Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Destination: National Parks!

Some of the most memorable trips of my youth were the simplest, yet most extraordinary, and what could fit that description better than a visit to one of our country's beautiful National Parks?  We are so fortunate to live in a country with such a diversity of natural wonders; lush forests, geysers, astounding rock formations, even volcanoes! Below is just a sampling of what our National Parks have to offer to visitors of all ages - from coast to coast, whether desert or tropical climate, there are memories waiting to be made in one of our nation's greatest treasures!


Grand Canyon, courtesy of StockFreeImages.com

1. Grand Canyon (Arizona)

Grand Canyon is one of the most celebrated National Parks in the U.S.; but it's easy to make the mistake of driving to one of its many overlooks, gazing out upon its majestic scenery, and then leaving. Why not etch the grandeur of the park into your family's collective memory by truly experiencing the Grand Canyon? Consider taking a hike or even a guided tour (by land, water, or air!) to get a closer look at the canyon; there's the family friendly Bright Angel Trail for hikers or the pricier, but truly extraordinary, "flightseeing" option (a list of outfitters are available from Grand Canyon Chamber & Visitor's Bureau)!  Quick word of warning, because of excessively high temperatures in the summer months, autumn is the best season to visit; also, visitors should always pack adequate water.

2. Arches (Utah)

Arches is one of the smallest and most inviting National Parks; as well as one of the most breathtaking. Along a variety of trails you’ll find astounding stone arches and rock formations, each more spectacular than the last (it is estimated that the park contains upwards of 1,500 arches!). Families travelling with young children should take the easy walks along Balanced Rock path or stop and wander at the overlook point for Delicate Arch.  The park also plays host to a wide variety of flora and fauna, and many trails are paved for accessibility!  Added bonus: Arches National Park is conveniently situated only five miles from Moab, one of the nation’s premier camping, hiking, and mountain biking destinations.

3. Hawaii Volcanoes (Hawaii)

The Big Island offers visitors a chance to experience active volcanoes close-up at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! This hot spot finds fiery lava flowing from the mouth of one of the world’s most active volcanoes; Kilauea regularly spews molten lava that reshapes the landscape as it flows down into the Pacific. Mauna Loa (the world's largest volcano) is also found here. The parks are accessible by car or foot and feature a multitude of some of the greatest sights vulcanism has to offer, including the Thurston Lava Tube! The park also offers several don't-miss favorites for kids, including: Echo Crater and Pu'uloa Petroglyphs!

4. Yellowstone (Wyoming and Montana)

Located on the border of Wyoming and Montana, Yellowstone is the country's first, and arguably best, National Park. Visitors of all ages marvel at the eruption of Old Faithful's towering geyser, the prolific wildlife, and the majestic scenery. With guided tours via bike or horseback, hiking, boating, and fishing, Yellowstone offers plenty of activities for families with children of any age!  Don't miss The National Geographic Society's map that highlights historical, environmental, and cultural points of interest in the region!

5. Acadia (Maine)

Situated just outside of Bar Harbor on the eastern seaboard of Maine, Acadia National Park is considered the jewel of the northeast. From the mystifying forests of Mount Desert Island to the amazing views of the Atlantic from the peak of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia is an outdoor adventure to be savored!  With miles of hiking trails, beautiful overlooks, and tidepool-laden beaches, Acadia has something to offer visitors of any age!  Best in the autumn (when blackflies and mosquitoes are absent and the foliage is spectacular!), Acadia offers a number of activities for kids of all ages, including: Ranger-Narrated Boat Tours and a variety of Children's Programs. After a day outdoors, be sure to recharge with some of the fantastic local cuisine (we recommend the Maine lobsterbake at Stewman's Lobster Pound complete with  lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, New England clam chowder, and fresh blueberry pie to top it all off!).

From coast to coast, America's National Parks offer a chance to share the phenomenal natural gifts of our country with its next generation of caretakers!  So get on out into the open air and enjoy all the National Parks have to offer!  Happy Travels!

-Destination Mom

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kid's Travel Activities We Love!

This week we are very excited to share some of our favorite children's travel entertainment products!  The activity market for kids is filled with amazing products; from books to puzzles, games, and toys - the options seem endless! Below, we offer our Top Five Picks for activities that we feel will provide the most entertainment and distraction on the go (with minimal mess and chance of losing pieces!):

Brain Quest (by BrainQuest) - Easily portable, no small pieces, educational, and fun!  These oblong card books offer parents the chance to sneak in some education disguised as entertainment; cards are grouped into books by age (preschool, Kindergarten, 1st grade, etc.) and contain everything from art and math to reading and spelling!
(recommended for age 2+)
 
Triangular Crayons (by Crayola) - Crayons are a tried and true favorite for the travelling child!  Improving on a classic isn't always easy - but these triangular shaped crayons are a home-run!  Not only does the unique shape prevent "roll-away," it also makes holding the crayons easier which makes them more user friendly for younger children with less developed fine-motor skills! (recommended for ages 2+)

Go Games (by Magnetic Poetry) - Go Games has a complete line of magnetic travel games in compact, durable travel cases. All pieces are thick and easy to grab and stay firmly in place so you can store them mid-game to start again later!  The Go Games line features such popular games as: Hangman, ChessAnimal Memory Match, Sudoku, Checkers, Tic-Tac-Toe, Backgammon, Bingo, DominoesChinese Checkers, Pachisi, and States and Capitols!
(recommended for ages 3+)

Magnetic Dress-up Playsets (Melissa & Doug) - The twenty-first century version of paper dolls! These adorable play sets feature sturdy wooden dolls with stands, plus plenty of colorful, magnetic outfits and accessories (with choices for boys or girls!). Wooden storage trays have lots of compartments to keep things organized. (recommended for ages 3+)

Full-Color Travel 'N Doodle (by Aquadoodle) - A soft, portable drawing toy! Travel Doodle is mess-free and it never runs out! Just add water and your little traveller can draw to his or her heart’s content, and then watch it disappear and start all over again!
(recommended for ages 2+)

And here are some other terrific products that will help keep kids occupied on rainy vacation days or during down-times once you have settled in to your destination:

DVD Projector (by Maxell) - A combination DVD player and projector designed with your kids in mind, brings instant entertainment that requires no assembly, mounting or multiple cables. Insert DVD, face projector toward any blank surface and project up to 45 inches! The integrated DVD player in this projector makes this product extremely portable for use in any setting. (recommended for use by children of all ages with parental supervision)

ZipBin Mini Travel Playmats/Toy Keepers (by ZipBin) - ZipBin folds flat and stores in its own lid or can be zipped up at the corners to form a fun storage bin for cars, animals, or dolls! With themes such as: trains, dinosaursunicorn garden, fairy castle, small town, and farm, this product is perfect for hours of portable imaginative play!  Playmats are colorful and durable, with wipe-clean surfaces, sturdy heavy duty zippers, and handles and come in a variety of sizes. (recommended for ages 3+)

Happily, all of the above-mentioned products are readily available in stores or online!  Happy shopping and happy travels!

- Destination Mom

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Boutique of the Week: The Birth Boutique!

Situated in the center of downtown Denville in northeastern NJ is a fantastic boutique for expectant parents!  The Birth Boutique is the brainchild of Shari Criso, certified nurse midwife, board certified lactation consultant, and mother of two. Shari's decision to open her own store sprang from her frustration with the lack of local stores available to provide expectant and new mothers with the products and services needed for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.  Her dream was to create an oasis for first time mothers; somewhere they would be able to not only shop, but acquire valuable knowledge about parenting and its many facets (from baby gear to newborn care to breastfeeding!).

The Birth Boutique opened in 2001 to rave reviews! Shari attributes much of this success to "amazing support from word-of-mouth client referrals and endorsements from a network of local physicians." And while those may have helped launch The Birth Boutique, what truly made the retailer such a sensation was the fabulous products they offered and the phenomenal job Shari and her staff did making each customer feel special!  From relatively humble beginnings, The Birth Boutique quickly expanded over time to become one of the largest and most unique specialty store and learning centers for new and expectant parents in the country, with all the service and intimacy of a small boutique! Offering an extensive selection of products, medical expertise, a variety of classes, and bra-fitting services along with a knowledgeable staff, Shari quickly amassed scores of loyal customers! 

As their business continued to grow, Shari added a full gift registry service! She also continued to develop innovative parenting classes that quickly became very popular. By 2008, classes were routinely selling out, so the decision was made to have Shari's breastfeeding class professionally filmed to create a DVD program that could reach a wider audience.  The DVD was an instant hit and has been receiving rave reviews from the media, industry experts, and clients!

For all the success The Birth Boutique has brought her, Shari is more than just a successful business woman!  She has become recognized guru on breastfeeding and newborn care!  In addition to her own blog, Shari even has her own live, interactive webcast covering "all baby topics" (the site features a promo of upcoming webcast topics as well as an archive of previously recorded shows)!  Shari is also one of the featured lactation consultants for Breastfeeding.com (fielding questions every other Tuesday from 8pm-10pm!).  She has also been featured in Celebrity Parents online magazine, and on Fox & Friends!

For her expertise, dedication, outreach, and, of course, the amazing storefront that started it all, Travel-Tot is proud to feature Shari Criso and The Birth Boutique as our Boutique of the Week!  Congratulations!

-Destination Mom

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Destination, LegoLand, San Diego, CA!

Approximately a half hour north of San Diego, on an outcropping overlooking Carlsbad, CA, sits an amusement park that offers parents a gentle reminder that simple "kid-powered" activities are often the most fun. Legoland, which opened in March, 1999, is full of fanciful creations, hands-on activities, and rides and attractions that engage kids’ minds and creativity! Legoland is designed primarily for kids ages 2 to 12, but visitors of all ages are captivated by the intricacy of the park’s amazing displays!

Legoland California offers several kinds of attractions within its compact confines: rides, stage shows, and play areas. A detailed map of what the park has to offer may be found here, but below is an overview of some of the park’s fabulous offerings by area!

Dino Island – A naturalistic setting of prehistoric-looking ferns and bamboo filled with “living” life-sized and scale model dinosaurs. Features include themed coasters, and an excavation sand pit with the “skeletal remains” of dinosaurs!

Explore Village – Kids of all ages enjoy this area themed with tons of Duplo® bricks. Among the sights not to be missed here are models of fairytale favorites and life-sized safari animals!

Fun Town – Here is Legoland California’s own kid-sized town square where creativity and imagination abound. Featuring a variety of aviation-themed rides, a Lego® factory tour, and a real-life driving school for kids of almost all ages, among other things – Fun Town truly lives up to its name!

Pirate Shores – Embark on a pirate adventure! Pirate Shores features rides and attractions all based on water play. This pirate-themed area features more than 150 Lego® models sure to delight guests of all ages.

Castle Hill – This area of Legoland takes kids back to medieval times where spells are cast and many knights, damsels and dragons are found.

Miniland USA – This eye-catching area is the heart of the Park! Miniland presents stunning reproductions of American landmarks built with remarkable detail from seven different areas of the country; Las Vegas, New England, Florida, Washington DC, New Orleans, New York, and the California coastline. Also featured are busts of famous luminaries, and Lego re-creations of famous pieces of art!

Imagination Zone – This zone emphasizes exploring and creation and features everything from water rides to video games and movies!

Legoland’s dedication to their visiting families goes beyond the fun though! There are large, family bathrooms with changing stations and short sinks for the kids. There are low food counters in the restaurants so your little ones can see. The park even rents lightweight strollers that offer your tiny traveler a little steering wheel. Legoland also limits the number of patrons admitted on a given day; once the turnstiles have ticked off 15,000 visitors, the gates are shut for the day! Finally, Legoland features the Model Mom Care Center/Lost Parents; where parents can feed their babies in a comfortable rocking chair, keep formula cold in a refrigerator and change the baby all in one cozy, comfortable nook right off the main street in Fun Town. Guests also can get all their questions answered here and be reunited with lost children or parents.

Legoland also has an informative, insightful, blog, written by Model Mom Mary (a former Park Entertainment Supervisor for Legoland)!  Take a moment to check out her posts on everything from safety measures for visiting theme parks to "not-to-be-missed" park features (Granny Apple Fries top her list!).

Legoland is centrally located (an hour south of Disneyland and a half hour north of SeaWorld in San Diego), so it’s a great park to include on a swing through Southern California, particularly for younger kids who often get the short end of the theme park stick! The only park of its kind in the country (at least until the new Florida Legoland opens in October 2011!), Legoland is a family favorite, and a “must-see” for families visiting Southern California! Happy travels!

- Destination Mom

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Family Travel Products We Love!

Travel-Tot is dedicated to helping keep children safe away from home; and while we are proud to have introduced to the market the first temporary Travel Childproofing Kit, we are also thrilled to have discovered the following products that we feel could also help make travelling with young children easier and less stressful!  Check out these great products:

Flyebaby:

We love this innovative portable, hammock-style, fabric seat that can be used for infants or babies on airplanes, dining room chairs, and beach chairs. Available in a wide variety of patterns and colors, the Flyebaby's adjustable straps make it exceptionally versatile - it gives you the ability to instantly create a safe seat for your child for feedings, changings, lounging, and air travel (see website for usage manual and FAQs). We also love that it folds down to virtually the size of a hand towel for storage and packing! 


Young children are not always the neatest eaters; that's why we love this brilliant stain-resistant seat cover  - ideal for bringing along on vacation or even family members' and friends' homes! The SmartSeat Chair Protector offers all the protection of vinyl with the comfort of fabric! It is a waterproof, stain resistant, and machine-washable cover made from soft, toxin-free fabric. Available in black, tan, and navy, the SmartSeat's patent-pending design uses adjustable straps to securely fit chairs ranging from 18″ to 25″ wide. Added bonus: their homepage also contains a link to their fun and information-packed blog - a must see!

Web/iPhone/iPod App - CitiStroller:

Released in fall 2010, the CitiStroller app is a web and smartphone guide for parents and caregivers navigating cities with kids in tow. Unlike any other tool of its kind on the market, CitiStroller offers national baby & kids gear retailer listings; diaper change locations with an ability to indicate whether the changing table is in the women’s, men’s or family restrooms; multi-city stroller friendly public transportation; great nursing spots; and stroller repair listings for those times when parents are caught with a flat or a wobbly wheel! In addition, CitiStroller offers listings for parks, playgrounds, indoor play spaces & activities, and stroller-friendly restaurants and caf├ęs!

Happy Travels!
-Destination Mom