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, February 27, 2011

Prepping for our big trip to Provence!

PASSPORTS! That was the first thing on my mind last week. I have to get the kids their passports for this trip. We've known for some time now that we were going to visit my husband's brother and his family to welcome their new baby into the world. But here we are, with no passports for the kids. Wait, where are our passports? The ones that haven't seen the light of day since we came back from, could it possibly be??? Our honeymoon? No, we fly to Provence when I was preggers with Liam, but that was almost four years ago!

I am happy to report that we have indeed applied for our passports and it was very easy!

The first place I looked was on the State Department Web site
You will need the original of your child's birth certificate with both parent's names listed and identification for yourself to prove that they are your children. We used our passports--I found them! It is much easier to apply for a passport if both parents go in person to either the State Department or as we did, a post office designated to process passports. Some post offices have special appointments, others have special times. Be sure to contact your local office for more information. There are special forms that must be filled out and can be downloaded from the State Department site above or at this link http://travel.state.gov/passport/forms/ds11/ds11_842.html
You can either print and fill out or type the information in and then print. Whoo Hoo!

Also, if both parents cannot apply in person, then there are other forms that must be also filled out for permission-Submit the second parents' notarized Statement of Consent

As complicated as this all sounds, we were in and out with the passports submitted in less than an hour and they took the pictures there for us for a $25 fee each. Keep in mind, with expedited service, the passport application process, including the pictures was over $300. It is $105 each without pictures for regular processing times and an additional $60 to expedite the service. The postal worker who helped us was wonderful and let us know that the passports have been coming in within three weeks, but we didn't want to chance it because it states clearly to expect 4-6 weeks.

One note, they will take your child's birth certificate and mail it back with your passport. AND make sure your child is not wearing any clothes with logos, etc. In fact, let me copy the info on the requirement for pictures.

Your Photographs Must Be:

In color
2 x 2 inches in size
Taken within the past 6 months, showing current appearance
Full face, front view with a plain white or off-white background
Between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head
Taken in normal street attire:
Uniforms should not be worn in photographs except religious attire that is worn daily
Do not wear a hat or headgear that obscures the hair or hairline
If you normally wear prescription glasses, a hearing device, wig or similar articles, they should be worn for your picture
Dark glasses or nonprescription glasses with tinted lenses are not acceptable unless you need them for medical reasons (a medical certificate may be required)


Vending machine photos are not generally acceptable
Professional photographers, see Guidelines for Producing High Quality Photographs for U.S. Travel Documents

I am still waiting to get them--so keep your fingers crossed for me, but both kiddos smiled beautifully and I will be so proud to present them with their fabulous pictures and say we are from the U S of A!

Dynamite Gymnastics in Rockville, MD

Dynamite's Open Gym may be the coolest indoor play area EVER! It was made for kids like my son and you walk in and he can run, run, jump and run some more. What struck me first was how wonderfully clean it is. They ask that you sterilize your hands and FEET with wipes. Make sense, bare feet are nothing more than hands walking on the ground as far as germs go. And all the mats and equipment are new and are rotated out when there is any sigh of wear. Check out the facility with this link

There is a special area for kids 6 and under and an area that is great for my little girl who is now almost a year. My son loves running and jumping into the pit full of red and black styrofoam like blocks. I think they use it to train their students to vault. I must say, I am tempted to jump in it too. It looks like he is swimming in a sea of red and black blocks and it looks like so much fun!

Dynamite Gymnastics
Daytime Open Gym (before 4pm)- $6 per child (under 18); $10 per adult
Evening Open Gym (after 4pm)- $10 per child (under 18); $15 per adult

4956 Boiling Brook Parkway
(at the top of Wyaconda Road)
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: 301.770.2700
Fax: 301.770.2727
Email: info@DynamiteGC.com
Open Gym Schedule: http://www.dynamitegc.com/DynamiteFebruary2011EventsCalendar.pdf

Cabin John Park in Rockville, MD

One of the first places my son learned to order me to take him to was Cabin John Park. Set on over 500 acres, this park has the best playground area, with many different play spaces for all age levels. My son loves running from one play area to the next and he comes home tired, which is what all of us are hoping to accomplish, right? There is also a mini train and for $1.50 a ticket, you can get a nice ride around the park. There are also picnic spaces and fields for soccer and baseball.

7400 Tuckerman Lane
Rockville, MD 20852United States
301.495.2525; 301.469.7835
http://www.m... n/index.shtm
Hours:Park: Daily, dawn to dusk; Train: Seasonal, 11am-4:30pm
Cost:Train: $1.50/person
Ages:All Ages

The National Building Museum in Washington, DC

I LOVE THIS PLACE! My mommy friend introduced me to it a few years back and we just can't get back there enough. To be honest, I've not even explored anything past the first floor--the fountain and The Building Zone, which is specifically for the toddler and young preschool aged children. The Building Zone is an interactive, imaginative play area for kids 2-6 with their parents. There are large building blocks, hard hats, tool belts, bulldozers, playhouse, puzzles, Lego's, and more! And there is a beautiful lobby with fountain, gift shop and Firehook Bakery and Coffee House to grab lunch and sit and gawk at the architecture of the building. My son loves checking out each gorgeous pillar and I can't stop looking up either!

The National Building Museum is free, but a $5 donation is recommended and is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Sunday, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Starting November 1, the Building Zone hours are Monday through Saturday, 10:00 am-4:00 pm, and Sunday, 11:00 am-4:00 pm. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. On rare occasions, the Museum may close for a special event.

It is very easy to get too, the NBM is located across the street from Judiciary Square station on Metro's red line. Alternatively, take the yellow or green lines to Gallery Place/Chinatown. Use the Galleries/Arena exit to F Street; at the top of the last escalator (F Street), turn left and walk a short 2 blocks to the Museum. Visit the Metro website for more station information.

NATIONAL BUILDING MUSEUM 401 F Street NW Washington, DC 20001 202.272.2448
Red Line Metro, Judiciary Square
Hours: Mon - Sat 10:00 am - 5:00 pm, Sun 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia

For my husband's parent's 40th Anniversary, they wanted to celebrate with both their boy's families. It was early spring and my mother-in-law struggled to find a venue that would work, but she found the perfect vacation spot for all ages to enjoy at The Homestead in Hot Spring, Virginia. In the winter it is a winter sport resort and in the spring and summer it is an outdoor haven. The Homestead was actually rated #12for "The World's Best Hotels for Families," out of 52 hotels in Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2010.

The guests rooms are gorgeous and very spacious, and the staff was very accommodating to little ones. Upon arrival, they stocked our rooms with cribs, microwave, a DVD player and also had Wireless Internet access in guest rooms. I tried to find a picture of the room, but the below is the best I had. Trust me, gorgeous room and the bathroom--to die for!

All the restaurants were kid friendly and you can add a meal plan on to your package which was very affordable.

We dined at the more casual dinning places and I didn't feel too stressed while dinning with our then almost two year old. I am stressed dining with him at home sometimes though... Now that I think about it, he probably wasn't that bad, it was just the first time mom in me over-reacting and being jumpy. Anyhow, it was great and we felt very welcomed when we walked in with our little ones. The great hall was just what we needed when our son finished eating before we did. One of us could just take him out of the restaurants and let him go. I am certain we may have worn down that carpet for as many times as he and his cousin ran back and forth, back and forth.

We did go out to a nicer dinner when the grandparents watched the kiddos one night, and there is fine dining there as well, but we didn't do that while we were there, though I am sure it is delish.

Although there were so many activities to keep us busy , we spent most of the time just letting the kids run around the beautiful grounds. There is a wonderful play area on the grounds that we visited multiple times a day, as well as many trails on which we could let the kiddos run wild. The spring-fed indoor pool, a game room, nightly movies in the theatre, a bowling center, horseback riding, stables to visit, hayrides and afternoon tea also made this venue a perfect place to visit with the kids in tow and I never felt like we didn't have something to do. In the summer, there is a kid's club. I don't have an info on in though, as it was closed when were were there, but it looked mighty fun when we peeked into the windows. Did I just say, "might fun?" Oh well, not sure where that came from, but it did look like the kids would have a blast if it had been open. And there is a babysitting service, where they would babysit in your room. We had the grandparents there, so we didn't need that service and I am sure they would have been greatly disappointed had when even thought of letting someone else watch our kiddos.

For the older kids, there is archery, paintball, group horseback riding, canoe and kayaking, mountain biking, gorge hike, and Homestead history tours.

For the adults there is access to the fitness center, located on the fourth floor of the spa building, and equipped with Cybex equipment as well as treadmills, steppers, cycles and elliptical trainers. Open 5:00am-10:00pm daily; fresh towels and water provided complimentary. There is also a lovely spa, golf lessons, tee times, biking and the use of the historical Washington Library. For the more adventurous adult, sporting clays, skeet, rifle range, falconry, fly-fishing, and off-roading. I only participated in the spa and my husband and the guys did some golfing, so I can't give a review of the other outdoor activities besides hiking around with my son and looking at the horses. One of my girlfriends did try out sporting clays and she said it was a lot of fun, but involved her kiddos just covering their ears as they watched and laughed at them missing.

Of course, had we gone in the winter, there would have been skiing, ice skating, all kinds of winter sports with smores and hot cocoa by the fire. Now that sounds delightful just about now!

One thing to note--there is NOTHING nearby if you plan on going off the resort. We did eat at a pizza place across the street from the high school, but that was about it as far as the town goes.

Writing about The Homestead makes me want to go back this spring! Let me know if anyone else has gone and tried out any of the other activities.

The Homestead Resort
Hot Springs, Virginia
7696 Sam Snead Highway, Hot Springs, VA 24445

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Travel Insurance--to get or not to get???

It never fails--I schedule a trip, book a flight THEN someone gets sick. Sometimes it is me, but more often than not, it is one of the kiddos. In the past I had gotten travel insurance and then ended up just changing the tickets, paying the fees and not even bothering trying to put in a claim. This past trip, my daughter was sick with a very high fever for over a week and a half and of course, the week and a half period came right upon our departure date. I couldn't chance flying with her because A) she wasn't fever free--still at a much lower 101, but still, B) I didn't want to deal with a cranky, sleep deprived baby, C) I didn't want to get up in the air and have here have something else go wrong, and D)she might be contagious and what kind of person would I be to knowingly add a virus into the already gross recycled air. So, I filed a claim with the travel insurance company Access America, who I got through Orbitz when I book my flight. I was a little apprehensive because my daughter was actually sitting on my lap for this trip, she is 10 months, so she technically wasn't the official traveler and I didn't have a fever or illness. I also couldn't rebook my trip and just pay the change fees, because I had to go back to the drawing board on a date that would work for several parties and there was no near date in sight. I called Access America 24-hours before my departure time and let them know what had happened, they emailed the claims forms immediately, and I cancelled the flight on Orbitz, as directed. Mind you, that was on January 27. I was able to get our pediatrician to fill out a very short form, fax it along with my forms back in and about a week and a half later, I was called and informed that I would be getting a check in the mail for a full refund of my flight. THAT'S IT! I haven't gotten the check yet--I was just informed today of the refund, but I've never had anything go this smoothly and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised.

Access America

So, my advice? Get that insurance! It's just a few dollars more, but so worth it when traveling with kiddos.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Great Kids Village

What to do, what to do when it is cold outside and the kiddos have WAY. TOO. MUCH. ENERGY??? Well, thanks to Andrew and Paula Ross, there now exists the perfect indoor play space to escape the outdoor cold--Great Kid's Village. There are two locations, Silver Spring, MD and Columbia, MD.
My son loves climbing the "mountain" rock wall, rolling down the roller coaster, shopping in the grocery store, cooking up some grub in the kitchen and then taking the food to the tree house. The only thing that could be more perfect is if I could take those skills learned there-mostly the grocery shopping and cooking-and have my son actually bring home real groceries and get a non-plastic version of dinner on the table at home. Great Kids Village is awesome fun, but can't work miracles, I guess. Ho hum, all I really need is for my son too have a blast and be almost too tired to eat dinner before he crashes into bed--that is a miracle in and of itself. But back to Great Kids Village, there are all kinds of Step Two brand play structures for your little ones to scale up or slide down, some fun cars and things for the kids to "drive" or push around, a plethora of costumes for some dramatic play (as if we need more drama!!!), the roller coaster that is fit for any of your young thrill seekers and so much more to keep the kiddos entertained for a few hours.

Play areas include:
Climbing Rock
Grocery Store
Roller Coaster
Tree House
Train Table
Dress Up
And more!

There is store to pick up fun Melissa and Doug activities to continue some fun at home and also a cafe that is a peanut free environment! So no need to even pack and snack--GKV has that covered for you too.

You can become a neighbor and pay a monthly fee of $25-$30 based on how long you want your membership, or pay $10 per child, $5 per sibling each visit. Bonus, they have later hours for members, one day per week. Tuesdays in Columbia and Wednesdays in Silver Spring. There are also special events with live performances and camps in the summer. Go to the Web site and see what fun is in store for you and your little ones. It's the perfect inside playground and we go as often as we can these days. We hope to see you there, neighbor!

8040 Georgia Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910
(in the former Mayorga Coffee space)
(301) 309-2FUN ext 3

6570 Dobbin Road
Columbia, MD 21045
410-497-PLAY (7529)

Hours of Operation

Tuesday through Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Open until 7pm for neighbors only on Tuesdays in Columbia and on Wednesdays in Silver Spring)
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in Columbia, 11:30-7:00 in Silver Spring
Monday: 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.