Best Ways to Earn and Redeem Hilton Honors Points

We received a question from a reader, Melissa. She writes,

“We are going on a family Stadium Tour with our goal of hitting all 30 stadiums in the country over the next several years…I have two young boys, 5 & 9 and would like to be able to take advantage of our Hilton points whenever possible, any tips on hotel stays our using points for certificates to eat or anything would be wonderful.  Thanks!”

All of our Hilton Mom Voyage parents are Hilton Honors members, and two of them wanted to offer their suggestions for how to maximize the earning and spending of your points. Tricia likes using her Hilton Honors card from American Express; while Heather is not generally a credit card user.  Both of them earn enough points to take wonderful vacations and both recommend using the “Points & Money” redemption option. See their detailed thoughts below.

Tricia P Says:

Credit Cards Help You Earn Trips!

Traveling can be expensive. I save money by using reward points.  I have been a Hilton Honors member for years and it pays off.  I earn points through hotel stays, but I earn the majority of my points through use of my Hilton Honors American Express card.  I earn Hilton Honors points for everyday purchases.  My groceries help me get to the beach!

When Redeeming Points, Hotel Nights Are the Best Value

Hilton Honors points can be used for many things such as hotel stays, dining, flights, shopping or specialty experiences.  I find that I get the most value for my points by using them for hotel stays.  When I am searching for a Hilton hotel, I enter my destination and compare the point values.   Hilton hotels have different point values, so you can choose what you wish to spend.

More Tips to Help You Get More for Fewer Points

Points & Money Rewards are a great option.  If you do not have enough points for your stay you can often book a room with a combination of points and money.  You can also search by flexible dates.  Just moving your vacation dates by a few days can save you points.  Another tip is to keep checking back.  Point specials are sometimes offered or the reward value may change.

Heather C Says:

Maximize the Points You Earn with “Points and Points”

Hilton Honors points are really very versatile.  You can attain them in a variety of ways.  When you sign up, you can modify your preferences.  You can also change your preferences at any time, depending on the needs of your family.

I have my account set to “Points and Points.”  This option allows us to earn our base points on each room booked plus bonus points added to our account. Bonus points depend on the hotel brand you choose and your rewards tier.  Another option is “Points and Miles” which offers the base points for each room booked plus airline miles on a list of national and international brands. I choose “Points and Points” because we usually take road trips on our weekend getaways and family vacations.

Choose “Bonus Points” as Your Benefit

Six of the Hilton hotel brands allow Gold members and above to choose the rewards and benefits you receive during your stay.  I always choose “bonus points” as my benefit.  Other choices vary by brand and include bottles of water, snacks, fruit, in-room movies, and hot breakfasts.

Ways to Earn Hilton Hilton Honors Points

The most obvious way to earn Hilton Honors points is by staying at a Hilton brand hotel.  This is how most of our points are earned.  There are nine Hilton hotel brands, and we’ve stayed at seven of the nine brands.  Each of them will earn you Hilton Honors points and bonus points (if you choose that benefit).

You can also earn Hilton Honors points by booking conference rooms or meeting spaces.  This is a valuable benefit if you have that opportunity or responsibility for your job.

As with other rewards systems, you can apply for different Hilton Honors credit cards that offer rewards.  While a quick way to add points, it is not necessary to earn valuable rewards.  As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, we don’t use credit cards.  We are able to amass ample points based on our stays and bonus points alone.

Finally, sign up to receive Hilton emails. (You will first be prompted to login to your Hilton Honors account.)  Each quarter you have the opportunity to sign up for a specific reward.  There is no obligation and it is free.  I always sign up, even if I don’t anticipate any travel in the upcoming months.  Rewards range from bonus points (a few thousand points per stay) to a fifth night free at a resort destination. You can also find special offers for Hilton Honors members online.

Best Ways to Redeem Your Hilton Honors Points

While earning the points is fun, spending them is a family highlight!  Obviously, you can earn free nights at any Hilton hotel brand.  The amount of points for a room depends on the hotel location and the date of stay.  While we’ve done that a few times, it is not our preferred redemption plan.

When signed into your Hilton Honors account, you will see pricing options, such as “$189 or 30,000 Hilton Honors points”.  However, many Hilton properties offer a “Points & Money” price, such as “$50 + 12,000 Hilton Honors points.”  These are one of our favorite ways to spend points.  For the price of less than one room, we can book two adjoining rooms, which makes parents and kids VERY happy.

Different hotels also offer local upgrade packages that can be added with Hilton Honors points.  Some properties can upgrade your room to include dinner (especially nice if their restaurant is a local hotspot) or spa packages (for that romantic getaway).  Finally, you can use points to upgrade your room to a specific level or even to a suite.

With so many options to earn and redeem Hilton Honors points, planning your travel can truly be the least stressful part of your vacation!

There are many ways to save money when traveling.  I know it is tempting to skimp on hotel stays to save money.  A hotel is a big part of your vacation experience.  An unpleasant stay can ruin the entire vacation.  Using Hilton Honors points is my way of knowing I will stay in great accommodations and receive benefits without having to exhaust my precious vacation fund.

Have a question for the Hilton Mom Voyage team? Ask us here, and we’ll respond with an email or may even create a new article like this one!

A Day In Florence With Kids

Good wine, delicious food, out of this world museums  and stunning architecture can all be used to describe Florence Italy. But what about good for family travel and kids?  Planning a day trip to Florence for my family after having lived there for a year (many moons ago), took a bit of creative thinking. What could we do in Florence that would captivate the adults as well as my almost eight year old daughter? How do you take this artistic and history rich city and see it on one day?

Our answer was to explore the city on foot, with no museums, and with great food.

A No-Museum One Day Itinerary for Florence with Kids

One day in Florence is not a long time, so we created an itinerary that would allow us to wander, enjoy, and take in the city.

San Lorenzo Market

Our day started at the San Lorenzo Market. This market is best seen in the morning, when the vendors still have full displays and assortments of fresh produce from the Tuscan countryside. There are booths filled with more assortments of cheese than you ever knew existed, butchers, and fish sellers. Children will love tasting, and foodie oriented adults will be on cloud nine with the smells that abound.

Florence with Kids- Hilton Mom Voyage
Enjoying the abundance of fruits at the San Lorenzo market.

Giotto’s Bell Tower/Campanile

From San Lorenzo we made our way through the crowded outdoor market that is known for leather goods and towards the Duomo or main basilica in Florence. Especially in the summer months, lines in Florence, like many other European countries, are packed with tourists. On a hot summer day, the last thing you want to do is stand in a long line with kids in tow.

So instead of going inside the Basilica (which is stunning), we opted to see Florence from the sky by climbing the narrow steps of Giotto’s bell tower, also known as a campanile.  Children are actually the best suited family members to make the climb up the 414 steps as it curves going higher and higher.  The steep and narrow climb is worth it once you reach the top as the entire city unfolds before you.

Lunch in Santa Croce

Exploring the city a bit on foot took us toward the Santa Croce neighborhood to eat lunch at Osteria Dei Pazzi.  There are many great restaurants in Florence, but this one, owned by a former teacher of mine from my days as a student, will always rank highest for the ambiance and the quality of every homemade bite that you will eat.

Osteria dei Pazzi (Via dei Lavatoi, 1, 50122 Florence, +39 055 2344880) is centrally located near the Teatro Verdi and the Church of Santa Croce. Paolo Paroli, the face behind the Osteria is known to sing and whistles as you eat, and you will feel like there is an Italian nonna (or grandmother) doing the cooking.  Our favorites during this lunch were a delicious jam, tagliatella ai funghi and the ravioli stuffed with ricotta agrumi that made our mouths water.

Piazza Della Repubblica

After a long lunch, we headed towards the Piazza delle Repubblica (one of the largest squares in Florence) for a special kid-friendly treat.  During the summer months there is a merry go round that children will enjoy riding as a break from walking and exploring.

Florence Italy: Merry Go Round in Pzza della Repubblica - Hilton Mom Voyage
Carefree fun on the merry go round in Plazza della Repubblica.

Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti

To end the day, we crossed the Arno River going over the Ponte Vecchio, heading towards the Palazzo Pitti.  The Palazzo has an extensive art collection and often houses special exhibits, but is also home to the beautifully manicured Boboli Gardens (Giardini di Boboli). The Pitti Palace was the home of the Medici family during the 16th century, and the gardens were considered lavish for their time. Children will appreciate the ability to run amidst the beauty, and adults will excite in the variety of sculptures, greenery, and vistas of the city.

Of course, stopping for gelato, at any point during the day (or multiple times depending on your appetite) will give every member of the family something to smile about.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, Hilton Florence Metropole offers a complimentary 20 minute shuttle to all of Florence’s famous attractions.

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Picky Eaters? Tips to Help Kids Eat Foreign Food

Trying out new foods during our travels is an enjoyable experience for many of us, but that’s not always the case with our kids. One of my main concerns when we first traveled overseas was feeding my somewhat picky eaters something they’ll enjoy while introducing local cuisine.

Eating in Belize with Kids
Eating chicken stew and rice in Belize.

Over the years, my kids have discovered they liked Belizean chicken stew, Spanish jamon, Japanese yakitori and tried whale meat in Iceland. They still have their fussy moments but are more open to trying new foods. Whether traveling to a foreign country or a U.S. region, here are some tips to help kids eat foreign food for a cultural experience and expose their palate to authentic food that have worked for us. They may even discover their next favorite dish.

Before the Trip

  • Get familiar with destinations they’ll be visiting and the different foods they’ll see and taste. Start with viewing Internet food images. Something may catch their eye or pique their interest.
  • Visit local communities like Little Italy or Chinatown or restaurants with similar menus as your destination. Have the kids try out the food so they’ll know what to expect.
  • Try to cook the food at home and ask for the kids’ help in shopping and preparing so they’ll have a vested interest in the dish.
  • Read books on countries you’re visiting or ones like What the World Eats and Come and Eat With Us.
  • Read travelers’ reviews and recommendations on guidebooks, TripAdvisor or Yelp for kid-friendly restaurants.
Eating Icelandic hotdog
Eating the popular Icelandic hotdogs.

Mealtimes

  • Introduce food one meal at a time. Order a local dish and let them taste it. My kids often tried food out of curiosity.
  • We’ve compromised by letting our kids pick desserts on the menu, snacks at stores or bakeries afterwards if they tried something new. This usually worked too.
  • Get something familiar with local twists. Try favorite staples, like rice, pasta, noodles or grilled meats, with local sauces. My kids loved the noodle varieties in Japan.
  • Sometimes, visiting recognizable restaurants is okay too. We’ve visited a few foreign McDonalds. But, kids can also try local specialties like Hawaii’s Spam and rice or the Philippines’ McSpaghetti there.
  • We love shopping at local grocery stores and food markets as a peek into native cultures. We enjoy seeing what local families are drinking or eating. Food market stalls offering samples are also wonderful for introducing foreign foods to kids but please use your best judgment.
  • Visit family-friendly restaurants. Kids may be more receptive to trying dishes when they can see what other kids are eating.
  • Take pictures of them eating local foods. The pictures can serve as keepsakes, reminders that they survived eating foreign foods and motivators to keep sampling.
Eating churros con chocolate - Madrid with kids
Eating churros con chocolate in Madrid.

Eating foreign foods with kids is a learning experience. It takes preparation, patience, encouragement and inspiration for kids to try something new. We hope your next mealtime will be a rewarding culinary adventure and experience as ours have been. Bon appetit!

What are your tips to help kids eat foreign food?

Kids Club At Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort

In addition to its remarkable property, two impressive pools and a stunning beach directly below it, Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort offers many programs and activities to ensure their youngest guests and their parents will have a memorable vacation filled with both fun and relaxation for everyone. From the moment you arrive at Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort, it is obvious that the resort celebrates families.

To start with, Hilton Los Cabos has a free-of-charge kids club, called “Vacation Station.” The club is open every day from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and caters to children ages 4-12. Parents who would like to catch a round of golf at Hilton’s famous nearby greens, get a massage at the spa, or simply spend one hour of quiet time by the pool, are welcome to check in their child(ren) for as long as they want during its hours of operation. In addition to keeping a watchful eye on your young ones, the staff keeps them happily occupied with a variety of fun activities such as coloring, painting, arts & crafts, dancing or cooking and karaoke (two of the most popular choices and perfect for our 6-yr old daughter). Vacation Station is well stocked with a wide range of board games as well as the latest kid friendly movies and video games. Our 9-yr old son loved the foosball and air hockey tables, and we all enjoyed a game of ping-pong on the outside terrace.

As a parent, I especially appreciated that the club offered organized activities (usually 1-2 per day) that allowed our children to experience some of the local culture. For example, our daughter and son were excited to take part in the “Mexican party,” passionately beating the colorful hanging piñata with a stick and learning the traditional words that are customary during this ritual: “Dale, dale, dale! Uno, dos, tres!” Sampling some of the local candy after the hard work of knocking down the piñata was literally another taste of Mexico. (Beware… some of the most authentic sweets are made with chilies making them very hot!) Mexican bingo was another example of a culturally infused activity offered by the club. Not only was it entertaining, but it also gave us great opportunity to practice our Spanish.

For those in need of child care outside the Vacation Station hours of operation, you should know that the kids’ club staff also coordinates babysitting services for the very reasonable cost of $20 per hour (up to 2 children; for more, additional fees apply).

While Vacation Station mostly draws children in the younger range (<8), Hilton Los Cabos also offers other daily activities outside their kids’ club program, many of which attract older children, teens, as well as grown ups. They often take place around the main pool or on a picturesque beach just below the resort. Our daughter loved getting her face painted and enjoyed the free mini chair massages. Our son enjoyed soccer and volleyball on the beach. Both of our children loved the salsa making cooking lesson. Other examples of fun activities offered by the resort include tie die T-shirt coloring, kite making, ceramic painting or, for the very small guests, a bouncy castle on the beach. When we had a couple of days of bad luck with the weather (we visited the resort during winter months when rain in this area is more common), the resort staff quickly organized a Wii game room and an all-day movie theater in two of their conference salons, ensuring their young guest were happily occupied (and their parents relieved). [caption id="attachment_2252" align="alignnone" width="1280"]Face painting at Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort Face painting at the pool.[/caption]

Last but not least, perhaps the most anticipated daily experience for our children were delicious, home-made fruit popsicles, catered by Jorge, the Jungle Man, who is somewhat of a Hilton Los Cabos legend. Jorge makes his round every day around 3:00 in the afternoon by the main pool much to the delight of kids (who love his jokes and worship his fun personality) and adults (who appreciate his genuine affection for their children and desire to please every guest – his mantra is “I’m here to exceed your expectations”).

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Jorge, the Popsicle man at Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
Jorge, the Popsicle man, delighting the little guests of Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort.

Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.

Spring Break With Kids – Top 3 Destinations

Yippee! It’s almost that time of year again…Time for a spring break with the kids. Your kids. A time to forget about snowmen and hot cocoa and focus on sandcastles and fruity drinks. A time to trade in those warm winter coats and cold, red noses for sun-kissed cheeks and bright-colored swimsuits (even if only for a week).  It’s time to dive in and have a little warm weather fun, and I’m here to help you plan your trip! That’s right, consider me your family travel guide for guaranteed fun.

Here I have listed my top three picks for family spring break destinations, and I bet they will win your clan over too… So, grab your sunscreen and let’s get going!

First Stop, Florida

Well, you must know that a native has to represent! From the Atlantic Ocean to the Florida Straits and the Gulf of Mexico, sunny Florida has almost 1,200 miles of coastline and 663 miles of it are beautiful beaches. Although Daytona Beach has earned itself quite a reputation for spring break partying, there are plenty of other destinations for those seeking a more family-friendly Florida. I must admit, I am partial to Florida’s Gulf as I think the waves, or lack thereof, are a big draw for those of us who are packing…for kids, that is!

One excellent Florida destination is Pensacola Beach. You’ll love the breath-taking, whiter-than-white sand beaches and sparkling Gulf waters. When you need a break from the beach, take time to visit the “haunted” light house, the Naval Aviation Museum, a U.S. military fort that invites explorers, or the amazing 360° Observation (Ferris) Wheel that stands 200 ft. tall with enclosed, air-conditioned gondolas. This town has a ton of family fun to offer, and therefore takes the Florida spring break gold medal, in my book.

There are many area hotels that can accommodate the entire family, but I highly recommend Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. Centered in the heart of Pensacola Beach with a premier location, location, location, this hotel sits just across the street from the 360° Observation Wheel and right on the beachfront, with amazing Gulf views. It is not only convenient but also spacious, comfortable and a good fit for families.

A visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is a great thing to do on Spring Break with the kids.
A visit to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola is a great thing to do on spring break with the kids.

On to Jamaica, Mon

Nothing says spring break quite like Montego Bay, b-a-b-y! Yea, mon, if a tropical get-away is what your bunch is after, then this is the place to be! Honestly, although trekking through town for a bite of the local fare or a day trip to the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls are both fun for the family, I really suggest shacking up at an all inclusive resort that allows you and your kids to enjoy all the tropical beauty that Jamaica has to offer.

Home to the most awesome water park in the Caribbean, Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa certainly packs a punch… And yes, Rum punch too! With 1,800 feet of private beach that includes water-sport options in the spectacular Caribbean Sea,  an onsite championship golf course, six (yes, six) tennis courts, a luxury spa and did I mention AN ENTIRE WATERPARK? This is one resort that will help make superb spring break memories for your entire posse. Word.

Hilton Rose Hall Jamaica Water Park is another great thing to do on Spring Break with kids.
A bird’s eye view of the HUGE water park at Hilton Rose Hall.

(For more information on Hilton Rose Hall, check out this article from fellow Hilton Mom Voyage team member, Kristine, who just got back from her trip there: Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa – A Family-Friendly Beach Resort.)

Bahamas or Bust

…Come on pretty mama! (Because I’m 99% sure, that like me, you’re the one planning this spring break trip anyway, and it really is a great vacation destination.) Seriously, if you are in need of some fun in the sun for your tribe, visiting the Bahamas is another ticket to paradise.  Nassau is such a beautiful place to lounge on the beach or explore the tropical, crystal-clear waters. It also offers one of the world’s best locations for boating, swimming, scuba diving and snorkeling. In addition to all of the fabulous outdoor activities, my family also loved bargaining with the local vendors in the Straw Market and viewing the marine habitats and sunken treasures while visiting the Dig at Atlantis.

If you want to stay downtown and on a private beach, then British Colonial Hilton Nassau is your ONLY choice. So thank goodness it’s a great one.  Winner of the 2012 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award, this hotel not only has clean, spacious accommodations and a friendly staff, but also a beautiful (and did I mention private?) white sand beach. You can also lounge in the two lush gardens, complete with custom-sized hammocks, or relax by the beachfront pool that offers opium beds with soft cushions, throw pillows and tie-back shades for that much needed outdoor nap. Yes, this place has it all.

British Colonial Hilton Nassau opium beds
Can you imagine a better place to relax than on one of these opium beds, also called “circles of heaven.” Once you try, you’ll know why.

Get On Your Flip-Flops and Get Out There

If you choose one of these beautiful destinations for your family, I think it’s safe to say that your spring break will be superb and styling. I mean, how can you go wrong if you take your family to enjoy surf, sand, sun and fun? You can’t! So, I hope you start planning and let my suggestions become your memories.  And, don’t forget to tell the kids, this is going to be a spring break to remember!

Best Museums in Houston For Kids

Houston has many attractions for all ages. I’ve been there for conferences and business trips. Galveston is close enough for an easy day trip to the beach, dinner on the Strand, a bay fishing trip, or deep sea fishing adventure. There are professional sports teams. There are amazing parks and recreation centers. But with so many options, how do you know which are the best things to do? Here are our picks for the best museums in Houston for kids:

Houston Museum of Natural Science

The one location that we can visit over and over again is the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  There are fossils, gems, minerals, seashells, chemistry, and Egyptian collections.  There is an giant screen theater with some 3D offerings.

Our favorite section of the museum is the Butterfly Center.  It includes an entomology center, an interactive bug learning center, and an enclosed rain forest area where hundreds of species fly uninhibited around a 50 foot waterfall.  While you are not allowed to touch the butterflies or catch them, they frequently land on guests briefly throughout the walk.

The interactive bug centers could easily hold children’s interest for hours.  Where else can you learn so much about bugs – including how to cook and serve them?  I always shudder a little as I walk by, but there are vending machines that sell a variety of bug foods.  I’m not brave enough to try any of them, but my family enjoys (ugh!) the lollipops with meal worms, crickets, or scorpions.

Downtown Aquarium

In downtown Houston, there is an underwater haven, the Downtown Aquarium.  The aquarium is a diverse blend of indoor aquatic exhibits and outdoor adventure.  Fish aren’t the only species inside.  There are huge snakes, birds, and a white tiger.  Outside there is a train that winds through an outdoor 360 degree trip.  As the open air train enters the aquarium tunnel, you are surrounded on the sides and above you with exotic fish and sharks swimming just inches away.

The highlight of our day was lunch in the aquarium restaurant.  We sat steps away from a 155,000 gallon floor to ceiling tank filled with starfish, exotic fish, coral, and sharks.  Our food came all too soon as we enjoyed the sharks sitting next to us!

The Downtown Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Houston with kids.
The Downtown Aquarium is one of the best things to do in Houston with kids.

Houston Space Center

A little bit further out of town is the Houston Space Center, but it is well worth the drive.  With multiple exhibits outside, you could wander the Center for days, but it is completely doable in a single day as well.  The Center has an indoor kids’ space just inside the door that is a perfect place for the children to burn off a little energy midway through the visit.  The negative side is that the kids’ space is the first thing they see walking in the door!

Once you get past the play area, there is a mock-up of a space shuttle to tour, exhibits that include used space vehicles, moon rocks, astronaut paraphernalia, and the history of space exploration.  There is also an interactive element to the Center with space flight simulators (these were lots of fun!), movies, and learning games.  There are also scales to show you how much you weigh on different planets and the moon. (I’m not interested!)  Overall, the Space Center is a great day trip for the casual visitor and could interest the space enthusiast for several days.

For a great hotel near the Space Center, check out Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake.

There is so much to explore at the Houston Space Center.
There is so much to explore at the Houston Space Center.

With so many family friendly options, you’ll find something for everyone’s interests. What’s on your list for the best museums in Houston for kids?

Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo With Kids

Tokyo isn’t usually on many family-friendly destination lists.  But when we visited, we found a city filled with helpful and gracious citizens and many kid-friendly attractions.  These were our 10 favorite cultural, fun and educational things to do in Tokyo with kids for an enriching travel experience.

1. DisneySea

We explored Tokyo Disney Resort and chose DisneySea over Disneyland.  DisneySea transported us into a water-centric park that became a family favorite.  We loved the park’s seven ports of call’s use of the sea myths and legends for its amazing shows, unique rides and attractions.  A great place to stay if the Disney parks are on your must-see list is Hilton Tokyo Bay, one of the official Tokyo Disneyland Resort hotels.

2. Basement food halls

At the bottom of many large department stores, we found a foodie paradise of enticing aroma, energy and variety that appealed to all family members with diverse taste buds. We frequented them for their generous portions, fresh food and cheap prices with many items reduced close to dinner time. My kids loved the yakitori sticks, noodles and mouthwatering desserts and pastries.

3. Studio Ghibli Museum

We had so much fun at the Studio Ghibli Museum that my kids didn’t want to leave.  Studio Ghibli produces movies from famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.  It’s filled with interactive animation displays, exhibits, gadgets and rooftop gardens with a giant robot.  Don’t miss the huge plush cat bus play area with an adult version.

Kids will be fascinated by the giant robot outside Studio Ghibli.
Kids will be fascinated by the giant robot outside Studio Ghibli. 

4. Tokyo’s Subways and Trains

Living in car-centric California, we look forward to navigating foreign public transportation systems.  Tokyo’s subways and trains were efficient and easy.  They gave us an insight on how locals travel.  My kids loved the public transport experience and adventure.  We’re disappointed we missed those white-hand-glove people pushing passengers in during rush hour, though.

5. Temples and Shrines

Tokyo’s beautiful temples and shrines, like Sensoji and Meiji, were impressive.  It was fascinating to watch the Japanese, dressed in traditional attire, pay their respects. My kids’ favorite part was the cleansing station rituals before entering the sacred places and seeing all the personal prayers and wishes on ema votive tablets.

Discover Japanese rituals at sacred places like the Sensoji Temple.
Discover Japanese rituals at sacred places like the Sensoji Temple.

6. Odaiba

Tokyo Bay’s man-made entertainment island of Odaiba was a delightful place to visit with a giant Ferris wheel, Marine Park, public beaches and the Statue of Liberty replica (a highlight for my kids). Visit Toyota Mega Web showroom to see cars not available outside Japan and kids can drive a Hybrid electric motor on a course.

7. Tokyo City Hall

Go up Tokyo City Hall’s 45th floor observation deck for a stunning, panoramic view of skyscrapers and Mt. Fuji during winter.  We loved our bird’s-eye view and looking at the action below.

8. Shopping Districts

The Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ginza shopping districts are filled with neon lights and flashy signs that rival Times Square.  Check out the multi-level Sony store for playing and testing out electronics not available anywhere else. Hilton Tokyo is conveniently located in the Shinjuku district.

9. Harajuku

Visit the Harajuku area on weekends to see teenagers in various costumes. My kids were captivated with them.  Walk down Takeshita Dori for shopping and grab freshly-made, delicious crepes which smelled heavenly.

10. Imperial Palace Gardens

While we missed the 75-minute Imperial Palace tour, we loved its East Gardens.  The perfectly trimmed hedges and trees, koi pond and expansive grass areas were perfect for playing, picnics and leisurely strolls.  These old castle grounds still contained guard houses and museums for some history lessons.

Kids love exploring the bridges and ponds of the Imperial Palace Gardens.
Kids love exploring the bridges and ponds of the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Best Things to Do on Hawaii’s Big Island with Your Family

Hawaii’s Big Island offers an abundance of things to see and do, so much so that planning a trip can be daunting. Having just returned, here are some sights and family activities on Hawaii’s Big Island to help you plan and make the most of your visit. They are particularly well-suited for families.

Volcanoes National Park

Visit one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, part of Volcanoes National Park. This is a must-do for every family visiting the Big Island. Drive around the crater, take one of many hikes in this vast park area or view the steaming (and at times erupting!) crater from the Jagger Museum. For a particularly memorable experience, drive to the ocean via the picturesque and fascinating Chain of Craters road until you hit the end of the road (literally)… a spot where lava swallowed the road during the last big flow into the ocean. Before you go, it is a good idea to consult the Hawaii Volcano Observatory website for up to date information on current volcano activity and park conditions.

Mauna Kea

For an equally exhilarating experience, drive to the top of Mauna Kea to watch the sunset and stargaze from the visitor’s center through some of the world’s most powerful telescopes set up for visitors. At an elevation of 14,000 ft, it feels like you are practically touching the stars. Combined with an absence of light pollution, you get an almost surreal view of the night sky. You can plan the trip yourself (visit the Institute for Astronomy’s website) or experience a visit to Mauna Kea with one of the local companies offering tours.

Waterfalls and Rainforests

Discover the many spectacular waterfalls and rainforests the island has to offer. Our family particularly enjoyed visiting the majestic Akaka Falls, located just a short drive from Hilo and about a 2-hour drive from the Kona side. In order to reach the falls, you will take a short scenic hike through a lush rainforest, which makes the experience especially memorable. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella or a poncho as it often rains or mists in this area.

Hiking the rainforest trail at Akaka Falls was one of our favorite things to do on Hawaii's Big Island.
Hiking the rainforest trail at Akaka Falls was one of our favorite things to do on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Punalu’u, the Black Sand Beach

Visit the picturesque Punalu’u, also known as the Black Sand Beach for a chance to spot the impressive honus (Hawaiian for turtles). The striking black sand is created by lava flowing into the ocean, which then explodes and cools. The beach is frequently visited by endangered Green Turtles, which you can find basking in the sun on the black sand. For the more adventurous types, there is a stand renting snorkeling equipment…put on a mask and fins for a chance to observe the magnificent and gracious animals in the water. However, be careful, as the surf can be rough and the currents very strong.

Admiring a honu at the Black Sand Beach
Admiring a honu at the Black Sand Beach.

Papakolea, the Green Sand Beach

Another unforgettable experience is a visit of the nearby Papakolea, the Green Sand Beach, which gets its color from olivine (a mineral found in volcano cinder cone) and is one of only two green sand beaches in the world. However, it is much more difficult to get to this beach than the Black Sand Beach. Only accessible by foot and requiring a climb down cinder cone, this adventure is not suitable for families with smaller children.

Swimming With the Dolphins

While not the most authentic Hawaiian experience, swimming with the dolphins was another memorable activity on the island our children enjoyed. You can come face to face with these beautiful animals at Dolphin Quest, located at the magnificent Hilton Waikoloa Village resort. The company offers several different programs depending on age of the children and personal preferences.

Children love playing with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest!
Children love playing with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest!

Experience a Luau

Finally, a great way to experience the island and its culture is by going to a luau. Two particularly good ones are Legends of the Pacific, offered at Hilton Waikoloa Village or Island Breeze at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. Enjoy beautiful Hawaiian music, marvel at the graceful hula dancers, and sample authentic Hawaiian food. It is a great way to introduce your family to the local culture.

Last word of advice…

It’s good to have a plan, but be open to spontaneous experiences you will encounter while driving around the island. They are often most memorable and offer the best glimpse of “real” Hawaiian life. On our drive from Kona to Hilo, we saw a road-side sign for Donna’s Cookies, a small local business and decided to make a stop. They sell the best macadamia shortbread ever, and our children loved seeing the production and interacting with friendly staff. Similarly, on our drive south to the Black Sand beach, we stopped and wandered into a vast macadamia nut orchard, which stretched for miles along the road, to show our children where nuts come from (not from Mauna Loa cans…). We also spotted a Punalu’u Bake Shop, a local bakery with wonderful malasadas (famous island donuts of Portugese origin), which made for a delicious (and authentic!) afternoon snack.

Aloha and have fun exploring the island!

My Favorite Things to do in Phoenix with Kids

Phoenix has fantastic museums, great shopping and terrific dinning. I love all of these, but my favorite things to do with kids in Phoenix are outside! Phoenix has a beautiful and unique landscape that everyone in your family will enjoy.

Hiking

My kids love hiking. It might be because there is somehow always a candy bar at the top of the trail, or that they like racing each other to the top. Whatever the reason, hiking is a fun way to see the desert. Phoenix is a valley surrounded by mountains, so a trail is always just a short distance away. Only ten minutes from Point Hilton Squaw Peak Resort is one of the most popular hiking trails in Phoenix, Piestewa Peak.

Another favorite trail for kids is Papago Park. Papago Park not only has unique rock formations, it is also the location of the Phoenix Zoo. The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail is a must do and is an easy hike for any age child.

Parks

Phoenix is filled with parks that will help you soak up the sunshine. Across the street from Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villas is McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park. My parents brought me here as a child and now I love to bring my children here too. Ride the train, visit the railroad displays or ride the antique carousel. The kids will love the playgrounds and parents will love the surrounding views.

Near the Phoenix airport is Tempe Town Lake. This man-made lake is adjacent to Arizona State University and the park has activities for everyone. You can rent boats or bicycles, go fishing, or play at the splash playground. After you are finished at the park, walk down to Mill Avenue and have a great meal at one of the many outdoor restaurants.

Tempe Town Lake Park is one of the great things to do in Phoenix with kids.
Tempe Town Lake Park is one of the great things to do in Phoenix with kids.

Swimming

If you vacation in Phoenix, pool time has got to be on your list. Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort has eight pools for guests to enjoy. Cabanas are available and are the perfect way to relax in the shade as you view the beautiful mountain area around you. If you are visiting in the summer, pool time might be your only outdoor activity because of the intense heat, but there is a plus! Hotel rates are at their lowest in the summer.

There is so much to do in Phoenix to enjoy the outdoors. If you plan it right, you might wear the kids out so you can fit in a round of golf or a trip to the spa!

Five Ways to Preserve Travel Memories for Your Family

It was fun while it lasted. We’ve all been disappointed when vacations are over.  We’re left with fleeting memories and pictures stored in memory cards and smartphones.  So, how do we preserve those cherished memories or prolong that travel euphoria?  Here are five ways to create vacation memorabilia to preserve your travel memories which will hopefully last until the kids reach adulthood or at least your next trip.

1.  Photo Books

These customizable photo albums created online are our family’s favorite way to remember our travels.  It’s a great way to be organized and creative with vacation photos.  It beats storing pictures in shoe boxes or memory cards.  They can also be shared with family and friends online.  My kids love looking through photo books to reminisce and have worn out our Disney-related books.

One of the best ways to engage kids is to give them a camera to capture their experiences from their perspective. Their work of art can also be published into photo books as wonderful keepsakes.

Use Travel Photo Books to preserve your travel memories.

2.  Travel Journals and Scrapbooks

Journals have always been the traditional way to record our memories.  I wish I had made my kids start travel journals when they were younger to chronicle their adventures but it’s never too late.  For kids who don’t like to write or are too young, drawing a favorite attraction or memory will work too.

These don’t have to be limited to hardbound journals. Older kids who carry netbooks and laptops can record their thoughts and memories in digital form.  Give the kids a folder to store keepsakes when traveling – tickets, brochures, postcards.  Scrapbooks make for a fun family project to record your travel memories after the trip.

3.  Postcards

Postcards are still sold everywhere despite their decline in popularity. One of our travel traditions is for the kids to write postcards to themselves.  They love picking out the postcards and receiving them when we get home.  As they get older, my kids enjoy reading what they wrote when they were younger.  Create a photo album for the postcards or hang them on bulletin boards or along walls to display.

Hanging postcards are a great way to preserve your travel memories.

4.  Videography

Many cameras and smartphones nowadays also double as camcorders making it easier to record memories for prosperity.  Interview the kids while at a famous attraction and capture their thoughts.  Recordings of first time adventures are always treasured.  I can’t tell you how often my kids have watched their first zip lining adventure.  Use video editing software like iMovie or Power Director to create mini movies so you can relive your favorite travel memories at any time.

5.  Souvenirs

There’s a popular saying of “Collect memories, not things.”  But, why not both?  Souvenirs can be fun, cheap, functional or educational.  My daughter has an assortment of dolls that almost looks like a Miss Universe stage while my son loves his legion of mini-stuffed animals and both have key chain collections.  They serve as tangible reminders of places they’ve visited, cultural associations and memorable experiences.

Souvenir dolls are fun for children to help preserve their travel memories.

Travel memories don’t have to fade with these different ways to save them for prosperity.  So, what are your favorite ways to preserve travel memories for your family?

Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa – A Family-Friendly Beach Resort

Reggae, rhythms, and gentle ocean breezes draw guests to Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa. The wide array of activities and offerings make those traveling with their children want to stay. There’s something for everyone at this all-inclusive family-friendly beach resort, which is why it is a popular destination in Jamaica.

Activities

You will never hear a child declare, “I’m bored!” at the Hilton Rose Hall.  My kids repeatedly hit the water slides in the Sugar Mills Falls Water Park while their parents floated around in the adjacent lazy river.   We mingled with other families at the resort’s swim up bar. Kayaks and canoes were available to us at the beach front water recreation center .  When we felt the need to dry out for a while, my crew challenged other families to table tennis and chess.  The kids also competed in organized games and contests.  Quite often we opted to do nothing at all.  OK, maybe I was the only one who attempted to exercise that option. Alright, alright, I tried to exercise that option.  I was traveling with high energy kids after all (spouse included in that descriptor).

Kids love the family-friendly beach resort, Hilton Rose Hall, for its wide range of activities and amusements ranging from table tennis to water slides.
Bring the kids! Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa is a family-friendly beach resort with a lot of activities to keep young guests busy.

The Perks of All-Inclusive Resort Dining

For a mom like me, the carefree feeling that comes from an all-inclusive get away is a great perk. Everything is taken care of for you — meals, drinks and snacks — rather than prepared and toted around by you. There are no tabs to sign, no numbers to calculate. If you need something, you merely have to ask. (I did pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.)  If your picky little darling doesn’t like a dish, you simply order something else at no added expense. With seven restaurants on the property, the food choices provided plenty of diversity. Kids, vegetarians and others with special diets or particular palettes will not have a problems finding nourishment at the Hilton Rose Hall.

Nightly Entertainment

Evenings are filled with lighthearted fun, much of it embracing the spirit of Jamaica. We enjoyed s’mores and live Reggae on the beach on our first night at the resort.  We capped off our stay with a  showing of the children’s movie, “Ratatouille.” Every night in between there was entertainment ranging from live music and dancing to a kids’ variety show.

Parent Approved Kids Only Fun

A few kid-friendly amenities not only allow younger guests to gather, socialize and befriend other kids, they offer worry-free opportunities for parents to steal away rare time for themselves.  These include:

  • The Teen Zone: An arcade-style game room where teens can hang out and take some time away from the family, particularly those annoying younger siblings.
  • Kids Club: Complete with playground and art projects, the Kids Club offers fun programs to occupy your youngster’s time and work their imaginations.
  • Babysitting services: The Kids Club closes for lunch and is not open in the evenings. Should you need childcare during those times, babysitting can be arranged through housekeeping.

While many families fully enjoy their Jamaican vacations without ever leaving Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, the activities desk can help arrange tours to nearby attractions such as Mystic Mountain and Dunns River Falls should your family be interested in venturing out.

Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.

Helpful International Travel Apps

Our family of four loves traveling abroad and as a Mom, I’m always looking for tools and solutions to make our travels easier and smoother and our experiences more memorable. I often turn to apps on my iPhone as a cheap (often free, actually) and easy resource. Here is a sampling of my favorite ones when it comes to traveling internationally.

Free Travel Apps

TripAdvisor

In case you are not already familiar with it, this is a very useful tool for planning your trip or looking for great ideas while traveling. Utilizing a vast pool of reviews and opinions (75+ million!) from fellow travellers, this app makes it easy to find the best hotels, restaurants or fun things to do. The flight search function helps you find and book airfare deals, but you can also make hotel and restaurant reservations. You can search by price, location or rating and in case you have a specific question, you are able to post it in a forum to get the inside scoop. A must have for any family Travel Director!

TripIt Travel Organizer

Helps you store and access your travel itinerary in one place for peace of mind when traveling. Forward your confirmation emails to plans@tripit.com and they are instantly recognized and saved to an itinerary on your iPhone or your iPad. A 2011 “Best Travel Mobile App” Webby Award winner.

WhatsApp Messenger

A must-have for quick communication with your friends and family while you are abroad! This app lets you message other smart phone users, who also have the app, from anywhere in the world – for free! Perfect for sending a quick text that you arrived as planned, sending a picture to family members left behind to show them how much fun you are having on your trip, or even finding members of your party in the crowded Louvre Museum.

Skype

This one probably needs no introduction. It is most known for enabling free video calling, but  you can also use it for free instant messaging or voice calling.

Google Translate

Ever found yourself in a foreign country, unable to speak the language and trying to get around to experience the local scene? This app helps you translate words and phrases between more than 60 languages. For most languages it even allows you to speak your phrases and hear the corresponding translations. Worried about cell reception? Look up useful phrases before you leave your hotel and you can access them later, offline. Voila!

XE Currency

Easily convert every world currency whether you are shopping at the elegant stores in Milano or bargaining for a deal on a souvenir on a beach in Mexico. In addition to the converter, the app has live currency rates and charts, which refresh every minute, but the latest updates are stored so you can access them later with no internet connection.

Free Wi-Fi Finder

Helps you instantly find FREE Wi-Fi internet hotspots wherever you are in the world, online or… offline, as is often the case when you are actually looking for an internet connection! Need I say more?

Inexpensive Travel Apps

World Countries ($0.99)

Looking to learn more about the country you are visiting? This great app, actually 19 geographic apps in one, will come very handy! Use it to find all kinds of interesting and useful facts about any of the world’s countries (its capital, population, currency, time zones, calling code, major holiday and much more), maps (current and historical), pictures and lists of famous places. To help you kill time on the plane or relax at your hotel, there are even geography related games such as Guess the Flags or Flags Memory Match.

Local Eats ($0.99)

This Travel & Leisure recommended app lets you type in the city and type of cuisine you are after and then instantly filters results to best match what you are looking for. You can also find menus, book reservation or even a taxi. The only limitation is that the app is limited to major cities.

City Maps 2Go ($1.99)

Can you imagine traveling without great maps? How convenient to have them on your iPhone or iPad vs. the large and vulnerable paper form. This map app allows you to download 7,800 world maps. No network or WiFi required!

FlightTrack – Live Flight Status Tracker by Mobiata ($4.99)

It might seem a bit pricey compared to the three listed above, but this very useful app lets you check flight status, gate information, flight delays or cancellations and more – for over 1,400 international airlines. The flight sharing email lets your friends and family track your flight online. If you upgrade to FlightTrack Pro ($9.99), you can also sync your TripIt itineraries and receive push alerts on delays and flight changes.