Walking like a pro

Conquering the plaza

Conquering the plaza

The big news from our world over the last few weeks is that Powerwoman and I now are the proud parents of three fully ambulatory human beings.

Allow me to translate that for you: Baby G is walking up a storm.

The littlest Villano isn’t just meandering here and there. Instead, girl is marching with purpose, often leaving her sisters and me in the dust. In practice, this can be difficult to manage, as the baby is always a few steps ahead of us old fogies. In theory, however, it’s a harbinger of great times to come, since we clearly have added a third adventuresome daughter to the mix.

Our new status as a family with three ambulating kids means our travel experiences will be completely different from here on out. Less stroller time. Less backpack time. More time with everyone on foot.

So far—thankfully, I might add—the big girls have taken to keeping tabs on their little sister, often holding G’s hands when we’re out and about. When the big sisters aren’t around to hold the baby’s hands, Powerwoman and I happily oblige.

It will be interesting to see how these trends continue on our next big trip: Disneyland. Will L and R take the time to look after their sister at a theme park? Will G be overwhelmed by the rides and crowds and not want to walk around on her own? These all are questions we’ll be able to resolve over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Powerwoman and I fully intend simply to enjoy the ride.

G is still in that wonderful stage where walking is so new that everything she sees while she’s ambulating is amazing and great and wonderful. She could see the same stuff in a stroller and not care at all. On her own two feet, however, look out!

How did your kids’ ambulation change your family travels?

Villanos take Legoland, part 2

Hotel lobby. Seriously.

Hotel lobby. Seriously.

One of the coolest things about my job as a family travel writer is that I get to take my kids along on some pretty kick-ass assignments.

Case in point: Our trip this coming weekend, to LEGOLAND California.

You might recall that this isn’t the first time I’ve taken one of my daughters to Legoland; back in December 2014, Little R and I went for a similar weekend excursion/assignment. This time, I’m taking R and L—just the big kids and me—while Powerwoman and Baby G go to visit one of my wife’s buddies in Denver.

R is most excited for the airplane trip; she loves airplanes and cannot wait to fly again. L is excited to see what she missed last time.

We’ll really only be in the park for one day. During that time, we’ll check out some of the new attractions, film some social media projects for a client, report a feature for another client, and try to have some fun (which probably won’t be hard).

Over the rest of the weekend, we’ll also get to see my aunt and some cousins, and visit a bird sanctuary.

Perhaps the highpoint of the trip, however, will be our accommodations: We’re staying in the Legoland Hotel. This is noteworthy for a few reasons:

  1. There are LEGOs everywhere, including a LEGO pit near the front desk and LEGO kits in every room.
  2. Rooms come standard with bunk beds for kids, something my daughters are going to LOVE.
  3. A breakfast buffet is included, and my kids go crazy over those.
  4. The hotel is connected to the park itself, which means convenient returns for bathroom breaks and down time.

Stay tuned here for a blog post following our excursion; I’m not bringing a computer with us on the trip but likely will write about it as soon as we’re home. You also can follow me on Instagram and Twitter for updates there.

Five reasons Legoland California is better than Disneyland for young kids

R, getting busy with blocks in Duplo Village.

R, getting busy with blocks in Duplo Village.

Let me start this post by stating that I love the Disneyland Resort. It’s iconic. It’s epic. And there’s nothing like it on Earth. Now it’s time for another truth: I *also* love Legoland California Resort. It’s creative. It’s interactive. And it appeals to the engineer in all of us.

The parks have a number of similarities. Both are in Southern California. Both are big attractions in the world of family travel. And both cost about the same (around $100 for each grownup for the day). Still, after a recent weekend visit with R to Legoland, I believe Legoland is better for young kids. Here are five reasons why.

It doesn’t feel too big
Technically, the Disneyland Resort is only slightly larger than Legoland—160 acres to 128 acres. On the ground, however, Legoland feels much smaller and more manageable than the iconic theme park to the north. I think a lot of this has to do with occupied space; I’m not sure of the exact numbers, but Disneyland is using almost every square inch of its area, but Legoland has plenty of room to grow. What’s more, everything at Legoland is relatively close together; we traipsed around the park for an entire day and neither R nor I felt like we had walked very far at all.

It’s interactive
It’s no secret that kids love hands-on activities. This is one of the things that make Legos (and Duplos, for that matter) such a great toy—kids can build whatever they want, knock it down and build something entirely different. It also is why playgrounds are so popular among the 5-and-under set. At Disneyland, one of the only places young kids can do this sort of thing is at Mickey’s Toontown. At Legoland, however, the entire park is interactive. Playgrounds abound (R’s favorites were the Hideaways and Duplo Village), and just about every one of the park areas boasts places where kids can build with Legos.

It has mastered the line
Nobody likes waiting in queues—not grownups, not teenagers, and certainly not little ones. At Disneyland, even with the FASTPASS service, standing on line can be a total downer, especially when your kids (or you) are hot or tired or both. Legoland’s solution: Legos, of course. Lines for many of the most popular attractions snake around special covered areas where kids can build with Legos while their parents or guardians walk the queue. Kids can then join their grownups right before the group is ready to board the ride. R appreciated this option tremendously. Since I didn’t have to deal with whining, I did too.

It has legitimately healthy food
One of my pet peeves about Disneyland is that it is legitimately challenging to find healthy food inside the park. I’m not talking salads and apple slices, here. I’m talking snackable vegetables, meatless options, gluten-free dishes, stuff like that. LEGOLAND has this in spades. I was blown away by some of the options at the Garden Restaurant, the in-park restaurant where we had lunch during our visit. Perhaps the most impressive choice: The caprese panini, with whole mozzarella, fresh basil, pesto, tomatoes. Our traveling companions, who are vegetarians, order this every time.

There are places for downtime
Downtime is a critical part of every day in the Villano family. Our kids spend most of their waking hours moving at warp speed, so we make sure the girls have anywhere from 45-60 minutes of quiet time daily. When were on vacation, this becomes a challenging proposition. When we’re at a place like Disneyland, unless we head back to the hotel room, it’s downright impossible. Legoland offered a variety of options for in-park downtime, including the Build and Test Room, where R spent a good hour just Lego-ing around. The downtime was good for me, as well. That means everybody won.

In conclusion, I want to make sure nobody misunderstands me here: I’m a fan of BOTH Disneyland AND Legoland. After experiencing both parks with my young girls, I just think Legoland is better for the little ones. This doesn’t mean we’re abandoning The Mouse. It just means we now will embrace an alternative, as well. You should, too.

What do you look for when you visit a theme park with young kids?

Getting real about Disneyland

L takes on Disneyland, like a boss.

L taking on Disneyland, like a boss.

As fun as it might seem to take the kids to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” a.k.a., the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, the experience can be exhausting, too.

That’s the gist of my latest piece for the Expedia Viewfinder blog, which published today.

The story, titled, “Daddy does the Disneyland Resort,” outlines precisely why a trip to see the West Coast Mouse can be so tiring—especially for dads. Among the reasons I outline in the article: physical demands of walking all over the (500-acre) place, psycho-emotional demands of keeping kids happy in line, and under-hydration (even in winter).

In the article, I also list a number of ways dads (and moms) can avoid what I liken as the “Disney stupor” the next time they visit.

Among my solutions here: Utilizing Rider Switch, embracing technology, and, of course, drinking booze (Which you only can do in Disney California Adventure Park).

The blog post itself was based on “research” Powerwoman and I conducted on one of our last visits to the theme park, back in 2012. At that time, L was 4 and R was 1. (Now, of course, L is 5 and R is 3; though my philosophy on approaching the visits hasn’t changed much.)

Perhaps my favorite part of the effort is the main picture, which captures L walking through Downtown Disney like she owns the place, and Powerwoman pushing R in the buggy with abandon. Check it out!

What are your tips for surviving theme park visits with *your* young ones?

 

Disney World for preschoolers, day by day

The girls meet Elsa.

The girls meet Elsa.

We returned earlier this evening from our 6-day, 6-night visit to Walt Disney World Resort. Yes, we had a blast. Yes, we saw a ton. Yes, it was hot. And, to be honest, all four of us are COMPLETELY exhausted.

Rather than recap our week in a long narrative here, I’d like to redirect you to a travelogue-style rundown about the visit that I wrote for the Expedia Viewfinder blog. The idea behind this piece was simple: After writing a base post on our first night at the resort, I submitted one summary every day thereafter.

The post highlights a number of experiences, including a princess breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall; pint-sized toilets at Baby Care Centers in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios; and our super-cool Magic Bands that obviated the need to carry credit cards or cash.

That said, my personal favorite day was the day we were treated to four hours with a VIP Tour Guide.

(A close second was Saturday, when we discovered the top-secret, indoor, and air-conditioned playground on the standby line for Dumbo: The Flying Elephant.)

To be frank, we enjoyed everything we did. And we’d do it again in a heartbeat. And so should you.

What are your favorite things to do at Walt Disney World?

My new family travel obsession: SafetyTat

SafetyTat. In action.

SafetyTat. In action.

I might as well just come out and say it: I’m a sucker for a good temporary tattoo.

This means I’ve become a huge fan of Tattly for everyday designs. It also means that one of my new family travel must-haves is the flagship (and eponymous) product from a company called SafetyTat.

The product is exactly what it sounds like it would be—a temporary tattoo that helps keep kids safe. The concept is perfect in its simplicity, blending the fun of a temporary tattoo with important identifying information that can help authorities reunite you with your child in the event that he or she gets lost.

SafetyTat tattoos either come customized with your mobile phone number or blank so you can write in your cell phone number on them. When applied to the arm of your child or loved one, the SafetyTat provides an immediate, highly visible form of child identification that stays in place—even after it gets wet.

The product was invented by Michele Welsh, a Baltimore mom of three kids who felt overwhelmed when she took her youngsters to a crowded amusement park.

As the story goes, Welsh wrote her mobile phone number on each of the kids’ arms with a ballpoint pen. Throughout the day, she had to rewrite the numbers several times. That’s when it occurred to her there had to be an easier way.

I’m not going to lie—the SafetyTat tattoos are spendy. Original SafetyTats (the ones that you can customize to come printed with your number) are $20.99 for a pack of 24. This price doesn’t include shipping, which starts at about $3.30 per order (and goes up to $22.50 for overnight delivery, if you’re really in a hurry.)

Still, especially for summer trips to theme parks, this tool can prove to be invaluable. Check it out.

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