Disney’s Hollywood Studios with Kids

This is part of a series about Disney World with kids.

Since we initially weren’t going to buy park hopper passes, and only had three days, we were trying to decide between Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Some said they spent two days in Hollywood Studios on each trip, and others said Animal Kingdom was their all-time favorite. We were stumped. In the end, we got the park hopper passes (long story) and didn’t have to decide. We split the day between the two parks.

The result? While we liked many individual things about Hollywood Studios, we did not love the park. We can sum it up with this: not enough rides, too many shows. After a few hours, the kids actually said “can we stop seeing shows? We want to go on rides.” But there weren’t more rides for them to go on. Next time: we’ll plan the whole day for Animal Kingdom and skip Hollywood Studios.

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Disney’s EPCOT with Kids

This is part of a series about taking the family to Disney World.

GETTING STARTED

Following advice to get the Soarin’ Fastpass early (then hightail it to other rides), we waited with the crowd by the rope drop, to follow the cast members to the ride. This made us feel like cows being led to slaughter. Or as my husband put it, “this is what Black Friday must be like.” I left the family behind while I martyred myself in the name of a Fastpass.

However, while almost everyone got in line for Soarin’, I got in the much smaller line for Fastpasses (as recommended by the Unofficial Guide to Disney World) and we then went to Test Track. Which had NO line. And then to Mission Space. Which also had NO line. We snagged Fastpasses at Test Track for later. We went back to Soarin’ around 11:30 a.m. to get an additional Fastpass, but they were gone. By 11:30 a.m. on a non-peak day (it was Jersey Week, but…). For a primer on how to maximize your Fastpass use, click here.

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Disney World Tips with Kids – the Post Mortem

I promised an update after we went to Disney World, so here it is. I will put highlights from each park in a separate post so they don’t get too long. And I put general tips in here. (For my tips on planning for DisneyWorld, click here).

HOTEL

We stayed at All Star Music – one of the three All Star Hotels (this is in the “value” category). Disney allows you to check in online before you arrive, which we did. Theoretically that means a very short wait at the registration desk, and they basically hand you a folder with keys and maps. Of course we got behind someone who had 20 minutes worth of questions, and it took awhile for another employee (er, cast member) to come to the desk to help us. Once she was there, she handed us our folder and we were done in a minute. Fortunately there was a television playing Disney movies in the lobby, with comfy seating. The kids didn’t care how long we waited in line. Continue reading “Disney World Tips with Kids – the Post Mortem”

Vermont Factory Tours

For a state that relies heavily on tourism, it’s not surprising there are a lot of factory tours to pull in the tourists. Here are a few to consider:

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream

I wrote a long review of this revered mecca for this frozen, gourmet, hip treat. Read it here. Note that there’s no ice cream production on weekends, and if they finish their production for the day on weekdays, you may not see the action either.

Where: 1281 Waterbury-Stowe Road, Waterbury, VT

When: daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Times vary by season.

Tour length: up to 30 minutes

Tours leave: at least every 30 minutes Continue reading “Vermont Factory Tours”

Review: Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Vermont

When we told people we were going to Vermont, they all asked “are you going to Ben & Jerry’s?” And given how much I love factory tours, we went.

The tour was really short. After watching a sanitized (but cute) several minute video, we went into a viewing area above the production floor. Though they’re supposed to be producing ice cream on the weekdays (we were there on a Friday at 2 p.m.), unfortunately they had already finished the batch for that day, so we got to see them cleaning the equipment. Sigh.

The kids didn’t understand much about the ice cream making process, and didn’t really like the actual viewing part. But then again, that part took only about 10 minutes.

“I liked the eating part the best,” said Zachary.

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Review: Smuggler’s Notch in Winter with Kids

When we found out the kids had President’s Day Week off, we started looking into vacations. The kids hadn’t yet learned to ski properly (a two hour lesson three years ago didn’t count). We figured they should learn to ski at a place specializing in teaching kids. And after a lot of research, we booked our vacation at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont. We don’t know the East Coast resorts very well, but this one was highly rated as both a family resort and a great place to learn to ski. I’ll cover all that!

Bottom line – we had a great time and the kids learned to ski. There was plenty to do off the slope, and on. The best way to sum up the resort is that it’s like a cruise on land. Or a quasi all-inclusive (lots of free activities, pay for your own food and lessons).

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Family-Friendly Hotels in Manhattan

When my friends visit Manhattan, they often don’t want to stay in our lovely guest room, even though it’s free and comes with breakfast (and happy hour). After all, it’s in New Jersey, and getting in to see the sights involves a train or bus ride. Not so convenient after an evening Broadway show or for families wanting afternoon naps.

So I compiled a list of resources of where they can look for the best family-friendly hotels in Manhattan. And I’ll share them with you.

We had the treat of staying in Manhattan after seeing Billy Elliot recently with the family. The Kimberly Hotel in mid-town hosted us in a one bedroom suite. It’s hard to go back to a one room hotel after staying in a suite. With kids. Read my review of the Kimberly Hotel on Travel Savvy Mom.

–Read my review of the Muse Hotel in Times Square

–Read my review of Hotel Giraffe near Madison Square Park, where we stayed in a suite.

–Read my review of Yotel near Times Square, which my kids loved.

The king suite at Hotel Giraffe. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
The king suite at Hotel Giraffe. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Oyster.com has a good list of family-friendly hotels (which includes the Kimberly).

Travel Savvy Mom, where I’m a contributor, also has some first-hand reviews of family-friendly Manhattan hotels.

–Check Ciao Bambino as well, as they have a few posted with good details about what makes them kid-friendly.

–Mommy Poppins has a list of family-friendly hotels on the Upper West Side

–Another option is to rent a timeshare apartment.  The extra space and separate bedrooms are perfect for families.

–One mom recommends the Element Hotel because it has a small kitchenette. The Element is a Westin hotel, near Times Square (39th Street, between 8th and 9th).

–One mom I know of recommends Affinia 50, on 50th and the East Side (and several other in the city, including the Affinia Gardens which has a 2 bedroom). She said “the rooms were HUGE. We had a one-bedroom with living room, large kitchen and bathroom for approx $300/night. The downside is that it is far from “fancy” and has no room service, but a really nice lounge, clean enough (not dirty, just not posh) and great location. We would stay there again.” Not all the rooms are one bedrooms.

Last, let me know where YOU like to stay in Manhattan, or where you recommend.

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4 Ways to Explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Kids

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is so big, you won’t see it in one trip. So don’t try. Here are 4 ways to explore the Met with your kids.

THROW A DART

Henry the VIII's armor and Zack

On our first visit, we gave the kids the regular map and told them to pick two things they each wanted to see. And then we had them lead the way. The kids picked the Temple of Dendur and the Egyptian wing, the instrument room, the swords and armor, and I can’t even remember the fourth. We had a fabulous time exploring…until Zachary had a melt-down at the end, in the instrument room. He was tired. He was hungry. It was time to go. We were there almost two hours, and considered that visit highly successful.

FAMILY PROGRAMS

Art Trek program at the Met

The next trip was with Alison Lowenstein, author of City Kid New York: the Ultimate Guide for NYC Parents with Kids ages 4-12 (plus she’s the author of City Weekends: Greatest Escapes and Weekend Getaways in and Around New York). She’s a pro at visiting the Met with kids. For this visit, Alison led us to the lower level, where the (free with admission) tours and programs for kids are held. We did an Art Trek, where the Met guide took us to several works of art, and discussed them a kid’s level. At the end, they got to draw one of the pieces. The program lasts an hour, and is for kids ages 5-12 (they divide them into age-appropriate groups). The kids liked the program, though that guide didn’t leave enough drawing time for them at the end.

The Met offers hundreds of family programs each year, including drop-in drawing sessions, festivals, the “Discoveries” program for learning-disabled and developmentally disabled kids, holiday programs (including select Mondays), story times and more.

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Billy Elliot the Musical – a Kid-Oriented Review

In the search for kid-friendly Broadway shows, Billy Elliot was on the list. After all, it centers on a pre-teen boy, with plenty of peers in the cast.

But would my 7 year old son want to watch a boy doing ballet? Would he fall asleep during the three hour production? Would he understand the plot about the British coal-workers’ strike? How would he react to the curse words used during the production?

I needn’t have worried. Both he, and my 9 year old daughter, loved the show, and so did I. Even in nose-bleed seats.

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NYC Holiday Fun with Kids

New York City is such a great place to visit in December. If you’re going to New York City with the kids, here are our ideas for what to do to make it festive.

HOLIDAY LIGHTS

Of course you’ll want to see the tree at Rockefeller Center.

Just outside you’ll find Sak’s Fifth Avenue, with sparkling snowflakes (coordinated to music) and window displays. Also with winter window displays: Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, Barneys, Macy’s and more.

ICE SKATING

Rockefeller Center has a tiny rink, but it’s so picturesque. Enter from 5th Avenue, between 49th and 50th. Skating is first-come, first-served and you can skate for as long as you stay there. Expect waits up to 90 minutes, unless you skate in the weekday mornings. They’re open on Christmas Day. Continue reading “NYC Holiday Fun with Kids”