Eden’s 2nd Birthday – Another NY Kids Club Production!

I couldn’t believe my little girl was turning two already! I feel like we had just done a cake smash and celebrated her first birthday party at New York Kids Club.   I was brainstorming things to do for her second birthday party.  We lived in a small apartment in NYC, so we couldn’t have it at home, and in March, the weather was not nice enough to do something in the park.  The beauty of living in NYC is that there are just so many options of venues and places that throw toddler birthday parties.  However, I thought back to how much fun everyone had last year and how convenient and easy it was for us, so I decided to hold her 2nd birthday party at the NY Kids Club location on 68th street and Amsterdam Avenue.     It was right around the corner for us and on top of that they really made my life easy last year with planning and executing the party.  I felt badly because this year we were in the middle of a move and prepping for baby number two, so I had very little free time, but I still wanted to give her a fun birthday party.  I knew that with the incredible staff and party planner at New York Kids Club, I would be able to throw her a really great party with not a lot of work on my part.

I talked and met with Brant beforehand and he asked me a quick checklist for the amount of food I needed, the desserts I desired, the theme of the party along with a few other details.  You have the option to bring your own food, dessert, decorations, cutlery and party favors or they can provide everything for you at a very reasonable price.  The only thing I brought were some snacks they set up for the adults and an Elmo cake because I had already ordered it before we decided on NY Kids Club.  However, we decided to take them up on the dessert option as well and had a few dozen sesame street cupcakes made which came out great.  They even personalized them with Eden’s name on some of them.   For the Elmo cake, I worked with Belly Joy Bakery  upon a recommendation from another mom.   Anastasija is such a talented artist and baker.  I sent her a few pictures of what I was thinking and she came up with a great creation.  She also delivers, which made it so easy.  My daughter absolutely loved the cake!  She also made some chocolate vegan cupcakes, which were delicious and very much appreciated by some of Eden’s friends who have lactose allergies or sensitivities.  She  uses all organic ingredients in her baking.  I think I saw this as a good excuse to have my fair share of cupcakes and cake, but then remembered organic does not necessarily mean calorie and sugar free.  But part of me still felt a little less guilty indulging!

I chose a circus theme for the party, one of New York Kids Club’s newest offerings.  It was a lot of fun for the kids.  They do parties for 1 – 12 year olds, but offer a variety of options catered to each age group.  Even once we were there, they customized things like the music on the spot.  My daughter (and probably most of her friends) happens to love “Baby Shark,” so they played that a few times!  The ringleaders were with the children the entire time guiding them across the balance beam or spotting them as they jumped on the trampoline.  They played with bubbles and led songs with the parachute.  We had kids there from a few months to 10 years old and everyone had a great time!  Their team really has it down to a science and knows how to throw a tightly run, engaging and fun birthday party.

In addition to birthday parties, New York Kids Club also has a terrific preschool program, enrichment classes, camps, and playtime for your little ones beginning when they are just a few months old.  For more information, you can go to NY Kids Club or check out their You Tube channel.

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Liberty Science Center, Jersey City – Fun for All Ages!

As parents to a 21 month old toddler, we are always looking for fun things to do in the New York and New Jersey area.  Even though I have lived in the city on and off for 20 years, it took until today to go visit the amazing Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, just a few minutes outside the Holland Tunnel.  We had so much fun!  I didn’t know if there would be a lot to do for someone so young, but there was a great “I Explore” exhibition with all kinds of interactive activities for the little ones.  The planetarium is spectacular, the largest in the Western Hemisphere, and is showing “One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure.” It also has a lazar light show and other shows for all ages.  

This winter, the Liberty Science Center is showcasing Doc McStuffins: The Exhibit and The International Exhibit of Sherlock Holmes.  Although my daughter is not familiar with  Doc McStuffins yet, she had such a blast, playing with all of the dolls, giving them bottles, bathing them and putting them to bed in their bassinets.  She talked on the play phones and went up and down the slide several times!  If it wasn’t nap time, she probably could have stayed there all day!

Other permanent exhibitions include the Dream Machine, Touch Tunnel, Infinity Climber, Eat and Be Eaten, Bees to Bots, Pixel Art, and a bunch more.   For a list and explanation of all the exhibits, click here,

If you need a snack break, the cafe at the Liberty Science Center is affordable and has a variety of food including fresh pizzas to healthy hot foods you can get by weight or as a side.  There is a salad bar and a variety of snacks.

So if you’re looking for some family fun and learning on a cold winter day, or anytime of year, the Liberty Science Center is a great place to spend a few hours or an entire day!  Click here for admission details.

Club Med Sandpiper Bay – The Perfect Family Retreat!

Are you looking for a great last minute family getaway for the holidays or New Years? Maybe you want to wait for the airfare prices to dip and take a trip in January.  If you do decide to head down to Florida for the holidays or add on a few days when visiting family, Club Med Sandpiper Bay is a extremely fun and relaxing all-inclusive family getaway.   For the holiday season, they have special holiday programing  including a Snowman on Sand Contest, holiday themed parades and shows, meet-and-greets and gifts for Santa, elegant holiday dinners and festive cocktail parties.  This is on top of their already comprehensive schedule of programs and activities for both adults and kids.  

We decided to add on a few extra days  when visiting the grandparents nearby in Boynton Beach a few months ago and drove just an hour to Club Med Sandpiper Bay in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Did you know there was a Club Med so close in the U.S?  The last time I was at a Club Med I was single and in Turks and Caicos.  Having the ability to still enjoy the French influence with the amazing culinary options, extensive activities, relaxing spa, and above all, the award winning baby and kids clubs made for an exceptional getaway.

My daughter has never been in daycare, so I didn’t know how it would be dropping her off at the Baby Club, but once there, she had a great time with the other children.  The GOs were terrific. They took her to lunch, put her down for a nap, went for a ride around the resort in their buggy and  then in the pool to go swimming.  This was in addition to the open play they had for the various age groups.  They have baby and kids clubs for children up to age 17.

The international buffets were terrific.  Each breakfast, lunch and dinner had a different theme each day.  And of course their traditional chocolate bread was included!  There is also an option to enjoy a sit down restaurant, also included in the cost of the resort.  They offer babysitting, for a small charge, to watch the little ones at night if you’d like to make it a quiet and romantic night.  The buffet seating is extremely family friendly with lots of kids all around, plenty of high chairs and a selection of food for all ages.  They also have a baby bar with soft foods and milk, a bottle warming station and other staples for your baby. 

Club Med Sandpiper Bay makes traveling with your little ones very simple.  They will provide you with a pack n play, diaper station in your room, a baby bathtub, and a stroller so you don’t have to worry about bringing any of that with you on your trip.  We all know how much we already have to pack, so the fact they make it carefree also helps with making the trip as stress free as possible.

I hope we can make Club Med Sandpiper Bay a family tradition.  Maybe I’ll pull in the rest of the family too because it really is perfect for family getaways and reunions!

A Family Getaway to Newport, Rhode Island (and a great place to stay in Philly!)

According to a recent study from HomeAway, 93% of Millennials would skip out on brunch if it meant they could go on a trip with their friends.  I personally love a good brunch, especially when the weather is nice and lends itself for dining outside.  However, now that I have a 15 month old, brunches are not nearly as relaxing as they used to be and I have found myself thinking I’d much rather be on the go doing something fun like traveling than sitting at a table holding it in place so my daughter doesn’t kick it again and knock the water glass into the waitress.  So how many brunches would it take to save for a weekend away? HomeAway did the math to find out just how many orders of avocado toast and mimosas you’d have to skip for a weekend away in some of the country’s top destinations.  Some destinations like the Poconos would require as little as two skipped brunches for a 2-night stay in a HomeAway vacation rental home.  You can find the brunch index here.

We decided to do just that and get out of the city for a last minute July 4th holiday.  Normally I avoid traveling during the holiday times because everything, including accommodations, are at their peak prices.  However, when I hopped on HomeAway.com, I was able to find a great place to stay for a very reasonable price. HomeAway, a site for renting beach houses, cabins, condos and more, offers vacation rentals in some of the hottest destinations for summer getaways, and because you’re renting an entire home, you will end up paying a lot less than if staying at a hotel and paying for more than one room. Bonuses include kitchens, laundry and sometimes a pool on property.  I find it perfect for family travel.  You can find some great getaways here

Since beginning this article, I had a conference in Philadelphia and my family was joining me. By the time I decided to go to the conference, hotel prices in the area were well over $300 a night.  I found a great two bedroom apartment a few blocks from the conference in historical Old City for just over $100 a night. With the 1000 square foot apartment came a kitchen, laundry and free parking in the area, which is basically unheard of in Philly!   The apartment is newly renovated and spacious, and the owner, Avi Lasri, was great at corresponding and answering questions. My daughter had a great time in this apartment because she was able to walk from one end to the other without any safety issues.  It was furnished nicely and minimally, so we we didn’t have to worry about hiding anything or guarding anything from her.  It is on the second floor of a walk up but we had no trouble.  We just left our stroller in the car so we didn’t have to carry it up and down since we have the UppaBaby Vista which is awesome for traveling and storing things underneath, but can be tough to carry up the stairs if you are by yourself with your baby. His property is # 1349867 on HomeAway.com.

We stayed in beautiful Newport, Rhode Island for three nights.  The downtown area has some great shops and restaurants.  The Cliff Walk is a gorgeous 3.5 mile walk overlooking the water and runs adjacent to the mansions.  It does have some steps and in parts a lot of rocks, so if you’re traveling with little ones, you’ll want to skip the stroller and use a carrier.  With the seafood being so fresh, we had some terrific meals.  For lunch one day, we went to the Grace Vanderbilt Hotel.  The Colonial House existed on the 41 Mary Street Plot as far back as 1720.  A luxury boutique hotel, it is kid and pet friendly.  The Grace Hotel brand also has locations in other northeast coastal towns of the US, the Greek Islands, northwest Argentina, and in the exclusive Barrio residential and commercial district of Panama City.  

The restaurant, Vanderbilt Grill, is a great spot to have lunch or dinner.  If the weather is nice, meals are served in their peaceful garden area and if it’s not ideal weather, their inside space still feels as though you are in a sunroom overlooking the garden.  The executive chef, Anthony Theocaropolous, specializes in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine.  He incorporates locally sourced seafood into his classic and contemporary sea-to-table dishes. I had heard that he had won the award for the ‘Best Octopus in New York’ by Ask Men, so naturally I had to try it.  It really did live up to its title. The octopus is braised in soy and marin with meyer lemon gel, smoked potatots, avocado, basil pesto and espelette.  The combination of flavors in each bite was heavenly!   I also enjoyed his seafood salad and lobster roll (yes, my eyes were bigger than my stomach!)  My 15 month old went to town on a plate of salmon, spinach and avocado.

Newport is a great place to be on the water.  We took a sail in the middle of the afternoon with Classic Cruises of Newport.  Their boat was great – large enough to have plenty of space but small enough to make new friends while sailing.  You’ll set sail  on their 72 foot schooner. For their aftenoon sails, they provide complimentary water and iced tea and for their sunset sails, champagne.  It was a very relaxing way to see Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay while also learning about the area.

For more ideas and things to do, here is a great website that lists all of the activities going on this season.  Now’s the time to enjoy all the beauty and great cusine of the New England coasline.

Exploring Italy with a Toddler

We had only taken our 14 month old on flights of two hours or less, so I wasn’t sure how an eight hour plane ride plus a layover of another 2.5 hours would go or the two hour train rides throughout Italy. We took two and a half weeks and traveled to Rome, Tuscany, Venice and the Dolomites. In Tuscany, we stayed in Montepulciano and explored Pienza, Siena, Montalcino, Pisa and then stayed two days in Florence. It was quite an ambitious trip but surprisingly went a lot better than I was expecting and it made for wonderful family time and the memories that were made were  priceless. We flew with Norwegian Air because I wanted to keep the costs as low as possible without compromising comfort. We stayed in mostly vacation homes except for during a few days in Rome and during our time in the Dolomites that I booked through HomeAway. We took the train from Rome to Chiusi where we rented a car to explore Tuscany and then dropped it off in Florence and took a train to Venice.  We then rented a car in Venice and took drove to the Dolomites.  We brought our own carseat with us so we knew it would be clean and could save money on the rentals. However, if you’d rather travel lighter, you can always rent one with your car. We took the Britax carseat travel bag with us. It was wonderful for carrying the carseat like a backpack with the padded stroller straps or rolling it. It’s also water resistant so when we got caught in the rain, it wasn’t an issue. There was even some extra room in the bag so it helped up consolidate as we could put some items in the bag as well. 

Norwegian Air hosted me on their flight and I bought tickets for my husband and daughter. We flew on their 787 Dreamliner aircraft. They have an interesting model for their international flights.  They offer four categories from which to choose – lowfare, low fare flex, premium and premium flex.  While they do charge extra for luggage, a seat assignment ahead of time, and meals, it allows you to pick and choose where you want to spend your money.  When I was looking for a one way ticket from JFK to Rome in May, my options ranged from $250-$400 depending on the day.  If you choose the low fare flex, you can check two bags, reserve a seat, get a meal and have the option to change your flight.  If you choose a specialty meal such as lactose free or vegetarian, be sure to call a few days ahead of time to reserve the meal.  With their premium seats, you get substantially more legroom with a 43-46 vs 31-32 inch seat pitch giving you up to 55 inches of legroom, a three course meal and breakfast, complimentary drinks throughout the flight, a seat reservation, two checked bags, a touch screen entertainment system, and a USB charger and power outlet by your seat.  This seat is also the fraction of what a normal business class seat would cost.  It may not be the first class type of meal you’re accustomed to if you fly business, but I would say the food was good and I would rather pay less because a comfortable seat with lots of space and one that reclines with a footrest is more important to me than the meal service.  Also, a quick note, if you are a mom who is nursing/pumping, you are allowed to bring your pump on as a medical device and it does not count towards your carry-ons. This applies to all airlines.  Just before this trip, I received an Ardo Calypso pump and it was terrific to take on the trip. My previous pump was great, but big and heavy and took up almost the entire carry-on bag.  The Ardo is Swiss made and is made to work with EU voltage as well as in the states, so you don’t have to worry about it burning out if abroad.  It is small yet still very powerful and best of all – quiet!  It is also a closed system, so the most sanitary.  This is also my new favorite pump for when I’m on the radio too – I don’t have to worry about the loud motor. 

If you don’t initially purchase a premium seat, the airline will send you an email a few days before your flight asking if you’d like to bid on an upgrade. I sat in premium on the way back with my 14 month old and it was a much more comfortable experience for both of us.  I felt there was a lot more breathing room and with the seat reclining further back and the footrest, it was easier for her to fall asleep on me.  She also loved playing with the light adjustment feature on the window in both premium and economy.  With the press of a button, you can control how much light you let in from the outside.

You’ll pay 10 percent of the cost of a regular ticket for children under two to sit on your lap.  We chose a flight with a long layover in Copenhagen so we could go to Tivoli Gardens, which is very easy to get to from the airport.  You just hop on the train that goes to city center and as soon as you get off the city center stop, it’s right there. It was  such a nice way to spend the afternoon.  It’s a very relaxing and beautiful place with rides for both young ones and adults and a great food hall.  Norwegian Air also offers direct flights to and from Rome as well as to a host of other international destinations.

When choosing where to stay at all of the locations, I wanted to make sure the hotels and vacation homes were central to where we would be exploring.  Hotel Mediteranneo was in an ideal location in Rome to kick off our trip.  Right near the termini metro stop, one can easily take public transportation all around the city, as this is the main station for transfers to other lines. It is also a few steps from the bus and train station.  The hotel is part of the Bettoja collection and is a very comfortable place to stay.  The rooms are large, the beds comfortable and they easily accommodate toddlers with a crib.  The restaurant sits on the roof terrace with a beautiful view of the city.  They have a breakfast buffet and a fabulous dinner menu.  

The hotel was designed by the Art Deco Architect Mario Loreti in 1936 and the beauty is still present in the hotel today.  With 10 floors and 245 rooms, the marble and mosaics can be found throughout the hotel alongside marble busts of Roman emperors.  The four and a half star hotel sits on top of Esquilino Hill, the highest of Rome’s Seven Hills, offering magnificent views of Rome. Its central location allows you to reach the main ancient monuments with a short walk, including the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Opera House, the Roman National Museum Romano, the basilica of Saint Mary Major and Via Veneto. The train shuttle to and from the LeonardodaVinci / Fiumicino airport, is located a few feet from the hotel.

For Montepulciano, Florence and Venice, I opted for a vacation home from HomeAway because I was trying to pack as light as possible and with laundry facilities in the homes, it’s easy to wash and wear clothes again. It turned out to come in handy a lot more than I thought, as my daughter was always getting messy, whether with pasta sauce or crawling through the piazzas making new friends.   I had also had a great experience with HomeAway in the past and love that you can rent an entire home or apartment for less than the cost of most hotel rooms and you can have separate rooms for your children without paying for more than one hotel room.

The owners I rented from were so helpful when it came to recommendations in the area and logistics for getting there.  Erika Pellegrino from Casina Pellegrino in the renaissance city of Montepulciano sent me a long pdf of information on the house, area and recommendations before we arrived.  She was also very helpful in figuring out the best way to get to her from Rome and how to maximize my days in Tuscany.  Her home had the most spectacular view of the Tuscan valley with its vineyards, lakes and olive groves. It also has two terraces on which to relax with a bottle of wine for enjoying the views.  It’s located just outside the medieval city walls and within walking distance to the shops and phenomenal restaurants. 

The property is a three tier house nestled into the hills and sits right outside the city’s medieval walls. It is downtown with its own parking which is hard to come by.  All of our meals were incredible and the wine was delicious in Montepulciano.  Her property is VRBO # 376809 can be found on HomeAway.com.

In Florence, Giovanni rented us his modern designer apartment.  He owns three apartments, Cosimo, Catherine and Lorenzo de ‘Medici, so if you are a large group of 10-12 people, you can have the full floor.  For us it was perfect because there weren’t any stairs inside the apartment we stayed in.  Our daughter loved crawling and we didn’t have to worry about safety issues.  The apartment was in a perfect location minutes from the Ponte Vecchio Bridge, Duomo, and the Pitti Palace.  He was also extremely accommodating and we had everything we needed including a washer and dryer.  Some homes in Italy don’t have dryers as they hang their clothing outside, so it was nice to have both!  In the neighborhood were plenty of restaurants and a great gelato spot on the corner across the street. His listing is 6001197 on HomeAway.com.

In Venice, we stayed at an apartment managed by Michele Marcello (Mike) in the heart of the Rialto neighborhood.  He was very helpful and met us at the water taxi stop to walk us to his apartment.  His love for Venice shines through as he offers guests so much more than just the clean and spacious apartments he looks after. The apartments are all in the San Marco district, making them particularly well located and a short walk from all the cultural spots, surrounded by the magnificent historic architecture of Teatro la Fenice, Chiesa di San Moise, Basilica di San Marco and close to many other destinations such as Scala Contarini del Bovol and the Music Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, which still bears his family name.

He tries to convey a sense of belonging to his guests, telling stories about Venice and his ancient aristocratic family, making sure guests can feel on a different level, experiencing first hand what knowledge and experience a true local can offer.

There is so much to see and do in the major cities, so we chose the Roman Guy and LivItaly Tours to guide us in Rome, Florence and Venice.  They generously hosted us so we could sample their wonderful sightseeing and food tours.  In Rome, we had a personal tour with LivItaly.  They specialize in personal and small group tours and it was perfect for seeing the Colosseum in Rome.  It can get extremely crowded very quickly, so to have someone who can take you to some of the spots closed off to the general public for some amazing pictures is worth every penny!  We toured the newly opened top tier of the Colosseum.  We were the only ones up there while the rest of the Colosseum was packed, so we were able to learn about the history and take some spectacular pictures away from the crowds.  We also took some of LivItaly’s food tours which you can read about in another article here on the Daily Meal.  Each of their tours were private so we really had the opportunity to learn a lot without getting lost in the crowd.  I’ve been on tours with ten or more people and most times unless you keep up with the person leading the tour, you will just fall behind and miss out on a lot of information. 

We took the Vatican Tour with The Roman Guy.  The Vatican was even more crowded than the Colosseum so you definitely want to hook up with a tour company so you can efficiently make your way through the museums and to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica while learning about everything along the way.  The Roman Guy offers a full and express tour with skip the line tickets which definitely will save you time.  If you are with young children or just want to leave time for other activities, I would suggest the express tour. It is still thorough and moves at a good pace. They also offer a tour in which you enter the Vatican an hour before everyone else, so if you really want to avoid the crowds, I would advise taking this tour.

In Venice, we did a walking and boat tour with the Roman Guy which included St. Mark’s Basilica known as the “Church of Gold” and took a boat ride through the canals of the city which is connected by 400 bridges.  While at St. Mark’s Basilica, we visited the rooftop terrace which offers a beautiful view of Venice. The boat portion of the tour through the grand canal and the minor canals offered a great way to see Venetian architecture, the Rialto Bridge, a must stop for a beautiful picture of the grand canal, and The Chiesa di San Polo. It was a great way to see the city, especially if you have only a day or two.

While we did get around mostly by trains and rental cars, there is a car service, Blacklane, which operates in 300+ cities around the world, so you can plan all of your transfers with them.  Their team is headquartered in Berlin and very easy to get in touch with while traveling. They work with professional, licensed drivers who will make sure you travel stress free and in comfort.  They offer carseats which means you don’t have to lug one on your flight and they have up to 60 minutes of complimentary wait time at the airport and 15 minutes elsewhere.  There is also free cancellations as long as you cancel up to one hour prior to a one way ride.  Once they pick you up inside the airport, you won’t have to worry about a thing.  Blacklane offers a concierge type travel service for passengers who want to feel confident they are going to get a great ride and service.   You can read more about their fleet and where they operate here.

I talk about all of the wonderful food and wine in my other article on Italy entitled “Eating Your Way Through Italy” and that talks about these and all of the other great places we visited.   Of course there is rich history throughout the country, but let’s face it –  it’s through the food and wine that we really get to know a place!

 

Relax, Rejuvenate and Get Healthy Family Style at ADLER Spa Resort Dolimiti

After I gave birth, I wanted nothing more than a wellness retreat – somewhere I could go to finally sit in the sauna, steam rooms, be pampered and feel like a human again.  Unfortunately, most retreats like that have a rule against bringing babies, which is understandable.  However, the gorgeous property of ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti located in the Dolomites does allow babies and children but one would never get the sense that there are kids everywhere. They generously hosted me and my family for a few days so I could experience all this property has to offer for individuals, couples and families looking to be active, unwind, eat amazing food, and/or detox.   

ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti is located in Val Gardena, one of the best and most popular holiday regions in South Tyrol.  It is in northeastern Italy’s Dolomites mountain range, named a World Heritage site by UNESCO, just one hour from Austria and an easy three hour drive from Venice.   It is a popular ski destination, but I thought also a perfect place to be in May.  The air is refreshing but not cold and the scenery around you is breathtaking.  Sitting in one of their outdoor whirlpools, panoramic sauna, heated swimming pools, or area for relaxation, one can stare at the snowcapped mountains and green landscape endlessly.  Once you’re at ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti, you don’t have to worry about a thing.  Meals are included in the half and full board option and they include a breakfast buffet with fresh breads, prosciutto, yogurt, cereals and nuts, an egg and waffle station, as well as, smoothies and a variety of juices.  Lunch is a light buffet and dinner consists of a buffet of salads, desserts and breads and a sit down menu with a wide selection of cuisine from around Italy with German influences since it is so close to Austria. The menu features dishes such as seabream, ox, king crab meat, scallops, calamari and a vegetarian and kids section.  You will definitely not go hungry and the food is top notch. 

While ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti organizes a day full of organized hikes and e-bike tours and gives you passes to take the cable car ride to Mont Sëuc and the train up to Resciesa, you can easily spend your entire day on property enjoying the spa.  The views from both Mont Sëuc and Resciesa are incredible and Resciesa is a nature park where one can spend a few hours.  The hotel can provide a hiking backpack you can use with your baby or child and a stroller free of charge.  There is also a shop nearby that rents the equipment for the day.  In addition to the hikes and e-bikes, they offer guided relaxation tours, gym classes and have a full gym.

The spa is incredible.  It includes a turkish bath, salt grotto, where one can float to the peaceful music heard under water. After your floating session, relax in the himalayan salt sauna known for its detoxing properties.  Each day, they have a ventilation in the panorama sauna and a salt peeling in the turkish bath. They were both new, invigorating and definitely unique experiences.  I felt thoroughly relaxed and detoxed.  The spa is co-ed with a woman’s only section as well.  The spa offers facial, body and hair treatments and has a wide menu of options including ayurvedic, asian and interesting massages including one that involves honey being poured and kneaded on your back.  The therapist uses various techniques that allow it to get deep into the muscles.  The facial treatments offer something for everyone from regeneration for aging skin and jetpeel, an innovation rejuvenation system through which vital elements are introduced deep into the skin without needles.

In addition to having a top of the line spa, ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti has a full medical facility with doctors that offer a free consultation and can perform a variety of tests and blood work for food intolerances and tests for your intestinal flora. You can also take advantage of skin treatments for toning and increased collagen production.

So whether you are going for a little R and R or would like to do a reboot and detox, ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti is the perfect place.  While the closest airports are a few hours away, it is well worth the drive. We drove from Venice and it took us around 3.5 hours.  On the way there, I listened to google maps and we took a very windy trip. While it was not for the faint of heart, the views were spectacular.  I later found out we could have taken highways straight there and while I loved the views, we were appreciative to take the straightforward highway route on the way back to Venice the morning we flew out!  You will thank yourself for booking a few extra days onto your Italy trip and spending them at ADLER Spa Resort Dolomiti, or even better, just take a week and stay there exclusively!

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Planning a Memorable 1st Birthday Party!

Your little munchkin is turning one – wow, what an accomplishment for you and your baby!  You navigated so much during their first year; so much that was new to you and them and you got through it together.  Now it’s time to celebrate!  If you’re like me, you probably have very little time to plan but want to make the first birthday special.  I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan which is not so conducive to having a party in your home like many would in the suburbs, but I am fortunate to be surrounded by some terrific play spaces.

We decided on the New York Kids Club on 68th and Amsterdam, which couldn’t have been more convenient for us, as it is around the corner!  And on top of that, their staff made the planning and organizing so much easier than I anticipated.   Of course I was a nervous first time mom trying to plan the perfect day for my daughter and our close friends.  They say the first birthday is always more for the adults than the kids, but I wanted everyone to have a great time.  From my first conversation with Selah, I knew I was in great hands.  She gave me options for the party – the standard package included an hour and a half of open play, organized songs, parachute play and pizza and cake time.  They also offered to order the pizzas and cake and provide decorations, paper goods and even goodie bags for the kids for an additional charge, which cost the same or less than if I had ordered them on my own.  This took a huge burden off of me, knowing all I would have to get were the food and drinks for the adults and some other baby food.

The rest of the staff at NY Kids Club was no short of amazing.  Shane worked with me on the weeks leading up to the party to finalize the details, while Joey reached out two weeks prior and was on site to make sure everything went smoothly the day of.  He was upstairs collecting gifts and giving out goodie bags while the other four party helpers did so much from setting up the food table for the adults to playing with the babies and kids during the open play and organized music, parachute play, bubbles and dance party.   They served the pizza and cake and just overall made sure everything went off without a hitch.   I thought I would be setting up the adult table, but they had everything out before we even got there!  They definitely have it down to a tee which allowed us to relax and enjoy the party. Packing up at the end was just as smooth.  They wrapped and packed everything up for us, which made it really easy to bring home and say goodbye to our guests while they took care of the rest.  We ordered the sheet cake from them and the bakery they use, Carlo’s Bakery, did a nice job and gave us the option to put an image on the cake which came out really cute!  

The play area is one of the best I’ve seen. It is a large room and perfect for a wide variety of ages.  There are  many different areas to climb, a gymnastics area, and so many balls and other toys with which to play. We had kids ages 8 months to 6 years old and everyone had a blast.

We love having a NY Kids Club so close to us.  In addition to throwing birthday parties, they offer a huge array of classes from music, art, theater, and gym to science, math and engineering.  There is also open play, a preschool and summer camp programs.  There are many locations in Manhattan, Long Island City and Brooklyn.

Since we were having a few babies under a year old at the party, I wanted to get some food they could enjoy too.  For that I ordered from Little Spoon. I was introduced to Little Spoon a few weeks ago and my daughter and I  love their organic, vegan, non-GMO baby food! It is custom-tailored and developed by a team of pediatricians, nutritionists and chefs and delivered right to your door step!  It is the perfect on the go nutritious meal.  I love Little Spoon because the little babyblends are fresh, incorporating ingredients to help develop their palate.   Each blend has a nutritional badge to help parents understand how the food connects to the various areas of baby development.  In addition to veggies and fruit, some incorporate things like  white beans, spirulina and hemp. Each little package comes with a spoon, which has been shown to be better for development than using pouches

I also decided to get Eden her own little 6 inch cake from Magnolia Bakery to see what she would do with it. Magnolia was so easy to work with and  used their expertise to offer suggestions for decoration  – cute colorful polka dots that matched her outfit.  They were perfect, as my daughter looked at it and decided to try licking each dot at a time – it was so cute and made for wonderful pictures!  We plan on getting another cake from them for her cake smash photography session which I will post here as well.   They have such a talented bakery artist!

For decorations, I used the NY Kids Club colorful balloons and added a beautiful chalkboard image by CLacey Designs on Etsy. It summed up everything Eden can do at 1 – a great framed picture to have in years to come.   The designer was so easy to work with.  She produced the finished product really quickly and was open to a few revisions I had.  

Overall, I was extremely happy with how the day went.  A lot of work went into it, but it would never have been as special as it was without the assistance of everyone involved.  Every parent wants their child’s first birthday to be special.  So whether you decide to have an intimate gathering in your home for the first birthday or choose a play space, just remember, it will be special because it is your incredible baby turning one and you made it through all the ups, down, giggles and spit ups of the first year!

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HomeAway – Ideal for Family Travel!

We decided to take a trip to Sarasota – only a two hour flight from New York and home to the beach ranked number one in the country – Siesta Key Beach.  This was our first trip that was not to visit family with our baby.  Because of that, we decided to stay  at a vacation rental property so we could have a separate room for our baby to sleep and nap and we would have all of the comforts of home with a full kitchen and washer and dryer so we could prepare her and our meals easily. It also saved us money because we went grocery shopping instead of eating out all the time.

We searched HomeAway.com. They have 2 million unique places to stay worldwide listed on their site.  Our trip was last minute during peak season in Sarasota, so this was also a great option because many hotels were already booked or their rates were out of our budget.  We found a very large home with much more space than we needed for just the three of us, but my in-laws came to visit one night, so it was perfect for all of us.  The house was basically two homes in one with two kitchens and two living rooms, so they could have one end of the house and we could have the other.  Here is the link to the property where we stayed.  https://www.vrbo.com/589863

According to statistics from HomeAway, the beach is the number one destination for vacation home bookers, with Panama City topping the list of HomeAway’s hottest destinations based on overall demand, followed by Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama, Walton County, Florida, San Diego, Four Corners in the Disney area, and Hilton Head, South Carolina.  Internationally, Paris is currently the number one destination for vacation home rentals followed by London, Rome, Puerto Penasco, Mexico and Florence.  

In addition to the bonus of having all of the amenities of a home while on vacation, for any group that would  normally book more than one hotel room, you’ll save a lot of money.  You’ll also get a ton more space. The average vacation rental home is 1850 sq ft. versus the average hotel room that is 325 sq. ft.  It’s also easy to find a pet-friendly accommodation in most destinations.  You’ll truly enjoy an authentic travel experience.

For more, listen to my radio segment about HomeAway and my trip to Sarasota here:  https://soundcloud.com/dana-barrett-clips/michelle-jersen-baby-biz-expert-on-vacationing-with-your-baby

 
 

Cape Cod with a Six Week Old!

A close girlfriend was getting married in Harwich, MA on Cape Cod and when I realized my baby would be six weeks old at the time of the affair, I didn’t think it would be possible to go. My pediatrician was telling us not to take her to a hotel room which could be filled with germs or to a crowded wedding, and of course the thought of a five hour car ride was daunting.  However, as it got closer and I had a better handle on what my baby was like at that stage, I felt adventurous and wanted to give it a shot.  In addition, I found a great place to stay that made my decision that much easier.

We drove a few hours from New York City and stopped halfway in Mystic, Connecticut, which was a great place for a break to eat.  My husband tried the pizza from Mystic Pizza and I was ever so happy to have oysters from one of the many restaurants on the water, since I had to abstain for nine months.  It’s a great area for walking and taking in the beautiful scenery.  We then got back in the car and drove another couple of hours to Chatham and the Pleasant Bay Village.  When I saw Pleasant Bay Village online, I knew it wasn’t a cookie cutter hotel and had rooms that were perfect for traveling with a family.  With accommodations to suit many needs, they offer efficiencies with a full kitchen, outdoor furniture, and a BBQ grill, as well as standard and  deluxe rooms with two queen beds and a sitting area outside.  All rooms are non-smoking and have air-conditioning, heat, high definition flat screen televisions, small refrigerators, irons, ironing boards, hair dryers, phones, private bathrooms and daily housekeeping.  They are a green property and, utilizing a 22kW photovoltaic array to generate approximately 25% of their annual electricity and a solar thermal system to reduce consumption of natural gas.  They also use non-toxic cleaners which I think is great if traveling with infants.  So many times the hotel room can smell from the products used to clean them.  They have been awarded the Green Leaders Gold Level Certification by TripAdvisor, Cape and Islands Green Verification and are recognized as an Energy Star partner. 

In addition to the meticulously clean and comfortable accommodations, Pleasant Bay Village also offers a heated outdoor pool near a beautiful waterfall, a hot tub surrounded by an Asian inspired rock garden and Japanese maples.  A zen garden sits close to the waterfall and a Japanese Koi pond and makes for a great spot to relax and meditate.  They serve a gourmet breakfast in their lobby which is furnished with 18th century antiques and lunch is served poolside in July and August.

Just five minutes from Chatham center, main street is a great spot to browse boutique shops and enjoy fresh seafood at restaurants such as the Impudent Oyster (and yes, I got amazing oysters here too!).  Be sure to make a reservation for dinner, as it does fill up quickly.  We went for a late lunch around 2:30 which was perfect for our first meal out with the baby! It’s a quieter time than their busy lunch and dinner hours.  Beautiful beaches are also nearby and great for catching the sunset.

All in all, I would recommend Cape Cod as a trip for those at any age!  If you find the right accommodations to make your visit an easy one, you can make it a great family vacation – even if my daughter did cry and had to be taken out during lunch!

The Courtyard Marriott Montvale – My Most Memorable Hotel Visit Ever!

Living in New York City, one doesn’t often think about traveling right over the George Washington Bridge to stay at a hotel in Bergen County, New Jersey.  However, the situation was different during Nor’easter 2017.  I was due to give birth two days prior at the University of Hackensack Medical Center, Pascack Valley in Westwood, NJ and we decided to stay for two night in New Jersey just in case I went into labor and the it was too dangerous to drive from the city. 

I am so glad we found the Courtyard Marriott Montvale.  A quick 35 minutes from the Upper West Side, it is just 15 minutes from the hospital. For days when the weather is nicer, it is also centrally located to Harriman State Park, the Garden State Plaza Mall, the Meadowlands Complex, West Point and Woodbury Commons.  For those looking for a true getaway, there are a some great golf courses and spas in the area as well.

The sheek hotel is very comfortable with 184 modern deluxe guest rooms, fitness center, an outdoor pool, billiard room, and spacious meeting space for businesses. Six luxury suites offer a whirlpool bath, wet bar, microwave and separate bedroom.  There is the lively Fire and Oak restaurant next door which is open late for food and drinks.  They also have a beautiful banquet space for special occasions.

For your next staycation or affordable hotel close to both New York City and New Jersey attractions, click here for more information and to book your stay at the Courtyard Marriott Montvale!

Update: This article was written before I labored in the hotel room for 10 hours!  I woke up at 6am the day we were supposed to check out and started having intense contractions.  My doula met me at the hotel and everything went smoothly! I was so thrilled the hotel staff was so nice and generous in asking if I needed anything and allowing us to stay until we left for the hospital at 4pm!  I couldn’t have asked for a better laboring experience in a comfortable hotel with a nice bed, shower and wonderful staff!