Archive for the ‘Travel Tips’ Category

Our Best Disney Tips

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Disney Tips

Our family is currently having the time of our lives at Disney World for the Social Media Moms Conference and I was reminded of our family’s first experience visiting the Magic Kingdom and what we learned during that trip.

Are the tips I shared then still helpful? You bet! In fact, coming into this trip armed with the “insider” tips we learned during our first visit has made this one a lot smoother, even though it’s a bit different because I’m also attending a conference.

MA_Disney_collage

So I thought I’d take a moment to share again how we planned for Disney and what we learned (for further information on each tip, be sure to read the original post), and give you the opportunity to add any of your tips or tricks you’ve learned in visiting Disney World in the comments!

1. Advance Preparation Tips

  • Financially: start saving and looking for deals as soon as you start thinking about your trip.
  • Safety: print out current photos to carry of each child, bring a sharpie to write cell phone numbers with, and assign buddies.
  • Meals: plan for snacks and drinks before heading to the park.
  • Souvenirs: buy them at a local Disney store or the party store and pack them with you!
  • Navigation: load all needed GPS info beforehand.

2. Ride Tips

  • Make a family plan: list the rides everyone wants to go on by importance.
  • Visit rides with longest wait times first.
  • Use FASTPASS to get through longer lines faster.
  • Add the Wait Time App to your mobile phone to check ride wait times.

3. Photograph Tips

  • Capture your children’s view – not only of them seeing things, but how they see it (get down to their level).
  • Capture the moment – as many of the hilarious ride moments as you can!
  • Take pictures on the go, too – in the car and at the hotel – using both phone and regular cameras.
  • Remember a family photo: scope out someone who can take a picture of your family in front of something you like.
  • Capture the nighttime magic – do a bit of research in advance to know your camera settings so you can get some good memory shots of the fantastic light displays.

Now it’s your turn – what can you share with us about the best way to experience Disney?

 

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Dinosaurs Alive! Exhibit at Brookfield Zoo

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Ever since my son was small he has been obsessed with dinosaurs. He did not speak for the first two years of his life and when he did decide to talk, his first words were about two of his favorite dinosaurs-  pachycephalosaurus and coelophysis. I had thought he would outgrow dinosaurs, but last summer his love for them was sparked again and I found him pouring over his encyclopedias and watching documentaries about them.

That is why we were so excited when Brookfield Zoo contacted us about a sneak peek media day to explore the Dinosaurs Alive!  exhibit that opened on April 6th.

What is Dinosaurs Alive!?

Dinosaurs Alive! will run through October 27th and takes zoogoers down a winding trail of animatronic dinosaurs that make a variety of sounds and movements. There are 24 dinosaurs in all and each offer interactive displays that give you the chance to move them by pressing buttons and well-thought information. Our kids got a kick out of the fun facts in creative tabloid-magazine displays with shocking facts like, “I didn’t even know I was laying eggs,” that parents will truly get a chuckle out of while enjoying the exhibit with their children.

The new indoor display of Feathers and Fossils highlights the most recent findings that include scientific discoveries demonstrating how birds evolved from dinosaurs. The room literally roars as you walk in, and hear all of the dinosaurs chiming in together as they move around in this display.

Kids can be like real paleontologists and dig in a Dino Dig area where they can brush off  fossil displays in the back of the Feathers and Fossils exhibit. Our kids absolutely loved this hands-on element of the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit.

Is This Just for Boys? Heck no!

If you think this exhibit was just for the boys, you would be wrong. My daughter loved this one just as much as her brother and we had a hard time pulling them out of this exhibit to explore other areas of the zoo. She loved the Dino Dig area, making the dinosaurs move, and the interactive displays and information that made this exhibit so charming.

Since he is such a big dinosaur lover, Ethan is going to share with you about the new Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. He truly enjoyed talking to the knowledgeable employees and many offered him a job at the zoo to volunteer at the exhibit as he spouted off his facts. Sadly, the zoo is a 2 1/2 hour drive for us or I think he would have began working there that day.

Dinosaurs Alive! at Broofield Zoo Review by Ethan (Age 10)

Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit was a place that was a fantastic dinosaur-filled adventure that seemed like it was already done, but it was actually still in the making. I’ll give it 4 stars. only a few mistakes, but I could hardly see most of them. It still was astonishing, though!

Pricing

Dinosaurs Alive! is $5 for adults and $3 for children and seniors over 65 in addition to regular zoo general admission of $15 for adults and $10.50 for children and seniors over 65. Children 2 and under are free. Beginning in April, discounted-combo general zoo admission and Dinosaurs Alive! tickets will be available for purchase at participating Dominick’s stores. Zoo members can take advantage of half-price admission to Dinosaurs Alive! Or guests can now pay for a day and come back for the year with the Zooper Fun Pass. For the same price as a one-day all-inclusive ticket, the Zooper Fun Pass offers admission to Dinosaurs Alive! and to each of Brookfield Zoo’s six other special attractions. And with the Zooper Fun Pass, guests can also come back to visit again and again throughout 2013. For more information, visit this page.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Brookfield Zoo for such a fun excursion over our Spring Break. We brought our best friends and they represent three different age groups and they all equally loved this interactive display. We spent almost two hours in this area alone, making it truly worth the price of admittance, especially with the fun new dino facts they each came away with. When asked what their favorite part of the day was at the zoo, they all said the Dino Alive! exhibit!
We can’t wait to come back and see it all again!

Our family received free admittance in exchange for our thoughts and opinions on the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. All opinions expressed are our own and we received no additional compensation.

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Family Travel: Exploring Saugatuck, Michigan

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Our family spent the most glorious week in Saugatuck, Michigan last week and we wanted to share with you our experience traveling to this fun little Midwest destination for your family travel. Words like epic, most relaxing vacation ever, and best vacation of our life may have flown out of our mouths. Sometimes the sweetest destinations are the simplest and lurking practically in your own backyard.

Saugatuck is a little harbor village that celebrates diversity and offers a fun artsy community for visitors to explore. Recently The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Saugatuck/Douglas as one of the “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in the U.S. and the writers and editors of Midwest Living Magazine ranked Saugatuck/Douglas fifth among the top 100 vacation destinations in the Midwest. Saugatuck happens to be just an hour and a half from our home, yet it seemed a world away and happened to be our first visit to the town.

Rental properties abound in this town and it is just a matter of selecting your house early enough and finding one in your price point. We searched on HomeAway to find our own dream property. I took on a freelance job and squirreled the money away for our vacation and when we saw this rental in Kingfishers Cove, we knew it would be perfect for us. A gorgeous little log cabin with modern amenities was our heart’s desire and we made it happen.

To save on this expense, you could definitely split the property with another family, book during the week instead of paying for weekend rates, or cut expenses by selecting a smaller size property. Remember that the properties book quickly and you need to plan a couple of months in advance to grab the premium spots in town.

When I asked around on Facebook about the best things to do and see while we were in the area, everyone had their own favorite spots in the town and a bucket list of fun activities to do there. We made a list of everything we wanted to do from the responses (this one from Travelmomiac was among my favorites) and we did everything on our list.  After our week of exploration, here are our family’s top recommendations for fun in the Saugatuck area.

Swoon Over Retro

The antique stores in Saugatuck are phenomenal and full of thoughtfully curated antique items that will have you wishing that you brought a moving truck to take it all home with you. We stopped at so many fun little shops along the main drag, but our favorite was the Blue Star Antique Pavilion. You could literally walk the store for miles and miles and never see the same thing twice. The store is over 50,000 square feet and it was named the best of the best in  Antique Mall in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin by Lake Magazine (July 2005).

You can end your visit with a delicious lunch next door to their building at the Saugatuck Brewing Company.  This award winning micro-brewery has 2 chefs delivering fresh and innovative food that is the perfect way to end a day of antiquing. There are always 12 different beers on tap, and a Hard Cider, that tastes like champagne, and loads of other fun drinks. Emily highly recommends their root beer. She said it was the most amazing thing about the brewery.

Head Downtown

Downtown Saugatuck is full of cute little shops to visit and spend an afternoon browsing in. Many of the shops seemed very tourist geared, but there were some hidden gems along with lots of shops offering wine tastings and food samples to try.

We visited the Saugatuck Drugstore and grabbed ice cream at the soda fountain counter for a midday pick-me-up. The cone pictured above is a SMALL so we recommend ordering a kid size cone so you don’t end up with a belly ache from all the ice cream. There is nothing like sitting at an old-fashioned ice cream counter and the kids loved their delicious treats.

Marro’s Restaurant was on our family’s agenda for our last night of vacation celebration feasting and it did not disappoint. You can order small/lighter portions to save a little money or order the regular size portion (seen in my picture above) and split it between two people. We ordered the Linguine Ala Pescatore and it was a generous portion of mussels, clams, shrimp, and scallops tossed in a spicy red sauce that was absolutely divine.

My daughter ordered the mac and cheese which came out on a platter and looked like chicken nuggets. Deep fried macaroni? Perhaps the world’s most delicious kid food ever.

We ended our downtown visit with a stop at Tuck’s Treats and grabbed a cupcake ($3.99 each) to split for our dessert that evening. It was rich, moist, and decadent. It is a cupcake that you can share among two or three people due to its richness and size.

Catch a Sunset

The sunset was absolutely breathtaking and worth catching in the evening after a great meal together. We caught a sunset over at Pier Cove and it was worth every moment of effort. My daughter actually said this was her favorite part of our trip and, as you can see from the photos, the view was absolutely stunning.

We are adding more sunsets to our family’s travel agendas since this is such a fun and free activity to partake of. The sunset in Saugatuck did not disappoint and the kids loved dipping their toes in the water.

Head to Holland

Holland, Michigan is just thirteen short minutes away from Saugatuck and happened to be one of the highlights of our trip. The shopping in Holland offered fabulous unique and boutique options that could have you window shopping for days. I actually enjoyed the shopping in Holland more than Saugatuck because of the variety of shops they offered and how cute the town was itself.

They offer an amazing Famer’s Market (Open Wednesdays & Saturdays 8am – 4pm May 16 – Nov 24 and Saturdays only thru Dec 15) that had just about everything your heart could desire.

New Holland Brewing Company is a fantastic spot to visit for a great sandwich and pint of their Mad Hatter Beer. The sandwich options were so delicious that my husband and I ordered the two we liked best and split them. The kid’s menu offered generous portions for big appetites.

We ended our feasting and took back slices of Crane’s Pie (located in downtown Holland) for dessert and did a pie taste test. I loved the cherry while my daughter was in love with the red raspberry. It was the perfect way to end a day of fun shopping and eating.

Go On a Dune Buggy Ride

We ended our travels with a Dune Ride together and I have to say that the Saugatuck Dune Ride was one of the highlights of our entire trip. The driver shares the history of the dunes along with a fun comedy routine that keeps families engaged with the historical information. The buggy ride is like a fun roller coaster and you can ride up to 60-65 miles through the hilly dunes.

The ride takes you to the highest dune where you have ten minutes to let your kids run around like crazy down the dunes, where you are able to take pictures of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen in my life, and where the driver will even happily take your family portrait for you.

We ended our trips with sand in our mouth and aching faces from smiling so hard which is the way all vacations should, perhaps, end.

We hope you enjoyed the review of our family’s experience in Saugatuck. Be sure to visit our Travel section for more ideas on great family travel!

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Smart Strategies for Saving Time & Money When Flying

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Over the years, I have been doing a lot more travel than I ever dreamed I would be doing. When you travel frequently, you quickly learn that you need a lot less than you think you do, proper planning will save you hours of frustration, and each trip is a lesson on how to do it better.

I wanted to share with you a few tips to help you save time and money on your next flight. These are my tried and true strategies that I employ each time I fly and I hope they will help you on your next trip.

Check in Online- The biggest timesaver for me has always been taking the time to check in for my flights online twenty-four hours before my flight.  You can save so much time and can also avoid having to wait as long at the airport if you have checked in for your flight early. What would normally take an hour can now take twenty to thirty minutes just by using my computer at home.

While you are checking in online, print out all of the documents you might need for your trip and store them in a folder together. I keep all trip itineraries, meeting information, agendas, and check-in information for the returning flight together.  Pull this together with your freshly printed boarding passes and put this in your carry-on luggage or purse for easy access.

Keep Your Bags Light- Most airlines now charge for you to check in your luggage, not to mention the hassle of waiting at baggage claims for your luggage to arrive when you are anxious to start your trip.  The largest allowed size for carry-on bags is 22×14×19 inches, but you can maximize your packing by in a quality soft-sided carry-on bag, which will be roomier than a more rigid bag.  Just by packing light, you are able to shave approximately $50 on a round-trip flight!

If you are traveling as a family, divide the luggage up between each family member and consider investing in one small roller bag for each child that they will be able to maneuver themselves.  Child size luggage can be found at discount stores like Target, Walmart, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s. Even with this investment, you can still easily save $25 on the way back because you won’t need to check a bag. The bonus is that they can use that bag for years to come, making it easy to recoup your travel investment.

The best part about keeping your bags light though is that you can use this as an excuse to not buy so many travel souvenirs on your trip. Consider that light bag as not only a savings for not checking in, but the ultimate excuse to not indulge in those pricey gift shops.

If, in the end, you are unable to reduce your luggage to be carry-on compliant, paying for your checked bags online can sometimes save you a few dollars each way!

Pack Smart- It seems that it is always the people that do not take the time to pack wisely that become the most flustered or are asked to step aside by security. The most important thing to note is that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules require that passengers only carry liquids in three ounce containers in no more than one, clear, quart-sized bag.

Visit freebie sites like Freebies4Mom.com, DealSeekingMom.com, or MommySnacks.net and stockpile sample size toiletries and detergent for your trips that will comply with these federal guidelines. If you travel frequently, reusable travel containers can also be a fantastic investment that can be refilled with the items you already have from home. Make sure to store this bag right on top for easy access, as it will need to be removed from your bags when going through airport security.

Underneath this bag of toiletries, tightly roll your clothing to prevent wrinkling and to maximize the space within your carry-on luggage. Choose clothing that can easily be mixed and matched and make sure to prepare for what weather conditions may be awaiting you. There is nothing worse than being at an amusement park with your family during a torrential downpour and paying $15 for an umbrella or heading to a state with warmer weather and paying $35 for a junky tourist sweatshirt because you are freezing.

Last, make sure that any electronics that will need to be inspected rest on top next to your toiletries until you get through security.  The ones that will not need to be run through separately will be easier to scan if they are right on top and those that require a separate scanning will be easy to access for this procedure.  Remember that everything can be rearranged in the bag, once you get through security, to protect your electronics from harm during travel.

Thrifty Snacking- The days of meals and snacks on flights are long gone so it is important to have a thrifty snacking strategy to avoid spending $50 at the airport while waiting for flights. Pack food items that will travel well both ways to reduce your spending. Items like protein bars (avoid anything with melting chocolate), trail mixes, apples, and oranges are all great items to tuck away in your bag for a snack while you are waiting. If your flight is leaving during the lunch hour, spend a little time packing lunches that can be eaten in flight or while waiting at the airport. This little effort of planning can easily save you $7 per person.

While you are unable to bring any liquids through security, there is one easy strategy you can take to save on those $5 waters at the airport. Tuck an empty reusable water bottle in your bag and fill it at a drinking fountain when you get through security.

Frugal Entertainment- It is easy to keep everyone entertained on the flights, but it also requires a little strategy, particularly if you are bringing children. Consider packing one set of things to do on the way there and one small set of things to do on the way back to keep your children happy. Library books, magnetic travel games, coloring books, a deck of cards, puzzle books, and even your child’s portable gaming system are great ways to keep them entertained.

It is important to keep in mind that electronics do have to be turned off at the beginning and ending of each flight, so don’t just rely on that Nintendo DS, DVD player, or that iPod to hold their interest. They will be glad that you packed a coloring book or reading material when the time comes to switch them off. As an added savings, don’t forget to bring their headphones for these electronics, as the airline will happily charge you for each set you might have forgotten.

I hope that these tips will help you on your next flight and don’t forget to tuck those items away to save time for the next trip. There is nothing like having a bag of toiletries that are already packed, a special set of items that are already preset in your bags to keep the kids entertained, or  the travel pillow already packed in your bag to save you time for your next trip.

If you want more great tips on travel, be sure to visit our Organized Travel article before heading out for your next vacation!

What are some ways that you save time and money when you are flying? I would love to hear your success stories or lessons learned!

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make My Hotel Stay Better?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Experiment: Can I make my hotel stay better?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 10.30.08

Materials Needed: Please see Digital Bliss for the full instructions. This post was written by Angie, over at Blog Coach, so please be sure to check her site for additional great blogging resources!

Results: While I am off traveling, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite sites to use while I am away from home. If you are ever away (with kids or without), give these sites a try… especially if your room comes with free Wi-Fi!


iSerenity was perhaps my favorite resource on that list because I hate all the sounds from my neighbors and out in the hallways of hotels. In our house, each of us has a sound machine in our rooms so I really love having some type of white noise when I sleep. I tuned into the sounds of the ocean and it helped so much to cut down on the background noise so I could get some sleep. This would have been a great resource too when my children were smaller to help them sleep better too.



The other site that I used was Kukuklock. Is it just me or does anyone else have trouble figuring out how in the heck to set these alarms in the hotel rooms? A little manual would be helpful! I set my alarm on my phone in my room, but I like to have a back-up alarm just in case. I went ahead and set it to the rooster setting and it was as easy as pie to set.

I headed to bed and woke up to the sounds of the ocean with roosters crowing over the waves. Yeah, it was pretty freaky and I thought I fell into an alternate universe for a moment there, but it worked like a charm.

Conclusion:
I plan to use these sites every time because it helped me sleep better knowing I would wake up on my time and I could eliminate the background noises in my room. I hope you can check these out on your next trip!

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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster’s blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can’t wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

Six Easy Ways to Save on That Weekend Getaway

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

My husband and I celebrated nine years of marriage last month. We wanted to celebrate our anniversary in a special way and so we decided to take a little trip to Traverse City, Michigan and enjoy a weekend getaway for just the two of us. My husband’s family was kind of enough to take care of the little ones and we were off for two days of sightseeing, window shopping, and delicious eating.

We remained true to our budget through careful planning and research and I wanted to share with you a few ways we found to save on our memorable weekend getaway!

We Researched Hotel Rates- There were tons of great places to stay in Traverse City and I wanted the place that we stayed at to be close to the downtown shopping and a fun getaway for us. We checked Kayak for room rates and found the Grand Traverse Resort to be approximately the same price as the other hotels, but it had many amenities. The reviews on the hotel were great and we were thrilled to find a rate that saved us about $70 a night versus the hotel rates.

All of that being said, it seemed because we had booked this discount rate, we also got the discount room. Our room was the one without the view, on the ground floor, and smelled like a smoking room. We also had no idea that they would charge a resort fee of $9.95 a day for all of those amenities that we did not use.

We still did score a great rate, but realized that the amount of time we spent in our room was not worth the grandeur and we will find a less expensive place next time!

We Requested A Visitor Packet- While the visitor packet for this town lacked coupons, it did give us some ideas for neat places to visit and offered great historical information on the places we planned to visit. Through this packet of information, I was able to jot down some ideas for places to eat and see while we were in the town.

We Found the Best Places to Eat- I wanted to eat the coolest spots in town and we were able to do that with just a little research on my part. I hopped on Chow and checked through the forums for information on the town we were visiting. People offered honest opinions on the best spots in town and we decided to eat at two of the restaurants that had been recommended.

This first restaurant is called Trattoria Stella and was a fantastic Italian place in a renovated insane asylum. No, I am not joking! My husband, who watches many of those ghost-chasing shows, was thoroughly creeped out and it made for great conversation with our waiter. The food and wine choices relied heavily on local farmers and local wines which made for a fresh and delicious dinner.

The other recommendation was for Don’s Drive-In, which was absolutely everything that I adore about diner food. Greasy burgers, giant shakes, and the best fried mushrooms ever. We took our shakes to go and drove near the water for a view. It was far too cold to sit too long, but we prided ourselves on making the most of our two day getaway!

We Talked to the Local Folk- When someone comes to my town, I love to be a local authority. Isn’t it fun to share all of the hidden gems of your town? We talked to anyone who would chat with us and they shared their special places to eat, shop, and their favorite wineries to visit in town. People just love sharing about their home and that is how we were able to discover an out-of-the-w
ay winery that was not listed on maps. It ended up closing before we arrived, but we were able to take some wonderful pictures of the view.


We Put Together Our Own Tours & Packages- The Grand Traverse Resort offered a room package that you could take to tour the local wineries. The package included a two night stay and a tour of three wineries. The price? A whopping $224.50 per person. They had the wineries listed where they would be touring and I jotted them down and we decided to do our own tour. The price for us to do our own wine tour? Gas plus $3-5 per tasting at the wineries. With the money saved, we were able to take home a bottle of wine from each of the three wineries as a memento of our special anniversary. The two highlights for us were Shady Lane & Black Star Farms.

We saved ourselves even more time and money by trying wines at the restaurant and even picking up a bottle at the gas station. We discovered what wineries were not worth visiting and which ones we could not wait to enjoy at their winery.


We Put Our GPS To Good Use- We had a gift certificate last year and we put it towards a little GPS unit for our car. It has saved us so much money in gas and an inevitable divorce because we always get lost. It has been one of the best investments for our family- I truly could go on and on!

If you have a GPS unit, program it with all of the places that you would like to go before heading on your trip. I visited all of the sites of the restaurants, our hotel, even the downtown shops that I wanted to hit so all of the information was right at our fingertips. We enjoyed a scenic view to the town and we were able to navigate our way around without any problems to all of the places we wanted to see.

If you don’t have a GPS, print out maps for the places you would like to go and tuck them in a folder for your trip.

We Stuck To Window Shopping- I won’t say we didn’t make any purchases, but the majority of the day was just spent window shopping and picture-taking. I was able to take pictures of all the beautiful windows and antiques that we saw and that seemed to satisfy any urge I had to shop. We did enjoy oodles of free food samples downtown and shared a slice of pizza on a park bench to people watch over our lunch.

What a happy 9th anniversary that was and almost 15 years of being together!

Do you have any weekend getaways planned? What is your favorite way to save on your vacation travels? Please share!

WSBT-TV: Planning for a Cheap Getaway

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Today on WSBT, I share some tips and tricks for planning an inexpensive getaway with your family. I suggest some frugal alternatives for vacations and ways to make some memories for your family on a budget.

Sound Off: What are your plans this year for Spring Break? How are you making your travels more affordable?

Travel Tips from Tracy Gallagher

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Travel Channel expert Tracy Gallagher offers a wealth of insider information for every aspect of leisure travel, from family vacations in the United States to exotic trips around the world. She is best known as the host of the upbeat interstitials that have aired for years on the Travel Channel to promote various aspects of the network’s programming.

Tracy also happens to be working with Hanes and is helping to provide parenting tips for their website.

We got the chance to interview Tracy on traveling with children and asked her how to make those family trips a tad more bearable… and even really fun!

Many parents find traveling with children very challenging, what are some easy ways that parents can make travels less stressful?

It’s all in the mindset. If you start off worrying how hard it is going to be instead of focusing on the adventure, it will be more trouble. Stay calm – if you get stressed, your kids will get stressed. Get your kids involved from the beginning: ask them to help plan and depending on how old they are, carefully explain that traveling can be tiring and hard and that you as parents need their cooperation. There will be times when everyone is tired, possibly can’t understand the language, and when the kids get a bit bored, but they really need to do their best to not get grumpy.

First thing’s first – make sure the kids are comfortable! Long gone are the days when moms dressed their kids in dressy clothes just for a plane ride. Get your kids in comfy clothes – I always make sure mine are wearing Hanes underwear; they love the super-soft waistband and the tagless design to eliminate in-seat squirming, especially on long trips. I also encourage them to wear layers; from airports to rental cars to trains, everywhere has a different temperature. A Hanes hoodie lets them put on or shed a layer whenever they want. Finally, I always pack an extra t-shirt or pants depending on how much room I have. That way, if your kids spill (and chances are they will!) you’re prepared and won’t have to face any future complaining.
Get the kids in on the action by having them carry something, especially if you’re traveling by train or plane. It makes them happy and involved and it can also help spread the burden around, especially if they are bit older. Even younger children can carry their own kid-sized backpacks with all their stuff. Kids love to emulate their parents and having their own suitcase or backpack actually makes them feel empowered and like a big kid!

If you have more than one child, be strategic with how you sit on the plane or train. If your son loves to poke your daughter on a regular basis, it might make sense to separate them into two rows (if you can) to cut down on time spent both refereeing and apologizing to nearby passengers. A car poses closer quarters so try to keep your kids entertained with fun games and toys – code words for distractions.

Once you’ve arrived, give your kids choices of things they’d like to do on the trip- they are less likely to complain about something they choose. I also encourage my kids to start a scrapbook, so while we’re visiting different places, they can also keep busy looking for things to fill their scrapbooks. Last resort – it is always good to have a portable DVD…or now you can even play movies on a computer or iPhone! Kids are kids and can only take so much moving around. Some downtime in front of a movie to unwind isn’t a bad thing, and if you are in a hotel it gives you a chance to plan the next day of your trip…or just relax yourself!

One of my biggest concerns with traveling is the amount of money we are spending on our travels. Do you have any money-saving tips that you could offer to parents?

Spend some quality time preparing for your trip by looking for things that are free to do in each destination. Look for locations that might be hosting free concerts, carnivals or festivals during your stay; research local trails to hike or free beaches to explore; determine which zoos or museums have free admission and when. Use your hotel concierge – ask when the best and least expensive time is to visit local tourist hot sports. Or, inquire about those hot spots off the beaten path – maybe there is a local bookstore that hosts a reading for children or an arts & crafts store that holds a free class each week – you never know!

Try a home exchange – that gives you free lodging, plus a house with a kitchen so you don’t have to eat every meal out. Travel off-season by going when the crowds are thin, especially if you can take your kids out of school a few days. Get a hotel room with a sofa bed for the kids so you don’t have to get an extra room.

What are some fun ways to keep children entertained when going on long trips?

In our car, we pack all kinds of music so the kids can sing, which helps keep them engaged and happy. We also do brain teasers. We talk about our destination and what each member of the family is excited to do once we get there. At the top of each hour, we break out special present or snack (but, no chocolate! If it melts, it gets everywhere!).

On planes, word searches, magna doodles, a deck of cards, are all invaluable. I also like books that allow kids to change the endings allowing for multiple reads. And once again, a movie is not a cop out.

One of my favorite ideas, no matter how we’re traveling, is putting together customized travel kits for each of my kids themed according to our destination. Just grab a brown paper bag, put their name on the front and fill them with all sorts of goodies. From healthy snacks to stickers to comic strips, their travel kits don’t have to cost much and are like spontaneous presents.

Finally, no matter how we’re traveling I like to encourage my kids to take something from home with them. Kids love the routine of home and so a favorite doll, pillow or blanket will put them at ease while on the road.

How can parents save money when it comes to dining on their travels?

Again, do your research. Look for hotels where kids eat for free or offer kids menus. A lot of places also offer free breakfasts. Stay in a home or hotel room with a small kitchenette so you can cook some meals yourself. That is a big money saver – even if you just eat one meal here.

Try not to order room service – that translates to higher prices and service fees…instead, pack your own snacks and put them in the hotel fridge. Explain to your kids (and husband) that the mini bar is off limits!!!

What are some fun and family friendly destinations that families should definitely visit?

Alaska – for the great outdoors…kayaking next to otters and bald eagles is amazing.

Washington DC – so many things are free like the National Mall and all its beautiful monuments.
The U.S. Mint is so cool to see money being made and the Smithsonian museums are top notch.

Hawaii – on Maui, we went zip lining, hiking, kayaking…it’s not just about sitting on a beach, but you can do that too! Lots of hotels also offer morning or all-day camps for the kids.

Galapagos Islands: for older kids.

And of course – Orlando and San Diego! C’mon! It may not be that original an idea, but they are only kids once :)

Do you have any tips for keeping your children safe when embarking on trips?

I make copies of their passports and keep an extra copy at home and another copy in my suitcase. I try and dress each child in the same color each day, so if in case anything did happen to one of them, I could tell the authorities what color they are wearing by looking at my other children.

Always talk to your children about the dangers associated with being in a new place…unfamiliar surroundings, new way around, etc. Make sure to come up with a plan if someone gets lost, and also give your child the name of where you are staying and a phone number on a piece of paper for his or her pocket.

Sound Off: Is your family embarking on a trip for spring break? What is your best travel tip?

10 Best Children’s Activities at Walt Disney World

Friday, June 24th, 2005

I’m sure you all know about Disney World’s amazing theme parks, but are you familiar with the myriad of fascinating activities for children offered throughout Walt Disney World that are either complimentary or offered for a reasonable fee to Disney resort guests? Here are some of the best:

  • Snag a Bass On a Kid’s Fishing Excursion. 1-hour angling trips just for children are available from the resort marinas of Disney’s Contemporary, Polynesian, Yacht and Beach Club, and Boardwalk Inn and Villas. For miles of shore fishing head over to Disney’s Ft. Wilderness where cane poles and rods and reels may be rented at the Bike Barn in the Meadow Recreation Area. Fishing excursions are approximately $25 per child. Call 407-WDW-PLAY for reservations.
  • Enjoy the Old West. Hayrides depart each evening from Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness for a 45-minute trip. Very tame, cowboy-guided trail rides are also offered, or younger children can opt for a $2 pony ride at the Fort Wilderness Petting Farm. Hayrides are $8 per adult and $4 per child; no reservations taken. Trail rides are $30 per person; reservations are required and may be made up to two weeks in advance by calling 407-WDW-PLAY.
  • Sing-Along in Front of the Campfire. Families gather round the campfire each evening at Ft. Wilderness for a sing-along, marshmallow roast, and a Disney animated movie. Complimentary to all Walt Disney World resort guests.
  • Watch the Electrical Water Pageant Parade. Nightly on the Seven Seas Lagoon is a delightful 1000-foot string of illuminated barges featuring King Neptune and his court of whales, sea serpents, and other deep-sea creatures. The free show can be seen from the beaches of Disney’s Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Wilderness Lodge Resorts.
  • Ride Up Front with the Monorail Driver. Simply ask the Cast Member on duty. They will be happy to oblige as long as the front car is empty.
  • Dive into One of Disney’s Fabulous Themed Pools. You can’t do much better than a dip in one of Disney’s wonderful swimming pools. Children’s favorites: the Volcano Pool at Disney’s Polynesian Resort featuring a smoking volcano slide, underwater music, and sparkling waterfall, all with a superb view of the Seven Seas Lagoon; the Wilderness Lodge’s boulder-lined pool featuring waterfalls, rocky overlooks, water slide, and a nearby geyser; the eye-popping Stormalong Bay, a mini-water park complex that meanders between the Yacht and Beach Club, offering three acres of winding, watery delight including sandy bottom pools, a giant “shipwreck” waterslide, a tidal whirlpool, bubbling hot tubs, a kiddie pool with its own slide next to the beach, and enough length to float lazily in inner tubes to your heart’s delight.
  • Search for Buried Treasure on a Pirate’s Cruise. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, children ages 3-10 sail from the dock of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort on a 2-hour supervised trip to a deserted island. $28 fee includes snacks, bandanas, and treasure. Call 407-WDW-DINE for reservations.
  • Attend a Children’s Tea Party. A “Wonderland Tea Party” happens Mon-Fri at 1:30 P.M. in 1900 Park Fare at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. Hosted by characters from Alice in Wonderland, the little ones play games, listen to stories, and drink apple “tea”. $28. Strictly for children ages 3-10. Call 407-WDW-DINE for reservations.
  • Take in a Character Meal. These extremely popular dining opportunities, offered at both the Disney theme parks and resort hotels, are a perfect way for your children to spend extra time with favorite Disney characters. Meals are offered in three ways depending on the restaurant: buffet-style, family-style, or pre-plated meals; regardless, it’s essentially all-you-can-eat. Characters work the room, stopping at each table to interact with guests, pose for photos, and sign autographs. Book priority seating early, particularly for Cinderella’s Royal Table, Epcot’s Princess Breakfast in Norway , and Chef Mickey’s by calling 407-WDW-DINE

**Traveling With Children**

Friday, April 8th, 2005

I ran across these great tips from Fine Living on how to survive trips with your children. I thought they were great and worth sharing…

Traveling is challenging with young kids, especially when they’re away from the routines and comforts of home. It’s not uncommon for parents on a family vacation to spend more time trying to cheer up cranky kids than actually enjoying the trip itself. “A little creative planning can help keep the kids busy and happy when traveling, and make things easier on you,” says Sheila Ellison, co-author of the book 365 Way to Raise Great Kids.

  • Try a Treasure Hunt
    When no one is looking, hide little treasures, like candy, small toys, etc., in the hotel room or play area.
  • Put on a Play With Hand Puppets
    Stage an impromptu puppet show with puppets you keep with you. Use the back of the front seat as your stage and entertain the kids in the back while you travel. Then, hand the puppets to the kids and let them entertain you for a while.
  • Collect and Send Postcards
    Most restaurants and hotels offer free postcards and filling them out with the kids can be a fun activity. Have the kids write whatever they want about how they spent the day, from what they ate to what sights they saw. Then address them to your own home and drop them in the mail. When you get back, the postcards will serve as a sort of diary of your trip.