November 29, 2010

Maya History Meets Oh-my-ahh! Scenery

Follow the coast south of Cancun, and you come to a spot where the rich history of the Mayan people clashes with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean making for a colorful and memorable vacation for the whole family. Off-the-beaten path, the Riviera Maya feels adventurous (think Indiana Jones), but spares no comfort to the wandering tourist. We ventured down this coast while filming Travel With Kids Mexico: The Yucatan. I have fond memories of climbing pyramids like those at Coba and Tulum and enjoying the amazing wildlife both on shore (the kids loved the huge green iguanas sunbathing on the pyramid rocks) and in the water (we snorkeled with colorful fish and watched sea turtles laying their eggs).

Cancun offers fun-tastic, action-packed vacations, but if you want to get away from the crowds, and really feel like you are exploring the area, head a bit further south. About two hours south of Cancun is Tulum. Home to one of the most photographed Mayan pyramids (due to its location on a cliff hanging over the Caribbean Sea), Tulum hosts the perfect combination of history, culture and family-friendly activities.

What To Do:

Mayan Pyramids: The huge ancient cities of the Mayan people make
this Caribbean Coast unique. Hike through the forest where an opening leads to vast green fields dotted with soaring stone pyramids. Our favorite was Coba. It’s about an hour from Tulum and is still being excavated, so the jungle is right there, a living part of the display. It has a much more adventure-y feel with vines covering pyramid stones and yet to be excavated mounds lurking in the shadows. It’s a huge pyramid complex, so locals on three wheel rickshaws can make transport around the grounds easier on the whole family. Other popular pyramids along this coast include Tulum and Chichen Itza (about an hour and a half inland from Cancun).

The Mayan Riviera hosts several marine parks like Xel-ha and Xcaret. These parks have lots of colorful tropical fish and other marine animals in sheltered and enclosed lagoons, making snorkeling easy for kids as well as animal life abundant. We went to Xel-ha where the kids enjoyed climbing rope bridges, swinging from vines and cliff jumping. Of course, you can also join a snorkel tour or just go snorkeling right off many of the beaches here and see breathtaking underwater scenery.
One unique snorkeling trip the kids still talk about is with Hidden Worlds. Hidden Worlds takes guests on a tour of one of the longest underground rivers in the world. Don snorkel gear, climb stories below ground to explore beautiful caves where you can float just feet below amazing stalactite formations.

Shopping:About 40 minutes north of Tulum, Playa del Carmen’s famous 5th Avenue offers excellent shopping. Wander the pedestrian-only streets through
vibrant boutique shops where vendors sell everything from inexpensive souvenirs to top-rate jewelry and fashion. We gave the kids a few pesos and they enjoyed negotiating prices and getting to know the locals. They also loved posing for pictures with parrots and iguanas along the street. You can also take the ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel (less than an hour; leaves every couple hours, $14 adults/$9 kids) for full day of shopping, or check out the sea from a hundred feet below aboard Atlantis Submarine.

Where To Stay:
The coast near Tulum is lined with beach bungalows, but for an exceptional family vacation, try Dreams Tulum Resort and Spa. The spacious rooms and suites are set up with families in mind and pamper guests with incredible views of the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean or the lush jungles of the Yucatan. The resort is just five minutes from the Mayan pyramids and offers a splendid line up of on-site activities including sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, tennis and more. The Explorer’s Club for Kids has lots of fun activities for the kid in everyone including rock wall, big-screen movies on the beach and sandcastle building contests.

How To Get There:There are lots of flights from the U.S. to Cancun, but keep in mind Tulum is two hours south of there. While you can do it on your own, it is easier, especially with kids, to have transfers pre-set. Apple Vacations’ Apple Advantage program offers assistance with your entire vacation from start to end. They arrange airfare, hotel, activities and all transfers in-between. Plus, they have an English speaking representative to help you out along your way.

To find out what we did on our trip to the Mayan Riviera, watch Travel With Kids Mexico: The Yucatan. or visit Travel With Kids for more information.

November 11, 2010

Doctor, Doctor

Getting sick on vacation is no fun, but it does happen. No matter how much you prepare––eating right, getting plenty of sleep, staying away from other sick people––there’s nothing you can do to entirely prevent sickness. When it does strike, especially when it’s a child, it can be scary and costly. When Nathan was just four, he was running a high fever in the heart of rural Mexico. Lucky for us, a caring pharmacist directed us to a thermometer and fever reduction medicine and we were back in the business of exploring the Yucatan within 24 hours. Remember, no matter where you are, the locals get sick too and they have doctors and pharmacies to help.

Depending on where you are, the cost of recovery can be pricey. We were in New York City filming Travel With Kids New York when Seamus got an ear infection. I knew from his pain and sleep pattern that it was an ear infection, so I hoped to visit a walk-in clinic and get a prescription for an antibiotic. Unfortunately, New York was in a transition period and all of the urgent care facilities had closed down. The hotel concierge said the only urgent care places they knew of had shut their doors. We visited a couple of pharmacies and got the same message: a quick cure was a no go. Even the taxi drivers agreed, and as everyone knows they are at the heart of information in a big city. We would have to visit the emergency room. After shelling out over $1,000 and sitting in waiting rooms for the good part of a day, we found out … Seamus had an ear infection.

There was one way we could have better prepared for that, and saved some money along the way: with a service I just recently learned about called On Demand Medical Care, included with many travel insurance policies from CSA Travel Protection. Through their partnership with the “Consult A Doctor” program, I would have been able to talk to a local physician directly who could provide advice, treatment and a prescription, if appropriate. No more worrying about finding a doctor or waiting all day in the emergency room for something that isn’t that serious. That is definitely worth the cost of insurance!!

We always recommend travel insurance and this product, On Demand Medical Care from CSA Travel Protection will definitely be in the mix next time we plan a trip. For more information on the service, visit

September 20, 2010

Magical Reno Nevada

Magical Reno...I use the word magical because Reno has the ability to transform itself from one thing to another, and just when you think you have it pegged, it changes again. Always enticing you to explore more of "The Biggest Little City in the World". We started off our production trip to Reno thinking bowling, lots of arcades and fun family activities and maybe a few outdoor experiences. But it ended up as much more than that...a true something-for-everyone, loads of fun family destination!

Day 1: We started off Reno just how we thought we would. We hit the arcade, played some laser tag, then went to Coconut Bowl and did some glow bowling and glow in the dark miniature golf followed by some go kart racing and indoor rock climbing at Rock Sport. Enough family fun in our first three hours to last a whole vacation. The kids, of course, LOVED it! And we all enjoyed some great family fun time. But I was left wondering what Reno was like on the outside? Were arcades all there was to this family vacation? Day 2 would answer that question.

Day 2: We began the day with an early morning at The Great Reno Balloon Race (Reno's event calendar is filled with fun family-friendly events: Reno Events ) where we got to go up on a tethered hot-air balloon. The views over Reno were amazing. I never realized how green it is along the Truckee River and the tall, rugged mountains that form lake Tahoe are incredible! After the balloon, we headed to a couple of cool Reno museums: Wilbur D. May Center and The National Automobile Museum, where the kids were revved up to dress up in period costumes and pretend to drive a Model T. But the river was calling us, so in the afternoon, we rented a bike and a boat with Sierra Adventures. After riding bikes down the Truckee River Path to Reno Whitewater Park, we boarded a raft and learned to ride the waves...forward paddle! Paddling through an urban setting was surreal, with tall buildings and urban parks lining the shores...a really unique experience. The small rapids in Reno Whitewater Park provided the perfect combination of adrenaline pumping excitement and safety-conscious fun. If you are looking for a more natural setting, the Upper Truckee cuts through the Sierra Nevada and provides more challenging rapids and beautiful scenery.

Day 3: Northern Nevada is famous for its wild mustangs, but this morning we decided to befriend a couple of their tamer cousins with a horseback ride with Verdi Trails West. The horses were super friendly...Nathan even commented "These are the best trained horses I've ever ridden." The boys had fun trying to pass each other and we all enjoyed the scenery through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. After lunch, we headed to Virginia City for a different type of race...camel races. After exploring Virginia City's Old West history at the old school house, a cowboy gun show, riding the V & T Railroad (where we actually got to sit in the engine) and then joining the town parade, we headed down to the race track to watch camels and ostriches. Jockeyed by a brave group of volunteer jockeys, the camels speed around a dirt track. Kids get in on the action herding chickens and emu around the track. Nathan and Seamus loved petting the camels, and they even got to ride them during an intermission, but they're not quite ready for racing them yet. It's amazing how fast those camels get's a wonder any of the riders can hold on!

Our days were packed with fun outdoor activities, but what about the evenings? There's plenty for families then too. One afternoon, we set sail on Lake Tahoe for a two hour tour of the crystal clear waters and pine-tree lined shores of America's second deepest lake. The scenery is amazing...there's a reason they say "Keep Tahoe Blue". The blue waters fade into the distant shore where blue-green pine trees stand guard in front of purple-blue mountains. Another evening, the magic came alive under the Big Circus Circus Reno. The kids had a ball playing carnival games and everyone enjoyed the circus acts like Chinese acrobats and JR's Best Friends, a dog show. The kids even got to participate in the dog show and JR turned a little dog into Seamus! Magic and pets...I don't know a better combo for kids!

Day 4: Just as I thought I'd gotten a read on what Reno is like, it changed on me again. On our last day, we visited Animal Ark, an animal rescue zoo. The animals at the zoo range from local birds and mammals like mountain lions and black bears to exotic species like tigers. The park has a conservation focus and taught us lots about all the different animals and their environments.

We felt the magic of Reno in so many ways, Old West shoot outs in Virginia City, outdoor fun along the Truckee River and horseback riding through the foothills, plus the magic of stage and lights at Circus Circus and the glittering waters of Lake Tahoe. For more information or to feel the family magic in Reno, visit Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.

July 24, 2010

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July 21, 2010

The Narrow Passage

OK when they say narrow boat, they mean narrow! We arrived at the Llangollen Canal and boarded our hotel/transport for the next couple of nights, which is a boat about 50 feet long by about 9 feet wide. Manuevering a boat that is 5times as long at it is wide along a canal, which is only about 10 feet wide in some places, took some getting used to, but once we got the hang of it, it was loads of fun!

The canal was originally used to haul cargo, and later drinking water, from the River Dee to a resevoir, but today it mostly transports visitors through the majesctic countryside of Wales. The canal passes under bridges, through tunnels and locks, past sheep filled fields, along one very high aqueduct, under one very old draw bridge and past one very pungent chocolate factory (unfortunately closed to the public). Along the way there are plenty of pubs at which to dock or the boats have on-board kitchens to make your own meals. The kids loved feeding ducks, riding on the roof of the boat and operating the locks and drawbridge.

Just past the Maestermyn Marine (where we rented the boat) docks, we reached our first lock. The lock is almost precisely equal to the size of the boat. It has two gates. We tie up along the canal and the kids race with the lock crank to the gates. The technology is simple, but genius. Open gate, drive boat in, close gate. Open panels in front gate to let water in from above, boat raises. When water level is even with the raised part of the canal, open forward gates and drive out. The kids were workaholics with the hand cranks, they even helped other boats in and out of the locks.

After we made it past the second lock, we passed through two tunnels, one of which had to have been 1/4 mile long. The tunnel opening was not much bigger than the boats and there were no lights inside. It brings a whole new reality to the phrase "light at the end of the tunnel". We turned our front light on so that boats coming the other way knew that there was a boat in the tunnel (only one boat could fit at a time) and the kids sat on the roof (ducked over) making howling ghost sounds and giving us status reports. (They had a much better view than we did as the steering was done from the back of the boat).

We ended our day traversing the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Built in 1805 to carry the canal over the River Dee, the aqueduct is about 1000 feet long and soars over 100 feet above the river valley below. Oh, and did I mention it's only about 12 feet wide? To one side is a narrow walking path and on the other side only about 6 inches of iron separates you from the precarious drop to the river bed below! My fear of heights was well tested on the drive over the aqueduct, but the views were incredible...the dark river cutting past lush trees backed by rolling green fields dotted with fluffy white sheep. You could see our shadow following along on the grssy fields below.

After spending the night docked in a town just past the aqueduct where we watched a World Cup game and stayed up late chatting with the owner of the pub who was dressed up as Ginger Spice (she had just come from performing at a charity event), we headed back up the canal and, with much reluctance, said our final goodbyes to Wales.

The trip to Wales was a remarkable and unexpected journey that will stay with us for a great time. Learning history, both natural (in caves, fossils and coastlines) and man-made (in the mines, Roman ruins and castles) and discovering the new Wales, which is green in every way (eco travel to the max!) and filled with adventure (mountain climbing, coasteering, ropes courses, hiking, horseback riding, skiing and more!) and warm, welcoming people. To all we met along the way, a big "Diolch" for all of your help, insight, laughs and passion. We look forward to our return someday. And for all who followed our journey on-line, thanks for tuning in! Watch for the epsiodes to air around the world, including PBS this coming year in the U.S. and stay updated on Wales and other destinations by visiting us online at

June 19, 2010

Black Diamond (or Big Foot) Ahead

With a name like Snowdonia, you would think that this area in North Wales is known only for winterland bliss; however Snowdonia delivers summertime excitement as well. And not just on the black diamond level, although you can find that extreme entertainment as well.

Upon our arrival at Graig Wen, where we are tucked away in a glorious yurt. Some of you may be asking, what's a yurt. Imagine the luxurious large round tents that Ghengis Khan and company stayed in and you'll get the idea...ours comes complete with oriental rugs, plenty of fur, plus a gas burning stove and wood burning stove for heat. The area around our yurt, and all through Snowdonia, is lush...huge stands of pine forest surrounded by tangles of oak and ash cut with walking paths. I half expect Big Foot to pop out of the bushes.

At the yurt, Heath from Firefox stops by to give us a crash course in outdoor survival, skills necessary to the major hikes and climbs that are so popular in this area. The boys love learning to start a fire...what boy wouldn't?...and learning to put a "basher"...a small shelter. After we bid Heath goodbye, we embark on our own hike, but I think the large flock of sheep are more in need of survival skills than we are as the boys attempt to heard them.

We can't come to SNOWdonia and not try skiing, and the slopes are calling, the dry slopes that is. At Plas y Brenin, they offer courses in kayaking, mountain climbing and skiing. So the boys pop on the Rossis and head down a grassy slope covered in a white netting and sprayed with water. Skiing without freezing, the cold wimp in me approves!

We end the trip just outside Snowdonia in the medieval town of Conwy where we stay within the still intact town walls just down the street from a towering castle! History comes alive as the kids solve the mystery of the Children's Trail through the castle, which includes a ramble along ramparts and a climb up to a soaring tower...hundreds of feet high!

Snowdonia's adventure land has been lots of family fun, but tomorrow we're off for a different sort of adventure...a journey down the Llangollen Canal. If you see us floating by, be sure to say Hello!

June 18, 2010

A Knight in Eco-Friendly, Very Green Armor

Wales is known for it's legends... most notoriously that of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, but are there real knights stl living in Wales? Today we're exploring legends from a by gone era and the heroes of Wales today.

Nearby Bantwen cottage, we stumbled upon Merlin's hill...a place where Merlin was supposedly captured and at night residents claim to hear him moaning to this day. The kids get caught up in the mythical legends of Wales...stories that include wizards (Merlin is the most famous of them), giants, dragons and more. Just north of Pembrokesire, near Machynlleth, we voyage below ground to explore King Arthur's Labyrinth, a boat journey and walk through abandonded slate mines with still life scenes, light and audio displays, and a medieval guide to tell the Just Just down the road from Bantwen cottage, we discover the place Merlin was captured, Merlin's Hill, the final resting place of Wales' most famous wizard. Locals say you can still hear him moan at night. It really makes the stories come alive for the boys, who, of course, want to buy wizard wands in the gift shop and try the magic out for themselves.

Just down the road from King Arthur's Labyrinth we discover green Wales at the Centre for Alternative Technology. The interactive exhibits at this outdoor museum inform visitors about energy usage, conservation choices, and alternative methods of doing things in an easy to understand and translate to your own life sort of way. For example it tells you how much water a bath uses vs a shower, and how much energy it takes to put a computer to sleep instead of turning it off...real life facts that can be incorporated easily into everyday life. The kids like all the hands-on exhibits and the ride up to the museum on a water-weight, pulley system tram.

Another area of Wales known for it's green-ness is Pembrokeshire. The coastal path that winds over 100 miles down the dramatic coastline here is popular for weeks long hiking breaks and St. David's, Britain's smallest city, is about to be it's first carbon neutral city as well. Our hotel here is in a restored barn, but very luxurious, and is very Eco-friendly. The Asheston House has solar warmed water and wind powered electrcity but plenty of creature comforts too with fluffy beds, a full kitchen and amazing views of the Welsh countryside.

One of the main promoters of St. David's greenitude is Pembokeshire's own enviro-knight...protector of the environment, Andy Middleton. He rides his bike to work, when he does drive it's in a car powered by leftover cooking fat, and he's currently working on a turbine project that creates energy from the tidal shifts. So, you may be thinking this guy's an eccentric, but he looks just like anyone else walking down the street. He also runs a coasteering company, a sport which he founded in the 1990's because of his love of exploring his childhood coast. It basically combines kayaking, mountain climbing and surfing skills. So we suit up, in full wetsuits to protect us from the cold waters and sharp rocks, and scramble down and over cliffs, swim through bays, and exore sea caves before kayaking back to base.

June 16, 2010

Wales in Wonderland

I don't know whether we've just fallen down a Welsh rabbit hole, but the countryside here in Wales is as intriguing and mythical as any Lewis Carrol story. Just after The Big Pit we went below ground again at Dan-yr-ogof Caves where we saw soaring rock formations, six foot pillars and ribbons, straw formations and more. There are three caves, one of which was hosting a wedding, but what really brought home the history of the location for the kids were the least fifty almost life-sized statues of dinosaurs fill the jungly surrounds of the park. The kids loved exploring and posing for super scared pictures with them!

After the caves, we drove through fields and fields of rolling green hills bordered with stone walls and dotted with sheep. It looks much like Ireland...though we never saw an actvity center like Llangorse Actvity Centre when we were there. The center hosts huge obstacle and ropes courses and the kids enjoyed riding horses, zip lining and mountain climbing through an indoor wonderland, but took a miss on the Dingle Scramble, which would entail soldier crawling through very chilly mountain water.

Our accommodation in Brecon Beacons consisted of a beautiful restored farmhouse, Brynich Farm Holiday Cottages, still run by the man who grow up on the farm followed by a stay in a traditional thatched roof hut. With a vaulted twiggy ceiling and tiny doorways Bantwen Cottage felt very much like the White Rabbit's house...though with cable for the World Cup and Wifi to stay in touch with the outside world.

Next, we're off to explore the west coast of Wales with very green, in the environmental sense and the landscape, St. David's, and the dramatic Pembrokeshire Coast. Stay tuned...

June 10, 2010

Wales Old and New

So, we reached Wales none too worse for the wear. Our flight was a bit delayed, so we had to run...full catch our connection. But, we made it. We flew on American Airlines' new 777, which had movies and games in each seat back, so the kids were well entertained. The transfer from the airport was simple...Heathrow Express train in from the airport in London and hop a train to Cardiff. No problems there and as always the kids loved watching the fields, sheep and castles drift past the window.

Cardiff is a wonderful city. Vast modern pedestrian areas lined with shops and sidewalk cafes are dotted with tiny 19th century arcades and ancient churches. A real mix of old and new. The kids had a ball exploring Cardiff Castle, pretending to be knights scaling the castle keep, and going on the castle's treasure hunt for animals in each room. A short drive outside Cardiff took us to Welsh Hawking Center, where the kids had a chance to pet a three week old owl and fly hawks. Seeing a hawk, almost as big as they are, land on their leather clad arm in the green fields of an old farm, while a young, modern chap relayed the history of hawking was just brilliant. Again, very much a mix of old and new. Nearby, we hit the beach...not like the ones they are used to at home. This one was filled with small stones instead of sand and is famous for its fossils. It seems every other rock had a clam or small animal imprint on it. Jeremy's pockets were loaded down with souvenirs.

Next day, we learned more about the fossils at the National Museum, which has extensive exhibits on Welsh geography. Nathan loved the dinosaur room with its sound effects and mechanical displays, while Seamus was agape at the jewel trip he's looking for geodes instead of fossils!

The Roman ruins in Caerleon let the kids use their gladiator souvenirs (bought at Cardiff Castle, which also has a history as a Roman fort)as they ran through the tunnels previously used by gladiators and lions and had sword fights on the auditorium floor.

The Big Pit was a big hit! After kitting up with a hard hat and light, we traveled almost 300 ft. underground to check out the old coal mine that is such a big part of Welsh history. The kids were suprised to learn about kids their age that worked the mines back in the 19th century (with no DS or television to boot!) and were excited to mine their own bits of coal...more souvenirs for Jeremy's pockets (his jacket must weigh a good 10 lbs now!). The Big Pit mining museum was very impressive as well...with interactive displays using light and surround sound that enthralled the kids!

Today, we're off to explore the natural side of Wales with a climb through the National Showcaves and a hike around Brecon Beacons National Park. Stay tuned for more from beautiful Wales.

June 1, 2010

Travel With Kids Wales

Great news...Travel With Kids is now airing on television in 30 countries and still growing. This summer Travel With Kids hits the road again with a production trip to Wales. And now, with the advent of incredible technology, you won't have to wait for the T.V. or DVD versions to experience all the rich history and culture and fun family-friendly activities of this country. The Roberts family will be providing updates from the road right here on our blog and on our Facebook page and Twitter. So, be sure you are signed up to receive pictures and updates from the road. Here's a sampling from the Wales itinerary:

- Live the legend of King Arthur with a journey through King Arthur's Labyrinth and a hike to unlock the mystery of Merlin's Hill. Plus, watch as the Roberts boys learn to fly a falcon.

- Take to the hills. Discover one favorite Welsh pastime, hill walking. Oh and there's biking, horseback riding, coasteering, climbing...

- Learn how Wales is keeping green (and not just in the hills) at the Center for Alternative Technology and in Britain's first carbon-zero town, St. David's.

- Take in the beauty of the landscape above the ground on-board scenic rail journeys in Snowdonia, hiking through Pembrokeshire and below the ground with tours through old mines and natural caves.

Wales is packed with exciting activities, both outdoors and cultural, just waiting for families to explore. So, be sure to follow the Roberts as they discover it all in Travel With Kids Wales. Because really, where else are you going to learn to say "Sut ydych chi?", which means "How are you?", in Welsh?

Find out more about the Travel With Kids series at and more about Wales at

May 30, 2010

Travel With Kids TV & DVD Series Show Trailer

Check out the trailer for the TV and DVD series. DVDs available at amazon and our website at

May 28, 2010

Travel With Kids WALES

Travel With Kids is gearing up for Travel With Kids Wales this summer. We will be posting photos and blog entries here about Wales and our adventures. Stay tuned!

March 16, 2010

Best Irish Moments

Ireland is to families what Amsterdam is to backpackers. As St. Patrick's Day approaches I think about all the adventures we've had over the years in Ireland on vacation and filming for Travel With Kids Ireland . The dramatic landscapes fading to cozy villages packed with friendly people has made Ireland a favorite for the whole family. Below I've listed some of our best memories from the Emerald Isle. Please share yours as well!

My favorite memory from Ireland was, as most favorites are, an impromptu event. Even the best planning can't top the things that happen as pure kismit...the right components of all that is good coming together to create that perfect moment. On this occasion, we were at a traditional music session, which by definition alone is impromptu in Ireland. Residents and people from neighboring villages began gathering at the pub to play music together. One musician would start a song and the others would join in as they learned the tune. The Guinness was flowing, the locals chatting in their gay Irish lilt, and the music was jamming...all seemed wonderful. Then came the kismet moment. My two sons (ages 6 and 8), who had been in Irish dance lessons back in the states, jumped from their chairs and began to dance the reel, or what they remembered of it, around the pub. The locals began clapping and cheering them on. It was something none of us will ever forget!

When we were filming in Belfast, it was just about the time the Northern Ireland ruling parties, who had been fighting for know "The Troubles"...were to come together to rule as a team for the first time. We had no idea it would be on the day we were there. After leaving our mark at the Wall that separates the Catholic and Protestant sides of Belfast, we headed over to Stormont, the old Parliament building, where history was being made as Martin McGuinness (leader of Sinn Fein) and Ian Paisley (leader of the opposing DUP) were agreeing to minister together. To our surprise, the soldier at the guard gate generously passed us through to the front of the building where the kids could make peace signs and get a first hand glimpse of the peace process in action!

One of the best places we stayed in Ireland was Dromoland Castle. The kids loved the idea of being knights in this stony remnant of medieval times and we loved the luxurious rooms that accompanied the rich history. A highlight of our time there was the ducks. The kids loved feeding the ducks that roam the wide expanse of lawns at Dromoland, but I have to say the first day it was quite a shock. We went out with an old loaf of bread from the kitchen and the ducks surrounded us...actually chasing us across the lawn. Check out video of the DUCK ATTACK on our YouTube Channel.

One of the reasons many people go to Ireland is to hunt down the family genes. My family originated from County Mayo, so when we heard that Clare Island, in Clew Bay, was nicknamed O'Malley Island, we knew we had to go. After a rolling boat ride over Atlantic waters that brought the word capsize to a whole new level of real, we landed at Clare Island, which was guarded by a Grace O'Malley castle. Being that she is our great (times about 6) grandmother, we felt free to explore. We were told her tomb was also on the island. But there are no taxis and it was raining. Lucky for us, one of the locals, with their van packed with grandparents and kids, in true Irish fashion was on their way to the church and offered a ride. To our dismay the church was locked. They told us to ask at the house next door as they bid us goodbye. We did and sure enough the home owner appeared with a key. We had the old church to our selves (the new one was next door where there was a christening attended by the whole island) and we discovered lots of ancestors' graves, including Grace. On the way back to town, the driver decided we must attend the opening of the new museum where the locals filled us in on all the happenings in the O'Malley clan.

January 7, 2010

High Flying Family Fun in Costa Rica

When I talk to other parents about our escapades in Central America, the primary question I get is, "Is it safe?" and when answering on behalf of our Costa Rica travels I always answer with a resounding "Yes!". Not only is Costa Rica safer than bad parts of most American cities, it is a great place for families to experience true adventure! We found out when we were there filming Travel With Kids: Costa Rica

Costa Rica's motto is "Pura Vida", or Pure Life, and the main tourism draw is their natural surrounds. The country's enormous effort in conservation has paid off with tourists coming from all over the world. And in an effort to accommodate the tourists Costa Rica has created all sorts of exciting ways to immerse in nature. So, families are sure to have fun. We've listed out Top 6 Family Nature Activities to help you get started in planning your own Costa Rica adventure.

1. Zip-Line Who can resist the huge adreneline kick experienced as you zip speedily over the top of the rainforest canopy. And, although you are not likely to see many animals as you plummet past the tree tops, the platforms in between each gravity defying line make excellent animal spotting posts. We actually did two zip lines because the kids loved it so much. The first was just outside the famous Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve with Selvatura and the second was on the Pacific Coast with Montezuma Canopy Tour

2. River Rafting Another heart-pumping activity that gives guests to Costa Rica a real sense of adventure, but with this one your chances of actually spotting wildlife are drastically increased (the whining sound of the zip line tends to scare off any nearby creatures). We chose a Safari Float down the Rio Penas Blancas with Desafio Adventure Company. The lower class rapids gave us plenty of time to spot animals...and we did...sloths, monkeys, basilik lizards (better known as Jesus lizards for their ability to walk on water), rare birds, bats, poison dart frogs and much more!

3. Arenal Volcano If you really want to get a feel for the power of nature, you have to check out this very active volcano! In our filming for Travel With Kids, we have seen many a volcano, but most are either stagnant or we get the "sorry no lava today", but that is not the case with this bubbling gem! We stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge and all night we could here the boom of the giant explosions reverberating off our hotel walls and flickering glow of molten hot rocks and lava as they tumbled down the side of the mountain...very cool! And don't worry, the lodge is on a ridge above the lava flow, so you're completely safe...or so they say. I do have to admit that I spent the night with one eye open.

4. Proyecto Asis Very near to Arenal Observaotry is Proyecto Asis. in addition to its Spanish immersion school, the center operates an animal rescue center with animals ranging from a very friendly Kinkajou to monkeys that like to pick bugs out of their human visitor's hair. The kids had a great time hiking around the center and helping to take care of the animals. The center also offer volunteer programs ranging from animal care to re-forestation.

5. Horseback Riding We hopped on horses and followed our guide, also from Desafio Adventure Company, through town and out into the fields surrounding Monte Verde for an amazing view over the valleys below this tiny hill town. On route we saw lots of animals, butterflies fluttering around us and sloths picking their way slowly through the trees. One great option, if you have older kids, is making the journey between Arenal and Monte Verde on horseback! It's a 7-8 hour journey, but the fews are incredible!

6. Night Walk through the Jungle At night animals you would normally not see come out by the dozens. Whether or not this is a good thing to see, I'm still trying to decide. I now know that on that pathway from my hotel to town there are tons of tarantulas and scorpions just lurking in the shadows. But it is a neat adventure, donning flashlights and hiking through the dark jungle, spotting nature in action all around you!

Those are our top six, although I know that Costa Rica has lots more to offer families looking for a little adventure.

Our Trip:
We flew into San Jose on TACA, a Cental American based airline that offers great service and an excellent safety record at value prices.

From San Juan we headed north by private charter with Green Adventures to Arenal. We stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge instead of the town of La Fortuna, as that is the only hotel in the area that currently has views of the lava. In Arenal we went white water rafting, visited Proyecto Asis and participated in Children's Day at a local school.

From Arenal we took the Jeep-Boat-Jeep transport to Monte Verde where we stayed at El Sapo Dorado in cozy cabanas in the cloud forest. (We booked ours through Desafio Adventure Company). In Monte Verde we hiked, went horseback riding, rode the zip lines and visited the snake, bat and frog museums.

From Monte Verde, we booked a shared shuttle-ferry-shuttle ride to the old surf hang out of Montezuma on the Peninsula Nicoya on the Pacific Coast. In Montezuma, we spotted tons of animals right from our hotel balcony at Ylang Ylang Beach Resort and we went on another zip line.

To find out more about Costa Rica or to plan your own trip, check out our DVD: Travel With Kids: Costa Rica