Summer Fun: The Beach!

So we’ve been super busy here.  It’s the summer time and we are just on the go go go go with vacations and birthdays.  I think I can finally catch my breath and post an update about our beach trip!

We recently took a road trip 4 hours away to the beach.  It was fantastic, tiring, and fun.  Thankfully my 3 year old occupied himself the entire time by singing and the baby took her naps in her car seat.  We stopped half way down at a Chick-Fil-A for lunch, and it happened to have a play place so my son could run around while we waited for our food.  On the way back was the same as well, but we stopped at Cracker Barrel instead.  My son had fun roaming the store and we played a little eye-spy in the restaurant.

The beach itself was interesting.  Armed with a lot of sand toys, my son enjoyed the beach.  At one point we really didn’t need the toys because he enjoyed chasing the seagulls.  Go figure.  My daughter enjoyed the beach and ocean so much.  She did not mind the waves coming in and she just splashed around like it was bath time.

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One thing I highly recommend, and researched for a month leading up to our beach trip, is a little cabana/tent.  I wanted one that was large enough for the kids to play or nap in; something that was easy to set up and take down; and something that wouldn’t take up a lot of space in our car.  The Lightspeed Outdoors Quick Cabana Beach Tent Sun Shelter totally fit the bill!  It opens and closes kind of like an awkward umbrella.  I think it was awkward for us since my husband and I are fairly short (he’s 5’7″ and I’m 5’2″).  But my husband managed to get it set up fairly quickly.  I also loved the little pockets on the sides of the tent to weigh it down with sand.  It also comes with stakes if you want to tie it down on grass surfaces.  I put a picnic blanket down because previous reviews said that the mat gets really hot when exposed to sunlight.  Inside you can easily set down two beach chairs, like the Tommy Bahama ones, and still have a lot of room for sand toys, coolers, beach bags, babies!  Depending on the time of day, the tent will provide a shadow at the front.  So my son was playing in the sand right outside of the tent and wasn’t in the harsh sunlight.  When it’s broken down, it is just slightly bigger lengthwise than a camping chair.  How awesome is that?!  The windows were great and allowed a breeze to flow through, but could be easily shut to stop the sunlight from burning a child. It’s a bit pricey, but for us totally worth it because we plan on using it for future beach visits.  So if you are in the market for one, I really recommend this one!

Overall our trip was quite the success.  My son at one point had the quintessential beach day:  no nap, sand, beach, ice cream, funnel cake, and fried chicken tenders with fries.  The only problem with a great long weekend at the beach is returning back to reality.  But imagine that with a threenager…

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Alcatraz Trip

alcatrazSo we (and by we, really me) decided that we were going to pack up the kids and go to Alcatraz. There was an art installation by Ai Weiwei that was in its last week at Alcatraz, and so I managed to find tickets for the first boat out on a Saturday–which is 8:45am!!!  I was a bit hesitant about going with an infant and toddler, but it was actually pretty easy (mostly because no one had a meltdown).

The whole place is actually handicap friendly, which means you can easily take the stroller.  We actually kept Oliver in the stroller most of the time because it was a lot of walking, and I knew that he would get tired of walking.  From the dock to the prison is a pretty steep hill for young kids, but it was probably the safest for Oliver to walk so long as you let your fellow travelers go ahead of you.  The prison has way too many people milling about and it was just easier to keep Oliver in his stroller.  So if you do ’86 the stroller, just be prepared to shield your child from the stampede as he/she slowly saunters about.

There is no food on Alcatraz!!!  There’s a snack bar on the boat that sells hot drinks and then junky food, like hot dogs and nachos.  It’s probably safest to pack some snacks for your wee ones and yourself.  You also aren’t allowed to eat in the prison, but the people there didn’t mind Oliver munching away when he was in his stroller.  You can eat by the dock, and there are benches to make it more comfortable.  You can only drink water in the prison; all other drinks must be consumed outside.

I kept Sammy in the Ergo, which was super easy.  If baby wearing is still comfortable for you, I highly recommend doing that as it just eliminates navigating a stroller through a crowd.  It also meant that Sammy could just easily take a nap whenever and where ever without me missing a beat.

However, I did have to pause my audio tour to feed Sammy.  You could technically try feeding the baby in a jail cell, which would make for an amusing photo.  But there are many people trying to take photos of themselves in these cells, so it’s best not to monopolize the time with your feeding session.  I fed Sammy in the library; we sat on the bench closest to the wall so that she wouldn’t be so distracted by the hoards of people coming into the library or walking down the halls.  The cafeteria also has many benches.  Outside the prison, there’s a few benches when you go through the warden’s office, although that area is pretty busy because you do have a great view of San Francisco from there.  There’s also a bench at the entrance to the prison and then the benches by the dock.

As for the prison itself… it’s great for the adults, not very valuable for young kids.  I kept telling Oliver this was the place where bad people used to live.  But he didn’t really care.  We also brought Oliver’s Leap Frog laptop with him to keep him occupied.  Ordinarily this would be problem, say in a museum.  But since your Alcatraz ticket comes with an audio tour, no one got distracted by the noises coming from his toy (from what I could tell at least).  He did walk around a little bit in the prison, once for a photo of him in solitary confinement and then another point because he was tired of being in his stroller.  But again, it was easiest to keep  him in the stroller because of the crowd.

The first boat that leaves for Alcatraz is 8:45am, but you have to show up 30 minutes early to sort out tickets and wait in line to get on the boat.  I believe the boats leave every 30 minutes.  The 8:45 start time was super early for us, but it worked out in the end.  It just made for a very long day.  For an adult, you will spend at least 2 hours on the island, but you should probably tack on an additional half hour to an hour to that when you are with children.  Because my husband and I have already done Alcatraz in the past, we just did the parts we enjoyed.  So we were able to make it back to the mainland in time for a noon lunch.

Alcatraz is definitely doable with young kids.  Just make sure you are very prepared and take your time while you are there.  I know that sounds counterintuitive as a parent because you are just anticipating that meltdown.  But if you are well prepared you can prevent the meltdowns and actually enjoy your tour!

Flying With Tot

IMG_0006So we recently flew to the East Coast and back with our toddler.  This is a big deal since we now have to pay for his seat and he can finally collect air miles!  Although it is annoying that the price of his seat is the same as an adult.  But that’s another blog post.

Anyhoo, if you’ve ever flown with children, you know how annoying lugging around a car seat is through the airport while wrangling your child and hand carry (no matter how light your try to pack).  Thankfully we bought a CARES Harness, because lets face it–that lap belt barely keeps an adult in their seat, let alone a small child.  The CARES Harness was really easy to install, doesn’t take up room in a hand carry (it fit easily in my purse), is super light, and most importantly it is FAA approved!  My toddler didn’t mind either–to him it was like putting him in his car seat.  My one complaint about the contraption is that my son ended up sliding through the bottom since there’s no fastner in the crotch area to keep him up-right.  Otherwise we were really happy with it.  So if you are flying with your youngster any time soon, I highly recommend getting this product!!!

Monterey, CA

 

monterey_bay_aquariumSo the other weekend we did a family overnight stay to Monterey, CA.  We had a free night at the Intercontinental that was expiring, so we thought why not just drive the two hours south.  Since Baby Monster loves the aquarium part of the California Academy of Sciences, we thought it would be a good to take him to the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium.  The price tag can be steep for a family, especially if you really can’t see the entire aquarium in one go because your toddler gets tired and bored.  But we happily discovered two things about admissions to the aquarium:

1.  If you buy a ticket an hour before they close, you can return to the aquarium the next day with the same ticket for the entire day.

2.  If you are a hotel guest at any of the hotels in Monterey, they sell two day passes for the price of the regular one day admission.

This was great for us.  We spent about 2 to 3 hours each of the two days we were in town.  It meant we didn’t have to over tire our toddler out by seeing everything in one day.  And we didn’t spend the $120 I thought we might spend to do the aquarium during the weekend.  Win!

Puerto Rico

 

Oliver_kingWe went to Puerto Rico when Baby Monster was almost 3 months old.  It actually was pretty easy to travel with him at that age, and it was super helpful having my mother and brother there to help out.  That was a picture of him sitting on our king size bed in our hotel room.

For the most part, it was easy to do many things with a baby in a stroller.  It was also helpful that at the time he could sleep anywhere.  Old San Juan was an excellent adventure with many things to see, especially for someone very new to the world.  And Old San Juan is pretty stroller friendly.  We also did the Bacardi Tour, which was also pretty stroller friendly.  You have to break down the stroller when you are on the tram ride to the distillery, but then you can set it back up when you get there.

Helpful hints about Puerto Rico.  It’s like traveling to another city in the US, except they also speak Spanish (they all know how to speak English).  So you can definitely find creature comforts you would expect back home.  This includes formula and diapers!  So we packed just enough diapers and formula to get us through traveling for a day.  Once we arrived to our destination, we went to the local grocery store and stocked up on what we needed for the baby.  And leave the travel crib behind if you are staying in any hotel.  Most have pack n’ plays for your baby.  Just call and make sure they have them, and when you check in, remind them again that you need that set up ASAP.  Finally, pack a lot of light cotton clothing!  It gets hot, and you want breathable fabrics for your baby.

Also, before you go to Puerto Rico, ask your pediatrician about water.  We went in November, and it was soooooooo incredibly hot.  Some may recommend giving more formula or breastfeed more, but others might say a little water is ok.  The same thing goes for sun tan lotion when they are super young.

Infant Flying Tips

 

Oliver_beachBaby Monster is a traveler like his parents, taking his first trip to Puerto Rico at the tender age of 2.5 months.  My husband and I were invited to a good friend’s wedding in Puerto Rico way before Baby Monster was conceived.  We went back and forth whether or not to go to the wedding with a newborn.  In the end, we bit the bullet and booked everything.  Our decision to go was made easier because my mom and brother came too (to enjoy Puerto Rico and help with the baby).

It sounds overwhelming to travel with a new human being, especially flying.  Baby Monster is now 18 months, and we’ve flown to Europe twice, across the country almost a handful of times, Puerto Rico, and to Seattle.  Of those times, Baby Monster and I (meaning without husband) have flown together twice.  It’s scary, but doable.  I still freak out and I swear I won’t fly by myself again, but we do it.  I always get told by other passengers that my son is very well behaved, meanwhile I think he was a hellion.  Anyhoo, here are some tips (other than packing lightly) to the parents out there that are freaking out about flying with an infant.  These things worked for our family, and hopefully you may find them helpful for yours.

1.  Book flights on Wednesday or Saturday

Why Wednesday or Saturday?  They tend to be the least busiest, meaning more empty seats!  Business travelers tend to fly Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  And your young friends tend to fly on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays, sometimes Mondays if it’s a long weekend.  So yes, Wednesdays and Saturdays (for the most part) are not quite as busy (although I think in summer all bets are off).  A full flight is the worse with a baby!

2.  Book the aisle (and window if you can)

Most planes now have rows of three.  If you fly by yourself with your infant, book the aisle.  You get quick access to the bathroom for the diaper changes.  And if your infant is a crawler, he can crawl in the aisle.  If your partner is flying with you, book that window seat!  The last seat fellow travelers will want is that dreaded middle seat.  So unless your flight is fully booked, the likelihood of having a free row increases when you book aisle and window.  If there is someone who ends up getting stuck in the middle, they will happily exchange for the window seat so you and your partner can sit together.

Some planes, especially international flights, offer a bassinet if you sit at the bulkheads.  Don’t book these when you buy your tickets because they charge extra (unless you want to of course).  When you are at the desk getting your bags checked, ask if the bulkheads are available.  If they are, they can change your seats to the bulkhead free of charge (both United and Virgin Atlantic).  There are pros and cons to the bulkhead.  The pros are the bassinet is super super nice to have your baby nap in instead of your arms (the bassinet also has a harness to keep them strapped in there), and there’s more room at your feet so your little one can just play on the floor in front of you.  The cons are if your baby already rolls over in their sleep the bassinet is pretty useless, and you can’t keep your baby bag in front of you because bags need to go overhead.  So keep that in mind.  For shorter flights, I could live without the bulkhead.  For long flights (5+ hours), the bulkheads are probably best.

3.  Gate check your stroller and car seat

Many people don’t know this, but you can check your stroller and car seat free of charge when you are traveling with a baby (and children!).  Some people can live without the stroller and prefer a carrier, but we do both.  Sometimes we carried Baby Monster and used the stroller to push around our carry ons.  But most of the time Baby Monster likes to zip through the airport terminal in his stroller.  It definitely gets you to your gate faster.

You can also check your car seat at the desk when you do your check baggage.  You can buy a car seat bag (we use the Brica version) or use a garbage bag.  You want to cover your car seat to protect it from the elements and grime of plane travel.  But before you check your car seat, ask the desk people if your flight is fully booked.  If it’s not, and you happen to have an empty row (they really do try to keep rows with lap infants free) you can bring the car seat on the plane with you for free (if your car seat is FAA approved, and it should say so on the side or in your manual).  This is great when your baby is super young and they easily sleep in their car seat.  It becomes trickier when they are more active, e.g. start rolling, crawling, etc.  You have to put your car seat in the window seat, which is fine.  You can also do this with a convertible car seat, but it’s trickier (doable, but trickier).  Another pro tip is you can stick extra diapers or clothes in the car seat bag if you are checking the car seat in.

Why gate check vs. normal check?  The likelihood the airline/airport loses these essential items are minimized if you check them at the gate.  Airlines manage to lose luggage or forget to put luggage on a plane.  Can you imagine finding out you don’t have your car seat when you get to your destination?!  Also your stroller and car seat can easily get damaged from the 50 lb. bags that come shooting out of the baggage carousel.

4.  Bring enough food for the flight and more!

It’s actually not that difficult to fly if your baby is strictly on breast milk because their food supply will never run out.  If your baby is starting solids and you have formula to boot, it just involves extra planning.  You basically need a bottle for take off and a bottle for landing because the sucking helps the babe’s ears deal with the changing cabin pressure.  I also find it soothes them during a crazy (and loud) time during the flight.  You can also use a pacifier for times like these.  Try to keep your baby on the feeding schedule they are used to (home time zone of course).  And then plan for extra feedings or food if they get fussy in the middle of the flight.  And as a traveler you should know that delays happen (Baby Monster and I dealt with a 2 hour delay last week).  So you want to prepare for that as well.  You can never have enough food with you.  It’s a hassle to get it checked at TSA, but it’s worse when your child is hungry and you are in the air and they can’t eat the wine and cheese plate they are offering for $12.

5.  Bring light toys and books

I pack 2 or 3 of his smallest and lightest toys he enjoys.  I only take them out one at a time.  When he’s bored of one toy, we move on to the next.  This usually entertains him for most of the flight.  You don’t have to, but I also buy a small light toy or book he’s never seen before.  This usually entertains him twice as long because it’s new and exciting.  Save these toys and books for the flight.  Don’t pull them out before you board.

6.  Run around the terminal

Before you board your flight, let your baby explore the terminal especially if they are active!  They’ll have more room to move about and the terminal is just as exciting as any toy you brought along.  A lot of airports now how safe kid spaces for children to play in before you board.  Check to see if your airport offers one.  Even if your baby isn’t active, walk them around and point and talk about the new and exciting things they see.  The idea behind this is to exhaust and stimulate them that they will be sleepy by the time they get on the plane and you give them that bottle or nurse them at take off.

7.  Bring the infant carrier or Ergo

I know it may seem like over kill when you have a stroller and car seat to deal with, but you should bring it.  We use the Ergo when we go traveling, but bring whatever you are most comfortable with.  Traveling domestically in the US, you can have your baby in a carrier when you go through the metal detector.  For international flights you must carry your baby.  Having the carrier is super super helpful when going through security because it keeps your hands free.  Once TSA checks our boarding passes and IDs and we are about to hit the security bag check, I take Baby Monster out of the stroller and strap him in the Ergo.  I then have free hands to get my shoes off and put that in the bin, etc.  Depending on how quickly we need to get to the gate (or how comfortable he is), I keep him in the carrier and load up our stuff in the stroller.  When they make that announcement at your gate that boarding will begin in 5 minutes, I put him in the Ergo and put our hand carry in the stroller.  Again, you have your hands free to fold the stroller and set it aside by the plane, and again when you have to put your hand carry away.  We still use the Ergo at 18 months.  Do this–you won’t regret it!

I think those are all my pro-tips regarding air travel with a baby.  It’s doable.  I curse myself every time I have to travel by myself with Baby Monster, but I did it again.  And it’s so so so easy flying when they are really young.  Flying to Puerto Rico was by far the easiest flight we have ever taken with him.  It gets progressively harder as they get older and I hear it doesn’t get better until closer to 3.  But don’t let it  stop you from traveling because it is doable!  And remember the reward you get for traveling!!!