Road Trip With the Kids? Here are Some Tips to Get You Through

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Tomorrow, my family and I will embark on a road trip; a journey that will take us 16 hours north of our home outside Toronto, Ontario.  I’m sure it goes without saying, but 16 hours is a long time for a three-year-old to sit in the car. We’re crazy you say?  Well, maybe.  But, we’re not strangers to road trips.  My husband and I once drove from Toronto to Juarez, Mexico and back.  But, that was in our pre-kiddie days.  Since having our son, we’ve taken trips here and there, but this is going to be a doozey. In preparation for this, most doozey of road trips, I conducted an informal survey of parents who are experienced at soldiering through hours of driving with car imprisoned kids.  The following collection of tips is what I came away with. First on everyone’s list was the ubiquitous DVD player.  It probably comes as no surprise that the in-car entertainment system is indispensible to most families, on long journeys.  I know, I know, most of us try to limit the amount of time our kids spend watching TV, but I’ll admit; when I was a kid, I would have given my right arm to have a TV in the car.  These days, a supply of, parent approved, DVDs is a great tool to help kids get through long car trips. The parents I questioned try to be realistic in their expectations and tend to limit the amount of driving done in a day.  Many start out early in the hope that the kids will sleep in the car, a tactic that doesn’t always work.  They make frequent stops for potty breaks and leg stretching and sometimes a little sight-seeing. I was told to pack snacks and a cooler full of beverages.  This will result in more potty breaks, but we’ve already decided we like those, so it’s ok.  Idealists pack a selection of healthy snacks, but one mom I questioned, admitted that she packs a combination of healthy snacks and junk.  Why not throw in a few treats?  It’s a vacation after all. Novelty will always kick boredom in the rear-end, and some parents attested to buying new books, toys or DVDs for long trips.  It doesn’t have to be anything big, just a little something to surprise the kids with at a critical moment of restlessness.  One mom even suggested wrapping the items and giving them as road trip gifts.  It’s a little bit more work, but a fun idea. DVDs and snacks and new books and toys will only keep boredom at bay for so long, however.  Eventually, we’ll have to come up with something else.  Enter the road trip games.  Older kids can play away on hand-held game units, if that’s their style.  But the parents of younger kids all suggested some variation of ‘I spy’.  There’s the traditional game of, “I spy with my eye, something that is…red.”  Then there’s a version where different sights are allotted points based on the likelihood of being spotted, e.g., 7 points for a flag, 5 points for a cow, 2 points for an RV.  The person who accumulates the most points wins. Kim Kippenhuck had the best I Spy of them all.  Kim and her husband just pulled an epic road trip, with their young daughters, from Ontario to Newfoundland and back.  Kim explained her I Spy rules like this, “everyone was assigned something – a trailer, a motor home, a boat or a tractor trailer. When someone got to ten of their items they won a quarter. Then at road stops, we let them buy something with their winnings. On the flip side to that, they owed us a quarter for ever time they asked ‘are we there yet?” I ask you, how genius is that?  She says she didn’t hear a single ‘are we there yet?’ after the first day. Armed with all this great advice, I shall sally forth into the wilds of the north.  If the van manages the trip, and if I don’t get eaten by a bear and if I retain my sanity (which is a BIG if) I’ll be back in a week.  Wish me luck. – Jen R, Staff Explorer! [ad]

Camping With Kids: Choose KOA for a Fun Family Getaway

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They say, “It’s not camping.  It’s Kamping,” and I’m inclined to agree.  I’ve heard people refer to camping as “roughing it,” but you only have to stay with KOA once and you’ll start to see this past time in a whole new way. KOA (Kampgrounds of America) is one of the biggest and most well respected chains of vacation parks in North America.  If you’re on the hunt for a vacation that is affordable and fun for the whole family, you need look no further. KOA holds its franchises up to a standard of service that is a cut above.  Their consistent delivery on high expectation has won KOA the trust of discerning campers of all types.  No matter where the road takes you, a stay with KOA will be an enjoyable stop. So what makes them so special?  Well, they’re experts.  The people at KOA probably know more about your vacation needs than you do.  Whether you’re setting up a tent or touring the country in a ‘motor mansion’, they’ll show you a good time. KOA offers good quality, level sites with water and electricity.  The campsites have Wi-Fi and often have cable TV hook-ups.  Sites range in size and layout to cater to specific types of camping, i.e. tents, pop-up trailers, fifth-wheels, etc.  But, you don’t need to have a tent or an RV.  You can turn up at a KOA and rent one of their Airstreams or an adorably rustic Kamping Kabin or Kamping Lodge. The restrooms and showers are always kept clean and well maintained.  If you have a problem with anything, there is usually a staff member within earshot to come and make things right. If you don’t have your own cooking facilities, you can take advantage of the Kamp Kitchen, which many KOAs supply for the use of their guests. The KOA store is a well stocked resource for last minute food items and camping essentials.  They stock everything you’re likely to need and make it easy to dash in and grab hotdog buns, a souvenir picture frame, and the washer you’ve misplaced, but desperately need, in order to fit your marine hose to the water hook-up.  Compare that to a campground, I stayed in recently, where the store didn’t even have milk. My family has enjoyed every experience we’ve had with KOA.  That’s because family fun is what KOA does best.  Their range of amenities and services ensures that every family member has a great time on holiday.  You’ll often find the park outfitted with a playground for toddlers, a playground for big kids, and a playground for the family dog.  There is always a pool and, in cooler climates, it’s often heated.  Not to mention the games room, the bike and boat rentals, the community fire pits, the big screen TV in the pavilion, and the fishing pond.  Specific amenities vary by location, but every KOA has something unique to offer. KOAs are great holiday parks, but they really shine in their ability to cultivate a sense of community with and among their guests.  On our most recent visit with KOA, the staff planned a series of events that kept everybody entertained. In that single weekend the staff planned and executed a host of fun activities for their Christmas in July celebration, which included decorations throughout the park, breakfast with Santa (which included gifts for the kids), a contest for the best decorated campsite, a carol singing hayride, an ice-cream social, crafts, bingo, a pancake breakfast, and my son’s personal favourite, a flashlight candy hunt.  Before we knew it, the weekend was over and we didn’t know where the time had gone. KOA parks are located across North America, near popular sightseeing destinations and major cities, but you don’t have to play the tourist, if you don’t feel like it.  In fact, you don’t have to leave the campground at all; you’ll still have a great time.  KOA creates such a relaxed, and friendly atmosphere in their parks, you’ll be at ease from the moment you check in.  By the end of your stay, you probably won’t see camping as roughing it anymore. – Jen R, Staff Writer [ad]

Don’t Let Lyme Disease Spoil the Summer

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Hiking, biking, fishing, camping, its summertime and summer was made for outdoor fun.  But, outdoor adventure has a nasty foe.  That foes name is Lyme disease.  Superhero parents need to educate themselves on their nemesis so they can fight back and avert disaster. Lyme disease, if left untreated, can have nasty consequences like arthritis, numbness, and paralysis.  If it is caught early, however, the disease is easily treated with antibiotics. In 70% to 80% of Lyme cases, the first symptom is a bull’s eye rash.  It literally looks like a red bull’s eye on the skin.  Other early signs are flu-like symptoms and extreme fatigue.  These symptoms may present anywhere from three days to one month after a bite from an infected tick. Lyme disease is transmitted by black-legged ticks (aka deer ticks).  Ticks are a parasitic insect that attaches to other animals, i.e. birds, deer, humans.  They gorge themselves on the blood of their host and, in the process, get a piggy-back ride to a new location.  As a result of this piggy-backing, Lyme disease can now be found across North America, though the highest concentrations continue to be along the East and West Coasts and the Great Lakes region. The best defense is to avoid being bitten in the first place, and no, that doesnt mean imprisoning the kids indoors all summer.  You need to know your enemy. Ticks like to hang out in long grass and are most likely to attach themselves, to you and your family, when you are in or near grassy areas.  Dress yourself and your children in long sleeves and pants when gallivanting in high-risk locations.  Tuck pant legs into socks to create a tick barrier.  Stay in the middle of trails and pathways and avoid brushing up against the long grass along the perimeters.  I know its nearly impossible to keep young children from venturing off the trail but try. Government websites recommend the use of bug repellents containing DEET.  Many parents are not fans of this method, but it is an added line of defense when roaming in very high-risk environments.  Use your discretion. Its a good idea to wear light coloured clothing.  Black-legged ticks are very small (about the size of a freckle) and dark.  Its much easier to spot them against light colours.  Speaking of spotting them, check yourself and your children for ticks frequently.  An infected tick is much more likely to transmit Lyme if it has been feasting on its host for 24 hours or more.  Catch a tick bite early and its more likely to be an inconvenience than a cause for alarm. If you happen to find a tick that has defeated your multi-layered defenses, use tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and remove it.  Place the tick in a container and bring it with you to visit the doctor.  The doctor will want to see the bite, will want to know when and where (geographically) the bite occurred and may send the tick away for testing. Lyme disease has the potential to put a lid on your familys summer fun, but now that youre educated on early detection and tick avoidance, you and your family can relax and enjoy the great outdoors. – Jen R, Staff Writer photo photo

LEED Hotels are a Great Choice for Environmentally Conscious Parents

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The environment is near the top of everyone’s list of concerns these days.  We all want to leave our children with a safe and beautiful world.  Teaching by example, many parents choose to ‘go green’ whenever there is an opportunity. Travel presents a problem for environmentally conscious parents.  From the massive quantity of jet fuel used by the aviation industry, to the greenhouse gases belched from the exhaust pipes of road-tripping vehicles, to the copious amount of waste produced by frequent fast food meals on-the-go, travel is a highly consumptive activity. Fortunately, hotel accommodations can be surprisingly green, if you know where to look.  There are, currently, a number of LEED certified hotels across the United States and in various locations around the world.  Many more are in the planning and building phases. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  It is a green building certification system that evaluates commercial properties.  LEED certified properties are built or extensively renovated with great attention paid to the reduction of environmental impact, both during the building phase and once the property is in full operation.  LEED evaluates buildings on a range of criteria and gives them a score which determines the certification rating of the site.  The areas that are evaluated are:
  • Sustainable Sites,
  • Water Efficiency,
  • Energy and Atmosphere,
  • Materials and Resources,
  • Indoor Environmental Quality,
  • Innovation and Design
If the building meets LEED requirements, it will be given a rating of; certified, silver, gold, or platinum depending on its cumulative score.  The evaluation is rigorous and is conducted by a third party, to assure that the results are unbiased. It makes good economic sense for hotels to participate in the program.  The upfront building costs tend to be higher, but they will eventually be recuperated through lower utility bills.  LEED certification also draws a loyal customer base that is hungry for environmentally conscious alternatives. In choosing a hotel with LEED certification, parents get the peace of mind that they are making a responsible choice for both the environment and the health of their children.  The natural materials used throughout these buildings off-gas little or no noxious fumes, resulting in cleaner air and easy breathing for children and adults alike. Proximity Hotel in Greensboro, North Carolina is currently the highest rated LEED hotel in the United States.  This beautifully designed, luxury hotel scored 55 out of a possible 69 points on the LEED evaluation, earning it Platinum status. Compared to a similar sized hotel of conventional design, Proximity uses 39% less energy, 34% less water and produced 87% less waste during construction. The developers of the hotel, Quaintance-Weaver Restaurants and Hotels, took great pains to make the most responsible choices at every turn.  They went so far as to hire Chip Holton as their artist-in-residence.  During the building process, Chip worked in a studio adjacent to the site, producing a total of 500 original works of art which now hang throughout the hotel.  Because Chip’s studio was so near to the hotel, there was no need to package and ship the paintings.  This reduced the environmental impact of the artwork immensely. It is fortunate that Greensboro has such an impressive hotel, because the city has a lot to offer its visitors.  The area has a rich history that is proudly exhibited throughout the community.  There are fantastic shopping and dining options, winery tours and world class golf.   Children will have a ball at any of Greensboro’s interactive venues including; Emerald Pointe Water Park, the Greensboro Children’s Museum, the Natural Science Center of Greensboro & Animal Discovery Zoological Park, and ArtQuest hands-on art gallery. Whether you decide to make the trip to Proximity Hotel, or one of the many other LEED certified hotels and attractions across the United States, it is worthwhile to consider the environmental impact of your family’s vacation and take what steps you can to minimize it. – Jen R, Staff Writer A list of the current LEED Certified Hotels can be found here.
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Featured Review: Atlantis Resort Paradise Island Bahamas

Atlantis is a beautiful sprawling resort set on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Comprised of 5 hotel towers and a townhome complex, this amazing vacation spot caters to vacationers of all ages.
My husband, two sons and I recently had the pleasure of spending a week at this luxury resort. We chose Atlantis because it had something for every member of our family. Watersports for my husband, lots of swimming activities for my boys and a beautiful beach for mommy. While there are many hotels in Nassau that offers some of these same amenities, we chose Atlantis because there was so much in one place. When you are traveling with 2 kids, the more there is in a small radius, the better. Of the 5 buildings we chose the Royal Towers because they are centrally located to all pools and most restaurants. Because we had a double stroller with us this was a good choice. This is a newer section of the resort and most areas are accessible by stroller. When navigating through the Coral and Beach Resort section we found ourselves getting stuck in areas that were only accessible by stairs. Accommodations: Our ocean view room had 2 Queen beds and a small balcony. It was fairly spacious and decorated in Caribbean decor. The bathroom, however, was in need of a make-over. The forest green granite on the counter was faded from years of use and the extra small bath tub was etched from a bathmat. My husband liked the one serve coffee machine and that our room was equipped with a nice 32″(aprox.) flat screen TV.   I liked that it was far enough off the ground that my boys couldn’t get to it. Having the option to check our account from our TV was a nice convenience. You can also order pay-per-view movies or in room Internet from the same helpful menu. I highly recommend the oceanview room. From our window we could see clear across the resort. Many of the pools, ponds and waterfalls were visible from our perch, something we would sit and marvel at every night. Kids: Atlantis was made for kids. While kids are welcome in all of the pools, there are 4 that cater to them. We spent most of our time at the Splashers pool. This Mayan-themed water play structure features three tube slides, a side-by-side slide, cargo nets and rope bridges for climbing, water cannons, fountains and water wheels for endless soaking. As an added bonus a 320-gallon bucket dumps a massive amount of water on anyone within a 25 foot vicinity. We loved that the adjacent pool was heated, which made getting both kids into the water a dream. Parents who can’t pack everything will like that Atlantis provides complimentary life jackets for those of all ages. For beach going families, Atlantis has a beautiful white sand beach that stretches from one end of the resort to the other.  Our boys had a blast playing in the sand, and floating in the calm waters at the Cove beach.   It was also nice that lounge chairs, umbrellas, beach towels and a life guard were provided to make our morning both safe and comfortable. For parents who want to spend some time alone, Atlantis offers an adventure club(AKA). Located in the Royal tower, this high tech space caters to kids of all ages. Starting at 9am, kids 3- 5(potty trained) and 6-12 can participate in scheduled sessions. The smaller kids are offered programs like Pirate Treasure and behind the scenes dolphin tours, while the older kids get the chance to cook, craft and put on stage shows. Because we had such good luck with our son in the kids club onboard our recent cruise we decided to pay the fee and see what the Adventure was all about. The staff at AKA is very friendly. For your child’s security they take your picture and make you sign the child in and out. Your little one is also given a security bracelet that will go off if they leave the area. While very few amenities at Atlantis are free, the resort does offer a good value when you do have to pay for something. Both sessions (9a-12p, 1p-5p) of the 3-5 kids club were $45/child. Cooking classes for 6-12 were $65 as was the evening session for all ages 6pm-10:30. Even though we though these prices were a but steep, parents were lined up at the door the night we went to pre-register. Some with 2 and 3 kids. Dying to see what all of the hype was all about, I dropped by the next day at 5pm for the parent tour and was impressed with their facilities. Atlantis has thought of everything when creating this space.  For younger kids there is a story room complete with a talking tree, a princess room, a shopping store that is stocked with more play food than you have ever seen and LEGO room for your little builder.  For older kids there is a high tech craft room, games room, computer lab and an beautiful kitchen.  There are also TVs in the bathroom mirrors to remind kids to wash their hands.

Marine Habitat: Atlantis’ amazing Aquarium lets you get up-close views of more than 50,000 marine animals from over 200 species. Walking through the underwater tunnels was exciting at any time of the day. The dig allows visitors to meander through passageways and observe stingrays, moon jellies and lionfish. We did this every night before and after dinner to avoid the crowds and on our way to the pool in the morning.

During a trip from one side of the resort to the other, we discovered the Predator Lagoon Tunnel.  Located below the Lagoon Bar & Grill, outside the Coral Towers, the Predator Lagoon is a somewhat hidden gem that features predominately deeper reef fish like Sharks, barracudas, rays, sawfish and giant groupers. Our boys loved walking through the 100-foot clear underwater tunnel submerged in the lagoon to get a look at these amazing fish from all sides. We also had the opportunity to swim with the dolphins($140/person).  My son was super excited about this.  After getting suited up in wetsuits and watching a 20 minute informational video we were escorted to the water where we met our new friend Toni.  During our 20 minutes or so with Toni we got to feed her, kiss her and pose for pictures.  Both of the instructors were excellent about teaching us about the breed and their facility.  Our dolphin was actually rescued from the Louisiana Aquarium after Hurricane Katrina.

Food: While meals at Atlantis are pricey, many of the prices are on point with some of those we have seen at other resorts. But for families, eating here can add up quickly. Before you arrive you will be offered a meal plan(breakfast & dinner) if you book your vacation through Atlantis directly. If you are traveling with children under 6 the meal plan is free if the parents choose to take it.   I highly recommend this for families who have kids between 4-6 as the resort charges half an adult rate for kids 4 and older at their buffet restaurants. We liked that Atlantis had restaurants for families in all price ranges, but were disappointed when many of them weren’t open because it was low season. Nothing is more frustrating than walking from one end of the resort to the other just to find out that the restaurant is not open.  Notable favorites were Marketplace Buffet, Murray’s Deli, Carmines, Bimini Road and Johnny Rockets. Atlantis is definitely a destination that we will return to in the coming years and while it was great for us and the kids, it would also be perfect as a 2-3 day mommy and daddy getaway as well!

Featured Review: 2010 Joovy Caboose Ultralight

For the last few years the sit and stand stroller has been a popular choice for parents who have 2 children of different ages and abilities. It’s practical design makes use of the area at the back of stroller, offering a second seating option with a 3-point harness for an older child who may be able to walk on their own but not for long periods of time. It also has a platform that can be used as a board for your pre-schooler(up to 45lbs) to stand on while they ride along with you. Baby Gear company Joovy has designed 4 strollers that offer the sit and stand feature. We recently had the opportunity to test out their popular Caboose Ultralight. Installation: Setting up the stroller was fairly straight forward. While the front wheels and canopy were easy to pop on, the back wheels looked as though they may be a challenge. To make it easy, Joovy includes a manual that walks you through every step to ensure a successful installation. Getting started is a breeze. To open the stroller all that is needed is to pull up on the handlebar. Once in place there is a lock mechanism on the left hand side to keep the frame in place while in use. Because the Caboose Ultralight weighs just 21lbs, it pushes quite nicely. Like a standard travel system it has a full seat in the front complete with snack tray and a adjustable 5-point harness with an attachment to hold an infant car seat. With just the addition of this bracket (provided), most infant car seats that have a seat belt pass through can be placed in the front, making this stroller perfect from birth. New for 2010 Joovy has also added a third recline position for the front passenger. While its not a completely flat recline, it is more than enough for a younger child to sleep comfortably while out. The Joovy Caboose Ultralight is smartly designed. The front of the stroller resembles a standard stroller, while the back makes room for an older child. They can choose to sit on the small bench if they are tired or stand if they just need a quick ride from one stop to another. Because my son is used to a double side by side, he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the back seat at first. For me it was a bonus that my boys were back to back. As they get older shopping has become a bit of a challenge when they sit side by side because they fight. Having them back to back reduced that a bit and allowed me to have a good eye on what my older guy was up to. A centrally positioned canopy ensures that both kids get good coverage. When the back seat is empty it can moved completely forward to fully shade the front passenger or just closed in the center position when out shopping. I actually use it to hold whatever I am buying when at the mall or market. The scoop that is created when it is half closed is great for holding onto little shirts and pants. The storage on the Caboose is spacious! A shopping parent will not have any problem storing their days purchases unless the bag is bulky. Because the entrance to the basket is under the back seat, the opening is a bit small and like any stroller, heavier purchases, like cans, will drag if piled in. For smaller items there are side pockets that can easily hold things like snack bags or hats and mittens I also figured out that a standard grocery shopping basket can be placed in the back where the bench is if you are out for a quick grocery shop with just one child. My ‘ah-ha’ moment saved my shopping trip and allowed me to peruse the grocery store without having to balance the basket and push the stroller. Also for your convenience Joovy has included their neoprene Parent Organizer with the Ultralight Caboose. This awesome handlebar storage unit gives you a place to store 2 sippy cups, your keys, cell phone and money. It fits snugly across the handlebars and is positioned perfectly for quick access. The Joovy Caboose Ultralight($269) is a practical option for parents who are looking for something that will grow with their family for a reasonable price. During our test we took the Caboose Ultralight everywhere (mall, park and market) and it performed well under all of the conditions. It will be great to take to the amusement parks this summer and would also be a great travel stroller as it folds up nicely and can be locked with a lever located on the side.
*This stroller was provided to us by Joovy to review*

Tips to Make Camping a Fun Family Adventure

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My husband and I have been camping for years, but we took a hiatus from outdoor adventure after our son was born.  Last summer, when our son was two years old, we ventured back into the woods and have discovered that camping is a great activity for children and a fabulous way to build fun family memories. Picking your life up and moving it to the woods is not without its challenges, however, and camping with young children can result in some ‘unique’ issues.  There is no concierge to call upon when problems arise, but with a little planning you can head trouble off at the pass and enjoy your family getaway. Safe, happy and comfortable is the name of the game, when planning and packing for your camping trip. Be sure to include a first aid kit in your gear.  Cuts, scrapes and bug bites are some of the inevitable pitfalls of fun in the great outdoors, so prepare yourself.  You’ll want to have bandages, antiseptic, and calamine lotion (or some other product) to take the edge off a case of the itchies. It’s also important to think about protection from bugs and the sun.  Nothing will spoil a camping trip faster than a swarm of mosquitoes or a nasty sunburn.  You can pack the usual sprays and lotions, but in addition to those, think about how the kids are dressed.  A wide brimmed hat is a must and long sleeves and pants offer protection from both the sun and biting insects.  Plan to spend time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest.  Use mosquito coils, citronella candles and campfire smoke to chase the bugs away. Pack enough clothing for the time you plan to be away…and then pack some more.  A rain coat and boots are a good idea too.  Murphy’s Law of Camping clearly states that the moment you have finished setting up your campsite, it will rain.  This camping induced downpour will create puddles that your children will find irresistible, and it will create mud, which will get everywhere.  None of this is a big deal, however, if the kids have plenty of clean, dry clothes to change into. Bring along some basic cleaning supplies.  Camping is a dirty, dusty, wet, muddy activity.  That’s part of what makes it so awesome.  But, it’s not just Mother Nature’s grime you have to think about.  There is a very real possibility that your child will glue their face to their raincoat with marshmallow (and yes I’m speaking from experience).  There is also the inexplicable propensity for children to vomit in the middle of the night, on camping trips.  If you’re not equipped to deal with midnight puke, you won’t be a very happy camper, pardon the pun. Sleeping in the great outdoors can be deeply restful, but for a little one, it may be a little creepy.  Make bedtime easier by having your child’s security items (blankie, teddy bear) available.  It’s also nice to give preschoolers (and older children for that matter) access to a flashlight.  Nothing chases away the Boogie Man faster than flicking on a light.  If the child has their own flashlight or lantern, they can comfort themselves as they fall asleep and won’t wear down your light in the process. Perhaps most importantly, establish a safe sleeping environment for your child.  This may take some thought and preparation, depending on the age of the child and the size of the tent, or trailer. Children should sleep on or near the ground to prevent a nasty fall.  Keep in mind that air mattresses are not recommended for young children because they lose air over night and may envelop the child and cause asphyxiation.  Consider a foam pad or playpen for bedtime.  Have layers of sleepwear or blankets on hand so the child can maintain a comfortable temperature overnight.  In the cooler months, a knit cap may help the child sleep more comfortably.  It can get surprisingly chilly through the night, even in the summer months. It may sound like a lot of work, but by planning and organizing yourself ahead of time, you’ll be ready for whatever the wilderness throws at you.  Camping is the perfect way to share your love of nature with your children and it provides plenty of opportunities to educate and experience new things together. – Jen R, Staff Writer [ad]

7 Tips For Cruising With Kids

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My husband and I have been ‘cruisers’ for more than 10 years.  In that time we have had the pleasure of sailing on more than 14 boats with 5 cruiselines. Even though I would consider us experienced, sailing with kids adds a different level of challenges. From the planning, to the packing and the execution, every time we add another child to our family – each trip gets more difficult. To help with this, here are some cruising travel tips I have learned:
  1. Book Early. Years ago booking last minute was the thing to do.  Now, many serious cruisers book a year or TWO in advance in order to secure the perfect cabin in the right location.  Family cabins, larger suites and balconies go quick so if you are looking to stay in one of these rooms put a deposit down as soon as you choose your ship.  The bonus to this is that most cruise centers don’t need the cruise to be paid in full until 90 days before the boat is scheduled to set sail.  So if the price of the cruise comes down before you pay for the cruise in full you can have the travel company do a price adjustment for you.  Additionally, watch for a deposit discount sales and 1 day sales on your boat to make sure that you are getting the best price.
  2. Book a balcony. While cabins aboard any ship are small, they get that much smaller when you add a little adventurer and all of their gear.  Having a balcony is nice as it adds a bit of extra space that we could use to keep the kids happy.  Recently we have booked suites in order to get, yet, a bit more room and a bathtub for our boys.  Depending on the cruise line you choose suites can range from just a few hundred more per person all the way up to double your fare.  But if you book early you may be able to choose one that is in the mid range rather than having to choose an owner’s suite because everything else is sold out.  My pick for reasonable suite prices is Princess Cruise Lines.
  3. Arrive the day before! One thing we have learned form traveling with the kids is to take it easy.  Flying all day and then starting a busy cruise can sometimes be too much for little ones.  In the last few years we have arrived a day or two before the cruise is due to start in order to leave lots of time for air delays.  This is also a nice way to unwind and relax before boarding the ship.
  4. Even if you have 2 small children or a set of twins bring 2 single strollers. Narrow halls and doorways would have made it virtually impossible for us to get our double side-by-side through through the ship, into washrooms or through the lido restaurant.
  5. If you are traveling with young children try to choose an itinerary with a couple days at sea. Getting off the boat every day is somewhat tiring, which makes it hard to keep a sleep schedule. Our day at sea was great because we didn’t have to be anywhere we could just go at our own pace.
  6. Pack snacks. Even though cruises are known for their huge selection of food choices, we found that having some pre-packaged treats from home (goldfish, mini Doritos, craisons, pringles) made great beach snacks. It was also nice for the kids to have something to munch on while we were getting ready for dinner or to go out to a show.  We also grabbed fruit and dry cereal from the buffet in the morning to snack on while at the beach as well.
  7. Skip Ship Excursions. Unless you are looking to do something specialized like a trip to a close by island, swim with dolphins or snorkel/scuba dive an exclusive reef, organize your excursion when you get off the ship. Many local taxi drivers will be waiting once the ship docks to take you an island tour, to the beach or shopping.  They can also tell you which beach is the best, safest or most calm on that day.  While some islands have a pre-determined fare for each point of interest, others are still negotiable.

Is Your Sunscreen Doing More Harm Than Good?

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The Environmental Working Group’s annual report on sunscreen was released this week.  Citing poor regulation, overstated claims and the possibility of increased cancer risk; the report is enough to leave parents wondering if it’s wise to slather their children in sun block, after all. According to the EWG, the ideal sunscreen would block all UV rays effectively for several hours and would be formulated to prevent more damage than it causes.  But of the 500 sunscreens examined, it was found that only 39 met their standards for safety and effectiveness. The report criticises the FDA for insufficient oversight and regulation of sunscreen.  In 2007 the FDA proposed a regulation that would prohibit manufacturers from rating their sunscreens any higher than SPF 50 stating that, SPF ratings higher than 50 are “inherently misleading” and that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful.” This regulation never came to pass and there are currently a number of sunscreens that are touted to have SPF ratings well in excess of SPF 50. In general, the SPF ratings on sunscreens overstate the protection they are actually giving.  According to the EWG report, “People don’t get the high SPF they pay for.  People apply about a quarter of the recommended amount.  So in everyday practice, a product labelled SPF 100 really performs like SPF 3.2, an SPF 30 rating equates to a 2.3 and an SPF 15 translates to 2.” The report cites that the use of oxybenzone, in sunscreen, is a health concern.  Oxybenzone is a chemical which penetrates the skin, enters the bloodstream and disrupts hormones. Even though these concerns have been floating around for a number of years this report contains a controversial new concern.  Many popular sunscreens may, actually, cause cancer. Newly discovered research indicates that vitamin A added to many sunscreen products may act as a catalyst to the cancer it’s meant to protect against. Vitamin A is added to sunscreen as an anti-oxident.  It is supposed to help slow the signs of aging in skin but may actually accelerate the growth of malignant skin cells. The EWG report claims that the research was conducted by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 and that, since then, the FDA has been sitting on the information.  The FDA denies this accusation. The report states that, “In that yearlong study, tumors and lesions developed up to 21 percent faster in lab animals coated in a vitamin A-laced cream than animals treated with a vitamin-free cream.” Read the ingredient list on sunscreen before purchasing it.  The vitamin A derivatives to look for are retinol and retinyl palmitate. The best protection against the sun is avoidance.  Limit the time children spend in the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Dress them in a hat, long sleeves and long pants and seek out the shade whenever possible. – Jen R, Staff Writer Related Articles: SOURCE
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Featured Review: Caribbean Princess

Even though my husband and I have been cruising for 10 years, sailing with kids adds a different level of challenges. From the planning, to the packing and the execution, every time we add another child to our family – each trip gets more difficult, especially when the airlines charge so much for baggage. We love to cruise because of the value offered in the vacation. Food, Entertainment and lots of great destinations make this our favourite way to travel. And like many who have been here before us – we are addicted to cruising! For our trip this year we decided to do the Caribbean Princess, sailing out of San Juan visiting St. Thomas, Tortola, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbados. For us, Princess Cruise Lines have been a reliable line that has delivered good food, comfortable accommodations and lots of fun at a good price. When choosing our cabin this year, I figured a mini-suite would be the best bet. For just a few hundred extra dollars this cabin offers 100sq ft more living space than a standard balcony cabin, a bigger balcony and a bathtub, which is a must for our boys. We also got an extra TV, a couch and some additional storage space. Once on board we were happy with our choice and so were our boys. Even though this cabin was much smaller than the hotel room we had been staying at prior to our vacation, it was still quite roomy and comfortable.

One thing I like about cruising is the pleasant staff that awaits you when your arrive. Everywhere we went there was always someone waiting to help if you are lost or needed something. This is especially helpful when you are traveling with kids. Having a waiter on the Lido deck help with getting a highchair, drinks or even condiments was like having an extra family member along for the trip. Like all cruiselines, Princess tidies your room in the morning and then again before bed. This was especially convenient as we would always mess the room up after returning from port and loved that it was clean again after we returned from dinner. For a week we called the Caribbean Princess home. Here is what we thought: One of my favorite reasons for cruising is the food and it was available somewhere 24 hours a day on our ship. Starting at 4am Princess offers pastries and beverages in the Cafe Caribe, with full breakfast service starting a 6am just across the hall in the Horizon Court. From this point on the buffet toggles back and forth between the two areas for 24 hour coverage. For those who are looking for more of a formal meal service, the dining room does breakfast(7am – 9am, lunch(noon – 1:30), tea(3:30 – 4:30) and dinner (5:30 – 10pm) everyday. We had our best luck with the kids in the Horizon court where we could get them their food immediately. Even though our waiter tried to speed up our service, dinner in the Palm dining room averaged about 90 minutes which didn’t go well with our 1-year-old.

Regardless of where we chose to eat, it was nice to see that Princess caters to those with all dietary needs. Vegetarian choices are clearly market in the menu and diabetic options, available at every meal. Something that was new for us this year was the Pelican Club. Because my son was not toilet trained when we cruised last time, he was not eligible for the kids club. As soon as we boarded the ship a newsletter was waiting in our cabin outlining all of the activities planned at the Pelican Club. Because my son has special needs I was skeptical about leaving him with staff who didn’t know him or how to deal with his quirky personality traits. After he saw the room he was really excited to participate so we signed him up and were pleasantly surprised by his experience. When we arrived each night to drop him off the staff welcomed him by name and took him over to get started with the evenings activities. He talked about the kids club all day and couldn’t wait to go each night. When there, the group did arts and crafts, played games, watched movies and even had a dance party. Each night he would appear at the door with a new toy or craft that he had made that night. This was definitely a bright light in the cruise for him as it was his time to play and act crazy.

Princess doesn’t really have a lot to do on board for kids so it was nice for us that he liked participating in the Pelican Club. When touring around we found that outdoor facilities for kids are sparse and the kids pool a bit small. Located on the 17th floor at the back of the ship, this 10ft x 10ft swimming space almost feels like an after thought. Underneath it, one flight of stairs down, is another tiny pool, a space to ride bikes and a spot for older kids to play ping pong. All very simple, nothing elaborate. And while this is fine for little kids, older kids may be bored with the lack of outdoor activities. Professional entertainment on board varied from full stage productions in the Princess Theater to artists singing their favorite Billy Joel or Elton John song in various lounges around the ship. Our favorite area was the Piazza. Every night there would be a variety of performers, like contortionists, illusionists, pianists and a steel drum band entertaining the crowds of passengers milling about the shops and bars. One night we were happy to come upon a hypnotist, who had the audience believing that they were on Jerry Springer and a comedian from Comedy Central. On previous trips we would have caught every show onboard, but traveling with the boys tends to split us apart – having one watch the show, while the other puts the two to bed.

To help with this Princess does offer babysitting services for a fee. While this is something we wouldn’t do, there were many families onboard that took advantage of this service. One attraction that was a hit with the whole family was the Movies Under The Stars. Princess has mounted a massive movie screen over the main pool that shows newish movies from 10am to midnight everyday. Flicks like Transformers 2, Star Trek, Night at the Museum 2 and Shopaholic could be enjoyed after dinner or while taking a dip in the pool. In the evening, Princess even puts special covers over their deckchairs and offers popcorn to those who would like to enjoy a snack and a movie ‘Under The Stars’. Another new experience for us was using the on board laundromat. Halfway through our trip I realized that a lot of the boys clothes were dirty, including the very important ‘blankie’. When I attempted to send some off to be cleaned by the ship’s dry cleaners I was told that I had missed the deadline and would have to wait until the following day. So I packaged everything up and headed 4 rooms down the hall to the laundromat. What a great room – especially for moms who don’t want to bring back a suitcase full of dirty clothes! For your convenience Princess has installed a detergent/softener sheet dispenser and for just $1.00/box. Overall our trip was nice. While traveling with kids is challenging, being a board a ship that has so much to offer made things a lot easier. I would recommend this ship for families looking to see the Caribbean without breaking the bank. To get your pick of cabin, book early. Even though we booked this trip in July most of the bigger suites were already taken. Pros:
  • very friendly staff
  • great food
  • wonderful itinerary
  • organized
  • nicely priced
Cons:
  • slow, expensive internet
  • not enough outdoor kids amenities (in need of a splash pad or some water area that has more to do)
If you are looking to budget your trip out, here is what we did on each island along with their costs. St. Thomas – In St. Thomas we visited Coki Beach and Coral World. Coki beach is a beautiful swim/snorkel spot that is often overlooked by many. This crystal clear beach is calm (on most days), and the snorkeling is great. Coral World is nice, but somewhat expensive. $19/adults and $10/kids (3-12). The taxi ride(25minutes) was $10/per person/way, $5 for my oldest son Tortola – In Tortola we visited Cane Garden Beach. This beach was pretty, but a bit rough for the kids the day we were in port. We purchased the taxi off the ship and Chairs were $5ea from the beach vendor when we arrived. Taxi ride is 20-25 minutes $6/per person/way. Have a your camera ready – it’s a nice drive! The Market set-up at the beach offers some nice shopping. Antigua – In Antigua we visited Runaway Bay. Our Taxi driver dropped us off at the Lobster Shack, which used to be a hotel that didn’t re-open after the last hurricane hit the island. This small beach was nice because there is a break wall that keeps the water relatively calm. We liked that there weren’t many people on this beach and that the ‘Lobster Shack’ offered a nice menu for a reasonable price. Chairs $5 umbrella $10 taxi ride was about 10 minutes $3/person/way(kids were free) St. Lucia – In St. Lucia we went to Reduit Beach. This is the main beach and it was packed. While the water was nice the sand was a bit rocky leading into the water. Sand shoes are recommended here for sure. Chairs $5 umbrella $10 The taxi ride was about 10 minutes $8/per person return(kids free) Barbados – A new beach for us in Barbados was the Boatyard. We had heard a lot of great things about this beach and decided to give it a try. Admission is $10/per person , but it includes a welcome beverage, a chair with an umbrella, the use of the non-motorized motorsports and our cab ride back to the ship. I highly recommend this beach. It was clean, the water was clear and the atmosphere was great. Cab ride was $3/per person( kids free)