Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Family Fun: Make Memories Camping!

image courtsey of wiangya/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The beauty of camping as a family is that it is affordable, engaging, and perfectly adaptable for families with children of any age!  A family camp-out can be as simple as pitching a tent in the backyard, building a fire pit for marshmallow roasting, and spending the night sleeping under the stars or as adventurous as exploring one of America's National Parks for a week! 

One of our family's favorite traditions is to camp-out in the backyard the first weekend after school starts.  We throw the tent up, bring out the sleeping bags, grill up some supper, and make a little fire pit for smores!  We do all sneak inside for bathroom breaks during the night and I usually end up sleeping inside (so the dog doesn't spend all night barking!) - but it just adds to the fun; my daughter breaks out the walkie talkies and once I'm inside she periodically "radios in for supplies" (i.e. snacks, glow sticks, books, toys, etc.) as the night wears on!

Below are some of the things we have done on our annual backyard camp-out that were a huge hit:
  • cookout (we find that campfires are ok for hot dogs, but our gas grill is really better for most other items; but we make sure to eat outdoors and everyone helps with the cooking!)
  • smores (the cornerstone of any successful camp-out according to my daughter!)
  • glow-sticks/bracelets/necklaces
  • flashlight hide and seek (instead of us hiding, we hide a prize!)
  • star gazing with a telescope (we have seen everything from comets to planets to the space station!)
  • scavenger hunt
  • storytelling/book reading
  • nature hunt (find bugs, make leaf rubbings, search the skies with binoculars for birds or bats - your imagination is your only limitation!)
Safe and happy camping!
-Destination Mom

Friday, August 22, 2014

The "Don'ts" and "Dos" of a Family Cruise!

This week we are thrilled to share a fantastic review of an Alaskan family cruise, courtesy of our Chief Marketing Officer, Amy! She and her family enjoyed the trip of a lifetime, and she came back with some invaluable tips for what worked and what she might do differently next time... enjoy!

This summer we celebrated my parent's 50th wedding anniversary, and for the first time in 50 years of marriage my dad actually suggested a vacation idea that he wanted to try; a cruise to Alaska!  Because it's so rare for my dad to make a request like this, I jumped all over planning the perfect trip for our family. 

The challenge was to find a cruise line that would cater to and entertain passengers from 4 to 73 years old.  Not that my dad and son don't have an extraordinary amount in common, they do, but my son has about 400 times the energy level!

I scoured blogs, websites, cruise critics galore and came to this decision - Princess Cruise lines, specifically the Grand Princess.  Disney was too child-centric, Celebrity was too entertainment-focused (my dad would stick a hot poker in his eye before going to see a Broadway musical or dress formally for dinner).  Princess seemed to be middle of the road, with hundreds of excursions you could plan for every age/activity level. 

Why it was ideal for kids - Ice cream, all the time, at their fingertips.  Would I let them eat five ice cream cones a day regularly?  No.  Never.  But on a once in a lifetime cruise?  Hell yeah! Go for it. Pools up the wazoo.  Indoors, outdoors, pick your pleasure.  Not too crowded and very friendly.  So, here's what worked for us and what we would have done differently:


Fantastic service -  seriously outstanding.  Our waiters were charming and overly gracious and patient with us.  The food was fantastic but there were always options for the kids.  And ice cream.  Always ice cream. How can you go wrong?  Every day our steward arranged my kids stuffed animals in a new scene.  Tea parties, sleepovers, and even one day they had a elephant (folded towel art) join in the fun.  My 7 year old daughter truly believed he brought her and her alone chocolate for her pillow every night.  She was enchanted and always intends to travel this way.

Whales - we had an incredible experience while cruising through the inside passage.  We were all sitting on the balcony in awe of the scenery and looking for bears, sea lions and porpoises.  Out of nowhere, humpback whales.  OH MY.  My son was squealing "MY FIRST WHALE, MY FIRST WHALE!" much to our amusement and to the other watchers on adjacent balconies.  My daughter gasped and said "I just hope I can see a whale's tail".  Right after that, the one closest to the boat dove under and lifted his tail high for her to see.  I whispered "you're a whale whisperer!" and she just smiled from ear to ear.  MAGICAL.

Excursions - there were hundreds to choose from.  We kept it simple.  We duck-boated in Ketchikan - fantastic tour of the city complete with corny jokes and duck whistles.  We took the Yukon Railway in Skagway - a great trip if you're interested in mining and railroad history as my dad is.  My daughter LOVED the blood curdling drops and vistas.  In Juneau there was so much to see, we decided to rent a car and do as much as possible on our own which worked out great (minus a few completely lost moments!).  As great as all the tours was it was nice to just be on our own that day.


Formal night - We didn't get that the formal night actually required you to be dressed formally. For some reason I assumed (dumb cruise newbie) that if you WANTED to be formal you could, but we found out that if you weren't at your fanciest you couldn't eat in any of the specialty dining rooms. Biggest bummer being that the formal night fell on my parents actual anniversary. There were places you could go but I couldn't bear the thought of my mom standing in a buffet line on this incredible occasion. We made it fun though and ordered monstrous amounts of appetizers and champagne to the room and really just enjoyed each other, which was in the end - what it was all about.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Make Back-to-School Less Stressful!

To help ease back-to-school apprehension, ease kids into a consistent school night routine and be sure they:
  • get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast (set a reasonable bedtime to ensure they are well-rested, and help keep them alert with a balanced, low-sugar breakfast)
  • make a list of need-to-know information to help them remember important details (i.e., class schedule, classroom numbers, teachers' names, bus drivers' names, and bus number, etc.)
  • keep organized with a calendar - record all assignment and project due dates, test dates, extracurricular activities, gym days, etc.
  • get organized and encourage them to set out everything they need the night before (completed homework and books should be placed in backpacks and clothes should be laid out for the next morning)

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Keys to A Great Family Holiday!

This week we are thrilled to share a fantastic Christmas-season family travel getaway opportunity! With summer almost gone and the holiday season just around the corner, what better time to start planning an amazing holiday vacation somewhere warm and sunny? And What says sunny more than Florida's famous Keys, known for their beautiful weather and scenery even during those cold, gray winter months!  Read the press release below for more information on this great holiday season offer!


Iconic Florida Keys resort serves up traditional holiday fixings with a Keys twist

Duck Key, Fla. – July 21, 2014 – No, it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas vacation. Actually, it makes sense because now is the perfect time to secure that coveted holiday reservation. The idea of summer coming to an end is sad, so what better way to look to the future than planning the next vacation?

With that in mind, Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys has released its upcoming Hawks Cay Christmas offerings. Available Nov. 29 through Dec. 18, 2014, the program puts a Florida Keys twist on all of the treasured seasonal activities. Think Santa on a Jet Ski rather than a sleigh. 

Guests who book the Hawks Cay Christmas package will receive discounted rates on spacious accommodations, including guestrooms and two- and three-bedroom villas, as well as special savings on resort activities. Designed for all ages, families will enjoy Christmas cookie decorating, hot chocolate and story time with Mrs. Claus, writing letters to Santa, creating family holiday cards and meeting Santa himself. 

With Santa hanging out at the resort, it’s more like he is on vacation instead of preparing for the big day. In addition to being able to participate in the ongoing list of holiday activities, guests who book the Hawks Cay Christmas package will receive:
  • Two for one kayak rentals at the saltwater lagoon
  • Two for one Segway rentals 
  • An additional 10 percent discount on Dolphin Connection programs
  • One free tarpon feeding at the Hawks Cay Marina
  • A 15 percent discount on all 80-minute treatments at Calm Waters Spa
  • Complimentary samples of Hawks Cay designed Christmas cocktails with the Hawks Cay Christmas “Spirit” punch card
For a full list of Christmas activities or to book, visit www.hawkscaychristmas.com or call (855) 819-0398 and use promo code hcxmas. Nightly rates start at $178.

About Hawks Cay Resort

Hawks Cay Resort, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, is the premier destination in all of the Florida Keys for outdoor fun. Alongside the emerald water of the Atlantic Ocean, guests enjoy offshore, flats and back-country fishing; diving; kayaking; kite-boarding and stand-up paddle-boarding programs; Cliff Drysdale tennis program; Segway tours and the only resort-based Dolphin Connection program with complimentary daily viewings. The 60-acre resort boasts 177 guestrooms and 225 two- and three-bedroom villas, a full-service marina, four restaurants, saltwater lagoon, five swimming pools, kid and teen clubs and the award-winning Calm Waters Spa. The resort was voted The Knot’s Best of Weddings pick in 2013.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Apps We Love: Little Lamb in Amsterdam!

If your family is planning a trip to the Netherlands, or just wants to explore Dutch culture, Little Lamb in Amsterdam is an app you don't want to miss!  With an adorable, interactive story and beautiful animation, this sweet tale has something to offer children from toddler-hood through school-age.  The interactive features and simple story-line appeal to even young audiences, but the factual content, attractions, cultural points, and history are an ideal introduction for school-aged children.  

The app is currently being offered at $4.99, and features toggling translations in both English and Dutch.  Best of all, the app is no strings attached, with no in-app purchases, no third party advertising, no external links, and no social media!  So if you're looking to inspire some wanderlust in your little traveler and download Little Lamb in Amsterdam today!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kids in Danger: Ellie’s Story & How to Keep Kids Safe While Traveling

This week we are pleased to feature the invaluable article below written by Laura Nikolovska and Lauren Daurizio.  The tragic tale of Ellie is a heart-breaking reminder about how important it is to keep abreast of all product recalls.  Our thanks to Laura and Lauren and Kids In Danger for their great work and dedication to keeping kids safe through education and advocacy.


Ellie was 13 months old when her travel crib strangled her. Her grandparents had bought the crib so she would have somewhere to sleep when she traveled to their home. They were unaware, however, that the crib contained a deadly design flaw, which trapped her neck between a side rail and attached tray. Stronger safety standards for children’s products, like the travel crib, could have prevented Ellie’s death.

Kids In Danger (KID) is a Chicago-based nonprofit that is dedicated to promoting awareness about recalled children’s products, including products that parents use while they are traveling or away from home with their children. We have seen too many children, like Elliekilled by unsafe products.

There are some basic safety precautions parents can take to help keep their children safe while traveling.

  • Check your products for recalls, stay informed by signing up for alerts from Kids In Danger, and report all unsafe children’s products and related injuries to Saferproducts.gov.
  • Always use an appropriate infant or booster car seat when traveling. Check http://www.nhtsa.gov/ to make sure the seat hasn’t been recalled. Review these car seat safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • Make sure your baby has a safe place to sleep. KID warns against the use of travel beds and other products with weak industry standards. Review KID’s Safe Sleep Tips for guidelines on creating safe sleep environments.
  • As of December 28th, 2012, all places of public accommodation, such as hotels, must provide cribs that meet the new federal standards of safety. Parents should either call the hotel ahead of time and confirm that the make and model of the crib complies with the new standards, or bring their own safe sleeping product.
  • High chairs and strollers should have harnesses to prevent babies from falling out. Check borrowed high chairs, strollers and other children’s products for recalls.

Though your baby might only stay in a hotel crib or grandma’s house a couple of times a year, that does not mean that unknown crib, play yard, or travel seat is harmless. Any product your baby uses, sleeps in, or travels in away from home, no matter how infrequently, should be inspected as closely as any products kept in your house. 

Check out KidsInDanger.org for more information about child product safety and what you can do to help. Follow us on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter for the latest safety news and recall alerts, and sign up for email alerts!

About the authors:

Laura M. Nikolovska
Laura Nikolovska came to Kids in Danger in September 2012 after 5 years in the education sector. From 2009- 2011, she served as an Education Advisor for the US Peace Corps in the Republic of Macedonia. Prior to her service with the Peace Corps, she was a social studies teacher at Latino Youth Alternative High School in Chicago. She graduated Cum Laud with a degree in Secondary Education from the University of Missouri, where she was an NCAA student athlete. She is currently working towards a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Non- Profit Administration from The University of Notre Dame.

Lauren Daurizio
Lauren Daurizio is working at Kids In Danger for 9 weeks through the University of Chicago Summer Links program, which places a select group of students at various nonprofits throughout the city. She is originally from Northern New Jersey, where she has worked as a camp counselor for 7 years. She is currently going into her third year of undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago, and is double-majoring in Gender Studies and Undecided (for now). 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Products We Love: Packable Pails!

image courtesy of
Packable Pails
Looking for the perfect solution to buying those pricey beach toys on the go? Check out Packable Pails! Packable Pails are collapsible silicone beach pails; perfectly portable and ideal for everything from making sandcastles and collecting seashells to serving snacks and more! Each Pail includes plastic shovel and is 8.5 inches wide, 6.5 inches height, and collapses to 2 inches; they come in Starfish Orange, Playtime Purple, Aquatic Aqua, Sunshine Yellow and Paradise Pink!  Grab some before your next beach trip!