Upper East Side. My guest, part of the Flat Stanley Project, never made a fuss or complained — being made of markers and laminated paper.
For parents who are unfamiliar with The Flat Stanley Project, it was started in 1995 by Dale Hubert, a teacher in Ontario, Canada, and was inspired by the Flat Stanley children’s books series by Jeff Brown. The project involves children making paper cutouts of themselves (their personalized versions of Flat Stanley) and then mailing them to friends and family around the world. The goal is to encourage literacy as kids write about Stanley’s adventures through his visits, and to promote pen pal exchanges. Over 6,000 schools in 88 countries have participated in the project, and even famous folks such as President Obama and actor Clint Eastwood have been photographed with a Flat Stanley.
My friend’s young daughter sent me her Flat Stanley (from Georgia!) and my inner host and shutterbug went all-out visiting Big Apple landmarks (Empire State Building, Times Square, Rockefeller Center), historical sites (Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace, Fifth Avenue Public Library), and some children’s paradises (Toys “R” Us, FAO Schwartz, American Girl Place). It was really fun soaking up familiar sights I wouldn’t normally visit as a New Yorker, and I’m ready for my next Flat Stanley visitor.
Parents, learn more about how to get your school involved in this global literacy project at FlatStanley.com, and make sure to download the (free) Flat Stanley app from iTunes.
Befriending a guard outside FAO Schwartz
Resting at the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park