NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Our first book published!

Not every journey is intentional, or physical.  When we embark on the great adventure of having children, we hurdle along a road at differing speeds with unpredictable twists and a confused itinerary filled with laughter, rainstorms, drama, challenges, thrills and unique experiences.  It’s not too different from a very long road trip.  This past year, we discovered writing and blogging fit into this frame as well.

Today, we proudly announce that our book (Explore The World With Your Kids!) offering parents travel advice is available on the iBooks platform!







The book provides to readers everything we know and have learned so far about traveling with kids, with specific ideas, strategies, and recommendations for discreet age ranges.  It also provides advice on how to approach resort travel, packing (including the dreaded stuffed animal dilemma), road trips, gluten-free dining, dining budgets (where strategy is essential when traveling with teen boys!), airplane travel, souvenir strategies, and security (both physical and internet/privacy issues).  It’s not merely about gear and babies.  It also covers ways to make travel fun and interesting for your elementary school kids, tweens, and teens.

Download it today and help us launch this daring adventure with a strong sales start!  Proceeds from the book will help cover the costs of the website.  If we manage to make a profit after a year, we have designated the Make-A-Wish Foundation as our preferred charity….so help us reach our goal of helping out that great charity as well!

If you had told us 18 months ago that we would become self-punished indie authors in the family travel sector, we would have laughed.  We are accidental tourists here.  It sort of feels like the morning after a long drive on a long road trip that involved an unanticipated late-night stop at a roadside hotel.  You wake up and the first practical questions that come to mind are: where are we and how did we get here?

Unlike the passing-through road-trippers, however, we are here to stay.  We know how we got here.

Last spring, we were discussing with friends family travel to the world’s great places with small kids.  We were in particular convincing one friend that it is never too early or too difficult to take small kids to major metropolitan centers like Paris, NYC, London, DC, etc. The friend then said:  you should create a website and share what you know!  Kate found the thought intriguing and looked into it on a whim.  It became quickly obvious that everything she wanted to say was too much for a website.  Work on the first draft of the site was abandoned.  This book was written by Kate, edited by Mike, and reviewed by Marguerite.  And then we went back to the website.  This website and this blog are, thus, a second edition.  They are designed to help others put into practice what the book recommends.  Even that was not enough, and so the Pinterest boards began to proliferate.  Then came the Twitter presence.  Then came the Facebook presence.  Then we added Tumblr to the party last week.

We hope the book and companion website/social media tools are helpful, particularly to young families and expats starting out on the great adventure known as traveling with kids.  We know from experience that a few simple steps and a focus on the bigger picture can help make travel with kids easier and fun whether your kids are pre-walking, pre-teen or pre-college.  We hope the book and tools we are assembling help you have more fun on the road and become smarter consumers of travel goods from gear and tech to great adventure packages and accommodations.

In the month that we have been online, we have already found a rich, welcoming, fun, and oh-so-interesting community of family travel Twitterati, bloggers, forum hosts, and people.  We look forward to getting to know everyone better.  We look foreword to contributing to the conversation about engaging family travel that inspires a thrill to explore the BIG WORLD among you and the LITTLE EYES in your family.  We have been loving the engagement so far and look forward to more of it as we continue along this unanticipated and thrilling journey!


NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Tips For Family Weekend Getaways

Yesterday, we were all about “Bring It Home!”  But today we want to be on the road again.

One consequence of starting this blog is that we read daily about wonderful places to visit from our newfound blogging friends around the world as well as the amazing travel publications that exist globally.  Our list of places to visit is expanding far faster than our available time for travel.  This has made us feel like expats again, excited about exploring the world at every available moment.  This is a good thing.

We have never done so much weekend travel as we did for the two years that we were expats.  Long vacations, day trips, weekend trips, holiday weekends…..we did not miss an opportunity to explore.  We used to hop into a car on a Saturday morning regularly for day trips or weekend trips. We knew we would only be abroad for two years so we wanted to make the most of our time on the ground.  And we did.

When both parents work, when kids are at school, when kids are active in sports and music after school, the inconvenient fact is that the amount of time available for family travel shrinks dramatically.  Inertia sets in.  Your travel consists of reading blog posts, Pinterest, and Google+.  Daydreaming is fun.  Staying home is easy.  We know.  We have fallen into this rut more than once after coming back home.

Feeling motivated to see more of your surroundings this autumn?  We respectfully suggest three key strategies based on what has worked for us so far.

1.  Target The Holiday Weekend:  Yes, we know lots of people will also be targeting a holiday weekend.  We don’t care.  You can go back to traveling during shoulder seasons and off seasons when the kids are in college.  Sports games and music practices never occur on long holiday weekends so make the most of the moment and plan ahead.  If you don’t fancy the idea of the holiday weekend, then grab the opportunities as they arise.  Is a weekend magically free of soccer practice and test prep?  Jump in the car quickly and get moving!

2.  The Three Hour Rule:  Limit yourself to places that can be reached in three hours.  The method of transportation is irrelevant, except of course to note that you can travel to many more places in three hours by plane than by car or train.  Take out a map (digital or physical) and draw a 3-hour radius from your home.  These are your options.  Get creative.

3.  Let Serendipity Have Its Say:  Whether you are going for the day or for the weekend, resist the temptation to schedule every minute with tours, restaurant reservations, etc.  Once you are on the ground in your destination, play everything by ear. Wander.  Explore.  Yes, the risk exists that you will be shut out of popular restaurants on holiday weekends.  We are not sure whether winging it completely at Disney or Universal on a holiday weekend of any weekend in New England or the Shendandoah Valley in autumn is a good idea, particularly if one of your travelers has a food allergy that requires advance preparation.  But for the most part, an unstructured afternoon exploring a new place in a leisurely way can be very relaxing as well as fun.

4.  Consult Our Website:  If your three hour rule includes any of the following locations, we hope you will consult our website as part of your travel planning process.  We have fixed pages on major locations in Europe (London, Paris, the Italian Lakes, Heidelberg, Salzburg, the Loire Valley, Bruges) and the United States (New York, Santa Fe, Washington DC, Old Town Alexandria, Cape Cod, New England road trip towns) and luxury resorts (Kiawah Island SC, Club Met Vittel, Ocean Edge in Cape Cod MA).  From our blog this summer we have additional suggestions in the Great Smokey Mountains from Gatlinburg TN and Asheville NC.  Let us know what you liked and what you would like to see more of as the year progresses!  We have more destinations on the drawing board!

These were our general guideposts when were expats.  We will do our best to revive the tradition at home this year.

Where will your autumn journeys take you?


BRING IT HOME! Three Steps for Making Fabulous Travel-Related Holiday Gifts

This weekend, we wandered through Old Town Alexandria’s annual art festival. King Street was full of booths in the street, small kids and dogs wandering happily, parents push strollers with toddlers happily entertained by the colorful displays of artwork. It looked like this yesterday.

Old-town_art-market-crowd-scene-1 Old-Town_oil-looks-like-tiles Old-town_Aladdin's-Lamp  Old-Town_steel-art Old-Town_art-market-crowd-scene-2 Old-Town_sculptures-1Old-town_balloon-men Old-Town_humptey-dumpties

The art was nice, but we were even more intrigued by the methods used by some artists.  One used oil paint to create a canvas that resembled a ceramic tile rather than a painting.  We saw photographs printed onto canvas or onto stainless steel and then covered in glass, photographs and paper covered in beeswax to create a haunting, translucent effect.  Today during lunch, Mike sent me an email sharing a Living Social deal offering to print out a picture onto stainless steel for less than $10!  This got us thinking about a hugely under-rated travel-related activity: the DIY gift.

Smartphones and digital cameras have turned us all into shutterbugs and social media has turned us all into darkroom artists. The booming market in customized items using individual photos also speaks volumes about our need for the tangible amid a digital world.

Small kids need this kind of tangible gift in unique ways.  They may not always remember an incredible trip or the languid smiles that seem to linger with the light of a burnished summer sunset.  But a small gift with the image will remind them for a long time of the emotion and love on that trip.  We wish the high quality options below had been available when Tween was younger.

When thinking about a photo gift, the temptation is to think about adults (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.).  We encourage you to think as well of young kids.  A small gesture now will keep the memory of the trip alive for years to come.

One chapter of our book (available on Kindle from Amazon here and available for iPad on iBooks via the iTunes Store here) discusses this process in detail.

Today, we want to focus on the nitty gritty of getting from good intentions to an actual physical gift without taking any detours or giving up.

Step 3.  Place Your Order by December 1

It can take up to two weeks (sometimes longer) for a manufacturer to reproduce your image onto the desired surface and send it to you.  So if you want your item by 15 December, you need to place your order no later than December 1….and hope the production process is not backlogged by hundreds of other people doing the same thing.

Placing the order is often easy but this is NOT a quick process.  It will still take time.

  • Remember when we purchased a “My Fly” bag from our affiliate partners at Luggage Pros?  We wrote about that experience here.  The ordering process was easy but it still took 30-60 minutes.  It need not have taken this long….if we had had our act together.  The fault was ours.  The original image we selected did not look so good when superimposed on the simulated suitcase so we had to  find alternative pictures.  We should have thought ahead about which pictures we might want to use on the suitcase.  Learn from our mistake!
  • Remember our Smilebox slideshow on our Bring It Home! page (here is a quick link to it)?  This took a week of off-and-on time identifying pictures, choosing the right format and music, choosing the sequence of images that we liked.

So if you want to place your order on December 1, you need to have a very clear idea by that date of two additional things: (i) what you want to order and (ii) which picture you want to use.  If you sit down on December 1 to do the initial product research AND also consider your visual options after that, the odds are pretty good nothing will be ordered on December 1.

This process takes time.  It SHOULD take time.  You are choosing to create a tangible memory of a fabulous trip that will hang around someone’s house (hopefully) for a very long time.  This is a gift of consideration and sentimentality.  You don’t want to spend time and money to rush through the ordering process.  Staying up late into the night or pushing “send” in frustration or because you are out of time is a recipe for disappointment, mistakes and wasted money.  There is a better way.

If you are interested in a DIY personalized trip memento for a holiday gift, you need to start thinking NOW about what kind of gift you want to give and which image you want to put on it.

Step 2.  Choose Your Picture

Hopefully, this is the easiest step.  Perhaps this summer you captured the best photo of your kids and/or family EVER.  Your big dilemma is whether you put the photo on the holiday card or on gifts for grandparents.  Perhaps this summer you took an epic trip to a stunning, photogenic location.  Your challenge will be to pick only one (or a small series) of pictures. We face this dilemma regarding last year’s Grand Canyon trip. We have four tips here.

  • Don’t limit yourself to only one single photo initially. Have two or three options available and ready for uploading.  Your manufacturer’s format may not fit well with your top choice either due to color or positioning or cropping or other configuration options.  You don’t want to spend time and emotional energy finding one perfect picture and then discover it won’t work in your preferred format.  You will have to start all over again.  Bad idea.  Have a series of pictures ready to go so you can choose the best fit for your item.
  • If you have not already done the digital darkroom work then set aside some time to fine-tune your selected pictures:  heighten contrast, reduce red-eye, etc.  Yes, you want to do this.  This is not SnapChat.  This is not a disposable picture. Take a few minutes to make it look good.  If this is a humor-related gift, take the time to add in the other elements that will make the picture fun and unique.  Do a few different versions so that you have options when you sit down to spend real money.
  • DON’T CHOOSE A SELFIE.  The point of giving a gift is to be thinking of another person and figuring out what might make them happy. OK, your mother will always love every picture of you (including the selfie).  But everyone else?  Choose a picture that shares great emotion, great beauty or one that includes a bunch of you all together.  The point is to share an emotion and a recollection, not emblazon your lovely face over every possible surface.
  • If you have many pictures (or if you are doing this project with a child), spend the month of November mulling over your options.  Don’t obsess over it every day.  Leave the project alone for days at a time. Acquire perspective. Set yourself an unofficial internal deadline of Thanksgiving weekend if it is proving hard to make a choice.

Step 1.  Choose Your Product

The options seem to be limitless today: pillows, holiday cards, calendars, key chains, coffee mugs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, baseball hats, towels, posters, framed prints, prints on aluminum, prints on canvas, mouse pads, tablet covers, smartphone covers, suitcases, stationery, coasters.  And then we have hand-made/customized notecards, shadowboxes, traditional physical scrapbooks, electronic scrapbooks, traditional photo books, photo books with customized narratives, electronic photobooks.  Where do you start?

We offer a few guidelines to help you navigate this research and thought process with a bit more efficiency.

  • Know Yourself:  Do you have the time and patience to pull together that digital scrapbook or calendar of photo book?  Do you have 12 good images to use for the calendar?
  • Know Your Recipient:  Grandparents will love a calendar because it increases the number of pictures they see….but not all grandparents will enjoy a calendar.  Some might be saddened that they were not on the trip with you.  Some might not like to be reminded of the passage of time.  One stunning picture for the wall or on a coffee mug might work best for these folks.  Think about their lifestyle first: what items do they use daily?  Take your cue from this and THEN fire up your web browsers to search for products and vendors.  A few ideas to help start your thinking:

Have a look at our Pinterest Board entitled “Bring It Home!”  We have been posting DIY ideas we love there all summer.  Let us know what you think (or if there are other great ideas).

–Do you have a tween or teen that shares the family’s wandering ways?  This might be the perfect year to give him or her a customized suitcase featuring a picture from a great family vacation.  We have been thrilled with our “MyFly” suitcase from Luggage Pros and recommend it without reservation. Check it out here:

MyFly Bag Personalized Carry-On This is what ours looks like:


We LOVE it!

–Are you giving your tween, teen or spouse a new tablet or smartphone for the holidays?  Then give them a customized case as well made from a treasured photo.

–Does your child love hot chocolate on winter mornings?  Give him or her their very own personalized mug with a great picture you know they will treasure.  If you took a great multi-generational trip to a spectacular location this year, give each member of the family the same mug but each person gets a different picture.

–Do you have a child approaching a major life event (graduation, marriage, birth of a child)?  SPOILER ALERT — THIS IDEA WILL BE TIME-INTENSIVE.  Head over to your parents or grandparents house.  Collect their old videos that are aging and un-watched.  Take them to our affiliate partner Yes Video!  The links below include a 20% discount.  They will digitize the old family movies.  Take the digital versions and create a shorter video then load it on a (customized!) flash drive or tablet.  This is the gift of history, which many will treasure.  If you have a family member that is the self-appointed family historian, they would be touched and thrilled by the Yes Video digital video options as well.  You know who these family members are by their membership and their frequent contributions over dinner with great stories from obscure parts of your family that you have never heard of.

120x60 YesVideo 20% Off Coupon Special

Is your elementary school child going through the keychain collecting phase?  Then this is your year to give them a customized keychain with a memory of a great family trip.

  • Choose High Quality Vendors:  Even if this means spending a bit more cash, remember that your photo will be reproduced in large AND PERMANENT format.  The point of going from digital to tangible is that the image is supposed to last.  Quality counts.
  • For Scrapbook Mavens:  You probably already know this, but choose high quality embellishments.  This is a hugely time-consuming process to find the right ones. Wwe have dome some of the research for you! If your trips recently took you to London, Paris, New York, Washington, DC or the Grand Canyon, have a look at our Amazon stores (accessible directly via embedded hyperlink in the place names).  We have collected there a number of lovely site-specific scrapbooking supplies that would look nice on any book.

Let us know how it works out!  Stay tuned as well….we are considering our own options and will write about what worked in January 2015.

GFREE! — Waldorf=Astoria New York

It was a true luxury to stay again at the Waldorf=Astoria with tween.  But this was our first trip to this legendary landmark hotel following the celiac disease diagnosis a few years ago.  So despite the legendary service, I was worried.

The hotel room refrigerator is one of those computerized affairs with mini-bottles in pre-set slots that automatically charge your room when you take one out.  No room there for cheese or yogurt.  And I knew they would not have a coffee maker or hot pot for tea either.  This meant … cue dramatic music … room service roulette and multiple new restaurants to interview.

Really, I should have known better.  I should have known that everything at this hotel is executed flawlessly.

In fact, the hotel had so many different options that I could not sample everything!  But I tried hard.  Really I did.  Check out what we enjoyed at two restaurants and at room service.  Spoiler alert….there were SO MANY room service options that I could not possibly try them all.  Sounds to me like a perfect reason to return (as if I needed one).

PEACOCK ALLEY:  The Alley in the name refers to the section of the massively large central lobby occupied by the restaurant.  This is a place to see and be seen.  At night, a pianist fills the restaurant and the lobby with lively, lovely music played on Cole Porter’s piano (he lived here back in the day).  But the main event for us was lunch.  Tween and I had lunch there as part of the package that included a morning tour of the hotel followed by lunch. We wrote about the tour here.  I had notified the concierge when we made the reservation that I required a gluten free lunch.  The hostess did not blink twice, the waiter did not blink twice.  Both were incredibly professional and on top of it in an efficient New-York kind of way which was confidence-inspiring.  When I asked the hostess a question she could not answer, she went to the kitchen and brought back the chef.

As you might imagine, the lunch was delicious.  The famous Waldorf salad was the first course….naturally gluten-free and filled with tasty apples as well as greens.  The chicken paillard was fabulous, smothered in a fabulous sauce (sauce!!!!  in a gluten free dish!!!!!) and covered by a small mountain of fresh greens.  Sadly, the classic desserts were not gluten free so the substitute was the oh-so-healthy and fresh fruit plate.  But Tween was in 7th heaven because the staff gave her my portion of dessert as well and then a box to carry back the leftovers to our room.  What were the desserts?  A red velvet cake cupcake (made with honey from the rooftop beehive), petite fours, and homemade oreo-like cookies (two chocolate cookies with vanilla cream in the middle).

Bull & Bear:  This is a classic old restaurant, with leather banquettes and plenty of mirrors ideal for people-watching.  But by the time we arrived, at 9:30 pm, after a day and evening filled with touring Midtown’s Art Deco heritage (we wrote about that experience here), tween was not hungry (she had the dessert for dinner, I’m sorry to report), I was starving, and the place was hopping.  This is a steakhouse with highly professional and nice staff.  The waiter offered gluten-free bread, but I was not interested.  The steak and the broccoli were of course perfect.  Here is the biggest compliment a celiac can pay to a restaurant: I was not worried once about cross-contamination.

Room Service:  I saved the best for last. Yes, room service is a decadent indulgence at any luxury hotel. Yes, the Waldorf=Astoria lives up to its storied tradition.  But this is where they won my celiac heart.  Have a look at the allergy page from the room service menu:


NYC_Waldorf_room-service-menuIn case you cannot read the picture well, the text says:  “Should you desire something that isn’t on our menu, just ask.  We will endeavor to accommodate guests with dietary restrictions including food allergies and intolerances by making safe food choices.  By providing ingredient information and modifying menu items or suggesting safe alternatives as required, we are at your service.  We take food allergies and intolerances seriously and strive to give all guests a safe and outstanding dining experience.”  Now look at what they keep on hand daily.  It’s not just GFRee! bread…..the GFree items include cereals, muffins, oatmeal, pasta and pizza. This hotel takes up an entire city block.

The room service menu indicates their “culinary brigade” comprises more than 140 people.  To deliver on these promises on a daily basis, responding to random requests, requires a degree of professionalism and commitment to excellence that is really impressive.

We WILL be back.  And the next time, rather than indulging in this ultra-decadent hot chocolate, I will give the other room service options a try as well.  It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. NYC_Waldorf_hot-chocolate-delivered NYC_Waldorf_hot-chocolate-ready

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Mind the Gap: Small Kids, London, Books, Apps, and Bears

London has been home to many celebrities in its 1000+ years as a major city.  Nobility, artists, politicians, priests, criminals and bon vivants have all famously lived, thrived, and survived here.  But kids between the tender years of 3 and 8 will only really care about one celebrity this year: Paddington Bear.  You can get your own hard copy of the book through this link to Amazon.  If you prefer a digital copy for your iPad, use this link to the iTunes store instead.

The journeying and adventuring bear is about to become the new “it” thing for the pre-school set with a movie being released later this year.  Being in in the 21st century, starring in a major new movie is not enough.  Oh no!  Paddington Bear is also breaking into the digital world big time with interactive books and games that are making a splash right now (our top two favorites are at the bottom of this post).  We are sorry these options were not available when our daughter was younger!

This post looks at the brave new world of Paddington Bear in London and the great options now available to young travelers everywhere that dream about making journeys at least as adventurous as those that took Paddington Bear from deepest Peru to the wilds of urban London.  Parents — mind the gap between reality and fantasy.  These options are going to blur the boundary farther.

First, a little bit about the bear in the blue coat….

While Madeline and Paris were charming readers across America and Europe shortly after World War 2, this mischievous bear was winning hearts with his misadventures in London.  We wrote about Madeline’s intrepid adventures here in July.  Paddington Bear is a completely different animal, so to speak.

With apologies to Oscar Wilde, he is a well-meaning bumbler.  He never intends to create trouble, of course.  But his inquisitive nature and lack of experience in a strange surrounding (London) just naturally create problems everywhere he goes.  He wants to be loved, he feels a little bit lost in the large unfamiliar world of London, and he has a good heart.  Kids love this bear.  His experience is not too different from their own, particularly when on a trip. More importantly, kids can see that they are already more clued-in to how the world works than this poor beleaguered bear.  It makes them feel just a little bit more worldly and sophisticated.  A child might admire Madeline’s plucky nature or might wish for her adventures in an idealized Paris, but a child will identify with and always feel protective of London’s favorite bear.

The Paddington Bear books provide young kids with marvelous opportunities to travel to London long before you arrive there.  Like your child, Paddington Bear arrives in London with a suitcase and manages to see most of the landmarks in one form or another by the time the entire series has been read.  It gives your kids a frame of reference.

But you do need to mind the gap between fiction and reality.  In particular, if your kids take their behavior cues from the books they read, you might need to impress upon them the importance of leaving places in the same condition in which you found them.  You might need to guard against unauthorized use of marmalade.  Make sure they understand that Paddington Bear’s adventures while funny are not a guide to how you will see London.  If you are flying in to London, the Heathrow Express train from the airport does parents everywhere a major favor by depositing you in Paddington Station.  If you have the time and can power through the jet lag, a field trip in the direction of the luggage check room will help your little eyes understand how easy it can be to get lost in this station.

New Movie…Old Television

Hollywood is about to add to the fun.  The new movie promises to feature familiar sequences from the book. The trailer seems to present a slightly more modern London that the post-war books:

The movie could actually expand the gap between fiction and reality for young kids traveling to London.  When you read them this book at bedtime and you laugh at the misadventures, kids picture the events unfolding using their home base as a reference point.  The new movie expands your family movie night options (before or just after a trip)!  How wonderful is that?

Of course, translating a treasured children’s classic book to the screen can be tricky.  You may not like the filmmaker’s view of London or the interpretation of the book.  But this is not about you…it’s about your kids.  You can enrich their travel experience to London at the holidays by reading them this book at night before the trip and taking them to the movies.  This is the classic way to enjoy London’s favorite bear.

But don’t shelve Paddington Bear as some post-war relic or newly discovered treasure.  It seems the bear was an experienced actor long before this year’s movie.  Embedded links in the text can take you to the iTunes store to peruse Paddington Bear’s 1975 television series, as well as his 1982 television specials, his television series that ran in  1997, 1998, and 1999.  We have not watched these shows, but we are impressed at this bumbling bear’s ability to sustain effectively three decades worth of media presence without once toppling sets or smearing marmalade onto television cameras.

Interactive animated book apps and games

We saved the best for last.  The fun no longer stops with bedtime stories.  Paddington Bear has gone digital.  He has partnered with London’s National Portrait Gallery, HarperCollins and a fleet of animation specialists in ways that will minimize the gap between reality and fiction for little travelers with innovative offerings for iOS in the Apple universe.  Each app is only $1.99 which sounds to us like a good deal given the entertainment options in general and the enhancements to a little traveler’s big trip to London:

1.  The iPad Paddington Bear “experience” courtesy of HarperCollins.  This is just an amazing app with separate versions for iPad and iPhone:

  • Do you travel for business?  The app lets you record your voice reading the story…or you can rely on the professional voice-over.
  • Our Bring It Home! fans will LOVE this feature: You can take selfies with Paddington Bear (compliments of the National Portrait Gallery) and then share the framed portraits with friends and family…we already envision the pre-school birthday party possibilities.
  • The illustrations include background animation

Direct links to this app are embedded here for the iPAD VERSION or the iPHONE version.

2.  The official game for iPad.  This app was named a “top30″ app by The Guardian.  It includes:

  • Virtual sightseeing: visual games focused on “spot the differences” featuring London landmarks
  • Jigsaw puzzles featuring additional London landmarks
  • An interactive lesson and recipe for making marmalade
  • Interactive suitcase packing
  • Virtual dress up (yes, Paddington Bear’s wardrobe options are expanding past the blue duffel coat, compliments of your pre-schooler)
  • For the Bring It Home! fans, a digital scrapbook

No wonder this won an award. This is a must-have app for Paddington Bear fans heading to London this year.

You can access the game directly through these links for iPAD and for iPHONE.

Have fun with the Paddington craze that seems to be heading to a playground near you soon.  These apps and books will help you craft a lovely journey for your small child, whether you are actually going to London or only visiting with imagination from home.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Three Steps For Choosing A Fabulous Year-End Family Vacation

It’s that time of year, folks.  School has started.  Here in the Mid-Atlantic, the leaves have not yet started to change colors.  It’s time….to start planning your year-end vacation!  The travel industry rewards those who plan in advance and book early, so great deals can still be had on transportation and hotel rooms for people ready to commit.  Mike notes that the really smart folks planned and booked their year-end holidays from the beach back in August.  We are not that organized.

The year-end break is a beautiful thing.  Two to three weeks free of school and sports obligations for the kids.  Little to nothing gets done in offices between December 23 and January 3.  In the Southern Hemisphere, additionally, it is summer!

In our house, this is a glorious time of year.  It’s time for thinking aloud about exciting, beautiful destinations.  It’s also time for serious bargaining.  Add kids with different priorities into the mix and discussions can get testy.  Let us help you.  We have been doing this for over a decade now.  Here are our top three steps for how to plan a year-end family vacation happily and efficiently.

1.  Family Obligations:  This is a big one.  It involves only the adult parents.  You remember the beginning rounds of this negotiation from when you were dating and when you were newlyweds.  If you celebrate Christmas, whose family would you celebrate the holiday with each year?  Would you trade off Christmas and Thanksgiving between the families?  Are you still going to any parents’ homes for the holidays?  Are you staying for more than a few days?

Take a deep breath.  This is about to change in your lives.  At some point, you will want to start making your own traditions with your own kids.  You will not want to go home for Christmas because you will be creating the home that your kids will want to return to when they are older and more mobile.  How do you make this transition without hurting feelings?  Here are a few ideas:

  • shorten the trip home: instead of staying a week, stay a few days and then leave on December 26 or 27.
  • alternate family commitments: don’t just rotate between his parents and her parents….add your own family into the holiday rotation mix.
  • build a short (3-4 day) side-trip near by your parents house, but only for you and your own kids.
  • bring the grandparents with you.  Inter-generational trips are becoming increasingly popular, at least in families where the grandparents are still relatively young and still mobile.

Having clarity now about holiday expectations will make it easier to have a harmonious visit when you arrive and it will help you have clear, specific dates for booking the vacation sooner rather than later.

2.  Weather:  This is something the entire family needs to discuss.  What KIND of year-end holiday weather do you want?  Are Christmas and New Years incomplete for you without snow and freezing cold weather?  Do you view every window open for travel as an opportunity to escape to a warm sunny beach?  We have tended so far to embrace winter at year-end for our trips.  The most memorable family holiday escapes so far have been to

  • Salzburg, Austria (beautifully dusted with snow and bitterly cold, making the hot chocolate that much more wonderful);
  • the Grand Canyon (low crowds, low temperatures, incredibly clear air);
  • Santa Fe (decked out with romantic farolitos and lovely light snow), and
  • New York City (ice skating in Central Park, the Rockettes, Fifth Avenue decked out for Christmas, Times Square/Broadway)

But this year, tween is rebelling.  She is starting to talk about warm beaches and bright sunshine at Christmas.  Hawaii, Southern California, and the Caribbean thus beckon.  Sadly, Australia is too far for us at year-end.

3.  Gift Expectations:  The smaller your kids are, the bigger this issue will be if you are taking a splurge trip.  The older your kids get, the easier it is to tell them that a major trip (the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, New York City, skiing in the Alps, skiing in the American West, a luxury Caribbean resort) is part of their Christmas present.  But little ones will not understand this.  They want tangible toys.  Little ones will NOT want to be opening a smaller set of presents in a hotel room either.  Our advice: pace yourself.  When the little ones are little, take the time to share them and the holidays with the grandparents.  Transition into family holiday extravaganzas as the kids get older and their technological toys get smaller.

In a perfect world, everyone would start their planning by downloading and reading first their own personal copy of our book (See The World With Your Kids!) on either Kindle or Apple’s iPad. Direct links to these two versions of the book are embedded in the words “Kindle” and “iPad.”  Can’t decide between the two?  Check out this post from earlier in the week that explains the difference.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Top Five NYC Art Deco Sights For Tweens and Teens

Technically, midtown has more than five Art Deco sights to see.  But only five are really open for viewing.  We tried hard but in the end we could only fit in four in a single day.

These places are wonderful, so this is the a long post. Here is the short version:

1.  Take the Thursday morning tour of the Waldorf=Astoria.  It includes lunch (with delicious gluten-free options) afterwards in the Peacock Alley restaurant.

2.  Walk to Radio City Music Hall for a backstage tour.

3.  Wander through Rockefeller Center, shopping along the way.

4.  View the sunset at either the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center or the Empire State Building.

Disclosures:  Our affiliate partner City Sights NY provided complimentary tickets to Radio City Music Hall and the Top of the Rock.  When the Waldorf=Astoria learned we would be their guests, they left us a small welcome present: two branded flash drives and a lovely note.  They offered complimentary WiFi as well, but we travel with our own and so did not use it.  Other than this, we received no compensation of free gifts for this trip.  We paid for our own transport, meals, and hotel room.  Our views, of course, remain wholly our own.

1.  Radio City Music Hall:  As fans of America’s Got Talent, we see Radio City Music Hall weekly in our home. When Tween was 8, we treated her to the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular show.  Yes, the show WAS spectacular and we hope to see it again.  So we knew that the lobby was beautiful.  But we did not appreciate how amazing the lobby was until we had a chance to see it up close and personal.  Check it out:

NYC_Radio-City_Foyer  NYC_Radio-City_mural-close-up

NYC_Radio-City_foyer-grand-staircase-traditional NYC_Radio-City_foyer-grand-staircase-from-below-horizontal

THAT’S REAL GOLD, folks.  All over the walls. Europe’s great palaces are also adorned with gold of course, but this gold is in a public theater in a hyper-modern streamlined design that is about as far away from rococo art as one could get (which was of course the idea).  In a city dominated by a grid in its street plan and pre-Gehry skyscrapers, the curves inside Radio City Music Hall’s lobby provide an immediately relaxing impact.

But the best part of the tour was backstage.  Among other things, it explained (and showed by video) HOW the stage works and WHY it remains unique to this day.  We won’t spoil the surprise.  Let’s just say that this theater is not just another pretty face….it is STILL a technological marvel to this day.  It was a classified state secret during World War II. The music hall nearly was torn down in the 1970s, but in true resilient New York style it bounced back better than ever.  These are great, inspiring stories.

Meeting a real live Rockette was another wonderful part of the tour. This was more than just a photo op. It was a conversation in which she answered audience questions and provided wonderful insights into backstage life.  We loved this tour, and loved learning about the innovations it has inspired in the entertainment arts from the beginning and to the present day.

2.  Rockefeller Center:  If you have ever walked along Fifth Avenue and admired the statue of Atlas opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral or been ice skating there in winter, you might wonder why Rockefeller Center merits its own separate entry after Radio City Music Hall.  Many people lump the two sites together.  This is a mistake.

Rockefeller Center consists of THREE FULL CITY BLOCKS of buildings with exactly the same architecture.  The boundaries are: 48th Street to 51st Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.  The buildings soar above the city with relentless grids of small windows lodged into grim concrete walls.  They suggest solid determination and hard work, which is appropriate given that it was built during the Depression.

You might not notice the architecture since at the street level they currently house multiple shops including a massive Lego store, a store from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, dozens of clothing designers and gourmet food shops….and major television studios (for NBC)….and offices.  To say it is a commercial center is like saying that Texas is large….it is a true statement but it vastly understates the scale of the place. You have to go inside to appreciate why these buildings are unlikely ever to be renovated in a way that increases the window size.

NYC_Rockefeller-Center-front-door NYC_Rockefeller-Center-escalator NYC_Rockefeller-Center-atlasHow can something seem so old and yet so modern and daring at the same time?  It is a mystery.  But the sleek design helps highlight modernity even as the ponderous materials leave no doubt the place belongs to another era.

3.  Waldorf=Astoria:  If your kids love history or architecture, we cannot recommend highly enough the tour of the legendary, lovely, and glamorous Waldorf=Astoria.

NYC_Waldorf_front-doorThe excellent tour guides convey the history and evoke the sense of the era in which the hotel was build with a balance of respect and irreverence.  Lunch afterwards at Peacock Alley is delicious, the desserts decadent.

This is probably the best place to bring your kids if you want to give them a sense of how massive American wealth and power had become just before the Depression. It is also a good place to bring kids if you want to impress upon them the stark difference between how people lived in America during the Depression.  To complete the picture, drive out of NYC to Duchess County and spend the day at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.  But that is another story…..

This is also the best place to bring your kids to give them a concrete idea of how daring and disruptive this generation of American tycoons was.  Astor and Waldorf were famous for their feuding and for challenging convention.  Their hotel was the first in which society dames deigned to entertain in public, in part because the original hotel (situated on land now occupied by the Empire State Building) had a retractable roof in its ballroom…hence the legendary “Starlight Room.”  In winter, they had an ice skating rink.  Their hotel was the first in America to permit women to stay there unaccompanied by their husbands.  The chandelier designs were patented.  This is why:  NYC_Waldorf_chandalier-trioNYC_Waldorf_ballroom-chandalier-close-upNYC_Waldorf_silver-room-close-upConsider the center lobby (where the Peacock Alley restaurant and Cole Porter’s piano can still be found).  It is dominated by a clock given to the United States by Queen Victoria for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.  When the Fair ran out of funds, they auctioned off the exhibits.  The hotel purchased the clock…and then added Lady Liberty to the top.  The Queen was not amused and asked for it to be returned. The hotel said no. We have to guess her discomfort only increased the humor and attraction of the clock to its owners.  Like we said, these guys were just as irreverent as today’s Silicon Valley revolutionaries in their own way.

NYC_Waldorf_the-clockAn entire room from a castle in Europe was purchased, transported, and reassembled in the hotel:

NYC_Waldorf_European-room NYC_Waldorf_panelled-ceilingThe ballroom evokes Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence more than Cole Porter’s giddy inter-war years or the mad-cap comedies produced by Hollywood from the Depression all the way through to the 1945 film “Weekend at the Waldorf.”

NYC_Waldorf_ballroom-corner NYC_Waldorf_ballroom-horizontal-shotAnd yet the hotel was wildly modern when it was new.  The austere, bright, dramatic Park Avenue main entrance highlights the hotel’s message to guests that this was an aggressively modern place even if its more formal entertaining rooms indicated the hotel knew well what what was proper and expected.

NYC_Waldorf_main-entrance NYC_Waldorf_lobbyNYC_Waldorf_lobby-detail NYC_Waldorf_lobby-landing-at-an-angleNYC_Waldorf_Empire-Room-doors-at-angle NYC_Waldorf_elevator-entranceThe famous Starlight Room is still a ballroom (yes, the hotel has two ballrooms), even if its roof no longer retracts to permit dancers a peek at the stars during summer nights.  Outside on the sidewalk below the grates, the train tracks linking Grand Central Station with the Waldorf=Astoria (for easier access to the hotel by President Franklin D. Roosevelt) are still visible.

The hotel keeps its feet firmly planted in tradition while reaching forwards into the future.  It is proud of its efforts at bee conservation and includes the rooftop kitchen garden beehives on the tour.  Imagine the lucky beekeepers and chef/gardeners that tend their tasks with this stunning view of the Chrysler Building daily.  The honey is used in the kitchen’s recipes.

NYC_Waldorf_kitchen-garden4.  Empire State Building:  We did not make it here on the last trip.  But it is on our list.  Here is why. It was built in 18 months. It survived an airplane accident in 1945…the plane was 10 tons, it damaged two stories, the plane was distroyed and the building is still standing.  We love that.

5.  Chrysler Building:  The Chrysler Building is located at 405 Lexington Avenue.  It’s lobby apparently has the most stunning Art Deco murals in the city.  But the building does not offer tours nor does it have an observation deck.  If you can handle walking into an office building and gawking, it is free. We didn’t dare.

6.  Top of the Rock:  Yes, the views are spectacular at any time of the day (we went at sunset).  No exaggeration.  At sunset, modern Manhattan spreads out below in glittering glory.

NYC_TOTR_the-view-at-twilight-close-up NYC_TOTR_Hudson-River-early-sunset-close-upNYC_TOTR_THE-VIEW-at-duskNYC_TOTR_Hudson-River-sunset-with-moon NYC_TOTR_night-view-with-moon NYC_TOTR_Hudson-River-early-sunsetNYC_TOTR_mirror-imageThe views are a nice (but slightly less photogenic) on the other side of the building where Central Park turns dark at night.  You can see there Manhattan’s newest skyscrapers that boast the most expensive penthouses in the world.

Except for the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in the distance, little of the Art Deco heritage that started the skyscraper craze in NYC is visible from the Top of the Rock.  For this reason, we think this a great place to end your Art Deco day in Midtown.

We have to believe that Rockefeller, Waldorf, Astoria, Morgan, Vanderbilt, and all the other disrupters of their day during the Depression would love what can be seen from The Top of the Rock today…..and we look forward to seeing what the vista will bring in the decades to come.




NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Why Tweens and Teens Will Love Touring NYC’s Midtown Art Deco


Every once in a while, life conspires to deliver on a silver platter a picture-perfect day.  Everything falls into place.  We had a day like that in August, when Kate and Tween were in New York.

We did not intend to devote a day to Manhattan’s Art Deco heritage.  Our original plan was to tour our hotel (the Waldorf=Astoria), enjoy the lunch at Peacock Alley included in the tour, and then play the afternoon by ear.  Our big choices were between perennial favorites (Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art) and other museums Marguerite had not yet seen.

But fate had other plans for us.  First, our affiliate partner City Sights NY provided complimentary tickets to Radio City Music Hall’s backstage tour.  Then they provided additional tickets to the Top of the Rock.  Then it hit me: between Lexington Avenue (the hotel’s back door) and the Avenue of the Americas (6th Avenue, Radio City’s front door) we had the PERFECT sequence to explore most of Midtown Manhattan’s Art Deco heritage.

We are grateful for the tickets, but our views (as always) remain entirely our own.

These places are spectacular.  Even though they are near to each other, each one will occupy about two hours of your time….once you are actually in the location.  Our best advice: get yourself a pass from our affiliate partners at City Sights NY.  The pass will save you time and money when touring Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, the Top of the Rock, and the Empire State Building.  They also offer a hop-on, hop-off bus tour but if your interest is only the Art Deco in Midtown, you don’t need the bus.  We loved how easy the passes made our entry to major attractions.


Forget what you know about the Depression.  Forget what you know about design and architecture.  Forget what you know about facts and figures and data.  Kids interested in engineering might be interested, but everyone else will tune out.  If you are traveling with a tween or teen that is indeed focused on engineering, we strongly recommend:  How To Read New York: A Crash Course in New York Architecture

Focus instead on the radical, daring, intense, disruptive, competition in innovation that raged across a few blocks in midtown Manhattan (42nd Street to 50th Street, Lexington Avenue to 6th Avenue) and the bigger-than-life personalities that made it happen about one hundred years ago.  THIS is why an Art Deco tour of Manhattan will appeal to tweens and teens.

Silicon Valley and the bad boys of technology today, from Burning Man to the hack-a-thon in San Francisco right now, have NOTHING on the original American innovators that created Manhattan’s midtown skyline. These structures tell the stories of men looking to use technology and their newly found wealth to build radical new experiences for themselves and others. Mostly planned before the Great Crash of 1929, the buildings were built (and provided desperately needed employment) for many during the Great Depression.

The emphasis on streamlined design reflected a new modern sensibility that the Encyclopedia Britannica says took hold in Paris during the boom years starting in 1925 while others credit the Eiffel Tower in 1889 as starting the skyscraper craze.  The idea was to leave behind old, heavy, ornate wooden structures in favor of sleek new building materials.

Today, we have graphite and rare earths minerals making possible all our portable tablets, social media and wearable technology.  Back then, they had steel, concrete, locomotives, indoor plumbing and mass market use of electricity that changed lives.  Their analog version of SnapChat and texting and Twitter was the telegraph and the radio.  They felt just as modern and daring and irreverent and giddy with limitless opportunity as today’s technology giants.  They reached for the stars, literally, and accepted no limits on their creativity or their competition.  The difference is that almost 100 years ago the innovators and tycoons built lasting structures we still use today.  We wonder just how many of today’s technological gizmos, in contrast, will be obsolete in 100 years.

When you take your tween or teen to Manhattan, don’t just take them shopping on Fifth Avenue and to a show on Broadway.  Take them on a tour of America’s disruptive innovators.  Inspire their imagination to see NYC today as these men saw it in 1925: populated by low-slung buildings, ready to be torn down to make way for the 20th century.  Challenge them to see the intense competition that existed between Wall Street and Midtown for which corporate tycoon could build the most beautiful, innovative and technologically sophisticated buildings of the day.

New York City’s skyscrapers are neither quaint nor are they historical relics.  They are still innovative today.  The tours will show you how.  Then get ready for really interesting conversations with your older kids.

Ask them how much New York has changed in the intervening years.  It may look different, but after the tours and thinking about it a bit we are not so sure that the core of the city has changed in a century.  If you have been in Hong Kong or Dubai or Shanghai or London, ask your kids whether the world in NYC during the Art Deco era or today is any different from these New World capitals and their new shiny skyscrapers.  We wonder the same thing ourselves but don’t yet have a good answer.  We would love your views.

Here is the best part as we head into autumn and winter vacation season: most of the sites are indoors!  They are ideal places to visit even when (or, perhaps, especially when) the weather outside is frightful.

Up next tomorrow:  Our top five NYC Art Deco sites for tweens and teens.

CitySights NY

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Journeys in Writing from iBooks to Kindle

Family travel for those of us constrained by the school schedule follows a fairly predictable cycle (planning-travel-pictures-unpack-start again) along fairly well-defined calendar moments.  September and October, January and February provide perfect planning opportunities….with travel industry deals that arise to meet parents that are wise enough to plan ahead.  These four months of the year are when we parents and our kids settle in to the daily routine of school and work and music lessons and sports.  These can be lovely months, made sweeter by the prospect of a big vacation planned around the three big breaks in the year: spring; summer; year-end.

This is the perfect time to settle in with a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and read our book: Explore the World With Your Kids!

Regular readers of this blog know that we published a book at the beginning of the summer providing parents with practical advice and tools for creating engaging family trips with kids of all ages, from the portable baby years all the way through the (sometimes sullen) teenage years.  Regular readers of this blog also know that we love rich social media content, including graphics, photos and websites.  Accordingly, our first foray into the self-publishing space was on Apple’s iBOOKS platform.  Our book on that platform features lovely layouts using Apple’s templates and our own pictures.  More importantly, it contains integrated, live hyperlinks that exploit the full dynamic capabilities of the e-book format.  Like an idea in the text?  Then click on the link and it will open another window on your iPad with direct access to the source materials.  We love this format.  You can access the book directly through this hyperlink HERE.

But not every family looking for practical advice on family travel needs or wants immediate access to referenced social media and web-based content.  Sometimes, all you want is a simple easy-to-read, text-only format for your Kindle.  Sometimes, all you want is easy access to a book that you can read (and re-read) for the basics as the need arises.  We know the feeling.

We have been promising to launch a Kindle version of our book from Day 1.  Guess what?  That day has arrived!

Today we launch the KINDLE VERSION of our book!  You can access the book directly through this hyperlink HERE.  We have stripped out the pictures (the book cover on Kindle is red).  We have stripped out the hyperlinks (but left in the references).  We have provided the text-only option on Kindle and priced it accordingly.

Book Format Comparison Chart.001

So don’t delay……grab your favorite e-reader and start downloading the book today.  We promise it will help you craft a fabulous new year holiday and summer vacation for your family.

Please also be so kind as provide a review on Amazon or Apple, and add the book to your Goodreads lists using the button below.

Explore The World With Your Kids!

We had fun writing the book, and we have been having fun with this website in addition to our own family trips this summer.  We hope this additional format option is helpful and useful to you as you start planning your next family vacation!






WEEKLY FLIPIT! MAGAZINE — Thinking about autumn

This week, the combination of Kate’s business trip and the first days of school constrained dramatically our blog posts.  But it was at least reassuring to see earlier posts and pages gathering attention.  We can see our readers are, like us, turning their attention to autumn.

So this week’s FlipIt! magazine begins with 8 articles to provide inspiration about fabulous places to visit with kids as leaves begin to change color plus our best-performing NYC story (about treasure hunting on Wall Street) in case you are thinking about Manhattan for an autumn weekend escape.

We can also see that folks are starting smartly to plan for year-end trips.  So we have four articles with travel inspiration featuring Italy, the Grand Canyon to New Mexico (where we spend the turn of this year), Los Angeles and the Florida Keys.  A trio of train travel stories continues our fascination with this mode of transportation.  And our GFree! contribution features the fabulous NYC restaurant review of Colicchio & Sons in Chelsea.

For our photography, digerati, and Bring It Home! readers, we see the AirBNB trend starting to sweep the luxury travel market, two different photo sharing new offerings on the market, and exciting new developments for kids books on Kindle.  We also have an excellent tutorial on setting the ISO on a DSLR for the amateur photographers like us.

Finally, we include an article about travel to Antartica.  It is not a family travel article as the author seems to have take the voyage alone.  Given the price tag, remoteness, and rough seas, we doubt many families can afford to take this voyage.  But the article was so beautifully written and inspiring we could not resist the urge to include it.

We hope you enjoy this week’s edition.

BTW — Just because we were not posting blog stories and were otherwise waylaid by life does NOT mean that we were neglecting this little business.  Watch this space and follow this blog for updates about a big new development that we will be announcing in the next 24-28 hours.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD — Six Top Tips for a perfect #NYC getaway with your tween

Last week, ‘tween and Kate escaped regular life and headed out for a mother-daughter three day extravaganza in New York City. You will be reading more about the trip for weeks to come because they had such a good time. To get started, here are our Top Five Tips for a PERFECT NYC getaway with your ‘tween.

Why do we need to write this list at all?  Because tweens travel differently from other kids. They have outgrown traditional kid-oriented programs at museums.  They are ready to sample the big time…. but you as parents still need to consider whether a venue or an entertainment option is age-appropriate.  They are better equipped to ask really hard and interesting questions about what they are seeing…. but they won’t have the patience for a long discussion.

So traveling with a ‘tween can be tricky.  Many parents make things easy and program only shopping and shows.  This is fine, but it short-changes the ‘tween and marvelous New York City which has so many different, exciting things to offer.

1.  Explore Something New and Interesting:  Pick an era or a neighborhood and focus on it for an afternoon.  We do NOT mean Fifth Avenue (see Item 3 below).  Tweens realize the world is bigger than what they have seen in the past. They are in search of everything “cool,” preferably technology-related.

  • Take the opportunity to introduce them to Greenwich Village where the original New York bohemians used to live.
  • Take them for a walk along the High Line, where traditional old New York buildings that still don’t have central air conditioning share space with exciting new architecture.
  • If this is your first trip to NYC, pick one of New York’s landmark museums (Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, USS Intrepid) and pair it with a walking tour of the neighborhood.
  • If your kids like to ride bicycles, rent a bicycle and take advantage of NYC’s extensive bike lanes throughout the city.  It’s a unique way to see the city, particularly if your kids are high-energy types.
  • If this is not your first trip to the City, explore some of the less high profile museums that do an excellent job of recounting New York’s history. We understand that the Tenement Museum provides an excellent insight into the immigrant experience once newcomers to the USA cleared Ellis Island.  Federal Hall downtown by Wall Street specializes in Revolutionary War history.  The Skyscraper Museum will appeal to kids interested in engineering and anyone curious about how those skyscrapers were built in the past…. and how they will be built in the future.
  • We focused on NYC’s Art Deco area in addition to some of the items above.

2.  Splurge on a Little Luxury:  We have written frequently about our favorite luxury hotels in Manhattan.  The biggest splurge often is the hotel, particularly once room service is factored in to the equation.  On this trip, ‘tween and Kate thoroughly enjoyed their time at the legendary Waldorf=Astoria.  But if your budget does not include high luxury accommodations, there are plenty of other little luxuries that can make the NYC trip unforgettable.  For example, we were there before school started and ‘tween needed a few things.  We could have bought her sneakers anywhere….. but the experience at the 57th Street Nike store was unforgettable.

  • Shop for a traditional item in a landmark 5th Avenue venue.  You won’t pay much more than you would at home (and if you are from Europe, you will pay less), the selection will be much larger than the one at home, and the experience will be an adventure.  We had great fun at the Nike Store on 57th Street.
  • If you are traveling with a ‘tween girl, treat her to a luxury manicure or a hair cut or…..a make-up lesson!  On our trip, the Waldorf=Astoria graciously offered (and we accepted) the opportunity for a complimentary make-up lesson at their Guerlain Spa on the 19th floor of the hotel.  We will write about this separately.  For now, know that this was a true luxury for both of us and a lovely experience that provided the perfect end to our getaway.
  • Treat your kids to a luxury meal or hot chocolate.  This could be through room service, but it could also be through amazing restaurants.  In the winter, boys and girls alike will love the opportunity to indulge in hot chocolate on a cold day in any of New York’s luxury hotels.  We indulged in morning hot chocolate from room service



as well as fabulous lunches and dinners at Colicchio & Sons as well as two different Waldorf=Astoria restaurants: Peacock Ally and the Bull &  Bear.  Stay tuned for the details.

3.  Do Something Fun:    OK, the entire city is fun!  The point here is to focus on something that your kids love.

  • If you are in town when the sports teams are playing, head to Madison Square Garden or the Barclays Arena in Brooklyn and take in a game.
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and spend the afternoon in hyper-trendy DUMBO (down under the Manhattan bridge) and nearby Park Slope.
  • If your kids are shutterbugs, take them to the Adorama store in Greenwich Village.  Check their website in advance since the store sometimes offers specialized photography classes.
  • If your kids are interested in the performing arts, don’t just take them to a show, take them on a backstage tour!  Our affiliate partners City Sights NY graciously provided us with complimentary tickets to the Radio City Music Hall backstage tour, which was tremendous.  Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center also provide backstage tours.
  • Check out the Marvel Agents of Shield installation in Times Square.

Again, the point is to be imaginative with your time.  Don’t just take your kids for a walk through Central Park or Times Square and call it a day. Take advantage of all the marvelous experiences New York can provide beyond Midtown Manhattan.

4.  Do Something Spectacular:  The number one item on our list here has to be the Top of the Rock.  Our affiliate partners at the City Sights NY provided us with complimentary access to the Top of the Rock on a spectacular summer day.  We will be writing an entire post on that visit.  For now, the main point is that it is impossible to over-state how magnificent the views are from the observation decks.  No other spot on the island provides the same stunning vistas and highlights how unique New York City really is.  Have a look:


NYC_TOTR_Hudson-River-sunset   NYC_TOTR_Fifth-Ave-from-above


More interested in daytime spectacles?  Take a 90-minute cruise around the island if the weather is good.  Even if tour cruises are not normally your thing, this is tremendous value.  You will see Manhattan (and Ellis Island and Brooklyn) from a completely different and classic vantage point.  Our affiliate partners at the Gray Line NY provided complimentary tickets to their 90minute harbor cruise, which was wonderful.  Have a look:


NYC_World-Financial-Center-from-harbor   NYC_skyline-from-harbor

And it is fun.  You don’t have to listen to the tour guides, but if you are on the right vessel you will enjoy the narrative.  Our City Sights tour guide did a fabulous job not only in sharing the history, but in providing people on the boat with very good advice on where to find off-the-beaten-path but reputable markets, shopping districts and restaurants.  He also pointed out free things to do in New York (chief among them the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge).  If you really want to splurge, Gray Line offers luxury helicopter tours of NYC.  Maybe next time we will be lucky enough to give this a try!

5.  Give Them a Book to Read Before or After the Trip:  Choose the book based on which activities you plan to enjoy.  If you will be walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or heading to lower Manhattan in search of New York’s Revolutionary War history, please consult our storefront…. we have the best kidlit options for that tell the stories here with style with no less than four books on screens 10-12 devoted exclusively to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Do you have a child whose imagination was sparked by seeing not only the skyscrapers but also the new architecture near the High Line?  Check out How To Read New York: A Crash Course in Architecture which kids can bring with them on tablet or hard copy.  We ended up on the High Line by accident, but if we had planned ahead, this would have been the book we would have read on the train to NYC.  Kids interested in spy and mystery novels that take place in New York will also find plenty of good options on our storefront.  Marguerite’s favorites before the trip were Cinderella’s Dress and Under the Egg, both  recommended to us in July by Books of Wonder in Greenwich Village.

6.  Purchase a City Pass:  New York is a large city.  Its attractions are rarely free of charge and the top attractions are always crowded.  If you purchase a city pass in advance, this means your admissions are pre-paid (at a discount!) and you can breeze through the lines much faster.  This leaves you with more time free for enjoying the city.  We found the Gray Line and City Sights NY passes to be efficient, effective and fun.  Watch for a post in the near future on how to maximize the value of these passes.

CitySights NY

We are grateful to our affiliate partners the Gray Line and City Sights DC as well as the kind folks at the Waldorf=Astoria who helped us sample some classic New York experiences and gifted us two flash drives.  We paid for our own transportation and hotel rooms and meals.  Our opinions are our own and were not shared in advance with these companies.


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