Archive for the ‘vacation’ Category

Hawaii is for Families

Hawaii has always has always been one of those places you go on your honeymoon or something you save up for after your kids are out of the house. When planning a family vacation destinations like Mexico or the Caribbean or maybe Florida come to find before Hawaii does. Perhaps it’s because I’m on the east coast, or closer to the east coast, so getting to a sunny destination that is quick to get to makes sense.

But in January we decided to try something different. We had a little more time on our hands and thought of going somewhere that took a little more travel time, like Hawaii.

You may think that traveling with 3 young kids on a 12 to 15 hour plane ride is crazy, and I’ll admit I was a little worried, but it went rather smoothly. I was annoyed at first about being bumped and having to take 3 planes versus 2 planes but I actually think the breaks were good for the kids, especially since they weren’t that long. And coming back, with the longer flight, the kids slept most of the way since we were flying over night, so that worked our great too. With the entertainment on the plane plus our own entertainment (electronics, snacks and colouring supplies) the kids were more then content to sit quietly on the plane. I think flying from a border city helped also (I much prefer going through customs in a car versus at the airport and would recommend it to anyone who has it as an option.

Unlike visiting Mexico or the Caribbean, Hawaii is still a US state so you don’t have worries about currency or medical are or water safety or any of those issues that come up with visiting foreign resorts. Yet it still has a very tropical feel. Of course it helped that our hotel, Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered a spectacular location and service. I even wrote how this trip was one of our best vacations to date. But that was my feelings; what about the kds? When I asked my kids where they wanted to go for their next vacation, Disney World or Hawaii, it was Hawaii all around. That says a lot since our family is a Disney family.

You can read all the reviews I posted on our Hawaiian trip over within EverythingMom‘s Family Travel section: from our stay at the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach to visiting Pearl Harbor and a trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center and more.

Below are a few photo highlights. Makes me wish I was back there now.

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The Best Vacation and Why

The memories of our recent visit to Hawaii still linger in my mind (excluding the disappointing start with United Airlines). I’m sure most people would agree that any vacation is a good vacation but a good vacation isn’t necessarily the best. As a family we’ve taken quite a few vacations but my husband and I both agree that this last trip was by far our best.

But what makes this trip so much better than our last trips? What should we plan next time to ensure we have one of the best family vacations? Here’s what worked for us:

Time and Timing
We were away on vacation for about 10 days, much longer than our regular vacations. I know with school schedules and work demands, taking an extended vacation can be difficult but if you can swing it, do. Flying to Hawaii took us 15-hours, 3 planes and a 5-hour timezone change. It took the family almost 2 days to really get settled into vacation mode, including adjusting from jet lag and loosing all the stresses of work and home behind. And you know prior to a vacation ending your mind will already start thinking ahead to what has to be accomplished when you get home. An extended vacation ensures you still get quality vacation time after these adjustment days. There’s nothing worse than going away for a week and just getting settled in when you have to head home.

We also like to travel on non-peak times. This usually means during school time but it also means less crowds (and usually less heat). Visiting Hawaii at the end of January, also their winter, is a low season but the weather was perfect, sunny yet not too hot. It can also be their rainy season but we were fortunate and didn’t get hit with one bad weather day; that’s saying a lot for a 10 day trip.

Location, Location, Location
Well you can’t go wrong with visiting Hawaii in general I’m assuming. We had never been before so we just stumbled upon the Island of O’ahu, Waikiki specifically. Most people commented on how we should have planned our trip to the Island of Maui, that Waikiki was a little too touristy. But for a first time visitor I think Waikiki is perfect; it offered a nice transition from the big city to a taste of paradise. Perhaps another time will get a chance to visit Maui but I don’t regret our Waikiki visit at all.

Our hotel, the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach, offered both great access to Waikiki Beach as well as the bustling atmosphere of Waikiki itself. The Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach is located right on Waikiki Beach. We could walk off the elevator right out to the sand. And out the front door of the hotel was Waikiki’s main street, with restaurants and shops and entertaining street life. It was wonderful.

The People
Of course the people in our hotel were amazing, from the front desk to the cleaning and maintenance staff. They always had a smile on their face and a pleasant greeting. Matt, the gentleman who taught the cultural activities at the hotel, remember my kids and was so helpful and friendly; Ryan, our server at Hula Grill, remembered what the kids ordered and always made sure we were happy. But it wasn’t just the hotel staff; cab drivers, police offers walking the streets, shop keepers, everyone seemed very pleasant and happy to be there.

This was our first trip to Hawaii but I think after our amazing experience it won’t be our last. Be sure to visit the Family Travel section on EverythingMom over the next few days as I will be sharing more detailed reviews on the hotel, some of the restaurants we enjoyed as well as activities while visiting O’ahu.

Vacation Frowns Brought to You by United Airlines

The bags were packed. Boarding passes printed. Kids hyped about heading to Hawaii for the first time. All in all this was turning out to be a great vacation.

I’ll admit I’m not a frequent flyer. Most of my travel is vacation oriented with my family. I had never flown with United Airlines before either but we paid to upgrade to their Economy Plus seats for more leg room and to ensure we were all sitting together (we were travelling with three kids 8 and under). We couldn’t get a non-stop flight to Honolulu from Buffalo, the city we started our journey from, but we were able to book a flight with just one stopover in Chicago. When you’re traveling with kids in tow, the least amount of stopovers is ideal.

The 9-hour second length of our trip would be long but fortunately the 777 plane we were scheduled to fly was equipped with a centre row of 5 seats; I was able to book the whole family to sit together in one row, our own row. We’ve never been able to do that before so I was sort of looking forward to that part of the trip.

Then we arrived at the airport and smiles turned into frowns thanks to United Airlines.

When we arrived early for our 8 a.m. flight, we were told it would be delayed by an hour and half. This of course meant our initial connecting flight, tight but doable in an hour, would be missed. We were rerouted. Now instead of it being a 12-hour flight with a short, single stopover in Chicago, we were now head for a 15-hour journey consisting of a stopover in both Chicago and Las Angeles.

I know what you’re thinking, delays happen when traveling. And sure, if there had been bad weather, such as a snowstorm, I couldn’t fault the airline over that; they have no control over the weather. But snow wasn’t the issue; weather wasn’t the issue. It seems our plane was delayed arriving the night before. Safety regulations require that the crew receive a specific amount of rest before their next flight. This meant that they wouldn’t be able to fly out as originally planned. I have no issue with the regulation. I know how draining flying ca be as a passenger let alone someone who’s flying the plane. No, the issue I have is that United Airlines didn’t schedule another crew. By delaying the initial flight to Chicago, United Airlines inconvenienced hundreds of passengers, their customers. Connections would be missed, flights rerouted; the plane itself, if scheduled for a follow-up flight, would be delayed affecting a whole other set of passengers. It was a ripple effect.

How hard would it have been to schedule a new crew, inconvenience their employees not their customers? Perhaps I’m being naive but if their pilot became sick the night before would they just postpone or cancel all that pilot’s flights for the next day? I’m guessing not. They would have brought a new pilot on so what makes this case different?

Now on the remaining two legs of our trip we would have to negotiate with gate staff and other passengers to ensure we could not only get our Economy Plus seats we paid for but also ensure we could sit together as a family, or at the very least have each child sitting with at least one parent.

To make matters worse, just as we were getting ready to pull away from the docking platform the pilot announced that the tractor used to pull the plane out wasn’t working and they needed to get a new one. Plus the plane needed to be de-iced. This would mean an additional delay of 20-minutes. Now you would think that United Airlines, knowing that their customers already weren’t happy with the delay, would make every effort to ensure there were no further delays on this flight. Now there was concern that our already rescheduled flights would have to be rescheduled, again.

Thankfully our two stopovers were short and since the planes were domestic we didn’t need to worry about checking in again or collecting our bags. The gate attendants were very helpful in ensuring that each child was sitting with a parent. The rest of the trip went without any delays or complications. The extra delay pushed us from an afternoon arrival into an evening one. This made for very tired and cranky kids but at least we were there on the same day and our vacation was about to start.

We head home on United Airlines with the intention of flying with one stopover and sitting together. Hopefully our return journey will go much smoother, ending on a positive note.

Now on the remaining two legs of our trip we would have to negotiate gate staff and other passengers to ensure we could not only get our Economy Plus seats we paid for but also ensure we could sit together as a family, or at the very least have each child sitting with at least one parent.

This thought still fresh in my mind, the pilot made an announcement just as we were preparing to pull away from the docking platform. Now you would think that United Airlines, knowing that their customers already weren’t happy with the delay, would make every effort to ensure there were no further delays on this flight. I guess they forgot this when they announced there would be an additional 20-minute delay due to equipment malfunction (the tractor that pulls the plane away from the docking station wasn’t working) and de-icing. Now there was concern that our already rescheduled flights would have to be rescheduled, again.

Although our vacation started with stress and frowns and yes it could have gotten off on

Getting Ready For Our Date with Elmo and Friends

I must give my 3-year old credit. Tomorrow the two of us leave for the Beaches Resorts in Turks and Caicos. We’re off to tour and experience what the resort has to offer for the Everything Mom Family Travel Section. One of the features my daughter is really interested in is the Sesame Street characters. Beaches Resorts and Sesame Street have had a partnership for a few years. From baking cookies with Cookie Monster to going on a treasure hunt with Abbie Cadabbie. We received our itinerary for the media event and the first morning we’re scheduled to have breakfast with all the Sesame Street characters.

My daughter’s been talking about the trip every day, counting down the number of sleeps until we go. She’s even been reading her Elmo story book. One more sleep and she’ll be seeing Elmo in person.

A Day of Firsts

Day 1 at Disney World and we had to visit Magic Kingdom first. When you have young kids Magic Kingdom has to be your first stop. It will probably be one of the resorts we visit more than once on our current trip.

We’ve actually visited Disney World a few times, I think six times, but even with all those visits there are still things we haven’t seen or done. Today was actually a day of a few firsts. Today we checked out Country Bear Jamboree, a show we’ve never seen before. Similar to the Enchanted Tiki Room, this is more an attraction that you sit in an air-conditioned room to watch a themed animal animatronics show. The kids seemed to like it, I felt it was a little dated, especially some of the songs, though I’m sure my six-year old son will start singing the song ‘Blood on the Ground’. Probably not a show we’ll see again (unlike Enchanted Tiki Room which we have to see every time we visit) but I’m glad we did see it; I’m glad we had the chance to try something new at Disney.

We also tried Splash Mountain for the first time, especially after we found out our three-year old met the height restrictions, just. barely. Usually the stand-by wait for Splash Mountain has been up to 1.5 hours but when we walked by it was only 15 minutes. Everyone loved it. Yes we got wet, not too wet but wet enough. And once wasn’t enough; we went on two more times. If given the chance the kids would have kept going on but there were some other rides we wanted to hit before heading back to the hotel.

Since this was our youngest daughter’s big ride, just passing the height requirement, she received her Splash Mountain pin. (The kids like to participate in pin trading, but we also buy a few select pins on each visit, like for the resort we’re staying at and a specific ride pin that really means something to each child on that trip).

My six-year old son’s favourite roller coaster is Thunder Run; he experienced for the first time last year. So this year my eight-year old daughter convinced him that he should try her favourite roller coaster, Space Mountain. He sat in the car between me and my daughter. While we whipped around I asked if he liked it and he said ‘no’. Oh dear. I could say close your eyes and it will pass but the ride takes place in the dark so that wouldn’t accomplish much. As the ride continued he started screaming but not ‘get me off this ride before I jump’. No it was ‘this is awesome’. At the end of the ride I asked how he liked it and he said he loved it. After his initial fear of the lap restraint not holding him in, he relaxed and really loved it. He loved it so much he went again. So he earned his Space Mountain badge.

I love that a visit to Disney World means we can visit the attractions and rides we love but that we always find something new to try; a new resort, ride, food. It makes it a great new experience every time.

Disney Bound

So our Everything Disney road trip has begun. In 22 hours we should be at The House of Mouse (also known as Disney World). If you’re on twitter you can follow along using the hashtag #EverythingDisney.

Camp is Not a Singles Bar

My kids love going to camp. Okay, maybe my three-year old has had enough, but the older two love it. And who can blame them. Hanging out with kids your age, playing crazy indoor/outdoor games, going on field trips to the ball game or bowling or Science Center. I’m not a big fan on repeating my youth but sometimes when I think of summer camp, I don’t know, maybe.

We’ve been lucky enough to have great leaders at our local city programs. They really care about the kids and come up with some cool ideas to keep them occupied (unlike mom camp which is full of ‘clean your room’ or ‘read quietly until I get this project done’).

This year my eight-year old tried a new camp, a swim camp, at the community center where the kids take their swimming lessons. This is a program that combines working on swim skills but has the fun game/field trip aspect of a traditional camp. She wanted to go, really. I didn’t force it on her.

Today is the half-way point to her camp (it’s two weeks long). She seems to enjoy it but isn’t as enthusiastic about it as other camps. So I had to ask:

ME: So are you enjoying the swim camp?
8YO: Oh yah, sure. It’s lots of fun.
ME: Great. Should we plan this camp again next year?
8YO: Ah, no. I don’t think I would want to do it again.
ME: Why? You don’t like the program? The kids?
8YO: No the kids are okay. The camp is fun too.
ME: [not sure what to say. Clearly I’m confused about why she doesn’t want to attend but the pause worked in my favour because…]
8YO: The counselor aren’t very friendly. I mean they’re friendly, to each other. They don’t really talk to the kids much.

I don’t know why I am surprised by this comment. The same counselors that run the day camp also run the swim lessons and to be honest there is a lot of flirting among instructors that goes on during the lessons. At first it bugged me. I mean my child is there, for your guidance, correct your focus. But actually the instructors (most of them) are really good with lessons; my kids’ swimming skills have greatly increased because of it and we will continue to go there this fall. But outside the pool things are different.

Some people may like that the counselors keep to themselves, only being there to guide the kids. My kids like the interaction, with both kids and adults, especially my oldest. I may be a mom but I remember what it was like to be young and single and flirtatious, I don’t begrudge the kids those feelings, but stow it until after camp.

So I’m pulling my daughter from her second week of swim camp and moving her into the regular summer camp. It’s closer to our house and the camp counselor/kid dynamic is completely different (we’ve been going there for a few years).

Before transferring my daughter out of the camp, I thought I should explain my decision to the co-ordinator versus just not showing up all next week. I’m the type of person who wants to know why you don’t like something (or do like something). If I was running the camp I would want to know, wouldn’t you?

The woman was very polite, listening to me. She tried to explain that what I was interpreting as flirting was just friendliness; that all the camp leaders know each other from high school. I think it’s great that the kids know each other; I think that comfort adds to the overall camp dynamic. But flirty behaviour and friendly behaviour are different, obviously different, at least to me. I told her it was completely my perspective and others might not see this behaviour as a negative (as I’m sure some of you reading this might think that way). That’s fine but my only concern is my kids and camp should be a fun and focused on the kids.

I don’t think the woman I spoke to took what I said to heart and I’m okay with that. I don’t expect expect the behaviour of the camp leaders will change because of the concerns I raised. Perhaps you think I’m over reacting. So be it. The only change that matters is my daughter will have a fantastic last week of camp with a group she really enjoys. That’s the important thing, to me.

Top 10 Tuesday: Things I Hope to Accomplish at BlogHer

I can’t believe I leave for New York City this Thursday, off to attend the blogging and social media conference BlogHer for the first time. I am excited but completely stressed also. I’ve actually been pretty busy so I haven’t had a lot of time to dwell on the event (which also means I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare for it either). Some blog posts I’ve been reading have helped (like the ones I listed on my Top 10 post last week).

Now with the day so close I’m starting to focus on what I want to get from this event. So for Oh Amanda‘s Top 10 Tuesday blog post I’m putting together a list of the Top 10 Things I Hope I Accomplish at BlogHer.

  1. Eat Well. Yes it’s a conference but we’re talking about New York City. How can you go to New York City and not enjoy the amazing food it has to offer. My husband wants me to check out the restaurants but I’m really interested in trying some of the unique and delicious street food; stuff we can’t get here.
  2. Organize Myself. Thanks to Michele McGraw (@scrappinmichele) for putting the entire BlogHer schedule online so I could import it into my calendar. I now have everything right on my phone for easy access. Hopefully I won’t miss any of the sessions I really want to attend and the parties I’ve RSVP’d for.
  3. Crack out of My Shell. I’m really, really, REALY, going to make an effort to break out of my comfortable shell. It’s safe behind my computer and on twitter but the times I have met people face-to-face have been so rewarding. I don’t want my insecurities and introverted nature to limit me from some great encounters (I think I can, I think I can).
  4. See the Sights. This will be my first trip to New York City (hopefully not my last but who knows when I’ll be back). I know the days and nights will be busy but I want to get out and see some of the sights that New York City is known for. I’m attending Carol Cain‘s (@NYCityMama) New York City bus tour at night so that should be a lot of fun.
  5. Buy Souvenirs. My kids have a collection of iconic souvenirs based on places they have been or my husband has traveled (like the Space Needle from Seattle, the Liberty Bell from Philedelphia). Now’s my chance to add to their collection so I need to get out to get something that is very New York City.
  6. Take Care of Myself. Based on my calendar and the stories I’ve heard from past BlogHer attendees, I need to make a concerted effort to take care of myself during these few days I’m away. That means drinking (besides cocktails), grabbing more than an appitizer to eat and getting a few hours of sleep.
  7. Be Flexible. I know I have a plan about what conferences I want to attend but I need to ensure I don’t let my schedule dictate my entire trip. This may seem like a contradiction to point 2 but I need to ensure I have some flexibility in my day to take advantage of last minute events or meet-and-greats, even if it means a missed event or a late party attendance.
  8. Take Photos. I’m bringing my camera and my flip and my iPhone (which has a built-in camera) so hopefully I’ll remember to take a snap or too of what’s going on, if only to remind myself what I did over those crazy 3 days. More important than taking photos, I need relinquish control of my camera and let someone else take pictures for me, with ME in them.
  9. Skype Goodnight. I’ll admit it, I’m looking forward to getting away, taking a bit of a break from the kids and household responsibilities, of sleeping in a big bed by myself, of having an uninterrupted shower. But that said, I know I will miss my kids. I’m so excited to have discovered Skype earlier this year (yes, a little slow I know), now I’ll be able to say goodnight to my kids face-to-face so to speak.
  10. Take Advantage of Everything. BlogHer will offer so many opportunities to me: learning how to help my personal blog as well as the work I do at EverythingMom, reconnecting with some fabulous ladies I already know, meeting some others I’ve only known online, growing my own confidence and so much more. BlogHer is only a short period of time and I know it will be over before I know it so I hope I can take advantage of everything BlogHer can offer me.

Hopefully having this list will help me to focus when my mind overloads when I get there. If you’re going to BlogHer this year, what’s on your list?

The Friendly Canadian Myth

There’s this rumour going around. It’s not new; it’s been going around for years now. I’m referring to the myth that Canadians are a really friendly group of people, especially to tourists.

If you’ve ever seen the film Canadian Bacon with John Candy (and I might be showing my odd humour but I love this movie), there’s a scene in which John Candy is rushing through a group of Canadians, pushing them down and the Canadians are apologizing, for being in the way! Ha! That wouldn’t happen now. Heck, I don’t know if that would ever have happened.

Obviously that scene is a bit of an exaggeration, as is the whole film, but in my experience Canadians aren’t as friendly as the world perceives us to be.

I’ve just come back from visiting friends in the United States. It’s incredible how different the people are there. In the United States people are more likely to strike up a conversation with you in line (you’ll be lucky to get a smile from a Canadian) and the number of times drivers cut you off, drive in the incorrect lane, don’t let you in or don’t thank you for letting them in, seems to increase as soon as we cross the border, into Canada.

Perhaps it’s the city I live in. Perhaps people are more stressed about finances and job stability. Maybe it’s because I’m in vacation mode and that changes how I interact with people  I’m visiting versus those I work and live and deal with day-to-day.

Whatever the reason, I think unless we as Canadians start living up to our reputation we need to stop perpetrating the myth. Maybe I’m looking at this backwards but I would rather visitors have a lower expectation of Canadians and be pleasantly surprised versus being dreadfully disappointed.

Do you believe friendly Canadians are a reality or myth?

Last Day of Camp

Friday was the last day of my 3-year-old’s first summer camp session. I think she really loved it. She went in as a little girl and came out a camp cat. Happy, until I told her we had to wash it off before bedtime.