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.

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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!

Honeymoon in the Seychelles

The Seychelles is a gorgeous group of 112 islands located off of East Africa. For many Americans, they are an unknown treasure. However, when searching for a tropical destination for a honeymoon that is Zika free, these islands are one of the very few destinations without an outbreak. A perfect honeymoon spot, the weather is mostly always in the 80s during the day and 70s at night with a warm tropical breeze. While the archipelago is made up of 112 islands, there are a two or three bigger islands and a few small ones most people visit. Just a six hour plane ride from Johannesburg to the main island of Mahe´ aboard Air Seychelles, we chose to split our time between three amazing resorts, the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa on Mahe´ and the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa and La Belle Tortue on Silhouette Island. 

If you are looking for a very romantic, adults only and secluded getaway with the option to see attractions on the big island, the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa is the place to stay. We never left the resort because it had what we needed – the gorgeous Indian Ocean, perfect for snorkeling, and views of the North Island. The villa is also incredibly romantic with an outdoor terrace, perfect for stargazing at night and relaxing and sipping a drink during the day. There are also suites available with your own private pool. The spa consists of three luxurious rooms with sweeping views, perfect for a couple’s treatment or a little downtime to yourself. The resort also offers free shuttles to other beaches around the island. The beauty of this and the other Hilton property on Silhouette Island is that you can choose half or full board, so when you get there most or all of your meals will be included so you can order freely off the menus. The food is top quality with a Creole influence.

Even though the Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort and Spa is located on the main island, it does feel secluded. However, if you want the private island experience, take the ferry that Hilton offers to Silhouette Island and stay at the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa, where you will be staying at the only resort on the island. The only other property on the island is the quaint La Belle Tortue. They are completely different in feel and offerings. The Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa is a family friendly resort but you can definitely find plenty of spots away from the kids to enjoy your own time. There are villas with ocean views as well as ones with your own private lush jungle in the back that includes a pool, outdoor shower, and hammock. There are a variety of restaurants so if you are staying on the island for many days, you’ll always have something new to eat. Gran Kazz is set on the plantation where the former owners of the island, the Dauban family, used to live. They serve traditional Creole dishes that reflect the culture of the island including curries and fish wrapped in banana leafs. The other dining options include a Teppanyaki and Japanese restaurant, Italian and a buffet with a different type of cuisine each night. With a scuba shop and activity center on site, you can take advantage of scuba and snorkeling day trips, private beach excursions and picnics and a Creole cooking class where you will cook your own lunch. Tucked away at the end of the resort is the spa, with an outdoor jacuzzi and plunge pool to use before or after treatments. The treatment rooms for both couples and individuals sit atop the lush surroundings. The beach on Silhouette Island is calm and shallow for many feet out into the ocean, perfect for floating with a drink or collecting shells.  

Just a short walk from the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa sits the very quaint and friendly La Belle Tortue. Managed by Julie and Morgan, they make you feel welcome the second you step off the ferry or come over from the Hilton. Some people choose to stay at both properties for a few days each to experience the island differently. With just fifteen guests on property, they are a luxury lodge that caters to each guest. The dining experience is intimate with Morgan cooking all the meals and Julie serving. The food is prepared to your dietary needs and preferences and the dishes are amazing. You can tell much thought and preparation is put into each one. Morgan comes from a culinary background. In addition to his title as general manager and chef at Belle Tortue, he is the owner and partner of the restaurant, Les Epicuriens, located in Nice on the French Riviera. On property, you can enjoy dishes such as octopus carpaccio and croquette, accrues shark on a red sauce pepper with sweet potatoes and plantains. You’re in for a culinary treat at this boutique property.

So if you’re looking for a romantic tropical getaway, check out the Seychelles. If you have the time, pair it with a few days in South Africa for the perfect mix of relaxation and a safari adventure!

A South African Honeymoon

Africa is a huge continent – it covers the same surface as thirteen countries including the United States, China and India and the whole of Eastern Europe. With just two weeks for a honeymoon, our itinerary just scratched the surface, but it incorporated the ocean, mountains, luxury safari lodges and gorgeous resorts around the country and in the Seychelles. The itinerary was quite ambitious, as one can easily spend two weeks just in Cape Town or are on a safari, but we wanted a taste of it all, including the total relaxation of a beach destination. With the Seychelles under a five hour flight from Johannesburg, it made for the perfect addition to our South African adventure.

Cape Town, South Africa is a spectacularly scenic destination of mountains and ocean filled with fresh cuisine and the extensive picturesque wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek about an hour from the city center. There is so much to see and do that one can spend a few days or up to a couple of weeks exploring the regions surrounding the city. With so many options and the fact that the driving is done on the opposite side of the road, we decided to hire Kabura Travel, a tour company specializing in tours in and around the city. Kabura was started by a couple, Remondy and Allain Kabura. They offer both group and personalized tours and guests will travel in luxury Mercedes-Benz vehicles. They offer tours of the Cape Peninsula, the Winelands, Table Mountain, as well as historical city tours, safaris, shark cage diving, whale watching in Hermanus, the Cape Agulhas (the southernmost point of Africa), the Garden Route.  They also offer tailor-made tours. 

With three days to tour, we covered a lot of ground with their experienced and knowledgeable guides. Day one consisted of a visit to seal island, a fun ferry ride to see the seals in their natural habitat, a stroll through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a stop at Signal Hill to watch the beautiful sunset, plus a bonus double rainbow, and lunch at a terrific local African spot in town called Marco’s. We tried an oxtail curry, a meat plate consisting of ostrich, kudu and springbok. On day two, we took a cable car to the top of Table Mountain for fabulous views of Cape Town and took the peninsula tour around the Cape of Good Hope and to the Cape Point lighthouse with breathtaking views of the ocean and mountains. For the third day, we bargained for some souvenirs to take home at Greenmarket Square in the city and then drove out to the gorgeous wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.   One can spend an entire day or a few sampling the various South African wines of the region.

Camps Bay is a great area to stay in while exploring Cape Town. It’s a gorgeous region overlooking the beach and just fifteen minutes from city central and easily accessible to all attractions. We split our time between the Twelve Apostles and the boutique hotel, Atlanticview Cape Town. Twelve Apostles offers an extensive hot and cold breakfast buffet including raw oysters one can enjoy overlooking the ocean. Also on property is a cinema, two restaurants, a bar and wonderful spa consisting of a full line of treatments as well as a dead sea pool, which allows you to float to relaxation, a hot tub and plunge pool, all included with a treatment. It is the perfect spot for a singles rejuvenation or a romantic couples experience. Twelve Apostles is part of the Red Carnation group of hotels which pride themselves on luxury and giving back. They are part of The Travel Cooperation and the Tread Right Foundation, a not-for-profit, working to ensure the environment and communities we visit remain vibrant for generations to come. If you have additional time to spend in the area, Bushmanns Kloof is a five star wildness and wellness retreat and just a couple of hours from Cape Town, and the Oyster Box is a gorgeous property in Durban.

For a more personalized experience, the Atlanticview Cape Town Boutique Hotel is second to none. With their sunset view duplex suites including a pool outside the room overlooking the water and their attention to detail in both the decor and their service, they will make your trip a memorable one. Owned by Greg Boki and Ranier Pires, they have thought of everything to make their guests feel at home.  Many of the staff’s management are also registered tour guides with a fleet of range rovers and Mercedes – Benz and can put together itineraries based on your interests. Greg has also compiled a list of his favorite restaurants and wineries in the region. We took his recommendation and headed to Codfather in Camps Bay for dinner for fresh seafood and sushi. Their waitstaff take you to the counter to explain the various fishes. You pick a combination of whatever you’d like. There is also a rotating sushi counter and one can pick any number of sushi rolls and salads. My husband and I ordered a combination of two king clip pieces of fish (the local fish in Cape Town), a piece of tuna, and two langoustines, three pieces of sushi, edamame and a tuna salad all for just $60 US dollars. Now is a great time to travel to South Africa because the exchange rate is in our favor (14 RND = 1 US dollar). The staff at Atlanticview Cape Town Boutique Hotel will prepare your cold and hot breakfast for you to enjoy in your room, giving you the opportunity to sit and relax in your own kitchen equipped with a refrigerator, microwave, and toaster, or on your deck besides your pool overlooking the ocean. Each evening, Atlanticview Cape Town Boutique Hotel offers complimentary snacks and appetizers and drinks in their quaint bar filled with couches and tables. The owners and staff care very much about your experience both at the hotel and in Cape Town, and will work hard to make sure it is the best one possible.  

After three and a half wonderful days in Cape Town, we headed for the Seychelles on South African Airways from Cape Town to Johannesburg and Air Seychelles from Johannesburg to Mahe Island. You can read about the Seychelles part of our trip in the next post.

How to eat tapas in Spain like a local

Ever wonder the history and origin of Tapas? At some point in your life, you’ve probably enjoyed a variety of cold and hot small plates instead of one big meal. In bars in Spain, Tapas is a culture onto itself. It is a night out with friends hopping from bar to bar throughout the night. Locals also grab tapas around noon before their actual lunch later in the day. They are meant to be eaten in between the main meals, usually with a drink in a social setting. There are no tapas restaurants, just tapas bars.

IMG_1637

Porras and Chocolate Photo: Michelle Jerson

Taberna Real Photo: Michelle Jerson

The word “tapas” is derived form the Spanish verb tapar, which means to cover, or to top. Its origin has been linked to many different legends. One states that in a bar, a piece of meat such as ham, or bread was given out and it was to be placed on top of the drink to protect it from fruit flies. Another tale says that since people would mostly stand while they ate in the Spanish bar, they would need to place their plates on top of their drinks in order to eat.   A third claims that when King Alfonso X was sick, he had wine and small dishes throughout the day, and believed that’s what healed him. When he got better, the king mandated all wine be served with a small snack. A fourth possibility involves Felipe III who tried to keep the soldiers and sailors in line. He passed a law that when one purchased a drink, the bartender was to place a lid containing food on top of the mug or goblet so the alcohol would not absorb so quickly. However, no matter the origin, I had a blast eating my way through Madrid just like a local!

Photo: Michelle Jerson

Mercado de Antón Martín

Since there are countless restaurants and bars around the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor area, I went with a company that specializes just in tapas tours! With so many options, I wanted to make sure I was trying the best! I took Devour Madrid’s Nighttime Tapas, Taverns, and History Tour and also their morning Huertas Neighborhood Food and Market Tour. So how do you know a good tapas bar? Lauren Aloise is the co-founder of Devour Madrid and says, “Most people would consider the dirty floor of a restaurant a bad thing, but not in Spain. A floor filled with crumpled up napkins, shrimp shells and olive pits is a good thing in Spain, meaning that the bar is a popular place. Stories say that one hundred years ago some not-so-honest restaurants would steal the trash from other bars’ floors, to make it look like they were popular too!” When choosing the bars for her tour, she takes into consideration the quality of the food and highlights small and medium family run businesses that have an interesting history and story to tell.

La Casa del Abuelo’s famous shrimp Photo: Michelle Jerson

We started the morning tour with homemade porras and chocolate, a breakfast staple. The porra is a fried pastry, like a churro, just thicker. It is then dipped in a rich cup of chocolate. There’s nothing like a good sugar spike to start your day!  Other traditional tapas include Iberian Ham and other cured meats. Seafood is a staple, including anchovies, sardines, octopus, cod, and shrimp, all prepared many different ways, usually either on a piece of toasted bread or in garlic, parsley and olive oil. It’s not uncommon to see a plate of octopus sprinkled with paprika and drizzled in olive oil.

On the evening tour, we first stopped in at Taberna Real in Plaza de Isabel for some toasted bread with fresh tomato and extra virgin olive oil and a glass of Vermouth on tap. The freshly fried garlic and chili shrimp is a staple at La Casa del Abuelo, which has been around for over 100 years, and not to be missed.   At Bodegas Ricla, Ana lives upstairs and cooks all the tapas in her kitchen. The freshly pickled anchovies in garlic and parsley and her “off-menu” are must haves in this tavern that’s been in existence since 1867.

A variety of seafood tapas Photo: Michelle Jerson

 

With so many bars and food from which to choose in a night, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the options. James Blick, the other co-founder of Devour Madrid offers the following advice on how to get the most out of your tapas experience. “The bar is the beating heart of a tapas joint. It’s where the action is. So forget sitting at a table, and thrust your way to the bar. Don’t order a million plates at once. Order bit by bit. There’s no rush when you’re out for tapas!”

Top picks for Tapas:

Bodegas Ricla:

This bar first opened as a bodega (wine shop, selling wine from the barrel) in 1867. Back then people didn’t buy bottles of wine, but would take their container to fill it up from the barrels in bodegas, and while there, they might grab a snack of boquerones en vinagre (anchovies marinated in vinegar) or some cheese. Thirty years ago the current family took over the tavern, and now the mother Ana does all the cooking (much of the prep done in her kitchen in her apartment upstairs) and her two sons, Emilio and José Antonio, run the bar. They still specialize in wines (though no longer sell from the barrel) and the food is still very simple, reflecting the fact that the bar doesn’t have a full kitchen (as it was originally a shop). The menu consists of Madrid’s most famous boquerones en vinagre, cheeses, salt-cod and one or two hot dishes.

Calle de los Cuchilleros 6 Madrid

Casa Toni:

Lamb Intestines Photo: Michelle Jerson

If you’re the more adventurous type, Casa Toni serves tapas made of body parts that are probably not on your everyday diet. In addition to some staples like the their mini green peppers and eggplant, you’ll find organ meats such as grilled kidneys, fried glands, and braided lamb intestines. Don’t worry – they offer plenty of wine and sangria to wash it all down!

‪Calle de la Cruz 14, 28012

 La Casa del Abuelo:

This family-run bar was founded by the current owners’ great-grandfather in 1906, and was known for its sandwiches (bocadillos). But then came the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939 and the conflict left Madrid devastated. In the early 1940s there was widespread hunger in the city, and a shortage of bread. This made it impossible for La Casa del Abuelo to continue selling sandwiches. So the current owners’ grandfather went to the market and bought shrimp, which were cheap. And the bar began selling grilled shrimp. These days it’s the most famous place in the city (and perhaps Spain) for gambas (shrimp) on the grill, as well as gambas al ajillo.

http://lacasadelabuelo.es

Calle de la Victoria, 12 and Calle de Toledo, 11

Alevin Fish Noodles Photo: Jordy Greenstein

Mercado de San Miguel: 

This is a great spot to sample a variety of unique and traditional tapas. The market stresses fresh and season dishes. There is a variety of food for all palates. The fish noodle known as the elver, which can be served plain, with shrimp, or in a sandwich with smoked salmon, is a must try. Centrally located in the Plaza de San Miguel and the last remaining iron market hall in Madrid, it’s a fun spot to spend an hour or two.

http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/en/the-market/

Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005

Mercado de Antón Martín:

This two level market is stocked with organic food stalls, wine bars and Iberian ham and cheese shops.   There is an area dedicated to cooking demonstrations and small art exhibits and a shop that only sells craft beers. The market reflects an indie vibe, which is a reflection of its neighborhood. The area borders Madrid’s immigrant barrio and has a distinctly bohemian personality.   http://www.mercadoantonmartin.com

Calle de Santa Isabel, 5, 28012

Mesón del Champiñón: A fun atmosphere with a lively piano player, their menu consists of their famous mushrooms and regular tapas. The mushrooms are addictive, filled with olive oil, garlic, parsley and chorizo. The décor is also reflective of the fun environment.

http://www.mesondelchampinon.com

C/ Cava de San Miguel, 17, 28005

Places to stay while exploring Madrid:

Hotel Urso Photo: Jordy Greenstein

Hotel Urso
Photo: Jordy Greenstein

Hotel Urso: This beautiful hotel was taken over and transformed into the progressive property it is today.  The 20th-century palace is close to the Prado Museum and a three minute walk from the Tribunal metro stop.  The pop up restaurant, “The Table By…,” within the hotel was my favorite.  Every few weeks, the restaurant is completely transformed into a new space with a chefs from various regions in Spain.  The Majorcan tasting menu we had was magnificent and the decor a true reflection of the region.

The Table By.. Photo: Jordy Greenstein

The Table By..
Photo: Jordy Greenstein

Room Mate Oscar: “Do you want to sleep with me?” That is the first sign you see as you approach this hotel, which is part of a cluster of other Room Mate hotels in Madrid.  Each one has its own character and Room Mate Oscar is a very reasonably priced boutique hotel in a great location just a minute from the Gran Via.  Its chic rooftop bar is popular with hotel guests and locals.  The staff is extremely friendly and helpful.

Also see: http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2016/01/11/how-to-eat-tapas-in-spain-like-local/