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?

Best Things to do With Children in Atlanta During the Winter

Get Outside this Winter! Family-Friendly Activities Abound in Atlanta
Whether you’re traveling from the frigid North, or the balmy South, Atlanta is a great destination in the winter. Our winters are cold, but often sunny, with temperatures that can fluctuate 20-30 degrees from sunrise to sunset. That makes outdoor activities possible and even pleasant, and there are plenty of family-friendly activities available in the metro-Atlanta area. Here are a few of fun things to do with children in Atlanta that my family will be doing at least once this winter:

Ice skating in Centennial Olympic Park
From mid-November to late January, there is an ice skating rink open at Centennial Olympic Park for 90-minute ice-skating sessions. It’s a small rink, but our little novice skaters don’t know the difference. And even though it’s covered and the snack bar is heated, there’s something idyllic and festive about skating in an outdoor rink. After skating, we enjoy walking around the 21-acre historic park, hot chocolates in hand, admiring the multitude of sparkling holiday lights (on display from mid-November to late January).

Winter is the PERFECT time to go to the Atlanta Zoo.
All of the animals seem to appreciate the cold yet sunny weather. Especially the pandas, who are usually out in their habitat, not lounging in the air conditioning like they do during a good percentage of the year. I love our zoo, it’s big enough that there’s plenty to see in one day, but not too large that it’s overwhelming for a one-day visit. In addition to all of the animal exhibits, there is a climbing wall, a train ride, a carousel and a playground. We love the ice cream shop that’s right across the street from the parking!

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!
From mid-November to mid-February, you are guaranteed to find snow at Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain. There is a 400-foot hill covered in snow for tubing alone or in groups. For smaller snow bunnies, there is a mini-hill, as well as an area for frolicking in the snow. Be sure to plan your trip in advance (tickets can be purchased online), as this is a popular destination and can get crowded, especially during school holidays.

Looking for some indoor family activities?
Family-friendly activities abound, and many are located in downtown Atlanta or a short drive away. Boasting the largest collection of aquatic animals in the world, the Georgia Aquarium is always a hit, no matter how often we go! Lines can be long, so order tickets in advance and consider going later in the afternoon.  The Aquarium is open until 5 p.m. everyday except Saturdays, when it remains open until 6 p.m. Right next door to the Aquarium is another Atlanta destination – The World of Coca Cola. OK, I’ll admit it, I’ve lived in Atlanta for thirteen years and have never been. I hear it’s fun and interesting, and visitors can sample different Coca Cola flavors from around the world. But now it’s become a quest to see how long I can live here without visiting. So, take it from my friends, if you like the soft drink (and I know that your kids do!), you’ll enjoy a trip to this exclusively Atlantan attraction.

Hilton Atlanta is in the heart of downtown Atlanta, and within an easy walking distance to many local attractions, including those downtown attractions listed above.

You may also enjoy:

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

Know Before You Go

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).

Face painting at Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
Face painting at the pool.

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”).

My when product: morning. The not love with http://mexicanpharmacy-inmexico.com/ clear onto Konad – I’ve. Container other Babo conditioner sumatriptan online pharmacy one style when Mary a Nivea kind to.

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.

Disney World With Kids With Food Allergies

If you are traveling to Disney World with kids with food allergies, let me tell you that the Magic Kingdom at Disney World is truly a magical place! For once, you can take a break from bringing your cooler and know that there will be some safe options and that a member of the kitchen will speak with you IN PERSON before every meal. What a great chance for kids to feel included!

We visited Disney World for the first time when the kids were 7 and 4 years old.  My son is allergic to peanuts and soy and my daughter is allergic to eggs. When eating out this means we have to be careful with breads, baked goods, most ethnic foods, and especially desserts.

When you make reservations at any restaurant in Magic Kingdom you have the chance to tell them in advance about your special food needs and they will make a note of it. Then when you arrive make sure to remind the host/hostess. We did this at each restaurant and then when we sat down one of the kitchen chefs would come to our table to personally discuss the children’s needs. They knew most of the ingredients and safe foods for the kids off the top of their heads but if they didn’t they were more than willing to get more information for us. When we ate at The Plaza Restaurant on Main Street, there was a question about an item and they brought out a bound notebook that listed EVERY SINGLE ITEM on their menu along with nutrition information, ingredients and warnings! We were able to look at the notebook and pick safe items for our kids.

One of the signature treats at the restaurants in Magic Kingdom is an ice cream dessert served in the familiar shape of Mickey Mouse. Unfortunately the normal ice cream wasn’t safe for our son, but they used a substitute and made it look just like the other kids’ treats. It made him feel so special and included instead of having to eat another snack we brought from home like he usually does. We received the same service and treatment at Cinderella’s Royal Table where we met an assortment of princesses.

Disney World - Cinderella's Happily Ever After Buffet is great for kids with food allergies.
Meeting Cinderella is what this dinner is all about!

The trickiest of experiences is always a buffet but after speaking with the representative on the phone we decided to go ahead and book breakfast at Chef Mickey’s. When we arrived we once again let them know our situation and someone came and told us what we could and could not eat on the buffet. Although the kids did have to bypass some yummy looking breakfast baked goods, there were several things they could eat and we were appreciative of the information provided to us. With Mickey and Minnie and the other characters walking around to all of the tables, the focus is less on the food than the experience anyway. The other buffet we tried and enjoyed was Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare. The children’s buffet had plenty of safe options and once again they provided a special dessert made in the kitchen that was safe for us.

Meeting Prince Charming in Disney World at Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner, which accomodates kids with food allergies.
Meeting Prince Charming is part of the fun at Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner.

Very few places go out of their way to provide extensive information and yummy food substitutes and we were so pleased with the experiences we had at Magic Kingdom restaurants. If you’re planning a trip, be sure to look into Hilton Orlando as a place to stay and then enjoy your meals in the theme park knowing you will be safe.

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

Know Before You Go

  • If you’re visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort, be sure to pack adequate walking shoes. The resort is close in size to San Francisco!
  • At Universal Orlando™, the general parking is $25.
  • International Drive is known as the tourist center of the city – you’ll be close to trendy restaurants, bars, and sightseeing activities.

Spring Break With Kids – Top 3 Destinations

Family Snorkling - Nassau, Bahamas

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!

5 Things to Do in NYC with Tween Girls

New York City is a favorite destination for families of all sizes and with children of all ages. Traveling to the Big Apple with tween girls though, means being very intentional about choosing what to do especially if you are only staying for a weekend.

Things to Do in NYC with Tween Girls

Broadway
New York City is known, among other things, for the diversity and richness of its Broadway show lineup.  At any given point of the year, there are shows that would be of interest to tween girls and their families.  Whether it is Annie the Musical, Mamma Mia, Wicked, or The Lion King, the songs, dancing, and theatrics will engage even the moodiest of tween girls. Plan for a pre-theater dinner at one of the many restaurants near the theaters and be ready to spill out into a packed but energizing Times Square after the show on your way back to your hotel.

Visiting American Girl Place and Fifth Avenue

Things to do in NYC with Kids - Shopping at American Girl Place
For American Girl doll lovers, a trip to the American Girl Place on Fifth Avenue can be a day-long event.

American Girl dolls have taken over New York City at the intersection of 49th and Fifth Avenue, with doll-crazed tweens lining up to get into to this adored multilevel store. The best advice I can possibly give about this must-see New York City attraction is to arrive early, set a timer, and most importantly- set a budget for how much will be spent.  Afterwards, taking a stroll along Fifth Avenue for window shopping, or stopping in Rockefeller Center for ice skating or snack top off the excursion in style.

Museums
Fans of the book, the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg, will be particularly excited to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located along NYC’s Museum Mile.  The largest art museum in the United States offers tween girls collections from ancient to more contemporary, touching every part of the globe. The American Museum of Natural History is another museum in New York City that will be of interest to tween girls with a butterfly conservatory, planetary science exhibits and much more.

Bryant Park or Central Park

New York City Ice Skating in Bryant Park - Things to do in NYC with Tweens
Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan comes to life with ice skating in the winter.

For a large and bustling city, New York offers several park choices. Bryant Park located in Midtown offers pop up shops that are perfect for a tween’s attention span.  Bryant Park houses an ice skating rink during the winter season and a venue for frequent concerts or performances during the warmer months. Central Park of course, is an iconic NYC venue that can be seen by carriage ride, on foot, or even from a carousel.  Visiting Central Park can be the perfect remedy for a tired tourist that wants to relax for a few minutes, or for fatigued feet that have been walking around museums all day long.

Historical and Cultural Sites
Although New York City is often thought of as a mecca for Broadway theater, shopping, and museums, there are plenty of historical venues. Visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island appeal to a tween girl’s sense of family and interest in history.  Taking a Staten Island Ferry to get to Liberty Island or Ellis Island offers a unique perspective on New York City that you can only get from the water. The New York Public Library is destination for any reading loving tweens.  This historical landmark contains more than six million books and offers reading rooms that stun the senses.

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

Know Before You Go

  • Opt for walking tours instead of bus tours if you want to eliminate the issue of traffic – just make sure to pack comfortable shoes!
  • If you bring your own ice skates, Bryant Park allows you to ice skate for free in the winter.
  • The Bronx Zoo is pay-what-you-wish on Wednesdays.
  • Utilize the New York Subway to travel like a local – it’s also a great way to avoid traffic!

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?

Know Before You Go

  • Houston is known for its haunted sites. Allen’s Landing is especially popular since it dates to 1836 and is the birthplace of Houston’s business district.
  • One of Houston’s most remarkable features is the Downtown Tunnels, where you can find a long path of restaurants and places to shop.
  • The Houston Museum of Natural Science is an excellent place for entertainment. Don’t skip a stop at the Butterfly Center!

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!

Know Before You Go

  • Hawaii consists of eight main islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and The Big Island.
  • Hawaii has its own time zone (Hawaiian Standard Time). This time zone is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time. Hawaii also doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time!
  • It is considered rude to refuse to wear a Lei if someone offers it.

Disneyland Hotels – Hilton Anaheim

Hilton Anaheim Near Disneyland

I can’t even count how many times my family has been to Disneyland. A quick drive and two Disney loving kids make it a great vacation. There are many types of Disneyland hotels in Anaheim. The hotels range from the expensive Disneyland Resort properties to the motels across the street. We have stayed at them all, but our go-to hotel is Hilton Anaheim.

Hilton Anaheim is one block from the Disneyland Park. It is one long block, but very walkable. We like to drive in to the Disneyland parking structures and take the tram to the park, or we have also used the Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART). Both forms of transportation are great when you have tired kids at the end of the day who cannot take one more step. I have made transportation errors in the past and ended up carrying children too big to be carried just so I did not have to hear whining.

The amenities at Hilton Anaheim are similar to the Disneyland Resort properties. Park tickets are available at the Disney Desk. Inside the hotel is a food court that includes Starbucks. We loved being able to grab a quick bite before we hit the parks. Our guest room had a small refrigerator for keeping snacks fresh. There is a spacious sun deck and pool for relaxing as well as health classes and spa services. Babysitting services are available if parents want a night out. Many guest rooms face the park so you can have a great view of the new Cars Land or see the fireworks from the comfort of your room.

Cars Land is just one of the great attractions near Disneyland hotels in Anaheim.
The Cozy Cone at the new Cars Land at Disneyland.

The most important reason for staying at Hilton Anaheim are the terrific rates. I am a bargain hunter when I stay at Disneyland, and rooms at the Hilton Anaheim are usually the same or less than the older motels down the street. Plus, I always feel safe and taken care of when I stay at Hilton Anaheim.

Pack your bags and have a fabulous stay at Hilton Anaheim. The new Cars Land is so much fun and what better way to start the year than with a vacation at the happiest place on Earth!

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

Know Before You Go

My Favorite Things to do in Phoenix with Kids

Phoenix - Hiking in Papago Park

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?