With a baby and toddler, traveling can be daunting, especially when kid-friendly doesn't turn out to be baby and toddler friendly.

We've realized what a difference that is, so we are here in hopes to share and learn about the best places to go with our babes and tots in tow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Two months later and I am finally getting back online. I'll blame it on the loads and loads of laundry I had to do after the cruise, involving clothing for Spring, Summer, Fall AND Winter for each member of my family. Or being a wife of a resident in our sixth and final year of residency. Time for me and hobbies are kinda on the bottom of my priority list these days.  Regardless, it was a trip of all trips and to see my Dad's eyes as he shared what he loved about the state he left over 38 years ago with his family and especially his grandchildren, was just amazing. 
We chose Norwegian Cruise Lines because a friend of ours took the exact same cruise as we did--the same week, same itinerary, and almost the same age of our kiddos while we cruised! That wasn't grammatically correct, but information conveyance was good enough. :) Plus, didn't I teach my students (way back when I was a teacher) that authors can break the rules of grammar once they mastered it and knew what rules they were breaking? Anyhow, I digress... Back to Norwegian Cruise Lines.  It was the best balance for us as far as dates, ports, going through inner passage, excursions, kid-friendly and of course price. We got a midship room, on one of the higher decks with a balcony-that is important for seasickness reasons. That balcony came in handy for seeing sights when the crowds were just too much for our son (just turned four) and really us too. You do need to be careful because there are chairs and tables on the balcony, so of course, don't turn your head for two seconds with the kiddos out there with you. Our room had a queen bed and a small couch that pulled out Ikea style into a twin bed. They set up a pack and play for us nightly for my daughter. We actually never pulled my son's bed out--just shoved the pack and play up against the couch and my son slept on the couch. No room to do anything else. They both slept on our bed for naps.  It was cozy,  but fine. There is just a shower, so bathing was just us hosing down the kids in the shower. Not a big deal, but both of mine really prefer the bath still.

As far as meals go-- We ate at the buffet for most breakfasts and lunches, since it was the most kid-friendly and the food was surprisingly good. There were other good dinning choices for extra fees and we ended up going to several of them and it was worth it--Mexican was $15 per person extra, steakhouse $25 p/p, French $20 p/p, Italian $15 p/p, Sushi/Japanese Steakhouse $20 p/p. We had both set of grandparents there so it was nice to go out and the small price for dinner was nothing in comparison to what we pay at home plus a sitter. Plus, one thing to note on Norwegian compared to the others, it is free style, which means you eat and do activities whenever you want. Other cruises you have an assigned eating time for breakfast, lunch, dinner and follow an itinerary more stictly--so I've been told as I've never cruised before, but my friends said that was why they don't cruise more often--the lack of flexibility. 

Booking excursions was interesting. If you book through the cruise than you pay more, but you don't risk getting left behind if for some reason there is a delay and you can't get back to the ship on time. If you call around and book on your own, you get better prices, but plan accordingly and make sure you leave plenty of time to get back to the ship before the deadline.  It seems the local companies are wonderful and understand the rules of the game.  Some cruise lines actually have contracts with the local businesses and the smaller ones aren't able to accommodate clients without going through the cruise lines, while the bigger companies are able to do so, probably because of the nature of the excursion, like helicopters, dog sleds, etc. There are only so many of those companies and it seems like the cruise lines can't bully them around as much. So whoever you book with, keep that in mind. We tended to tip well, especially for that lone fisherman that took the guys out for their trip, who was convined to the cruise lines guidelines. That's a whole different post for another time, but let's just say that my family and I always root for the underdogs.  

So back to the excursions--they were great! I highly recommend the very expensive $600 per person helicopter, dogsled excursion in Juneau. We booked directly through ERA since the cruise line options were fully booked, and we were able to save $100 per person. All of us went with the exception of my then 18 month old daughter and my mom. The staff was so friendly and professional. I can't remember our bus driver's name since it's been several months now, but she's been coming back for years to work with ERA and was full of information and charm. You just wanted to hug her, I may have even done that!  Mike was our helicopter pilot--I think that is correct as my son named his dogsled stuffed doggie after him. I am hoping that didn't morph into the incorrect name after all this time. Regardless, he was amazing with my son and my family, full of information and the love of the land was evident as he toured us around the Taku glacier. He was truly a large part of making the experience so wonderful. We loaded up in fours and fives into two different helicopters and flew over the glaciers. There is nothing to really accurately describe how amazing the views were-even our pictures don't convey the beauty of the land. Our dogsled portion was cancelled due to fog and heavy rain at the higher elevation at dog camp, so instead we were able to do a glacier tour.  We actually got $300 back per person for not doing the dogsled, and you can request that itinerary instead. As disappointed as we were to not be able to get up to dog camp, we now think we would have missed out had we not gotten to land on the glacier.  We were able to land on the Taku glacier and walk around a bit--it was the most incredible experience to stand on a glacier and see the bright, almost sapphire blue, popping through this meringue iced wonderland that stretched beyond the horizon.  This was the highlight of our trip!
On Taku Glacier

Our whole clan except for mom and my baby girl.

My sister and her family ended up doing another dog sled excursion in Skagway, but dogs pulling sleds on wheels on trails.  It wasn't in the snow with the amazing views, but my niece loved it and got to meet the doggies. We missed it since we were dealing with nap times and my four year old being a little overwhelmed.
Dog sledding in Skagway.
We also did the three-hour-not the 6 hour, evening White Summit Pass train ride and it was great. You are warm and comfy in an old fashion train and the kids loved it. We were on the fence since you get a little stir crazy when you are on the ship on the days at sea without a port, so we weren't sure about then sitting on a train, but it was one of the biggest highlights for us. Amazing waterfalls, loads and loads of history and we even got to see a black bear.

White Summit Pass

In Ketchikan, the guys did the salmon fishing excursion at $200 a piece for about 6 hours. Us girls and the kiddos did the Lumber Jack show and the kids enjoyed it. It was rainy, but the seating area was heated, warm and covered and my actually won a piece of wood from a tree they cut down. After carrying it back on the ship, to the airport and through security and back  home, what to do with it, but hey, he was thrilled.
Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan
And in Victoria, we did the Butchart Garden's Tour. It was a little more challenging with kids since we arrive in Victoria at 6pm, but if you plan a good nap, you should be okay. Our kids rallied and enjoyed running and getting some fresh air. There is land transportation everywhere, so you don't have to book with cruise and we got off the ship, walked across the street and rented a van for all of us. We toured downtown and then drove to the Garden. We stayed for most of the fireworks and took off a little  early to avoid the mass exodus, which saved us a lot of time.

Kids Club is a playarea on the ship that is for drop off only. When my friend cruised on the same ship, family members were allowed to join in the play. I was so disappointed! The play space looked fun, though very small, but I couldn't take advantage of it with my small little ones. Separation anxiety ruled my world and understandably so. My niece went a few times, but my son did not take full advantage of it since he was overwhelmed my the crowds and some separation anxiety set in for him. He stayed one afternoon for an hour, but it is open from 10-8 pm or even later, so you can use that while you have a nice lunch or dinner. I think you have to stay on the ship, so I don't think you could use it while you left the boat for an excursion. There is an arcade and my husband and son played air hockey a lot and pretended to play a few of the flashy arcade games. There is also a kiddie pool and a big pool with slide, but my son was too little to go down. There is also a soccer field on deck, but if the weather is bad, the kids club is really your only really, really kid friendly option. Well, there was bowling too, but the kids have to be 6. They let us sneak in there a few times though. My son is very, very, very active and has to be run the entire day, so it was a little challenging for us.
Family bowling

Play zone
Pool--it was only warm enough really as we were leaving warm Seattle on departure.

So, bottom line...  We loved our cruise, but wished there were more kid friendly things to do on the days (there are two) when we were at sea without a port. If we could do it again, we'd probably do a 10 day cruise to give us more time in ports, as some ports we felt a little rushed, and if time and money weren't issues, we'd fly out to Seattle a few days before to get the kids acclimated to the time change and to do some fun things in Seattle. We flew out a day early and got in at 10 am on a Sat and didn't board until 1 pm on Sunday for a 4 pm departure. We'd also have stayed in Seattle a few more days on the tail end too, since it wasn't the kiddos best flight on the way home. Too much--get off ship, wait for luggage, get in car service, go through security, then 5.5 hr flight home. Note that there is a kid play area in Sea-Tac in terminal A. Awesome area, clean with family restrooms. 
Play Area in Sea Tac Airport

Also, we would recommend doing a cruise earlier than late August. It was cold and rainy. Skagway was the coldest due to the wind. I wold think early to mid July would be awesome and more like 65-70 degrees so you can use the pool on the ship when at sea those two days. Both my husband and brother-in-law are in the military, so we had to grab whatever week we were given, hence the late August cruise. It wasn't unbearable, but not the 70 degrees and no rain it was for everyone in July.
Also, if you did Norwegian and fly in early, stay at the Marriott Waterfront on Alaska way. The bell hops can walk your luggage across the street to their docks. So easy. The other cruise lines are further down and there is the Edgewater Hotel down closer to those, but you'll still have to arrange transport for you and luggage as the piers are still further down on Alaska Way. And on the luggage note--we brought 2 medium, 2 small and one large suitcases--we had to pack for summer in Seattle, early spring in Juneau/Victoria and even fall/winter clothes for the other ports.  With all of that, hats, gloves, lightweight coats, heavy coats, snow boots, rain boots, sneakers, nice clothes for dinner--it all adds up. Luckily there is good storage space and all of our luggage and our stroller fit under our bed. Which is good b/c those staterooms are small.

We used a driver Marriott recommended, Elmi 206-271-5783 and he was able to provide car seats and accommodate four adults and two kids for transport from airport to hotel. There is no room for car seats in your state room!  Another reason to stay at the Marriott Waterfront as it is walking distance to all Seattle sites while off the ship.

We did the usual and had all diapers, etc., including kid snacks, shampoo, etc sent via diapers.com to our hotel. Less to pack and no leaks in your bags.

If you are looking for a totally kid friendly cruise to Alaska, check out Disney. There first Alaskan cruises were this summer, so we haven't seen any reviews yet. They were more expensive and our initial feeling was that we wanted a balance b/t kid-friendly and adult friendly, so opted not to go Disney. We are still on the fence on if that was the right choice... We had a great time, don't get me wrong, but you know how it is when you travel with kids, just more challenging. And we didn't realize how our son would be out of sorts a bit with the crowds. Just typical terrible threes, but with a lot more people around. Great cruise and bon voyage if you choose to go!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sandy Point State Park, MD

I read an article in the Washington Post about urban beaches and it brought back memories of hitting Cony Island when I was living in the New York City area. We had not been to the beach in years, well except when we were in Jacksonville and San Diego, but we've not done the trek up the coast to visit the local beaches here for some time. My friend reminded me of Sandy Point, right before you cross the Bay Bridge. The last time Fred and I had discussed it was before we had kids when he was looking for a local place to launch for windsurfing and I had since forgotten about it.

One steamy Monday morning, we packed my car with all of our beach gear and three kiddos and headed out to the beach. What a warm welcome we received when we arrived and the gentleman collecting our $3 for entering--yes, $3, only $3--was so friendly and helpful. We pulled up and found parking without a problem. There was a playground right on the beach for the kids to hit, ample picnic tables, accessible showers and restrooms and snack bars. It made for a lovely afternoon and we were able to picnic, play on the playground and the spacious beach before hitting the road again, where we were able to avoid traffic getting back into DC even at 4:00! Definitely the another visit is needed a few more times this summer. I've not tried it on a weekend, but it is a weekday treasure to keep in mind when you need to get away, but not too far away.

Sandy Point State Park, Maryland

Sandy Point State Park is located Anne Arundel County, at the western terminus of the Bay Bridge, off U.S. Routes 50/301 at exit 32.

Sandy Point State Park
1100 East College Parkway
Annapolis MD 21409
GPS 3900 48.81N 7624 07.95W

Contact Sandy Point

Main Office: 410-974-2149
E-mail: sandypoint@dnr.state.md.us
Marina: 410-974-2772
Reservations: 1-888-432-2267

Hours of Operation

7 a.m. to Sunset, January 1-March 31
6 a.m. to Sunset, April 1-October 31
7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 1-Dec. 31
Fishing - 24 hr. access Jan. to mid-Nov.
Boating - 24 hr. access year-round

Admission Prices and Park Hours

When the Contact Station is not staffed, the automatic toll will be in operation. Effective April 1, 2010 the automatic toll machine accepts exact change only in the form of $1’s, quarters, MasterCard and VISA credit cards.

Sandy Point State Park may fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Visitors will not be admitted to the park during the closure. Anyone who leaves the park during the closure will not be permitted to re-enter until the park reopens. There are no other public swimming beaches in the area.

Weekends and Holidays

  • January 1st until mid-April -- $3.00 per vehicle
  • Mid April until end of October -- $5.00 per person for Maryland resident -- $6.00 per person for non-Maryland resident
  • November 1st until December 31st -- $3.00 per vehicle

Weekdays (not including holidays that fall on a weekday)

  • January 1st until Memorial Day -- $3.00 per vehicle
  • Memorial Day through end of September -- $4.00 per person for Maryland resident -- $5.00 per person for non-Maryland resident
  • October 1st until December 31st -- $3.00 per vehicle

Sunset to Sunrise – Boating & Fishing

  • Year round -- $3.00 per vehicle (Excluding special events and when the contact station is staffed. See prices above)

Park Hours: Day Use

  • January 1 through March 31 -- 7 a.m. to sunset
  • April 1 through October 31 -- 6 a.m. to sunset
  • November 1 through December 31 -- 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Fishing -- 24 hour access January through mid-November
  • Boating -- 24 hour access year round

White Oak Lanes Duck Pin Bowling

What to do when it is hot, hot, hot? We decided to try out duckpin bowling at White Oaks Lane.

Let me start by saying that the kids did have fun, but the staff wasn't exactly the most friendly. Actually, only one of the two members of the staff who were working there that day was not thrilled we were there. We went with some friends that had a peanut allergy, so we had to call to see if they could accommodate us if we ate there. We learned that they could not guarantee that their food was peanut free, which is fine, but when we asked if we could bring our own food, we were told no. When we arrived the gentleman who gave us our shoes was very friendly and helpful, but the lady did not seem to like having us there. Most of the patrons were retirees in leagues. They all seemed to love us and would come over to visit with the kiddos, so at least the patrons made us feel welcome, but you could feel that the staff wasn't thrilled with us. It was the first time our boys had been to a bowling alley, so we had to explain a few things. Our little guys twice sent the bowling ball back up the return and once a ball rolled into an unused lane, but other than that I thought they did well. I took a few pics, but was asked to stop and I of course complied, but just the tone and her energy made us feel that she was visibly annoyed with the kiddos and us. We ended up playing for less than an hour, but it was enough to get the boys out for some fun. Maybe it was a bad day for them and perhaps we will try it again, but this is the first time I am posting a negative review. But us mommies need to know where to go and where we are welcome.

Bottom line-fun for the kiddos and a very affordable, no frills venue, but just go in with thick skin and concentrate on the goal--fun and a break from the sun.

White Oak Lanes
11207 New Hampshire Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20904

Monday-Friday 9:00 am - 11:00 pm
Saturday 9:00 am - 1:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am - 11:00 pm

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Washington State Kid Scene Part II: A Day Trip on San Juan Island

What an advantage we had being so close to the ferries, so we had to do a trip to the San Juan Islands and hit the main island of San Juan, starting at Friday Harbor. It was about an hour ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor in the ferry and the kids loved driving onto the ferry and then walking around upstairs. We started at Friday Harbor and made a trip around the island, hitting Whale Watch Park” (Lime Kiln Point State Park). There we were able to have another picnic lunch while looking for whales. Keep in mind that there are cliffs with drop offs, but we were able to find an area that was safe for the kids, but we were on guard the whole time. The only whale we did see that day was the whale mile marker that Liam noticed when we hiked back to our car and also the Orca statue by the restrooms. I must say, the restrooms there were the cleanest public restrooms I have ever seen. I wish I had taken a picture (strange, I know), but the toilets were some environmental sound systems that were just huge holes that ran down into some sort of "recycling" system AND it didn't smell. AT ALL. I was totally intrigued, but so afraid that one of my kids would fall down them--I could have fallen in too! Anyhow, the whole park was fun filled-whales or not.

From there were started our circle around the island and hit an Krystal Acres alpaca farm. One of my friends from elementary school still lives in Washington and owns several, so I guess this is the area for alpacas. My son and cousin thought they were amazing and it was nice to stop and let the kids out to run a bit.

From there we headed towards the English Camp. Apparently, there was a battle between the Americans and the English over a pig. Who knew! Anyhow, the English Camp was along the water and had a beautiful English garden. Another perfect way to burn off some energy. I was thankful for having our rain boots for this park though, so think about packing them and a change of clothes!

We then drove to Roche Harbor and attempted to have ice cream, but the kids fell asleep.

And we also had to drive past the Westcott Bay Sculpture Park
, featuring over 100 sculptures on 19 acres. I want to go back and visit and my heart ached as the curator seemed to get excited that we stopped, then we quickly left realizing that opening the doors might wake up the kids and they so badly needed that nap. I owe them a donation!

We then circled around and were hoping to get a glass of wine at the San Juan vineyards tasting room, but it was closed, which I guess never happens-lucky us. I should also mention that across the road from the vineyard is a camel...yes a camel. Just another fun thing for the kiddos and definitely a conversation piece.

So back toward Friday Harbor we went. My sis and I went into the market for some ice cream and we headed back to the ferry for an ice cream feast on the way home. Note: the ferries have very little food, so load up before you go! There is a cute market right in the middle of Friday Harbor and across from the visitor center where you can pick up delish picnic items and aforementioned San Juan ice cream!

A wonderful day trip, but we were exhausted. There is a lot more to see and I look forward to another trip there soon. Make sure to plan ahead and take a look at the ferry schedule. Nothing is worse than missing the ferry with cranky kids but we were there from about 9 am until 5 pm and with little cat naps here and there, it was a perfect trip. My sister and I even got in a little shopping too!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Washington State Kid Scene Part I: Deception Pass, Tulip World and Guemes Island

We went out to visit my sister in Washington state again, but this time it was with my parents and my two kids in tow-hubby had to stay home. It was just as well as my sister's husband is a naval pilot and deployed and not home either. Poor Liam and my Dad had to endure a lot of girl power that week, but they survived.

We took a direct flight on Alaska Air and it was pretty much a breeze. Liam brought his rolling, giraffe backpack packed full of magnaformers, Edushapes Magic Shape and a lot of snacks including the squeezable apple sauces and squeezebox chocolate milk. We barely had to use the DVD! For my 14 month old daughter, a bunch of flap books and touch and feel books were all we needed to keep her happy and busy.

We arrived in Seattle and went straight out to Anacortes. We were out there for the Mother's Day weekend and took the moms, including my sister's mother-in-law to Guemes Island to a quaint restaurant, Anderson's General Store. We took over the whole outdoor seating area since we had just missed the lunch rush and it was perfect. We had a view of the water, the kids had plenty of room to "move, " and the staff was terrific!

We also met my mother's family and our kids met their great-grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle. We had a picnic lunch at Deception Pass State Park. Deception Pass is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island and connects Skagit Bay with the Straits of Juan de Fuca. We drove, but you can walk across the bridge and see the site. I had to look up why it is dubbed as being deceiving and learned that it appeared to be a narrow bay instead of a strait, and it became infamous because many Chinese immigrants were smuggled in here for labor back in the late 1800s.

We drove across the bridge and then had lunch along the water with the family. It was a bit breezy and chilly, but we were able to enjoy lunch and let the kids play.

From there we took off to see if we could see the last of the tulips at Skagits Tulip Festival. There are several farms near Mount Vernon, Washington and we were luck enough to see the tulips in bloom the very last day. It was like we were in Holland and the kids had a blast running around the windmill and the beautiful mazes and paths.