Monday, October 13, 2014

Leaves, Apples and Wine, Oh My!

While many older Northerners are packing up and closing their summer residences to snowbird in Florida or Arizona, those of who live in the Northeast or Northwest year round are enjoying autumn. Leaves, by virtue of less daylight time, are revealing their true colors before falling off trees that will remain dormant until late March. Out West (my dream autumn trip), parts of Northern California, Washington State, Upper Idaho, Montana and Oregon provide the landscapes that photographers drool about. Mountainous areas such as Tennessee, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Western North Carolina are all beautiful. Here in the Northeast, we feast on New England, upstate New York, the Poconos of Pennsylvania and upper New Jersey. Of course, any backyard that has a deciduous tree will delight one's sense of sight, but these areas provide extra special backdrops such as mountains, lakes, waterfalls and small picturesque towns.

Brilliant fall colors are dependent on various climate factors during the summer. Late August and early September give good indicators when foliage will reach peak colors and how vibrant the leaves will be. I'm no meteorologist nor scientist but when I returned to New York mid-August, I sensed that the unusual cool weather we were having might lead to less than fantastic colors. Hot wet summers, a gradual cooling September and later frosts might yield great color. A rainy and cold September might knock the leaves off sooner without them giving their full potential of color. This year the colors seem nice, but not as vibrant as other years.

In this tech age, the best time to guess whether it's peak season or not is to log onto and look at the fall foliage map. Areas that are near or at peak are the places to visit. This means that your plans should be flexible, because it can seem that you have to be ready to get in the car with a week's notice. What's the big deal? Those of us who live in the Northeast and Northwest can make flexible plans. Those who are flying in for the season have pot luck. Many people plan fall vacations around foliage season.

So what can you do if the colors are less than stellar? Enjoy the areas where the leaves are. This is where farms, orchards and wineries come in. Farms thrive in many regions of the USA but somehow, the seasonal activities of the farms of New England, New York and Pennsylvania seem special. In New York State, one can visit the east end of Long Island and upstate. Bear in mind that we downstate folks consider any place over the Tappan Zee Bridge as upstate, to the amusement of those who live in Westchester, Rockland and Orange Counties.

Agri-tourism is an increasingly big business. I watched a Long Island Business Report episode focusing on agriculture on Long Island. Farms that focus solely on small roadside stands or selling their products to stores were not doing as well as those that took a chance on specialty products for food or decorating trends, focusing on the hotel and boutique industry, and, as a link to the tourism industry, opening their farms for the "u-pick-your-own" seasons. The latter has grown into full scale productions complete with hay rides, mazes, pumpkin patches, face painting, booths, homemade jam, cider and baked goods, hot corn and baked potatoes.

Lewin Farms in Calverton, Long Island is a huge operation. With over 1100 acres, it seems to dominate the LI scene but there are other farms. From May to October, you can pick berries, peaches, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins and of course, apples. Because of the variety of produce, they have several locations, with the apple orchard in a different location than the farmstand. For the apples, they charge by the pound (whatever you can carry). You can bring your own bags and they sell the old fashioned wooden baskets.

Nearby is Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, a fun filled vineyard (check the website for live music) complete with horse rides. Their Harvest 2014 season looks like it will last until January 2015! Combine Lewin and Baiting Hollow (with the nearby Tanger Outlets in Riverhead) and you have a day trip guaranteed to please all ages in the family.

Lewin can be a bit overwhelming (and crowded). Other farms in the area (and they will let you know by the homemade signs along the way) are listed on When I visit one, I will write a review.

Instead of east, with NYC as a center point, one can head north. Tourists are surprised to learn that New York is a top agricultural producer, one of the top five states in the country. Dairy, apples, peaches, potatoes and, of course, wine, are top products. Just one hour out of NYC will have you thinking you are in the midwest somewhere (until you see the Catskill Mountains looming ahead of you on I-87). Masker Orchards, in Warwick, NY, just barely over 100 years old, seems to have perfected the quintessential day in the "country" without having to drive too far from New Jersey, Long Island or NYC.

They actually encourage you to picnic within the orchard and parking is a generous affair. There are "lots" but some areas of the orchard are wide enough for cars to park within the rows of the trees themselves. They charge a flat rate of 26.95 per bag picked (they provide the bags). On the bag itself is a map of the orchards (it helps to know your species of apples). There are apple picking poles around for the high branches but these were few and I never got ahold of one.
Maskers Orchard: Family Fun Area (Editorial Use Only)

In the Family Fun Area was a full scale "festival:" country store, pony rides, haunted house, apple maze, face painting, pizza, apple pies, pumpkins, ATM machine (they do take credit cards, no Amex), and, hallelujah, rest rooms. You could spend all day (and a lot of money) there. I saw many whole pizza pies being ordered. We had an apple blossom (sort of like a dumpling) that was pretty good and took home a dozen apple cider donuts as well as our bag of apples. The bag hold a lot!! One bag was sufficient for our family of three for at least a month. They 14 varieties and post the ripening schedule on their website. I missed the Golden Delicious and Granny Smiths, but you can believe I'll be checking next year. By the way, be prepared to have your car checked for bootleg apples. They mean what they say about paying on your way out. No honor system here.
Maskers Orchard's Country Store (Editorial Use Only)

Further up Route 17 or I-87, depending on how fast you want to get there, are two in New Paltz that I have visited. The benefit of these farms is the proximity to several vineyards, Minnewaska State Park and the charming town of New Paltz itself, with its funky college vibe and historical French Huguenot houses. In between Warwick and New Paltz is Woodbury Commons, another shopping outlet (Premium). Apple Hill FarmDressel Farms and Wilklow Orchards are all good. They don't seem as carnival-like as Maskers but they all have some sort of family fun.

In every region, be prepared for traffic galore. Between the outlets, vineyards, farms and every day life on the week-ends (school football games, etc), my suggestion is to be at the farm by 10AM. When you are ready to leave around 12 noon, you will see the crowd heading in and you'll be glad you got there early.

All Photos Copyright Marcia Crayton, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review of the Jewel of the Seas

Royal Caribbean: Jewel of the Seas


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I am going to be honest. When experienced cruisers critique cruise lines, I have always heard stereotypes about the quality: Carnival is the party line, Disney is best for kids (and is expensive) and Holland and Norwegian seem to cater to older folks. Then I heard, that although Carnival can be less expensive sometimes, one should always treat oneself and go up a notch and sail with Royal Caribbean.

Cruise lines, as you know, categorize their ships into classes. Therefore, when I boarded the Jewel of the Seas, in Royal’s Radiance class, one source likened this class to Carnival’s ship Spirit class. Since I have been on the Carnival Pride, it seemed like a fair comparison.

The décor was lovely. Some ships can seem like a bad night in Vegas (Sensation Boulevard on the Carnival Sensation comes to mind) and some can seem like Titanic imitators (the grand staircase on the Disney Fantasy).  But for some reason, the blond wood grain interior was soothing, classy and relaxing.  Each landing on the staircases was highlighted with tasteful art that inspired many passengers to take pictures. Glass elevators proclaimed the day of the week with a removable panel on the floor and a lit staircase rose from the lobby.  (Digression: why do cruise ships have beautiful staircases and then let the photographers block them every night for hours?)

Deck 4 was the main drag: the lobby, customer service and excursion desks and one entrance to the Tides dining room, the one main dining area for dinner and sit-down breakfast.

The fun continued on Decks 5 (shops and photo gallery) and 6 (the Safari Club, casino, Pit Stop bar area and movie theatre).  The rest of the activities were located on the traditional upper decks (11, 12, 13).

The corridors were slightly wider than the Carnival Pride or Sensation or again, it could have been the color scheme, tricking me into thinking that. They were decorated with pop American art, such as portraits or black and white photos of Hollywood stars.

My stateroom was a little less spacious because we had a balcony (my first time). It got a bit cramped with 3 people for 7 days but we toughed it out. The balcony came in handy when we were in port because we were able to dry our swim wear from the day before (not recommended, by the way, by any cruise line).

The main dining room, Tides was divided into 2 levels: assigned dining was on the first floor and the flex time diners were on the balcony. No waiters singing, though. You heard many Carnival folks wondering where the “entertainment” was.

I was a little surprised that the food was not much better than Carnival. I had heard that Royal as supposed to be a real notch above and the food seemed comparable. The lunch buffet was sometimes better than what was served for dinner. They had an international theme happening, with a different region every day: Caribbean, European, Asian American.  I spoke with several cruisers who had been on Carnival and Disney and we all agreed that hands down, Disney still has better food.

Interestingly, the theatre entertainment was not bad. I have to cheer for the performers who are really trying to give a good show because many of them are either Broadway hopefuls or have just come from there. The content of the shows are often restricted by copyright laws and the contracts with companies that create them. Again, Disney is an exception because they have their own catalog to draw from. It’s not fair to compare.

The live performers were also not bad. If they lacked anything in exceptional talent, they certainly made up for it in enthusiasm and professionalism. I have to remember that my level of expectation can be too high since I come from New York.  Think resort entertainment or summer stock and you’ll appreciate it.

One very nice treat was the movie theatre, rather than having a movie screen on deck. It was small, but a good treat. They would schedule a movie for the entire day, so you could catch a screening at your leisure.

The fitness room was awesome. It was spacious and well maintained, I don’t recall seeing one out of order machine. There were enough treadmills and elliptical machines for at least 30 people. There were free weights and machines. I am not a spa person, but I looked through the area and took some flyers so that I could report. The products were massively expensive for this class of ship ($100 per bottle for one of the detox products) but they offered many specials on some of the services.

The track on deck was not as large as Disney’s but twice the size of the Carnival Pride, Glory and Sensation. Those tracks are so small I actually get dizzy and lose count (11 times around is a mile). For the Jewel, 6 times around was a mile, which wasn’t so bad. Like the other ships, though, except for Disney, the track is on the upper deck, which makes the wind a big factor on some days.

The pools, surprisingly, were saltwater. Even more surprising was the fact that the gift shop did not sell goggles. The excursion desk had snorkel masks for sale, but they really should consider selling goggles for those caught by surprise by the saltwater pools. These pools were more spacious than the Carnival Pride. I could actually swim a “lap” in the solarium pools.

Speaking of the solarium, it was a lovely area of the ship. It was supposed to be the adults-only area of the ship, but the web site advises that during inclement weather, children under 16 are allowed with supervision. It was enclosed, with a pool, hot tub, bar area, and a food area open when the Windjammer buffet area was closed. It was quiet and they had soft music with sprinkled with bird sounds. Very relaxing.

The water slide was a big disappointment.  First of all, it was not open all hours, about two hours a day. Then, it was restricted to ages 3-11 years. The person monitoring the slide said that he keeps turning away all the adults and teens. The rock wall was an exciting touch but also open only 2 hours a day. I am wondering if Royal Caribbean is saving money with less personnel. This particular itinerary called for only one day at sea. The rock climbing wall would open while the ship was in port, closing about one hour after sailing. Not very convenient. You had to return back to the ship early to catch it.

The basketball area stayed busy. I’m sure the folks were annoyed when they used it for dodge ball (for both the kids and adults). Near there was the miniature golf, always a treat and the golf simulator, which I did not have a chance to experience.

The video arcade also saw a lot of activity. You passed through it to the children’s club. The tweens and teens were not too impressed with the clubs for their age groups but since, they can be wishy-washy about organized activities, it is difficult to take their review too seriously. Therefore, Royal stated that if no one showed up within 15 minutes of an activity’s start time, the event would be cancelled. One nice perk was the free lanyard they gave to all kids for their room keys/cards.

There was no burger grill on deck. Interestingly, the Windjammer café closed down for certain hours but you could get a bite to eat in the solarium or the charming Seaview Cafe, which functioned like a free luncheonette: you ordered your food off a menu and they served you. The décor was like a 1950’s diner. These two options turned out to be necessary when we returned from a day on land and if you had the late seating. 

The Safari Club area was very nicely laid out. Ironically, it turned out to be where the kids wanted to be, also. We had to remind them they had their own area. Their answer was that the better events seemed to be in this area for the adults and it was true. Putting a Wii in one corner did not help to kids out! Once again, the décor was inviting, classy and not ostentatious. I was surprised that the comedy was not held here, it was certainly the ambiance for it. This area included the Schooner, the Zanzibar lounge, the Congo bar, the Game Reserves and the Serengeti Card Club.

Activities during the day were comparable to other lines: bingo games, raffles, cruise sales talks, trivia games and karaoke.

However, my biggest gripe (and several other cruisers, also) was the lack of beverages and access to them when they were available. For hygiene’s sake, there were no beverage dispensers. Instead, the free water, lemonade and iced tea were poured by the staff into cups when the buffet was open. There was a hot coffee and tea station right outside the Windjammer Café that seemed to be open 24 hours. But iced water? It became a treasure hunt. At first, I thought I was missing it. Then, as I inquired around, I heard other passengers also looking for water. There was a fountain in the fitness area but no dispenser so you could not fill up your water bottle (to prevent contact between the mouth of the bottle and the dispenser spout). Finally, on the third day, after a particularly hot excursion into Antigua, a dispenser was placed in the solarium area (with a sign not to fill up your bottle directly from the spout).

Now, we all know that cruise lines are trying to sell you the beverage packages (soft drinks and/or liquor). However, Americans are accustomed to thinking that basic water is one of their constitutional rights and having one dispenser in a corner wasn’t cutting it. Unlike other ships, the lemonade and iced tea was not available 24/7.

Royal went out of its way to keep everyone healthy. Cruise lines have been almost fanatic lately with the hand sanitizer but this particular voyage seemed to be even more so: they dispensed before and after every meal (even if you went near the dining areas but were not going in); before you got off and when you got back on the ship (in three locations on the gangway, at the security area and one near the towel return) and had self-serve dispensers at every stair case landing. I was waiting for the masks.

Finally, the staff was professional, courteous and friendly. The cruise director did not make too many announcements and the captain was very capable and serious about his job. For example, as usual, drinks are for sale as soon as you board, and as usual, there is a safety drill prior to sailing. The two events may be hours apart, therefore almost guaranteeing that some passengers may not be cooperative in attending the drill.  The captain refused to sail until it had been reported that everyone had been accounted for and everyone was on deck for the drill.  In addition, the crew conducted another drill while we were in port one day.

Would I sail with Royal Caribbean again? Yes. The Radiance class? Yes. However, I must say, I would not rank Royal Caribbean above Carnival. At this point, they are neck and neck.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A "Band" New Day: Disney Magic Bands

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Disney's Magic Bands ®
I'm hopping up and down because my Disney Magic Bands have arrived for my upcoming vacation. The bands are literally the tickets/passports to Disney vacations.

As a Disneyite, I am still rooted in reality and I can certainly tell you the negative side of a Disney vacation: cost, crowds, long lines and the fact that if you dare to go on "it's a small world ®," I can almost guarantee that the song will annoy you by staying in your brain for at least 24 hours (that, and the mystery of the long 60 minute wait for "Peter Pan's Flight®." It's a cute ride and all, but I liked Universal's "E.T. Adventure ®" better.) It's also advisable to get your spot for the parades almost an hour in advance. One holds the spaces while the others get ice cream or go to the restroom.

But, Disney is a master of creating entertainment that involves the whole family and under the seemingly sticky sweet persona is a shrewd business that is one of the largest employers in the world, especially Florida. This keeps people coming back year after year. They treasure their repeat customers and so they are always retooling and refining themselves. Enter one of their newest projects: the Magic Bands.

The Magic Bands are waterproof wristbands with a chip inside that can function as your admission ticket, your annual pass, your hotel key if you are staying in a Disney resort, your "credit card" in Disney (if you are at a resort) and also, your FastPass+. Huh?

Disney's All Star Resort: The Bands are your hotel keys
When we were younger, you never knew how long you may have to wait for rides Theme parks later installed wait time clocks, based on their assessment of how long a person would reach the ride itself. Later, parks realized they could make more money by charging for the privilege of "skipping the lines." "FastPass" (by various names in many theme parks) involves reserving a spot at your favorite ride to avoid the long lines at the more popular attractions.
Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom): Stand by and Fast Pass entrances

Disney never charged for its FastPass. However, for some reason they decided to revamp its system. (They take a lot of surveys of guests and this must have been one of the chief complaints). An employee tipped us off to it last year: he had just been to a presentation and hinted something new was coming with the FastPass system and the entry tickets.  

In the past, you went to the FastPass kiosk at the particular ride you wanted, inserted your admission ticket and received another ticket for the reservation. To avoid clogging up the system, only a certain amount of reservations would be issued for an attraction per day and you could only get one every few hours. Your FastPass ticket told you when you could get another FastPass. We would plan which attractions were worth waiting on line for and which ones we would need to get a FastPass for and plan our day around that and the shows schedules (parades and such).
Lights, Motors, Action stunt show (Hollywood Studios)
Now, you can actually book your spot in line at the more popular attractions in blocks of more than one attraction (you pick from "groups"). Disney has lumped certain rides together in packages like the Rockin' Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (along with two others). You book the time you want and then plan the rest of your day. You are allowed to book FastPass times 30 days in advance.

If you choose to book your FastPass times at the park, they are currently installing new kiosks. Some are up and running and some areas have cast members (employees) with iPads to help you reserve your spot. You click and swipe and voila, you have your reservation.

FastPasses are not just for rides. You can use them for character greetings and shows. I would not use them for "The Little Mermaid" in Hollywood Studios, but I could understand a family with antsy children not wanting to stand in line for 20-30 minutes. 
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom): FastPass worthy for the kids

In the FAQ's, Disney anticipated the question about spontaneity. You can still simply show up at the park and stand in line if you want. Wait times are still posted.

My issues: you have to actually think about what you may want to do far in advance; weather may shut down a ride at the time you want; if you don't book in advance and you try to do it at the park, the ride you want may not be available early. For a popular attraction such as Toy Story Midway Mania, the massively popular game where you ride and shoot at targets, this can be 90-120 minutes (no lie). Finally, the most popular attractions are in one group and you can only choose one. For example, in Epcot, Soarin' and Test Track are in the same group (hint: pick Soarin').

So, how do you get a Magic Band? Well, you simply either stay at a Disney resort and/or purchase an admission. To do that, one should create an account at Many people really plan their trip in advance and you can purchase your tickets way ahead (as opposed to the rest of us who hop in the car or on a plane and hope for the best). Once you have purchased your ticket, the fun begins. Choose your color (so that each family member can keep track). Instead of an actual ticket you will receive a Magic Band in the mail. A series of emails will pump up your anticipation (along with the one that tells you your band has shipped).

For those who may choose to purchase your ticket at the park, you can upgrade your paper ticket for a Magic Band for @12.95.

So, how will it work? I'm going in mid-July and I'll let you know!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coney Island: Sharing a local treat

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Coney Island Boardwalk
As per Wikipedia, Coney Island is one of the oldest amusement areas in the world. Seaside resorts, traveling fairs and carnivals, world's fairs along with the Industrial Revolution (resulting in rides) and an increase of the masses having money to spend on entertainment gave rise to amusement parks. Coney Island, being near the shore, was a natural location for NYC to have its own. One could say that Coney Island was one of the original staycations, easily accessible by subway from Manhattan yet far enough to feel like you're out of town, literally at the seashore, staying at one of the fabulous resort hotels that were popular in the mid to late 1800s.
The Cyclone
The name Coney comes from the Spanish "conejo," which means rabbit. Apparently, the peninsula was full of the little bunnies until development limited their numbers. "Coney" was a nickname that stuck.

Popular before World War II, Coney Island descended into almost a delicious seediness, where only hardy NY locals would dare to go. Nathan's, the famous hot dog stand, the Cyclone, one of the grandfathers of all roller coasters, the Deno's Wonder Wheel and the inactive 1939 World's Fair souvenir, the red Parachute Jump managed to survive despite the disintegration of the 1960s and 1970s. New York State may not have the best of everything but we do have almost one of everything and city folk in particular patronize the beach and enjoy the boardwalk with the best of them.
Surf Avenue
Meanwhile, an entire community built up around the resort area, complete with houses, housing projects, schools, churches and supermarkets. Street names like Neptune, Surf and Mermaid pay tribute to the seaside theme, but make no mistake, Coney Island is a real neighborhood and a vital part of NYC.

Coney Island limped along until the 1980s revitalization started. Despite the fact that it can seem like one big business, Coney Island was always actually several independently owned parks, the most famous seemingly being Deno's, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park. You can read about the process on Wikipedia, but now, 30 years later, thanks to local politicians and developers, the area is a hot spot.
The new Thunderbolt, Coney Island (editorial usage)
Locals, however, are not giving it up to the tourists so easily, however. NYC can promote it to the out-of-towners all it wants but Coney Island belongs to us, always has and always will. When you visit, just remember you're in our house and our rules apply. But don't worry, there is plenty of NYPD to keep everyone in line. The place seems to be even more alive after dark: with everything lit up and the noise of the games spilling out onto Surf Avenue.
Nathan's Famous
You can make a day or weekend of coming to this part of Brooklyn. Get there early, and visit the NY Aquarium. Still rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, there is enough to do and enjoy while you interact with marine life and learn about conservation. Next, stroll down the street and take in a few rides. The amusement parks still operate old school: admission is free and you buy tickets (or books of tickets) to ride the attractions. Old and new games are there, also: bring lots of cash, they are not as cheap as they used to be! You'll find Luna Park, Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, and more! Comprehensive info can be found at Coney Island Fun Guide.
Soaring Eagle
Believe it or not, the sideshow still exists. I've never been in to see if there really were freaks of nature, but take a chance if you dare and enjoy a relic of the old carnivals. You can also visit a museum dedicated to "defending the honor of American popular culture!" Coney Island USA.
Wonder Wheel (trademarked, editorial usage)
Cut through the parks and head to the famous boardwalk, immortalized in many movies, including the building in the film Two Weeks Notice at 21st Street and the Boardwalk. Warning: NYC waters never really warm up, our season is too short, but the Parks Department is making an effort to keep the beaches clean and you are guaranteed to be totally entertained by the locals. It's never boring. Official season is Memorial Day to Labor Day for the life guards and they mean it. In the winter, dare to dive in with local polar bear clubs, especially on New Year's Day.
The Boardwalk
When you get hungry and thirsty, this is the best place to fall so far off your diet that you have no choice but to walk it off on the entire boardwalk. Custard ice cream, seafood, candy, popcorn and all sorts of interesting drinks tempt you along the boardwalk and Surf Avenue. Of course, the most well-known is Nathan's Famous. Many New Yorkers will not eat Nathan's anyplace else. Somehow, it tastes better down here. However, the other spots are just as good, particularly since Nathan's can seem slow and the lines can be very long.
MCU Park (editorial usage)
In the evening, take in future sports stars at Municipal Credit Union (MCU) Park and cheer on the Brooklyn Cyclones, one of our local minor league baseball teams. Like any other sports venue, you do not have to be a sports fan to enjoy an outing at the ballpark. With the mascot running around and all the fun things in between innings, a minor league game becomes quite intimate. The park is smaller, the players are accessible and the crowd is fun. It is certainly cheaper.
Williams Candy Store, next to Nathan's, Surf Ave

Afterwards, stroll back to Williams Candy store and take home one of the famous candy apples or get some more ice cream.
Subway Station
Getting there: the old BMT lines, now known as the MTA F, Q, N, D trains will take you to the area. The main buses would be the B36 and B68. By car, it gets a little complicated and parking between June and September is ridiculous, but for a small fortune, you can park in privately owned lots without running out to the meter every 15 minutes.

So, come on down to our very own seashore resort area and take a few moments to enjoy yourself.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kids, Travel and You: Part 3 Basic Activities in Europe

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This review is my personal opinion. I am not paid by anyone. I do not receive any amenities (free or discounted).

Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

Europe is often a dream vacation for many people. This could be that we common folk envied the upper classes of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries who often sent their young people on the Grand Tour as a rite of passage, introducing them to the experiences and cultures of various countries. In more recent times, college or high school junior year abroad through exchange student programs and backpacking across Europe has made traveling to be more reachable to the masses.

Now that traveling abroad seems more doable than ever, it can still be expensive, but it does not have to be the vacation that you put off until later. It is possible that you will be traveling with your family, with children of various ages. In this 3rd part of our series, we explore basic activities to do (with a more specific activities next time).
Capri, Italy

1. Plan in advance

As we stated in the first two parts, a successful family vacation depends on your already established family dynamics and how much prep you put into the process. This gives you plenty of time to plan local activities that will introduce your child to the culture they will see: restaurants, museums, US cities that resemble European cities and maybe some apps that introduce the language.
Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain
2. Is it the right for everyone?

It is difficult to travel with children, but even more so with children under 3. I would think long and hard before going to Europe (unless it is an offer you simply cannot refuse or you have relatives there). You will also have to do a lot of research before planning a trip with children (or adults) with disabilities. We are very fortunate (and spoiled) with the laws and regulations regarding accessibility here in the USA. While we were in Venice and Amalfi, we often thought about mobility issues as we navigated stairs, canals, cobblestone alleys, steep streets and hotels and train stations without no elevators. Wheel chairs, strollers, canes and crutches were often not accommodated. Sad, but true.

Amalfi Coast, Italy
3. Will it be the right time of year?

Take into account the time of year. Remember, the seasons are reversed past the equator (it's summer in Australia in February). Summer in Europe is hot and the down time is August. Some attractions have reduced hours but some hotels may have reduced rates. However, beaches are crowded and beach hotel rates are high. Spring Break as the best time. It can still be crowded. But not every school has their spring recess at the same exact time. Weather can be a gamble, but that's what museums are for.

Window display in pizza restaurant, Notting Hill, London

4. What to do?

Basic: playing on-going games. Challenge your child to say hello, please, thank you, good-bye and their menu choice in the target language. In Italy, we did not go inside every church but we got a kick out of the fact that every city and town called their big church "Il Duomo." So we started comparing the architecture, taking snapshots with our phones or tablets and pointing out the differences. Ditto the many piazzas (plazas) with their bell towers. We got lucky with several of the plazas: there were street fairs, vendors, musicians, performers and carousels. Wander through Firenze (Florence) on an afternoon and you will be surprised (count the Vespas).
St. James Park, Loondon

Gardens: Springtime brings flowers and butterflies and rolling hills. I have traveled with pre-teen rambunctious little boys who turn into the most curious students at farms and gardens. Any place that encourages touching and participation is a guaranteed hit. Some museums are also gardens: your kids will want to pose by each sculpture at the Musee Rodin.  At Versailles, rather than touring each palace, opt for only Marie Antoinette's Estate and pay extra for the musical fountain show in the gardens in the evening.
Musee Rodin, Paris

Ferris Wheels ("Eyes"): They seem to be all the rage: London, Paris, Niagara Falls (Canada), a few places in Japan. We're even building one in NYC.  These are outside of the theme parks and there are often attractions surrounding them as add-ons.

Wax museums: Keep your children's ages in mind for these. Some have horror themes. For the others, it can be spooky standing next to a life size statue that looks like it may come alive at any moment. But, wax museums can be good history lessons and certainly a lot of fun.
Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate), Barcelona, Spain
Children's Museums: they are popping up more and more in Europe. The USA seems to be the place that is child-centered and places around the world are on the band wagon. The Leonardo da Vinci Museum in Florence (there's one in Milan, too) is hands on.  

Canals and steps and bridges, in Venice, oh, my!

Boat Rides: Venice, Capri, Versailles. If you have ever taken a ferry, your kids can handle this!

Buckingham Palace, London
Montjuic, Barcelona, Spain
Forts, castles and palaces: These are always a hit with kids: castles and cannons and towers and tales of pirates and adventures, oh my! Sometimes, they're coupled with a park or a fair may be happening. They can be dusty, so don't wear your best clothing. Montjuic in Barcelona comes to mind.
Roland Garros: Site of the French Tennis Open, Paris, 
Olympic and Sports Museum, Barcelona

Sports arenas and museums: Many Olympic sites have been converted for public use, one can visit the four famous tennis open stadiums, or it could be high season for the local favorite. Check your local listings, as they say.
School bus in Positano, Italy
Schools: Depending on the age of your child, just walk by a local school. Seeing kids play in the yard somehow always links the cultures of the similarities, makes a city seem more real. For the older ones, walk by a famous university.
Magnet Butterflies

Shopping: Depending on the age group, this can be dangerous, but setting down some ground rules can make this possible. Compare prices of their favorite sneakers and make them do the conversion, look at the language of the foods in a market and note the lack of huge supermarkets. Check out the many neighborhood marts and how people still shop daily for dinner. Finally, you may run into one of the farmer's markets. Paris!

Restaurants: Eating can be a challenge, but while world cuisine is one reason to travel, at the same time, it's universal. Restaurants are realizing that people are traveling with their kids and are starting to accommodate them. Encourage kids to try new things but almost every place has fries (believe it or not). 

Arc de Triomf in Ciutadella Park, Barcelona, Spain
Tuileries Garden, near the Louvre, Paris

Central parks: When you have seen the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo's David (which you should certainly do), take some down time, get ice cream (yes, break the nutrition rules and always try a local kid's snack) and walk in the park. Outside of the Louvre you have Tuileries Gardens, up the street from Buckingham Palace is St. James Park or visit one of the 8 Royal Gardens. Madrid has it's Parque de Retiro.
Piccadilly Circus, London

Night Time: Cities come alive and lights are fantastic at twilight. Make sure your lodging is in a well lit and well populated area. The Eiffel Tower actually gives a light show, vendors sell little toys with lights in Florence and Venice, London's Piccadilly Circus looks like Times Square and Barcelona's Ramblas seems to never sleep as you window shop. Fountains are lit up, families are taking strolls and you can walk off your dinner before putting the little ones to sleep.
Street artist in Siena, Italy
In the hotel room: Television programming is likely to be limited and children's programming may be sparse. I would suggest bringing a tablet with downloaded books, games and movies. If you have wi-fi, make it your child's job to research the next day's agenda and let him find it on the map. Keeping your child active will likely make her tired, so TV may be a non-issue anyway.

All in all, taking children on a trip to Europe can be fun, educational and an adventure for all with just a few adjustments and some pre-planning.

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