Monday, December 26, 2011

Preparing Yourself (and your kids) for Airport Security

At this time of year, I can’t help but think back to Boxing Day 2009, the day after the botched attack on a Northwest Airlines flight where a passenger on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit concealed plastic explosives in his underwear.  Thankfully the explosives failed to detonate properly and the culprit was tackled and arrested on landing.  As a result of the attempt, airport security measures at many airports went into overdrive and we were booked on an early morning flight to Florida.  Departing Toronto, each passenger (including our 6 month old son) was subject to a secondary search by the RCMP.  Even in the early morning hours, we endured a 2 hour wait to get through security but we came prepared and thankfully our son was a good sport and too young to question or remember being frisked by a Mountie.

Thankfully this measure lasted only a few weeks, but there’s no doubt that going through security is a maze of constantly evolving rules and practices.  The individual traveler will be challenged to change these practices, but there are ways parents can make it easier on themselves and their children, regardless of the rules of the moment:

Be Prepared

As a first time parent, the thing I found more stressful than sleepless nights and midnight feedings during the first year, was trying to figure out how to use all the gear.  So, prior to flying with my son for the first time (and on my own), I practiced going through security in my living room.  Keeping mind I was traveling with an infant in a car seat clipped to a stroller frame, plus a backpack, but only two hands, I practiced time and time again folding the stroller while holding my son and getting everything (including shoes and a small Ziploc with liquids) onto the x-ray belt with only one available hand.  Boy, am I glad I did as it made getting through security a breeze.  Dry runs also help me to realize when I’ve packed too many things to bring on board, and either leave a few more things at home or pack items in our checked bags.  Our son is now 2 ½ and we’ve been through security screening over two dozen times, but I still do dry runs, even if it is only in my head.

Remember the 3-1-1 Rule

All liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100 ml) or smaller containers. Larger containers that are partly-full are not allowed. That means don't bring along a 6 oz tube of diaper cream, even with only a smidgen left.  All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a single, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Gallon size bags or bags that are not zip-top such as fold-over sandwich bags are not allowed. Each traveler can use only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.  Each traveler must remove their quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from their carry-on and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening.

Plan What You Are Going to Wear

Kids under 12 no longer have to remove their shoes going through security but you will probably have to.  Save yourself time by wearing shoes that are easy to slip on and off.  Tuck watches, pocket change, hats, necklaces and belts into your carry-on before getting to security or pack them in your checked bag to wear another day.  I’ve found it most convenient to carry my wallet, passports, camera and wipes in a waist pack.  It keeps my important items easily accessible, my hands free, and I just shove it into my backpack before putting it on the x-ray belt so it is one less thing to claim on the other side.  Security screeners will often ask you and/or your children to remove a zip-up sweater they perceive to be a ‘jacket’ so it can be helpful to wear zipper-free sweaters or sweatshirts instead.

Prepare Your Child

Children must be taken out of strollers and other carriers prior to going through security screening.  If your child is old enough, it is always helpful to explain in advance what to expect.  It is usually less distressing for kids to have their prized blanket or toy placed in Mom’s carry-on just before going through the x-ray machine, than having it go through by itself.  And, going through in a carry-on will keep it cleaner.  Dr. Pat McGrath of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children offers helpful advice for preparing children to go through security.

You CAN:

Ask for help.  A security screener cannot hold your child while you put your shoes back on, but they can usually help you get your belongings on and off the x-ray belt if you are traveling with a child on your own and need a hand.

Ask your screener to put on clean gloves.  When my son was an infant, my carry-on was full of teethers and other things that would probably end up in his mouth.  On the occasion a security screener wants to do a hand search of my bag, I always ask them to put on a new set of gloves.  That way, I knew the same gloves that were handling a pair of shoes the moment before would not be the same ones inspecting my son’s belongings.

Remain with your child at all times.  You will never be asked to be separated from your child.

Follow these tips and give yourself plenty of time, and your trip through airport security will be greatly improved.  Happy flying!


Great Family-Friendly Dining in Orlando That Even Adults Will Love

Visiting Orlando, it’s easy to find yourself eating at fast food and large-scale chain restaurants where you often have to trade off a delicious meal in favor of a family-friendly place.  But there are some great family-friendly options which will please both kids AND adults.

Wolfgang Puck Express in Downtown Disney Marketplace offers delicious brick oven pizzas, pastas and fresh salads in a casual family-friendly setting.

Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Resort has an excellent African-themed buffet with something for everyone and the service is fantastic.

Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort is a great venue for character dining.  There are lots of options on the buffet to please even the pickiest of eaters and kids love table visits from their favorite Disney characters. Our most recent visit to Chef Mickey’s was with my niece who is allergic to nuts, and we were blown away with how accommodating the staff were to make sure she had many safe options.  The Contemporary Resort is handy because it is on the Disney's Monorail system, and it is a great vantage point from which to watch the evening fireworks shows.  The best spot is actually the smoking area on the hotel’s terrace – sounds horrible, but there is lots of space up there, and it is very easy to get away from anyone smoking (though in our experience, there are few smokers out there anyway).  

You need to call in advance to make reservations for Boma and Chef Mickey’s at 1-407-WDW-DINE.  Be aware at Disney, a reservation doesn’t actually secure you a table at the allotted time – it just means you will get a table before someone who made a reservation for a later time – and inevitably, you will need to wait for your table.  So expect a wait, bring some activities to keep the kids busy, and enjoy your meal!

If you find yourself in Haines City, Lake Wales or Winter Haven (in any case, this place is worth the drive) and have a big appetite, check out Manny’s Chophouse. Manny's has excellent seafood, sandwiches and ribs in huge portions.  There's always a line-up and they don’t take reservations, so be sure to go early and call ahead to get on their seating list.  If you don't feel like waiting, call ahead for take-out.  Manny’s is very busy, and though not uncomfortably loud, it is unlikely fellow diners will be disturbed (or even hear) a fussy baby or toddler.

The town of Celebration is home to several tasty options.  There’s a branch of Tampa’s famous Columbia Restaurant with a kid’s menu in addition to adult favorites like their renowned table-tossed 1905 salad, gazpacho, tapas and other Spanish dishes.  The Celebration Town Tavern serves up an extensive menu of New England-style favorites and has an extensive kid’s menu.  I can’t leave Orlando without having their Maine lobster roll sandwich.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hurtigruten with a 2 year old

For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamed of traveling on the Hurtigruten (also known as The Norwegian Coastal Steamer), visiting fjords, glaciers and small villages.  This past summer, my wish came true and my husband, 2 yr old son and I took Hurtigruten’s 12-day Classic Norway voyage on the Richard With.

The Hurtigruten is a Norwegian passenger ferry and freight line which sails daily along Norways’s west and north coast.  Over the course of 12 days, the ship covers nearly the entire Norwegian Coast calling in at 35 ports along the way.The Richard With is one of Hurtigruten’s newer ships and is named after the founder of the Hurtigruten.

Cabins – We splurged and booked a mini-suite so we’d have more room with our son, and this gave us more than enough room to move around. You can request a crib at check-in if you need one (they will only fit in a suite), though rental is hefty at $25 per day.  We decided to share a bed.  Our mini-suite was well laid out, with a curtained off area containing a comfy queen bed.  This allowed us to put our son to bed, and still have the main area to enjoy the evenings together without disturbing him.  Suites have a TV and minibar which was handy for milk and snacks.   There were a few added touches for those in suites: A lovely fruit basket was provided to us when we boarded in Bergen, and was refreshed again in Kirkenes.  We were also given Hurtigruten coffee mugs, allowing us access to coffee/tea at no charge 24/7 throughout the voyage which was handy and saved us some money.

We had cabin 636 which we felt was one of the best located on the entire ship (640 is just as well located and significantly larger).  We were below the quiet outdoor deck area and on the starboard side, so we didn’t hear any loading/unloading of people, cars or cargo which took place on the port side at each stop.

Announcements – Announcements are frequently made over the sound system in Norwegian, English and German (for our southbound voyage they added Italian) which we could hear clearly in our cabin even with the speaker on our phone turned off.  We were worried they would wake our son during naps or after bedtime, but the ship generates enough white noise of its own so it wasn’t a problem.

Cruising with a toddler – Hurtigruten cruises are not really targeted for families with children, so there is no babysitting, organized activities or kids meals provided.  We knew this in advance and planned accordingly, and made sure we brought along our own books, toys, craft supplies, DVD player and snacks.  The ship does have a nice play room with a play house, slide, and a big bin full of toys and Lego Duplo blocks, so this was where we spent a lot of our time on board.  There were only two other families traveling with kids for the full 12 day voyage but they were infants.  Many other toddlers and young children came and went for shorter periods throughout the voyage so there was always someone new for our son to play with in the play room.  Keeping our 2 yr old busy took some creativity on our part, but he loved being on the ship.

Ports – With a toddler, we often headed off first to the local playground.  The best playgrounds for preschoolers were often located in daycares which are open for use when the kids aren’t using them.  In one of the ports, daycare staff welcomed our son to join a class of kids.  The older kids immediately played host to my son and made him feel comfortable and welcome.  These playgrounds turned out to be highlights of our trip – not only did our son get to blow off steam, but we had the opportunity to meet many Norwegian children and to chat with fellow parents and daycare workers who were unbelievably friendly and welcoming.   

Excursions – We prefer to venture out on our own, so we only participated in one excursion in Trondheim to the Folk Museum in the northwest of the city.  We really enjoyed this outing.  My husband and I enjoyed the different buildings and our son loved running around and visiting with the resident pigs, cows, rabbit and sheep.

Meals – Breakfasts and lunches were always buffet style with open seating in the dining room.  Being Norway, fish was obviously a feature of every meal, but there was a lot of selection, including vegetarian and meat options, and the quality of food was excellent.  Dinner was a combination of buffet and set meals, some open seating and some at assigned tables.  We preferred the buffet meals because of the wider selection of foods, but the set menus were good too.  On set menu nights, one appetizer, one main course and one dessert were available and the food was delicious.  My husband is allergic to fish and seafood, and I don’t eat meat, so our server always provided us with an alternate meal on nights where they were required.  Our son would usually eat the same thing as us at dinner but on nights when there wasn’t anything to his taste, the chef would whip up some spagetti bolognese or fried rice.  One night we purchased a pizza from the café and brought it to the dining room for him to eat, and on a few occasions we asked for bread in the dining room and whipped him up a peanut butter sandwich (we always bring along a jar just in case).  Plenty of high chairs were available for meals.

Traveling with Hurtigruten is not like traditional cruising since the ship is technically operating as a ferry service for passengers and goods.  There are no organized activities (aside from organized shore excursions you could purchase), no entertainment (aside from a duo singing with a keyboard in the lounge in the evenings) but the quiet nature of the ship suited us just fine.   If you are looking for a super luxurious experience and midnight buffets, this is not the cruise for you.  But if you are looking to experience gorgeous scenery, lovely people, good food and comfortable surroundings, Hurtigruten is it.

We’ve traveled on the Oasis of the Seas and other large cruise ships, but we enjoyed this experience much more.  We found this to be far more personal and allowed us to visit small towns the larger ships would never be able to access.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's in YOUR seat pocket?

When we fly, this is typically what our seat pockets look like:

What are YOUR must-haves?

Best Airport Play Areas: Bergen, Norway

How's this for a fun airport play area?  I'm not sure who was more excited to find this wonderful play area in the airport in Bergen, Norway.

Enjoying The Blue Lagoon with a Toddler

The Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið in Icelandic) is one of Iceland's most popular geothermal areas and it's not hard to imagine why.  The black lava formations and pools of milky blue water are stunning to look at.  Sure it’s touristy, but how lovely to spend time relaxing in the calming, warm, geothermal water.

The Blue Lagoon is located in Grindavik, about a 20 minute drive from Keflavik International Airport, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Reykjavik.  We timed our visit for when the lagoon first opened for the day, and this gave us plenty of breathing room both in the lagoon and in the change rooms.  By the time we left late in the morning, the lagoon was packed with people, so we were thankful to have arrived early.

The water temperature in the lagoon ranges from 37-39°C (98-102°F).  At the time of our visit, we found the area closest to where you enter the lagoon to be on the cooler end of the spectrum, so we mainly kept our 2 year old in that area so he wouldn't overheat.  The deepest part of the lagoon is just over 5 feet deep, but most of the lagoon is more shallow, so it was easy to carry our son in the water and explore.

The entrance fee is a hefty 30 Euros for adults but children under 14 are free.  For those packing light, swimsuits and towels can be rented for 5 Euros a piece.  Water wings are mandatory for all children under the age of 9 and are provided for use at no charge.  It's pricey, but the on-site cafe has a good variety of fruit, smoothies, skyr (awesome Icelandic yogurt) and other healthy snacks.

Showers are required for all bathers prior to entering the lagoon, and highly recommended afterwards to get off the salt.  Icelanders are accustomed to showering in the nude, but stalls are available for more privacy.  Our son came into the women’s change room with me.  The floors of the showers are very slippery especially for little feet.  The provided high chairs and 'Bumbo' seats were very helpful for keeping our son safe in view while leaving leaving my hands free to have my own shower.

Frankly I was a bit nervous taking our son to the Blue Lagoon.  I wasn't sure he'd enjoy it, I wasn't sure about the logistics of the showers, and with the expensive entrance fee, it felt like a costly gamble.  But I shouldn't have worried.  Our toddler loved our morning lazing about in the lagoon, and to this day when I mention The Blue Lagoon, he smiles and says “blue milk”.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Personalized videos from Santa

I love this site! 

Not many of us get the opportunity to take the kids to the North Pole to see Santa in person, so why not enjoy the next best thing.  Check out and Santa will email them their very own personalized video message.  The video is available immediately, and best of all, it's free!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bringing car seats on board a plane

Here's a fantastic article by a fellow blogger about bringing car seats on board a plane.  Very comprehensive and informative!

Traveling With Kids: Flying with kids: all about bringing car seats on ...: Bringing a car seat on board a flight for your child to use might seem like a great idea. It gives them somewhere more comfortable to sit, a...