Category Archives: Travel

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.

 

Lauderdale By The Sea: Not the Lauderdale You’re Thinking

I was 19. It was Spring. We had a car and Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t that far from the Naval training facility in Orlando. So, this California girl took her first trip to an East Coast beach. Really, what teenager with a car, a paycheck and a swimsuit wouldn’t go? It was a weekend to remember.

Fast forward more years than I care to count.  Traveling Mom reached out to me to ask if I’d like to bring the brood “down the shore” to cover the annual Family Fun Week events in Lauderdale By The Sea. Florida. My first thought? Oh heck no, what if I left my “mark” in Lauderdale and they found out?! Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was more of a “Hmm” moment. I couldn’t fit the picture of my kids into my memories of the Ft. Lauderdale I knew. Ah, but you see I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the offer. Did you know that Ft. Lauderdale and Lauderdale By The Sea (LBTS) are two different places, close on a map but worlds away?

I sure didn’t.

LBTS is an adorable little village, harkening back to the golden days of giant floral print shirts, women in cat-eye glasses and The Flamingo Kid. Dotting the nearly pristine shoreline are boutique hotels like the Tropic Seas, where we spent one wonderful night and a day tromping the 50 yards from the front door of our brightly painted room to the shore.

During Family Fun week, the village is chocked full of great activities and discounts that make the stay that much more memorable.

The kids can take skim-boarding classes at Alley Oop Skim, have a blast at a chocolate making demonstration at Kilwin’s, or fish from the pier in the annual fishing competition. The whole family can explore the wonderful world of “Crush” and company on a Sea Turtle walk (best for older kids). Many of the shops and vendors offer discounts for families who have purchased the Family Fun Week Discount Card. There are also tons of FREE activities, from live music to movies, and more.

The food? Amazing! We enjoyed an amazing breakfast at Athena By The Sea <—um… imported Feta. HELLO. AWESOME.

The best part of our visit was our stay at the charming, homey and simply sublime, Beachside Village Resort. A slice of The Cape in South Florida, staying here was more like coming home to visit family than staying at a resort. The rooms are each inspired by cities on Cape Cod, decorated in bright white and infused with welcoming style and outstanding amenities. With two pools, a welcoming fire pit, shaded outdoor seating and even grills for you to fire up, this place has it all. PLUS it’s only a hop across the street from the beach!

As grand as all that sounds -and is- the very best part of the stay is the people who run the place. Talk about family-friendly! They treat you like their own. Every need anticipated and met. The owner of the resort also owns three of the villages best eateries and he welcomes you to dine with his “family” by providing a free breakfast at The Village Grille. Ah but dinner at this place is simply mouth watering, a perfect marriage of foodie-fabu and family-friendly.

The sushi at The Village Sushi bar was OUTSTANDING (and my family is a bunch of sushi snobs)

If you’re looking for lots highrise luxury hotels or hopping night life, this isn’t the beach town for you. However, if you’re looking for great beaches, friendly people, businesses that do it right when it comes to family fun, or even an awesome place for your family dog to vacay (this place is the picture of dog-friendly), Lauderdale By The Sea is where you need to be planing your next Florida stay!

Want to learn and see more about LBTS? Visit the LTBSevents page on Pinterest!

 

Disclosure: I was invited, through my affiliation with Traveling Mom, to visit Lauderdale By The Sea during their Family Fun Week promotions. I was compensated for my honest review. AS ALWAYS, my opinions are my own, because YOU deserve no less!  

 

.

 

Family Travel Conference: Inspiration in The Big Apple

Two weeks ago I was honored to be in attendance at the inaugural Family Travel Conference, hosted at the both elegant and homey, Omni Berkshire Place in NYC. This wonderful, inspiring conference was the brain child of  gifted and brilliant minds behind Traveling Moms, Family Travel Forum, Taking The Kids and Travel Media Showcase and brought together a bevy of passionate travel writers. 

The mix of writers for spanned the spectrum of journalistic outlets from traditional media, to National Geographic Intelligent Travel: Traveling Family, to book authors, bloggers and travel industry insiders. It not only made for interesting dynamic, but truly valuable insights, advice and guidance. For example, did you know that there are two schools of thought with regard to lead-ins when you are publishing a video you’ve created?

  • One camp suggests that you be sure to start every video by introducing yourself;  “Hi, DiPaola Momma of Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom here…”
  • The other asserts that you should never do that, that viewers are much more interested in the destination than the person sharing. Certainly a “nugget” I’d never thought about.

Beyond videos, the following advice was offered with regard to content:

  • Keep It Short. Not something I’m adept at, as I am sure you may have noticed.
  • SEO. It is certainly your friend, but don’t kill yourself trying to optimize it, content is always king. 
  • Use Bullets. This is for those easily distracted by shiny objects.. ME!
  • Photos. The eye tends to wander if it’s all text. Use photos to break up the text and keep the reader engaged. Like so…
              Now I have your attention again.. right?                 See, it works!

Even as great as the great tips and guidance were, they did not stand alone as what made this an amazing conference for me. The Family Travel Conference was truly about family. I was encouraged to bring along one of the Lil Nuggets, I choose our tween daughter. She would go on to interview the Executive Chef of Virgils BBQ (of both NYC and Atlantis Resorts) and the Omni Berkshire’s Director of Dirt (Director of Housekeeping). The minute she stepped in front of the camera, she came out of her shell. The introverted 12 year old who was mortified when I took the mic -which promptly screeched with feedback- to introduce myself, became this whole new person. Since then, we’ve been working together (I know, OMG huh?!) on editing her video, which I’ll post here soon.

The conference also reaffirmed something for me. Having such a big family -who has yet to hit the lotto- you’d think that travel would be a luxury for us.

It. Is. Not. Nor should it be for any of you.

Travel is part of the fabric that weaves my family together. Traveling allows us to connect in ways that sitting in front of a movie screen or playing the latest video game never could. In an economy, where many families are struggling, there is still a place for travel. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Tuscany or 5 Star Cruise, it can be as simple as being a tourist in your home town. Take yourself out of the everyday. Step away from routines, do something new, explore together, and what you’ll find is that you’ve come full circle back to the reasons that being a part of a family is a true gift.

Thank you Family Travel Conference founders, sponsors and attendees!