Panama with Toddlers

Panama was never really on my radar as a place to visit for vacation. I always wanted to go and see the Panama Canal (to see what all the hype was about), but only ever looked at cruises, rather than land-based trips.

A few months ago, I planned a week-long trip to Nicaragua to celebrate my husband's birthday. Two weeks before we were scheduled to depart, civil unrest erupted in the capital city. The U.S. State Department put a travel advisory in place and also removed all U.S. staff from the embassy in Nicaragua.  At this point, we didn't think it was safe to travel there with a young toddler. The last thing I wanted was to be in a foreign country in the middle of riots! So, we decided to change our entire trip and travel to Panama instead.

Panama is a unique country. It has influences of the Caribbean, and its Latin American charm really is quite different than any of its neighboring countries. 

Casco Viejo Panama City



Where We Stayed

I've heard that Panama has some really beautiful resort towns, but unfortunately, most of the really nice ones are a LONG car ride (10+ hours) away from Panama City. We decided that we would fly into Panama City Airport, stay in Panama City as our home base, and take day trips to the outlying areas.  I found an unbeatable hotel rate (I won't name the hotel. Keep reading to understand why) in the center of town that had mostly great reviews on several travel websites.  After a long journey of traveling by plane with a toddler, we arrived at our hotel. It seemed nice in the lobby. We got our room key and headed upstairs with our luggage.  We should have known what was to come when we stepped off the elevator to a hallway with stained carpets and no AC. 

The suite that we were given was very spacious on the inside, but it literally looked like a seedy motel room. There were stains on the pull out couch and the bed linens. The crib that was placed in our room was on wheels (with no brakes!), and when we asked if we could put our daughter in a bed and use bed rails, we were told they didn't have any. My husband and I looked at each other, and within 30 minutes, we were checked out of that hotel and checked into a newer, more beautiful one a few minutes down the road.

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The lesson in this is, you get what you pay for! And let's be honest, when you're traveling with kids, your standards are set a lot higher when it comes to cleanliness and overall comfort.  This was a time when we were so happy that we forked over double our intended hotel budget for comfortable lodging accommodations. Our new "home" for the week was the gorgeous Sortis Hotel. Our Uber driver told us that it's one of the nicest hotels in the city. Wish we had known that before we arrived! And just as we checked in, we ran into a group of U.S. soldiers who were SO KIND to our daughter and happily took a photo with her. (And I may have shed a few tears, as it was the cutest moment ever!)

soldiers in Panama City

What We Did

I'm all about having as many cultural experiences as possible and soaking in the local culture of the place we're visiting.  Since it was our first time in Panama, I thought it was best to hire a tour guide for the first few days of our trip. Once we had a better feel for the area, then we could venture off on our own and explore the city. 

For a one week trip, there were three things that were most important to me when selecting and booking our excursions for the trip: 1) cultural experience 2) nature/animal experience 3) local food experience.

Embera Village 

Before our trip, I read reviews of people raving over their tours to the Embera Village. From my research, it appeared as though visitors would be taken to a remote village and have an opportunity to spend the day with the indigenous people living inside the national park, removed from modern day technologies. This was something that we were initially excited about. One of my favorite travel experiences was during a trip to South Africa, when we spent time getting to know local families in the township of Khayelitsha. Being able to learn about a region directly from the people who reside there is a great opportunity, and enables you to truly see and experience the pulse of the area. Because of that great experience in South Africa, I had hopes that our experience in the Embera Village in Panama would be equally as rewarding.  Unfortunately, it was not.

Our tour guide escorted us down to the river, where a long wooden boat - almost like a canoe, but with an attached motor - took us down the Chagres River. Water levels were low in Panama at the time of our visit, as they had not received much rain. We are adventurous travelers, but I have to admit, while we were sitting on that canoe, with our two year old in tow, I had a sinking feeling that maybe I had chosen the wrong excursion. We were the ONLY people on the river, not another tourist, or soul in general, in site. At one moment, the captain of our boat was concerned that the motor’s propellers would get stuck in the mud of the river, or that we would hit large rocks because the water levels were so low. I gripped our toddler as tightly as I could and literally prayed the entire time until we arrived at our destination! And to make matters worse, my daughter had a tantrum inside the boat because she didn’t want to wear a life vest (they only had huge adult vests, that were uncomfortable for her). Rather than fight her tantrum in a rocking boat and risk tipping us all over into the crocodile infested waters, we acquiesced, and removed the vest.

Chagres River with toddler
Embera Village Panama

Thankfully, we made it safely to the village. We walked up the steep muddy hill and were welcomed by the Embera who lived there. While I was excited for a day of learning and sharing cultures, our entrance into their village felt and was extremely awkward. We tried to be as warm as possible, but sensed that the Embera were not thrilled about our tourist presence. Our tour guide planned this trip poorly, and we had to wait for over an hour for them to begin the presentation because the second tour group, also arriving via boat, had not arrived. Waiting in extremely hot conditions, hungry, and trying to entertain a toddler was miserable. We spent the time looking at the homemade crafts the villagers were making and also tried to take in our surroundings and take a few photos. Finally the presentation started, and was followed by a homemade lunch of fresh fish and fruit. If you have a child who is a picky eater, bring your own food and snacks! After lunch, the Embera performed traditional music and dance, and invited everyone to join in dancing.

Embera and tourists dancing
Embera child and tourist

For the first time every, I took a tour that I later had regrets about taking. It was sad to see how the government built a national park on the Embera’s native land and imposed regularions that prevent them from their traditional ways of life. Now, the Embera rely on tourism to provide and sustain. We felt a lot of mixed emotions while there, particularly, because while the villagers were nice, it was very apparent that they don’t want to be a part of this dog and pony show for foreign tourists. And frankly, I can’t blame them! But I suppose the one thing we all have in common is that we do what we need to do to provide for our families.

   Gatun Lake

Our visit to Gatun Lake was enjoyable. We used a private tour guide for this excursion as well, as I enjoy having flexibility with our schedule when traveling with a toddler. We took a medium sized motor boat out onto the lake and witness nature in all its glory! You can hear the monkeys communicating with each other in the trees, but really need to have a guide who is patient enough to navigate to different parts of the shoreline to attract the monkeys (with bananas). Of course with nature, nothing is predictable, but thankfully, we were able to see and feed quite a few of the monkeys! Our daughter loved it - and it was surreal that we were so close to these little creatures. If you have kids, doing a tour to Gatun Lake is a must! After the boat ride, we went to a zoo/nature reserve. I have to be honest, that part was not as enjoyable for me, as it was very hot and I was hungry! If we were to do the same thing again, I’d skip the zoo.

Gatun Lake Tour
Monkeys in Gatun Lake
Toddler on Gatun Lake

   Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is exactly as beautiful in person as it is in photos! Historic, stonewalled shops lined the streets of this old town. Cobble stone streets truly make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Note, if you have an umbrella stroller, consider leaving it in the hotel because it’s difficult to push through the cobblestone streets. Also, the sidewalks are VERY narrow - so a large stroller will take up too much space.

I did have a little bit of regret that we had not chosen a hotel in Casco Viejo. It was so charming and had lots of great, and authentic, restaurants all around! We ended up having an early dinner at a Peruvian restaurant, and our two year old daughter tried - and loved - anticucho (cow’s heart) for the first time! Not to mention, she bonded with another toddler in the restaurant, and the two of them were dancing to salsa in the MIDDLE OF THE RESTAURANT. It truly felt like something out of a movie. Sadly, we visited Casco Viejo at the end of our vacation, and wish we had had a chance to enjoy the area more from the beginning of the week.

Casco Viejo with kids

   Panama Canal

I’m sure lots of people will kill me for saying this, but, I wasn’t that impressed by the Panama Canal. Not wanting to pay the outrageous tour fees, we hopped into an Uber and went directly to the Canal to view it on our own from Miraflores Locks. We saw several ships pass through the locks, and after twenty minutes, we all were ready to go! Maybe it would have been a different experience if I was traveling with an older child, or not with a child at all - but the last thing I wanted to do was stand around with 100 other people (it’s always crowded!), trying to keep my toddler calm. This was a day when the stroller, and our phone with preloaded cartoons, came in handy! The stroller doubled as a chair, and the cartoons helped to serve as “entertainment.” Going to see the Panama Canal is interesting, but to me, it’s a one and done kind of trip.

My takeaways

Overall, there were some really cool elements of our trip to Panama. If we were ever to return again, I think I would plan it a bit differently. Remember that if you choose to use Panama City as your home base, remember that it is a CITY - lots of noise, traffic, uneven sidewalks, and a bit of grittiness that most cities have. Also, we went in the off-season, which also happens to be the rainy season. If you go during this time, expect it to rain for at least half of your trip, and bring rain gear! One of the reasons why the country has it’s luscious landscape is because of the amount of rain it gets. When we returned from the Embera Village, it was an absolute downpour while crossing the river in the small boat.

If we were to ever return to Panama, I’d take the long journey to the coastal beach towns, rent a house near the ocean, and spend at least a week soaking in the sun and local culture. My most important travel tip is always to do what works best for YOUR family. Our family tends to be adventurous, but we are definitely warm weathered beach-goers. While we made use of the beautiful pool at the Sortis Hotel, I regret not making an effort to explore the quaint coastal towns that Panama has to offer. While this vacation was not one of our top favorites, Panama is a beautiful country. Be sure to do the extra legwork to make sure your itinerary shows you the best Panama has to offer, while matching up with your family’s needs and interests.

Toddler in Panama City

Bitten by the Disney Bug

Up until this point in my adult life, I have never, ever, understood the worldwide obsession with Disney World or anything related to Disney in general. It all just seemed too cheesy, too forced, and an obnoxious level of sugary sweet (artificial) happiness. ….until now.

I suppose you could say I’m at a different stage in my life and view the things around me in a different light. I have a two year old daughter who is obsessed with anything princess-related and has daily make believe parties with Elsa, Anna, Christoff, and Olaf. 

When I saw a deal for Disney on Ice: Frozen on Certifikid (if you haven’t already signed up for Certifikid, you need to. Now.), I figured, well, let’s buy tickets and see how it goes. Every parent of a toddler worries when taking them to public events like this. Will she have multiple meltdowns in front of the thousands of people in the arena? Will she be bored? We’re potty training – how easy will it be for me to get her to the bathroom if she has to go? Can you bring snacks inside the arena?

The day of the show, the little one was beyond excited to see her first live performance. I pre-ordered a beautiful Elsa costume the week before and revealed it to her right before it was time to leave for the show. Her reaction was priceless.  Princess dress – check. Show tickets – check. And off we went to see Frozen on Ice!

Disney on Ice: Frozen

Disney on Ice was, for a lack of better words, magical. The costumes were so well done and seeing Elsa, Anna, and the other characters glide on the ice was captivating. I couldn’t help but to sing the words to every song! V was ALL in – barely blinking and not wanting to miss once second of the winter wonderland that was before her eyes. At one point, she even turned to me, paused, and forcefully said, “Mommy, stop singing!” Because, yes, my singing was interrupting her experience.

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It was then that I realized, nobody does it like Disney. Disney has obviously put a lot of thought into every single detail of their shows and products and have figured out how to provide amazing experiences for children and adults alike. I hate to admit it, but I think I have finally been bitten by the Disney bug. It’s been several weeks since we went to Disney on Ice and my daughter is STILL talking about the show and telling every living being she meets about how great it was. Her joy quickly became our joy, and we are looking forward to what new Disney experience we can do next!

My Disney on Ice Quick Tips:

1.       Order a costume for your child to wear to the show. Kids love to dress up! Especially when there’s hundreds of other little people wandering around the theater or arena also in costume.

2.       Look for discounted show tickets. My favorite websites to find discounted tickets kids shows (in the US) are CertifiKid and Goldstar.

3.       Bring snacks, but be prepared to buy a treat or two from the concession stand.

4.       Have a plan for parking. (We drove into the city for the show and it happened to be a big tourist weekend. It took us almost an hour just to park in a garage, which cut into our dinner reservation.

5.       Following up on #4, make a dinner reservation at a restaurant close to the show venue. It gave us a chance to eat, get a little settled, and in good spirits before the show. Nobody wants to deal with a hangry toddler for 2.5 hours!

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

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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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RSV, You Nasty Witch

My apologies for being offline for so long. The past two weeks have been difficult, exhausting and downright scary, and it was necessary to take a brief hiatus.

Two weeks ago, I became very ill with what I thought was the flu. I had body aches, chills, fatigue, and was too weak to drive twenty-five minutes to my primary care physician, so I just decided to go to Patient First since it is located less than a mile from my house.  While I tested negative for the flu, the doctor said that he was (almost) certain that I had the flu, despite the negative test, and decided to treat me accordingly. Off I went out the door with my prescription for Tamiflu and nausea meds. 

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I spent the entire week in bed! By day four, I started to feel better, but then developed a terrible cough. In our house, when one person gets sick, we take ALL precautions and quickly get into “sick mode” that includes: sanitizing all surfaces of the house, wear hospital-grade masks to prevent the spread of germs, quarantine the sick person, and washing all laundry on the hottest temperature setting (the “sanitize” button) on our washing machine.  The last thing we wanted was for this bug to spread to our two-year-old daughter. Having a sick parent is a bummer, but having a sick parent and a sick child is downright awful!

A couple of days later, by the weekend, we noticed that V started to have a runny nose and seemed a bit under the weather. She had moments when she seemed sick, but also had moments when she had a burst of energy. We had even taken her to the trampoline park with her cousins, and she seemed fine.  By the next day, things took a turn for the worst. We took V to the pediatrician, assuming that she had the flu, but surprisingly she tested negative for flu. The doctor dismissed it as a virus and told us to let it run its course.  As a mother, sometimes you get a feeling in your gut that tells you, despite what the doctor is saying, that something more serious is, in fact, wrong with your child.  That was the feeling I got, and I’m glad my gut didn’t fail me. V was in and out of sleep all morning after our visit to the doctor. She began breathing very heavy – almost panting like a dog – and her fever increased to 103 degrees. She has never had a fever that high, and it was then that my husband and I decided it was time to take her to the emergency room.

Once we arrived at the emergency room, my husband had to peel V out of her car seat. She was like a wet noodle – not able to move very much or carry her weight. Whenever I tried to get her attention, she’d open her eyes for a second, and then her eyes would roll back into her head and she would close them again.  Thankfully the ER wasn’t crowded and they escorted us to a private room.  The nurse took her temperature, and before I had a chance to see what it was, two nurses and the doctor on call quickly rushed into the room, surrounding V and started putting cold washcloths all over her. Puzzled, I said to my husband, “What happened? What was her temperature.” To which he replied, “It was 106! The nurse took it twice and it’s 106!” I could feel my stomach sink and fear set in.  V had a 106 fever and was in respiratory distress. The culprit? She tested positive for Respiratory Syncytial Virus, also known as RSV. Over the next hour, the nurses connected her to an oxygen line and attempted to get an IV line in her hand, which was traumatic in and of itself! My sweet girl was screaming “Mommy! Mommy” while the two nurses were holding her down and continuously jabbing the needle into her hand looking for a vein. After several minutes of agony, I finally lost my cool and demanded that they stop.

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V was admitted to the hospital, and we spent the next four long days there. Multiple doctors and nurses were in and out of the room at all hours of the day and night due to shift changes. After each day, her symptoms were getting worse, not better, and the doctors decided to put her on “high flo” oxygen.  We knew that if this didn’t help, we’d have to be transferred to the top regional children’s hospital in our area, as they are better equipped to deal with these types of health complications.

There is no greater pain than seeing your child severely ill and suffering. While you trust the doctors to do what’s best for your child, you also feel a sense of helplessness, as your baby’s health is (somewhat) in their hands. While we were in the hospital, I began to think about the parents of children with chronic illness and fatal diseases and how difficult their journey must be. I tried not to allow myself to fall into the fear and sadness of our situation, and had faith that God would bring us out of this. And thankfully, He did!

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1st night hospital for rsv

V is now back at home and recovering. The process of easing back into home life has also been difficult. After being discharged from the hospital, V has had nightmares almost every night, and wakes up multiple times throughout the night due to coughing fits and vomiting. Before this situation, I had barely even heard of RSV. Had I known the symptoms, maybe we would have urged her pediatrician to test for it or maybe we would have taken her to the hospital sooner. The crazy part about it is we now believe that I probably had RSV, not the flu, and likely passed it to V. The symptoms are less severe in adults, but can be very serious in young children.  I’m sharing our personal experience in hopes that it can help other moms and dads who may go through the same thing.  Learn more about RSV and the symptoms here.

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And to the parents of young children who may be ill: please, please, please keep them at home when they are ill. This year’s flu and other viruses have been some of the worst strains to date, resulting in hospitalization and death. While our situation was horrible, it could have been much worse. We are so grateful our sweet V is on the mend.

Xo.

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

The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean

Grand Cayman is considered the culinary capital of the Caribbean, so of course I want to share some dining recommendations!

Heritage Kitchen

Heritage Kitchen quickly became one of our “go-to” restaurants on the island when we were craving something more casual, authentic, and Caymanian. In fact, calling it a restaurant actually makes it sound more formal than it is, as it is essentially a roadside stand. Except, this roadside stand is located immediately next to the ocean with some of the most amazing views of the sea.  The owners make you feel like family, and are so warm and welcoming. We went to Heritage Kitchen so many times during our first two vacations to Grand Cayman, by the time we returned for our third vacation to the island in less than two years, the owners remembered us and it felt like we were reuniting with old friends!

Heritage Kitchen Grand Cayman

The food: There is a full kitchen inside the stand, and all of the food is made to order. Don’t miss the coconut grouper, the whole snapper, and the fresh mango juice! All of the fish entrees come with rice and a piece of fried bread. There are picnic tables outside, just in case you want to enjoy the view while you eat.

Pro tip: Check their schedule at the beginning of your trip and make sure they are open on the days when you’re planning to go! And note that they tend to take vacation for a full week (or more) in August and are closed during that time.

Cimboco

Cimboco is a local gem and also another one of our favorites. The food is straightforward and incorporates the flavors of the island. We dined there for breakfast and a couple of dinners; however, breakfast seems to be their strength. We went there almost every day for breakfast (on all three of our trips to the island). We walked in, after having been away for six months, and the waitress said, “Welcome back! Your daughter has grown so much since we last saw her!” It’s things like this that make it so easy to fall in love with Grand Cayman and the people who live there.

The food: The French toast with fresh orange whipped cream is a go-to for our daughter. The island saltfish is my personal favorite, as it’s a typical Caribbean dish and is served with fresh bread and homemade jam.

Pro-tip: They offer a $5 breakfast special every day. This is my husband’s favorite, partially because it’s rare to find any other meal on the island for as little as $5!

another great breakfast at Cimboco

another great breakfast at Cimboco

Vivo

Everyone who knows me knows I am a huge meat-eater and wouldn’t survive one day as a vegetarian, let alone a vegan. So, it’s quite shocking that we dined at a vegan restaurant during our trip AND, it may have been one of my top two favorite meals on the island! Vivo has some of the highest rated reviews on the island, and for good reason! Every element of our meal was perfectly executed, with incredible attention to detail. And the view (!) – oh.my.goodness. the view! We ate dinner at 5pm (early dinners are a must when dining with a toddler), which was perfectly timed with the sunset.

The food: While it is a vegan restaurant with locally sourced ingredients, they also serve lionfish, a mild, flaky white fish. The true show stopper was the vegan "calamari." How on earth they were able to get COCONUT to taste like calamari is beyond me! And it is paired with the most delicious tomato dip. It's genius. Heck, I could be vegan if all vegan food tasted this good!

We ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for our daughter – and let me just tell you, this was no average peanut butter and jelly! Homemade peanut butter, homemade jelly, and homemade bread. It was incredible and I’m afraid she will never eat another one of my ordinary sandwiches again!

Pro-tip: Go for dinner during the week, as it isn’t as crowded as at lunchtime. We felt like we had the entire restaurant to ourselves – which really was ideal since the little one was grumpy and a public tantrum was a possibility. (Doesn’t it seem like they save the really dramatic tantrums for when you’re in public?!?!)

enjoying the eco-friendly/kid-friendly cutlery 

enjoying the eco-friendly/kid-friendly cutlery 

Vegan "calamari"

Vegan "calamari"

Vivo Restaurant

Casanova

Who knew that we’d get a slice of Italy in Grand Cayman? Casanova serves Italian fare, and we were stunned when we discovered that most of their servers are from Italy! It was a moment of nostalgia for us, as we have family in Italy who are so dear to us.

Casanova’s location is perfect, as the restaurant is situated in Georgetown on the waterfront. While we were eating, we saw a large group of divers board a boat and head out for a night dive. Virtually all of the tables on the balcony have beautiful views of the ocean. And I was thrilled to see so many other families with young children! As a mom, you always have a moment of panic when trying a new restaurant and worrying that the staff won’t be accommodating to your little one(s). This was not the case at Casanova, and we were grateful for that.

the view from our table at sundown

the view from our table at sundown

The food: Casanova immediately gained points with me for serving FRESH pasta. Maybe it’s our time spent in Italy that has made me a pasta snob, but I rarely order pasta dishes unless the noodles are made fresh and on the premises. And combine fresh pasta with fresh seafood that was likely caught in the sea about 100 yards from my shoulder? Sign me up!  My husband ordered the fresh snapper entrée and he was thrilled with how simple and fresh the flavors were, coupled with the buttery texture of the fish. The little one was happy as a clam with her kid’s pizza, which was wayyyy too big for a two-year old! But we all know I can't say no to carbs, so I was happy to get it boxed up and eat it later.

Pro tip: Because of Casanova’s location in the heart of Georgetown, and somewhat close to the airport, I’d recommend dining there on the first day of your vacation. It’s casual, and the menu has a lot of variety. As soon as you sit down at the table and inhale the cool sea breeze, you’ll be happy that you chose Grand Cayman for your vacation.

fresh pasta with seafood

fresh pasta with seafood

the interior of Casanova

the interior of Casanova

 

*Disclaimer: Our dining experiences at a couple of the restaurants mentioned in this post were partially sponsored; however, all opinions and recommendations are my own.*

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.

 

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.