Theaters with a playful twist

Playground + theater = AWESOME

If you’ve ever been to the movies with a 3-, 4-, or 5-year-old, you understand that it can be difficult for the little ones to sit still for the duration of the film.

For this reason alone, two new movie theaters from Mexico-based Cinepolis, which debut next week to screen Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake, are AWESOME.

In a nutshell, the new theaters are mashups of regular cinemas and indoor playgrounds. Under one roof. The Cinepolis configuration—formally dubbed the “in-theater concept”—offers something for everyone. Moms and dads can sit and watch a film while the kiddos play on a play structure. It’s that easy.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the new theaters boast jungle gyms, cushy bean bag chairs, and climbing structures. These play areas are flush up against one of the walls near the screen, and are big enough to satisfy a handful of kids but small enough to make certain that parents can keep an eye on their kiddos at all time.

Lest you think this setup is too good to be true, it comes at a cost; Cinepolis plans to charge an additional $3 per ticket. That means standard prices could put tickets around $20 a pop.

Meanwhile, a separate story, this time on The Huffington Post, alleged that the kid-friendly push reflects the increasing importance of the family audience as Hollywood studios spend heavily on animated productions.

Whatever the driver, I must admit: I’m intrigued by this development. I’ve seen five or six movies with our big girls over the years, and I’m always frustrated by their inability to sit still. (Heck, even when they watch movies at home, the two of them are jumping all over the living room.) While it might be awkward for certain audience members to have kids running and jumping on a playground during a movie, I’d argue that this sort of behavior is far LESS disruptive than kids bopping around in their seats.

The bottom line: I’m certainly willing to give it a try. And the next time we’re in LA, we will.

Polling kids’ perspectives on family travel

I’ve got great colleagues on the Expedia Viewfinder blog, and two of them recently published a video worth watching.

The video, dubbed “Kids Talk Travel,” is two minutes of bliss in which Rick Griffin and Sandi McKenna (the duo behind Midlife Road Trip) interview a number of kids on the subject of what the kiddos like best about traveling.

Of course the video is adorable; anything that culls insight from kids is bound to be that. But some of the responses also are profound. Like when the interview subjects talk about their favorite trips. And when they list the things that make them most excited about traveling again.

(My favorite of all might be the line where one kid says he plans to stop peeing in his Pull-Ups so he can go to Disney.)

I could tell you more but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Check out the video below. And if you’re not already following Midlife Road Trip, do so here (and thank me later).

Inspired to spread the family travel gospel

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

FTA Summit crew, September 2015

Inspiration is a powerful thing. It’s what lead people to vote for Barack Obama, what has intrigued people about author Ta-Nehisi Coates, and what has compelled people to come together to support Batkid.

As a full-time freelance journalist for the last 18 years, I have spent a whole bunch of my time reporting on other people’s inspiration. Earlier this week, however, as a board member who attended and participated in the first-ever Family Travel Association summit, I was delighted to be the one experiencing the inspiration first-hand.

It wasn’t difficult to be inspired; the summit brought together about 80 of the biggest and boldest thinkers in the world of family travel today. There were experts. There were representatives of big travel companies. There were owners of small travel companies. There were photographers. There were other writers. Almost all of the people present were moms and dads who have traveled with their families.

And everyone descended upon the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for one reason: To talk about how we can work together to raise awareness of the importance of family travel.

Some people moved me more than others. Like Ida Keiper and Jesemine Jones, the women behind Abeon Travel, a travel consultancy dedicated to assisting families that include children with special needs. And Randy Garfield, the former Disney VP who now devotes his time to the U.S. Travel Association and Project: Time Off, one of the most important research efforts in the history of the American people. And Margo Peyton, who, through her company, Kids Sea Camp, strives to get children travelers SCUBA-certified so they can explore the underwater world. And travel writing icon Wendy Perrin, who’s been writing about family travel forever and simply is flat-out awesome.

And some ideas left an indelible mark on my brain. Like some of the new family travel data from FTA and Expedia. And the “18 Summers” campaign from Idaho (hint: watch the video). And Jim Pickell’s suggestion for a new equation to measure family travel—an equation that compares meaningfulness of experiences to expenditures. (Pickell, the founder of HomeExchange.com, is a pretty neat dude himself.)

Heck, the conference even provided scientific evidence behind the notion that travel makes you smarter; in an intellectually rollicking concluding seminar, Nancy Sathre-Vogel explained how new places and new experiences stimulate the growth of dendrites in our brains.

(Some of us joked that Sathre-Vogel’s presentation provided the basis for a new ad campaign that evokes 1980s anti-drug ads and contrasts a brain to a brain on family travel.)

In short, there was a lot to keep the brain buzzing.

The next step is making it all count. Technically speaking, the FTA’s mission is to “inspire families to travel—and to travel more—while advocating for travel as an essential part of every child’s education.” Now, however, with one summit under our belts, we need to codify a strategy and figure out how and where we want to be. Personally, I’d like to see the group become an information resource for consumers, a networking/best-practices group for industry insiders, and an advocate for the right issues (such as family passenger rights on airplanes).

What about you? What would you demand/expect from a Family Travel Association? What sorts of activities and endeavors do you think the FTA should pursue? Share your opinions and become a part of the discussion.

The evolution of hiking chatter

R, in full hiking attire.

R, in full hiking attire.

As an avid hiker, I’ve spent a good tenth of my life ambulating on trails. Most of those hikes have been alone or with friends. In recent years, however, many have been with different companions: my daughters, L and R.

Naturally, the change in partners has resulted in some subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences, as well.

Specifically, the chatter is a lot different with my kids.

I have spent most of my solo hikes, for instance, daydreaming about winning millions in the World Series of Poker Main Event. In my 20s and early 30s, when I hiked a ton with guy friends, we spent the majority of each tromp talking about girls (as in, women we were dating, not 3- and 5-year-olds).

Now, of course, since I do most of hiking with my own kids, conversation ranges from the educational (“Wow, honey, that’s a madrone!”) to the inspirational (“I love the sound of the wind in the oak leaves”). Sometimes, especially when we come upon animal poop, it’s comical (“Dad, what does frog poop look like?”).

Still, I’m not sure any hike chatter can beat the game I played on a recent midday hike with Little R.

We were hiking in an open space preserve near our house here in Northern California. About halfway out on a two-mile loop, the kid was getting restless and I asked her if she wanted to play a game. She responded by creating a clue-based quiz about Disney princesses. The rules were pretty simple: She gave me clues and I had to guess which princess she was describing. I got a point for every princess I guessed correctly.

Over the course of that second mile, we went through EVERY princess, twice. She liked the game so much she insisted we continue playing back at the house. (I think “Ariel” was an answer nine times.)

Was the game my idea of fun? Not exactly; I can deal with Disney but something about the mix of Disney and nature just feels wrong. Still, I embraced it; considering how hard it is to get kids to embrace the outdoors these days, I’ll take whatever sort of motivation I can get.

I might even suggest the “Princess Game” on our next tromp. I’ll just have to study to improve my score.

All Elsa, all the time

Elsa, surveying the North Mountain (and snow-covered deck).

Elsa, surveying the North Mountain (and snow-covered deck).

A funny thing happens when you vacation with three girls between the ages of 3 and 6—you feel like you’ve stepped into a Disney movie. All. The. Damn. Time.

Such was life last week when we spent five days in Lake Tahoe with great family friends. The girls could see or touch snow every waking moment of every day. Which meant they convinced themselves they were living in the movie, Frozen.

This alternate reality manifest itself in a number of hilarious ways.

First, we grown-ups were subjected to the word, “Elsa” no less than 70 times every hour of every day. The girls screamed it. They sang it. They took turns being Elsa 1, Elsa 2, and Elsa 3. One morning, the three of them got into an animated conversation of what Elsa would do if she were annoyed at her sister for not including her in a game with friends. (Their answer: Elsa would freeze everyone. Of course.)

Second, every day comprised multiple costume changes. Immediately after awakening for the day (at 5 a.m.), each girl raced to the room we had designated as the play room to get first dibs on the dress of their choice. Choices included three Elsa dresses, one Anna dress and a few other non-Frozen options. Two of the three girls also had plastic, turquoise Frozen heels, which they wore at all times in the wood-floored house, thus preventing the 7-month-old baby sleeping downstairs from getting a decent nap.

(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, those dress negotiations never EVER went smoothly.)

Finally—and this was perhaps my favorite—the kids took to citing lines from Frozen, and bending those lines to fit just about every situation in which we found ourselves over the course of the trip. Whenever wind gusts took the temperature from the teens into the single digits, at least one of the kids would state, “The cold never bothered me anyway.” When L got the brilliant idea to amass snow to build a man-like sculpture, she didn’t ask her sister or friend to help, but sang, “Do you want to build a snowman?”

It’s important to note here that I am in no way complaining about this phenomenon; on the contrary, I found it fascinating and instructive and endearing (most of the time). Multifamily travel in and of itself is one thing. Apparently, multifamily travel while playing princess pretend is entirely something else.

Aloha Mickey, Here We Come!

R getting ready for the flora of the Islands

R prepping for the flora of the Islands

I mentioned in my last post that we leave Sunday for two weeks on Oahu. We’re spending the first part of the trip at Aulani, a two-year-old resort that represents Disney’s foray into the Hawaiian market.

No-one in our family has visited Aulani yet, but a number of reviews have helped me get a sense of the place from afar.

This piece, for instance, from Babble, offers a good overview. And this one, by my friend and fellow Expedia Viewfinder contributor, Kara Williams, is particularly good for budget-conscious travelers. Finally, this one, from Inside the Magic, does a great job of walking would-be visitors through portions of the resort.

We’re headed to Aulani for three main reasons.

  • Together, my wife and I have visited Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island a total of 13 times since we got married on Maui in 2004, but we’ve only been to Oahu once.
  • L and R (and Powerwoman, for that matter) are big fans of Disney Parks and Resorts, and since our last Hawaiian vacation comprised a lengthy stint on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, we figured the girls would appreciate a completely different type of experience.
  • I’m under contract to write a few pieces about Aulani, and I also am updating the Hawaii 2014 guidebook for Insight Guides.

As it turns out, this Wednesday (June 12), I’m also hosting a Google+ Hangout on Air from Aulani. I’m hosting the event on behalf of Expedia. The subject: Disney Parks and Resorts. During the 45-minute event, I’ll be interviewing three Disney ambassadors about three resorts:  Aulani, Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

For more information about the Hangout on Air, click here. To participate in the event, simply go to Expedia’s Google+ page on Wednesday from 1 p.m. until 1:45 PDT; there, you’ll be able to watch the event live and comment to ask questions.

Meanwhile, stay tuned throughout the next two weeks for dispatches and insights from the field!

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