Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
Our Toyota 4x4 is perched over a precipice and it looks like we are about to fall into an abyss of sand. Finally the car drops over the ledge and we zoom down a steep incline then back up a big dune again. But I can barely hear myself think because B is laughing so hard.
Our desert adventure starts with a brief visit to a camel farm, where we have a chance to meet a few new friends as our drivers remove some air from the tires to allow better traction on the sand. Large groups of 4x4s travel in convoys to ensure there is always assistance nearby if a vehicle gets stuck. Next we stop at a cluster of immaculately perfect sand dunes, where B had a blast climbing and trying to slide down!
After getting pockets full of sand, and about 45 minutes of mild dune bashing, the sun has set and we arrive at the 'camp.' Long low tables are lined up on huge carpets and we settle onto our comfy cushions. After stuffing ourselves full of delicious Middle Eastern finger foods, we dive into the BBQ buffet with an extensive offering of grilled meats, salads, veggies, tabouli and hummus. (There was also a special 'kids' buffet tucked into a corner, serving hamburgers and other items which might be appealing to pickier kids.)
Filled to the brim and teetering on our cushions, the exotic music begins and out comes a belly dancer. Cheesy? Sure. Fun? You bet!!!
I wondered how B would cope getting back to bed so late past his bedtime (we arrived back at around 10:30 pm) but he did just fine. He napped all the way back to our lodgings, giggled when he saw how much sand came off him in the bath, and went to sleep in the wink of an eye.
Depending on the tour company, vehicles will take between 4 and 6 passengers. Being a group of 4, we were sure to get a private vehicle to ensure nobody's fun was spoiled by asking the driver for a calm ride. But driving through the desert will have its bumps no matter how cautious the driver, so it is imperative to have a car seat for young children.
By law in Dubai, children under 6 years of age must ride in a car seat. I highly recommend taking your own car seat, or rent one from a company like http://www.rentacrib.ae/index.htm. Several tour companies will offer to supply car seats for their tours, however we found the seats unsuitable for B's age and weight, and that is if one is actually provided. (Twice, we booked a car seat for transfers but they were not supplied.)
As silly as they are, I am always amused cracking open a fortune cookie to see what wisdom it may bring. Over the weekend, we got this fortune and it could not be more true.
"Sometimes travel to new places leads to great transformation"
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
B's LeapPad has proven to be a handy and educational addition to our arsenal of travel toys, books and crafts.
What I like about the LeapPad:
- It is light, compact and is designed to withstand a bit of a beating
- B loves the thrill of having his own 'computer'
- It is interactive and educational, as opposed to passively watching a movie
- Although a pricey toy in itself, it still isn't as pricey as a dropped iPad or iPhone and you won't lose any of your own applications, emails and data (priceless!)
- The LeapPad does double-duty as a digital camera/video recorder with it's built-in camera and is easy for B to take his own photos
What I don't like about the LeapPad:
- You can not upload non-proprietary movies and applications
- LeapFrog's proprietary games and other applications are pricey ($5 and up) and the choice is very limited compared with what is available to iPhone and iPad users
The LeapPad is targeted to children primarily from 4 to 9 years of age. At 3, much of the Leap Pad's functionality is still beyond B, however he LOVES the Art Pad and Pet Pad applications. He can easily navigate between applications by himself and it is sure to be a toy that will 'grow' with him. I also purchased the Dora The Explorer game cartridge (about $30 and the game can also be downloaded directly from the LeapPad site). B enjoys the familiar characters and it is exciting for him to learn more about places we talk and read about at home (AND hope to visit some day!).
We've been using the original LeapPad, but LeapFrog has recently introduced the LeapPad 2, adding an additional 2G of memory, a faster processor and an additional camera lens on the front of the unit - making it easier for a user to take their own picture. But, for B's use, we've found the original version perfectly suitable.
I hummed and hawed a lot about this purchase, concerned a computer device might reduce his love of reading 'real' books and physical play. So, we've been careful to have the LeapPad hidden away the majority of the time, and just bring it out for long car rides, for waits at the airport and during flights. So far this has preserved the novelty-factor for B and helps add to his anticipation of the voyage ahead.
What are your favorite travel toys?
Friday, August 3, 2012
The Panama Canal may not be the first place to come to mind when thinking of toddler-friendly attractions in Panama but it made for a fun and memorable family outing. On our visit to the Miraflores Locks, B enjoyed playing in the open space on the viewing deck while we got to view the ships going through the canal.
Tips for visiting the Miraflores Locks with a toddler:
- It's the kind of place you want to linger a while to watch the ships go through the locks. All this waiting can be a test of a toddler's attention span, so be sure to bring along water, snacks and toys to keep kids entertained. Mark and I brought along our favourite O Ball and took turns keeping B entertained while the other watched the ships going through the canal.
- Bring sunscreen! There are no shaded areas on the viewing deck. We were lucky to visit on an overcast day, but it would get pretty toasty there on a hot, sunny day.
- The Miraflores Restaurant in the Visitor's Center has a delicious buffet with a view. There are plenty of kid-friendly foods and high chairs are available. If you are considering eating there, be sure to make a reservation in advance or you may have a long wait for a table.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
The more I read online about family travel, the more often I come across tirades from travelers wanting to ban kids from air travel. I've been on both sides of the equation: Prior to having a child, I had been on plenty of flights where babies have cried for hours on end; I've had a child behind me pull my hair; I've sat next to a woman who had a very big and squirmy toddler on her lap for a long overseas flight. Now that I am a Mom myself, I have flown many times with my now 3 year old and I know first-hand the challenges of traveling with a baby and toddler.
Air travel can be tiring and aggravating to all travelers, whether they are traveling with children or not. But there are things all of us can do to make the experience a little less unpleasant for our fellow passengers.
Dear travelers WITHOUT kids:
- Parents of crying babies would like nothing more than for their babies to stop crying - probably even more than you do
- Glaring at parents and making snide comments will not make a child stop crying, and will more likely aggrevate the situation
- FAA regulations require children under the age of 2 (who have their own seats) to be seated in an approved car seat. Logistically, this raises the child's feet up - if they are seated behind you, they will probably kick your seat. Sometimes you may not even be able to recline your seat. It sucks, but flights don't last forever. Despite what you may think, the child's parents are NOT doing this to you on purpose.
- No matter how much you paid for your ticket, the fact is air travel is public transportation, just like a bus. No airline can afford to institute a no-child policy. If you don't like flying with kids, it's probably best to charter your own plane.
Dear travelers WITH kids:
- Be prepared with lots of activities and snacks to keep your kids entertained. Many airlines don't have individual seat back entertainment systems, and even those sometimes don't work. And we all know what airline food is like. Pack your own!
- It is not always possible to select your ideal seat, but if you are able, try to select seats which will work best for your brood. Are Bulkhead Seats Worth It? Because the plane is bowed out at the window seat, this often gives you and your child(ren) a little extra space if they are seated there.
- Similarly, it is not always possible to pick your ideal flight time, but if you can, book flights during your child's typical sleep times.
- Most planes have at least one washroom with a baby change table. Use it. Please don't use the seat or tray table.
- If your kids are watching movies or playing games on an iPod or other personal device, make sure they wear earphones so they don't disturb other passengers
- An airplane poses many dangers to children if they are wandering along the aisle or playing at your feet - hot drinks, heavy carts and the possibility of turbulence. Children are safest buckled in their seats.
- Keep your kids off the seat in front of them. It is not always possible, but it is your responsibility to try to keep your kids from kicking the seat, leaning on the tray table and grabbing onto the head rest. I know from experience this is not always possible, but at least try! The day you fly is NOT the day to use the word 'no' for the first time.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
"Where do you want to eat? I don't know, where do YOU want to eat?"
You know how it goes... For anyone who has ever taken a trip with children AND grandparents, you'll know that it can be often be difficult to find a place to eat, or things to do that suit everyone. Add to that possible mobility issues and the possibility of a lot of baby gear, and multi-generational travel can feel overwhelming indeed.
Now that my parents are retired, they want to travel with their grandson, and we try to travel with them as much as possible. But traveling with my parents (in their late 60s and not very mobile) AND a toddler can be a challenge.
Here's why I love cruises for multi-generational travel:
- There is something for everyone - From food to activities to entertainment, there are offerings to suit every member of the family. We go to the pool, Grandma goes to a destination lecture, Grandpa relaxes on deck and reads his book. And we are all in within close proximity.
- Seeing a number of places and only unpacking once - As it can be a challenge to schedule a multi-generational trip, cruising provides the opportunity to see a variety of places in a short period of time. And you only have to pack and unpack once. Priceless!
- Easy logistics - Unlike land-based travel, cruising takes some of the hassle out of arranging transportation from place to place (Will we all fit in one vehicle? What car seat options are there for B? etc.). On a recent cruise from Dubai to India, it was a bonus to be able to cross several time zones gradually rather than all at once.
- Available medical care - Most cruise ships have some level of available medical care and access to common medications, though the hours and extent of care varies depending on the cruise line. On my son's first cruise (at 7 months old), he came down with a really high fever. It was reassuring to be able to pop him down to the doctor at 2 am for advice. I also appreciate having it available should my parents encounter any issues. Having had to get medical attention in several countries through the course of my solo travels, I know how challenging it can be to find good care in a language you can communicate in.
If the thought of traveling on a huge cruise liner with a few thousand other passengers sounds off-putting, keep in mind there are a lot of smaller-scale options too.
While the most popular river cruising options don't cater to kids, they will accept them over a certain age (read about river cruising with kids). There are also many small ship cruise companies who are more welcoming to the younger set.
Lindblad Expeditions welcomes families on any of their expeditions. According to Lindblad, the number of families traveling with them has grown so substantially, they "will have staff on all Alaska, Galapagos, Costa Rica Family and Greek Isles Family departures that know how to inspire curiosity in young people of all ages." But where Lindblad really excels is their emphasis on shared experiences. Rather than children and adults doing separate activities, most of their activities are done together.
Hurtigruten is a Norwegian passenger ferry and freight line which sails daily along
’s west and north coast. Over the course of 12 days, the ship covers nearly the entire Norway calling in at 35 ports along the way. While they don't specifically cater to kids, they are certainly welcome aboard. Read about cruising with a toddler on the Hurtigruten. Norwegian Coast
Have you done a multi-generational cruise or other holiday? What worked (or didn't work) well for your group?
When talking to friends and family, and reading articles about travel with kids, I am constantly surprised when I hear and read comments like: "Why bother going, the kids won't remember anyway?" Frankly, I can't remember what I ate for breakfast this morning, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't have bothered eating any.
We've had the opportunity to travel with B to many places around the world and I'm sure he has little memory of many of the places we've been to. Does he remember building sandcastles with Mommy on the beach in Maui when he was 15 months old or visiting the Panama Canal a few months later? Well, no, but my husband and I do, and they are happy memories we will always have.
B often surprises me with what he does remember from our travels to date, and he has only recently turned 3. Just last week he was asking when we could visit our other house again and drive the blue car. It took me a few moments to catch on... we don't have another house, and what blue car? But I soon realized he was referring to the apartment we rented in Reykjavik and the blue rental car we used to explore the sights. That trip was a year ago!
Where have you travelled with your kids and what do they remember?