New Family Friendly Hotels in Video Reviews:

Kate’s Volcano Cottage: Volcano Village, Big Island


Property
A sweet and snug studio cottage set on a quiet lane in a lush setting in Volcano Village on the Big Island of Hawaii.  The cottage has a built-in California King sized bed, a queen futon, and a compact but fully equipped kitchen.  The back door leads to a private covered lanai with ample seating where you can breakfast overlooking the rain forest (even if it’s pouring).  Laundry and free wifi round out the offerings here, and are very nice to have.

Location
On the (very safe) side of Kilauea Volcano, five minutes from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  About 2 1/2 hours from Kona International Airport by either the southern or northern route.

Sleeps
2-4.  If the cottage doesn’t seem quite large enough, visit the Volcano Places website to browse some of their bigger properties.

Highlights
Great care has been taken in the furnishing and equipping of all the Volcano Places properties.  The cottage kitchen comes equipped with coffee and tea, dry cereals, and many other essentials.  There are also guidebooks and maps for your use, as well as flashlights and umbrellas.  My kids appreciated the DVDs, games, and drawing supplies in the entertainment cabinet.  Staying here is a very homey experience.

Contact
www.volcanoplaces.com

Kate’s Volcano Cottage from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Jamie Pearson

Puakea Ranch Cottage: North Kohala, Big Island



Property
A stylishly restored 2-bedroom 1930s vacation rental home on a 35-acre ranch on the North Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.  The decorations and furnishings here are luxurious but unfussy, and every room has beautiful views and lots of natural light.  There’s an oversized hammock strung between two trees overlooking the sea and a pocket-sized pool just right for kids.  Inside you’ll find just the right amount of board games, wooden toys, and pool toys, and there’s a gas barbecue on the wide front porch.  In a word?  Heaven.

Location
45 easy minutes north of Kona International Airport.  15 minutes from Hapuna Beach (regularly and justifiably rated one of the best beaches in America).  5 minutes from the charming, historic towns of Hawi and Kapaau.

Sleeps
2-4.

Highlights
The private dipping pool.  The fresh white walls, woodwork, and perfect cottage decor.  The big, gorgeous kitchen.  A spa-like bathhouse complete with Japanese soaking tub.  The two friendly ranch dogs (especially Lola, a hilarious pug/cocker spaniel mix).  Fresh eggs from resident chickens.  Cows and horses on the property (for petting and feeding, not riding).  Fresh herbs and limes from the garden.  The chirping of geckos at night.

Good to know
The pool is quite near the house and unfenced, so young children will have to be closely supervised.  This is the country, so you will encounter occasional bugs, frogs, geckos, and mice (almost always outside).  Most guests—especially children—view this as a good thing.  Except for the bugs, of course.  Nobody really likes bugs.

Contact
www.myhawaiianranch.com

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Written by Jamie Pearson

Hilton Waikoloa Village: Waikoloa, Hawaii



Property
A four-star hotel set on 62 oceanfront acres on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast.  The resort is big, but not overwhelming.  If you don’t feel like walking, the three towers are connected by trams and boats (which traverse canals full of yellow tangs, angelfish, and even barracuda).  Animal-loving kids will be in heaven: the hotel has flamingos, nene (the Hawaiian state bird – a sort of goose), all kinds of tropical birds, and tortoises around every corner.

The Lagoon Tower is best for families, since it’s near the dolphin lagoon, the water slide, and the children’s pool.   Beaches are rare on the Big Island, but we didn’t miss it at all.  An enormous saltwater lagoon full of tropical fish and water sports kept us more than happy.

Location
24 miles north of the Kona airport on the reliably warm and dry Kohala Coast.

Sleeps
2-5 in standard rooms.

Highlights
The hotel’s manmade four-acre swimming lagoon is the perfect place for beginning snorkelers to get their fins wet.  It’s warm, shallow, and full of green sea turtles.   You can rent everything you need to enjoy the water (and some things you don’t, such as aquabikes) right there.  We spent a pleasant afternoon kayaking under the waterfall where a dozen gentle turtles feed on algae.

Even if you don’t splurge on a dolphin swim, it’s mesmerizing to watch the dolphins frolic with their trainers in their enclosure.  It’s amazing how close you can get.  We stayed in a room overlooking the dolphin lagoon, and still couldn’t get enough.

Consider beaching yourself and drying off for the lavish Sunday Brunch at Water’s Edge.  Kids can choose from the keiki buffet while adults sate themselves on smoked salmon crostini with wasabi cream cheese and prime rib.  Le yum.  You won’t be hungry for another 12 hours at least.

Good to know
Myna birds are very common in Hawaii, and squawk their heads off at dawn and dusk for about an hour.  If you don’t want to wake up at 5am, consider packing earplugs.  Like all resorts in this part of the world, the restaurant prices aren’t cheap.  Pick up some provisions at the Safeway six miles south of the airport in Kona on your way here and store them in your room’s small fridge.

Contact
www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com

Hilton Waikoloa Village from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Jamie Pearson

These Boots Were Made for Walking. And Winning.

The makers of GORE-TEX footwear recently asked me and my family to test out some waterproof hiking boots on our spring break trip to Costa Rica.  Now, on an anxiety scale from one to ten, getting my socks wet on vacation hovers somewhere between one and two.  Stepping on a fer-de-lance, however, is a solid 11.

Costa Rica’s deadliest snake has all kinds of cute tricks up its sleeve, such as hiding in leaves, hanging from trees, and standing up cobra-style.

Needless to say, I lost no time calling the GORE-TEX people back and accepting their kind offer of four pairs of really thick boots.  I figured it couldn’t hurt.

The Boots

When I opened the box containing my Merrell Chameleon Arc boots, I was immediately struck by how light they were. I hadn’t been looking forward to lugging heavy footwear all over the tropics, so this was a pleasant surprise. They were also more attractive and less clunky than I’d been expecting, so two thumbs up for that.

As far as comfort goes, I wouldn’t have wanted to lounge around the house in them but they were great on the trail: nice and cool, lots of support, no rubbing.

My husband tested out a pair of Merrell Chameleon Hex boots, and just you try to get them away from him.  Although I thought he was nuts, he even wore them on the plane coming and going (lacing and unlacing while the kids and I impatiently waited each time we cleared security).  He admires them aloud and often, and even wears them to work.  Then again, he works for an internet start-up.  It’s a rugged environment.

Avery got a pair of L.L. Bean Mountain Hikers in surf blue and cinder.  It turns out surf blue is her favorite color (who knew?), so she was predisposed to like them very much.  Also, she likes animals.  And hiking.  Here is an actual transcript of my attempt to interview her about her shoes.  Me: How do your boots feel?  Her: Great!  Me: Is there anything you don’t like about them?  Her: Nope. And so on.

Max’s Primigi Little Kid Dochov boots were the best of the bunch because they fastened shut with God’s gift to parents: Velcro.  If you had asked me before our trip if a not particularly independent 7-year-old could uncomplainingly get his own hiking boots off and on 50 times in one week by himself, I would have laughed coffee out of my nose.  Then I would have cried.  Let me be the first to admit that I was wrong.

The Video

The boots were comfortable and attractive, but were they waterproof?  It’s a good question, and one that should have been easy enough to answer in Costa Rica, since it’s one of the wettest places on earth.  Famous last words.

GORE-TEX vs Costa Rica from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

The Giveaway

We’ve got a pair of boots to give away to one lucky reader.  Only our newsletter subscribers will be eligible to win, so if you haven’t done so already, please subscribe now.  Then leave a comment here telling us your shoe size and which of the two adult styles you’d prefer to win (the Chameleon Arc for women or the Chameleon Hex for men) by midnight, May 25, 2009.  U.S. only please.  Good luck, and happy hiking!

Written by Jamie Pearson

Best Anti-theft Backpack for Travel

No sooner had I poked fun at slashproof backpacks, than what should arrive in the mail for review?  You guessed it.  A slashproof, snatchproof, tamperproof backpack.

Last weekend, my family and I had an opportunity to try out the Pacsafe DailySafe B200.  This thing might as well be Fort Knox.

The three main security features are 1) steel mesh woven into the front and bottom panels, 2) slashproof shoulder straps, 3) Clips that secure the zippers and anchor the bag to a chair (or any other stationary object of your choice).

I really liked this bag.  It wasn’t at all heavy, as I’d feared.  Just the opposite in fact.  I didn’t actually take a knife to it, but it seemed every bit as secure as advertised.  So secure in fact, that it took a few seconds to wrangle open those tamperproof zippers whenever I wanted to take something out.

This is the price of security, I think.

It was very comfortable to wear, kept its shape, and had lots of interior pockets to keep me organized.  I had a little trouble getting the exterior magnetic snap to close when the bag wasn’t completely full, but that was no big deal.

And how did it look?  In a word: cute.  The DailySafe B200 is definitely a woman’s bag.  Even in black, only the most secure of males would feel comfortable toting it.

Here’s a quick video tour of the bag.  It’s definitely worth watching if you’re in the market for something like this:


Anti-theft Backpack Review from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

***

And now the really good news, you can win a DailySafe B200 of your own!  This tough little cutie sells for around a hundred bucks online, but you could get one for absolutely nada.  Leave a comment here by midnight, Tuesday January 27th for a chance to win.  U.S. only please.

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Written by Jamie Pearson

Hotel Tomo: San Francisco, California


Property
The Best Western Hotel Tomo in Japantown is one of a kind. If your family is feeling a little been-there-done-that, the whimsical Japanese pop culture-inspired decor here will perk you right up. The Tomo Queen rooms are good for families (two Queen beds, anime-style wall paintings, a beanbag, a fridge, plus a small nook with table and chairs). Ask for a corner room, they are awesome.  High rollers can impress the kids by reserving the Players Suite (two Queen beds, beanbag chairs, 6-foot LCD projection screen, Nintendo, and Wii).

Location

Japantown–not a real touristy area, but we could not love it more.  The Japan Center (an adjacent indoor shopping mall) is truly unique.  Try purikura (kooky Japanese photo booths) at Pika Pika.  Shop for fascinating souvenirs at affordable Ichiban Kan.  If you’ve got a Sanrio or Pokemon fan in the family, you’ll have to pry them out of here with a crowbar.  Japantown is just a mile from Union Square, and is well-connected by public transportation.

Sleeps
2-4 (for fire safety reasons, rollaway beds can only be put in King rooms so larger families will have to reserve connecting rooms).

Highlights
Browsing Fillmore Street’s shops (don’t miss the amazing French pastries at Boulangerie at Pine and Fillmore). Hiking to Alta Plaza Park to take in the city views and put the children’s playground through its paces.

Good to know

The onsite restaurant Mum’s does shabu shabu (thinly sliced rib-eye steak served with fresh vegetables and noodles, cooked at your table in an iron-hot pot). It’s fine for culinary adventurers, but many kids–mine included–don’t fit this description. Not to worry, there are western choices on the menu (hamburgers, BLTs, and apple pie) as well as lots of dining options nearby.  Your room has a fridge, so stock up on snacks at Molly Stone’s (Fillmore and California).

Contact
http://jdvhotels32-px.trvlclick.com/hotels/sanfrancisco/tomo


Hotel Tomo from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Jamie Pearson

Cottage Sonoma: Sonoma, California


Property
The perfect Sonoma accommodations for families (and a great hotel alternative)! This sweet, well-maintained cottage has 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a bright and spacious fully equipped kitchen, a securely fenced backyard, redwood deck, barbecue, and a jacuzzi. The decorations and furnishings are luxurious, but unfussy. The owners have thoughtfully provided a Pack N’ Play, travel stroller, booster seat, and futon for families.

Location
Two short blocks from the fun and historic Sonoma Plaza, with its world class dining and shopping (and, for families, a duck pond, two playgrounds, and lots of shaded lawns). Walking distance to vineyards, bike paths, and grocery stores. Nearby wineries that welcome families include Roche, Cline, Jacuzzi, Arrowood, and Benziger. Bring the kids. No, really.

Sleeps
2-5 (or 6, if one is a baby in a crib).

Highlights
A complimentary wine tasting card good at 25 local wineries (free wine tasting is slowly going extinct, so this is a big benefit). Huge jacuzzi. Very comfortable beds. Starbucks coffee in the freezer (thank God, since I mistakenly grabbed decaf when packing). Resident hummingbirds.  Wonderful owners.

Good to know
Both bathrooms have showers (no tubs). Book ahead because this place is very popular.

Contact
http://www.cottagesonoma.com


Cottage Sonoma from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Jamie Pearson

Four Points Sheraton San Rafael: San Rafael, California


Property
This newly remodeled hotel offers reasonable rates (by California standards) for budget conscious families. Rooms are comfortable, with a clean, modern style, free wireless, and new, big TV’s to park your child in front of. The pool area has also been updated with an outdoor fireplace and patio area.

Location
San Rafael is just north of San Francisco. From this central location, you can make a variety of side trips in northern California. Although the property is right off of Highway 101, there is traffic to deal with during the week, especially in and out of San Francisco. It is 19 miles from San Francisco, 12 miles from Sausalito, 13 miles from Muir Woods National Monument, and 25 miles from Point Reyes National Seashore.

Sleeps
2-5. Cribs and connecting rooms available.

Highlights
The hotel had a cozy, warm feeling after a day out exploring near foggy San Francisco bay. I love room service, and I love it even more when I can choose from a kids menu for a hungry, exhausted child. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them busy in Marin County.

Good to know
The room didn’t have a fridge. There is a Safeway, Starbucks, and some other fast food options in a strip mall across the street. Even though I didn’t have a great experience with my particular waiter at the on-site restaurant, it is convenient and kid-friendly. Parking is complimentary.

Contact
http://www.starwoodhotels.com/fourpoints/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1260


Review of Four Points Sheraton San Rafael from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Carolina

Super Mom vs. Pampered Mom

Masked people over three feet tall make me jumpy but this Halloween, in an effort to cast off old phobias and embrace the holiday, I decided to go as Super Mom.

Less a costume than a completely new identity, Super Mom was the model of efficiency. She bought her son’s skeleton costume weeks ahead of time to avoid last-minute costume panic. She and her family joined the rest of the New York City metro-area for pumpkin-picking at a farm in New Jersey and she even helped organize a trick-or-treat party for kids in the neighborhood.

All in all, Super Mom was an impressive house guest — nice, polite and friendly. And when the clock struck bath time, she quietly let herself out the front door. Her minivan had not even made it to the end of our street, when a packed-to-the-gill station wagon, piloted by a new and slightly more exciting personae—Pampered Mom—pulled into the driveway with more parent-focused ideas for celebrating Halloween.

Pampered Mom hustled the family into the car and two hours later we were settled into our lovely guest room at the The Seaview Resort and Spa in Galloway, NJ.

Pampered Mom wearily slipped under the high thread-count sheets while her gleeful son bounced on the bed and burrowed into giant pillows.

The next day included 1) a delicious buffet breakfast, 2) a luxurious neck and shoulder massage at the Red Door Salon, and 3) a family hayride. The Seaview’s creatively-executed spooky Halloween events—including a haunted tour of the Seaview’s historic annex—were just enough to get the flavor of the holiday while still giving Pampered Mom the rest and relaxation she was looking for.

We had such a great time at the Seaview that I’m seriously considering ditching the Super Mom concept next year and just hanging with Pampered Mom.

Check out our video (sorry about the audio, it was w-i-n-d-y!)


Seaview Halloween from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Kristy Hall

The Birds and the Bees. And the Goats.

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt have noticed my affinity for wordy prefaces.  Unlike me though it is, I think I’ll let the following video speak for itself.


The Birds and the Bees. And the Goats. from TravelSavvyMom on Vimeo.

Written by Jamie Pearson