Category Archives: Travel

Dublin, Ireland: Pints, Passports and The Blue Oyster Cult

Sure I’ve traveled quite a bit, but most of the best destinations came BC (Before Kids).

Though, there was this one time in Dublin.

Temple Bar District, Dublin, Ireland

Actually our trip was an Italian escape. A week in Tuscany. Shopping in Florence. Stopping to see family in Rome, a day trip to Lucca and enough wine to float us home. So where does Dublin factor in? What I’d done was book our flights so that the layover in Dublin was more like a day trip. Bonus, it saved me money too!

Travel tip: Long layovers can save you money AND get you an extra destination in your itinerary too.

After one of the best flights I’ve ever been on* we touched ground is sunny Ireland, my ancestral home. All the lucky holders of EU passports got swiftly ferried through the fast line, whist Hubby and I had to cue up with the snails. It was still great, after all we were kid free and about to hit Temple Bar for an early morning pint. Gotta love that you can get a proper stout at nine in the morning served in with a frothy head and no judgment.

The fine gentleman at the customs counter asked us the usual questions, “Where is your final destination?”, “How long do you plan to be in Ireland?”, nothing out of the ordinary. Passports stamped, hand-in-hand, we made our way towards the throngs of travelers exiting the inspection area. All was right with the world.

Until the guy in the supervisors booth stepped in front of us and said, “Come with me please.”

Wholly crap! My heart climbed into my throat and started to do a jig. Couldn’t this guy tell I was Irish? I mean, I belong here. What was going on? I’d never even been stopped at a border. Not even as a slightly inebriated teenager returning from Mexico on a Saturday night. What the heck is going on?

Naturally. It was all my husband’s fault.

As the Supervisor lead us out of the crowd and towards his booth he introduced himself. Then he proceeded to ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture with him. Good looking as my man is, he’s never been mistaken for a movie star. Ah, but he did have an association with one. See he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Will Farrel in his classic SNL parody of  The Blue Oyster Cult skit in which we are all told that,  “It Needs More Cowbell!”

I’d nearly had a heart attack because the guy wanted a picture of the SHIRT??!!!

Oddly enough we’d later be stopped on the streets of Temple Bar so that the shirt could be admired. I guess Will Farrel is a big deal in Ireland.

Temple BarStay classy Dublin!

(this post is in NO WAY sponsored by anyone. That said, mad props to Aer Lingus for great service… a rare thing in air travel these days)

2013 Lexus GS 450h: A Backseat Review

Life happens in cars, enjoy the ride. That tagline from She Buys Cars pretty much sums up my life. Between ferrying the kids to school, running errands, getting stuck in traffic here in the DC/Baltimore metro and our frequent family road trips a good portion of my time is spent in a car.

The same is true for the Little Nuggets. We are a family on wheels. My kids have become quite the car experts along the way. With each car I review, they put in there two cents all well. They like leather seats, aren’t fans of seat-belt air bags (too stiff and bulky). In their opinion every car should come with a rear seat entertainment system and wireless headphones. Shocking, I know. Their favorite color, oddly enough isn’t red or black, but silver.

We recently spent a week with the 2013 Lexus GS 450h. While shooting video for my review, Little Nugget #4 interjected that she thought she should be the one talking about the backseat, after all when was I ever back there anyway? I suspect that part of this was a desire to be on camera, the kid is a total ham!

The biggest “wow” feature for me was the Lexus Enform App Suite. I make no bones about it, I am a wired mom. I have been known to go through mild withdrawal issues when finding myself in a WiFi dead spot. This car was designed for drivers like me! With the App Suite I was able to make dinner reservations, find the cheapest gas and even check the weather. You can also order movie tickets on the fly, connect to Facebook and more, all using the industry’s first available 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display. Cool huh? It gets even more cool. The GS 450h has it’s own mouse. Yep, you can navigate your way through the plethora of features in this car using a mouse, much like the one on your desk.

Lexus_mouse

While the mouse and all the tech features are very intuitive, I did also find them a bit distracting. This could be because my car is virtually a covered wagon in comparison. Whatever the cause though, I did feel that I spent an excessive amount of my time with the car trying to figure out all the features. There is a tutorial feature, but I didn’t find it very helpful. That said, I’m sure that, were I to purchase this car, taking advantage of the one-time free setup at the dealer would make a world of difference.

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Combo moon/sun roof.
  • For a sedan, the cargo space is great.
  • Lexus Enform with App Suite.
  • 12.3-inch high-resolution split-screen multimedia display.
  • Mark Levinson® Premium Surround Sound Audio System. (Rocked the tunes in the pick-up line at school, adding to the features by making the kids cringe.
  • Heads Up display. (This displays your speed and the direction you’ll need to turn when using the navigation system right on your driver’s side windshield.)
  • Rear-seat climate and audio controls. (available with the Luxury Package, which the car I drove had.)
  • Rain-sensing intermittent windshield wipers with mist cycle. (This was a great feature during the soggy trips we took.)
  • Drive Mode Select with Normal, EV, ECO, Sport S and Sport S+ modes.
  • Power rear sunshade. (this was such a thoughtful touch. I can see it being perfect for long sunny, summer road-trips. It also automatically goes down when you put the car in reverse.)
  • Cousins to the power sunshade, the rear windows have two-part manual sunshades as well.
  • Lane Departure Warning.
  • Intuitive Park Assist. (Which admittedly, I need.)

Things You Need to Know

  • You are buying a luxury motor vehicle. The total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $71,407.00
  • The EPA estimate for MPG on this model is 29 city/34 highway. I drove a combo of both and average around 33 MPG.
  • All the tech features are going to take a nice chunk of time to get used to.
  • The “mouse” can be distracting.
  • The manual rear sunshades tend to be hard for little hands. They also “snap” back into place with a force that might not stand up to repeated use by little folks.
  • The front spoiler is very low. Several times I had to park well behind parking bollards to avoid bumping them or having them scrape the undercarriage.
  • The front cup holders have a tension bar in them that can (and did) puncture some take-out cups.
  • While the rear passenger features, like climate and volume control are nice, they may not be good for families with younger children.
  • The rear leg room could be bigger.

The kids’ favorite thing? I think we covered that. Though they would like me to ask Lexus to consider that whole entertainment system with wireless headphones thing.

(Want to read more of a “Grownup” review of this car? Visit Traveling Mom)

Lexus provided the vehicle featured in the review, with a full tank of gas. No form of compensation was provided. As always, all opinions in this review are my own -in this case Little Nugget #3’s as well.  

Toyota Prius V: Remaking the Road Race?

Remember those cheesy 70’s car flicks? You know, like Cannonball Run or Smokey And The Bandit? Sometimes I feel like I’m trapped in one of those damn things.

“We’ve got long way to go, and a short time to get there…” come on watch this mommy run (errands, pick up kids and get crap done!) Plus there is inevitably a “Smokey” (or red light camera) just waiting to nab me. Not that I speed or anything, not me, never.

The other part of 70’s car-lore I seem to be stuck in is the gas wars. Sweet cheeses gas prices are unpredictable and HIGH! When I got offered a role playing alongside the star of the MPG saving screen, Toyota Prius V, I was in.

The first thing that you notice about the Prius V is it anything but “American Heavy Metal”. This isn’t a bad thing. With a compact, yet hip, design you can tell right off that this car is built for efficiency. Think a quiet, broodingly cool James Dean rather than a Steve McQueen.

While you won’t find all the bells, whistles and “Fine Corinthian Leather” of a luxury car, this car does have a lot to offer. You also aren’t in for a muscle car ride either. The best part, you guessed it… gas mileage!

Back to the Cannonball Run analogy. I hit the road to school twice a day, ran errands like there was a trophy for it and even rallied for a few short road trips. Nearly two weeks after she pulled up in my driveway, the Prius V still had petrol to spare. I averaged a whopping 49 miles per gallon. Droolin’ aren’t ya Burt Reynolds?

A Few of My Favorite Things

  • Did I mention 49 MPG? I did? Well that’s because I am still amazed by that number.
  • Huge cargo space.
  • Hybrid Synergy Drive System
  • 6.1 inch touchscreen for navigation and entertainment systems.
  • 12V power outlet and USB port.
  • Panoramic moonroof with power sunshades (my second favorite feature, this really makes you feel like you’re driving in the open air without messing up the hair)
  • Advanced parking system. Yes, I confess I need this sometimes.
  • 60/40 split rear seat recline. This feature was great for both long drives and loading gear.

Things You Need to Know

  • Total “sticker price” of the model we tested: $36,555.00
  • If you’re used to a car that has some get-up-and-go, the Prius V will take some adjusting to.
  • This car is SUPER quiet. In fact, so much so that the only way I could tell it was on was if the “Ready” indicator was on. I found this a little unnerving at first, but I got used to it.
  • At the time of this test drive the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had yet to rate this car.
  • The ground clearance borders on, “low rider”.
  • And now onto the most important part of any She Buys Cars/Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom/ Traveling Mom review… where did I put my purse? Toyota knocked this one out of the park! There is a very roomy “cubby” below the dash and in front of the center console that is perfect for everything from that cute little Judith Leiber to the biggest of the Boho bags.

Over all the gas milage was the winner for me. I doubt I’d ever hop in a Prius V for an epic road race, but for everyday adventures, sure. Or maybe I should shop the studios a script about an epic, all Prius road race flick? Does anyone know if Affleck is available? After that Oscar snub we might be able to get him cheap!

Family Travel: Savannah, Shrimp & Residence Inn… Oh My!

Being a big family has never kept us rooted at home. Given the opportunity, we pick up and go! Planes, trains and automobiles? We’ve done that. This summer we set out to explore the Gulf Coast. The adventure began with taking the kids, and even our car, along on the Amtrak Auto Train to Florida’s glimmering shores. Waving a fond farewell to Florida, we hit the road, landing in Savannah, Georgia.

If I had to use one word to sum up our stay in Savannah it would have to be, Magical.

To be honest, choosing to stay in Savannah was more a strategy than a burning desire to see the place before I die. The logic? The kids could only last a maximum of eight hours in the car before a hierarchy emerged and people started to be marked for elimination. Not good. So Savannah it was. Lucky for me -card carrying member of the Residence Moms Club- there were a few Residence Inns (RI) to choose from. Little did I know what amazing stay we’d have at the the RI Historic District.

From the moment we pulled up in front of the charming brick building -nestled amongst art museums, city trolley tour stops and historic landmarks- we were made to feel like family. A friendly valet welcomed us, helped with bags and made the kids giggle (a very “luxury property” touch). The desk staff got us checked in, in a jiffy, then gave us a mini tour of the property, from the fire pit crowning the sparking pool and courtyard, to the full dining area and bar, the place as an “Old South” feel and true Southern Hospitality.Obviously the kids loved the pool most of all. That and they Eggs Florentine, grits and fresh waffles at the free breakfast bar. My kids love to eat. I enjoyed having a full kitchen (hello, eating out with a family of 6 can break the bank) stocked with groceries that the RI staff picked up for me and had delivered to our room, swoon.

The staff were so much more than hospitality workers, they became our personal tour guides, recommending places the locals go to eat, indulging my obsession with Johnny Mercer and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and pointing us to an awesome dolphin tour. We got to see WILD baby dolphins!

My absolute favorite part of our visit to Savannah (other than the Shrimp and Grits at The Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern on the Riverwalk) was the afternoon we spent at Bonaventure Cemetery. Yes, I drug my kids into a cemetery as a family activity, don’t judge. In the visitor’s center, most people grab a map and go, in a rush to go find the Bird Girl. We lingered, and boy was it worth it. We met a lovely Southern Gentleman, a  member of the historical society and a treasure. He entertained us with an oral history of Savannah in a way no book or website could. We learned about the founding of the city, why the cemetery is laid out the way it is, how it was inclusive of several religions at a time when this was a rarity in the south. Some of the stories he told us were simply jaw-dropping. Like the one about his 200 year old obelisk that made it’s way into the Georgia soil all the way from France.

How did it end up in Bonaventure, and why? Well it was purchased by a local businessman who wanted to save the particular plot it resides on, for the day he meets his eternal rest. Where does one go to purchase a several ton marble obelisk from France? Why, eBay of course! True story.

Bonaventure was also the perfect place for me to hone my very-amateur photography skills.

From encounters with wild dolphins to a not-so-spooky walking ghost tour, amazing eats to quaint cobblestone streets, Savannah is a magical place imbued with true Southern hospitality, steeped in history and the perfect place for a family adventure!

 

Disclosure: Our stay at the Residence Inn in Savannah was compensated as part of my participation in the Residence Inn Moms Club. I was under no obligation to give this property a favorable review. As ALWAYS my opinions are my own. That said, you should stay at this property, words really can not describe how wonderful our stay was. 

Is “Family Friendly” a Luxury?

I spend a lot of time traveling with my family. Sometimes it’s a work gig they get to tag along for. Other times it’s a getaway. We’ve stayed in many a budget bungalow where the only stars you could find were on the free HBO. Most of the time the destination determined the digs. More often than not though, the biggest factor in choosing where we stayed was budget.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy hotel. When you’re used to having to tuck everyone else in the joint in, read them a story, fetch endless glasses of water and chase off monsters from closets and corners, turn-down service is a welcome novelty. But as much as I like the luxury hotel experience it didn’t really fit into my family travel plans. Until, Omni.

My philosophy is, if you’re going to splurge on a topnotch hotel -with your family in tow- the hotel should be just as much of a destination as your actual destination is. Omni hotels have a knack for doing just that. From their Kid’s Fantasy suites, to Camp Omni, their Sensational Kids program to Teen Connect Omni makes your family a part of their family, ensuring that fun is had by ALL.

Being that my kids range in age from 18 to 6, making sure everyone has a blast is a tall order. Omni Hotels go out of their way to make sure that job is easier for me. My 13 year old daughter got to interview some of the staff at the Omni Berkshire this past Fall and put in her two cents about what tween/teens like at a hotel, as part of her participation in the Family Travel Conference. I was privileged to be hosted at the Berkshire during BlogHer 2012 last weekend. I got to see, first hand, some of the things she was excited about. With their new Teen Ambassador, David Strebel, on board to help take the program over the top, my family can’t wait to go back again, and again. Omni adds so much more to your family’s trip, it’s like destination in itself. An added luxury that is priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Omni Berkshire New York hosted two of the three nights I stayed in conjunction with my trip to BlogHer 2012. AS ALWAYS, all opinions are my own. I have stayed at several Omni properties, own my own dime, and highly recommend them for families who travel.