Posts tagged under Travel. Show all posts.
We recently undertook a survey on travel habits, in conjunction with TravelGuard, a leading travel insurance plan provider, and we uncovered some surprising things about the travel plans of Canadian families this summer. Despite the doom and gloom of the recession, we were glad to find out that 82% of you say you are planning to take a trip this summer with your family:
We’re big fans of family travel—both Minnow and I have been travelling with our kids since they were babies since our families didn’t live in Toronto at the time. Now we love the chance that travel allows for us to spend time with our kids and reconnect—and it seems you do too. Your top two preferred destinations were all about family—a family cruise or a resort with a good family program. Only 17% of you chose getting away with your best friend on a spa or shopping trip as your preferred destination (but maybe that’s the mommy guilt talking!).
You shared some great travel tips with us too. Some of our favourites include:
As a former intrepid traveler who spent a year travelling around Asia after university, a summer in the former Soviet Union and who would not have hesitated pre-kids to jump on a plane to go to Europe for the weekend (not to mention the fact I was travelling all week every week for work, it’s been hard trying to quell the travel bug since becoming a parent. We’ve still travelled a lot to visit family, being both from Western Canada, but that’s not quite the same as setting off to explore new cities. But since our youngest turned five, we’ve set ourselves a goal of taking the kids to at least one new place a year so we can share the delight of discovery and exploration with them before they are old enough to want to do that without their parents in tow.
But travelling with kids is a different kind of travelling—the itinerary needs lots of stops for snacks and diversions along the way, and parents must keep in mind that they can’t log as much walking time as they might like to. So in order to maximize our time on a recent family long weekend in NYC to visit some friends, I turned to Lisa Crossfield of Tonic Travel who offers tailored itineraries and trip planning for New York, London, Toronto, Whistler and Vancouver (all places where she and her family have lived). A mom of two, Lisa knows what works for families and what doesn’t and she put together a perfect itinerary for our special weekend, complete with highlighted brochures for the museums so we would know where to focus our energies, a map of the best playgrounds in Central Park and suggestions for where to get a snack for the kids all along the way. With none of the usual travel stress to drag us down, it was a great trip and I’ll always enjoy the memories of the kids’ awe in seeing the Empire State Building, Lady Liberty, the giant blue whale at the Museum of Natural History, all the candy at Dylan’s Candy Bar…the list goes on.
Seeing a new city through your children’s eyes—wonderful. Having a savvy itinerary so you can maximize your time and minimize your meltdowns—priceless.
Some parts of Canada have been celebrating Family Day for longer than others (and others still don’t). In Ontario, our first Family Day was celebrated in 2008, making it a fairly recent phenomenon and one that I am still getting used to. The first year it happened, it kind of passed by many of us as we didn’t have a chance to really prepare for it, but by 2009 it had become more of an institution. And as much as I love a day off with my family, I found it amazingly disruptive for one day off from work after finally getting back up to speed from the Christmas break, and since it’s the third Monday in February, it will often, as it did last year (and will this year), get all mixed up with Valentine’s Day. (Is it just me or does spending quality time with the entire family kind of preclude you from leaving the kids alone to have a romantic dinner alone with your beloved?)
However, forwarded is forearmed, and this year I vow to make the most of that long weekend for our family (even though the hockey and ski racing schedule means the Saturday and Sunday are still pretty ‘programmed’). So on the Monday, I am hoping we can all get out together for a fun family ski day at our local hill. We’ll start off the celebration with a cheese fondue on Sunday night. And for the ski day, I will bring a fancy picnic with everyone’s favourite treats including some Valentine’s Day sugar cookies, and we’ll share some hot cocoa at the end of the day before we’re back to reality on Tuesday. What are you planning? I would love to know.
“Mommy, there is a giraffe in the front yard!” Make that two giraffes, three zebras, two ostriches, and five Ankole cattle. No, we aren’t on an Africa savanna, nor are we at the Metro Toronto Zoo. We are at Kidani Village, a Disney Vacation Club resort and the newest addition to the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World. Myself and my two sons, Cameron, age 10 and Spencer, 6 ½, are guests here as representatives of SavvyMom for the week. We are here to experience the Walt Disney World Resort Showcase, which is a week-long event to allow members of the media to familiarize themselves with all that Walt Disney World has to offer. We’ll be keeping a special eye open for the best of Walt Disney World from a family point of view, and will be sharing tips with you along the way on ‘how to do Disney’.
We arrived here late Sunday evening and despite how tired we were when we arrived, we were thrilled with our African-inspired accommodations—a one-bedroom villa, complete with kitchenette, two baths, laundry, and a spectacular balcony view of the savanna, inhabited by a variety of African animals.
The first day of our Disney vacation began at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure how we would get there, but I wasn’t overly concerned. Sure enough, conveniently located at the end of the driveway we discovered the different bus stops for each of the Walt Disney theme parks and attractions. What a pleasure it was to not have to worry about having the correct change for transportation, looking for parking, or carrying a map.
Ten minutes later we were there and, before we got off, were reminded by our bus driver where to catch the bus when we were ready to come home. Fast and simple! There is something to do, hear, and see, for every age and ability. Some of Cameron and Spencer’s highlights from Hollywood Studios included:
I was very pleased to find services and amenities, such as washrooms, water fountains, stroller parking lots, diaper changing centres, and food vendors well-marked in each section of the park.
We ended our day with a delicious meal at Jiko, a traditional African-inspired restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. The menu includes seasonal vegetarian and meat dishes, using a fusion of African, Indian, and Mediterranean flavours. The kids are welcome to order off of the regular menu, but were offered a kids’ menu as well. I was pleased to see that there were no fries on either menu!
Tomorrow morning we have an early start and are looking forward to experiencing our second (and most widely known) Disney theme park, Disney’s Magic Kingdom—Wishes Fireworks, The Pirates League, rides, and of course, Cinderella’s castle. And, if time permits, we may even get the chance to see a few more African animals on a safari in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Walt Disney World has more to offer than we could possibly fit in during the time we were here. But, we certainly had a great time trying.
The second theme park we visited while on our Disney Resort tour was our favourite, Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It really is magical. It’s everything you have ever heard about and more. Initially, I was a little concerned that Cameron (age 10) would be too old for (or bored by) most of the attractions, but the look on his face as we entered the park discounted this notion. The first stop on our route was Adventureland to The Pirates League. In under 30 minutes the three of us were transformed into pirates (see below)—buccaneers with official pirate names, tattoos, and a signed pirate oath to take home. This was a huge hit with both of my guys.
Other favourite attractions within the Magic Kingdom included: Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the incredible Mickey’s PhilharMagic (the most incredible 3D show we have ever seen).
At this time of the year, the lines for the rides and attractions aren’t terribly long, but because we used the FASTPASS, we didn’t once have to stand in line for a ride longer than 30 minutes. The FASTPASS is a computerized system that allows guests an alternative to standard lines at the most popular attractions in all Disney theme parks. All you need to do is put your ride or attraction ticket into a FASTPASS machine and then you receive a FASTPASS ticket that gives you a one-hour window of time when you can return to the ride with little or no wait.
We ended the evening on a magical note with the most incredible fireworks display we had ever seen—Wishes Nighttime Spectacular. The explosions of colour went from great to even better. We even caught a glimpse of Tinkerbell flying through the night sky.
I had no idea there were so many different accommodations to choose from within the Walt Disney World Resort. In fact, there are a total of 24 Disney resort hotels across the property and this week, we had the opportunity to visit a number of them, ranging from value resorts with standard rooms to deluxe Disney villas with family suites. If someone were to ask me for a recommendation, I know I would have a very difficult time choosing just one. Each and every property we saw had something special to offer.
One of the best examples of a value property we visited was Disney’s All-Star Resorts. It is divided into three themed sections—sports, music, and movies. What makes it unique is that it’s the only property within the value category that offers family suites. This is a nice option for larger families with small children who wouldn’t want two separate rooms.
One of my favourite properties we toured this week falls under the moderate category and is divided into two different types of accommodations—campground and fully-equipped cabins. A perfect choice for those who prefer to drive to Disney World or those who love the rugged charm of the outdoors. Being at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground made me feel like we were vacationing in cottage country.
Finally, there aren’t many hotels that can claim they have a Monorail running through it but Disney’s Contemporary Resort can. The Monorail passes through the hotel atrium and runs back and forth to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. This was our first time riding the Monorail and we were quite impressed.
Stay tuned. Next, I will be sharing with you a little bit about what’s new at Disney for 2010. I’ve had a sneak peek and it pretty amazing!
Making decisions as a family about what to eat and where to eat is a difficult task at the best of times, but when on vacation (with so much more to choose from) the task becomes even more of a challenge.
While we were at Walt Disney World last week for the Resort Showcase, the boys and I enjoyed a number of different dining experiences, from breakfast in our own kitchenette, to quick service and signature restaurants for dinner. To avoid dining hassles, we found that opting in for the Disney Dining Plan made sense. Your room key, otherwise known as “The Key to the World”, is all you need to access your Quick Service Plan, Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, or Disney Premium Dining Plan at over 100 different restaurants. There is a plan for every budget, with savings from 20-40% off of what you would be spending if you didn’t have the dining plan. But most importantly for the kids, there was no wasting any valuable “theme park” time deliberating about what to eat.
Transportation can sometimes be a hassle when you don’t have your own wheels so we were glad to have had a reserved spot on Disney’s Magical Express. It is a free roundtrip transportation and baggage delivery service for guests of select Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Attach the special Disney’s Magical Express bag tags to your luggage at your departure airport and you won’t need to worry about them again until you unpack in your room. The Disney’s Magical Express bus will pick you up at the airport and take you and your bags to your hotel. Upon arrival, your bags will be delivered to your room. You will save time standing in line to check in, waiting at baggage claim, and checking in luggage on your way out. How nice is that?
Spending a full day in a Disney theme park is very tiring, so after experiencing it myself, I would recommend taking advantage of the Disney’s Extra Magic Hours to anyone with small children. Extra Magic Hours are extended theme park hours for guests staying at select Walt Disney Resort Hotels. With Disney’s Magic Hours, you can start your day up to one hour earlier in the theme parks and end your day up to 3 hours later at no extra charge. My recommendation would be to hit the parks nice and early, when the kids have the most energy, stop and have lunch, then recharge everyone’s batteries in the afternoon by heading back to the hotel for naps, quiet time, or a swim in the pool. Have an early dinner and then extend the length of your day by using the extra evening Disney Magic Hours. If Disney’s Wishes Fireworks is on your must-see list, then you really should give it a try. Otherwise, your little ones may never stay awake late enough to see the fireworks.
Another tip I have for anyone planning a Disney vacation is to bring along one day pack that can be worn on your back. Ensure the backpack is large enough to carry a few basic essentials and any purchases you may make throughout the day. Bring sunscreen, hats, hand sanitizer, Kleenex, sippy cups or water bottles, and wipes for wiping down tables and messy ice cream faces. (Speaking of ice cream, with so much to see and do, it is sometimes hard to get children to sit down and eat a nutritious meal. I was pleased to learn that all of the restaurants within the theme parks offer carrot sticks, celery, grapes, or apples as side dishes with children’s meals.) To supplement the meals, you may want to keep a stash of your children’s favourite non-perishable snacks on-hand as well. And, don’t forget re-sealable bags to enjoy leftovers later on.
Stay tuned for more of my Disney discoveries in my next post. In the meantime, I would love to hear of any tips you’ve discovered on your own trips to Disney.
Thursday, February 11 was a special day at Walt Disney World and we were there to celebrate it. The media (that’s me!) were invited to attend a very special press conference at Epcot, where a mammoth sculpture of canned goods, containing approximately 44 tons of food was unveiled. Tens of thousands of cans were stacked in the shapes of Goofy, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Pluto’s heads. Once the event was over, the cans were delivered to local food banks. This structure broke the previous Guinness Book of World Records for “Largest Canned Food Structure” ever created, and was built to celebrate a major milestone at Disney, the “Give a Day, Get a Disney Day Program”.
Here’s how it works: volunteer one day in your community and get a free one-day admission to a Walt Disney Theme Park. The program was designed to help inspire families to perform volunteer service in their community. Anyone wishing to get involved has to pre-register, must be at least 6 years old, and can sign up for eligible volunteer opportunities at www.disneyparks.ca. We celebrated this initiative, along with hundreds of volunteer families and Disney Channel celebrities by taking part in a volunteer tree planting initiative.
While on our Walt Disney Resort Showcase trip, we learned about a few additional Disney surprises for 2010. The first of these was an introduction to a large expansion at Magic Kingdom, called Fantasyland. Many of the favourite Disney princesses will have their own village, with new restaurants, and interactive play areas to enjoy while waiting in line. Next, we learned about a new addition to the Disney Cruise Line fleet, called The Disney Dream. Wait until you meet the Aqua Duck, an absolutely awesome waterslide that runs along the side of the ship and juts out over the side to give you a full view of the ocean below. Lastly, we were invited to be part of the re-opening and re-branding of the new ESPN Sports Complex, a multi-sport facility that is home to 60 different sports. The kids had an opportunity to play on the sports fields, meet up with Mickey and the gang, eat as much ball-park food as they could, and finally dance the night away. Do you think they enjoyed that a little bit?
As for me, it’s back to work and reality this week but the boys and I will never forget our unforgettable week at Walt Disney World.
I used to call March Break ‘March Breakdown’ because all it represented to me was an unstructured week, smack in the middle of the winter, when I had to find ways to entertain two boys at home without nursery school or any programs.
That lasted until they were old enough to ski—well. Now March Break is the holiday my family looks forward to the most, as each year we are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to ski in Alberta at Lake Louise and Sunshine. With two boys, life is easier being busy and on-the-go, so finding an activity that everybody loves is a gift. Skiing is that gift for our family.
Still, there is a lot to pack and prepare in order to have a successful trip. We pack all of the gear—skis, poles, boots, helmets, iPods (must be fully loaded), laptops, shades, clothes, spring ski gear (just in case it gets warm). We even pack lunch bags, walkie talkies, a camera and perhaps a bit of work to do, too.
Here is how I tackle the packing plan.
Two weeks ahead of Departure Day:
One week ahead of Departure Day:
One day before Departure Day:
The night before we leave there is always a lot of excitement, so we try to make sure everything is ready except for whatever we are taking with us on the airplane. I call this the ‘airplane bag’. The airplane bag has always been as important as the ones that get checked because it determines the success of your long flight. Now the kids pack their own and make sure they have the right books and music to keep them occupied.
I always pack a deck of cards and a new travel game for them as well. Novelty is a mom’s best friend when it comes to toys—especially while travelling.
How do you prepare for your March Break travels?
For the past two years, SavvyMom has partnered with Royale to promote their online Reno-cation Contest. It’s always an easy one to write about and talk about because they’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to knowing what moms want. For one, most moms would like to have their homes updated, renovated and refreshed—especially in the spring. But they would also love a vacation. And frankly, if given the choice between the two, it would be tough one to make. So Royale decided that the winner should get both—and that’s what we like about this contest. If you’re going to win, win big. You shouldn’t have to choose.
This year, Royale’s Reno-cation Contest is awarding the grand-prize winner a home renovation valued at approximately $13,000 and a week-long vacation (Caribbean cruise) valued at approximately $7,000, for a total prize value of approximately $20,000. This year, the contest will also feature 15 secondary prizes of the Luxury Royale Bathroom Collection (bathrobe and slippers), which will be awarded once per week for the duration of the contest.
Are you going to enter?
I am just back from a lovely family beach vacation and suffering from a little VRD (that’s Vacation Re-entry Disorder). That syndrome, and the fact that we’ve been home for 48 hours and there are still suitcases full of dirty clothes on my living room floor, sometimes makes me wonder if it’s worth packing everyone (and everything) up and getting away. But when I think about how happy my kids were last week playing on the beach, splashing in the pool and our other great memories, I know it was worthwhile…and eventually those bags will get unpacked.
A wise woman I know once told me that family vacations are not so much about what the kids will remember, but about what you will remember: happy memories of their smiling, sun-kissed faces, the first time they ate papaya and the piles of little coconuts and shells they accumulated over the course of the week…these will stay with me for a long time.
On a more practical note, if you’re planning a family trip this month over the holidays, whether by car or plane, make sure you check out our various travel tips. One of my favourite ways to start a long day of travelling off right (when it’s necessary to get the kids up and out before daybreak) is to have them make a necklace of Froot Loops or Cheerios on a string the day before. We let them wear it to the airport as it’s an easy way to get some breakfast into them. Once we get to the gate, I bring out a few more healthy options like cut fruit, strong cheese and whole wheat crackers to supplement their cereal.
What are some of your favourite travel tips?
I wrote about the Royale Renocation contest a few weeks ago, a contest we have partnered with Royale on over the past few years. It’s a great contest as I mentioned in my previous blog. I remembered that there is another feature that might spark your interest—with another chance to win. There are games on the site which are a bit of fun to play and offer a second tier of prizes to win.
The contest runs for 15 weeks and besides the Grand Prize of a home renovation and Caribbean Cruise vacation, there are 15 weekly prizes to be won. When you play one of the weekly games on the site you automatically enter twice—and increase your chance of winning. So even if you don’t win one of the prizes, you can at least have some fun trying! Another great idea from our partners at Royale.
It’s almost time for our annual ‘Western Tour’, where we pack up what seems like half our house, and head out west to visit our families and enjoy the great outdoors. We’re going to be spending some time on a houseboat with my in-laws, and then on to a backcountry hiking trip with my extended family.
So that means this week is a whirlwind of packing and appointments (need those legs waxed!) and lists to get to the finish line (a.k.a. airport check-in on Saturday). The papers are cancelled, the piles of kids’ clothes are stacking up on the dining room table to be checked against my standard summer packing list that I developed a number of years ago and print out fresh each time (that list is indispensable, but when will my kids be old enough to pack for themselves anyway?) and we’re counting down the days.
And if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I will definitely be packing my laptop along. It actually makes me less stressed, not more, as I know I can check in on some of my projects back at the office from time to time, so if there are one or two loose ends this week I can’t get to, they can be addressed from afar.
What are your vacation prep tips? I would love to hear them.
Camping has always been a tradition in my family. For the past 30 years, we have been travelling en masse to a small provincial park in northern Ontario. This year, my husband and I decided to be brave (or crazy) and take our twin girls (2 years old), Madeline and Riley, camping for two nights.
Even though we were only going for two nights, my preparation began weeks ago. I started by making lots of lists, and stressing about all the potential disasters that awaited us—bugs, dirt, water, open flame—not to mention how we were going to handle napping and bedtime! Here are a few things I learned on our trip:
We were all exhausted by the time we got home, but had a great time and I’m already looking forward to next year. Maybe we’ll go for three days…
What are your camping experiences with kids?
We’re a mountain family at heart and spend most of our vacations on some mountain range or the other, hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. But this summer we branched out a bit to experience a houseboating vacation on Lake Shuswap (in the interior of BC) with my husband’s entire family, and it was definitely a wonderful vacation experience.
You might be, as I was, a little nervous about the prospect of spending a week on a boat with seven other adults and five kids (can you say claustrophobia?). But our boat was huge and had plenty of room to spare. It was 60 feet long and had six separate sleeping quarters so, with my three kids snuggled up in one, everyone had their own (albeit little) space. And since the kitchen, dining and family room areas were almost as big as the ones in my own house, there was lots of space to hang out inside.
The best part was that we didn’t have to hang out inside because the weather was great and all three deck levels had their own delights to offer. The lowest one sported the swim platform; the middle one had an eight-person hot tub (yes, hot tub, which was surprisingly essential as you can’t swim while the houseboat is under power), a wet bar for making margaritas (my sister-in-law is an expert, I quickly learned) and plenty of space for deck chairs; and the top deck housed the entrance for the three-storey curly (or is that twirly, or swirly?) slide! This was, of course, the highlight of the whole trip and the kids spent hours and hours sliding down it, shooting out into the lake, and then back up to do it again.
With two BBQs on the back deck, dinners were easy and everyone had lots of time to read, relax, play games and enjoy the warm water. Late afternoon, once our cruising was done, we would beach the boat for the night and explore the beautiful shores and cedar forests that line the lake. Wet…wild…smiles all around.
What do you think is the best family vacation? I would love to know your thoughts.
On Thursday, September 23, SavvyMom was invited to be part of a very special live event in New York City, where Disney Parks announced a new and exciting campaign called “Let the Memories Begin”.
Recent survey results collected in Canada and the U.S. by Ypartnership revealed that vacation planning to create special memories for/about their children was the priority of nearly nine out of ten adults surveyed. I know I feel the same way when planning our family vacations. Interestingly, this survey reported that vacations taken with immediate family are the most memorable (children’s responses were included). Vacations with friends were actually much further down the list.
The traditional methods used to collect these memories—photo albums and scrapbooks—are very quickly being replaced by new technology and social networking. And people are enjoying ways to showcase their family’s vacation photos and videos, sharing and viewing them with others. So it was interesting to learn that Disney Parks has created a place where you can do just that. Guests to the site can upload their photos, videos and text memories on a “Disney Memories” website. And vacation planners can surf through these memories to get inspired as they plan their own vacations.
Interestingly, Disney Parks is then planning to use this user-generated content for TV commercial spots, print advertisements, newsletter articles and vacation-planning video segments. Plus, in 2011, Disney guests could become stars of a nightly spectacular when photos taken in the park during the day are projected larger-than-life on Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World Resort and It’s a Small World at Disneyland Resort.
Would you be interested sharing your Disney memories online with the possibility that they’ll be shared with even more people as a Disney television spot or in print? I would love to know your thoughts.