* Vienna, Austria

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Austrian National Library

We have taken our little family on a lot of European Adventures. Every place we’ve visited has only been enhanced because we had our children along for the ride. That was until we got to Vienna. Don’t get me wrong, Vienna is a beautiful city and certainly worth visiting. To be fair, I think  that our rocky experience may have been because of lack of planning but Vienna was by far the least family friendly place we have been to in Europe. Thanks to some great friends, we had a good list of things to see in the city. We just forgot ask all the “kid questions”. If we had to do it again, there are so many things I wish I would have known about bringing children to this amazing city. In short, go to Vienna! Take your kids! But do your research before you get there.

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Vienna Town Square

Vienna is a performance city. From the Opera and the Symphony to the violinists on the street corners, people want to entertain you. It’s one of the reasons that you go. January and February are considered “ball season” and you can attend dance lessons and dinner events in grande 15th Century style ball rooms. Obviously, children are not allowed at these parties and performances. So, this city would be a good place to bring along friends, family, or a nanny to watch the kids.

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Crown Jewels of Austria

Not only are the events closed to children but even the tour of the buildings themselves can have limited age access. The Opera House, for example, does not allow children under the age of 6 on the tour. You will want to check the age limits for all the places you plan to visit. Vienna isn’t afraid to turn you away if you have little children. We were denied admittance to churches and other places because our kids were too young. The Spanish Ridding School for example, has an age limit of 4 and up. We had told our 2-year-old all day that we were going to see the horses dance. There was some heart-break when we found out that she couldn’t go inside.

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Schönbrunn Palace

There are some family events in Vienna but you have to look  a little harder for them. We would highly recommend a visit to the Schönbrunn Palace as it has a lot of activities specifically for kids. There is a Children’s Museum as well as the Imperial Zoo (this is the most amazing Zoo I’ve ever been to… as well as the oldest in all of Europe). Kids are also allowed on the tour of the palace (about 45 min.). And it was quite nice just to let them run around and explore the extensive gardens after the tour.

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Imperial Zoo

Also, on the grounds is a puppet show theater but don’t assume that just because it sounds like it’s something for kids that you can take them. We made that mistake. Our last night in Vienna, we planned to see a performance at this quaint little theater but when we got there they turned us away because we had kids. My apologies, I didn’t realize that a puppet show was “no place for children”. Here’s the good news: they do special matinée performance for the wee ones. So, just get tickets in advance and make sure it’s a kid friendly performance.

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Stephen’s Dom

St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the very center of the city is quite beautiful and free to enter. For a fee you can see the bell towers as well as the crypt. We wondered if the crypt would be too scary for our young kids but decided to risk it… and I’m glad we did. It’s not as spooky as it sounds and it was pretty awesome. The Royal Hapsburg Family’s bones are buried here and their innards are displayed in opaque jars where they have been preserved with alcohol. Creepy! Your 9-year-old boys will love it. If you have a chance, we recommend getting high enough to see the roof of the Cathedral. It’s really impressive.

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Grave site of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Make sure to find yourselves some Schnitzel and Apple Strudel. The Austrians also know how to rock a bowl of ice cream. So, you won’t want to go home without tasting some gelato. When it come to food, just be aware that Viennese will nickel and dime you so be careful how you order. Some other family friendly activities might include: The Royal Treasury, The Naschmarkt, The Hoffburg Palace, and the Zentralfriefhof Cemetery (where Beethoven and Mozart are both buried).  All in all, Vienna was an awesome city: one I think we’ll try again in 20 years.

* Sleeper Trains

So, we might be a little crazy but we are always up for a good adventure. We recently took our kids on a sleeper train from Warsaw to Vienna. It went surprisingly well. In fact, I would do it again… maybe with a few tweaks. If you are considering a sleeper train with kids, here are some things that we learned from the experience.

Options

Germany-couchette-6There are different kinds of bunks in an assortment of price ranges. Lines are going to vary from country to country but most of the time you can purchase a private cabin (which will cost a bit extra) or you can choose to share your bunking experience with strangers.  It’s not as creepy as it sounds. It’s really a first class vs. economy type choice. The “sleeper” cars have real bunk beds and a little sink with some towels, etc. It’s more like a tiny hotel room. The other option is the “couchettes” which is what we had. There are 6 bunks: 3 on each side and you are just paying for a bed. There is also a communal bathroom on each car as well as a washing station that has a sink and available drinking water.

What to Expect

Kids usually ride for free until at least 5 or 6 but if you want them to have their own bed, you will have to buy them their own ticket. When we purchased our tickets we were able to request the bottom bunks, which was helpful with children. A sheet, pillow, and blanket are all provided for each bed but we also brought a couple of extra blankets as we had some extra bodies. There isn’t a ton of space, though, so it’s a good idea to try to pack light.

IMG_2231It’s way easier to take a night train than a red-eye flight. Even though it’s small, your kids (and you) have an actually bed to lie down in. Still, it’s not home so we brought things like movies (on our iPad) and little snacks to make the trip go smoother. For our littlest one, I had a bottle all ready with formula so all I had to do was add some water from a water bottle in the middle of the night if he needed it. There’s a small pouch where you can keep a few small items. It’s a good idea to put anything you might need during the night in there before you go to sleep. Once the lights go off, it’s hard to find anything or even get to anything in that little space.

If you do need to get out and stretch your legs or walk around there is a long skinny hallway on every car that connects the rooms. It’s a good place to look out the window  for a change of scenery. Some trains even have dinner cars but check before you board so you know if you need to bring your own snacks.

Safety

imagesMake sure that you are smart about being safe on your trip. Keep any valuables close to you; within immediate reach on your person. Also, talk to the conductor before you go so you know what to expect. For example, if you can expect any interruptions during the night. People have been known to come by in the middle of the night pretending to be “passport control” etc. So, unless instructed otherwise, lock your bunk once you’re in and don’t open it for anyone until the morning.

Things to Consider

The train itself was just fine. Our kids slept well with no major issues. The problems that we didn’t expect came from our arrival and departure times. We rolled into Vienna at 6:00 in the morning, we couldn’t check into our hotel and nothing was open yet. So, we wandered the empty streets with a couple of grumpy kids for a couple of grumpy hours. We were SO not prepared for that. Also, on the day we left we had to check out of our hotel at noon. They held our luggage for us but our train didn’t leave until 10:30 that night. So, at the end of the day we ran into a similar situation: seeking refuge at a Starbucks. Just something to think about. If you have a choice on timing, think about it carefully. If you don’t, just make sure you plan better than we did. All in all, though, it was a good experience.

More Info

I have yet to find a good website on eastern european train travel. But the RailEurope site does a pretty good job in Western Europe and the websites for Train Line and East Coast are both good options for train travel in the United Kingdom. This website also has some pretty useful information on night trains in the U.K. And don’t forget that AMTRAK does sleeper trains in the United States.

Here is just a short list, from The Lonely Planet, of the top 8 European Night Trains:

  • Moscow to St. Petersburg
  • London to Fort William
  • Paris to Venice
  • Trondheim to Bodo
  • Amsterdam to Copenhagen
  • Budapest to Split
  • Prague to Kraków
  • Sofia to Istanbul

And we would add Warsaw to Vienna to that list. Happy Travels.

* The art of taking kids to museums

If I’m honest, museums with our kids can go 1 of 2 ways: 1) “What a fun and exiting trip to the museum!” OR 2) “What were we thinking bringing 2 babies in there?” Ok, they actually almost always do great on our museum escapades but we have learned a few things that help the endeavor go smoothly. So, I thought I would share my “keep the kids quiet and happy” museum tips with you.

mus5For really large museums like The Louvre, or The Rijksmuseum, etc. there is just no way to see the whole thing when you are counting on the attention span of a 2-year-old. Thus, we have discovered the magic of having a Top 10 List of the things you want to see inside. Take some time and look up what’s there before you go. When you arrive, ask information to show you where all of your “must see” items are located on a museum map and make a game plan to see them. IMG_2056You’ll see plenty of other things as you wander from one destination to the next but you won’t waste precious, well-behaved kid, time in the process. We’ve made the mistake before of thinking that we could meander through a huge museum with little kids. What ends up happening is we get to hour 4, our kids start to shut down, and we have to miss out on some the pieces we wanted to see most. It’s all about priority.

There is usually a pretty strict “no food” policy in museums so I would highly recommend that you eat before you go. My kids are always better behaved when they are not hungry. I know it seems like a little thing but it makes a big difference. You also might want to pack a snack and find the café half way through for a  break. Most places allow re-admittance as well, so you can leave entirely and come back later. We have also found an employee once or twice and asked really nicely “would it be ok if our kids ate these fruit snacks in here?” and they are usually really good about it.

mus7I am unashamed to tell you that I often bribe my kids for good behavior. During the last hour of a museum trip, I probably say “If you’re good, we’ll go get a treat after this” at least 10 times. If they can look forward to a little reward, even if it’s just a piece of candy, it helps them hold just a little longer.

Depending on how your kids take naps, it can be  good or bad idea to go at nap time. For us, our kids will sleep just about anywhere so we actually prefer to go when they are tired. It’s SO nice when they sleep for 2 hours as we stroller them through spatters of paint or dead men’s houses. But that’s just us. If your kids don’t roll like that, I imagine that nap time might be a rough experience at a museum. In general, places are less crowded in the early morning and as it nears closing time. So, knowing your kids will help you pick the right time of day to go. 

IMG_7554Another thing that can make a big difference is to see what the museum offers for children. Talk to the front desk when you get there. A lot of places will have an activity book or an “I spy” type game or something fun to give them. Also, we’ve seen that many museums rent out strollers for free. If you know us at all, then you know that we carry our babies around on our backs pretty much everywhere. So, the stroller is a welcomed break. Even if your kids are a little too old for a stroller on a regular basis (you know, like 30), it still might be fun to take them for a spin and let their legs rest for a bit.

mus1We also try to help the kids experience the museum right along with us. I ask my 2-year-old what colors she can see in the paintings or what shapes she can find. We say things like “can you find the horse in this picture”, etc. Even if they can’t appreciate the brush stokes they will find plenty of things that they can understand and enjoy. For older kids you could let them bring a sketch pad so they can recreate some of the art they see. Maybe have them research a specific piece before you go and have them tell you about it when you find it. There are all sorts or creative ways to help them explore. Feel free to share with us if you have other ideas and suggestions.

There are often some pretty amazing benefits to taking your kids with you. For example, if you look in the background of this last picture you can see the 4 hour line that we got to skip at the entrance of The Louvre just because we had kids. May you find as many perks as we do when we travel with our children!     mus2

* Athens, Greece

IMG_7645At the risk of sounding extremely over-privileged,  I am going to tell you that after a while Europe starts to blend together. The old town squares and the cobblestone streets all begin to look the same. Amazing, but the same. That’s why Athens was such a refreshing vacation. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been before. The Mediterranean has a vibe and a feeling all its own but add more than 2,000 years of history to that and you are left with an odd mix of culture. One that puts you somewhere between the awe of the ancient world and the relaxation of the ocean.  It’s kind of incredible.

IMG_1479We saw a lot in the 5 days we spent in Athens, so here goes. Getting up to the Acropolis is a bit of a hike and you won’t be able to take a stroller. So, if your kids are small enough you will definitely want to carry them. It’s a good idea to make this one of your first days in Athens so that everyone’s legs, big or small, are fresh and ready for a good climb. You’ll have to make (at least) a 15 min ascent from anywhere in the city just to get to the gate (which is also where you will buy tickets). Then, the hike continues as you make your way up to the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, and Nike’s Temple. IMG_7364It is up pretty high but it’s well protected and I never worried that my kids were going to fall off the edge. However, it’s not exactly a place that the little ones can run wild, so you will want to go when they are feeling… respectful. I would plan at least half a day to see it. There is a bathroom at the entrance and one just next to the Parthenon but you won’t find anywhere to buy food or drinks (not even water) so be sure to pack something with you.

IMG_1572Your tickets for the Acropolis are good for 4 days and will also get you into The Temple of Zeus,  The Roman Agora, and The Temple of Hephaestus. A word of warning: these ancient sites close remarkably early (when we were there in November everything closed at 3:00pm). So you will want to plan to go in the morning or early afternoon.IMG_7426

The entrance to the Acropolis is just a stones throw from Mars Hill (or the Areopagus) so make sure not to miss it. There is no admission fee and the view is spectacular. There are two sets of stairs to get up on top. One is an old staircase carved into the hillside. And while it looks a lot cooler, it’s carved out of marble that has become quite slick over the last thousand years. So just be sure to hold hands and be cautious going up with the kiddies. The other stairs (just to the right) are newer and a bit more stable.

IMG_2056Directly south of the Acropolis, you will find the new Acropolis Museum which opened in 2009. So great! The museum houses the original Caryatids from the Erechtheion along with all sorts of other impressive excavations and findings from the Acropolis. We were pleased by the family friendliness of this museum. You can borrow a Family Backpack full of fun activities for the kids as well as free-to-rent strollers. The other big museum, the National Museum is across town and while it was probably more impressive, it was definitely less child-proof than the Acropolis Museum. I was a bit worried the whole time that my almost 3-year-old was going to topple over an almost 3,000-year-old statue. IMG_7587That being said, it was SO amazing that I would totally risk it again. But next time, I might put my kids on a leash (don’t judge because I’m only kind-of kidding). Also be sure to visit the Parliament building for the changing of the guard and the University Library just down the street from that. Both are worth seeing.

Aside from the BIG tourist attractions listed above we would also recommend a few off-the-beaten-path places.

IMG_77011. The Temple of Poseidon: You can take a tour for around 50 Euro or just catch a bus for about 5 Euro. Everyone says to go at Sunset but make sure to check bus times so that you don’t miss the last one back to Athens. We caught the 2:30pm bus down to Sounion and the 6:00pm bus back and had ample time to see it. The bus stop is a little hard to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for so be sure to ask someone at the travel office or at your hotel for directions. It’s about 3 hours travel time, round trip. The drive skirts the Ocean the entire way and makes for some pretty incredible views.

IMG_06232. The Central Market: Not to be confused with the Roman Agora. We don’t want to spoil the fun by telling you all about it but just trust us on this one… you don’t want to miss it!

3. A Ferry Ride to a neighboring island: We took the metro down to the Piraeus Port. It’s the last stop on Metro 1 line (or the green line).  From there we boarded a little ferry (you can buy tickets right at the pier) and took a day trip out to the island of Aegina. We stripped our kids down to their diapers and let them play in the ocean water. It was fantastic. We had fried octopus for dinner. It was not so fantastic. The harbor is beautiful and it was fun to explore the little island.

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We used Athens as our home-base and took some day trips to other places close by. Our hotel was in a part of the city known as Plaka. I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. It was the perfect place to stay; close to everything and such a fun atmosphere. There are lots of little shops and fun places to eat. Our hotel was called the Magna Grecia, located right across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. We booked through Orbitz and got a pretty good deal. We had an amazing view of the Acropolis. Once you added 2 baby beds for our kids, the room was pretty tight but worth it for the location and the price. I would recommend it to anyone.

*Cathedral Etiquette

You will not take a European vacation without entering a church. I doubt it is even possible. So, here are a few guidelines to follow when entering places of worship.

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St. Nicolas’s Church, Ghent, Belgium

Dress: Usually in Catholic churches, no one is going to kick you out if you are not dressed properly. That doesn’t mean it’s not offensive when you don’t dress the part. Orthodox Temples are more likely to deny admittance for improper dress. Either way, it’s best to be respectful. When you enter make sure to remove your hat. In Orthodox buildings women are required to cover their heads with a scarf so it’s a good idea to pack a shawl or a light weight piece of fabric in your bag. Synagogues require that men and boys wear a Kippah but if it is required of visitors they are usually provided. It is considered rude to expose your shoulders so avoid tank tops or bring a cover. You should also wear pants that at least cover your knees. Try to wear soft soled shoes. The acoustics in these buildings are incredible and the wrong shoes can serve as loud and unwelcome distraction.

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St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium

Taking Photos: Most of the time it’s ok to take pictures but make sure to check for posted signs just in case. Even though it is usually alright to take pictures there are a few rules to follow. The majority of places I’ve been ask you to turn off the flash.  Also, never take pictures during Mass or during any service. Don’t gather a large group of people in front of the altar or next to a Saint and say “cheese”. Try to stay out-of-the-way and be respectful. Just remember that it was place of worship before it is was tourist destination.

Food: Spit out your chewing gum and finish your snacks before you enter.

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St. Michael’s Cathedral, Brussels, Belgium

Whisper: Use reverent and hushed tones. Do your best to keep your kids quiet (I know it’s not always possible). If the little ones are really riled up it’s a good idea to come back when they are feeling a little calmer. Maybe take a lap around and see the outside first. It’s also good to remember that Jesus Christ said “suffer the little children… to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14) So, don’t worry too much if they aren’t perfect angels.

A couple more things: 1) It is considered rude to enter the altar area or cross directly in front of it.  2) If you do not belong to the religion, you don’t have to cross yourself, light a candle or participate (though you are usually welcome to do so). It is just fine to pass through as a spectator.

*Ghent, Belgium

Just a 30 min train ride from Brussels, Ghent is one of our favorite cities in Europe. The old architecture and medieval feeling of the city make you feel as though you have been transported in time. This little canal city is just close enough to find without trouble but  far enough off the beaten path that it doesn’t get too many tourists. For this reason it has retained much of its middle age charm. It’s not a large city so you can see just about everything in 2 or 3 days, making it perfect for a short weekend trip.IMG_2129

The train station is a quite a way from the city center so you’ll want to take the bus or a taxi into downtown. Once you are there, however, you shouldn’t need any other transportation as everything will be within walking distance. We stayed at the Ghent Marriott, which was very reasonably priced (this may have been due to the fact that we were there in the off-season. We visited at the end of April). We found that the location of the hotel was absolutely perfect and the service and accommodations were great as well. They had 2 clean and assembled baby beds waiting for us by the time we checked in and got upstairs.

IMG_2893The best way to see Ghent is just to walk around the city. In 2 days of wandering we felt like we stumbled in to all the right places. In our meanderings we found good places to eat, lots of fun buildings and even a couple of little parks where our kids got to take breaks and play. There are a few things below, however, that you’ll want to plan to see.

The Cathedrals: there are two as well as a bell tower (which we walked past but didn’t enter). The first Cathedral is St. Nicholas’s Church. It is stunning. The walls seem to climb for miles before the finally meet the ceiling. St. Nicholas’s is free to enter and welcomes visitors from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tues. – Sun. The church is closed for Monday morning mass but opens briefly afterward from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. IMG_3078The second is the St. Bavo Cathedral which houses the famous Ghent Altarpiece. The Cathedral itself is free to enter but there is a fee to view the altarpiece which is set up in a separate guarded room in the corner of the cathedral. St. Bavo’s was consecrated in 942 A.D. but has undergone many renovations since that time. It is an intricate and spectacular building. As you wander the halls you will find many sculptures and paintings including Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent  by Peter Paul Rubens. The church is open to the public everyday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. While you can certainly light a candle and offer a prayer, both Cathedrals are meant more for viewing than for worship. This made us feel more comfortable bringing in our, sometimes not-so-quiet, children.

IMG_2997Gravensteen Castle. The fortress towers down over the river just north of the center of town. You can’t miss it. It is free to everyone under the age of 19. Tickets for adults run between 4 and 8 euro depending on your age. While the castle itself doesn’t close until 6pm, last admission is at 5pm. Once inside you will find a self guided tour of the structure. Plan on lot of stairs and tight spaces. Thus, no strollers are allowed (or even possible) so bring the child carriers.

IMG_3069Saturdays there are little markets set up in the square where vendors sell everything from live chickens to antique jewelry. This part was particularly fun for the kids. The little ones will particularly enjoy the animals. You might consider giving each child a couple of Euro at places like these and let them pick out their own souvenir (provided they don’t choose a chicken, of course).IMG_2936 Other than that just make sure not to miss out on the Belgian Chocolate! There is a chocolate shop between the bell tower and St. Bavo’s called Van Hoorebeke’s Chocolate Shop. Here you can look down through the glass floor and watch as the chocolatiers work their magic. The staff is also known to have a soft spot for children and will often treat them to a free chocolate in exchange for a smile. Overall we found Ghent to be a charming and friendly city. Defiantly worth a visit.

*Aulani Disney Resort and Spa: Kapolei, Hawaii

They say that Disney World is the happiest place on earth. I beg to differ.  Just imagine all the magic of the planet’s most popular theme park, strip away the crowded lines, and replace the rides with a tropical paradise. This is what you can expect to find at the Aulani Disney Resort in Kapolei, Hawaii. Disney, you’ve really outdone yourself on this one! If you are searching for the perfect family island get away, look no more – this is it.

Our family visited Aulani last May as part of a company gathering. The resort is located on the island of O’ahu (about a half an hour drive from the Honolulu airport). Within and hour of the resort you can be to the North Shore, the Dole Pineapple Factory, Waikiki beach, Pearl Harbor, and a whole bucket list full of awesome family activities. The Disney staff can help set you up with organized excursions or you can rent a car right on site and go it alone. But quite honestly, you could spend a whole week just hanging out at the resort and love every second. Here is a list of things to do without even leaving the Aulani grounds:

  • h3Play on the beach
  • Kayak and canoe rentals
  • Snorkeling
  • Outdoor Disney movie nights
  • Luau’s and entertainment
  • Spend time at the Spa
  • Hang out with Disney characters
  • Adventure trails and nature walks
  • Golf
  • Shopping
  • Manta Ray experience
  • Swimming pools (complete with water-slides and a lazy river)
  • Restaurants

And if the parents want a little alone time,  Aunty’s Beach House  is a spot (free of charge) where kids ages 3-12 can have some supervised time to learn about Polynesian culture, sing songs, and play games. This place really has it all. We went on the company’s dime but take into consideration that it does cost a pretty penny so you’ll want to start saving. We loved every second of our vacation spent at this little heaven on earth and recommend it to anyone who likes a little pixie dust with their sand.

*Family Reunion Cabins

cabin I’m not really sure when it happened but sometime in the last 5 years when people have asked me about my family, I’ve stopped telling about my siblings and started telling about my kids. Family reunions of the past were tales of aunts and cousins but somehow, all of the sudden, I’m the aunt and my kids are the cousins. Now I’m not sure what your family is like but mine has recently grown into something quite large. So, trying to fit us all under Mom and Dad’s roof is a lot harder than it used to be.  Because of the cramped quarters we’ve had to up size a little bit when family reunion time comes a calling. We’ve taken our show on the road twice now for these family get togethers with the help of Family Reunion Cabins. Now, that’s not their official name or anything; it’s just what I call them.

There are a few dozen home rental websites out there where people are looking to rent you their abnormally large barracks. Vrbo.com and airbnb are probably the best ones that we’ve found (at least for The United Stated and Europe) but with a little research you can find plenty of other options as well. Even if you don’t need a large reunion space these sites are a great way to find a non-hotel option for any travel. We have saved a lot of money by booking someone else’s home instead of renting a hotel. As far as reunions go, we have learned is that it really doesn’t matter where you are as long as you are all together. Disneyland as a family would be great but you’ll get time together for a lot less money in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

lawfamReunions come with a lot of planning but there are a few things that can make it a lot simpler. Once you have the accommodations all squared away there are plenty of other things to tackle. I.E. food, games, entertainment, etc. The best way to approach the workload is to divide and conquer. Last year we got together in Arkansas with my in-laws. Mom-in-law started a Google Doc to help organize the weeks activities. Then she had us all sign up for times to participate. Every family was in charge of providing meals: a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner (sometimes more than once). This meant providing all the ingredients for the meal, cooking the meal and being responsible for the clean up. By chopping it up this way, the cost is split as well as the effort. You’ll want to print out a calendar and put it up in the kitchen so that people can remember what meals they are responsible for.

familyAlso, every family was in charge of a day time or evening activity. In our family reunions in the past these activities ranged from jet ski’s on the lake to $10 minute to win it games in the basement. We took a trip to the fish hatchery, had a talent show, organized a murder mystery dinner, did arts and crafts with the kids, took family pictures, and went for a hike through the forest. It’s good for the kids to have some organized activities to keep them entertained. It’s also fun just to have some down time where they can play and build friendships with each other.

It’s good to be together and it’s nice not to have to plan the whole thing by yourself. Depending on your desired vacation spot, rental properties can fill up fast so call up your family and start  planning for next summer’s gathering.

*All things Airplane

Our best advice for airplane travel is to Simplify. You probably won’t have time to read a book or peruse a magazine. You probably won’t even have time to take a nap. So, simplify your carry-on as much as possible. When you signed up for parenthood, your bucket bag and your briefcase got traded in for a diaper bag.  Trust us – you want to leave everything possible in your checked luggage: your kids will be enough to juggle. These are the things that I put in my carry-on:

  • Diapers, wipes (in a travel size case), and disposable changing pads. (When we get on the plane, the in-flight IMG_1535magazine comes out of the seat-back pocket and this list of diaper changing supplies goes in. It’s nice to have these things in a convenient, dig-proof place on the plane).
  • Baby food and formula (and extra baby food and formula)
  • Snacks (things that can be given one at a time double as a food and an activity)
  • Dum-Dum Suckers (for take off)
  • Pacifiers (work like dum-dums for the ever so tiny traveler).
  • Footed pajamas – One piece of clothing as opposed to three or four. Pack and spare pair just in case.
  • -A couple of small toys or games. We also download a movie or two on our ipad.
  • Wallet, Passports, Cash, Phone, etc.
  • -A hard copy of travel itinerary and flight confirmations.

IMG_3794 If your kids can carry a backpack let them take it. Our 2-year-old takes her own carry on. She has a little Dora the Explorer backpack that she loves. Inside there is a coloring book, crayons, a very small story book, and a couple of snacks. The less you have to carry yourself the better. But  at a small age, make sure to pack the bag for them. They are not going to know how much is too much to carry. If the bag is too heavy for them you’ll end up with it. Aside from the sheer practicality of having them carry their own things, this also gives them both a responsibility and a “security blanket” of sorts. It will be an object that young kids can identify with as something from home while traveling to a new place.

For International Flights, here are a few extra things you will want to consider.

Call ahead! Unlike domestic flights, you have to pay the taxes on a lap child’s flight. Because of this, there is a bit more fuss involved when bringing the “under 2” crowd along for the ride. Check and double-check that your infant has been added to your ticket. I’ve had a problem with this on EVERY international flight I have been on. Make sure to print out a confirmation of your tickets before you go to the airport. Get there early and make sure you have PRINTED boarding passes for each person (baby gets his own) for every stop on the trip. Keep these with your passports in a safe place. Without them, you will probably miss a tight connection.

IMG_1296Request the front row of your section.  Many airlines have baby bassinets for the really small ones (call ahead to arrange for this). They clip into the wall on the front row of any section. For me, this is a game changer. It means not having to hold that baby for 10 hours. It means you are not their bed. You might even have a chance to sleep. Also, being on the front row means extra space. When the seat belt sign goes off, we put a blanket down with some toys and sit the baby down for some play time. Being on the front row also means that the flight attendant is keenly more aware of you and usually willing to help out.

Strollers: Some international policies say that your stroller will be checked all the way to your FINAL destination – even if you check it plane side right before boarding. When you check your bags, make sure they put a white final destination sticker on your stroller or there is a good chance it will get lost. This also means that you may not have it for your layover. I know, I know… ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

stroller_0We are not kidding you. The laws have to do with customs and there is really no way around it in some countries (Germany and France for example). So plan for it.  You can ask the front desk to call ahead to the other airport and have someone meet you with an airport issue stroller. These, however, do NOT come in double form so if you have 2 little ones you will need to request 2. You can also bring a baby carrier (something like a Moby wrap or ErgoBaby) for the infants. Just make sure it fits in your carry-on bag.

Pack an Overnight Bag. On an international flight you’ll want more than your diaper bag. This overnight bag will have everything you would need to be on vacation for 24 hours. Think of it as an emergency preparedness kit. First of all, it is going to be a long flight so you will want whatever things you may need to have on the plane. But more than that, this bag is a safety net in case you miss a connection and get stranded in Timbuktu. You’ll also need it if your bags don’t make the same flights that you do.

Go in knowing that if it can go wrong, it probably will. Your bags will get lostIMG_0787 (especially if you are flying through Paris) and your kids will cry. You’ll miss a connection or get put on standby. But you will make it: so, keep the faith! Remember that 30,000 ft. is not the place to teach your kids life long lessons or to shape them into the wonderful people they will one day become. If they are screaming, just give them the candy already. You are a better parent for it right now and the people sitting around you will thank you. Treat flying like the special experience that it is. You can reinstate all of your rules, time outs, and bed times when you are back on solid ground but from airport gate to airport gate, just try to get though it with as much as your mind as possible.

Worried about jet lag? Click here to check out our post on Jet Lag for ways to help the little ones cope with big time changes.

*Kraków, Poland

Dear European Traveler,

Gather round and hear a little secret…we know who you are. You’ve visited the Colosseum and soaked in the Tuscan sun. You’ve tasted chocolate in Belgium. You’ve viewed the Eifel tower, the Mona Lisa, and Notre Dame. When you made it to Croatia you though “Now I’ve been somewhere exotic”… and you had been. You went north to see Van Gogh,  skipped over to have tea with the Queen, journeyed down to run with the bulls, packed it in and called it good. This was your picture perfect, couldn’t have asked for more, complete tour of  WESTERN Europe. But stop there and you are honestly missing so much more than you realize.

To ease you into the half of the continent that you somehow totally forgot about, here is a guide to one of the greatest cities in the world: Kraków, Poland (also known as Cracow). It’s just about the only city in Poland that wasn’t ransacked or destroyed in WWII. Hitler took a shine to it and, for some unknown reason, spared it from total ruin. Kraków is an amazing city and should be a high priority on your next European adventure.

What to See

IMG_41971. The Old Town Square: It’s the largest old town square in all of Europe as well as one of the oldest. It has a festival feeling all the time and there always seems to be something going on. You’ll find street performers in abundance as well as lots of places to eat. Don’t miss the cloth market that runs directly down the center of the square; It’s full of fun little shops and vendors.

2.The Wieliczka Salt Mine: wieliczka
located a 40 min bus ride from downtown. The mine has been around for nearly 1,000 years! Inside you will see sculptures and  entire rooms carved out of salt. There is an extremely impressive salt carved Cathedral near the end of the tour. You are required to enter the mine with a guide but they have regular English tours that leave every 30 min. (Tours are also given in French, German, Polish, Spanish and Russian).  Because there are several hundred stairs descending into the mine you’ll want to pack the babies on your back if possible. Also, it gets chilly down there so even on a hot day you’ll want jackets. It’s about a 3 hour tour so bring some snacks for the kids. After the tour you will find gift shops, restrooms, a restaurant  and a child’s play place area. This is an amazing experience not to be missed.

IMG_42413. Wawel Castle (pronounced Vavel): Full of old legends of Kings, Knights, and even Dragon’s, the Wawel castle has a magical feeling. It’s about a 20 min. walk from the square and is free to tour the grounds.  
IMG_4234
There are lots of museums and exhibits priced (very reasonably) al a cart style, including: The Stateroom, The Treasury  and The Tower. There is even a Dragon’s Lair that is sure to delight and spook the kiddies (but be warned of lots of tight downward stairs as you descend into Smok’s dark and dripping cavern). The Cathedral is an additional cost but is free on Sunday’s after mass (12:30pm). All of the castle’s attractions are closed on Mondays so be sure to plan ahead.

IMG_4306_24. St. Mary’s Cathedral: A beautiful and stunning Cathedral located right in the Old Town Square.  Rebuilt in the 14th Century, St. Mary’s is one of the oldest buildings in Poland and has a beautiful and unique exterior. The inside is famous for the Altarpiece of Viet Stoss which is the largest Gothic Altarpiece in the world. There is a small fee to enter the Cathedral unless of course you sneak in for Sunday Mass.IMG_4218

5. The Underground City: Worth a visit, especially if you like archeology. This site is located directly underneath the Old Town Square and was excavated in 2006. It’s a well-preserved view of ancient Kraków, complete with artifacts, old foundations and even vampier bones. Be sure to get tickets in advance because they tend to sell out. You can reserve tickets in person or on-line.  Backpacks are not allowed so you will have to check your child carriers at the front desk and carry the little ones through the exhibit. The whole thing takes about 45 min to an hour.

6. The Auschwitz Concentration camp is about an hour drive from the city. We decided that we weren’t quite ready to see it and wanted to wait until our next trip to Kraków. But if you are interested in going you can easily find tours that will take you from Kraków to Auschwitz. .

Accommodations and Travel

We stayed at the RedBrick hotel and would highly recommend it. It’s a lot of bang for your buck. Nice accommodations and a friendly English speaking staff. But most importantly it has an ideal location. It’s a 2 min walk from the train station and a 5 min walk into the old town square. Also, bus 304 picks you up outside the front door and will take you right to the Salt Mine. We passed on the over priced breakfast and found some quaint bakeries inside or close to old town instead. We also saved 30% by calling instead of booking online.

As far as travel goes, you can fly right into the Kraków airport or come in by train from Warsaw (about 3 hours). It’s also just a 5 hour train ride from Kraków to Vienna, Austria. Polish trains in the North can be a bit slow but in the southern part of the country there are express options and even sleeper trains available. The Polish country side is beautiful and worth seeing. Traveling by train is comfortable and enjoyable. Children under 6 travel free and still get their own seat. Be sure to ask for tickets for a compartment car (think Harry Potter style instead of airplane rows). This makes for a more enjoyable experience, especially with your tiny travelers.

If you’ve been to Kraków, please feel free to leave additional comments and advice below.