Traveling with a child, I will soon discover how!

I’m back to blogging! I took a lot of time off because I was slammed with work and busy prepping for and now caring for my new baby.

Isn’t he cute?!

As I am about to embark on my first vacation with my son, what advice do you have for my husband and I? In the next 6 months we will be doing family trips to Mackinac Island, Disney (twice), and a cruise. [This is what happens when a traveler is forced to stay put for 10 months; once we can leave, we go crazy!] I hope my baby travels well!

I will be able to write more firsthand knowledge about traveling with kids, and specifically with an infant. What questions do you have about traveling with an infant?
Happy & Safe Travels!

The Best Noise Cancelling Headphones for Travel

** Editor’s Note: This article is guest written by Christy’s husband Dave in their review of Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones to be used primarily for travel. **

I love my Bose headphones.  Let me say that again.  I LOVE my Bose Headphones.

My wife and I like to travel.  Taking vacations are one of our favorite things to do.  One of our least favorite things, however, is dealing with the noisy annoying morons who always surround us on flights and in airports.  After a wonderful vacation in Hawaii (and the looooong flights that book-ended it) my wife and I decided we were ready for some serious noise cancelling headphones.

So the research began.  I did lots of Google searches and lots of review reading before deciding on the Bose QuietComfort 15.  I should say, right of the bat, that these are not cheap headphones.  They run about $300.00, but in this case, you definitely get what you pay for.  These headphones are one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.

The headphones are over the ear style.  This means that the ear portion covers your ears completely.  This can lead to your ears getting a little hot after long usage, but it never gets to a point where it is too much.  Usually it’s only once I’ve taken them off that I notice my head and ears were getting a little warm.  The ears and bar that goes over your head are both padded and very comfortable.  I should mention, however, that my wife has a slightly smaller head than I do and does find that they don’t fit her as snugly as she would like.  In fact, originally we purchased her a pair of the QuietComfort 3  from Bose that fit her much better.  However, we found that the QuietComfort 15’s blocked noise better than the other ones so she ended up trading them in.

The QuietComfort 15 works on two levels.  By themselves the headphones block quite a bit of noise.  But in additional to very good padding, they also include a microchip that produces sound waves to counter background noise.  It actively works against all constant noises, such as engines and fans.  The headphones work with 1 AAA battery that lasts for approximately 30 hours of use.  So it would be worthwhile to invest in a rechargeable battery.  Much better for the environment.

Once turned on, the difference is amazing.  Any droning noise, such as an airplane engine or fan is cut down to either nothing or close to it.  Most other noises are diminished a lot as well.  This does take a little getting used to as I found I had gotten used to background noise (like me breathing) and having it missing was a little strange at first.

One thing I did notice was that some voices actually came through more clearly with the headphones than without.  On planes, the announcements that came over the intercom were very clear when I had my headphones on because there wasn’t any airplane engine to drown it out.  All other noise, though, is basically faded to almost nothing.  Once you actually turn on your music or podcasts or whatever else you are listening to, you really don’t notice any ambient noises.  It allows you to really bury yourself in your own little world.  A MUST to have on any long flight.

One word of warning, though.  While it blocks ambient noises, this also includes anything your travel partner might be trying to say to you.  There were quite a few times when I had to take one of the headphone ears off and ask my wife to repeat herself.  But I suppose that’s what you want in noise cancelling headphones!

Bottom Line:  While expensive, the Bose QuietComfort 15 noise cancelling headphones are well worth the price.  While it won’t cancel absolutely ALL noise around you, it will cancel a significant amount and once you have your music on you won’t notice the residual.  Definitely a buy if you want to have peaceful flight among noisy annoying people.

Do you have a pair, do you feel the same way? Do you prefer another brand like Dr. Dre’s? Comment below.

Happy Travels!

Solstice Day 3

This continues my review/recap of my 7 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. If you missed the first one, click to read it from the beginning.

Our cruise was scheduled to arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. So for most of the day it was similar to a sea day on the ship. We started our day as always with breakfast on the balcony. After breakfast we decided to take a walk on the jogging track on the 14th deck. The jogging track on this ship would be nearly impossible to jog on. First it is terribly windy while the ship is moving. But the bigger problem is that anyone moving around on this deck has to walk through the jogging track- there is no other way to get around. It is also very narrow. And then there is the issue of inconsiderate passengers putting their lounge chair on a portion of the track. So, it was fine for walking, but a bit irritating at the same time. After our walk, we stopped in the Ocean View Cafe for a snack of fresh belgium waffles- they are the best I have ever had on a cruise.

The afternoon involved reading for a bit, having lunch and then sitting out on the balcony as we approached San Juan. Once we saw land, we turned on our cell phones to check for service. We had a text from our realtor asking to call. From this call we learned that my husband’s condo was finally set to close- WHILE WE WERE ON THIS CRUISE. Apparently it could not be extended and it needed to close on that Friday. We learned that we could close by Power of Attorney (POA) which is just another reason that people should have their estate plan up to date before leaving for a week-long vacation out of the country- you never know when you will need it. Our POA’s were at my law office, and my assistant was able to get them over to the realtor.

Finally after doing a little work dealing with the sale, we debarked the ship in San Juan. The Solstice was docked at Pier 3. We headed out to the Coach store to see if there was anything worth buying (there wasn’t.)  Then stumbled into the Linen Shop that is so well-known. Finally, I was craving guacamole and chips (because apparently when I am on a cruise I want to eat every 2 hours.) We asked someone where to go and was lead to Lupis. It was not that impressive. One beer, 1 virgin daiquiri, and an order of guacamole and chips was $19 without a tip. In terms of the ports, it was the least annoying in terms of pushy island people trying to get you to buy things from them.

After walking around San Juan, and up 9 flights of stairs (our attempt to keep moving and help with the weight gain was to take the stairs) we relaxed a bit in our cabin until cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Tuscan Grille around 6:45 p.m. In hindsight, I would not have ordered a guacamole snack prior to going here for dinner. There was so much amazing food and there was great service. The Tuscan Grille is one of the specialty dining restaurants on the Solstice. It is located on deck 5 (with all of the specialty dining locations) at the back of the ship. We asked for a table by the window, and were lucky to be seated at the last table. Since we were in port, we had a view nice San Juan.

Our meal started with a bread basket and some spreads, one of which was roasted carmelized garlic cloves. They had a roasted red pepper bread that was great. They then brought us an antipasta plate with prosciutto, melon, roasted veggies, mozzarella and olives. It was so good and we still hadn’t ordered yet.  Finally on to the ordering, I did not have room for an appetizer after the antipasta plate, but I was offered a choice of one. For the salad course, I ordered an arugula salad with pine nuts and fried goat cheese. It was definitely the best salad I have ever had. It was so flavorful. My husband ordered the caesar salad made table side which he really enjoyed. We each ordered the filet mignon for our main course. One of the meals offered baked mac and cheese which I asked for. This SHOULD NOT BE MISSED if you like this dish typically. It was so good, a little salty, but GET it!! We were already full, but were not about to miss dessert. We ordered gelato which was excellent of course. We also ordered the fondue, which was also good. We were just so full by the end of this meal.

I honestly enjoyed every bite of food from this meal. It was all so good. I am not sure, however, if I feel it was worth the surcharge. Would I come again? I am not sure… An extra $60 ($30 each person) above what the cruise cost… But I loved the meal, so maybe it is worth it… I don’t know. We received this meal complimentary because we were in a suite. If dining without paying the surcharge, make sure you tip the staff because otherwise they are not compensated for serving you. $10 (for 2 people) appears to be customary.

The evening show was Jason Bishop. According to the Celebrity Today he performs “stunning, state of the art magic and illusions.” I wouldn’t know as I did not attend. But both my spouse and our dinner companions thought that the show was good. My lack of going is one of the things that I enjoy best about cruises- I can decide that I do not want to do something, and my travel companion can attend the event, without any ill-will on either of our parts. Instead of going to the show I returned to the cabin to relax and watch a little tv.

We made it an early night since we would have a full day in St. Maarten the next day.

Until the next post – Happy Travels.

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Solstice Cruise Day 2

This is a continued post on my late January cruise honeymoon with my husband, to see the first post, click here.  The 2nd day of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Solstice was a sea day.

I was up early (woke up naturally at about 6:30) and went out to the balcony to relax and to enjoy the quiet time. It was cool (the sun was just starting to rise) so I used one of the in-room robes.

My husband started the day with room service breakfast on our balcony. I had read on Cruise Critic that ordering breakfast on the interactive tv was not the way to go- you do not have as many options for comments and requests, i.e. crispy bacon please. Instead we used the menu card provided in the room and left it on our door the night before.  The selection was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. I will not go into too much detail, since I discussed the choices in my previous review of the suite. One comment that I did not make on the other post was the coffee was served in a nice stainless steel carafe. It was an amazing carafe. The coffee stayed warm for hours. It was even freakishly warm for a long time after being poured into the coffee mug. It was a magic combination.

We went up after breakfast to the pool for some lounging in the sun… It was windy and warm at about 9:45 in the morning. The one advantage to it being windy is that you do not feel too hot in the sun. Sadly, they had water aerobics for a half hour around 10:30. This was unfortunate because they put the instructor on the loud-speaker to give instruction to those at the pool. I would have probably picked a different location (further from the pool) had I known about this in advance. My husband, being a light-skinned boy, sat in the shade with his book. By noon, maybe a little before, the pool area was PACKED. It was the perfect time to get out of there!

We enjoyed lunch in the main dining room (MDR). I had a visor from my sunning and was asked to take it off upon entering the MDR.  There was at least one person wearing a cap at lunch that I noticed. But I do like that they try and enforce their dress code. We were seated in a 2-top off to the side. [Breakfast and lunch for most cruise lines in the MDR have open seating.] Lunch was enjoyable. It is similar to dinner in that there is a menu that you choose your courses from. Obviously the portions are smaller and there are fewer, but still ample, choices. For dessert my husband was a big fan of the banana creme brulee! He is still talking about it.

After lunch I retreated to the cabin to sit on the balcony. My husband went to the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series” on Pirates.His opinion of it was that it was interesting, but the speaker confused some of the pirates. His impression was that if she was unsure about a fact, she just made it up.  After, he came up to the room to find me napping on the balcony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazily lounging and reading on the balcony.

Dinner again was at the MDR. Tonight was formal night. I cannot recall what the dinner choices were, but I recall that I really enjoyed the dinner.  After dinner we asked to see the dinner menus for the next two nights so that we could decide which night to go to the Tuscan Grille. We decided that we would go to the specialty restaurant on the night with our least favorite dinner choices. A note regarding the dress code- people take it seriously on this line. And the dress code is requested to be followed all night long.

That night the evening entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre was Solstice – The Show. It was a Cirque du Soleil style show. Prior to the show they had the Captain’s Welcome with a champagne toast. The dress code was carried through to the show. The Celebrity Today advised that they would not allow jeans, shorts or flip-flops. I did not see anyone breaking this rule, but I didn’t look that carefully either. The show was great, the stars were so talented! We had a great evening.

Stay tuned for day 3. Check out my facebook page for pictures from the cruise. Happy Travels!

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Cruising with a Toddler!

Editor’s Note: This blog was provided by VbC guest blogger Sara H. Thank you Sara!

Having just returned home from a 7 day Western Caribbean cruise with our 21 month old son, I learned a few tips that may help future cruisers:

Meal Time:

Dining out with young children can be a challenge no matter where you go.  On a cruise, if you choose to eat in the main dining room, meals can be longer than a typical restaurant.  Ask to have your child’s meal brought out with your appetizers.  Hungry children don’t understand the concept of a multi-course meal!  Don’t limit yourself to the kid’s menu.  On my recent Carnival cruise the kid’s menu consisted of pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.  Your children can order from the adult’s menu!  Spaghetti, baked chicken breasts, fresh fruit, and many other healthy choices are readily available every day.  Also consider bringing some prepackaged foods for your toddler such as favorite snacks, dried fruits, and cereal bars.  Your toddler will appreciate having a little taste from home especially if they are reluctant with trying new foods.

Cabin, Ship & Cruise Line Selection:

Seek professional advice!  Seriously.  We weren’t new to cruising but we were new to cruising with a toddler.  We booked our vacation after doing our own research and didn’t use a travel agent.  That proved to be disastrous when I discovered that the kiddie pool on our ship wouldn’t allow my non-potty-trained son to go in it (yes, even with a swim diaper he still wasn’t allowed in.)  Apparently, “kiddie pool” doesn’t equal “kiddie pool for all kids”.  This was a tragic mistake that I could have avoided by seeking the advice of an experienced travel agent!  Plenty of ships have pools for all age children and some even have elaborate splash pads for the children to play in.  But not our ship.  The whole cruise I heard, “I want that wa-wa”, referring to the pool we constantly walked by.

Choosing the right cabin for your family vacation is never more important than when you have a young child, particularly one that still takes naps.  Get a balcony!  7 p.m. bedtimes and mid-afternoon naps could hold you captive to your stateroom for much longer than you expect.  Having a balcony turns those moments into peaceful opportunities for relaxation and privacy! If you are cruising with others and are okay with an adjoining cabin, that could be helpful as well. You can go into the other cabin with a baby monitor while yours is all locked up and secure while your child is napping/sleeping.

Carefully select your cruise line to ensure it’s accommodating and welcoming for your children.  Some cruise lines are more excited to be sailing with children than others.  If you intend to enroll your children in the kid’s club activities, be sure to get detailed information about the activities and availability they offer.

Random Mommy Tips:

I’d suggest bringing a noisemaker, as the cruise director often makes announcements during the day that inevitably occur during your little one’s nap time.

Although we never needed it, I was prepared with motion sickness remedies for my little one.  We purchased ginger drinks from the health food store and Babies R Us sells adjustable motion sickness bands (intended for nausea relief during pregnancy but they adjust to infant size), they are invaluable if your little one experiences any issues!

Most cabins cannot accommodate any type of bath for a child, so showers are a must!  Practice showering with your little one at home so he’s not shocked by the concept on the ship.  Thankfully, this wasn’t an issue for our son but several other mom’s on the ship were discussing the concern.

Beach toys aren’t just for the beach!  Of course, you’re going to be buying a bucket and some sand toys for your days at the beach.  While you’re enjoying your sea days, fill the bucket with water and bring it out on your balcony.  Our son played for quite a while with the water and toys while we hung out on the balcony together with him.  An easy way to keep them entertained while you can relax!

Don’t forget to enjoy your vacation!  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the demands of parenting on a cruise ship but you are on vacation after all!  My son was perfectly content running around the decks (no, they won’t fall off) or chasing a basketball around the court.  Adding a young child to your cruise vacation definitely adds another element of responsibility to your vacation but it also adds an element of joy and surprise!  My son learned a whole new nautical-themed vocabulary, thoroughly enjoyed watching all the boats from the balcony, and loved the experience of cruising!

Happy Travels!

Feel free to contact VbC to help you book a cruise with your little one. We can point out which ships have outdoor waterparks and other areas of entertainment for your child to play!

Preparing for your trip to Aulani

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Hawai`i

Aloha! Like any good travel addict, I have been spending countless hours browsing the internet looking for information about Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa that has recently opened in Hawaii. This post will share the information that I have gathered during my extensive internet research as I prepare for an upcoming trip to the resort. [After the trip I returned to edit this post as well!]

First things first, getting to the resort, please check out my previous post with Tips and Information about getting to and from the resort from the airport.

Aluani is not yet completed, but on August 29, 2011 it  had a soft opening welcoming the public. The completion is occurring in phases. Phase 2 will be complete around November 15, 2011. The final phase is scheduled to be completed in the winter of 2013, but for all intents and purposes the resort is open and ready for travelers.

Disney designed this resort for families. In reading the reviews of Auntie’s House, I can see why. There is a huge children only area, where your child can be supervised during the day by Disney Cast Members without paying an additional charge. My husband and I are traveling without kids, so this preparation blog will be geared towards those traveling sans children.

So, what can we expect? An amazing resort with comparable Hawaiian resort prices and, of course, some Disney characters. The characters are “on vacation” just like the guests. They interact with the children in the pool and have regular visits throughout the day at the resort. So far the characters that have been sighted are: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy,Donald, Stitch, Chip and Dale. Apparently Lilo is not likely to make an appearance, as Disney did not want to insult any natives with the idea that Lilo is Hawaiian.

Dining. This resort is just that: a “resort”.  Being a resort in Hawaii, it has comparable resort prices. There are 2 sit down restaurants on the property, and reservations are a must at both.

‘Ama ‘Ama Beach restaurant – its signature restaurant (think California Grill pricing). Currently it offers lunch and dinner dining, with breakfast dining beginning in Phase 2. Men are requested to wear collared shirts for dinner. The hours of operation are: Breakfast – 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (beginning in mid-November), Lunch – 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Dinner – 5:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. A money saving tip is to have a late lunch, thus enjoying the benefits and ambiance of the restaurant at less expensive prices.  Lunch entrees are generally in the $20’s, while dinner entrees are in the $40-$50 range. Desserts range around $10 and are apparently quiet small. Click for the ‘Ama ‘Ama dinner menu and lunch menu.

Makahiki Buffet, which stands for “The Bounty of the Islands” – as the name suggests it is a buffet, serving lunch and dinner. The hours of operation are: Breakfast – 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., Dinner – 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Makahiki has character dining 3 days a week (currently Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday) for breakfast.  Adults $32.00, Keiki’s (Ages 9 and Under) $18.00. The remaining days of the week, the prices are as follows, Adults $27.00, Keiki’s (Ages and Under) $14.00. The prices for dinner are as follows: Adults $43.00, Keiki (Ages 9 and Under) $21.00. Tax and tip are additional. As of now you can request an a la Carte menu for the breakfast service only- I can tell you I am highly looking forward to trying the Chocolate Milk-dipped Haupia Bread French Toast stuffed with Bananas and Peanut Butter off the a la carte menu during my visit. [Post trip comment- I did try the French Toast, and it was AMAZING!! Very worth it!]

Additional dining options include:

The ‘Olelo Room- serving Continental breakfast, drinks all day, and appetizers in the evening. Breakfast 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.;  Lounge 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. In the evening, this bar has singers and other entertainment.

Off the Hook- an open air bar, with some table service, behind Ama Ama. 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight.

The Quick Service options are: One Paddle Two Paddle, Lava Shack, and Rip Swirl. One Paddle Two Paddle offers the same menu as pool side dining, but charge $8 less per item. For a sandwich meal the prices are approximately $14. However, those inclined to have someone else bring their food to them can do so at the pool from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lava Shack offers grab and go food such as cold lunch box meals, novelty ice cream, etc. Rip Swirl is located within the teen portion of the spa and offers frozen yogurt.

For those interested in other dining options, there are several in the Ko’Olina resort area. There is a free shuttle service that runs between the Ko’Olina resorts. Busses arrive at Aulani about every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Roy’s Restaurant is highly rated and recommended.

Directly across the street (from the parking garage) at the Ko’Olina Center & Station, there are several dining choices: Just Tacos Mexican Grill & Cantina serving Mexican Cuisine for lunch and dinner. Hawaiian Bar-b-que serving contemporary, seafood cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Two Scoops serving ice cream and frozen yogurt all day. There is also a terrific Deli at the Island Country Market. It is full service island deli and market offering the usual souvenirs, Hawaiian Sun drinks & Kauai-made rum. Hours: Mon-Sun 6:30 am – 11 pm. They have a beef and brie grilled sandwich that is supposed to be phenomenal, it even tastes good cold as leftovers the next day. They also have fresh omelettes each morning at a reasonable price. There are a handful of tables outside at the front of the store to eat your meals, or you can bring them back to the hotel, and eat either in your room, or on a bluff ocean side.

On to the Spa. The spa, Laniwai, meaning “freshwater heaven” is apparently that, akin to spending the day in an earth version of heaven- relaxing and exquisite. The prices are similar to those offered on the Disney Cruise and other high-end resorts.  For $45 a day, complimentary with any full-service spa treatment, guests can access the fabulous Laniwai Spa complex, including the outdoor Kula Wai hydrotherapy garden with private vitality pools, co-ed mineral baths, a reflexology path, six different “rain” showers, whirlpool jet spas and more. You must be 18 or older (14 and older with an accompanying adult) to use the Kula Wai facility. Teens (ages 13-17) can enjoy the Painted Sky facility. There is also a private family suite where the whole family can enjoy treatments.

Other random information. Parking is $35 a night for guests staying at the hotel, but is free for Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members. If you are just visiting the resort for the day- the rate is assessed differently.  If you spend at least $35 in the resort, 4 hours of parking will be free. There is a daily paper, Iwa (Aulani’s daily activities schedule and newsletter) available at the reception desk, and delivered to the rooms during turn down service,  find out about “Disney Friends Meet and Greets,” shows, and other free and charged for activities that are happening during your visit. The nighttime Starlight Hui is a must for guests of any age. They also offer evening showings of Disney movies under the stars.

Mahalo ~ thanks for reading this edition. If you do not already have your fabulous trip to Aulani booked, contact me and I can let you know some pricing. Disney is offering a special-  stay 4 nights in paradise, and the 5th night is FREE! Book before Dec. 16, 2011, for stays most nights Nov. 27 – Dec. 16, 2011; Jan. 4-12, 2012 and Jan. 16-25, 2012.

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Originally published Oct. 2011 with some edits that followed.