Trip Review: Beaches in Turks & Caicos (Part 2 – The Activities)

A stay at Beaches in Turks & Caicos guarantees that you will never hear your kids utter the words, “I’m bored.”  This resort truly caters to kids of all ages with an incredible array of activities.  Each night, while preparing the turn-down service, housekeeping dropped off an itinerary with all of the special activities planned for the next day.  We used this information along with the weekly schedule for the Sesame Street character activities to plan each day in advance.  Inevitably, we were a little too ambitious with our plans and would run out of time to do everything, but we were never left wondering what to do next.  Finnegan and Declan slept well and turned in early most nights because they were exhausted from all of the fun by the end of the day.

The activities that we didn’t get to try were the ones geared towards older kids and adults.  One of the most impressive inclusions is free scuba diving for certified divers.  They also offer free snorkeling, paddleboarding, Hobie Cat sailboats, hydrobikes (which we wanted to try, but there is a minimum age of four so Declan wasn’t old enough), an X-Box Play Lounge, and a ‘night club’ for teenagers.

Listed below are of some of the resort activities that we did try.

Pools

There are at least nine pools (even though the Beaches website only lists six) and we tried almost all of them.  We even tried the adults-only pool that was located right next to our room before we knew that it was adults-only.  Oops.

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There are two kiddie pools attached to the main pools in both the French Village and Italian Village.  Because Declan doesn’t like wearing a floatie, these pools were a lifesaver because it was easy to keep an eye on both of them.  There are lifeguards at most of the pools, but they were not particularly attentive so I wasn’t comfortable relying on them.  In the back of each kiddie pool, the water was deep enough for Finnegan to practice his underwater swimming, which he did until his eyes were bloodshot.

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As an added bonus, there are swim up bars in both the Italian pool and French pool so you can easily grab drinks throughout the day to keep your kids hydrated.  If you don’t feel like going into the pool, you can also walk around to the back of the bar to order drinks.

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Water Park

We spent a lot of time during our first two days at the Pirates Island Water Park.  The pirate ship and water slides were perfect for Finnegan and Declan.  They loved running around this area with the other kids and going down the ‘big’ water slide.  Even Declan at 2.5 years old could go down all of the slides by himself.  They loved the pirate theme and Declan was impressed that ‘Captain Hook was all the way up in the scarecrow nest!’

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There is also a sprinkler area for the young kids and a tiny crab water slide for small toddlers to play on.

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We were also able to go on the lazy river a few times using the double tubes.  I sat on one side of the tube with Declan on my lap while Finnegan sat on the other side.  It was really relaxing and Declan started falling asleep both times.  I needed help to get both boys out of the tube, but it was never a problem finding someone willing to help.

Finnegan wanted to try the other water slides in the park, but he wasn’t tall enough to meet the 42” height requirement.  There is also a surf simulator for older kids that looked like it would be a blast.  If you’re not quite up for the challenge of surfing, you can also body board instead.

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Bobby Dee’s restaurant is located in the waterpark area and it’s shaped like a ship.  We didn’t eat any meals at this restaurant (which serves fare of the hot dog and French fry variety), but the boys had daily ice cream cones here as well as popcorn and cotton candy.

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Sesame Street Characters

We live very close to Sesame Place so Finnegan and Declan have had many opportunities in the past to meet the characters.  However, they’ve never had as much interaction with the characters as they did at Beaches.  There are signs posted around the resort with the list of weekly Sesame Street activities, including five different things each day.  From walkabouts with specific characters to science experiments with Grover to bird watching with Big Bird, the options were seemingly endless.  During our vacation, the boys decided to exercise with Elmo, go on a treasure hunt with Abby, and bake cookies with Cookie Monster.

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Baking with Cookie Monster was absolutely adorable and I would highly recommend it if you go to Beaches.

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You can also have pictures taken with all of the characters at the French Pool on specific days.  You can buy the professional photos for $50 each, which benefit a local charity, or snap your own.

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Declan with Elmo and Abby

There are other activities that you can do with the Sesame Street characters that have an additional fee, such as a breakfast with the entire crew, a nightly tuck-in with a character of your choice, or a morning cruise with Elmo and Abby.  We wanted to go on the cruise, but it is only offered one morning per week so it didn’t coincide with our stay.  I think it would have been a nice way to see more of the surrounding area.  The cost if I remember correctly (but we all know what happens to your memory after having kids) is $60/adult and ~$30/child.

Nightly Activities

Each night there is a different theme or activity that the resort hosts.  There is typically a show or activity for the kids and then one for adults.  We went to at least one every night during our stay and were not disappointed in any of them.

Beach Party

We arrived on Friday, which is Beach Party night.  The party started ~6:30PM with a Sesame Street show about Big Bird’s fear of the water.  The kids sat in front of the stage in the sand where they were encouraged to sing along during the show.  Declan was wiped out from playing in the sun all afternoon so he fell asleep during the show, but Finnegan enjoyed it.  They also had a woman making balloon animals, a bounce house and face painting.  Finnegan waited in line for a balloon sword and was thrilled to jab at everything in sight for the rest of the night.  There was also a buffet dinner set-up at the beach party, but we decided to try one of the restaurants instead.

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Movie Night

I learned that there is nothing more adorable than watching Despicable Me 2 outside with dozens of kids belly laughing.  Once a week, Beaches hosts an outdoor family movie night and serves fresh popcorn.  The movie didn’t start until 8PM, but Finnegan and Declan both took long naps during the day so they managed to stay awake and laugh through the entire movie.  Earlier that night, Beaches also had an Oscar Sesame Street Show, a Kid’s Dance Party and a movie trivia contest.

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Chocolate Party

Finnegan began counting down the minutes to the start of the chocolate party as soon as I read him the list of Sunday activities.  I think he was a little disappointed with the actual event because it wasn’t quite what he expected (think candy bars everywhere, chocolate statues and a chocolate fountain).  In reality, there were several buffet tables set-up with mostly chocolate desserts that were probably a little too rich for most kids.  I’m sure chocolate loving adults appreciated it more than the kids.  Notwithstanding, they each picked out two desserts to sample before calling it a night.

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Sesame Street Parade

Tuesday night is the parade and it’s another must-do with young kids.  In addition to the characters, there were drummers, a stilt walker, and pirates in the parade.  It is relatively short, but very interactive.  The characters stop to pose for pictures and generously hand out high fives.

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Kids Club

When we go on vacation, we prefer to spend as much time as possible with our kids since we both work full-time.  This time was no different so I never actually dropped the boys off at the Kids Club, but we did stop in on two occasions to participate in some of the activities with the Sesame Street characters.  I think it’s great that the characters are brought into the kids club several times a day to entertain the kids and lead the activities.  I also appreciated that the nannies didn’t mind whether the parents dropped off their kids or stayed in the room to watch.

I thought the Kids Club for the 2-5 year olds was crowded at times and there was always at least one kid that was really upset about being dropped off.  In comparison, the infant center looked amazing.  It was brand new and practically empty with a much better staff ratio.  The Kids Club is open from 9AM-9PM every day and there is no extra cost.

Train

There is a cute (and very slow) train that you can also ride.  It only takes about 10 minutes and is worth doing just for the pictures.  It is not a very exciting ride since it just goes out and back (very slowly) along the main entrance to the resort.

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There are many more activities at the resort that we didn’t have time to try and many excursions off the resort are also available.  In addition to the typical tours exploring nearby uninhabited islands and sunset cruises, there is a Sandals Foundation reading trip that’s offered on Thursdays.  I didn’t ask whether kids can go on this trip, but I think it would be a great experience for them.  You are paired up with a volunteer and will go to a local school to read and interact with kids between the ages of 3-10.  You are encouraged to bring a new or gently used book so something to think about if you’re planning a trip to Turks & Caicos.  One of the best parts about traveling is meeting new people and gaining an appreciation for what life is really like in the country.  This would be a great opportunity to get away from the resort and get a flavor for the local schools and teachers.

What activities would you look forward to the most at this resort?

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Our 13 Favorite Travel Memories of 2013

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It’s hard to believe that 2013 has come to an end and a new year has begun.  We had some great travel experiences over the last year and thought it would be good to highlight some of our favorite moments, especially since we never did get around to making holiday cards this year.

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1.)    Having our own pool in Jamaica so he could swim anytime

2.)    Catching frogs in Sanibel

3.)    Chasing lizards in Honduras

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4.)    Without hesitation, Declan’s first answer was swimming with dolphins (blog post still to come)

5.)    Watching the sharks and crocodiles at the National Aquarium in Baltimore

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6.)    Swimming with dolphins.  So much fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

7.)    Spending the day on Inisheer riding bikes, having delicious coffee, and watching the kids play on the beach

8.)    Reading an entire book on our trip to Honduras.  It’s the first time this has happened since Finnegan was born.  I read Little Bee and thought it was a great vacation read (although maybe not the most settling choice when traveling to a country with the highest murder rate in the world)

9.)    Watching Finnegan’s face light up when he caught a sea star swimming in the ocean in Sanibel

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10.)  Finally convincing my 77 year old father to join us on our trip to Ireland where he visited his parents’ hometown and met his wonderful Irish cousins for the first time.

11.)  Getting a chance to go for a run with an old friend and college teammate Dr. Donal O’Sullivan, PhD, while visiting Denver.

12.)  Camping with Finnegan at the Blue Moon Acres Farm to Camp Out

13.)  Admiring the beauty and sheer magnitude of the Cliffs of Moher (and I would have said our day on Inisheer if Jennifer didn’t already list it as one of her highlights)

And there are so many other little moments that we will remember and cherish for a long time to come, like Declan referring to our cottage in Sanibel as our Cottage Cheese.

What were your favorite memories from 2013 – travel or otherwise?

Spiders, Scorpians, and Snakes, Oh My!

“I loved the night hike,” were the first words out of Finnegan’s mouth early one morning at Pico Bonito.  Before he said good morning and before I even knew that he was awake he was still talking about the previous night.  We spent our first day at Pico Bonito doing a lot of hiking (well a lot of hiking for a four year old and two year old) and exploring the extensive grounds and national park.

The Lodge is located at the edge of Pico Bonito National Park within a former plantation.  There are a lot of fruit trees surrounding the lodge and we were especially thankful for the orange trees, which the boys snacked on between meals.  They also ate their weight in rambutans, which look like sea urchins, after the driver introduced them to this sweet and addictive fruit.  I couldn’t peel them so Russ was stuck opening every single one and I think he will be happy if he doesn’t see another rambutan for a very long time.   

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On our first morning at Pico Bonito, we met our guide Joel for a two-hour introductory hike.  We hiked to two separate swimming holes that were calm enough for the boys to swim in, an observation tower that I was too afraid to climb, and the beginning of the trails into Pico Bonito National Park.  The trails were hilly and steep at times, but well maintained and safe enough for Finnegan to hike on his own.  Honduras was more mountainous than I had expected so the hiking was tough, especially carrying Declan in a backpack.  We hiked for two hours and saw many birds, including two different kinds of toucans, a baby boa constrictor and a walking stick insect.  

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Finnegan was able to cover more ground than I expected, but tuckered out on the hike down from the second observation tower so Russ had to carry him most of the way down.  We finished sweaty with a pleasant burn in our legs and were ready to cool off in the pool.

The pool was too cold for me to actually swim, but the boys didn’t mind at all.  They enjoyed chasing lizards around the deck and playing on the steps of the pool.

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Despite all of the hiking and swimming, Finnegan wasn’t down with taking a nap so we decided to visit the butterfly farm and snake house that are short hike away from the main lodge.  Before leaving, we saw a very large tiger snake that crossed over the main walkway to the lodge.  It was over six feet long!  Here is his head peaking out of the bush where he went to hide.

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After dinner that night, we went on our third hike of the day with Joel.  It was a night hike that involved flashlights and lots of insects that had Finnegan giddy with excitement from start to finish.  It began to rain soon after we started the hike, but we soldiered on and were so happy that we did.  We saw some amazing wildlife and outlasted the rain, which eventually tapered off.  We saw a few red eyed tree frogs that seemed totally content in the rain, a large toad, a rabbit, sleeping lizards, an armadillo and an array of spiders. 

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The highlight for me was the net catching spider that spins a blue web or net, which it holds with several of its legs and waits for its prey to walk by.  The spider then closes the net very quickly to try and catch unsuspecting insects.  We saw him close the net a few times, but he came up empty handed.  This guy was my favorite jungle creature of the night. 

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Hands down the creepiest thing that we saw on our night hike was a cross between a scorpion and a spider.  It was like taking two of the most frightening creatures in the rainforest and mixing them together to make something even more horrifying.  There is definitely a horror film waiting to be made about this mutant.

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So what did we learn from our day in the rainforest?  If you want to have a great time and really impress a four-year old, all it takes is a walk through the jungle at night with a flashlight (and a professional guide with eagle eyes to point out all the wildlife surrounding you doesn’t hurt either).  Thank you Joel for the highlight of Finnegan’s stay at Pico Bonito!

Where the Wild Things Are: Sanibel Island, Florida

Reblogged from Bucket List Publications

In early September, we went on a family trip to Sanibel Island, Florida and were completely charmed by the small town feel and natural beauty of this 16-mile long island on the Gulf coast.  We were only there for a long weekend, but would love to return again for a longer trip.  There is a lot to do on this small island with many family-friendly options.

While Sanibel Island is famous for its shelling, one of the unexpected highlights of this trip for us was the wildlife.  About sixty-five percent of the island is protected natural reserve and there is an amazing shore-based ecosystem.  The largest preserve on Sanibel Island is the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Preserve, which is home to a variety of creatures including alligators, pelicans, osprey and more.  But the wildlife is everywhere: we think we saw a small bobcat dash out in front of car, and at our cottage, we saw a gopher tortoise, which is a threatened species, and many tree frogs.

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The shore birds are prolific and provided endless entertainment for our boys who could not resist chasing them.

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We were also fortunate to see a large group of manatees in the marina on Captiva Island just before our cruise with Captiva Cruises.  It took a lot of restraint not to jump in the water and swim with those amazing gentle giants.

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We did a half-day cruise to Cayo Costa Beach, which is a beautiful state park beach that is only accessible by boat.  The boys loved the boat ride and the beach was gorgeous and felt deserted since we were there during the off-season.  The water was also crystal clear so it was another great place to look for shells and sand dollars.

 

Cayo Costa BeachDSC09109-684x457Another highlight for the boys was the touch tank at Tarpon Bay Explorers.  What little boy (or girl) wouldn’t be delighted at the chance to touch sea stars, horseshoe crabs, hermit crabs, shrimp, and shells?

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We also took the cruise offered by Tarpon Bay Explorers, but it was a little too slow with too much talking for our busy boys.  I would recommend it for adults, though, because you can learn a lot about the history and ecology of the area.  Since we were traveling with little ones, we tried to sign-up for this Sea Life Encounter trip, but they didn’t have enough customers so it was canceled, which is the small downside to traveling in the off-season.

Other memorable moments included watching the sunset at Lighthouse Beach (big hit), seeing the boys try clams for the first time (not such a big hit), and playing mini-golf at a great course in Fort Myers.

DSC09024-e1378987080477-343x513I didn’t really mention the shells, but it’s true – the beaches are loaded with them.

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Oregon Coast: Trip Review

The Oregon coast is beautiful and instantly feels very familiar (assuming you’ve had a normal childhood).  For me, this resulted in an overwhelming desire to keep yelling, “HEY, YOU GUYS!” at every beach down the Oregon coast.  However, Russ has never seen the Goonies, which I would submit as exhibit #1 that he did not have a normal childhood, so the reference was lost on him.  While we didn’t visit the exact spot where Goonies was filmed, many of the beaches looked very similar to the final scene in the movie, including the one below near Bandon, Oregon.

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After spending one night in Portland with one of Russ’ college teammates last September, we spent the next two days traveling down the Oregon coast.  Our ultimate destination was northern California to see the Redwoods, but we took our time and tackled the trip in small chunks because Declan was not a big fan of the car as a baby.  We tried to cover most of the miles while he napped, which meant we did not always have the flexibility to stop and explore whenever we had the urge.  However, Declan is completely adorable so we’ve decided to keep him anyway.

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On the first day we drove from Portland to Yachats with stops in Corvallis to walk around Oregon State University and at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.  Our friends recommended stopping at the aquarium and we’re glad we did because both boys loved it.  Their favorites were the jellyfish and the sea otters.  The otters kept picking up empty shells and showing them off while spinning in circles in front of the glass, which Finnegan still laughs about to this day.

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We stayed at Deane’s Lodge in Yachats and it was a nice budget choice.  In early September, the beach was empty and we only had to take a short stroll out of our back door to reach it.  We spent the last part of the day playing in the sand and getting our toes wet in the freezing cold water.

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The next morning we stopped at the Cape Perpetua Scenic area just outside of Yachats for a short visit and hike.  The park was gorgeous and we could have spent all day there if we didn’t have to time our driving so carefully because of the aforementioned Declan’s car issue.

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Tip: if you’re in the area, call ahead and find out when the ranger hikes are scheduled because we were disappointed that we just missed the tidal pool hike, which obviously is only offered at specific times of day.

After visiting Cape Perpetua, we continued traveling down the coast enjoying the beautiful scenery.  We also stopped at the Sea Lion Caves in Florence, OR.  The caves were neat, but I wouldn’t consider this stop a must-do.  It is kind of pricey and offers only distant views of the sea lions as they nest on rocks far away.  It’s really only worthwhile if you are interested in checking out the cave.

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As you can see, the boys were not particularly impressed with the cave.

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Our second night was spent at the Sea Star Guest House in Bandon, Oregon, which is known for its famous golf courses.  We didn’t go golfing, but we did spend more time playing on the empty beaches and looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure.  Okay, I was the only one looking for One-Eyed Willie’s treasure and harassing Russ endlessly about never watching the Goonies.

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We also enjoyed the small shops and greater variety of restaurants in Bandon compared to Yachats.  The Sea Star Guest House has a great waterfront location and our suite had plenty of room for the four of us.  And we only had a two hour drive the next morning to Crescent City, CA before arriving at the Jedediah Smith area of the Redwoods.

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Under different circumstances, we probably wouldn’t have spent two full days driving down the Oregon coast, but it was a relaxing two days and we were able to spend a lot of time on the scenic beaches that are nothing like the Jersey Shore!  And as an added bonus, this trip broke Declan of his thumb sucking habit.  The weather was so windy and raw, that his poor wet thumb split open on our second day and was too sore to suck it for almost a week.  By then, he had given up the habit.  Unexpected vacation victory!

Angkor Wat (with a toddler)

From Sesame Street back to Cambodia, this blog is all about diversity!  While I wish every week could be spent exploring far flung locations of the world, I know my boys also appreciate the weekends spent close to home.  By traveling extensively and taking advantage of local offerings, we hope to give our kids a childhood rich in diverse experiences.  And it’s experiences, not things that really matter.

One of my favorite vacation photos yet is this one of Finnegan at Bayon Temple.

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Before we started planning our trip to Cambodia, I didn’t know much about Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious monument in the world.  I didn’t realize the vast area over which these Khmer structures have been found and the diversity of the architecture.  According to the UNESCO world heritage website, the Angkor temples are spread over 150 square miles.  These ancient cities served as the various capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th century to the 15th century.

While Angkor Wat is the namesake temple, there are hundreds of temples and it’s not possible to visit all of them.  We spent two days visiting various sites and temples, which was the perfect introduction for us especially since we were traveling with Finnegan (who was 20 months old at the time).

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Our guide told us that it took 37 years to build Angkor Wat, which I think is actually pretty impressive speed given the intricate carvings that covered every square centimeter of the building.

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It was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, but Buddhism became the more prominent religion towards the end of the Angkor period.  There are many examples in the various temples of images of the Hindu gods being destroyed or replaced with Buddhist images.

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Here are some images of our favorite temples and structures, which provides a small glimpse of the diversity of the art and architecture:

Entrance to Angkor Thom

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Bayon Temple

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Now look closer at those towers of Bayon Temple.  There were originally 54 towers of which 37 are still standing today.  Most are carved with four faces on each cardinal point.

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Ta Prohm – left in largely the same condition as it was found with jungle trees growing out of the ruins.  Part of Tomb Raider was filmed at this temple.  As one of the most visited temples, it did feel a bit crowded at times, but I’m still glad we included it in our itinerary.

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Banteay Srei – built of red sandstone so it has a different color than the other temples and the carvings are very intricate.  It was a longer drive from Siem Reap to reach this temple, but worth the effort.

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Besides admiring the temples, Finnegan kept busy by playing with rocks….

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watching the monkeys…..

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meeting new friends….

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playing in the dirt (and generally attracting crowds)…..

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and when he got too hot, he managed to find strangers willing to fan him.

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Guide and Logistics

You can wait and book a guide to show you the temples when you arrive, but as a relentless researcher and planner, I didn’t want to risk the luck of the draw.  We used the guide Eath (David) Sovann that came highly recommended from the Fodor’s travel forum.  His English was great and his car was well air conditioned.  He picked us at 8AM each morning and we toured for several hours.  He would then drop us off at the hotel to rest during the hottest part of the day before picking us back up again at 2:30.  This schedule works out perfectly for a napping toddler.  David’s email address is sovanneath@hotmail.com and we found him to be very responsive and his rates were very reasonable.

Which temple is your favorite?

Linked to on A Southern Gypsy:

Bangkok: Temples, Street Food, Water Taxis, and a Trip to the Hospital

“Don’t let Finnegan out of your sight and don’t let anyone touch him,” was the last piece of advice that my father-in-law bestowed upon us before dropping us off at the airport for our flight to Thailand.  We were in the country for less than 60 seconds when we ignored the second half of his imparted ‘wisdom.’

Thailand is often called the Land of Smiles, but we affectionately dubbed it the Land of Babysitters because we met friendly Thais everywhere we went trying to make Finnegan laugh or volunteering to entertain him while we dined.   We knew we would love Bangkok as soon as we landed.  Upon approaching customs and immigration, one of the agents held out his arms asking to hold Finnegan and promptly walked us over to an empty line reserved for diplomats.  Another agent grabbed a puppet from under the desk and put on a show while our paperwork was being processed and our photos were being taken.  It was our first introduction to the kid friendly culture of Thailand.

This attitude permeated the city and we found everything about Bangkok to be Finnegan-friendly.  Here are ten reasons why:

  1. He loves boats and one of the easiest ways to get around Bangkok is via water taxi.  water taxiWaterTaxi-Bangkok-Go
  2. There are koi ponds at every restaurant.  One of our favorites was at the Jim Thompson House restaurant.jim thompson house koi pond
  3. Food is available everywhere.  Toddlers can go from being not hungry to completely ravenous in a millisecond so we appreciated the endless street food options.  Besides having really great food, including the best sticky rice ever, the floating market experience obviously includes boats too so it’s a double win. thailand_bangkok_street_noodles_intrepid travel
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    Image Credit: Thailand Transport Guide

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    Image Credit: smh.com.au

  4. Finnegan happily followed the Thai kids walking home from school and the ritual always involved stopping for an ice cream cone.  And we appreciated that at 25 cents per cone this daily habit only added up to a $1 over the four days we spent in the city. finnegan ice cream
  5. The train market.  I think trains are universally loved by all kids – especially boys.train market train market2 train coming train coming3 train coming2
  6.  Swimming monkeys.  He loved them IN the water – not so much when they started coming into the boat.swimming monkeys swimming monkeys4 swimming monkeys2
  7. Exploring the temples.  Well maybe we appreciated the temples a little more than Finnegan, but there was plenty of outdoor space to explore at all of the temples and he was never bored.  The Grand Palace and Wat Pho were amazing.wat po grand palace temple detail temple temple3 buddha row blessingwat po1 ry%3D480
  8. Going on tuk-tuk rides.  No carseat and open air.tuk-tuks-bangkok_mytravellogs co uk

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    Image Credit: mytravellogs.co.uk

  9. Swimming in the hotel rooftop pool.  We stayed at Centre Point Silom hotel right next to the river.  The location was convenient and there was a small washer and dryer in our room, which was a nice amenity to have on a two week trip with a toddler.hotel pool   centre-point-silom
  10. The nurses and gift shop at the Saint Louis hospital in Bangkok.  Finnegan spiked a fever on the plane ride over to Thailand and he couldn’t seem to shake it.  We were getting nervous since he had the fever off and on for 6 days and was sleeping a lot more than usual.  We were leaving for Cambodia the next day and had far less confidence in the Cambodian medical system.  Our hotel recommended Saint Louis Hospital, which was a first class facility.  The physician that saw Finnegan was trained in the US and did his residency in Westchester, NY.  He said Finnegan most likely had a virus, but ordered some blood work just to be sure since he was also concerned about sending us to Cambodia without a good diagnosis.  I know some parents would freak out about having blood drawn in a developing country, but we quickly relaxed when we met the nurses.  They made such a big fuss over Finnegan and drew his blood without him even noticing.

While I don’t want to make a sweeping statement about the Thai medical system because I’m sure there are many Thais that could not afford this private hospital, the care we received was far better than any experience we’ve ever had in a US hospital.  Within an hour, we were back sitting with the doctor reviewing the blood work results, which confirmed that Finnegan had a virus.  The doctor said his fever should be ending soon since they typically don’t last longer than 7 days.  Right on cue, his fever disappeared that night and never returned.  In the end, the hospital visit wasn’t really necessary, but it was money and time well spent for the peace of mind it provided heading into Cambodia.  The total bill was $17.

While I’m typically not a city person, Bangkok won me over and I really hope we get a chance to go back again soon.  With so many treasures spread over a large area, there is still a lot more to explore and experience.  Thailand proved to be the perfect introduction to SE Asia – there is a well traveled tourist trail, but with the opportunity to experience a non-Western culture.  Buddhism is the primary religion, which is practiced by ~95% of the population and it’s fascinating to see how the religion is woven into the fabric of the culture.  Every morning, even in cosmopolitan Bangkok, the monks walk through the streets to collect food to bring back to the temple.  Experiences like these, which provide little glimpses into different cultures, is one of the things that I love most about traveling.

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Image Credit: Yanidel Street Photography

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Image Credit: Richard Barrow

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Eugene, Oregon – Track Town, USA

For almost as long as I have been a distance runner, I have wanted to visit Eugene.  There are several reasons: Eugene is the place where legendary runner and US Olympian Steve Prefontaine came to prominence; it is home to Hayward Field, the hallowed track stadium at the University of Oregon that has hosted numerous U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials and other significant track meets; and it is the birth place of Nike.  Beginning in the Fall of 1990, the great Kiza Brunner, friend, former college teammate, dorm room neighbor and Eugene native, has been inviting me, encouraging me, haranguing me, and imploring me to visit.  In fact, a few years ago Kiza sent me a large poster advertising the Prefontaine Track Classic; another year she sent me a very cool t-shirt with Pre’s picture on it.  Her persistence paid off last year.  We planned on visiting the Redwoods National Forest and planned to fly into Portland and drive south to California.  Our return trip provided us the opportunity to visit Eugene and I looked forward to that part of the trip.
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We arrived in Eugene on a Saturday in early September.  When we checked into the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Downtown University, I knew things were different in this town: every member of the hotel staff was wearing Oregon football shirts in celebration of the team’s win earlier that day over Fresno State.  Our hotel was just a block or two away from the University of Oregon campus and it became clear to me immediately that this town LOVES sports and its teams.  In virtually every store or restaurant we went into, there were posters advertising various U of O sports teams.  Having attended a Division 1 college where, outside the athletic department, sports were in large part ignored and marginalized, it was a very different atmosphere than what I experienced.
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After checking into our room we headed out to grab a quick bite to eat.  We settled on the Wild Duck Café on Villard Street, a sports bar across the street from campus that was festooned with a large picture of Pre and had yummy burgers and fries and was kid-friendly.  Next we strolled around the campus, which is what I was really excited to do.   Within minutes we reached Hayward Field.  Sitting in the middle of campus, surrounded by academic buildings, dorms and other campus buildings, it was obvious to me that the University embraces Hayward Field and its long and storied track & field program (in contrast, the track/football stadium at my college was over a mile away from campus, in a residential area, with no other campus buildings in sight – emblematic of the insignificant status sports teams occupied).  Although the stadium was locked and empty, it was exciting just peering in and seeing the famous grandstand, in front of which so many great athletes had competed.  There was a plaque adorning the entrance to the stadium, which chronicled the legendary U of O track coaches over the years: Bill Hayward, Bill Bowerman, Bill Dillinger.  Adjacent to Hayward field is a large practice field where Finnegan and Declan decided to do strides, possibly preparing for a future Pre Classic in 20 years or so.
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Our tour of the university continued as we strolled through other parts of the campus.  For some reason Jennifer and I still both enjoy touring college campuses, even though we have been out of school for many years.  There is an energy that you only get on a college campus and we both enjoy seeing different colleges (in fact, on this trip we also visited Oregon State in Corvallis).  By the time our boys are ready to look at colleges, there is a good chance we’ll have already visited many schools on their lists.  Finnegan loved touring the University of Oregon and at various intervals he declared, “I want to go here!” or “I want to live here!”  While I do not think his statements can be construed as an official declaration of intent, nor did he sign any thing to that effect while in Eugene, I shared his enthusiasm for the school.  While it can be argued that there are older and more historic schools with better academic reputations, I was very impressed with the campus and the overall vibe of the town, and that is coming from someone who has been on many college campuses.
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While we planned to do even more exploring the next day, it rained so we decided to head back to Portland where we had an evening flight to catch.  We did a little sight-seeing by car, but that is not the same.  Sadly we missed out on further exploration of Eugene (because walking around in the rain with two children was not an option).  Ironically, twenty-three years after putting the bug in my ear that my life would not be complete without a trip to Eugene, my friend Kiza had a medical emergency that rendered her unavailable for a visit.  Perhaps with her giving me a guided tour of her hometown I would have been even more impressed, but I doubt it because the city had me from the moment we arrived.  Put simply Eugene is my kind of town: progressive, fitness-conscious and with a very cool love of track & field.  What more could you want?

Chiang Rai: Northern Thailand

One trip that we still haven’t blogged much about is our 2011 trip to Thailand and Cambodia.  We wrote about the last few days and our time on the beach in Krabi, but we also visited Chiang Rai, Bangkok, and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Finnegan was 20 months old at the time of the trip and Russ’ Facebook statuses clearly document his trepidation about taking such a long flight with a toddler with gems such as “I’m prepared for this (departure day) to be the worst day of my life” or “I fully expect this trip to end with our names on the no fly list” and he even recently stated, “I can’t believe we had the balls to fly to Thailand with a 20-month old.”  But we did – and you should too.

There is no denying that it’s a long flight.  It’s about 24 hours of travel time from the east coast, but Finnegan did great on both flights and it was completely worth the effort.  And we used this trip as our motivation to break Finnegan of his bottle.  We were worried about finding clean water to wash his bottles and we were not sure if we would be able to easily find pasteurized milk.

We arrived in Bangkok late at night and since we’re gluttons for punishment, we decided the best way to plan our trip was to stay one night at an airport hotel and get back on a plane the next day for an 80 minute flight to Chiang Rai.  Most first trips to Thailand include a visit to either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai – we chose the later because it’s smaller and located closer to the Golden Triangle region where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

We stayed in Chiang Rai for two nights and did a Golden Triangle tour that included a visit to a touristy town in the hills with the Akha tribe, a ride on the Mekong River with a short stop in Laos at another very touristy island (Don Sao), and a visit to the excellent Hall of Opium, which covers the history of the crop and the devastating effects it had on people.  We booked our guide through the hotel and she was really good – her English was great, she was willing to talk about her life, and she loved Finnegan.  In general, the culture is extremely accommodating of children and Finnegan received a lot of extra attention because of his blond hair and blue eyes.

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Eating fried meal worms – he even asked for more!finnegan eating meal worms

Trying on an Akha hathat

The sun was too bright for Finnegan to face the camera (he is NOT camera shy).hill tribe2 hill tribe

Arriving in Don Saolaos river2 river tour

Snake whiskey.  We’re brave, but not that brave.whiskey

On our second full day in Chiang Rai, we went on a bike tour and elephant trek with Chiang Rai Cycling.  The ride was really beautiful and took place mostly on back roads and farm trails.  We stopped at a small temple, a rice ‘factory’, and the White Temple (or Wat Rong Khun).  The White Temple is one of the most incredible places that I’ve ever seen.  If you go on a sunny day, you definitely need sunglasses since it can be blinding with the small pieces of mirror and glass that are incorporated into the designs.  Finnegan had a tough time without them.

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After the White Temple, we rode to a park and then took a long-tail boat to an elephant camp.  We met up with the tour guide’s niece waiting for the long-tail boat and she and Finnegan became fast friends.

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She came with us on the long-tail boat ride, which Finnegan obviously appreciated!

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At the elephant camp, we bought bags of food to feed them and then took a one hour trek through the river and forest.  Elephants are amazing creatures and while it was neat to sit on top of one, I would not be in a hurry to take another ride.  They offer 3-hour treks, but trust me when I say one hour is too long.  Finnegan enjoyed the ride and the scenery was nice enough, but I was relieved when the hour was up.

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We thoroughly enjoyed the day and were really glad that we used the Chiang Rai Cycling company since the guide was patient and their equipment was in great shape.  We rode in the back of a truck on the way home.  I’m sure this picture will make some parents nervous and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous at times, but we went with the “When in Rome” philosophy.  It actually seems pretty safe compared to the common practice in SE Asia of having entire families (sans helmets) ride on the back of a motorcycle.

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We spent our two nights in Chiang Rai at the Le Meridien hotel.  It’s a large hotel with a beautiful infinity pool that generally gets very good reviews.  Our room was huge with a nice walk in shower that Finnegan loved.  The only downside to this hotel is its location outside of town.  At night, you either have to take a cab to town (which adds up) or eat at the hotel restaurant.

Boston Weekend

Boston – Been there a bunch of times but had never really seen the city.  Having gone to college less than an hour away and having friends who live in the area, I have been to the greater Boston area many times in the last 20 + years.  A lot of those trips involved running (cross country races at Franklin Park, indoor meets at BU and Harvard; outdoor meets at Northeastern’s track in Deedham), or stops in Cambridge (to visit Harvard Square or hang out with the great Jason Targoff and Marcella Anderson and/or the Sheatocks).  During these prior visits, we neglected to visit some of Boston’s best and well-known tourist spots.  So when Jennifer snagged some super-saver airfares to Boston on Jet Blue, we decided to really focus on the city.

We decided not to rent a car during our stay and elected to use mass transportation, as parking in most cities is a hassle and expensive.  Boston is serviced by the T, which can be accessed from Logan Airport so getting into the city is cheap and easy.  I will say getting on and off the very crowded bus at the airport with our luggage, two strollers and the boys was tricky, but not impossible.  Overall, the T is not bad and we never regretted our decision to rely on it for the weekend (although we had to change trains quite often during our stay and many of the T elevators smelled like a potpourri of urine, body order and vomit).

Jennifer scored another good deal for our hotel via the Express Deal option on Priceline.com.  We stayed at the Seaport Hotel at the World Trade Center.  The hotel staff were very friendly and gave each of the boys a little teddy bear when we were checking into our room.  The hotel was right by the waterfront, in a section of Boston that includes a lot of recent development.  As a consequence, the area has a new and vibrant vibe about it, with a younger crowd and quite a few restaurants and bars.  The World Trade Center has a T stop and it is close to the Convention Center and an easy walk to the Children’s Museum.

On Friday nights, the Children’s Museum is only $1 per person so we made it the first official item on our agenda (after a quick dip in the hotel pool).  The museum includes three floors of interactive exhibits and can easily occupy a few hours if you’re traveling with young kids.  The boys seemed engaged the entire time we were there and were disappointed when it was time to leave.  Finnegan’s favorite was the crazy climbing structure just inside the main entrance.

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Declan was asleep for most of our visit to the museum, but he woke up in time to play in the store and do some climbing that involved immense concentration (based on the tongue involvement).

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Since it was getting late, we walked back to the hotel with plans to eat at Legal Seafood, but the lines and wait time were too long for two hungry boys.  We changed our plans and had dinner outside at a restaurant attached to our hotel.  Finnegan was either really hungry or was served the best hamburger of his life since he finished the whole thing, which was bigger than his head.

The next morning we got up and tried a breakfast place we spotted while walking around the prior evening.  The place was called Flour and it looked good, but wound up being overpriced with slow service and all around it was relentlessly mediocre.  The boys ordered dessert so they were happy and dove in face first without waiting for the absurd formality of silverware.

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From there we hit the T and took it to Boston Common, the oldest Park in the U.S.  The boys enjoyed running around the park, feeding the ducks and snacking on soft pretzels.   Because the Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was amusing to see George Washington adorned in a Bruins jersey.  We thought about taking a swan boat ride, but Finnegan was not excited about that idea when he learned that he would have no role in the paddling.

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After walking around the beautiful Beacon Hill neighborhood, we decided to go on a Duck Boat tour with a combined visit to the Museum of Science. We visited the museum while we waited for our designated tour time and the boys had a great time – especially in the Discovery Center, Science in the Park, and dinosaur sections!  We weren’t sure if the science museum would be appropriate for their age, but they loved it.

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At first I was a bit leery of the Duck boat as it is very touristy and not cheap.  I was also afraid the Duck boat tour would be cliché, but it was actually a lot of fun.  From a practical point I am starting to see the value in bus tours: it is far easier to see most cities this way (especially with children) and you can learn quite a bit in a very short period of time.  While it has always been my preference to explore new cities on foot and I have long enjoyed wandering around new places and discovery it for myself, that ain’t happening with children in tow.  So the Duck boat actually worked out quite well for us  And the tour guide was entertaining and informative (although I thought it a tad corny when the tour guide would exhort the passengers to quack throughout the tour).  The coolest moment on the Duck tour was when the bus converted into a boat, which then entered the Charles River for short cruise.   Finnegan was thrilled when he got to drive the boat!

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Sunday morning we headed to Cambridge to visit my long time friend and co-founder of the radical and subversive Providence-based group called FOC! (which existed briefly in 1991 but whose presence was felt for years afterwards).  The boys had a good time playing in the sprinklers at the local playground while we had a brief chance to catch up.

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After catching up with Jason and his decidedly better half Marcella, we headed back to Boston to walk some of the Freedom Trail.  We started at Boston Common and only walked to Quincy Marker and Faneuil Hall because we were side tracked by a street performer called “Kilted Colin.”  Street performers can vary widely in ability and frankly I usually do not stick around to watch them, but this guy was quite good and did a combination comedy/juggling/musical act all rolled into one.  It was worth the time and both boys seemed quite interested.

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Since we didn’t have a lot of time left before our evening flight back home, we grabbed some (overpriced) food at Quincy market and quickly walked back to the T, picked up our bags at the hotel, and headed back to Logan.  It was great to finally see some of the typical Boston sights and I’m sure we will be back again before long.

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What are your favorite sights, things to do, and places to eat in Boston?  Regina’s is high on the list for our next visit because everyone raves about it, but we ran out of time and weren’t able to make it to the North End on this trip.