Awesome amenity for kids who lose teeth on the road

Mmmm, cupcakes

Mmmm, cupcakes

Spend enough time traveling with youngsters and it’s bound to happen sooner or later: Your little one loses a tooth (naturally) away from home.

Of course if your kids believe in the Tooth Fairy, this occurrence puts a burden on mom and dad—how do you perpetuate the rituals you’ve established around celebrating or commemorating these sort of life events at home?

A recent Twitter post from the folks at Four Seasons Orlando answered this question in a fun way. The post, which was accompanied by a picture of adorable cupcakes (see above), read: “Our pastry team created this adorable amenity for little guests who lost a tooth during their stay & await a visit from the tooth fairy!”

In other words, the swanky resort hotel gives sugary cupcakes to kids who just lost teeth.

This is awesome for a number of reasons:

  • CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES.
  • It totally takes that aforementioned burden off Mom and Dad, providing a kick-ass option/reward to ascribe to the Tooth Fairy herself (that crafty minx).
  • That little tooth character is bound to make little ones smile, which could come in handy if your kid is like my oldest child and *freaks out* at the sight or thought or idea of blood.
  • DID WE MENTION CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES?

Our little family never has visited this particular property but hope to get there the next time we visit the Walt Disney World Resort. Sure, the place has a bunch of other pretty swanky attractions. But this particularly amenity is one of my faves, and it makes me kind of hope one of the girls loses a tooth (the old-fashioned way; not like this) when we go.

What are the most creative in-room amenities you’ve encountered on your travels?

More cats, more cat videos

Another day, another video of our time at the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary. The latest video, an edited version of the original that appeared on AFAR.com, ran on AFAR’s Facebook page. The 50-second clip has no speaking, but with images and captions it gives a great sense of what the place is like.

To refresh your memory, we visited the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary last month during a four-day stay at Four Seasons Lana’i. The experience changed our lives. Especially for L and R.

Below you’ll find a screen shot. To see the whole video, click here.

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Robot toilet overload

Toilet blindfold

Toilet blindfold

Most people who stay at the Four Seasons Lana’i remember the luxurious rooms, the incredible dining options (Nobu! Dean & DeLuca in the minibar! Those amazing malasadas!), the intimate pool, and the picture-perfect sand beach on Hulopo’e Bay.

My kids will remember all of those things. But also, the in-room toilets.

These aren’t just any toilets, mind you. They are what our Big Girl calls, “Robot Toilets.” Toilets with built-in seat warmers. Toilets that open and close and flush automatically. Toilets that sport bidets for those trips to the bathroom you just can’t seem to tidy on your own.

The toilets represent the top-of-the-line product from a company called Toto, a company that makes all different sorts of toilets. The ultra-exclusive fixtures undoubtedly are intended to add to the feeling of luxury—especially since the technology creates this situation that actually obviates the need ever to touch the toilet or toilet seat when you go. (As an aside, they are priced at more than $3,000 apiece.)

But for my Big Girl—a brilliant and creative 7-year-old who suffers from anxiety about foreign toilets in general—they basically were the Devil in porcelain clothes.

At first, before she had to use the toilet in our room, she was fascinated by them, pushing the buttons to watch the lids go up and down. Curiosity quickly turned to fear when she sat down and the toilet unexpectedly started a circulate cycle to make sure none of her “presents” stained the bowl. We quickly figured out to use a (complimentary and posh) kid-sized slipper to “blindfold” the toilet’s electronic eye (which triggers the circulate cycle when you sit down).

For a few days, this plan worked wonders. Her curiosity returned.

Then, drama struck. We refer to it as The Bidet Incident. Completely out of nowhere, while the Big Girl was doing her business on the bowl, the toilet’s bidet feature went rogue and sprayed her bottom with gusto. To say this caught her by surprise would be an understatement. There were many tears. And blood-curdling screams. Then she announced she was “never peeing on Lana’i again.”

Powerwoman and I dried off our daughter’s bottom and did our best to stifle laughter. We spent the rest of the afternoon creating stories about robot toilets gone haywire. Mine evoked the Terminator movies, only with robots that sprayed unsuspecting butts instead of killing people. (The stories worked. She peed again.)

Thankfully, by our last morning on Lana’i, the Big Girl was able to smile about the toilet. She and her 4-year-old sister made up a farewell song. They included the toilets in their recap of their favorite things about the Four Seasons Lana’i. The two of them even figured out how to hold the blindfold slipper without any help from my wife or me.

As we headed for the door, depressed at the thought of leaving this paradise, L ran back to “do something important” and kiss the toilet goodbye.

“I just did it on the top,” she said. “I didn’t want the bidet to shoot me in the mouth.”

Hawaii + Four Seasons = Malasada awesome

The rooms at Four Seasons Lanai are pretty nice

The rooms at Four Seasons Lanai are pretty nice

Hawaii holds a special place in the history of our pod. It’s where Powerwoman and I got married back in 2004, where L said her first word, where R did her first hike in the trusty child-carrying backpack. It also is where I’ve reported some of the most meaningful features of my time as a freelance writer.

In short, we f-ing love the place.

This is why we make a point of returning at least once a year. We’ve been lucky enough to go 15 times (together) in 12 years of marriage. This year’s iteration starts tomorrow.

We’re doing something different this year, spending the first half of our trip on the island of Lanai. Neither I nor Powerwoman has been back there since we went on our honeymoon. This experience is likely to be VERY different for two reasons: 1) Obviously this time we’ll have three kids in tow, and 2) The resort at which we stayed last time is now closed, and the resort at which we’re staying this time is arguably THE NICEST RESORT IN THE WORLD.

That resort, Four Seasons Lanai, was completely renovated in the last few years and reopened in February. (If you’re interested in learning more, this article provides some good context.)

Sure, it’s swanky. And yes, it’s renowned for its incorporation of technology. I’m sure the service is amazing. I know the restaurants are top-notch. The views are incredible. But the sweet tooth in me is excited about our stay for an entirely different reason: The hotel breakfast has a malasada machine. And I know my kids are going to flip out when they experience it.

You see we’re kind of mad for malasadas. I’ve written about malasadas for a bunch of different clients. What’s more, the sugar-covered dough balls have become a mainstay of our Hawaii trips—when we’re on Maui, we hit up T. Komoda General Store in Makawao; when we’re on Oahu, we go to Leonard’s.

Thursday morning—our first at Four Seasons Lanai—we’re going to stuff our faces with as many of them as we can handle. It will be a great way to kick off what is sure to be another epic Hawaii adventure.

Stay tuned for details.

Sharing the word about Four Seasons Orlando

The kids club at Four Seasons Orlando (photo courtesy of Trips + Giggles.

Kids’ club at Four Seasons Orlando (photo courtesy of Trips + Giggles).

I’ve lamented since last summer that I wasn’t able to check out the Four Seasons Orlando when we visited Walt Disney World Resort last summer. The new luxury property formally hadn’t opened yet, and I couldn’t find time (or, quite frankly, a rental car from my Disney-owned hotel) to break away and take a tour of the construction site.

Thankfully, Juliana Shallcross, my (former editor at VegasChatter.com and HotelChatter.com, and) buddy over at Trips & Giggles, went recently, and wrote a definitive post about the place, which she published earlier today.

If I may summarize, her post basically says that the Four Seasons Orlando KICKS MAJOR ASS. Especially for family travelers.

I love J’s post for its simplicity—she talks briefly about the design and service that made the hotel so special for her, then gets right into a host of pictures (one of which I pilfered to accompany this post), with descriptions of each. My favorite of her observations: The Four Seasons Orlando is especially great at the end of a hot day when you want to leave the parks and escape the Mouse for a while. My second favorite: Her reminder that the Kids for All Seasons kids club is included in the room rate.

Granted, the price point at a luxury hotel such as this one is way too high for the majority of visitors to Walt Disney World Resort (or Florida, for that matter). Still, if budget is no issue and you’re looking for a property that treats kids—and their families—like royalty, it sounds like this is your place.

Consider yourselves warned.

What are your lodging strategies when you visit Walt Disney World Resort?

The best road trip snack ever

Mmmmm, GORP.

Mmmmm, GORP.

Today we celebrate a Wandering Pod first: A recipe for a treat that will be a hit with even the most reluctant child travelers.

The treat, of course, is trail mix. We’re big fans of the stuff in this house—a vestige of my pre-fatherhood life as a serious backcountry hiker and camper. We eat it as frequently as we can, and I try to cook up a special new batch of GORP (or GORP-inspired goodness) in advance of every one of our family road trips.

This past weekend, when we traveled into San Francisco to celebrate R’s third birthday, I outdid myself with what the girls are calling The Best Road-Trip Trail Mix Ever. Ingredients for this magic snack were simple: Dry-roasted and salted cashews, raw (and unsalted) almonds, Pepperidge Farm whole-grain goldfish crackers, and M&Ms.

If your kids like raisins, I suppose you can add those, too. And sunflower seeds. Without the shells.

Measurements for this kind of treat are totally dependent on what your kids like best; in our family, a 1:1 ratio of goldfish to M&Ms is key, and the nuts are almost secondary. You don’t want to make too much of the snack, because the goldfish go stale after about a week. I suggest storing it in a gallon-size Ziploc bag.

Oh, and to serve this treat, I like to portion out a half-cup for each girl and give it to them in their own travel cups (with lids).

What’s your go-to recipe for homemade road-trip snacks? What’s your personal mom/dad secret for trail mix?

Kid amenities worth every penny

Happy Birthday R, courtesy of Four Seasons SF.

Happy Birthday R, courtesy of Four Seasons SF.

We Villanos are big fans of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts brand. Yes, the room product is amazing. Yes, the service at these resorts—as a family, we’ve stayed at five of them—is second to none.

Really, however, what we like about Four Seasons is the way they welcome kids.

I’m not talking about greetings and salutations here (though the bellmen always are very nice with those). I’m talking about amenities, presents and an assorted variety of other goodies that Four Seasons properties give kids when families visit.

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco this past weekend as part of R’s birthday celebration (she turned 3 on Monday). This meant the folks at the hotel treated our girls like rock stars, with everything from San Francisco Giants dolls and hats to pre-dinner birthday cake and cookies from room service.

There were other treats, too. Like the “passports” each girl got upon check-in; they loved inserting pictures of themselves and information about personal characteristics such as eye color and hair color.

The “passports” also (could have) doubled as forms of identification when we were out and about.

Another highlight for the girls: the make-your-own sundae option at MKT, the on-site restaurant. We only managed to get to the restaurant for a late lunch, but that didn’t stop us from trying out this incredibly interactive form of dessert. (In case you’re wondering, both girls chose to douse their sundaes with M&M’s.)

On previous visits to Four Seasons hotels all over the world, the kids have enjoyed other amazing amenities, including child-sized robes, kids-only room service menus, in-room game kits, and more.

It might seem odd that a hotel brand popular among luxury and business travelers makes families such a priority. The reality—at least as it seems to me—is that Four Seasons recognizes the benefits of establishing brand loyalty at an early age.

I wouldn’t have noticed this if not for a conversation I had with R earlier today. We were talking about her next birthday, and what she wanted to do. We tossed around ideas of visiting another great monument or a park, or just laying low for a fairy party.

“I want to stay at a Four Seasons, dada,” she said after some pose. Honestly, I don’t blame her one bit.

Birthday vacation in the Big City

The Birthday Girl on the Golden Gate.

The Birthday Girl on the Golden Gate.

We like to celebrate birthdays with panache in this family. When I turned 30, for instance, Powerwoman and I were living in Lima (in Peru), and we spent a weekend dining at some of the best restaurants in town. When L turned 4, we had a party with a cupcake-to-human ratio of at least 4:1. Last September, when R turned 2, we were living in London, she was obsessed with the London Eye, and all she wanted was to ride the thing (which we did).

Naturally, then, this year the pressure was on for us to take the fiesta to the next level.

After much deliberation, we decided to do what any San Francisco Bay Area-based parents of a tourist attraction loving-kid would do: We made plans to travel to the Big City and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Because no Villano can ever do things half-assed, our plans comprised more than just a bridge walk. In addition, the itinerary included a) a Friday overnight at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco, b) a family dinner party at Mel’s Drive-In downtown, c) a morning trek to the carousel at the Children’s Creativity Museum, and d) a picnic lunch in the Marin Headlands.

The bridge walk itself was hilarious. It took us about 45 minutes to find a parking spot at the visitor center on the Sausalito (i.e., the north) side, then another 45 minutes to walk out part of the way. We didn’t even make it from the northern end of the bridge to the first station before the Birthday Girl announced, inimitably, that she was “freezing cold” and that she wanted to go home. Still, she managed to enjoy herself (and Mom and Dad managed to snap a few pictures).

What preceded the bridge walk was special for other reasons. We were welcomed at the hotel with special check-in amenities such as chocolate cake, Panda (as in, Pablo Sandoval) hats, and stuffed San Francisco Giants dolls. We commemorated the start of R’s special day with room-service breakfast. Because we got to the carousel right after it opened, we had the whole attraction to ourselves.

Oh, and at the family dinner, everybody (at least everybody in our immediate family) got milkshakes.

Technically, all of this happened less than 100 miles from our house. Still, because we overnighted, because we “road-tripped” to get there, we all considered it a destination birthday. (Yours truly even made special “road trip trail mix” for the ride down.)

Like I’ve said before, you don’t have to travel very far to have the kind of vacation about which you’ll be talking forever. And for us, R’s birthday celebration was yet another vacation to remember.

What are your favorite ways to mix birthdays and family travel?

Why You Should Travel with Preschoolers

Little R, enjoying downtime in London.

Little R, enjoying downtime in London.

It’s been a busy few weeks here at Wandering Pod headquarters. First we surfaced for another story on the “Have Family Will Travel” blog from Four Seasons. Then, earlier today, we hit the Google Alerts again, this time with a service piece for Scholastic Parent & Child magazine.

The latter story, titled, “Sanity-Saving Tips for Traveling with Preschoolers,” presents eight reasons why parents *should* travel with their kids when their kids are between the ages of 3-5. Some of my tips: Kids actually will remember it, flying with kids is easier than you think, luxury hotels are doing nice stuff for families, and public transportation is your friend.

Originally, the goal of the story was to give parents who are hesitant to travel with their preschoolers reasons to put their minds at ease.

Along the way, however, I learned a lot, too.

This was the story that led me to Michelle Blume, a child psychologist who blew my mind with some of the data she shared about how much 3- and 4-year-olds actually remember. It also was the piece that enabled me to meet Raquel Anderson, a behavioral health specialist affiliated with Bundoo, a great reference site for parents.

For both of these reasons, I’m excited to share the piece. Hope you enjoy!

Another Sighting on HFWT

Little R, watching carolers in Farnham.

Little R, watching carolers in Farnham.

Regular readers of this blog might remember a post I wrote late last year about our amazing Thanksgiving stay at Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, England. It was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. And now, I’ve written about the experience again—this time for “Have Family Will Travel,” the family travel blog from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

The more recent article, titled “Hampshire, England Resort Family Holiday,” published today. It spotlights six of our favorite things about the resort. On the list: the kids’ club, the playground, our afternoon tea, and, of course, Oliver, the resident dog.

(Not on the public list: The hotel’s proximity to Farnham, a market town which we visited by taxi.)

Personally, my favorite part of the HFWT post is the artwork—for the first time in a long while, they published a TON of my photos, including a bunch of L and R.

From a family travel perspective, neither of these blog posts suffers from hyperbole; the Hampshire property really is THAT cool. Considering that you can get there in less than one hour by train from London, definitely consider it for a weekend getaway from the Big City the next time you find yourself in southeast England.

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