Fun Winter Outings with Kids

The weather outside has been frightful. And the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, so we have weeks more of winter? Who likes groundhogs anyway?!  All I know is it’s been freezing out and while we’re dodging the grossness of this year’s flu season, I have a toddler with a serious case of cabin fever developing.

Here are some of my favorite cold weather destinations/activities close to home…

The Aquarium

We live a short drive from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, which also happens to be my hometown! The National Aquarium is truly one of the best aquatic centers in the US and attracts many visitors year-round. During our recent visit, my daughter could walk on her own to each exhibit and take in all the beautiful fish at eye level.  If you have very young ones, plan to arrive or purchase tickets right when doors open, which is usually around 9:30 a.m. We spent about 2.5 hours there, which was plenty of time without feeling rushed, and wrapped up our visit with the dolphin “show.” I’ll be honest, I was a little bored by the dolphin experience, as it was mostly informational and less entertaining. Our daughter sat through it, but probably only because we kept her quiet with fresh hot pretzels (purchased there) and other snacks.

National Aquarium Dolphins

The ticket price for the National Aquarium had me a little shell shocked considering this was a weekend outing ($39.99 per adult), but in the end, I felt like it was worth the cost. And, I’m glad we decided to go when my daughter still qualifies for free admission (under 3 years old)! If you're trying to save a few bucks, visit on Fridays after 5 p.m. for half-priced admission.

Almost every major city has an aquarium, which can be a great destination for toddlers, and kids of all ages. Buy tickets online in advance, enjoy a few hours of fun, and choose a fun restaurant for lunch after! We decided to dine at a seafood restaurant, because, well, it’s Baltimore! I couldn’t leave without having one of those world famous crabcakes, ‘hon!

The National Aquarium Jellyfish

A Local Farm

One of the best things about local working farms is that they are (usually) open year-round. One of our favorite farms to visit also has programming periodically throughout the year for extremely reasonable rates.  My sweet pea LOVES animals of any kind, so we spend a lot of time at the farm throughout the year taking long walks, enjoying wagon rides, talking to the animals and playing at the playground.

Petting the bunnies during the "Little Hands on the Farm" class for toddlers.

Petting the bunnies during the "Little Hands on the Farm" class for toddlers.

Check your local government’s website to see if there are any public farms in your area. The public working farm in our county has free admission and is open all year.

Indoor Trampoline Park

If I’m being totally real, I’m somewhat of a germaphobe, and the idea of indoor playgrounds makes me shudder…slightly. But going along with my theme of trying new things, I decided to put my comfort level aside and visit a new indoor trampoline park opening in Herndon, Northern Virginia. Launch was the perfect place to go on a cold Saturday morning with our cousins. As I try to do with most activities, we got there right when they opened and it was virtually empty.  Shortly after, more families started to come in, as well as birthday party groups. I was very impressed with how clean everything was and by how many members of the staff were there to assist or answer questions. And most importantly, it was FUN jumping on the trampolines and through the obstacle courses with foam. I’m not sure who had more fun, my husband or our two-year-old daughter! It’s amazing how exhausting an hour of jumping around can be. For anyone looking for an easy way to burn off energy pre-nap time, go to Launch!

Fun Winter Outings with Kids
Fun Winter Outings with Kids

 

(Note: Our visits at the venues mentioned were NOT sponsored and I personally paid admission.  As always, all opinions are my own.)

As always, be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!

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Baby and Toddler Activities to do in Grand Cayman

Continuing from my last post on Grand Cayman, I want to give you guys a few highlights from our trip and some of my favorite BABY AND TODDLER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN GRAND CAYMAN. When my daughter was an infant, I spent countless hours online trying to figure out where to go on vacation with a baby. I wish I had stumbled upon this kind of information then! So be sure to share this with your friends who have young children!

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This trip was our third to Grand Cayman with our daughter, so I created a rough itinerary of activities and fun things to do several weeks before we left for vacation.  I recommend renting a car for the duration of your trip. It’s inexpensive (we spent about $200 for the week) and gives you more flexibility to see and do more. Note: in Grand Cayman, they drive on the LEFT and the steering wheel is on the RIGHT. It only took a few hours for us to get used to!

Seven Mile Beach Grand Cayman

Stingray City

Heading back to Stingray City was an absolute must! On our last trip, we booked a tour to Stingray City and the sea was very rough. It was still a great experience, but because the waves were a little aggressive (it is located on a sandbar), we spent most of the time trying to make sure our daughter, who was 21 months at the time, was OK in the water while in our arms.  So on this vacation, we returned to Stingray City and the sea conditions were perfect. When the waves are calm, the water is only waist deep.

Pro-tips for Stingray City: 1) Book a morning tour if you have a younger child. The morning tours are about 2.5 hours long and you get back to your hotel or condo before lunch. 2) Make sure you book your tour with an operator that uses boats that have covering from the sun. There are several catamaran tours that go to the area, but cats typically have less protection from the sun – which isn’t ideal for a young child. 3) buy a waterproof phone case or a Go Pro before the trip to capture the experience. Our tour operator sold waterproof cases, but I spent almost double buying it on the island, compared to if I bought one at home! Save yourself some $$ and get one like this before you leave home! I was surprised that it was 100% waterproof, like the label said! Many tour operators charge $50USD or more to take photos and give them to you on a disk. 4) Make sure you bring an infant/toddler life vest with you on the tour. Some tour companies provide them, but I felt more comfortable bringing one from home for our daughter. She ended up using it in the ocean and the pool as well!

Stingrays at Stingray City
Stingray City Boat
on the boat headed from Stingray City

on the boat headed from Stingray City

 

Rum Point

If you have a baby or a toddler, you MUST go to Rum Point! On our second visit to the island, I had already made the decision not to go there because of online reviews stating that Rum Point is overrun with tourists and cruise-shippers. It was only by chance that we ended up taking the drive there, and it turned out to be one of our favorite places on the island! The water is shallow from the entry point near the sand to several yards out, so young children can walk into the water with ease and splash around without worrying about waves. There are also two restaurants – one casual and one a bit nicer - where you can get food, mudslides (a favorite drink on the island), and other drinks. Not to mention a stand where you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, water bikes, and other fun water toys.

sea urchins in the water at rum point

sea urchins in the water at rum point

Lots of starfish in the water at Starfish Beach near Rum Point

Lots of starfish in the water at Starfish Beach near Rum Point

Pro-tips for Rum Point: 1) If you prefer to have quiet time at Rum Point, check the island’s cruise ship schedule before you go to see how many ships will be in port on that day and what time they will leave the island. 2) If you’re staying on Seven Mile Beach, plan to go to Rum Point after breakfast, as it’s about a 50-minute drive. That way, you’ll get a full day there and can even stop at some of the yummy local restaurants on the way there and back. 3) Be sure to checkout Starfish Beach, which is  literally 2 minutes driving from Rum Point. It's a quiet beach and the Starfish are close to the shore in shallow water. You can pick them up, but don't take them out of the water!

Rum Point Toddler
Rum Point Ocean

 

Starfish Village/Camana Bay

Camana Bay is an upscale shopping area with restaurants and a movie theater, located a few minutes away from Seven Mile Beach. Each time we’re on the island, we visit Camana Bay at least twice. There is a lot of open space for kids to roam freely and the area is very family-friendly.  The movie theater has Story Time several days a week and there are also large fountains/splash pads at each end of the complex – perfect for kids to splash around on a hot day, while mom and dad enjoy a cool beverage or even a meal.

We visited Camana Bay the week before Christmas and it was absolutely beautiful! The lights and the Christmas decorations, with the backdrop of the bay, were stunning!

Camana Bay during the holidays

Camana Bay during the holidays

If you’re looking to take a break from the beach and do something fun with your kids, visit Starfish Village. Starfish Village is an amazing children’s center, tucked right in the corner of Camana Bay. They have daily programs for open play, sing-a-longs, and even have a “drop-and-play” program for kids 3 and over. Our daughter was too young for the drop-and-play, so we did the “stay-and-play” program and sing-a-long during our last vacation, and she loved it! It was a great opportunity for her to play with new toys, sing, and interact with other kids.

Pro-tip for Starfish Village: 1) Starfish Village’s programs are constantly changing, so it would be helpful to send an email before your trip to find out if there are any updates to the program schedule listed online. 2) We were surprised to realize that there were very few tourists at the stay-and-play, and mostly children with their nannies (which makes sense since most of the programs are mid-day). Chat with the other adults there to see if they have any tips on things to do or places to visit. Local residents always have the best tips!!

 

*this post contains a couple of affiliate links; however, all opinions are my own and product suggestions are items I’ve purchased personally.*

Grand Cayman - The Perfect Destination for Infants and Toddlers

I should be wrapping presents, but figured I’d procrastinate a little while longer and catch you all up on our vacation to Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. This will be one of several posts in a series, as there’s so much to share about Grand Cayman, and I can’t fit it all in one post!

Believe it or not, this is our THIRD trip to Grand Cayman in the past sixteen months! It’s actually kind of surprising, because we typically avoid going back to the same destination over and over, as we enjoy exploring new areas; however, Grand Cayman is clearly an exception. In my mind, it is one of the best family-friendly destinations in the Caribbean.

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Grand Cayman has a reputation of being the place where the rich and famous hide their money (the banking industry on the island is prominent) and also where they go to vacation. And while this may be true, the island attracts people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds.

Because I love lists, here are the top seven reasons why we’ve fallen in love with the island of Grand Cayman:

1.       It’s a short flight from most East Coast cities. And bonus for us, there’s a nonstop flight from DC to Grand Cayman. Wheels up to wheels down is 3.5 hours.

2.       The island is ranked one of the safest in the Caribbean. Safety is always a concern for me, when traveling with my daughter.

3.       Families are everywhere! It’s not an island where you’ll see tons of rowdy Spring Breakers. It is a super family-friendly island. Young children are welcomed in almost all restaurants, and there are lots of options for activities. We were surprised by how many of the tourists were traveling with infants. It was great!

4.       No one will try to sell you tchotchkes on the beach or offer hair braiding services. (no further explanation needed!) If relaxation is what you want, you will get it!

5.       It’s considered the culinary capital of the Caribbean. The food in Grand Cayman is delicious, and the big names of the culinary world (Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, etc.) are often on the island. Maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to attend the Cayman Cookout, the annual food and wine festival that takes place on Grand Cayman.

6.       Caymanians are SO kind and warm. I guess it makes sense that the slogan for the island is “Cayman Kind,” because the local Caymanians are some of the most genuine and warm people I’ve ever met while traveling.

7.       Stable infrastructure: the roads are well paved, there is reliable healthcare available, and there is access to clean and safe drinking water (from the tap). So, in mom-speak, that means no travel vaccinations are needed and if your little one gets sick, getting them to the nearest hospital will not be a problem.

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And because I want to give you an honest perspective, I think it’s also important to share the “cons” of the island. Well, there’s only ONE con: the average cost of meals and lodging is definitely expensive; However, you can tailor your trip to Grand Cayman in a way that makes it more affordable. For example, you can rent a condo or a home instead of staying on a resort (resort fees add up!), you can cook most of your meals in the condo instead of eating out, and you can opt for the free/inexpensive activities, rather than the organized day tours offered by tour operators. But I’ll get into these details later! Stay tuned for my next post about all the great things to do with your family on the island.

 

The Ultimate Packing List for Vacations with Young Children

We’re leaving for vacation soon (woot woot!), and I still feel like I have so much to do! But, the one thing I feel good about is what I’ve packed for the trip.  Ya see, I am the Queen of Lists! Life has become so busy these days; my lists have become my lifeline. So, the one thing that ensures that I don’t leave any important items at home when we’re on vacation is my packing list!

I’m happy to share it with you all. And now, you don’t have to recreate one every time you travel! Of course, feel free to modify it for your family.

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General Items:
•    Travel itinerary
•    Printed boarding passes (I never rely on my phone for boarding passes.)
•    ID or Passports for everyone
•    Clorox wipes
•    Plastic grocery bags (for dirty laundry)
•    Snacks

Electronics:
•    Tablet
•    Tablet charger
•    Cell phone charger
•    Go Pro Camera
•    DSLR Camera

Items for Mom:
•    Clothing
•    Pajamas
•    Undergarments
•    Swimsuit
•    Sun hat
•    Shoes (sandals/workout shoes/casual)

Personal Items:
•    Feminine products
•    Comb/brush
•    Hair bands
•    Toothbrush/toothpaste
•    Accessories
•    Shampoo/Conditioner
•    Facial products (moisturizer/cleanser)
•    Makeup
•    Blow dryer
•    Flat iron/curling iron

Items for Dad
•    Clothing
•    Undergarments
•    Pajamas
•    Sneakers
•    Hat
•    Swim trunks
•    Shoes (sandals/workout shoes/casual)
•    Socks

Personal items:
•    Comb/brush
•    Razor/shaving cream


Items for the Little One
•    Clothing
•    Swimsuit
•    Socks

Personal items:
•    Wash cloths (because the ones in hotels can be harsh on skin)
•    Pack’n’Play sheet/crib sheet
•    Favorite blankets (one for your carry on and one for your checked luggage)  
•    Small stuffed animal
 

Toiletries:

•    Baby/toddler shampoo
•    Baby/toddler brush and comb
•    Baby/toddler toothbrush
•    Kids Toothpaste
•    Baby Lotion
•    Kid-safe insect repellent
•    Diapers or Pull-ups
•    Underwear (if potty trained)
•    Wipes
•    Disposable diaper sacks
•    Infant Ibuprofen

Baby/Toddler Gear:
•    Car Seat
•    Car Seat Carrier
•    Stroller
•    Baby Carrier/Ergo
•    Baby Monitor
•    Sound Machine
•    Life Vest and/or floaties

Kitchen Utensils/Eating Items:
•    Sippy cups/Water bottles
•    Small bowls (for cereal or snacks)
•    1 Fork/spoon
•    Bib

Kids Activity items:
•    Puzzles
•    Books (small ones)
•    Stickers
•    Crayons/coloring books 

Now...time to figure out HOW to fit all this stuff in my suitcase!! 

Top 5 Important Tips to Prepare for Your First Vacation with an Infant or Toddler

The best way to ensure a smooth and enjoyable vacation with you and your little one(s) is to think and plan ahead. When traveling, there are so many elements that are out of your control, it really helps to spend a few minutes thinking through the things that you DO have control over. Here are a few important tips to make your trip a little easier and hopefully more fun:

1. Adjust your expectations. While you will have fun and create lasting memories with your family, the hard truth is, you (probably) will not spend the day lounging on the beach for hours on end with a frosty beverage in your hand. Mentally prepare for moments when it will be hectic and prepare for tantrums. Take "shifts" with your spouse during nap times to ensure you both get personal time. At the very least, you can look forward to those hours of personal relaxation. Adjusting your expectations will help set the foundation for the rest of trip. It can only go up from there!

2. Carve out time to prepare. Yes, the more you prepare for the vacation, the less stressed you will feel when unexpected things happen. This preparation should include pre-selecting a handful of family-friendly restaurants, identifying activities to do if the weather forecast changes, and maybe even connecting with some of the local mom-groups or kids organizations at your destination.  On a recent trip we took to the Caribbean, it rained for at least half of the time we were there and I had no clue what indoor activities were available on the island, or how to get to them. The WiFi in the condo where we were staying had a poor signal, so we didn't do much on the rainy days besides go out to eat. It was a real bummer and I vowed to always have a "rain-day" option built into my itinerary for future trips.

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3. Plan a food stop post-landing! After a long day of travel and a (likely) exhausted and somewhat cranky child, the last thing you want to do is have to scramble to find food when arriving in a new destination. Decide if you will take advantage of the restaurants in the airport upon arrival, or if there is a family-friendly dining option within walking distance of your hotel or rental property. Have a plan! Hangry toddlers aren't fun for anyone.

4. The cheapest flights are NOT always the best flights. While I love nothing more than a good travel deal, I've learned that the cheapest flights are not always the best flights when traveling with a child. Travel times and flight itineraries matter! Best option: nonstop flights that are under 5 hours. Now is not the time to book that $69 sale fare with 3 layovers, trust me. You will also want to know if your ticket carries any restrictions. Finding out on your departure date that you are not allowed any carry-on luggage is not ideal!

5. Call the airline. Call the airline's customer service line after you've booked your flight and ask if there are bassinets available on your aircraft. The bassinets are intended for children under a year old (age may differ with each airline), and can be adjusted to give your child a small area to nap or even play quietly. The seats with bassinets usually have more legroom.

Pro tip: Even if your child is too big for the bassinet, but under 2 years old, you should still call the airline and ask to be moved to a seat with a bassinet. If your aircraft is not equipped with one, ask if they are able to extend a complimentary upgrade to a seat with more legroom (for you and your child under 2). I did this with every flight we took when my daughter was under two, and they upgraded us every time. (Kudos to United Airlines!)

You might be asking yourself, "If I have to consider all of this, is it really worth it?" And my response, is an emphatic "YES!!" You will create memories and experiences that can be cherished forever. And even if your kids don't remember the trip years from now, YOU WILL, and you'll have some incredible photos for a lifetime.