Our Family Visit To California ~ LEGOLAND California Water Park

This past month, we had the luxury of joining my husband on a business trip to San Diego, California.  As we were taking our two young children with us (ages 2.5 & 3.5), I thought I should look in to activities we could do while we were there. After some internet research, I discovered LEGOLAND California. On our first day at the park we explored DUPLO Village, Playtown, Funtown and the LEGO factory.  Day 2 took us back to some favorite areas, and the SEA LIFE Aquarium. On my third day, the kids and I returned for a visit on our own.  This time we drove and parked at the Park.  I thought $12 for parking was a little excessive, especially considering the cost of admission.  This is also when I found out that if you arrived in a Volvo, you got Preferred parking. Luckily the lot wasn’t too busy by the time we arrived.  It opened at 10:00 and we were there by 10:40.  The unfortunate part was that I needed to get in to the park to rent a stroller again, and had to cart the kids and their bags by myself.  Our intention was to hit the Water Park, but I opted to leave our swim gear in the trunk and come back later, weather permitting. We picked up the stroller for the third day and then headed off to prior-day favorite fun spots, as my son recounted every ride he had already experienced. I thought a weekday would be quieter, but it ended up being  busier than the weekend had been.  Apparently it was still Spring Break in California.  The lineups still weren’t too long, but it was early in the day.  After a ride or two, we decided the weather was warm enough for the Water Park. After a quick trip to the car to get our swim gear we headed to the Water Park, located at the rear of the park. Thank goodness they let me leave the park with the stroller.  I don’t think I could have managed, walking back to the car with the kids, and carrying them and our bags back in. When at the gate, I realized that although my daughter(2) had free admission to LEGOLAND, it was $3 to get her in to the Water Park. The water slides could be seen from a distance, as they towered like a castle above the rest of the park.  My son was excited to finally get there.  Once inside we found ample lockers and change rooms big enough for the 3 of us and the stroller.  Not knowing where to go, we headed towards what I presumed to be the toddler area, parked the stroller at nearby lawn chairs and asked a staff member where the best place for little ones would be.  Luckily, this was it. Lifejackets were hanging on a stand nearby, and I confirmed that they were free to use.  Nice (especially since we left ours in the car)!  So I got the kids all set to go, but the wading pool was currently closed.  They close down the pool once every 2 hours for 10 or 15 minutes and encourage parents to take their little ones for potty breaks or snack breaks.  Great idea!  After a short wait, it opened and the kids went nuts. I say ‘wading pool’, but it was so much more than that.  The Duplo Slash Safari had a bottom that was made from recycled rubber, so it was nice and spongy.  The pool gradually got deeper towards the back, getting maybe 3 feet at the deepest spot.  The shallow area had animals (an elephant, crocodile and a polar bear) that spouted water and had a steering wheel that controlled that water.  They were permitted to sit/climb on the crocodile, as it was low to the ground but the other two were about 4 feet tall, so too dangerous for climbing.  The kids danced in the sprinklers and screeched with delight. The deeper end of the pool had three small water slides-just perfect for kids this age.  My daughter, the younger of the two, was brave enough to try one out.  She loved the slide, but got a shock when she went under the water at the bottom!  My son thought Kid Creek was more his speed.  The kids (under 42”) had their own lazy river, where they climbed aboard inner tubes (with bottoms, so they don’t fall through), and floated around the river path with Mom walking along side. After a couple times around, they wanted to play more.  The waded and splashed and pretended to swim on their tummies; they really had a blast.  My daughter was cold (it wasn’t the warmest day), so I called it a day.  My son cried because he wanted to stay all day and swim more.  But we got changed and headed out. We never explored the rest of the Water Park.  There was much more to see – private cabanas for rent, restaurant/grills, shops, and of course the ‘adult’ side of the Park, with soakers, water slides, build-your-own Lego rafts and so much more.   The toddler area was all that we needed for the day. This was our last visit.  We got to enjoy 3 days at LEGOLAND, and loved every minute.  Had we known it would be such a big hit, we would have spent our whole trip in the area, and used the pass every day.  If we ever have the opportunity to return to California, LEGOLAND will be at the TOP of our list!  We have been home for a couple weeks, and my son is still telling me he is sad, because he didn’t want to leave LEGOLAND.

Our Family Visit To California ~ LEGOLAND SEA LIFE Aquarium

This past month, we had the luxury of joining my husband on a business trip to San Diego, California.  As we were taking our two young children with us (ages 2.5 & 3.5), I thought I should look in to activities we could do while we were there. After some internet research, I discovered LEGOLAND California. On our first day at the park we explored DUPLO Village, Playtown, Funtown and the LEGO factory. Day 2 took us back to some favorite areas, and some new ones. When I originally decided on LEGOLAND back in the planning stages, we had toyed with the idea of SeaWorld.  Being that our kids were so young, we felt they wouldn’t get much value out of such a big experience, and SEA LIFE would give them a taste of fish tanks and sharks, etc.  My expectations weren’t huge going in to SEA LIFE.  But I thought the kids would enjoy it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised.  After a short introduction video, we headed in.  The kids saw some small tanks and some large ones.  There were Lego divers and Lego submarines in the tanks, with sharks and stingrays swimming all around.  Then the path took us outside, and I thought we were done.  But outside was a little interactive area where the kids could reach in and touch urchins, starfish, etc.  After a whole lot of “no, I don’t want to”, we continued on and found that we weren’t done at all.  The aquarium continued, tank after tank, with Jelly Fish (my son’s favorite) and other various sea creatures at every turn.  The best part was the spots the kids could crawl under and come up into a bubble that put them in the middle of the actual tank.  Sharks swam around their heads as they had a fish’s eye view of the sea. The aquarium actually had a second floor, with more fish tanks, a tank of stingrays, and a viewing window where you could see down into the tanks you viewed below. There was one more interactive area for the kids to touch creatures and then the exit into a café, where you could rest, snack, or exit into the giftshop. The kids loved the aquarium.  I was impressed at how much it had to offer.  We visited again the next time, and saw things we had missed the first time.  There was even a small theatre that showed a Lego people movie where divers discover the Lost City of Atlantis (which, by the way, is a Lego display in one of the tanks). After a great day the time had come for the kids to have their naps.  So we headed back to our hotel for the night with plans to return for a third time to visit the Water Park.  More on that tomorrow!

Our Family Visit To California ~ LEGOLAND California Pt.1

This past month, we had the luxury of joining my husband on a business trip to San Diego, California.  As we were taking our two young children with us (ages 2.5 & 3.5), I thought I should look in to activities we could do while we were there. After some internet research, I discovered LEGOLAND California.  I can’t say that I’d actually ever heard of LEGOLAND, but my son is at an age where he is IN LOVE with his little ‘Megablock Man’ ,as he calls it.  (These are little, and I mean tiny – maybe an inch tall, Lego people, that his Gramma introduced him to.  She actually still had one of his Daddy’s old childhood Lego men, and lets the grandkids play with them.)  So when I saw LEGOLAND, I raised my eyebrows and gave it some attention. The park is located in Carlsbad, California (only 25 minutes from San Diego).  It boasts 3 parks:  LEGOLAND, LEGOLAND Water Park and SEA LIFE Carlsbad Aquarium.  It appeared to have rides, shows, and other age-appropriate activities for my kids, so I looked at pricing.  Regular admission for the park was $69 adults (13+), $59 for my son (3-12), and under age 3 was free.  You could upgrade to the extra two parks or buy a Park Hopper ticket, best value at $89 & $79, respectively.  I lucked out into 5-day Park Hopper tickets for the price of 1-day.  I looked high and low on the internet and couldn’t find a better deal than that, so I grabbed it.  Pre-purchasing the tickets saves you having to stand in line at the park.  I printed my tickets and we were ready to go. We found a Sheraton property right at the resort and spent our night there.  The property had its own private LEGOLAND entrance where we could walk right into the park.  It took us in the ‘back door’ and the kids immediately found the Hideaway, which was a multi-level play structure where they could run around, climb ropes, slide, etc. They didn’t want to leave the Hideaway; they would have been happy there all day, but we had a whole park to discover and we needed to go find a stroller, or we’d never make it through the day.  So we sat down and looked at the map.  Ugh!  Stroller Rentals were at the main entrance!  And we were all the way at the back of the park L.  So we wandered towards the front of the park.  In hindsight, it’s probably not really that far, it just seemed like it the first time we walked it with 2 kids. When finally at ‘The Beginning’, as they call it, we found the stroller rentals.  We grabbed a double for $14 (plus $2 deposit).  They weren’t brand name or fancy strollers; it was a double-wide molded plastic seat with a canopy (not quite a wagon), that they could just climb in and out of.  They did have a seatbelt, but they didn’t have any brakes.  They served a purpose – my daughter even slept in it sideways, but brakes would have been nice (she rolled away once or twice). Then off we were to explore the park. Most of the rides had a 36” or 40” height requirement.  Some of them had an age requirement of 4, which saddened my son.  He was tall enough, but when the man asked him how old he was, he held up 3 fingers.  Sorry Buddy, telling the truth is the right thing to do, but doesn’t always get you what you want. There were lots of rides, and things made out of Lego everywhere!  We went on a Safari Jeep ride, and all the animals were made of Lego.  Giraffes turned their heads, elephants even sprayed water!  It was quite something to see.  The lineups weren’t awful; I think the longest we waited was in excess of an hour (horrible with toddlers), but that wasn’t average.  And the lines that tended to be longer, all had little Lego play areas where the kids could build while their parents waited in line. Once you were near the front of the line, there was a gate for the children to re-join you.  What a great idea! We wandered around the different areas of the park. Each area had its own unique offerings.  Duplo Village had a splash area where little ones could squirt water guns or run in sprinklers or play musical fountains.  Duplo Playtown was another popular area for my kids.  It was a town of little houses and buildings where they could just run around and have playtime.  (They didn’t want to leave this area either.) In FunTown, my son got to drive a car and get his very own little LEGOLAND Driver’s license.  The ride was nicely broken out into a course for ages 3-5 and 6-13, so the little ones weren’t getting pummeled by big kids.  LEGOLAND is sponsored by Volvo, so all of the vehicles were branded Volvo.  (On this note, Volvo vehicles get premium parking in the lot at entry).   There is even a life-sized Volvo XC90 on display, built on an actual chassis, made entirely of Lego! We toured the Lego factory, and ended up in the store (of course).  However, in that store was a table there for kids to build their own little ‘Megablock Men’.  Mix & match bottoms, tops, heads, hair/hats and accessories.  My kids were in heaven.  Every combination you could imagine.  And there was a promotion to buy a set of three and get the second set free, so we came home with 6 spanking-new Lego people. (Try keeping track of those in a hotel room). There were so many other areas to see.  Miniland USA had several little villages, mock-ups of cities (New York, New Orleans, Vegas) – everything made of Lego!  New this month was the Star Wars exhibit.  All episodes represented with miniature Lego displays, quite intricate, from battle ships to life-sized characters. We saw as much as we could and called it a day and returned for naps.  Unfortunately, returning the stroller meant heading back to ‘The Beginning’ and then walking back to the back-door to return to our hotel. The next day, we found out that the hotel had a shuttle that would take us to and from the front entrance, so we didn’t have to walk to the stroller rental.  So after breakfast, we checked out and did that.  It was a different experience this way.  Photographers waited for visitors at the entrance to snap pictures for later viewing (and purchase).  The main entrance was also flashier than the subtle back entrance.  You experience more of the ‘feel’ of what the park had to offer. More tomorrow on Day 2.

Feature Review: Quinny Zapp Xtra

We are a Quinny family!  We have purchased a number of Quinny products and love them all!  Having the original Quinny Zapp I was beyond excited and eager to try out the Quinny Zapp Xtra. quinny-zapp-xtra-positions In our opinion there were only a couple of flaws with the original Zapp, the biggest two being that the seat didn’t recline and it had zero storage.  I’m happy to report that Quinny has recently launched the new Zapp Xtra with an abundance of great new features; including a reclining reversible seat, bigger canopy, car seat compatibility and a storage basket! Quinny-Zapp-Xtra-Comparison-499x334 Installation: The Zapp Xtra is probably one of the easiest strollers I’ve assembled.  Out of the box all I needed to do was open it up, pop the wheels on attach the basket and I was ready to go. Wheel installation is very easy – you just need to insert them into the holes until you hear a click. Getting started: Opening the stroller is pretty straight forward.  The frame is extremely compact and can be folded/unfolded by following a simple 1, 2, 3 button procedure with the numbers clearly marked on the stroller so even the most unhandy parent can open it easily. The seat then clicks into place securely and voila, one assembled or folded stroller. Features: The seat on the Quinny Zapp Xtra is a unique egg shape making the seating area quite large (13” wide with a 22” seatback and a measurement of 24” from seatback to canopy) easily fitting a child up to 50lbs.   It has an adjustable, padded, 5-point harness that’s easy for parents use. The new seat has a one-handed button on the back that reclines the seat to three different positions:  upright, halfway back and fully reclined.  In parent facing mode the seat can be fully flat or semi-reclined and in a forward facing position you can use all three recline positions. The seat is adjusted by simply pressing the button and tipping the seat to the next position in a nice smooth motion which is ideal for when baby dozes off. Quinny-Zapp Xtra Hood Comparison The handlebars are not adjustable but they are taller measuring about 39-40” from the ground to handlebar.  As a taller woman I didn’t have an issue with the height of the handlebars and didn’t find myself kicking the wheels or frame. The hood on the original Zapp is small and tends to blow back in strong winds, whereas the hood on the Zapp Xtra is much larger (twice the size!) and better quality in comparison. It gives much more shade and protection from the elements than the original design.  The canopy has a narrow viewing window on the back to see in at your child and the window extends down the sides of the canopy so that your child can see out when the canopy is fully extended. Quinny also improved the functionality of the Zapp Xtra by making it car seat compatible.  With the use of the adapters included you can easily attach any infant Maxi-Cosi car seat. Another improvement on the original Zapp is that the Zapp Xtra now comes with a shopping basket included. Due to the compact design of the stroller you are never going to be able to fit a substantial amount in the basket but it is certainly handy to hold a small to medium diaper bag, a couple shopping bags or other baby essentials. Quinny Zapp Xtra Storage In Use: I was a little concerned that the Zapp Xtra wouldn’t handle as nicely as its three wheel predecessor, but I’m happy to report that when it comes to maneuverability the Zapp Xtra performs just as well as the original. The compact design of the Zapp Xtra makes it perfect for nipping around the stores and it can certainly get you down aisles that many larger strollers can’t. The original Zapp and the Zapp Xtra both have the same issue when it comes to more rough terrain, as would be expected with any stroller not designed for off road use.  The Zapp Xtra has improved suspension on the rear wheels and the front wheels lock into place which makes bumpy roads  more manageable, but it definitely prefers smoother pavements and flat surfaces. quinny-zapp-car-seat The rear wheels have a one-step brake system that is ‘flip-flop’ friendly and super easy to do.  Step on the red button to lock and step on the grey button to unlock. To fold the stroller you follow the same three-step process as opening it, keeping in mind that you need to remove the seat for it to fold.   Once you remove the seat and the frame is folded down, there is a manual locking strap to keep the frame closed.  I would have liked to see an automatic lock to avoid this additional step. The extra weight of the Zapp Xtra compared to the original (4lbs difference) is a blessing in disguise as the extra weight gives the Zapp Xtra enough stability to hang a light bag or purse on the handles without the stroller toppling. (Please note:  Quinny does not recommend hanging anything on the handles) We bought our original Zapp because it is so easy to travel with (travel bag included) and while I haven’t had the opportunity to take the Zapp Xtra on a vacation yet, I think that it will be a great option because it’s still compact and light weight.  I do however, wish that the Zapp Xtra came with a travel bag  like the original making it that much easier for airplane travel. Quinny-Zapp-Xtra-Compact-499x334 The Zapp Xtra is available in Rebel Red, Brown Boost, Pink Emily, Electric Blue, Natural Mavis, Rocking Black and a Limited edition: Curious Color.  The stroller comes complete with a rain cover and adaptors for the Maxi Cosi infant car seat and retails for $299. I’m really loving the Quinny Zapp Xtra, its compactness and maneuverability are fantastic, the upgraded features including reclining reversible seat, giant canopy and car seat  compatibility make it an excellent options for parents on the go or those of us looking for space saving options. Like:
  • Reversible / reclining seat
  • Fixed 5-point harness
  • Abundant fabrics / style combinations to choose from
  • Extremely generous canopy
  • Smaller, lightweight frame makes it easy to stow.
  • Very easy set-up
  • Excellent maneuverability
  • No Cup Holder
  • Small Basket
  • Wish a travel bag was included
Weight 19.18  lbs
Seat to Canopy 24″
Seat Back 21″
Seat Width 15″
Seat Depth 9″
Drop Foot rest 11″
Seat to Ground 17″
Width 23.5″
Length 26″
Height 40″
Folded (chassis only) 27″ x 7″ x 13″
*Thank you to Quinny for sending us a sample for review*

Ten Tips to Make Traveling With Babies and Toddlers More Pleasant

Anyone who’s done it will tell you; travelling with infants and young children can be challenging.  TOTSY, an invitation only site designed to provide the best possible deals on essentials for parents, infants and children, has partnered with family travel expert Deb Geigis Berry, to compile a list of 10 tips to help parents smooth out the bumps in the road to a happy family vacation. 1.       Don’t worry too much about shelling out for expensive venues, everyday of your trip.  Your children want quality time and that can be found at beaches, parks and playgrounds, just as easily as at a pricey amusement park. 2.       Do some research ahead of time, to find out about any free community events that will be taking place in your destination city, during your stay.  This is the time of year for free concerts and festivals.  A local event may turn out to be the highlight of your trip. 3.       Even if a location touts itself to be “family friendly,” phone ahead to ensure that they have the amenities you’ll need, i.e. cribs, high-chairs, etc.  Always have a selection of toys with suction cup bases, to keep little ones occupied in restaurants and other, more mature establishments. 4.       A stockpile of toys is essential when traveling with babies and toddlers, but some of them can be noisy.  Some are down-right obnoxious!  Make sure each toy passes the ‘mommy/daddy irritability test’ before you pack it for the trip. 5.       I’ve said this for a long time and the experts have just confirmed it.  Don’t bring your child’s most important toys on vacation.  The loss of a favourite stuffy or blanky could cause long term devastation.  Bring along some less important substitutes and bear in mind that your child is likely to accumulate new toys over the course of his travels. 6.       Keep a variety of toys accessible, especially in the car.  There’s nothing worse than being caught in a traffic jam and realising the toys are locked in the trunk.  When things start to get hairy, you need to be able to distract, distract, distract. 7.       At this point, I’m the last person left on Earth who doesn’t have a smart phone.  If you have one, the experts say, use it to entertain your children.  Load it up with apps that will entertain your baby, like animal pictures with sounds or flashcards with shapes and colors.  Keep you device safe, in your child’s hands, by using a durable case and neck strap. 8.       Trim dollars from your travel budget and avoid mammoth restaurant portions by packing picnics for the road.  Make sure to store foods safely or stick to imperishables.  Keep a waterproof blanket on hand, in case your al fresco experience is soggy. 9.       Plan activities that will keep kids moving.  Cycling, hiking (with baby in a carrier) or a spin on a merry-go-round are all activities that should keep kids calm and happy. 10.   Introduce your kids to some new animals by visiting an animal park, fish hatchery or by taking a nature walk.  Any new local will have loads of new sites to take in and animals are usually a hit with kids. A little research, before you arrive at your destination, will turn up all sorts of cool and affordable options.  Keep your eyes peeled once you’re there, too.  You never know what you’ll discover when you’re traveling with kids. – Jen R, Staff Writer SOURCE

Families Are Making Summer Vacation Plans Inspite of Rising Costs

Summer is just around the corner and vacation planning is in full swing.  A recent survey conducted by Orbitz found that despite the still sluggish economy and the stratospheric price of gas, most families are forging ahead with their summer vacation plans, this year. Parents can’t afford to throw caution to the wind, however.  Most families (60 %) are looking to keep their holiday budget under the $1,500 ceiling, while a further 14 percent are willing to open the skylight and venture up to $2,000. The jaw-dropping serge in gas prices has affected the cost of both road trips and airfare, though the average hotel rate, in certain major markets, has come down slightly. Overall, it’s going to cost a little more to travel this year but 81 percent of survey respondents are making vacation plans anyway.
“Even with gas prices skyrocketing, Americans still see summer travel as a necessity, especially for families that may have cut back in the past few years due to the economy,” said Marita Hudson Thomas, Orbitz Travel Insider.
Maintaining a reasonable travel budget, involves carefully selecting your destination.  Domestic travel is often an affordable option.  As a result, Cancun, Mexico is the only destination outside the United States to breach the Top Ten Summer Destinations 2011 list. The list includes: 1.       Orlando, Florida 2.       Las Vegas, Nevada 3.       Seattle, Washington 4.       Los Angeles, California 5.       Denver, Colorado 6.       New York, New York 7.       San Francisco, California 8.       Chicago, Illinois 9.       Cancun, Mexico 10.   Boston, Massachusetts One sure fire way to save on the cost of travel is to take fewer people along.  Interestingly, 70 percent of respondents had no qualms about leaving their kids behind to take an adults only vacation.  Women (71%) were even more likely than men (67%) to shake off the guilt of travelling without their children.  Why not?  Parents need a break too. All-in-all, one thing is obvious.  Americans feel they need to recharge their batteries and, this summer, they’re going to do it, one way or another. – Jen R, Staff Writer

Jellies – Coming to Shedd Aquarium, Chicago

Anyone, passing through the Chicago area, will want to make time to take in a unique exhibit at the Shedd AquariumJellies, brought to you by the good people at Walgreens, is a special exhibit of more than 10 different species of sea jellies. People tend to flee from the ocean, at the mere sight of jellies.  Their sting gives them a bad rep. These aquatic invertebrates are too maligned, however, according to Mark Schick, collection manager at Shedd,
“Sea jellies are one of the most misunderstood animals in the ocean.  We’re excited to bring this rare glimpse at these amazing creatures through this intimate and up-close experience.  The highlight of Jellies is the wide variety of jelly species that guests will be able to see; however, the engaging exhibit will also offer educational interactives and programming that allow guests to experience a deep dive into the dark and mysterious world of jellies.”
Schick says that, through the exhibit, “We hope to cultivate a sense of understanding and appreciation for these graceful animals.” Jellies are truly extraordinary and worth a closer look.  Did you know they have been around for 500 million years?  Another surprising fact; jellies consume enough food to double their size in a day.  I know a couple of people who have tried that and failed. There are thousands of species of jellies out there and more are being discovered all the time.  They vary in structure and appearance, each one beautiful in its own rite. The smallest jelly can rest inside a contact lens and the largest is a monster that wouldn’t fit in a minivan.

Through a combination of live specimen, video, illumination and various other exhibit materials, visitors are drawn into the life and experience of a creature most of us know very little about.
“This visual exhibit will be a feast for the eyes and the mind with larger-than-life images and models, spectacular video, and a variety of jellies on display,” said Bryan Schuetze, VP of Planning and Design at the Shedd Aquarium.
This not-to-be-missed exhibit is on now and extends through May 28, 2012. – Jen R, Staff Writer SOURCE

Featured Review: Freedom Of The Seas

Introduced in 2006, the Freedom of the Seas was the largest passenger ship ever built from 2006 until construction of the Oasis Class ships in late 2009.  It’s layout is very similar to the Voyager class ships with the addition of the H20 Zone, the Flowrider, 2 Cantilevered whirlpools and a few new shops in the Promenade. A couple years ago we sailed on Adventure so we found this ship easy to navigate. Freedom of the Seas Ocho Rios Jamaica Its wealth of amenities for vacationers of all ages makes it one of the most popular cruise ships in the water.  For us, the combination of itinerary, sailing location and kid’s programs made it the best option. Because our growing family needs a lot of room we chose the Junior Suite. Freedom of The Seas- Junior suite When I booked just a couple weeks out, we were offered a special needs cabin, which turned out to be a blessing.  Not only was it more spacious than a regular Junior suite, but it added a bigger balcony and a bunk room for the kids. Freedom of The Seas- Junior suite balcony I highly recommend this suite for cruising families.  It may not be possible to get the special needs or handicap cabin, but JS is a good size for a family of 4 with younger kids that like to run around. Our cabin(1328) came equipped with a queen sized bed, a pull-out couch and a separate room with bunk beds, a dresser and a cupboard. Freedom of The Seas- Junior suite, bunk room Because it was designed to be wheelchair accessible, there was easily an extra 10 feet between the bed and the far wall, which served as a play area for my two.  The balcony was equally as spacious and ran the length of our cabin.  The only thing we missed was a bathtub.  The bathroom was a good size and nicely appointed but only had a roll in shower.  This turned out to be fine because the boys were both able to run around the shower area as opposed to a regular cabin that has a very small showering cube. The H20 zone is one of the main reasons why I booked this cruise.  This water wonderland is the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon as the ship heads to the next port.  If your child is toilet trained and not in swimmi’s there is a wealth of water play options for them.  In the main area 10 colourful statues spray water out of their heads, shoulders, and arms to create a cool splash pad that everyone will love.  Off to the side there are 2 kid sized jacuzzi’s, a bigger pool (3.5ft deep) for better swimmers and a 5ft pool under the waterfalls at the back.

Freedom of The Seas H20 Zone Freedom of The Seas H20 zone

For little cruisers who are still in trainers, Royal has a created 10 x 10 pool below the kids pool that is just for them  Note:  Little ones in a swim diaper are not allowed in the main swim area and this is monitored closely by pool staff. For adults and older kids, Royal has added a surfing simulator at the back of the boat.  The Flowrider was high on my husband’s  to-do list while onboard because some of our friends, who had previously sailed on Freedom and Oasis, had recommended it. Freedom of the seas Flowrider He finally got up the courage to try it out on our last day at sea and loved it!  The staff was great to help him get his balance and then let him do his ‘thing’, which turned out to be him standing for a couple seconds, falling and then being taken away by the ‘flow’.  Pretty funny!  He could have done this all day and would have had the weather been better. Like with all of Royal’s fleet, the food onboard Freedom is plentiful.  From morning till night and every minute in between, there is food to be had somewhere on the ship. Royal has outdone themselves with their gorgeous 3-tiered restaurant. Freedom of the seas Dining room Located at the back of the ship between decks 3 and 5, The Isaac, Leonardo, and Galileo restaurants offer an elegant end to the day.  Before we had kids we loved to go to the dining room for lunch and dinner.  Now, it is a bit more tricky and on this cruise we found ourselves eating in the Windjammer more than on previous vacations.  And while I missed the formal dinners and nicely presented appetizers, the kids loved the quick service and selection the Lido had to offer. The staff was just as eager to help and the atmosphere is very casual.  We also liked the Asian buffet Jade at the back of the Windjammer.  At night they would serve stir fry dishes, sushi, tempura and a selection of desserts.

The Windjammer dessert selection- Freedom of The Seas.jpg The Windjammer buffet - Freedom of The Seas The Windjammer buffet - Freedom of The Seas 2

During a walk one night we came across Johnny Rockets and stopped in to have some milkshakes.  This diner has been done so well that you will forget that you are on a cruise ship.  While there is a cover charge of $4/pp, Johnny Rockets offers a good menu for cruisers looking for something different. Johnny Rockets Freedom of The Seas Passengers who would like a more intimate evening can chose the Portofino Restaurant for seafood($20/pp fee) or Chops Grille($25/pp fee) for a high quality steak, both located on deck 11 outside of the Windjammer.  Had we of been traveling with grandparents we would have taken advantage of one of these restaurants.  Both of the menus offered matched those of a high-end establishment, something we miss visiting now that we are busy with 2! To help you get some time away together Royal offers a list of Kid’s programs.  Little cruisers will enjoy spending a couple hours meeting new friends at Adventure Ocean.  For kids 3-5, The Aquanaunts program has themed play days, shows and activities.  The morning session runs from 9am – 11am, lunch noon – 2pm(extra charge $7.95/child), afternoon session 2pm – 5pm, evening session 6:45pm – 10pm and the late night party zone – 10pm – 2am($6/hour per child).  Explorers who are aged 6-8 have their own space that features workstations for arts and crafts, while Voyagers, kids aged 9-11, have lots of play options like group scavenger hunts, themed nights and dance parties. Parents with cruisers under 3 won’t be able to leave them with the staff, but have the opportunity to participate in the Aqua Babies & Tots program.  From 6-36 months of age, parents and babies are invited to participate in the at sea program developed by Fisher-Price exclusively for Royal Caribbean International.  These activities are hosted by Royal’s youth staff and a parent must accompany their child during play time.  While we have participated in this program on previous cruises with Royal, we didn’t take our youngest to meet his fellow cruisers.  Royal also has a ‘toy bank’ that parents are able to borrow from to keep their little ones occupied while in their cabin. The Promenade This impressive shopping area is both the centre of the ship and the centre of the action.  Everything you need is here or just a staircase away.  After the boat has sailed, cruisers can peruse the daily sales at the shops, enjoy a cup of joe or sit back and enjoy the entertainment.  Each night there is a Caribbean band, live Dj or performers to keep you entertained and even a Circus at Sea during the last day on board. The Promenade is 4 stories high and is lined with cabins that overlook the action.  This was my favorite part of the ship.  Every night we would bring the boys down to the cafe for hot chocolate and cookies and sit and listen to the music.  Just like a mall, there is also a barber shop, pizzeria, a pub, Wine Bar, Build your own bear shop and many shops.

Even if you are not in the Promenade, there is no shortage of activities on board Freedom.  In fact there are so many it’s not possible to do it all.  Everything from scrabble to Wii challenges, passenger game shows to Karaoke. Photos Like with every cruise ship, Royal’s photographers were everywhere capturing our family’s best moments.  For us, our cruise is a favourite way to get the yearly family shot and I plan for this before we leave home.  Every night (except the last) the ship’s photographers have many areas set up all over the boat with different backgrounds.  There is no stress, no sitting fee – you just walk up, pose and get you picture taken. Somehow the magic of the vacation manages to get my boys to be friends long enough to get a picture together and one with us to keep me happy for another year. Prices aren’t so bad $20 for an 8 x 10 and $10 or $15 for photos that are taken of your family as you leave the ship each day. Our Family Internet on board is fast but pricey. Packages start at .58/minute for 60 minutes and go as low as .30/minute for 500 minutes.  One thing that I would change is that passengers be able to purchase more minutes at .30 if they have already gone over their allowance and have already spent $150.  Freedom has in cabin wi-fi which is very convenient as it can be used on the balcony. On our 7 day voyage, the Freedom sailed to 4 ports; Labadee Haiti, Ocho Rios Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel Mexico.  With the exception of Haiti, we had been to all of these ports many times on previous cruises.  We were scheduled to visit Fallmouth but the port wasn’t complete when we boarded the ship. Ocho Rios Jamaica – The big attractions in Ocho Rios is Dunns River Falls and snorkeling tours.  During previous trips to this port we have climbed the Falls and it is a great trip to do but not with kids.  After consulting a couple staff members on board who were from Jamaica we decided to just walk to the beach that was located right in front of the boat.  It was clean, convenient and perfectly priced at just 2.50 per adult and 1.25 per child.  The water was calm, it wasn’t too busy and there weren’t a lot of canvassers looking to sell goods.  As a bonus we were able to get a beautiful shot of the ship while the kids played in the water. Freedom of the Seas Ocho Rios Jamaica Note: Do not purchase any shells from the locals as the ship will take them from you when you board.  Additionally, security was very tight getting back onto the ship. Grand Cayman  – The big attraction in Cayman is the scuba diving, snorkeling and of course – Stingray City!  This sandbar, which is located many miles from shore is one of the best ways we’ve experienced to get close to these massive portobello mushrooms. As soon as your boat docks, they come over to greet you to eat the food you have hopefully brought with you.  You can purchase this trip through the ship or off the dock for a fraction of the price from local vendors.  While I highly recommend this excursion, it’s not one that you should do with young children. Grand Cayman - Freedom of The Seas On this trip, we opted to enjoy a nice day on 7-mile beach.  For $4/per person (kids are free) we hopped into a taxi and headed to Royal Palm Beach Club.  While it’s free to use the beach, the chairs will set you back $10 each plus $10 more if you want an umbrella. For those who like to shop, Cayman offers everything including jewelry, gifts, duty free liquor and their famous rum cake. Cayman is still one of the last tender ports so if you book excursions make sure that you leave lots of time to catch the last ferry to the ship.   Cozumel – My husband and I have been to Cozumel many times and it is beautiful.  For this trip we decided to just shop on the pier and then enjoy the ship’s waterpark with the boys.  The shopping just off the boat was nice and there were many bars and swim areas had we have brought our bathing suits. Cozumel - Freedom of The Seas For those who like to snorkel, Cozumel offers lots of tours and lots to see.  The incredibly clear water makes it easy for the sun to penetrate deeper and this allows corals to grow at deeper depths. Chankanaab National Park, which isn’t far($10 cab ride) offers, a dolphin interaction, equipment for snorkeling and scuba diving, a hammock area for relaxing, a children’s playground, and a beach area.  It is $10 but worth it if your family likes to do different activities.  Also keep your camera close as there are massive Iguanas everywhere just waiting for you to take their picture! During past visits we rented scooters and explored the island.  Cozumel now has 3 cruise ship piers and Royal docks at the third one, which is a distance from town.  If you are going to go off on your own, make sure you leave plenty of time to return.  This ship will leave without you if your are late and not on one of their excursions. Our family had a blast on board Freedom of the Seas.  Royal Caribbean is one of our favorite lines because they offer something for everyone.  Plus, of all the lines we have cruised, we think their food is some of the best we’ve had.  I highly recommend this ship as it had a great itinerary, lots do and a great staff supporting it.

Tokyo Disneyland Reopens Five Weeks After Quake

There is some good news in Japan today. Five weeks after the devastating quake and tsunami  hit the country Tokyo Disneyland re-opened its doors again, bringing some welcome relief to thousands of disaster-weary families. Mickey Mouse was on hand to greeted and hugged many of the 10,000 visitors who waited, some of them all night, outside the Magical theme park.
‘I’m delighted that the park is open again,’ said Ms Hiroko Ichimura, 35, visiting with her husband and daughter. ‘We made reservations six months ago to celebrate our daughter’s birthday here but we had almost given up on the plan.’ ‘We have been waiting impatiently for the park to reopen,’ said another Disney fan and parent Kazuhiro Sugiyama, 34. ‘My little daughter is overjoyed and just keeps saying: ‘Mickey, Mickey!”
A day at the park was a much needed getaway for Japanese families who have been faced with a long list of unfortunate events lately.  To celebrate its reopening the park put on a colourful musical parade of floats featuring Disney characters at the facility located on reclaimed land on the outskirts of Tokyo at Urayasu in Chiba prefecture.
‘I was touched and encouraged to see the happy smiles of our guests,’ said Mr Kyoichiro Uenishi, president of Oriental Land Co, which operates the Tokyo Disney resort under a licence from the Walt Disney group. He said while some people thought it was too early to go back to normal, ‘we were also prompted by many to reopen early, to create an environment to cheer people up’.
The March 11th earthquake stranded almost 70,000 people at the park. Shortly after that it was reported Tokyo Disneyland sustained only minor structural damage and there were no injuries thankfully. While it was business as usual Disney did take steps to conserve wherever possible. Some lights were switched off amid a nationwide electricity saving campaign prompted by damage to atomic plants and the power grid. Some fountains and waterfalls were also not running, the air-conditioning systems turned down, and the hours have been shortened by four hours to only accommodate guests between 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. The only major attraction at the park to be closed for now was “Big Thunder Mountain,” under repair because of quake damage to its rock surface. SOURCE

CDC: Children Bringing Measles Home After International Travels

Travelers to international destinations seem to be bringing back with themselves more than the memories of places visited. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in just the first two months of the year, 13 people have contracted measles in the US due to international travel. What is of concern is most of them are children. In the US measles was declared as eradicated in 2000. However due to international travels when travelers return from places where the disease is endemic they are bringing the infection with them. In January and February alone there have been 692 cases of measles reported, 87 percent of which were associated with cases contracted outside the U.S. There were 292 cases where measles were directly contracted outside the U.S, with 159 in US residents. Of these, 30 percent were children between 6 to 23 months. CDC report that while children are eligible for vaccination before international travel, none of the kids infected were vaccinated for measles.
The report stated, “Young children are at greater risk for severe measles, death, or sequelae such as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis. Although all seven children had been eligible for vaccination before travel, none had received measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the only measles-containing vaccine currently available in the United States….”
Of the 29 measles cases reported during January and February, 2011, a total of 28 were import-associated, of which 16 (57%) were classified as imported cases; 13 of the imported cases (81%) were among U.S. residents. Of these 13 cases, seven (54%) occurred in children aged 6 to 23 months. All seven patients had recently traveled internationally; they were residents of Massachusetts (two patients), Texas (one), New York (one), Pennsylvania (one), Washington (one), and California (one).”
Four of the seven kids needed hospitalization, two for diarrhea and dehydration, 1 for pneumonia and another for fever. While the kids did recover, the researchers note that it is very important for children traveling abroad to get vaccination with children 12 months and over, needing two doses of the MMR vaccine separated by 28 days. For infants between 6 to 11 months one dose of the vaccine is needed. For doctors too, the researchers cautioned that when doing the check up of kids who have recently traveled abroad they should keep signs and symptoms of measles in mind. Measles is known the world over by the defining red spots formed all over the body of the infected person. However the initial symptoms of the disease may not be the red spots but cough, runny nose, red eyes and high fever. This is followed by the appearance of Koplik’s spots, inside the mouth. These are red spots with blue or white centers. The characteristic red spots then appear on the forehead followed by rest of the body. In most developed countries the vaccination against measles is MMR given to kids after the age of 18 months as before that they already have antibodies within their body transmitted from the mother during pregnancy. The vaccination is repeated between the age of four and five to increase immunity of the kid. In developing countries however, the vaccination to kids is given after 6 months of a child’s birth. As the disease is still endemic in these countries WHO has recommended the earlier dosage with one dose at 6 months and another at 9 months of age. Once infected, a person with measles is usually ordered restricted movement so as to come in contact with the least number of people. Also, it takes from 2 to 3 weeks in average for a person to recover and for the red rashes to go. It is thus wise to take the vaccinations before any travel rather than make the kids go through the troublesome infection. SOURCE