The Reluctant Parent’s Guide to Disney

If you’re dreading your upcoming trip to Orlando with the kids, most likely you are not alone. Not everyone is a Disney fan. 19,000,000 people may visit the parks every year. However, it is probable that a percentage of these people are parents like you who have little interest in Disney. You only do it for the kids. Still, the trip requires a great deal of time, money and energy, so while there, it’s best to make the most of it.

You'll be surprised how much fun a reluctant parent can have at Disney World. (Courtesy Disney)

You’ll be surprised how much fun a reluctant parent can have at Disney World. (Courtesy Disney)

There are things to do in Orlando that will improve the quality of your visit. This way, it’s not just the kids that have fun while visiting Orlando, but you as well. Happier parents makes a happier child, and in this case, the statement holds true to its meaning.

Here’s a short list of tips to ensure that you, the most reluctant of parents, enjoy your time at Disney and have a great trip to Orlando with the kids.

Be a Big Kid

Chances are, you went to Disney with your family while growing up. And you have vivid memories of seeing Mickey and Minnie for the first time. Head to the ones you rode growing up like Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain for nostalgia. Or go on Soarin’, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest and EPCOT’s Test Track. They are sure to provide that added sense of thrill. Also definitely hit Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, It’s a Small World, and other rides in Disney’s Fantasyland. They will also fill that nostalgic hole.

To skip the lines, invest in Fastpass tickets for the family, which allow guests to avoid long lines at the attractions. Research the rides before you head to the parks, and plan what you want to ride.

Focus on the Park’s Innovations

A pioneer since it opened in 1955, there is no question that Disney has the epitome of technology and innovation. Even the greatest cynic will be impressed by Disney’s use of technology while touring the parks.

There’s the Magic Band, a digital wristband that acts as a ticket, hotel key, credit card and tracker all in one, to start. Plus, there are those very creative and extremely interactive rides like Toy Story Mania! or Mickey’s Fun Wheel, a ride where guests can use their mobile devices to access a Wi-Fi network that leads to an interactive pre-show game. Newer rides such as Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train also feature innovative technology. And don’t cop out in the evening. The Magic Kingdom’s nighttime light show begins with a fanciful flight by Tinker Bell directly over Cinderella’s Castle, making the biggest curmudgeon happier.

Don’t be Frightened by the Food

Food at Disney can be bad, and it can be expensive. But if you know where to go and what to look for, you’ll find items that are interesting and delicious. Try the Grilled Chicken Skewers at Animal Kingdom’s Harambe Market, the platters at Tangierine Cafe in EPCOT’s Morocco pavilion, or the falafel at Mr. Kamal’s in Animal Kingdom. The Fixins Bar at Pecos Bill’s at Magic Kingdom is good for vegetarians.

If you venture out of the parks to Disney Springs, stop by Homecoming Florida Kitchen by Chef Art, which features gourmet Southern cooking. Be adventurous, particularly at Epcot. However, definitely don’t judge your family for munching on Disney fare everyone loves. Those Fruit and Nutella Waffle Sandwiches or Strawberries and Creme Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwiches are a treat. Let the kids be kids.

Make Adult-Worthy Stops

If you get tired of doing everything the kids want to do, know that Disney has stops for you. The Great Movie Ride in Hollywood Studios is a ride back in time through the history of classic movies. It’s a great reprieve. There also a lot of shows throughout the park to sit back and unwind to. Even the princess tales are escape-worthy. Indulge your Star Wars obsession by experiencing “Symphony in the Stars: A Galactic Spectacular“. Spend a day at Epcot.

In the evening, plan a dinner at one of the fine international restaurants in World Showcase> at Epcot. Grab a drink at the Rose & Crown British Pub any time of day, also in Epcot. Visit the Italy Pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, and check out the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar. Each evening, the popular Kilimanjaro Safaris is lit up so guests can explore Disney’s Animal Kingdom at night. It’s a spectacle for one of any age. Lastly, if you want an alcoholic drink, head to the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland.

Stay in a Great Hotel, with Great Amenities

Choose a hotel that’s just as good for you as it is for the kids. Adults like the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, Boardwalk Villas, Port Orleans Resort, Old Key West Resort and Port Orleans French Quarter.

The further away you go from the parks, the more you upgrade your hotel experience. Reunion Resort is tasteful and an absolutely beautiful resort a few miles away. Be sure to have dinner at Eleven, their rooftop restaurant, during the fireworks at Disney in the distance. Also have a cocktail by the one of their ten pools during the day, ride in the lazy river, and have a luxurious spa treatment.

 

Holly Rosen Fink of The Culture Mom contributed this to MiniTime. She is a full-time marketer living in Larchmont, NY with her husband and two children.

 

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Best Dog Friendly Vacations in the US for Families

There’s no need to leave your dog behind on a family vacation. After all, your furry companion is a huge part of your family, right? With about 38,880 pet-friendly hotels in the US, it’s easy to plan a dog friendly vacation. And with about 13,040 dog friendly restaurants in the country, your family can dine together, too.

Treat your pooch to a holiday with one of these dog friendly vacation ideas. (Flickr: Adam Asar)

Treat your pooch to a holiday with one of these dog friendly vacation ideas. (Flickr: Adam Asar)

In many cities, dogs are welcome at beaches, parks, trails and many establishments. Traveling with your dog completes a family-friendly vacation. Make sure that dogs have a current license and up-to-date vaccinations. In many public places dogs are expected to respond to voice command and to be within your sight.

Ready to pack? Here’s a list of the top dog friendly vacation spots in the US for families.

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Dog Friendly Vacation Ideas in California

Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA. For a top-notch dog friendly vacation, take a romp to Carmel. Swim at the beach, explore hiking trails and play in parks. Numerous hotels, shops and restaurants welcome dogs with water bowls, dog treats and biodegradable bags. Doggy turn downs, surf lessons and yappy hour are the norm. Spoil your pooch with a massage at the Signature Paw Spa doggy day care. Bring your dog to family-friendly restaurants, such as The Forge in the Forest. Among the over 25 dog-friendly hotels is Carmel Garden Inn. Fees: $25 for one dog and $40 for two dogs per day, which includes a soft dog bed and treats.

Santa Barbara, CA. This upscale city rolls out the welcome mat for dogs in restaurants, beaches and some wine tasting rooms. Leashed dogs are allowed on the state’s oldest working wharf, anchored with restaurants and shops. It’s a dog’s world at Arroyo Burro Beach Park (aka Hendry’s Beach), where pups run free and play in the surf. There’s also a coin-operated dog wash in the parking lot. Enjoy a laid-back lunch at the family-friendly Brewhouse Restaurant, which has a great Brew-Dogs Menu. The Fess Parker DoubleTree by Hilton Resort welcomes two pets of any size for an additional fee of $40 per night. Upon check-in, the front desk provides complimentary doggy treats and bags.

Los Angeles, CA. Canines of all breeds and sizes get the royal treatment on a dog friendly vacation in LA. Pamper pooch with a signature Swedish massage at Bliss Paws. Run free at Runyon Canyon Park or hike in Griffith Park. Fred 62 and Messhall Kitchen are among 200 dog-friendly LA restaurants. Bunk down in swanky Beverly Hills. The Kimpton Hotel Palomar welcomes pets of any size for no additional fee.

Dog Friendly Vacation Ideas on the East Coast

Boston, MA. Besides many dog parks, you can bring Fido to the Apple Store, Polka Dot Bakery and other shops. Bypass traffic and get around on City Water Taxis. No charge for dogs, but advance notice is required. No dog friendly vacation is complete without family meal times. The Living Room serves American pub food on the waterfront. Find comfy overnight doggy digs at the family-friendly Boston Harbor Hotel. Two pets up to 80 pounds are welcome for a fee of $100 per pet, per stay. Pet amenities include a pet bed, bowls, and treats.

Dog Friendly Vacation Ideas in the Midwest

Chicago, IL. The Windy City provides a dog-friendly vacation on foot and by boat. Energetic dogs love the agility course at Jackson Bark dog park. Take in sights aboard a Seadog Cruises speedboat. Choose from a fast-paced 30-minute cruise, or leisurely 75-minute one. After all that fresh air, feed your hungry human and furry kids at O’Brien’s Riverwalk Café in Old Town. Sleep well knowing you can bring two dogs of any size for no additional fee at the kid-friendly Hotel Palomar Chicago.

(MORE: Perfect Activities in the Pacific Northwest for Families)

Dog Friendly Vacation Ideas in the Pacific Northwest

Portland, OR. Enjoy a yummy breakfast at family-friendly and dog friendly Mother’s Bistro & Bar. Bring your leashed dog to the Portland Saturday Market, and play fetch at many pet-friendly parks. Outdoorsy families will love Forest Park Wildwood Trail, which has 30 miles of dog-friendly hiking paths. Sleep well at the family-friendly Hotel Monaco Portland. Three pets of any size are welcome for no additional fee.

Seattle, WA. Bring the gang for a 45-minute, family-friendly Fremont Sunday Ice Cream Cruise around the harbor. Dogs are welcome aboard but must be leashed. Fetch shopping deals at the University Village Shopping Center on this dog friendly vacation. Enjoy a family-style Italian meal at Ristorante Picolinos. The kid-friendly Westin Hotel Seattle allows two pets up to 80 pounds. No additional fee, but there’s a refundable deposit.

 

Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.

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Family Friendly Things to Do in LA Only Locals Know About

People come from all over to visit Los Angeles‘ golden beaches and family-friendly attractions, but there are also many secret gems to discover with kids. Places most visitors never see, but that locals treasure. Whether it’s your first or 10th visit to the City of Angels, you can experience LA like a local. From urban jungles and parks to ghost towns and an abandoned zoo, LA has many unique places to explore. Just ask a local! Most Angelinos are willing to share their favorite activities and tips. Here are five examples of local things to do in Los Angeles with kids. These attractions are also steeped in history and free to the public!

Looking for offbeat things to do in Los Angeles with kids? We've got you covered. (Flickr: Justin Vidamo)

Looking for offbeat things to do in Los Angeles with kids? We’ve got you covered. (Flickr: Justin Vidamo)

Abandoned Old LA Zoo, Griffith Park

A stone’s throw from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the abandoned Griffith Zoo opened in 1912 and closed in 1966. Now the empty small and large animal cages attract hikers and curious families looking for unique things to do in Los Angeles with kids. Picnic tables and hiking trails round out this family-friendly attraction. Find parking near the park’s carousel.

Los Arboles Rocketship Park, Torrance

For many Angelinos, this hilltop park was a childhood staple and they’re thrilled it’s still here to share with their kids. The 6.3 acre park features children’s play equipment, including, of course, a rocket ship climbing structure with a slide. The space-themed playground and picnic area rank it among family-friendly things to do in Los Angeles with kids.

Korean Bell of Friendship, San Pedro

Overlooking the ocean, the Korean Bell of Friendship in Angel’s Gate Park was presented by the Republic of Korea to celebrate America’s bicentennial and symbolize friendship. Set in a pagoda-like stone structure, the bronze bell is only rung a handful of times each year. Local families like to bring a picnic or fly a kite on the grassy grounds. For nearby things to do with kids in Los Angeles visit the MacArthur Museum and the Point Fermin Lighthouse.

Eaton Canyon Natural Area, Pasadena

Its woodsy location at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains makes Eaton Canyon Natural Area a favorite getaway with locals. The 190-acre nature preserve in Pasadena offers many outdoorsy things to do in Los Angeles with kids. These include hiking (on your own or on a guided tour) on trails with native plants, wildlife and a seasonal stream and waterfall. The family-friendly nature center has exhibits, live animals, children’s activities, and information about the area.

Mentryville Ghost Town, Newhall

Hidden in Newhall’s chaparral slopes (about 35 miles north of LA), Mentryville was an oil drilling boomtown from 1876 to 1900. Over 100 families lived there until the early 1930s. Today, the ghost town attracts filmmakers and families looking for historical and quirky things to do in Los Angeles with kids. Still standing are a 13-room mansion, a schoolhouse, and barn.

Mimi Slawoff of Planetfamilytravel contributed this to MiniTime. She is a Los Angeles-based journalist and a seasoned family travel expert who explores the world with her three children and writes about their journeys.

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Rock Dog Movie Premiere and a Giveaway

This post is sponsored by Lionsgate.

A few years ago my nephew visited and asked where I kept my dog. I told him I didn’t have one, and he quickly let me know I was wasting my adulthood. I think he was onto something, but until I move out of my “no dogs allowed” apartment building in Manhattan, I have to get my puppy fix (not to be confused with “puppy fixed,” because those are two VERY different things) elsewhere.

That’s why I’m looking forward to the February 24th release of Rock Dog. It’s a movie about a Tibetan Mastiff who finds a radio and leaves home to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician, but quickly sets in motion a series of unexpected events.

I’m such a sucker for movies that encourage kids to chase their dreams! Today’s Mama wants you to chase your dreams all the way to the theater. That’s why we’re giving away a Rock Dog movie prize pack that includes a $100 Visa gift card to see the film in theaters with your family, as well as a Rock Dog beanie, tambourine, and temporary tattoo.

Rock Dog Movie Giveaway

You’re sure to recognize and love the Rock Dog movie cast. Luke Wilson takes the lead, with Eddie Izzard, J.K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, and Sam Elliott all lending their voices. I can’t wait to see them do their thing on the big screen on February 24th!

Rock Dog Movie Cast Poster

You don’t have to wait for the movie to reach theaters to get your rock on. You can click here to get FREE activity and coloring pages now.

Rock Dog Movie Coloring Pages

And don’t forget to enter the contest below for your chance to win.

The Rock Dog Movie Contest

To enter, leave a comment below telling us what your kids dream of being when they grow up. We’ll pick a winner on February 24th at 5PM MST.

Open to US mailing addresses only
Prizing and samples courtesy of Lionsgate Premier

Most Festive US Cities to Celebrate the Holidays with Kids

As the holidays approach, a sense of excitement begins to vibrate through the air. Decorations are pulled from storage with joyous anticipation of an evening spent trimming the tree while family-friendly movies play on the television. Whimsical displays fill the stores, and the sounds of Christmas songs carry in the still, cool air.

Celebrations abound across the US to welcome the holiday season, but these five cities take holidays with kids to a new level of wonderment and magic.

Visiting Santa Claus’ Land Of Lights is a great way to spend holidays with kids. (Courtesy Spencer County Visitors Bureau)

Visiting Santa Claus’ Land Of Lights is a great way to spend holidays with kids. (Courtesy Spencer County Visitors Bureau)

Most Festive US Cities to Celebrate the Holidays with Kids

It’s always Christmas in Santa Claus, Indiana, but in December it becomes Christmasy-er! Three weekends of celebration have Jolly Old St. Nicholas front and center. Join him for breakfast or dinner, visit him at Santa’s Christmas Store, and hear his story at the Santa Claus Museum & Village. Or just send him a letter with the special Santa Claus postmark!

All around the town you’ll find family-friendly festivities. There are arts & crafts, live theater, story times, twinkling lights and toy testing. You can even end your evening by roasting chestnuts over an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle, a true Christmas tradition. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit for Christmas with the family.

In family-friendly Wilmington, North Carolina, Santa loves the beach and Christmas by the sea makes for fabulous holidays with kids! Lighted parades on land and water are only the beginning of the spectacular events that stretch from Thanksgiving through the end of December. On weekends you can visit Santa along the Carolina Beach Boardwalk for storytelling, caroling and holiday-themed movies. And you can wander the illuminated gardens at Airlie or join a candlelight tour at Poplar Grove.

Any extra time your family may have will be easily filled with live Christmas shows, concerts, historic holiday strolls and Christmas-themed adventures aboard the Battleship North Carolina.

Across the county, Monterey County, California, welcomes the holidays with at least six tree lighting celebrations, making it one of the best places to visit for Christmas. They come complete with carolers, reindeer, visits from Santa, and three lighted, kid-friendly parades between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Your family will get right into the holiday spirit as you ice skate by the bay, enjoy the festivities of Christmas on the Wharf, or walk through the streets of Bethlehem in a live Nativity Story.

Historic Downtown Monterey bedecks itself for the holidays with Christmas in the Adobes, an evening event which transports your family to the mid 19th-century. See the Adobes by candlelight while you enjoy tasty treats and live performances in the historically decorated homes.

Celebrating Yuletide in Taos, New Mexico, adds a bit of southwestern flair to holidays with kids. The month-long celebration begins with the Twirl Aglow party, an enchanting community-wide gathering filled with the wonder of the season. Lighting up the night is a big part of Yuletide. Not only is there a tree lighting ceremony, but historic Ledoux Street has its own celebration too. Here, farolitos and luminarias swath the narrow street in golden glow welcoming visitors to the galleries, museums and shops. All around town, celebrations are taking place—holiday fiestas, winter concerts, crafting workshops and festive bonfire celebrations.

Living history has a different meaning at Taos Pueblo, a 1000-year-old Native American community. Sunset on Christmas Eve heralds the Procession of the Virgin. This combines thousands of years of Christian, Native American and southwestern traditions to create an event like nothing else in the world! Return on Christmas Day for the ceremonial Matachines Dance, honoring the depths of winter.

With over 1,400 events taking place over 40 days, Grapevine—the Christmas Capital of Texas—is the place to visit for Christma and celebrate winter holidays with kids. Begin with the larger-than-life-size ICE! sculptures at the Gaylord Texan’s Lone Star Christmas. Then visit LEGOLAND® Discovery Center where your child can created their own (smaller) ‘brick-tacular’ creations in the holiday themed build challenge. Hop aboard the North Pole Express to have cocoa with Santa. Later, return to the historic downtown for the fun at Christmas on Main and a chance to meet Captain Christmas, Grapevine’s talking reindeer!

Lighted parades on both land and lake, classic Christmas movies, and live shows at the Historic Palace Theater will keep your itinerary full and make holiday wishes come true.

 

Jody Halsted of JodyHalsted.com contributed this to MiniTime.

 

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Astounding African Beach Breaks for Families

Those looking for a paradise-like destination away from the crowds won’t find a more enchanting escape than going to an African beach. Far from the chaos, you’ll find the ultimate Robinson Crusoe experience for the family, with perfect beaches and most of all an unspoiled environment. Pristine sand, palm trees aplenty and big blue skies set against the Indian Ocean: it’s the perfect escape to get away from it all.

Whether you choose the Seychelles, Mauritius or Mozambique, an African beach break promises dreamy landscapes and pristine nature for the perfect family adventure. Get back to basics—but with all the luxury trimmings—on an African beach break and discover nature at its finest.

Seychelles is one of the best African beach escapes for families with kids. (Flickr: Jean-Marie Hullot)

Seychelles is one of the best African beach escapes for families with kids. (Flickr: Jean-Marie Hullot)

Superb Seychelles

An archipelago of approximately 115 islands, it’s one of the world’s most amazing natural beauties. In fact, it’s often referred to as ‘paradise’. Blending tropical forests and dazzling white-sandy beaches, each island in the Seychelles is a dream come true. Although it’s been a honeymoon spot for many, including Prince William and Kate, it’s also the perfect family-friendly African beach escape. Go diving, make the most of the water-sports or discover the nature trails with the kids. Meet the local tortoises and exotic birds as well. What’s more, the Seychelles’ history is packed with tales about explorers, sailors and pirates that ought to keep the kids entertained. Most resorts are on the main island of Mahe, like the stunning Four Seasons Resort where you’ll find all the luxury amenities necessary.

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Magical Mozambique

For a more intimate African beach break with the kids, Mozambique is a top choice. (Courtesy Azura Benguerra Island)

For a more intimate African beach break with the kids, Mozambique is a top choice. (Courtesy Azura Benguerra Island)

Mozambique is the latest must-go destination in African beach travel. Gone are the troubled days of this beautiful country. Now it’s all about eco luxury resorts and boutique hotels. Go for a small, intimate resort like Azura Benguerra Island with its 20 villas, African spa, and a marine national park on its doorstep. It’s just the spot to go diving and snorkeling in unspoiled waters teeming with whales, dolphins and the elusive dugong. Kid-friendly activities include seeking for pansy shells at low tide, finding out about the local culture and looking for crocodiles (at a safe distance). Families can also sample the island’s fruits or even play football with the local team.

Travel with The Luxury Safari Company

Marvelous Mauritius

A more secluded African beach hideaway may be found in Mauritius. (Flickr: Mark Fischer)

A more secluded African beach hideaway may be found in Mauritius. (Flickr: Mark Fischer)

It’s the stuff dream brochures are made of, with its palm fringed white beaches and eternal azure skies. Mauritius is another honeymoon haven that is also really kid-friendly. Sat in the Indian Ocean, it’s a million miles from anywhere. Or at least it feels that way. Days are spent lazing on the sand, discovering marine life or exploring the flora. The entire family will love the family-friendly Mauritian cuisine too, not to mention afternoon tea, served in swish resorts like the five-star Outrigger. With multiple swimming pools, babysitting services and a kid’s club where kids can do anything. From getting Indian henna tattoos or playing badminton, not to mention crab hunting or learning the limbo, there’s enough to keep the entire family busy and happy.

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Tempting Thanda

Thanda Island is the perfect setting for a luxurious and active African beach getaway. (Courtesy Thanda Island)

Thanda Island is the perfect setting for a luxurious and active African beach getaway. (Courtesy Thanda Island)

Looking for privacy? Book into Thanda Island, the recently opened luxurious lodge off the coast of Tanzania. Spend the day making the most of the luxurious villa or hop onto a traditional Arabian dhow for a cruise. Prefer some action? Go big game fishing or explore the reefs around the island in a kayak, sailboat or on a stand-up paddle-board. Other family-friendly activities for older kids include snorkeling the reefs and getting up close to the local marine life. See marine wildlife like tortoises, stingrays, barracudas and perhaps the odd shark! The high-end bolt hole was first built as the family holiday home for a Swedish billionaire, so it’s a real home from home. With extra frills like a private 1 km beach, what more could you ask for?

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Rugged Rocktail Beach Camp

A favorite hideaway for South African families, Rocktail Beach Camp is perfect for kids. It’s nestled between the Maputaland Coastal Forest inland and the KwaZulu-Natal coastal dunes along the Maputaland Marine Reserve. And it’s an action-packed adventure waiting to happen. With everything from snorkeling to specially devised kid-friendly nature walks, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. They even offer bubblemaker diving courses for those first few moments underwater. Visit during Easter or October, when the weather is warm and you might just spot whale sharks and turtles. The camp has just 17 rooms, with 7 special family-friendly units with two bedrooms and family bathrooms. Other perks include a viewing deck, wine cellar, large pool and children’s playroom.

Travel with Extraordinary Africa

 

Rowena Carr-Allinson contributed this to MiniTime. Since the arrival of her son in 2011, she has taken him everywhere from Bangkok to NYC, writing family friendly articles en route.

 

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5 Halloween Cruises Your Kids Will Love

Halloween on the High Seas aboard the Disney Cruise ships (Courtesy Disney Cruise Line)

Halloween on the High Seas aboard the Disney Cruise ships (Courtesy Disney Cruise Line)

Of course, you and the kids could trick-or-treat around the neighborhood (again). Or, you could really do it up right by taking a Halloween-themed cruise complete with costume parades, theme parties, trick-or-treating, arts and crafts, and plenty of live entertainment that’s both spooky and not-so-spooky. Halloween cruises for kids are a great way to spend time as a family. And they can make for a fantastic family vacation. Here are five great cruises over Halloween that your kids will love.

 

1. Sail to the Bahamas with Disney Cruise Line

Board the Disney Dream at Port Canaveral near Orlando for a four- or five-day Halloween on the High Seas cruise to the Bahamas. Look for multiple departure dates throughout October with Disney Cruise Line. Plan for tricks and treats during the kid-friendly sail. Kids will love the games, dancing and costumes at Mickey’s Mouse-querade Party, as well as ghost stories, mask making and pumpkin carving. For west coasters, look for three- and five-day sails from San Diego to Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas on the Disney Wonder. The whole family will love these Halloween cruises for kids.

2. Sail to the Western Caribbean with Carnival

Nearly all Carnival cruise ships celebrate Halloween with plenty of family-friendly festivities on October 31. On these Halloween cruises for kids look for pumpkin carving demonstrations, scavenger hunts and trick-or-treating on the ship’s deck. All staff will be dressed in costume and specialty desserts and cocktails will be served in honor of Halloween. Try a four-day cruise to the Western Caribbean departing from Miami on October 29 with a stop in Cozumel, Mexico on board the Carnival Paradise. Or, set sail for three days from Long Beach on October 31 on board the Carnival Inspiration with a stop in Ensenada.

3. Sail to the Eastern Caribbean with Norwegian

Kids will love the spooky decorations and goodies around every corner. Moms and dads will love specialty cocktails, like Transylvania Tea and Frankenberry Martinis, on board a Caribbean-bound Norwegian cruise ship over Halloween. Book a seven-day cruise from Miami on the Norwegian Escape to the Eastern Caribbean, including St. Thomas and Nassau. During dinner service on October 31, buffet stations will feature carved pumpkins, as well as special treats, like spiders made of pecans and caramel. Costumes are encouraged. Keep your eyes open for Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, too.

4. Sail Along the California Coast with Princess

Look for family-friendly Halloween parties, dances, theme nights, even costume contests on-board most Princess ships over Halloween. While the cruise director on each ship plans out individual activities, a good bet is a seven-day cruise from Los Angeles along the California coastline with stops in San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Diego on the Ruby Princess. Departing October 29, no doubt there will be plenty of pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, fun Halloween movies and a children’s costume parade on the cruise.

5. Sail to Mexico with Royal Caribbean

It’s always a good time when you celebrate a holiday on-board a cruise ship and Royal Caribbean makes it extra special. Book a seven-day sail from Fort Lauderdale on the Oasis of the Sea. Onboard, enjoy a costume parade in the Royal Promenade, a dance party, costume contests and plenty of Halloween treats, crafts and hands-on activities. Disembark the ship in Puerto Costa Maya and Cozumel, Mexico for family explorations or stay on-board for spooky stories and kid-friendly movies, even a haunted house. Bring your own costume or make your own on the ship.

 

Erin Gifford of Kidventurous contributed this to MiniTime.

 

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Secrets to Stress Free Flights with Little Kids

Flying and vacationing with kids can be a relaxing and fun affair. (Flickr: Hide)

Flying and vacationing with kids can be a relaxing and fun affair. (Flickr: Hide)

Flying with babies and small kids can be stressful, but with a little planning and smart packing, the experience can be enjoyable for the entire family. There are many ways parents can do to avoid tough situations, tips to help them and the kids enjoy air travel and arrive at their destination refreshed and ready for a great family vacation. Here are a few of them.
Preflight Checklist
Create an airport layover plan by printing the terminal maps in advance. Most airports have nursing mothers’ room and family restrooms to ease the stress of feeding and changing baby while en-route. Some airports even have kids’ play spaces for fun exploration during a layover. It’s best to book flights with at least a two-hour layover to allow ample time for bathroom breaks, meals and playtime for kids between flights.

Get kids excited pre-family vacation by reading airplane related books, learning about the destination, and even going to the airport in advance for a visit.

Make sure any liquids required for feeding small children, including breast milk, meet TSA guidelines. Currently, parents are allowed to take any necessary amount of breastmilk and formula in a carry-on item. Be sure the milk is separate from any other liquids, and prepare to screen any freezer packs as well. Take comfort in the knowledge that breastfeeding mothers are legally allowed to feed their babies on the aircraft. Breastfeeding can also help with kids’ altitude-induced ear discomfort.
Prepare for Takeoff
Parents and caregivers should review the FAA safety guidelines for travelling with children. Currently, the FAA does not require – but strongly recommends – children to be in a child safety restraint system (CRS) such as a car seat or a CARES five-point safety harness.

While parents have the option of holding a child under 2-years-old on their laps, purchasing children their own seat will allow use of a CRS during the flight. Some airlines, including Southwest, offer discounted infant fares. A foldable car seat travel cart or a sit-and-stroll style car seat instantly add wheels to the car seat and makes moving through the airport a breeze. Some kids sleep comfortably in their CRS, making this option – and the added peace and quiet for mom and dad – worth the ticket price.

For parents who opt not to purchase an extra seat, using a baby carrier or sling can ease airport connections by allowing the parent to be hands free for handling luggage and siblings. These families can choose to check their car seat by packing it into a specific car seat carrying bag, or the airlines will often offer to gate-check the car seat and stroller.

Some international flights offer infant bassinets, located near the bulkhead and often in premium seating sections. These can be reserved in advance and create restful space for parent and child during long-haul flights.

Packing and Gear

Dressing kids in matching brightly colored shirts can keep a family group together and help keep kids safe in a busy airport. Easy on-off shoes and a carry-on with accessible compartments for liquids and electronics help speed everyone through security.

In addition to packing light, assign one packing cube per family member for in-flight items including kid-appropriate snacks and games, and keep these cubes in one carry-on for easy accessibility during the flight. For the kids, be sure to have ample diapers, wipes, baby food and outfit changes should there be a delay or lost bag.

Note that child-sized headphones may save the day when those offered by the flight attendants are too big for kids’ heads and ears. Also teething necklaces, worn by mom or dad, are a great distraction for an exploring baby and remain easy to access during the flight.

In Flight Entertainment
To keep everyone happy in flight, be sure to pack lots of distractions for the kids. Games, crayons, and small coloring books are good options. Small kids can also be entertained by gel window clings that stick to the seats, trays, and windows. Even a roll of painter’s’ tape can get a toddler’s imagination going. They’ll stick it to siblings and the seats, then and roll it up, flatten it out, make a ball etc., all without damaging a thing. Great fun!

Use screen time as a special treat for long flights by downloading favorite shows or movies in advance. Many apps and games also double as educational tools for toddlers and preschoolers.

Creating goodie bags to pass out during transit to seat neighbors can ease tension on a flight when a young kid’s cries may disturb other passengers. Fill small muslin bags with earplugs, gum, and candies.

 

Katie DeTar of KatieDeTar.com contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer and a television host.

 

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A Family’s Guide to an Ideal Vacation in Mexico

Sunny Cabo has some awesome swells for surfing. (Credit Los Cabos Tourism)

Sunny Cabo has some awesome swells for surfing. (Credit Los Cabos Tourism)

Mexico is an enormous country filled with natural treasures, quaint towns, miles of implausibly stunning coastline, and impressive ruins so numerous it’s impossible to see all of them in a lifetime. With so many family-friendly attractions to visit, picking the perfect destination in Mexico to visit can be an arduous and overwhelming task. Whether you’re avid surfers, aesthetes, culture vultures, epicures or aquaphiles, this guide might just help you pick the perfect destination in Mexico for your next family vacation.

For Surfers and Whale Watchers: Los Cabos

Why: Cabo has long been a surfing mecca for enthusiasts thanks to its warm waters, major swells, small white-water waves for beginners, and the year round sunshine. Surf schools abound for those who want to learn, as well as rental shops, making it easy for visitors without gear to participate in the sport during their time there.

Another popular family-friendly activity the area is known for? Whale-watching, of course. Five or six species of whale make their way down here every year, allowing Los Cabos visitors plenty of opportunities to see these magnificent creatures. Many times, you can even see a pod from the freeway; but up close on a whale watching tour is the best way to experience them.

Where: Beloved surf breaks include left point break Monuments and the world famous Zippers; while not-so-crowded Shipwrecks is for the more adventurous as access takes driving a four-wheel drive. Playa Acapulquitoone and Cerritos are perfect for beginner surfers and kids. As far as whale-watching, the Sea of Cortez is your best bet. It is not only home to a large number of marine life—sea lions, Manta Rays, turtles, porpoises, Humboldt squid and the beautiful whale shark; it’s also a sanctuary for whales.

Where to Stay: The highly-rated Bungalows Hotel is an affordable, family-friendly choice imbued with Mexican-inspired furnishings and vibrant colors. For a splurge, Las Ventanas al Paraiso has proven to be intoxicatingly stunning and offers 2-bedroom suites that come with daily plates of fresh fruit, a 24-hour Butler service and turndown service with aromatherapy.

For Epicures and Explorers: Puerto Vallarta

Las Casitas in Puerto Vallarta is a great spot for kids. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Las Casitas in Puerto Vallarta is a great spot for kids. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Why: Idyllic Puerto Vallarta is a haven for expats and known for its nightlife that lasts until 5 in the morning. But it’s also famous for its flourishing culinary scene and the amazing kid-friendly adventures it offers families both on land and in the sparkling Banderas Bay. It’s the perfect Mexico destination for foodie families who are also ravenous for adventure and explorations.

Where: Explore the small towns in the Sierra Madre Mountains through a tour company or head out into the massive bay and partake in water-related activities in places such as the legendary Marieta Islands where a secret beach awaits, very kid-friendly Las Casitas, or the small seaside village of Yelapa. To sample the cuisine, simply head to your hotel or resort’s signature restaurant or visit the Malecon where a number of restaurants—like Si Senor, which offer seating under a canopy right on the beach—serve some of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever have.

Where to Stay: For an all-inclusive vacation, Velas Vallarta is an affordable kid-friendly choice with its spacious suites, kid-friendly amenities and beautiful, tropical grounds with roaming peacocks. If you prefer to travel a la carte, CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta is also a family-friendly property, with its adorable kids’ club, lovely ocean view rooms with luxurious furnishings and delicious fares.

For Culture Vultures: Mexico City

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (Flickr: Mario Paredes)

Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City (Flickr: Mario Paredes)

Why: For those who have never been to the Mexico City, you might be surprised to learn that the city is a family-friendly metropolis whose buzzing and vibrant cultural scene rivals many of the most popular cities in the world. Along with its many pre-Columbian landmarks are impressive family-friendly museums, hip music scenes, cosmopolitan neighborhoods, one of the largest universities in the world, and transparent influences of foreign cultures that have been thriving here such as Korean, Japanese, Cuban and Lebanese.

Where: Visit the world-class National Museum of Anthropology to learn about the country’s inhabitants dating back to the pre-Columbian era; the splendid white marble halls of Palacio de Bellas Artes whose gorgeous murals are reason enough for a return visit; Museo Frida Kahlo to explore the famous artist’s life; and Plaza de la Constitucion, which has constantly hosted some of the city’s artistic and cultural events. “Little Seoul” is a must visit too; as is the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Where to Stay: The hotel-slash-museum Camino Real Polanco is alive and imbued with color and modern flourishes. It’s also very kid-friendly. Among its many amenities are three swimming pools, a kids club and a babysitting service.

For An Idyllic Escape: San Miguel de Allende

Picturesque San Miguel de Allende (Flickr: Jiuguang Wang)

Picturesque San Miguel de Allende (Flickr: Jiuguang Wang)

Why: San Miguel de Allende is one of those fairy tale towns you always hear people gush about. Its cobblestone streets lined with charming colonial buildings brightly painted with hues of yellow, orange, pink and blue; beautiful architecture; lovely people; dramatic sunsets that cast a golden light over the city and silhouette the surrounding hills; eclectic shops; and rooftops that afford staggering views of the city all lend a hand in making it so. If you have a Mexico “bucket list,” this family-friendly colonial city should be at the top.

Where: The Neo-gothic Parroquia de San Miguel Archangel, with its pink limestone facade, and the Church of the Immaculate Conception, with its yellow and red dome, are easily two of the city’s defining landmarks and worthy of visits. But make no mistake: while the town is known for its colonial architecture and scenic flair, it’s also home to excellent restaurants that serve world-class fares. For a quiet escape, spend a few hours at Jardín Botánico El Charco del Ingenio, located just outside of town.

Where to Stay: Hacienda de las Flores is a great choice for budget accommodations. Its colors reflect that of the city center and family-friendly amenities include free Wi-Fi, an outdoor pool and a large garden. For a splurge, the rooms and suites at Hotel Matilda boasts avant-garde elements as well as luxurious comfort.

For Snorkelers, History Buffs and Architecture Hounds: Riviera Maya

Why: Riviera Maya is already the perfect family getaway, thanks to its warm, Caribbean waters, its lushness, the terrific food and the beautiful resorts that line its shores. Add to these its very diverse marine wildlife, the Mayan culture whose influences you can still see today and the area’s impressive Mayan ruins, and you’ve got yourself a well-rounded destination for every family.

Where: Check out Tulum with its hilltop Mayan village and the gorgeous beach below the cliffs orCoba whose Ancient Pyramid visitors can still climb. Or plan a day trip to Chichen Itza, one of the new Wonders of the World. Snorkeling can be done in many spots, but a trip to family-friendly aqua park Xel-Ha guarantees an unforgettable snorkeling experience in its natural lagoon where fish is aplenty. You may even come face to face with a barracuda. Visit one or two of the many cenotes too; these natural pits boasts emerald waters that offer a refreshing and picturesque swim.

Where to Stay: Five-star hotel Gran Porto Resort, located in the heart of Playa del Carmen, is a fantastic option for families traveling with kids. Among its many kid-friendly flourishes are the family suites that boasts bunk beds and plenty of space, the Oki Kids Club and a cool hangout for teens.

For Wine and Taco Lovers: Ensenada

Vineyard near Ensenada (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Vineyard near Ensenada (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Why: Two hours from the California-Mexico border, Ensenada is an easy, very safe and scenic drive away from San Diego, CA, making it an ideal weekend getaway for families. The area is known for its wine country, located less than an hour away from the town center; but it’s also famous for its Baja-style fish, shrimp and ceviche tacos that are so addicting many have tried—some unsuccessfully—to replicate them.

Where: Wine tastings as well as amazing cuisine are available at many of the wineries and vineyards in Valle de Guadalupe. Kids are not allowed at these wineries but many of the hotels in town offer babysitting services. For the best ceviche tacos, La Guerrerense in town is one of the best. This street food stand has received Anthony Bourdain’s seal of approval. For terrific tacos de pescado and tacos de camaron, head to Tacos Fenix, which is cheap and popular with the locals.

Where to Stay: Hotel Coral & Marina is a family-friendly and affordable option. It may not be in the center of town, but it has its own marina if you’re coming in on a boat and its many in-room amenities far outweigh its affordable rates: complimentary bottled water and drinks, delicious smelling toiletries, a balcony with a view of the Pacific and lots of space for a family to spread out.

For Musicophiles and Tequila Tastings: Guadalajara

Why: While Guadalajara has earned the spot as Mexico’s second largest metropolis, it certainly presents a different vibe from the always bustling Mexico City. Less frenzied, family-friendly Guadalajara is the destination for music lovers not just for the Mariachi music that had set roots here long ago but also for the thriving independent music scene that has been planting its seeds in the city. For many, it also serves as the base for visits to the town of Tequila where you can tour the distilleries and sample on some of the best tequila.

Where: Watch alluring performances by local Mariachi bands as well as Aztec dancers at El Parián, a square in Tlaquepaque that is essentially a large gazebo-slash-stage surrounded by a number of restaurants and bars. There are benches everywhere if you wish to see the live performances without spending, but Mariachi music may even be lovelier when you’re having a proper sit-down dinner with the family. While there, visit some of the city’s handsome architectural landmarks as well.

Where to Stay: Family-friendly Hotel Morales in the historical center boasts a beautiful architecture, vibrant colors and gorgeous furnishings for a magical stay. Softly-lit suites with two beds are available for families of four, as are an outdoor heated pool, a terrace with lovely views of the city and an onsite restaurant. Best of all, rates are affordable so it’s great for families on the budget.

 

Michelle Rae Uy contributed this to MiniTime. She is a travel writer based in Los Angeles and MiniTime’s Head of Content, who spends her free time on adventures and film photography.

 

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5 Secrets to Taking Better Photos During Your Family Vacation

Shoot during the golden hour, if you can, when taking photos during your family vacation. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Shoot during the golden hour, if you can, when taking photos during your family vacation. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Taking photos during our vacations is an irresistible urge. It’s our way of documenting our travels and memories, and a way to capture the extraordinary destinations we visit and take a part of it home with us. Unfortunately, not everyone has the natural talent for photography; and nothing is more disappointing than coming back from your vacation and realizing that none of your photos have done your vacation spot justice.

You may not have the innate aptitude for taking photos, but there are a few simple ways to take better vacation photos. Start with these five.
Shoot During the Golden Hour
Also called the Magic Hour, the few minutes right after sunrise and the few minutes before sunset are the best times to take photos, especially of landscapes. This is because the light is warmer, but not overly bright; and it’s considerably softer, casting a beautiful glow that makes for a more photogenic and more appealing scene. Alternately, sunsets cast a warm golden light on landscapes and are a great time to take photos as well.

Shoot with the Sun Behind You
Shooting during the Golden Hour may not always be feasible, especially since you’re probably out exploring in between. Another trick you can do for better vacation photographs is to shoot with the sun behind you—not above or in front of you—during the day. Shooting towards the sun will result in unflattering shots; while shooting with it behind you makes for well-lit scenes and more vibrant colors. This also means that midday photos, when the sun is high above you, may not be the best idea as it will result in overblown highlights and very dark shadows.

Look for Colors

Taking photos of colors always help make your photos more appealing. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Taking photos of colors always help make your photos more appealing. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

During your vacation, find beautiful scenes that are simply bursting with colors. Vibrant colors are attractive and make your photos look more fun and engaging. Keep an eye out for an orange wall decorated with pink bougainvilleas or a blue house with yellow trimmings or even a landscape scene painted with the hues of fall with an emerald green river running across it. Vibrant colors against negative space also make for more interesting photographs.

Note Your Framing

When taking photos of landscapes and seascape, avoid having the horizon line overly tilted to one side. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

When taking photos of landscapes and seascape, avoid having the horizon line overly tilted to one side. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Many people’s problem when taking photos is they don’t pay attention to the framing, which can lead to a number of things that can ruin what could have been a great photo—a passerby’s arm on the edge, a tilted seascape, an unflattering sign… When framing your photo, make sure to consider everything within your viewfinder. Keep an eye out for unnecessary things, and adjust your framing or zoom in a little. Also, when taking photographs of landscapes and seascapes and landscapes, make sure that the horizon is not overly tilted to one side, ruining the shot. And do remember the rule of thirds.

Experiment with Angles & Vantage Points

Experiment with different angles when taking photos. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

Experiment with different angles when taking photos. (Photo: Michelle Rae Uy)

 

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