Category Archives: family travel

Loews Loves Pets (and it’s a mutual thing)

Do you travel with your fur family members? If you’ve undertaken the task of even looking into doing so, I’m sure you ran into the same issues we have; outrageous fees, no facilities  or simply no pet-friendly room at the inn. There is hope fellow pawrents. Loews Loves Pets… and it’s a mutual thing. 

Loews Loves PetsIn the fall of 2015 we lost a beloved family member. Don Sonny Corelone Di Paola ascended the rainbow bridge after nearly fifteen years of joining us at the table for meals, napping on baskets of freshly folded laundry and a life-long refusal to own the fact that he was born a feline rather than human or canine. This cat growled at the doorbell and insisted there be an extra chair at the table for him though he never ate morsel.   

As our hearts began to heal, we  found there was room behind the scar tissue. In the spring we welcomed Gordon von Ottawa du Barkhimedes (a eleven-week old French Bulldog) to our family. Gordy is our first dog as a family. 

Being cat pawrents really never put a kink in our travel style. Aside from the occasional jumping into an open suitcase and refusing to budge, they pretty much could care less if we were head out-of-town without them. I’ve my suspicions that there may have been some wild feline soirees going on in our absence.  

As newly minted puppy familiga it became rapidly clear that Gordo was going to have to earn his travel wings. We started him out with his first trip to NYC as soon as the vet cleared him to be social. The guy road tripped like a pro from day one. I think he may have learned bye-bye faster than sit!

Travel with DogsWe learned, “I’m sorry we don’t allow pets,” even faster. When we did find hotels that would welcome Gordon our bill would shoot up an average of $100. Ouch! Adding insult to financial injury, that green bought you exactly nada beyond allowing the dog in the building. Then we found Loews Hotels! 

As hotel chains go, Loews has long been one of our favorite. Why? Service. Loews takes attentiveness to the next level.

Staying at the Loews Regency New York a few years back I mentioned at check-in that my husband and I would be enjoying our first kid-free getaway in over two years. When we got back to our room after an afternoon in the park there was a bottle of wine and some sublime chocolates waiting alongside a note telling us to enjoy ourselves. When we stayed at Loews Grand Pacific – where I made it abundantly clear that I was the family Harry Potter nerd – the concierge spent a good twenty minutes giving me all the insider tips on navigating the nooks and crannies of Diagon and  Knockturn Alley.  Alohomora big time, fellow Potter heads! 

The most abundantly clear example of the unique, genuine and warm welcome at Loews (that seems to be a corporate philosophy)  came when we brought Gordon along to celebrate Lil Nugget Number 4’s big tenth birthday.  Let’s back things up just a bit…

Em is our youngest. She started planning her tenth birthday, along with her gallery opening and Oscar acceptance speech when she was about three years old. Where some girls her age love Barbie she loves her travel journal, glitter isn’t her thing but a good hotel bathrobe is (she has a collection.) It really wasn’t a huge surprise when in lieu of a birthday party she asked for a bubble bath, room service and taking Gordon to a hotel.  

The bummer of having a late-summer birthday is that travel isn’t quite as doable. The upside for us is that we’re surrounded by great staycation destinations like DC, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland. Another huge plus is that Annapolis is rated one of the most dog-friendly cities in the country.  The trifecta of birthday awesome for Em is that there is a Loews in Annapolis. Which brings us back to where I started telling you about what makes Loews hotels so unique for families that travel with fur family in tow.

Now back to where we were…

Checking in at Loews Annapolis is more like being welcomed home. Yes the floors are polished marble, walls are hung with nautical themed works of art and fragrant arrangements of flowers abound, but there is zero pretension. How can one be aloof when they melt at the sight of a puppy? That’s exactly what the front desk staff did when Gordo walked in the joint.

Loews Loves PetsThe blue carpet rolled out for both Em and her fury lil bro. She got birthday hi-fives, well-wishes and covert questioning about what her favorite treats are. He got a welcome goody bag packed with handmade treats, his own Loews water bowl, accident bags and even a sparkly bit of bling for his collar.

Yes, we were hosted guests of this particular Loews but this sort of welcome is the norm not the exception. When you pay to bring your four-legged family along Loews makes sure you get value beyond a room at the inn. 

That hospitality and attention to detail, in my experience, applies to all guests at every Loews. Every time we’ve been guests the staff has always asked if we were celebrating anything. If we were, they’d make sure to celebrate along with us by sending notes, treats or just remembering every time you passed by in the lobby.

Loews Loves PetsWhile chatting with the staff at Loews Annapolis I made mention that Em’s last birthday was New Orleans themed. Not sure why the kiddo is so enamored with The Crescent City (she’s never been) but she is. Her room is decorated with masks, fluer de lis and street signs from the French Quarter. He asked if we’d stayed at the Loews New Orleans. I didn’t even know there was one (travel blogger, fail.)

That night when she and her pup were snuggled up after an epic round of Monopoly, I booked her first trip to NOLA. Knowing there would be a Loews to welcome us, I couldn’t resist. We’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the Big Easy and bringing Gordon along!

Loews Loves Pets - Hotel room birthday sorieeWhen you find a place that feels like home, you know you need to be there. Thank you Loews for hosting this one stay, but even more for giving us more reasons to travel with the WHOLE family!

If you travel with fur family in tow, stay tuned for our article in the holiday issue of Skimbaco Lifestyle Magazine. We’ll be dishing on more tips for travel with pets including how essential oils can make it easier for everyone. Check out the autumn issue that’s live now. 

Loews Loves Pets 

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Visiting Annapolis, Maryland with Kids

Annapolis Maryland

Sometimes Spring Cleaning means dusting off an old post that somehow people are managing to find. One of the top searches here at The Nugget has always been; what should I see when visiting Annapolis, Maryland. Funny that I happen to live just a few minutes away.  Wait… does that mean the internet is stalking me? 

From the halls of the United States Naval Academy to the quaint City Dock, and dozens of points in between, Maryland’s charming and historic capital makes for a perfect day-trip (or longer) with the family. 

U.S. Naval Academy Museum

 Moon Rock housed at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

 This hidden gem of a museum welcomes over 100,000 visitors from around the globe every year. Located in Preble Hall on the gorgeous grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, the museum offers two floors of exhibits about the history of sea power, the development of the U.S. Navy, and the history of U.S. Naval Academy. Exhibits include artifacts from historical figures, battles, and events. Touch a piece of the actual U.S.S. Monitor, read letters penned by Admirals and presidents, see sand from the island of Iwo Jima as you take a walk through the history of our Navy – and country. There is even an actual moon rock donated to the museum by Apollo 14 astronauts. 

The best part? Admission to the museum is FREE!

Address:  118 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21402. Phone: (410) 293-2108. Website: www.USNA.edu/museum  Hours: Monday – Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm

Annapolis City Dock

Visting "Ego Alley" at City Dock in Annapolis Maryland

Rest here for a spell and have Alex Haley “read” your kids a story. The author of “Roots,” is immortalized in a sculpture that invites you to listen at his feet. I took along some books to read to my kids and soon found I’d started an impromptu story time for a few others.  Directly behind Mr. Haley is the City Dock Market House. Inside you’ll find food stalls serving up seaside favorites, and day-trip delicacies like famed Maryland Crab cakes and decadent gelato, perfect on a warm, sunny day. Walk off some of those calories with a stroll down “Ego Alley” where beautiful pleasure boats are docked. 

Don’t forget to bring along a little something to feed the ducks!

Parking: There is metered parking near City Dock, you’ve got great luck if you can snag one of those. If not, the Noah Hillman parking garage is just off Main Street in the Historic District at 150 Gorman Street.

Chick & Ruth’s Delly

Famous "Ben Cardin" Double Ruben at Chick & Ruth's Delly Anapolis Maryland

Speaking of eating! I say -with some authority as both a traveler and a foodie – that everyone MUST make the pilgrimage to the Delly at least one time (if not dozens.) Don’t let the cramped quarters, a layer of grease or the fact that they call it a “Delly,” deter you. Chick & Ruth’s is a Maryland institution for good reason.

  • Crab Cakes as big as your head (okay, maybe a little smaller)
  • Matzo Ball Soup any Bubbe would envy
  • House-made dill pickles, a complimentary treat you’ll pucker up to
  • A huge of menu items to choose from – many named after the local politicians who come down the street from the Capital Building daily
  • And the famed Colossal Challenges like the SIX POUND SHAKE (no really, it’s six pounds of milkshake) infamously conquered by Adam Richman of “Man vs Food” fame

Address: 165 Main St, Annapolis, MD 21401. Phone: (410) 269-6737. Website: www.chickandruths.com 

Pirate Adventures of the Chesapeake

Ahoy all ye adventurous scallywags! Really, what trip to a historical port city like Annapolis would be complete without a pirate adventure? Mysterious messages in bottles, hidden treasure and an epic adventure await those who embark upon a voyage aboard  The Sea Gypsy. This fun, family-friendly ship sails from Annapolis Harbor seven days a week during the summer months and on weekends through October 26th. Your ticket to ride will cost you $20 for those over three and $12 for those under. 

Be sure to arrive early to get gussied up in pirate finery!

Address: 311 Third St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 263-0002. Website: www.chesapeakpirates.com 

Annapolis Maritime Museum

If you’re making Annapolis a stopover during a trip to DC you might think you’ve been museum-ed out, but trust me you’ll want to make room for one more – THIS ONE! Why? Because of the hands-on history lesson, your family will get. This small museum is set on the picturesque mouth of Back Creek, with a unique view overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The museum takes advantage of the fact that it is housed in the last oyster-packing plant in Annapolis, engaging visitors in a fully interactive experience that takes them on a journey through the role that the water and they oyster industry played in the shaping of the area. You’ll also learn about the ecology of the area through an 850-gallon aquarium and exhibits that highlight the importance of conservation efforts.

An afternoon at the Annapolis Maritime Museum is FREE family fun!

Address: 723 2nd St, Annapolis, MD 21403. Phone: (410) 295-0104. Website: www.amaritime.org

Galleries, Eateries and Shopping… Oh, My!

Down Town Annapolis Maryland

My kids happen to be gifted browsers. They love to shop. It may be genetic. Annapolis is a wonderland for those who love to stroll in and out of shops and galleries, searching for treasures and inspiration. Though there are some chain stores to be found on Main street, they are outnumbered by smaller, more unique and locally owned boutique stores. Annapolis boasts a thriving art community and you’ll find a number of places that feature locally produced items. One of our favorite shops is Annapolis Pottery. Though not all of their items are produced locally, 95% of their products are produced in the U.S. and many of them are sourced directly from the artists who produce them. 

Hungry? Annapolis is the place to be! I polled the kids for recommendations. Here is what THEY recommend;

  • The Iron Rooster – Red Velvet waffles with fried chicken… I think we’ve said enough here.  Oh wait, they also crush the cocktail game and have amazing farm-to-table options too. 
  • Miss Shirley’s Cafe – A Baltimore staple now found in Annapolis, my kids would hurt you to get at a stack of their lemon-blueberry pancakes
  • Chick & Ruth’s Delly – They’re begging for that 6-pound shake, but happily settle for pizza bagels make on fresh, full-sized bagel halves and burgers from the kid’s menu that are big enough for a grown up. You’ll never leave this place hungry! Plus their kid’s menu prices hover around $5!

Parking: There is both metered parking and several public parking garages, as well as valet service at City Dock. You can find a map of the garages here.

Up next… where to STAY in Annapolis if you aren’t lucky enough to live 20 minutes away… or even if you are… hello staycation!

 

(photo credit – Annapolis Waterfront m01229)

Follow Your NOLA (a love letter to New Orleans in pictures)

Follow Your NOLA

Did you know that Carnival season in New Orleans kicks off on January 6th? So many people think it’s all about Fat Tuesday. Much like just about everything else in this city, there is so much more to it. 

I’m reviving this post published after our first family trip to the Crescent City to introduce you to some of the many reasons we love this magical place more than any theme park or cruise ship. Who couldn’t love a place that has a parade for everyone from Joan of Arc to the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus

It isn’t just the parades though. Yes, there is food and oh boy, is there drink. But there is also art, music, workshops, and so much more. While this is our love letter to New Orleans, you’ve got time to go this year and write your own too! 

For some, there are places in this world that call to them even if they’ve never been. I’d always thought that was the truest definition of wanderlust, a need to go places we’ve never been. A recent trip to New Orleans changed my perspective. If ever there were a person in this word for whom the tagline Follow Your NOLA applied that would be my youngest daughter. 

From a very young age, maybe about six or seven, she’s been fascinated by New Orleans. One might think that came from tales of my travels, but no. Long before my first visit she’d seek out shows on the History Channel or Discovery that talked about the folklore, food, and stories that cling to this city like so much Spanish Moss. It was actually rather sweet to sit huddled on the sofa and shiver at the tales of The Myrtles Plantation. Frankly, I was nearly as enamored.  

After my first trip to NOLA when she was eight the fascination grew. I think she wore beads and a mask to school for a week. Her room began to take on a distinctly French Quarter vibe and by the time her ninth birthday rolled around, it was clear the theme would be… Big Easy. 

 I’ve often wondered over the years if perhaps she was drawn to this city not by wanderlust, but by something deeper within her. In my travels, I’ve become certain that there exist in this world people who are simply old souls.

These people seem to have deeper connections to places, customs, and cultures than most of us do. They needn’t have grown up near or been raised in the places and things they love. They are simply a part of them no matter time or distance. My daughter is an old soul and New Orleans her muse. 

She recently celebrated her first double-digit birthday. How? With a trip to her city. 

Never have I seen such instant love. The child who is usually first to start fussing about long walks, couldn’t sit still. She nearly prowled the streets of the French Quarter. Night fell and she lit up like one of the gas lamps that dot the streets. She savored every spice (even tried alligator) lingered to look at every piece of art, got her cards read and sang Ella Fitzgerald songs on street corners with bands from around the globe. 

This is her city and she is its child. They belong together. Here is a short love letter to New Orleans in pictures that she chose. 

Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon amis!  

 

Is Travel Elitist?

This post has been brewing (festering, if I’m being honest) for nearly a year now. I’m not sure why it has been so hard to write. I feel very strongly about the point I hope to make yet still, the words haven’t flowed.

It all started when a stranger on social media accused me of being an, “out of touch elitist with no ability to understand that most people don’t enjoy the privilege of being able to travel.”  My knee-jerk reaction was a mix of anger and bewilderment. Months later I feel myself still struggling with a question… is travel elitist?

Let’s start with a little context. The comment was in a forum where the topic of discussion focused on traveling with family. In retrospect, I believe their reasoning may have been to point out to the group that not everyone has the means to plan a trip around the globe with children in tow.  Point taken. Honestly, I don’t have the means to do that either!

Wouldn’t we all want to be able to do that? The truth is nearly none of us can or ever will. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t still go places. Maybe that is the crux of the issue. Perhaps it isn’t that travel is elitist but that one’s definition of it can be.

Travel has looked very different to me at many stages in my life. Growing up there was a period of several years where the state we lived in teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. My father, an employee of that state, lost his job and was without work for a longer time than my family was equipped for.  Young parents to three small children, my mother and father had to scrape to pull things together often finding that ends still wouldn’t meet.

Still. We. Traveled.  

Mom would raid the garden, bake some bread, fill a canteen and off we’d go. Be it to the next town over by car or on foot into the wilds of the high desert, we went places.  Years later, when finances had improved, we’d embark on a cross-country trip by train. I was probably around ten and to this day I vividly remember most of that adventure. Seeing America glide by as the sun rose and set is where my insatiable wanderlust took root.

cathedral doorway Harlem, New York

Many years later my military service would take me far from home, a nineteen-year-old living in a foreign country a world away from all she’d known.  I didn’t just explore, I thrived. Travel became a need, not at want. 

The small town where I lived in southern Spain served as a base camp. From there I’d adventure into Morocco to ride camels by the sea, to Portugal where I’d eat the best meal of my life for less than three American dollars, into small towns and bustling cities I’d wander, get lost, find myself and go again spending more time than money.  

As began my own family travel just naturally became part of our fabric. When there wasn’t enough change under the cushions of the sofa to put gas in the car, I’d pick up a Lonely Planet guidebook and we would mind-wander together. Growing up my kids loved our semiregular Travel Nights at home. They would pick a place they wanted to see and I’d make them research the area, find out what made it unique and build a list of the things they’d like to do there. We’d find music from that culture and cook dishes that you’d find there.  We couldn’t afford to get on a plane and go to Germany, so we’d bring Germany to us.  

None of that early travel was made possible because I had means, it was because I was open to seeing travel as more than a hotel and a passport.  I truly believe that your definition of what it is to travel plays a big role in how accessible it becomes. 

Now that I’m all grown up (yeah, right) traveling to far off places is easier.  My job as a freelance travel writer has helped facilitate adventures beyond both my wildest dreams and my budget. Because of that work, I was able to take my father back to the country his family came from and yes, we stayed in a five-star hotel… because I worked hard for it and that hard work gave me the privilege to do this. How is that elitist? 

blue sky day on the Chesapeake Bay

A desire to see and experience as much of this world as I can, has forced me and my family to give up more things than I’d ever imagined I might consider going without.  In return, it has given us back more than my wildest dreams. My hope is that making my kids travel when what they really wanted to do was play little league or have a dog, will help them see the world though eyes of compassion and have a healthy sense of our contentedness to each other and our planet. 

To that person who felt compelled to say what they did I say, go somewhere, anywhere! Hop on a bus, take a walk to the next park over, visit the library and grab a book about a place you long to see. I know it isn’t always going to be easy and may never get to that place, but you will still have gone somewhere, seen more and learned more. Then I’d challenge them with one question… is travel elitist? 

Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.