Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pack your passport, but don't pack Kinder eggs for your next U.S. trip

Photo by Canwest News Service
When packing your car or airline carry-on for your next trip to the U.S., be careful of what you pack to keep your kids entertained.  Kinder Surprise eggs, those insanely popular chocolate eggs with the little toy inside, are banned from sale or import into the U.S. and you can face a fine if you are found with them.

Back in January, a Winnipeg woman crossing the U.S. border was selected for a random vehicle search.  On finding a single $2 Kinder Surprise egg, the customs officer seized the egg as illegal contraband and she was warned she could have faced a $300 fine.  Afterwards, the U.S. government sent her a seven-page letter asking her to formally authorize the destruction of her seized Kinder egg, adding if she wished to contest the seizure, she’d have to pay $250 for it to be stored while the parties squabble over it.  According to a CBC news story, U.S. officials claim to have seized over 25,000 Kinder eggs in the course of 2,000 separate seizures, so this clearly isn’t a one-time occurrence.

The Kinder Surprise eggs were launched in Italy in 1972 but have never been approved for sale in the U.S. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission determined Kinder Surprise eggs did not meet the small-parts requirement for toys for kids under three because of the choking hazard (oddly, Cracker Jack popcorn has never been subject to the same ban).  In Canada, Kinder eggs are permitted because it was determined the plastic container actually holding the toy is far too difficult for a child under three to get into.

So, if you are traveling to the U.S., stay on the safe side and leave your Kinder Surprise eggs at home!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Traveling with children as a solo parent

If you are planning to travel outside of Canada with your child(ren) minus their other parent, make sure you carry the proper documentation:
  • A valid passport for yourself AND each child
  • A consent letter confirming the child has permission to travel outside of Canada with only one parent.  While not mandatory, it is a good idea to get the letter certified, stamped or sealed by an official who has the authority to administer an oath or solemn declaration (i.e., a commissioner for oaths, notary public, lawyer, etc.) Sample consent letter
You will also need to carry parentage documents:
  • A detailed birth certificate* indicating the name of the parent(s) issued by a the provincial or territorial vital statistics agency if the child was born in Canada OR
  • An order of adoption indicating the name of the adoptive parent(s); or
  • A foreign birth certificate indicating the name of the parent(s) (documents in a language other than English or French must be translated to either English or French) if the child was born outside of Canada.
In the event of separation or divorce, you will also need to carry your:
  • Divorce or separation documents
  • Custody documents
In the event the other parent is deceased, you will need to carry a copy of the death certificate.

Effective December 1, 2011, you must submit parentage documents along with Canadian passport applications for children under 16 (if they are applying for the first time).  It will be interesting to see if these new passports will suffice on their own for travel, or whether the separate parentage documents will still have to be carried.  Visit Passport Canada for the latest information about passports for children.

* It is a good idea to carry a child's detailed birth certificate even when both parents are traveling together, particularly when the parents are using differing surnames, so there is no question of parentage.

Because every parent’s situation is different and the requirements of every country differ, be sure to visit Foreign Affairs Canada to check for updates on the requirements.  You should also contact the representatives of the country or countries to be visited by the child to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information regarding their own specific entry requirements.

Helpful Resources:

Traveling with Children (Foreign Affairs Canada)
Passport Canada

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cruising with a baby

Mark and I would love to take B to visit hill tribes in northern Thailand, stay at a tented safari camp in Botswana or cycle around the islands of southern Croatia, but lets face it;  it isn't always sensible to haul a two-year old across a dozen time zones or spend 24 hours in transit, particularly with only a week or two of vacation.

To me, a cruise is like a limo-driven, fully catered road trip, and you only have to unpack once.  By chance, B ended up on two Royal Caribbean (RCI) cruises last year, the first (at 7 months old with Mommy, Grandma and Grandpa) on the monster-ship, the Oasis of the Seas, and the second (at 8 months old with Mommy and Daddy) on the much smaller Serenade of the Seas.  Here's why cruising, particularly on Royal Caribbean, can make for a great (even adventurous if you want) family holiday:

  1. You get to see a variety of places in a short span of time.  Sure you don't get to really immerse yourself in a place, but it's like doing a day trip every day and you don't have to spend hours driving or fight with your spouse about directions (of course this has never happened to us) 
  2. There are lots of food choices.  There are enough choices to feed even the pickiest child, and here's my favourite part - someone else is cooking it for you.  On RCI, the breakfast and lunch buffets are ok, but the a la carte meals in the dining room are excellent.  And if your child lacks the patience to sit through a three-course sit-down meal, you have the option of eating at one of the buffet restaurants or order room service.
  3. For warm destinations, a balcony cabin is worth every penny.  After baby is asleep, you can enjoy the rest of the evening on the balcony of your cabin.  On the Oasis, our cabin overlooked the central 'boardwalk' area, so I was able to take in big screen movies and the impressive water/dive show from the comfort of my balcony while B slept.  Unless you have bionic hearing, you won't be able to hear a crying child when the balcony door is closed so a baby monitor is a must-have.  Baby monitors generally DO NOT work between cabins, so it isn't a good idea to leave a child alone to spend time in a neighbouring cabin.
  4. RCI offers a wide variety of kids programs.  Their largest ships, including the Oasis, have full nurseries and all have activities and/or child care for older children if you are looking for a little adults-only time.  RCI loans out big bags of age-appropriate books and Fisher Price toys, which can be exchanged throughout the cruise for a different selection.  This is brilliant because it saves having to pack and bring a lot of toys and books along.  The toys are sanitized after each user and they were always in excellent condition.
  5. Those interested in shopping, working out, sitting in a hot tub, going to the spa or competing in belly-flop contests at the pool are well-covered.  Most RCI ships have mini golf, kids pools (for those out of diapers) and rock climbing walls.  The Oasis and Allure of the Seas add zip-lines and surfing to the mix.
  6. At ports, there are lots of cruise excursion options for those so-inclined.  We always venture out on our own, hire a taxi or book a private tour ahead of time - this has allowed us to get away from the tourist crowds and enjoy sights well off the beaten path.  Even horribly over-touristed islands like St. Thomas have some really wonderful sights, great food, and can be a lot of fun if you make a point of exploring away from the hoards.

Keep in mind:
  • Babies/toddlers in swim diapers are not permitted in any pools, other than little wading pools.  MSC and Disney Cruises offer the only exceptions I've found.
  • Most cruise lines have a minimum age requirement to travel, usually 6 or 12 months
  • Bigger doesn't mean better.  On RCI, the smaller ships actually have more spacious cabins and more breathing room in the restaurants, dining rooms and around the ship.  The larger ships make up for the tight spaces with a wider variety of activity and entertainment options. Smaller ships are able to stop at smaller ports right in the heart of town, whereas large ships like the Oasis have to stop at the larger ports located well out of town.  Because the size of the Oasis makes it more of a terrorist target, we had to go through full security screening (i.e. no liquids or gels permitted, and full x-ray screening of strollers and all belongings) every time we got on board - it was like going through airport security every day.
  • The huge Oasis is far more geared towards families than the smaller Serenade - for this reason, we actually enjoyed the Serenade better; it was easier to get a high chair at the restaurants, the children's areas were less busy and because B was one of only a few kids on the cruise, we never had to jockey against other strollers for space in the elevators, or anywhere else for that matter.  Plus since there were so few other kids, he got loads of attention from the crew and other guests.
  • Book your dining room seating time as soon as possible to make sure you get the seating time that works best for your child's schedule.  RCI also offers My Time Dining meaning you can head to the dining room whenever you want, but this has to be booked well ahead of your cruise.
If you decide to cruise with a baby or toddler, don't forget to bring along a(n):
  • Baby monitor - if you want to take advantage of your balcony (parent unit must be battery operated as there are no power outlets on balconies)
  • Pack 'n Play sheet(s) - if you book one for your cabin, it is a good idea to bring your own sheets since the cruise lines use standard twin or queen sheets which are easy for an active baby to get tangled up in
  • White noise - always a winner for helping a baby sleep, there are a number of phone apps (we like Sleep Fan, which can help to drone out the occasional noisy passersby in the hallway
  • Car seat - if you don't plan to spend your port visits on tour buses, bring along your own car seat to use in taxis or mini buses
  • An inflatable bathtub or small baby pool (24" diameter or less) - Unless you are cruising with Disney Cruise Lines or in a larger suite on another line, you'll likely have a shower in your cabin, so bring your own tub if baby is accustomed to having a nighttime bath.  For more information, see Bath Time!.

Cruise Critic is an excellent resource for information about family cruising.  Have you taken a baby or toddler on a cruise?  Please share your experience!

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Luggage for Little People

    My friend Trish has her own blog of great shopping finds, particularly focused on cool kid's stuff.  In this entry, she provides information about Trunki luggage.  I bought one last year for B but we haven't had the opportunity to use it yet:

    Good To Know: Luggage for Little People: One of the neatest finds that I discovered was the Trunki - Luggage for little people! I was glancing through a Chatelaine magazine a few ...

    Lesson learned from this week's Norway cruise fire

    On our recent trip to Norway, we had to opportunity to experience 12 nights about the Hurtigruten ship "Richard With", a ferry-style service which makes 35 stops over the course of the journey.  The ship starts in Bergen and hugs the spectacular Norwegian coast all the way north to Kirkenes on the Russian border, and back.  To access all of these places by car would take months. 

    I think back to the amazing scenery along the way and all the wonderful crew... but never did I once take any note of the safety and evacuation information.  Nor did I even ask where child-sized life jackets could be found.  This week's Norway Cruise Fire aboard one of Hurtigruten's other ships makes me seriously question my actions, or non-action to be more precise.  Two crew members were killed, others injured, and more than a third of those aboard were evacuated to life boats before the ship reached the safety of shore. 

    Ships can be a great way to travel with a small child (lots of places to see and no unpacking and packing again), but next time I will make the time to study the safety information!

    Experiences are priceless, and so is this ad

    I absolutely love this ad which appeared in my latest copy of National Geographic Traveler Magazine!  It's for a company called Active Adventures - fantastic sounding trips but they will have to wait until B is a bit older.  The thought has often crossed my mind of what I could sell to pay for our travels.  Hmmm...

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Are bulkhead seats worth it?

    Most airlines these days charge an extra fee to book bulkhead seats.  I have been successful in booking bulkhead seats in advance with Air Canada (at $50 extra per seat plus an additional $14 per seat for advance seat selection), however on flights with United and Icelandair, we were unable to book bulkhead seats in advance and had to wait to request them at check in.

    If you are traveling with small baby, it is worth asking your airline if they offer bassinettes – small cots that hang from the bulkhead so your little one can sleep.  These bassinettes generally accommodate a baby up to about 6 months old, but they are only available if you are sitting in a bulkhead row and other families have not already reserved them.  Neither Air Canada nor United provide them on North American flights, including flights to Hawaii. If you get one, bring your own sheet(s).

    The benefits of bulkhead seats

    Bulkhead seats are a real bonus if you are traveling with an active baby or toddler, as they usually provide substantially more room to move around.  On flights with personal entertainment units at each seat, you can tuck them away under the armrest, and out of reach of button-happy babies.  But by far the biggest advantage is not having seats directly in front of you, meaning there is nobody to put their seat back (people always seem to do it when I am retrieving a toy off the floor) and no seats for a child to kick!

    If you have purchased a seat for your child and they will be traveling in a car seat, in most cases the passenger seated in front of them will not be able to recline their seat because there won't be enough room to do so.  And if there is enough room to recline the seat, your child's feet are sure to be right up against the seat back, a sure-fire way to encourage seat-kicking, not to mention being downright uncomfortable for the child.  Sitting in bulkhead seats means this is not an issue. (I'll address flying with a car seat more fully in a separate post!)

    While bulkhead seats offer many advantages, they have a few big drawbacks 

    If you are in the bulkhead, make sure you have must-haves like wipes and bottles handy in your pockets or a waist pack, because you may not have access to your carry on bags when you need them i.e. during take offs, landings and turbulence.  I learned that the hard way on a flight from Toronto to Orlando – as I wrote in an earlier post, B spit up on me as we were landing and I couldn’t do a thing about it because I’d stowed the diaper bag away, wipes and all.

    On planes without personal entertainment units, the movie screen is often mounted on the bulkhead.  This can be fun for a small child if it is a really kid-friendly movie, but is a nightmare if you are trying to get your child to sleep.

    Whether you are sitting in a bulkhead seat or elsewhere on the plane, here are some additional considerations:

    Try to request seats as close to the front of the plane as possible.  Not only does this enable you to get to your seats quickly, giving you that extra bit of time to snag overhead space and get your child comfortable, but ensures you get off quickly at the end of the flight.  There is very little a toddler (or anyone for that matter) wants to do less than wait at their seat while everyone else gets off ahead of them.

    If you plan to nurse on the flight and/or expecting your child to sleep on your lap, try to select a window seat.  The convex shape of the window side provides that extra bit of space needed for baby to lie down.  Aisle seats are a bad idea because it is far too easy for baby’s head or feet to get bumped by people and carts moving down the aisle.

    Children are not permitted to sit in exit rows which tend to offer more leg room. However, many airlines have comfort plus seats, meaning for an extra fee you can book seats with a little more leg room.  It’s always worth asking when you check-in if these seats are available, as some airlines will allow you to use them at no extra charge if they are not already booked.

    Be aware that in some planes, the bulkhead is actually a curtain.  Unless you want to use a bassinette, this can actually be a benefit because you may get extra legroom AND have underseat storage and seat pockets in front of you.

    Here's a summary:

    Bulkhead PROS:
    • Can use a bassinette, if available
    • More space for a child to stand and play
    • Can tuck tv screens out of sight and out of the reach of little fingers
    • No seats in front for other passengers to recline

    • No seats in front for a child to kick!
    Bulkhead CONS:
    • No underseat storage or seat pockets, so you don’t always have access to your stuff
    • Many older airplanes have movie screens on the bulkhead – a nightmare if you are trying to get your baby to sleep.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Fun for everyone at Brooks Farms

    We had a great day this past Saturday on our first visit to Brooks Farms in Mount Albert.  B loved the pumpkin cannon show, play houses, pirate ship, apple picking and the 'train' ride around the farm.  We all loved the beautiful surroundings, well-kept lawns and the cute alien-invasion theme used throughout the farm.  With zip lines, farm animals and pig races, there really is something here for everyone.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Great travel toys

    The O Ball by Rhino Toys is my favourite travel toy - you can throw it, kick it, bounce it and it you can fold it and pack it virtually flat.  It weighs next to nothing, and as we learned in Hawaii, won’t get picked up by the wind and carried away like a beach ball.  It was easy for B to hold on to when he was small, and you can clean it in the dishwasher.  We bought it in Toronto for $7.99 at Chapters, and they sell them at Mastermind too.

    Ikea's Mula Nesting cups are only $3.  You can nest them, stack them, put stuff in them, hide stuff under them, use them as sand toys and in the bath, and they take up hardly any room.  Other toy makers sell them too, but I like the Ikea set because they have small holes in the bottom, so when you use them in the bath, you can watch the water drain out (i.e. one drains like a shower head, another has three holes, others just one small hole) which adds to the amusement.  B enjoys using them as hats, talking into them and holding the edge of a cup in his teeth and walking around like he had a big pig’s nose. We have fun making towers with the cups and then knocking them down.  We add the O Ball to the stacking fun to build more interesting towers.

    These toys entertained B as much on our most recent trip, as on our first.  If you have come across any good travel toys, let me know!

    Handy dining chair for traveling

    My friend Patricia originally told me about the Phil & Ted's Me Too chair and it has become one of our favourite pieces of travel gear.  It is light weight (2 lbs) and folds up very compact - about 12' x 14' x 1.5", so it fits in all our suitcases, and when we aren't traveling, we keep it in the car at all times.  We find it works best in restaurant booths and is particularly handy for picnic tables.  It's a great alternative to dodgy restaurant high chairs, and allows the child to join in right at the table.

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Flying to Orlando with a Baby

    I first took my son on holiday when he was 3 1/2 months old.  Like many parents, I was nervous taking our son on his first plane trip, particularly because my laid-back husband wasn’t coming with us.  My parents have a house in Orlando Florida, and being a less-than-3-hour flight from Toronto, this made the perfect starter trip.

    A million questions swirled through my mind… What do I pack? How will I manage getting everything through security? Should I gate-check a stroller or use a baby carrier? Should I bring his car seat?  Here is what worked, and what didn’t work:

    Carrying baby at the airport

    I chose to carry B around the airport in a mei tai which proved to be a good choice.  It ensured I had both my hands free, and because it has no metal parts, I was able to keep it on when going through the metal detector.  On other trips, I have been asked to take him out while going through the metal detector, so be aware this can happen.

    Going through security

    Since the restrictions frequently change, be sure to visit the TSA's website to find out what the latest requirements are regarding carrying pre-mixed baby formula, breast milk, juice and other liquids.  The website also includes information and videos to help you know what to expect when going through security with a child.

    Baby gear

    We used a rear-facing Graco car seat which clicked into the frame of our Bugaboo stroller.  I checked in the car seat and stroller so I’d have them to use in Florida.  If this seems cumbersome, Orlando has no shortage of services which rent baby gear for the duration of your trip including Traveling Baby) and Kids Gear Here.  I have never used a baby gear rental service, so I can’t comment on their quality or service.  Many hotels will provide high chairs and cribs – be sure to ask.

    Choosing seats on the plane

    On check-in I requested bulkhead seats, thinking this would give us extra room.  Bulk head seats allow for much more leg room, however they had a disadvantage I hadn’t anticipated – every time the ‘fasten seatbelt’ light came on, we had to stow all our carry on bags in the overhead bins, which made it difficult to access baby stuff when I needed it.  In order to help B’s ears adjust to the pressure changes, I nursed him during take-off and landing.  Unfortunately, while we were landing, he had a huge spit-up all over my shirt and all my baby wipes and tissues were completely inaccessible in the overhead bin.  (Now I think twice before requesting bulk head seats, and I now make sure to keep necessities tucked in beside me when everything else is stowed  – see Are Bulkhead Seats Worth It?)

    Welcome to Pack Your Passport Baby!

    My name is Allyson and I live in Toronto, Canada.  Pre-baby, my husband Mark and I were avid travelers and frequently traveled in the Americas, Europe, Africa - and Asia, our favourite destination.  When our son was born, we were more than a little concerned that our travels would be completely curtailed, however with each passing trip our confidence has grown. 

    Our son is now two years old, and we have enjoyed many wonderful travels with him in North America and Europe, and we're chomping at the bit to take him to Asia.  I am a planner at heart and throughout these travels, I thoroughly researched our destinations looking for any advice I could find about traveling with a baby.  Most online advice relates to families with older children so finding specific advice relating to babies and younger children was a bit of a challenge.
    Traveling with our son hasn't always been easy, but it has been very rewarding.  I often think about playgrounds our son enjoyed while in Maui, and the gorgeous views Mark and I were treated to at the same time.   I believe most important part about traveling with a child is visiting places the whole family will enjoy, rather than restricting your travels to only child-based destinations.

    In this blog I hope to share tips and tricks I've learned along the way, things like keeping a toddler busy on an airplane, choosing an airplane seat and figuring out what to pack.  If you have any comments or suggestions for readers on great child-friendly venues, travel destinations or your own travel tip, please share them by emailing me at packyourpassport@gmail.ca.

    I will on occasion include links to an interesting product or destination website.  I do not take any responsibility for the content of these websites, nor do I receive any kick-backs from my recommendation of any product.