Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's All In The Cards!

image courtesy of imagerymajestic/
Spring has arrived and families are spending more and more time outdoors!  I remember when my daughter was young, we spent almost every sunny day visiting a playground or other outdoor venue; in fact, we met a number of people who have since become dear friends at just such outings! In those early days, I can remember scrambling for something to write on so that I could exchange names and numbers with another eager parent so that we could set up a future playdate (this was pre-smartphones - at least for me!).  But now, some brilliant person has come up with a fantastic idea: Mommy Cards!  These little wonders can be tailored to feature just about anything from simple names and contact information, to your pediatrician's number and a list of your child's allergies. Ideal for everything from casual meetings in a playground to providing caregivers with all the information they'll need in case of emergency, Mommy Cards are a great tool!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Surviving Travel Delays WIth Kids: Making the Journey Fun!

image courtesy of Feelart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We've all been there; stuck at the airport or bus terminal or train station, or just plain trapped in traffic... waiting.  I'll be the first to admit that patience is not my strong suit, so I can hardly blame agitated or cranky little travelers for fits of frustration or boredom.  That said, when we travel with my (now school-age) daughter, we like to be ready for whatever we may encounter... including delays.  We created what we call the "Busy Bag;" and we NEVER go on a trip without it!  Here are our favorite items/ideas for killing time while waiting in terminals or traffic:

Bag contents:

  • Books - Every child has a favorite, just try and avoid hardcover as they can be heavy to tote around!
  • Travel sized games - Connect Four, Sorry, a deck of cards, Checkers, Chess, Memory, etc. think compact and fun (magnetic versions are the best for preventing lost pieces)!
  • Coloring/sketch books and crayons/colored pencils - 'nuff said.
  • Brainquest Cards - Education disguised as fun - the best of both worlds!
  • Snacks - Individually wrapped granola or energy bars, small water pods, single serve size chips, raisins, etc.
  • Riddles - Whether from a book or just from memory, solving riddles is fun and helps strengthen developing cognitive skills!
  • Mad Libs - Again, edu-taining... and timeless!  A fun way to  enhance vocabulary, spelling, penmanship, and creativity, and laugh yourselves silly!

Other fun ideas that you don't need to pack anything for:

  • I-Spy - Have your children guess what you are looking at by using deductive reasoning (and clues!) to identify the object.
  • Build a Story game - Start with one person beginning with a single sentence and passing it on to the next person to add to; its endless fun and, as an added bonus, it fosters creativity and storytelling ability!
  • Sing-long - Stop cringing, this doesn't have to be Raffi or some PBS-show theme song; teach your child a lullaby, a silly song, or a song about your heritage.  If that isn't your style, just throw on the radio and sing together!

School-aged kids can usually communicate basic needs, but toddlers and infants can sometimes prove a little more challenging to accommodate, so here are a few additional ideas for the younger set (birth to 1 year old):

  • Pacifier - Not good for all the time, but sometimes its just the perfect soother.
  • Stuffed toys/blankies - Comfort items are key - never leave home without them!
  • Plastic keys - Fun, minimally noisy, great for teething; these were a big favorite when our daughter was an infant!
  • Unbreakable plastic mirror - Again, fascinating as s short term distraction; try games with the mirror like Peekaboo from a location that she can only see in the mirror (i.e. behind her or off to the side).
  • Fresh Food Feeders (6 months +) - A great snacking option that can do double duty as a teether!

Safe and happy travels!
-Destination Mom

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Planning Your Next Family Getaway: 3 Great Tools!

Where to go?

Looking for a comprehensive site that features travel information for just about anywhere you can imagine going?  Lonely Planet has got you covered!  With an easily navigable site packed with comprehensive information on locations worldwide, Lonely Planet will prove helpful in planning your next trip and may even provide ideas for future trips!

Price tracking:

Airline, lodging, and car rental fares fluctuate daily... heck sometimes hourly!  That's why we love Kayak.com; available online or as a free app, Kayak helps your travel dollars go the distance by allowing you to search for the best prices on everything from airfares to hotel rooms and more!


Looking to experience the amazing world of cruising but not sure where to start? Cruise Critic offers a multitude of information on destinations, ports of departure, a wide variety of cruise lines, and even cruise reviews.  They even provide basic "cruise culture" tips and hints!

*All images are coprighted logos and are the property of the companies which they identify.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has finally arrived in most parts of the country, and, after the long winter many of us had, it can be tempting to get caught up in all the outdoor chores that await! But this year, why not take some time to celebrate the arrival of spring with your family? It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive - just simple family playtime! Strapped for ideas? Well look no further, here are three of our faves:

Pack a picnic and escape for the day! Throw some sandwiches, snacks, and drinks in the cooler, grab a blanket, frisbee, or ball, and find a cozy spot where you and your kids can enjoy one another's company. A picnic is a great opportunity to get some fresh air and play together!

Hit a new playground or park! Nothing is as fun as an adventure; and any adventure that ends in a fantastic playground or park is bound to be a hit! Do a little research ahead of time and learn about new and fun play areas near you; maybe even do a quick drive-by before you make your plan!

image courtesy of xedos4/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Indulge a little; it is a celebration, after all!   Whether it means giving in to the siren song of the ice cream truck, a quick visit to a local ice cream shop, or even just popsicles in the backyard, enjoy a little treat with your kids while they still think you are the coolest thing since sliced bread!

Wishing you a safe and happy spring!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fun in the Sun!

image courtesy of artur84/
Selecting the right sunscreen can be the difference between enjoying some fun in the sun and suffering a painful burn.  While no sunscreen protects you completely, when used properly, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more can significantly reduce your chance of burns. When selecting a product, keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the better the protection (thought the higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes.) According to the American Academy of Dermatology, SPF 15 sunscreens filter out approximately 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out around 97%, and SPF 50 sunscreens filter 98%.  For a comprehensive overview of sunscreen selection and usage, check out these great pointers from WebMD!

Great tip: attach a clippable timer to your beach bag and set it to give you a reminder when you need to reapply!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Destination: Universal Orlando!

This Spring Break, my husband, daughter and I spent a long weekend at Universal Orlando and it was simply amazing!  My 10-year-old is a huge Harry Potter fan (as am I!), and we were all excited to check out the re-creations of Hogsmead Village and Diagon Alley; but we could never have anticipated how much we would enjoy all the other amazing rides and shows in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure!

We scored a great package deal through Universal Orlando's website that included: a 4-night stay on-property at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort, two breakfasts (one each in the Harry Potter establishments of Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron), 3 days of dual-park passes for each of us (with Early Park Admission for all 3 days allowing us to enter the park an hour before visitors who did not stay on-property), an Express Pass each (gives you priority seating on almost every ride and can be used an unlimited number of times), City Walk passes (entitling us to entry to a variety of clubs and venues at the City Walk complex immediately outside the Universal theme parks), and a "welcome package" that featured an adorable stuffed owl that my daughter fell in love with.  

The hotel was magnificent!  Boasting a Hawaiian/Polynesian Island vibe, the resort featured extremely attentive staff, a variety of eateries, an amazing pool with entertainment (movies, pool games, free snacks for the kids, a DJ, poolside service of adult beverages and food, etc.), beautiful lush grounds, and a free ferry that delivered you directly to the gates of the Universal theme parks (though there was also a walking path for land-lubbers)!  The ferry was about 5 minutes away from the parks, and the path was about a 10 minute walk - both fantastic options for reaching the parks.

The Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks left me breathless!  Both were immaculately maintained and beautifully arranged.  In both parks, Harry Potter world is at the rear-most section of the park, so there was a good deal of walking (which gave us a chance to get through and see everything so that we could plan out what we wanted to hit once we abandoned the magical world of Harry Potter!).  All three days saw us bolting to the back of the parks to hit the Gringotts and Forbidden Journey rides early (Express Passes do not work on these rides and lines quickly build to upward of 2 hours), and then meandering around to take in the shops, shows, and rides.  Then (because we had a dual-park pass), we would hop onto the Hogwarts Express (also does not accept the Express pass, but lines move very quickly) to ride over to the other park, where we would spend the balance of the day split between the Harry Potter section and the remainder of the park.  I could write a book about the amazing rides, shows, and exhibits, but I'll just share a few highlights:

In Harry Potter sections:

  • Gringotts was the winner, hands-downs.  It's a virtual reality ride that simulates a roller coaster ride through the vaults of the Wizard bank.  As amazing as the ride portion is, the intricacy of the actual bank itself (where you line up) is staggering - there is so much to see, hear and experience before you ever even get on the ride itself!
  • The Dragon Challenge was a close second, and a pleasant surprise for all of us!  We didn't know if we were coaster people or not until we took a few trips on this twisty, turny, loopy, scream-tastic adventure, but once we rode it, we were hooked!
  • The Hogwarts Express is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and magic!  Not only is the train itself a perfect replica of the one from the movies, but while you are in transit in your own little compartment you are treated to an elaborate show both through the "window" and on the translucent door way.

Non-Harry Potter sections:

  • Despicable Me and Men In Black are tied for first.  The Minions ride is a simul-coaster with an awesome storyline, thrilling action, and hilarious exploits!  Men in Black is a seated whirly ride where you have to shoot the aliens.  Both were so much fun we went back more than once!
  • A close second, the Jurassic Park River Ride (read flume!) offers a terrific adventure through the prehistoric world of dinosaurs with a dramatic ending that will leave you soaked and smiling!

Tips and Recommendations:
  • We spent a few minutes upon arrival on our first day putting together a plan that allowed us to hit the few rides that the Express Pass did NOT work for so we could minimize our wait time and maximize the number of rides and shows we could cover in a day.  It's definitely worth putting together a plan, though being able to be flexible gave us a few memorable experiences as well!
  • The parks both features lockers so that you can stow your belongings while you go on the rides; some are free for 25 minutes, some have a nominal fee - it was easily some of the best money we spent as it enabled us all to ride together without worrying about who would hold our stuff.
  • In Harry Potter world, Olivander's (where a wand chooses a Wizard or Witch), only one child (usually the first in the line) gets to have a wand choose them.  It's a cute show and they do a good job in both parks (there's an Olivander's in Hogsmead and Diagon Alley), but I wish we had known that only one child got to do it (we were second in line, so we kinda found out the hard way!).
  • Also in the Harry Potter section, there are interactive places where your child can use his or her wand to cast a spell.  Be forewarned, it's not as easy as it looks... if you can't get it to work, see if a wandering Witch or Wizard can give you some pointers (otherwise it can get frustrating, especially for the little ones).
  • Take breaks!  Our days started at the park, then we came back to the hotel late in the afternoon, hit the pool and relaxed a bit, showered, changed and headed back to the parks/City Walk for dinner and more fun!  It was the perfect way to break up the day!
  • Try a Butterbeer!  Warm was our favorite!
Safe and happy travels!
-Destination Mom

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Space Saving Packing Hacks!

image courtesy of phasinphoto/
Two great tactics for leaving room in your luggage for souvenirs and other purchases:
  1. Pack older, disposable clothes that you can discard after wearing to free up room for purchases on the way home!
  2. Instead of packing all the guide books you have for your destination, copy or rip out the pages and take only those for the cities that you will be visiting!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Rejoice And Be Glad!

image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
For Christians, today is Good Friday and this Sunday will be Easter - a time of rejoicing, spending time with family, and having fun!  Whether it's dyeing Easter eggs, or hiding and hunting for those beautiful little gems, there are a few safety tips you'll want to keep in mind to prevent possible contamination.  After all, no one wants to spend their holiday with food poisoning.  Stay safe with this helpful tips:
  • Be sure to use fresh eggs.
  • Keep eggs refrigerated until you cook them.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly before handling eggs; egg shells are porous and bacteria can penetrate them, especially once they are cooked.
  • Boil eggs until the yolk and white are completely firm.
  • Refrigerate hard-boiled eggs in cartons until ready to dye. 
  • Never ingest, color, or hide eggs with cracked shells.
  • Use only food coloring or FDA-approved food-grade egg dyes to color eggs. 
  • Refrigerate eggs in cartons immediately after dyeing.
  • Never hide eggs where they could come in contact with dirt, pets, insects, wild animals, birds, reptiles, cleaning chemicals, pets, or lawn chemicals.
  • Total time for hiding and hunting eggs should not exceed 2 hours. 
  • Never eat hard-cooked eggs that have been out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours.
  • Eggs should be refrigerated immediately once they are found.
Wishing you and your families a safe and blessed holiday season and a happy spring!
-Destination Mom