San Juan Islands family travel recap

Sisters. Eagle Cove. Beachcombing.

Sisters. Eagle Cove. Beachcombing.

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last few weeks, you undoubtedly already have read all about our family trip to the San Juan Islands. Now, however, there’s a place where you can read a recap of the entire adventure IN ONE POST.

The spot: The Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia (a client). The post: This piece, titled “Summer in the San Juans.”

My story, which published earlier today, summarizes our time on the San Juan Islands in about 1,400 words. It includes details about our marine animal sightings, our beach time, the fun we had at Roche Harbor, and even our side-trip to Orcas Island. It also chronicles some behind-the-scenes color from the downtime we spent as a family at the incredible house we rented.

I am especially proud of the photos that accompany the piece; I took hundreds of shots during our two weeks on the island, and was delighted to be able to publish a few of them somewhere other than Instagram.

(If you’re not currently following me on Instagram, by the way, you should.)

Even if you think you’ve read everything about our trip, I encourage you to take the time to give this story a read as well. Thanks in advance for the support.

Lessons from Maine: Don’t be an asshole family traveler

Good for you, Marcy's.

Good for you, Marcy’s.

By now you probably have read about the diner owner in Portland, Maine, who screamed at a mom and dad for not quieting their crying toddler while the family dined in her restaurant this past weekend. You might have read some high-level etiquette theory about who was right, who was wrong, and what might prompt someone to go berserk under these circumstances. Maybe you even read the mother’s response.

My take: Though the restaurant owner seems like a bit of a loose cannon, the parents in question also behaved badly, and as parents, we really shouldn’t be assholes when we are dining with our kids away from home.

You read that right, folks. I’m saying I support the rabid restaurateur.

Could the restaurant owner have been a bit less crass in her tirade? Of course. Am I cool with the fact that the restaurant owner directed some of her vituperation at the 21-month-old herself? Not at all. Generally speaking, however, I think the diner gal was totally right for going off on these negligent parents, and think the vacationing parents were totally in the wrong.

I mean, the facts almost speak for themselves. The child screamed incessantly FOR 40 MINUTES and the parents didn’t even try to take the kid outside. The owner gave the family to-go boxes and asked them to take off. It was at that point, with the kid still crying, the owner went Andrew Dice Clay.

(UPDATE: Some reports suggest the child cried for only FOUR minutes. To me, the duration of the episode is irrelevant; after about 30 seconds of crying the parents should have had the kid outside.)

What’s more, the mom said she didn’t want to take her child outside because it was raining.

Again, I don’t condone cursing at kids. But I certainly understand the restaurateur’s frustration. Reports indicate there were more than 70 other diners in the restaurant at that time. Crying babies are loud. Other patrons were getting annoyed. Somebody had to do something.

So what if it was raining. Didn’t the family have a rental car? If so, that would have been a great enclosed and confined space in which the child could have cried it out. If not, surely there were awnings or vestibules of nearby businesses that would have proved worthy shelters to shield the shrieking child from the rain.

In short, I believe, the parents completely failed in their responsibilities as traveling parents who had taken a baby out to eat.

These duties aren’t complicated. They involve three basic rules: 1) Pay attention to your kid, 2) Try to keep your kid happy, and 3) Remove your kid from the situation if the kid can’t deal. According to eyewitness reports, these parents failed in each and every one of these cases.

When dining out with kids—whether you’re vacationing or not—it’s up to us traveling parents to make good choices and take responsibility for our children’s behavior, no matter what the circumstances. In this case, on that fateful Saturday in Maine, IMHO these particular parents acted like assholes and got what they deserved. Let the story be a lesson to all of us. Don’t be like these parents on your travels. Ever.

Travel memory: Learning to talk on Kauai

Years later, our beach babe still loves the crashing surf.

Years later, our beach babe still loves the crashing surf.

A recent conversation with a friend about vacationing on Kauai (in Hawaii) reminded me of one of our first milestone family trips: A vacation in 2010 during which L spoke for the first time.

The three of us—R hadn’t even been conceived yet—stayed for a week in Poipu at the Villas at Poipu Kai, a wonderful property of furnished vacation rentals near Brennecke Beach. Those were the days before this blog; at the time I was keeping a different blog titled, The Daddy Dispatch (someday, I’ll re-publish those old posts). That said, this particular trip was of the unplugged variety; I happily didn’t write anything while we were there.

That didn’t stop important stuff from happening.

At the time L was about 13 months old, and she hadn’t said much more than, “Mom,” and “Dada.” We were just starting to wonder when she’d say her first real word. Then, one day, on the beach, it just came out: “A-gain! A-gain! A-gain!”

She was talking to the ocean, of course. The waves, specifically. She loved the way they came in and lapped at her tiny feet. She was ordering the ripples to continue.

Again and again, the kid screamed, “Again!”

At first, neither Powerwoman nor I knew quite how to react—we found ourselves somewhere between joy and did-she-really-just-say-that? After about 12 or so repetitions, we started cheering and crying and clapping and doing all the stuff that first-time parents do at a milestone of this nature. “Again” became the theme of the trip; everywhere we went, we did things two or three times, just so we could hear our first child ask us to do them again.

Looking back on that day, travel is an integral part of this cherished memory. Would we remember the accomplishment if L had said, “Again!” here at home? Of course. But the fact that she said it there in Hawaii, commanding the cerulean sea, makes everything about the experience more vivid.

That vibrancy, that extra detail, makes the memory even more special. That we experienced it on a family trip adds panache to an incident we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives.

What developmental milestones have your kids achieved while traveling?

4 reasons we love Cavallo Point

The view from our room at Cavallo Point.

The view from our room at Cavallo Point.

Because those three weeks in the Pacific Northwest simply weren’t enough, we’re spending the night tonight at Cavallo Point, the Lodge at the Golden Gate.

In case you don’t know it, the lodge is an old fort—named, coincidentally, Cavallo Point—that was renovated back in 2007 into a luxury resort. The place has 142 rooms in all, and the company that owns it is the same company that owns Post Ranch Inn, one of the swankiest resorts in all of California.

With this in mind, it’s no wonder we never want to leave. Here are the things we like best so far:

The room

Renovations to the property turned some old officers’ quarters into new hotel rooms. There are about 70 of these “historic” rooms. To double the size of the resort, owners also built 70 new (they call them, “contemporary”) rooms in 11 standalone buildings. Our room is one of the latter types. On the first floor.

Without question, the best thing about the room is the view—we have an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Little R, who loves the bridge, has been literally staring and smiling at it since we checked in.

The rest of the room is above average. Features are modern and sleek; because the new buildings are LEED-certified, I believe most of the furniture and built-in work is made from recycled bamboo. The bathroom is tremendous and has a deep tub which I’m sure the girls will love. There also is a mini fridge in the room—always a bonus when you bring your own snacks like we do.

The red-carpet treatment for kids

Shortly after we checked in, a bellman knocked on our door with a gift from the concierge. The gift was for the girls. Inside this bag were two coloring books, two sets of crayons, two jump ropes, two chocolate lollipops, and two sticker sheets. I wandered down to the front desk about an hour after the present arrived and asked the concierge if we received the bag because she knew I was a journalist. She explained that every kid who checks in gets a similar set of goodies.

The bar

In addition to room service, the resort has two dining options: Willow Circle, a restaurant, and Farley Bar. At night Willow Circle can be a bit formal and stuffy, so tonight we chose to dine with the girls at Farley Bar.

Original tin ceilings, a built-in wooden bar, roaring fireplaces, and period lighting fixtures set the scene here and made Powerwoman and me feel like we had stepped back in time. Our server, who seated us in a corner booth near a fireplace and indulged the girls by calling them princesses, made us feel like we were the only patrons of the night (trust me, we were not).

The Farley menu was limited—I mean, it *is* a bar—but reliable and good.

The kids’ meals, grilled cheese and chicken strips, came with berries and were $9 apiece, and our server brought them each Arnold Palmers the way they like ‘em, with no ice. Powerwoman ordered a bit of an eclectic meal: soup and macaroni and cheese. My burger was spot-on.

Perhaps most important, we were comfortable. Sometimes dining with kids in a hotel bar can be riddled with dirty glances and uncomfortable feelings. At Farley, we fit right in. In fact, while the kids were enjoying ice cream sundaes for dessert, I looked around and noticed four other families dining in the bar. The takeaway: Families and the Farley coexist nicely, which makes it a place to try.

The parade grounds

Yes, the view from just about anywhere at Cavallo Point is amazing—depending on the angle, you can see both spires of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as Alcatraz, the San Francisco Bay, and more.

Still, we liked the Parade Grounds even more. This is the giant open space between the officers’ quarters on the main lawn. Years ago, when the area was an operational fort, the men stationed here would use the greenspace to train, play baseball, hold parades, and more. Because the property has such a colorful past, the name stuck.

Before dinner, L met some other kids climbing a giant old conifer across from the main entrance to the resort. After dinner, L and R ran laps around a flagpole in the very center of the green—a flagpole I’m sure has been there for at least 50 years.

While the girls were running, Powerwoman and I sat on the steps to the bar, drinks in hand, watching from afar. We liked knowing that the girls were safe, that we could just let them run without fear of them being hit by a car or a golf ball. The girls certainly liked it, too—R, after running a grand total of 12 laps, declared she wanted a Parade Grounds at our house. (We’re working on that.)

Of course we also love the hotel’s proximity to the Bay Area Discovery Museum, a fantastic children’s museum in more former fort structures right near the Bay. Our plan is to spend most of the day tomorrow down at the museum. Unlike previous visits there, which have started with a 75-minute drive from home, this time we’ll be able to stroll down in five minutes or less. That’s the kind of commute I could get used to.

More tips for road trips with kids

Sleeping beauties. In the car.

Sleeping beauties. In the car.

We take a ton of road trips in this family, and I’m always eager to share some of my tips and lessons learned with the masses. Case in point: My latest piece for the Expedia Viewfinder blog from Expedia, which outlines five can’t-miss tips for road-tripping with kids.

The post was inspired by our recent road trip from Portland, Oregon, to the San Juan Islands, and back down to Seattle. All five of the tips relate directly to the experiences we had on the trip.

At least two of the suggestions echo some of the pointers I laid out in an interview with Juliana Shallcross of Trips + Giggles earlier this month. The other three are brand spanking new, and feature anecdotes that I’ve never shared anywhere else. (Gotta keep you regular readers on your toes, you know.)

We certainly will be calling upon some of our own suggestions again later this month, as we’ll be road-tripping down to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area to report another family travel piece.

(There also is a potential road-trip to LEGOLAND California in the works; stay tuned for details on that.)

We even are open to new road-trip tips; if you’ve got advice to share, please feel free to do so in the comment section below. And in case you missed the link the first time, check out my Expedia Viewfinder piece about road-trip tips here.

The world’s biggest ball pit, for kids and grownups alike

The Beach, courtesy of Smithsonian.com.

The Beach, courtesy of Smithsonian.com.

In case you missed the news while you were celebrating Independence Day, the world’s biggest ball pit opened July 4 in our nation’s capital, and it looks like a kick-ass spot for kids and grownups alike.

The 10,000-square-foot pit, dubbed, “The Beach,” actually is an exhibit in the atrium of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The exhibit, from a firm named Snarkitecture, is designed to bring a summer staple for many suburban and rural residents into the Big City. It runs through Sept. 7.

Technically, the pit comprises about 1 million clear plastic balls. In a nod to the totally neurotic among us (that’d be me!), the balls are made of recyclable and antimicrobial plastic, which basically means museum personnel does NOT have to get in there with Clorox wipes and clean the balls every night.

(The whole cleanliness factor was a major issue for me when L went to our local MyGym.)

According to an article on Smithsonian magazine’s website, there are three different ways for visitors to experience the family-friendly attraction. First (of course) they can jump in. Second, they can relax on lounge chairs on the “shoreline,” or edges of the pit. Finally, they can sit near a snack bar and watch from afar.

Apparently, the ball pit is open until 9 p.m. every night. Later this summer, the National Building Museum will host a number of scavenger hunts, live music, tours, and games. An article in The Washington Post said there even might be volleyball.

Certainly sounds like a great family travel destination to me. See you there?

Dishing tips for Trips + Giggles

Power, indeed.

Power, indeed.

It’s always fun to share family travel tips with other experts. That’s why I’m especially excited to share a Q&A I did with my buddy, Juliana Shallcross, the gal behind Trips + Giggles.

In the piece, I offer a number of creative options for keeping kids happy and entertained during family trips. Perhaps my favorite hack: Progressive Storytelling, a fun and no-tech game that the four of us played at least once a day on our recent trip to the San Juan Islands.

I also used the opportunity to share some news: Our pod is expanding this November when we welcome another daughter into the mix. (Stay tuned for more on this, obviously.)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll recognize some of the other tips—Perler beads for hotel rooms, window clings on long plane trips, Dum-Dums for take-offs and landings, and Rory’s Storycubes for more creative fun.  For a complete transcript of the interview, click here. And if you’re not currently reading Trips + Giggles, add it to your list.

Seattle Center = Family travel heaven

The. Best. Playground. EVER.

The. Best. Playground. EVER.

After more than two weeks away from home, we closed out our 2015 summer road trip in style today with six hours at Seattle Center, an entertainment hub (and former World’s Fair fairgrounds) on the north end of downtown Seattle.

Without question, it was one of the best days of our trip, with a seemingly never-ending number of kid-friendly attractions to keep L and R interested.

From our hotel—the Hotel Monaco downtown—the fun began on our approach; instead of taxiing or walking to the area, we took the Seattle Monorail, which travels about a mile from a shopping mall in the heart of the city to the middle of Seattle Center. Aboard this futuristic train, the kids felt like they started their day with a ride. (FWIW, the monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, too.)

From the Monorail station, we walked about 100 yards to Seattle Center’s newest attraction: the Artists at Play playground.

The centerpiece of this playground is a giant climbing structure designed for kids a bit older than ours—L got scared climbing up the ladder to one of the structure’s rope bridges and had to come down. Still, with swings that make music, smaller climbing structures, and a handicapped-accessible merry-go-round, the park had plenty to offer for younger kids.

(Also, there was a shave ice stand, so my girls were stoked.)

Following a hard hour of playing outside, the kids were sweaty and hungry, so we took them into the Seattle Center Armory, which has been repurposed as a food court with plenty of kid-friendly options for lunch.

Next, the kids led us to the ground floor of The Armory, where they spotted peers playing at the Seattle Children’s Museum. We’ve been to a number of children’s museums over the years and this one ranks among the tops. The girls loved an exhibit that challenged them to build their own forts using household materials such as pillows and sheets. They also enjoyed a 30-minute session in the “Imagination Studio,” an art studio with an unlimited supply of paint, crayons, and crafts.

We ended the day experiencing the most famous Seattle Center attraction: the Space Needle. On the elevator ride up, they likened the tower to the lookout from “P.A.W. Patrol,” a Nick Jr., cartoon with which they’re obsessed. From the top, more than 600 feet above the ground, the kids marveled at cars and ferries and buildings below, and oohed and aahed at the view of Mount Rainier, which seemed to float on the horizon to the south.

By the time we got back down to ground level, the kiddos were spent and in need of some serious Down Time back at the hotel. We barely scratched the surface of Seattle Center—the area also is home to the EMP Museum, the Pacific Science Center, and Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Now we know we’ll be back.

Tinkle practice

Calm before the accident.

Calm before the accident.

Like most girls, L and R are *huge* fans of the Disney movie, Frozen, and they love the line in the song, “Fixer Upper,” about going “tinkle in the woods.” In practice, however, the kids actually are quite terrible at actually going tinkle in the woods. And they’re not getting better any time soon.

Powerwoman and I were reminded of this on two consecutive outings this week.

R’s bladder failure happened first, after an ill-advised cup of milk and an unexpectedly long beachcombing trip along Orcas Island’s Crescent Beach. One minute we were plodding along the shoreline looking for beach glass, the next minute, she announced she had to pee, pulled down her pants, squatted to go, and peed all over herself.

L’s tinkle-castrophe occurred the following day while we were watching whales (we did a lot of that). This scene played out in similar fashion: Sudden need to urinate, pants at the ankles, and a valiant squat attempt, followed by soaked flip-flops and undies.

In R’s case, the issue was inexperience; because she’s only freestyled once before, she doesn’t really know how to do it. L’s case, the culprit simply was stubbornness. The child thinks she is the Serena Williams of pee-holding; instead of forcing her to recognize her own limits, we have decided to let her learn them on her own.

Together both experiences reminded Powerwoman and me of an underappreciated family travel truth: Even a little pee versatility can go a long way.

How will this epiphany change our travel practices? In the immediate future, I’m guessing, not that much. Down the road, however, especially before our next big road trip, you better believe my wife and I will work with the kids to help them get better at tinkling in the woods.

I’m sure the path to enlightenment will be rocky. I’m sure we’ll wet a lot of shorts along the way.

Ultimately, of course, the goal is to empower our daughters to go with ease, whenever and wherever they feel they need to go. To paraphrase the famous World Cup slogan: I believe that they will pee.

A case for patience on the family trip

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

The scene before the storm (and the Orcas).

We came. We saw. We weathered one of the biggest tantrums of 2015. And we experienced magic.

There’s really no other way to describe tonight’s experience at Lime Kiln Point State Park here on the San Juan Islands. The outing had it all: Smiles, tears, shrieks of terror, and screams of joy.

In the end, the experience was a classic case study about the yin and yang of family travel, a picture-perfect snapshot of how bad can become good, a fitting demonstration of why we moms and dads must practice patience above all else.

The night began around 4:30 p.m., when Powerwoman and I decided it might be fun to pack a picnic dinner and head to the park for a little whale-watching. This spot, on the west side of San Juan island along Haro Strait, is renowned as one of the best places in the islands to see Orcas from shore. We had heard reports of whales on that side of the island and thought we might get lucky.

We packed a dinner. We drove to the park. We got to the trailhead. We started hiking. For the first few minutes, everyone was happy. R was singing. L was counting clouds.

Then, at the picnic table, as we broke out our meal, disaster struck: BEES! HARASSING US!

My wife and I didn’t mind the little buggers. The girls, however, FREAKED OUT. R started flailing her arms and moaning. L started crying uncontrollably and shrieking like a banshee. Just as Powerwoman and I started contemplating pulling the rip cord and heading back toward the car, the whales arrived.

In that moment, we were faced with a dilemma: Flee the situation to pacify the children or stick it out to pursue our objective of seeing whales? After much deliberation, we decided to stick it out.

The moments that immediately followed that decision were horrendous. L’s anxiety prompted blood-curdling screams—shouts so loud some onlookers wondered if they should call the cops. R, in an attempt to flee a nagging bee, lost a flip-flip into the ocean (thankfully I was able to retrieve it without injuring myself).

Gradually, however, once we put the food away, the bees stopped swarming, and the girls’ terror dissipated, too. As the kids calmed down, more whales came. And more. And more after those. Some surfaced no more than 30 feet from where we were sitting.

After about 30 minutes of whale crossing, it became clear we were witnessing something pretty rare: An entire pod of Orcas passing by “together.”

In response to this spectacle, the kids’ moods changed completely. Instead of yelping in terror, they were cheering for more whales. Instead of yelling, “Bees!” they exclaimed, “Another dorsal fin!” every time one surfaced in front of us. Instead of insisting that we go home, they were begging us to stick around for more.

When we finally did leave, in the car on the way home, the “whale show” (as they called it) was all they wanted to talk about. The incredible sighting made us grown-ups forget all about the bee incident, too. It was as if the bad stuff never happened.

The lesson? When traveling with little ones, sometimes a little heaven is worth a whole lot of hell.

I’m not suggesting parents turn deaf ears to miserable kids and subject their children to hours of horrendous conditions every day. I am, however, saying that every now and again, we moms and dads might be rewarded for practicing patience in particularly taxing situations.

Identifying those situations isn’t easy; heck, they’re probably going to be different for every family. But when you do manage to stick ‘em out, persevering can have its benefits—for everyone involved.

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