WEEK 2-5 SAINT MARTIN WITH KIDS; PRE AND POST HURRICANE IRMA

Seven years ago Jono & I came to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten on our honeymoon. Unfortunately, we only had one day here as we were on a cruise (not so unfortunate) of the Caribbean Islands. Looking at the multitude of shore excursions we could do, such as snorkeling, island hopping, visiting the French and Dutch sides, zip lining, hiking, standing on Maho Beach as an areoplane lands over top of you, along with 37 beaches to explore we knew that we would need to come back at some stage to do it all. We settled on a day at the beach at Baie Oriental on the French side, and this solidified the desire to return. So here we are seven years and three children later, staying in a quintessential colourful, Caribbean HomeAway apartment right in Orient Bay Village for a month. Our memories of Orient Bay were those of sun lounges and frozen cocktails, at the numerous beach bars situated right on the sand dotted the whole way down the 1 kilometre strip of the most stunning beach. We knew that this time would be different though, with a 5 year old, 3 year old & 6 month old baby in tow.

To our surprise we were still able to lounge around and have the odd frozen cocktail, as although at first glance Orient Bay looks like an adult playground, it turns out that a number of the bars have actual children's playgrounds.
Here are our favourites to keep both the parents and children happy.

 

KONTIKI BEACH
Here you will find a play area suitable for all ages, with ropes to climb, tunnels, slides and a baby swing.
The playground here is set back behind the restaurant and bar area, although there is still seating around it.

Kontiki is on the road to reopening soon....

IMG_5023.JPG

 

KAKAO BEACH

Kakao Beach offers a slightly smaller playground, yet with a climbing wall up to a slide and a couple of swings. There are also some great trees to climb!

IMG_5032.JPG

 

BIKINI BEACH

This would have to be our favourite. Unlike some of the others, the playground is set right by the outdoor seating area, near the oceanfront, offering great views of the turquoise waters. There is no hard dirt ground, only soft white sand. There are multiple slides, swings and climbing structures. We enjoyed happy hour exchanging French and English language tips with local parents, while the kids played happily with their local children.

Bikini Beach is set to reopen mid-June 2018

 

OTHER HIDDEN TREASURES

Walking far along the less populated northern end of the beach, we discovered a playground built among the trees.  It had a cool netted plank tunnel tube that led you down three levels. This was a real gem, as although it looked old and abandoned, perhaps from a beach shack bar that is no longer there, it was so different, raw and really got the imagination flowing, it was like being on the movie set of Swiss Family Robinson.

What's Open in Orient Bay?

  • Shamrock Residence
  • Alamada Resort - Restaurant open, with Friday-Sunday Pool Parties!  Hotel to open in November 2018
  • Palm Court  re-opening in July 2018
  • Esmeralda Resort re-opening in November 2018
  • La Plantation Hotel soft opening April 2018, restaurant open
  • La Playa re-opening December 10th 2018
  • The first beach bar to re-open was Perch Bar & Grill at Club Orient

UPDATE: Sadly since I originally wrote this post, St Martin has been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Who, with all her fury on September 6 2017 ripped through this beautiful Caribbean island destroying almost everything in it's path. Orient Bay and all the aforementioned beach bars, and playgrounds are no more. I feel though that it is important that I still publish this article, though no longer fully relevant.  I hope that by doing so, I still spike your interest in this idyllic island paradise and hope that when Orient Bay is rebuilt, it will be better than ever.  I believe that as all these beach bars were previously so child friendly, that they will rebuild with the same spirit and vibe.  I just truly hope that this devastation does not offer the opportunity for the big wigs of the corporate world, to come in and change the relaxed, laid back, and most importantly authentic feel.  I hope that the playgrounds are still basic but welcoming. I hope you can still grab a coconut on the beach for $5 from the man with dreads carting them around in his wheel barrow. But most of all, I hope that tourism continues, in order to support St Martin and Orient Bay's rebuild at all. To support the friendly locals livelihood, the man that made the most delicious baguettes at the local deli, the lady who loved giving our children ice-creams in the afternoon, as her children were at preschool while she worked.  The gorgeous family that owned the cafe, that invited us in for Mothers Day cocktails and nibbles, while they all sang and danced.  And the staff at the local mini-market, who patiently let me practice my French with them!

So from here, rather than mention all the activities we did, that may no longer be in operation, I'd like to take you on a journey around a number of other St Martin/Sint Maarten's 37 beaches.  It's here that regardless of what Irma did to the buildings on the island, that we can still find beauty, serenity and untouched paradise.  Here are our favourites for babies, pre-schoolers and kids:

 

GALION BEACH

Galion is a flat calm bay, also known as Baby Beach, with shallow water for at least 100 metres.  Small fish are easy to spot on the shoreline.  There are two pontoons, one located just off the shore, where even the youngest toddlers can happily jump into your arms.  The other is out in the deep, and has a raised platform for the more thrill-seeking older kids. With no waves whatsoever our six month old who was not yet sitting up by herself, could happily be sat in a wee hole in the sand at the shoreline and enjoy splashing in the warm water. Galion is popular with the locals and you will find them under the palm trees dotted along the beach offering shade.  Rather than paying for the beach chairs and umbrellas each time we visited, you could also find us and our sleeping baby under the palms!

GRAND CASE

The days we swam at Grand Case we had only a gentle rolling tide, with the tiniest of breakers on the shore.  The kids could easily play in the shallows unassisted as there was no risk of a big breaker knocking them over, or an undertow dragging them out.  The warm turquoise water of the two kilometre long beach, gently rocked us all back and forth as we floated together watching the boats in the distance.  We planned a visit to Grand Case on the day of the Fete de la Mer festival.  A community run event, with the aim of providing as many water based activities to locals, visitors and families at an extremely low cost. With activities such as snorkeling tours, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, and fun beach based games for the young, starting at as little as one dollar or euro! Due to the fact that St Martins natural playground was not destroyed by Irma, Fete de la Mer will still go ahead this year on May 26th & 27th.  Grand Case also has a jetty where you can jump off from one side, and board a semi-submarine on the other.  It was on this submarine that we discovered that mermaids live in St Martin! 

What's Open??

  • Bleu Emeraude Hotel
  • Hever Hotel
  • Grand Case Beach Club - opening October 1st 2018

FRAIRS BAY

Bookend by cliffs Friars Bay is small quieter beach, which made it one of our favourites.  As you can easily see each end of the beach, it sets the challenge to swim the length of the bay.  The water is calm we did this easily with the kids taking turns on our back. Frairs Bay is also the start of the track across to the even more secluded Happy Bay Beach.  The hike is only about 10 minutes, even with a 3 year old, and is great for spotting Iguanas!

Kali's Beach bar at Frairs Bay has reopened!

 Sussing out the best spot to sit and swim at Friars Bay

Sussing out the best spot to sit and swim at Friars Bay

HAPPY BAY BEACH

Happy Bay Beach is accessible via a 10 minute hike from Friars Bay. The kids found the hike easy, and were distracted from tired legs, by all the Iguanas we spotted hiding in the bushes along the track. Happy Bay Beach, is off the beaten path, and is so secluded and untouched that there are not even any beach bars or chair and umbrella vendors.  The ocean itself has a quick deep drop, with a big swell, so only Jono and Bodie jumped in for a quick refreshing dip, while Summer slept in the shade of a palm tree, and Lola and I built sandcastles.

 The trees open up allowing stunning views along the track to Happy Bay Beach

The trees open up allowing stunning views along the track to Happy Bay Beach

BAIE ROUGE

Baie Rouge or Red Bay, is one of the last beaches to the North West on the French side of the island.  The beach itself is quite a long stretch of slightly pinkish sand, hence it's name, with beautiful beach villas atop the cliffs at one end, and two beach bars right next to each other at the other end.  Like Happy Bay, this beach also has a sudden deep drop, however it was calm enough for the kids to safely float around holding on to their noodles, while we could relax on the beach chairs right on the water's edge.

 Beautiful Baie Rouge

Beautiful Baie Rouge

ANSE MARCEL

Anse Marcel Beach is quite unlike the other St Martin Beaches.  Due to the deep green lush bush on the hills at either end of the beach, the water appeared to be more of an emerald colour than the turquoise that is synonymous with the Caribbean Sea. There were no waves, the water was still and calm, and felt more like swimming in a bay than the ocean.  We hang out floating the deep having family chats for ages!

What's Open?

  • Anse Marcel Beach Resort will be re-opening December 15th 2018
 Family time at Anse Marcel Beach

Family time at Anse Marcel Beach

PINEL ISLAND

Pinel Island is a small island situated just across the water from Orient Beach. You can easily get across to it by a calm five minute ferry ride from Cul de Sac, for just $12US per person. There are four small boats that are run by the same four men since Pinel Island was opened to the publc. They run back and forth all day, every half hour or so from 9.30am-5pm. Or for the more adventurous, or those of you with older kids, you can hire a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and paddle across. Caribbean Paddling now even have a super sized paddleboard holding up to eight people, which we will definitely try out next time we visit! We had the best day on this idyllic island.  We set ourselves up on the famous yellow sun lounges under an umbrella at the recently re-opened Yellow Beach. From there we could sit back and relax and watch Lola swim in the shallow wave-free water, while Summer napped under the sun umbrella, and Bodie spent hours with his new buddies....the resident Iguana's. Just when we thought our day couldn't get any better, an Ice-cream boat the pulled up.  This was a welcome reward after we had done an easy hike up and over the island.

PHILLIPSBURG

Phillipsburg is the capital town on Sint Maarten, the dutch side of the island.  It is where the cruise ships dock.  In the Summer there can be as many as seven ships in port at one time, making it a vibrant shopping, dining and watersports hub.  We struck it lucky in early June, and only had two in the day we visited. Being a city beach, there are numerous vendors all wanting to offer you the best price for their beach chairs and umbrella's, all wanting to out do the other with the best drink specials, or most rum punch included.  The further down towards the cruise terminal the cheaper, we found.  Although the beach area is best, more centrally. For such a busy beach, we still found it clean, with clear water and relaxing, even with the cruise ships a few hundred meters away, and jet ski enthusiasts speeding past. Taking a stroll along the promenade was great, with local markets at one and , and high end resorts at the other.

What's Open??

  • Alicia's Inn
  • Holland House Beach Hotel
  • Horizon View Beach Hotel

MAHO BEACH

Maho Beach otherwise known as Airport Beach is situated right at the end of the runway at Saint Martin's Princess Julianna International Airport. The beach itself isn't really any thing to write home about, however this beach is famous for huge jet aircraft coming it to land right over top of you.  From here you can also stand behind a jet as it powers to take off.  There are signs advising you against standing up against the fence as this happens, as the blast is very powerful, and numerous over-zealous tourists have been seriously injured as they are forcefully blown back across the road on to the sand, even getting blown into the ocean.  With caution, Bodie and Jono stood well away from the fence, on the sand, as a very small aircraft departed.  Even then they were blasted with sand, and described it as awful, and something they did not feel the need to have experienced! Standing under, as an aircraft lands though is a lot safer and an exhilarating experience.  If you choose to visit Maho Beach, please be careful, take the advice of the warning signs, and DO NOT hold on to the fence. Sitting just off to the side at either end of the beach is still an experience that you can not get in many other places in the world.  Or even better stay at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and watch from your room balcony like we did, or sit back and enjoy the views from the resorts restaurant and bar. Note: Sonesta Maho Beach Resort was badly damaged in the hurricane, for up to date re-opening details click here.

 Taking the fly like an Aeroplane game to a new level at Maho Beach

Taking the fly like an Aeroplane game to a new level at Maho Beach

LOTERIE FARM

Although this is not a beach, Loterie Farm is worth mentioning, as just like the Saint Martin's beautiful beaches, Loterie Farm, is a place of stunning nature, and unspoiled wilderness. Loterie Farm is a private nature reserve and the only tropical forest on St Martin. Although the restaurants were damaged by Irma, the private pool area is re-opened.  Here you can relax in luxury and hire a private Cabana starting from $150 euros per day for up to 10 guests, including a bottle of wine.  Daybed hire starts at 15 euros per person per day, or you can simply spend a minimum of 10 euros per person in the newly opened upstairs/downstairs dining area and hop in and out of the pool as you please. A perfect way to relax, recharge and refresh after a hike on one of the many trails at Loterie Farm.  We chose to pay a small entry fee (five euros) and hike what seemed to be one of the easiest trails, however we think we went up the trail intended on coming back down, and also ended up a lot higher than we were advised to with the kids.  They thought our kids couldn't hack it, but we knew otherwise!  Bodie walked and led us the whole way.  Lola mastered most of it, with her little lady legs, with the odd piggy back from Jono, and Beck proved to be superwoman yet again, with baby Summer putting in the least amount of effort, sleeping the whole way up and down in the Baby Bjorn front pack! (Fair enough at this stage, she couldn't even sit, let alone walk!) If you like to free-roam (like us) just grab a map and head off, or if you are directionally (also like us!) you can book a guided tour. It was from the top the we spotted a beautiful beach below, and when we left, drove in a straight line in the hopes of finding it.  It turned out to be Frairs Bay, which turn out to be one of our favourite beaches.  Unfortunately during our time on Saint Martin, we didn't make it across to neighbouring island Anguilla, however from here, we could see stunning views of the whole island across the Caribbean Sea.

St Martin's rebuild still has a long way to go, but the airports are fully operational, the cruise ships have returned.  Hurricane Irma may have destroyed everything else, but the beaches are still there, the sand is whiter and softer than ever, the fun and sun are still there.  It is currently like the Caribbean of 30, 40 years ago. The long, secluded white beaches of 'The friendly Island' are calling you. (And us............)

 

 

 

 

MOUNTAIN BUGGY BAGRIDER REVIEW: TRAVELLING THE WORLD WITH OUR RIDE ON, CARRY ON SUITCASE

Setting off on a family adventure, with the mission of circumnavigating the globe, sounded so fun and romantic. We were all so busy at home, with work, our eldest getting ready to start school, a three year old girl (need I say more), and a new baby! We wanted to slow down, to enjoy these precious young family years as best we could. We decided that we could achieve this by putting our everyday lives on hold, and see the world.  All we needed was each other right? - Wrong.

Always up for a challenge, Jono and I knew that we could get around the world, with three very dependent, walking impaired children and whatever amount of luggage we needed to survive.  We just needed to be wise about our choices.  We had already chosen to bring along all three kids, now we just had to work out how we were going to transport them all!

 How we roll

How we roll

We knew that traveling with a cumbersome double stroller for such a vast journey would be too much work, and not always logistically possible.  We had packed our Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller and a baby carrier; which had two children covered, and although Meatloaf seems to think that 'two out of three ain't bad' it wasn't going to work for us!  After doing some research we came across the Mountain Buggy Bagrider. We were obviously planning on taking carry on luggage, so a suitcase that doubles as a stroller was exactly what needed! We had all kids covered and plenty of spare hands. The added bonus in our situation, is that the padded Bagrider travelling seat can hold up to 15kg/33lbs, and fortunately our three year old, is a petite little girl, and therefore was able to 'have a change of scenery' and switch up with our baby and ride on the Bagrider also.

 Making 3am transits at JFK managable

Making 3am transits at JFK managable

I say change of scenery for her, but truly it was us offering the the change of scenery to all the other travelers at the countless airports around the world. Everywhere we went, whether it be an airport in the Caribbean, an Italian train station, or walking to a bus stop in Amsterdam, we had people staring at our suitcase stroller in fascination.  It always started an interesting conversation in an otherwise long boring customs line. 

(If we had a dollar for every time we heard someone exclaim, "How cool"...... )

Although we were 'Chasing Summer', we did encounter some rain, and being hard cased, meant the Bagrider was waterproof.  I also particularly liked the dual inside compartments with a zip cover separating them.  I found this useful in strategically packing our carry on items and ease of accessing them whilst in-flight. Going through security was hassle-free, as we would get called to the stroller line, and it converts back to a carry on case with a simple one handed twist of a button.

IMG_0002.JPG

We certainly set ourselves a challenge, and the Mountain Buggy Bagrider certainly helped us achieve!

To start your traveling adventures with your bagrider, click the links below.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a complimentary Bagrider in exchange for online exposure and our honest review.  As always all opinions are my own.

Disclaimer: The above are affiliate links. If you click this link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission.

KARON RESORT REVIEW: WHY WE PICK MOVENPICK

For a family of five 'Chasing Summer' nothing excites more euphoria than a week in the warm tropical climate of Thailand.

After seven whirlwind weeks in the hot European Summer, we were ready for some rest and relaxation, some 300THB massages, some tropical drinks by the pool, and the kids were so excited for Kids Club!

As much as we wanted to jump on long-tail boats and explore the amazing waters and islands of Thailand, we also really wanted to just slow down again and take a breather from all the busy touristy days that consumed us in Europe.  We figure when the kids are a little older and our recently crawling 9 month old baby is more suited to boat rides we will go again! So instead we chose to recharge for a week at Movenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, Phuket

 

Here is why we pick Movenpick........

1. FAMILY PLUNGE POOL ROOM

We have never had our own pool (and probably never will!) Having our own private plunge pool in our room was awesome!  It was private, it was fun, and it was helpful.  The kids could swim while baby Summer napped in our room.

 The best backyard ever! 

The best backyard ever! 

 2. WATER SLIDE

Who doesn't love a water slide?! With a lifeguard always watching over, there were no age or height restrictions, and no wristbands required, just hours of fun for all!

 Hands up who wants to join Lola on the water slide! 

Hands up who wants to join Lola on the water slide! 

3. STROLLER HIRE

For those that like to travel with less - and let's face it, when traveling with kids, less is more! For a stroll down to the nearby shops and restaurants, just pop to the lobby and they will happily loan you a stroller.

4. KARON BEACH SQUARE AND FREE CHILDREN'S MEALS

Karon Beach square is located at the front of the property across the road from the beach, and has a variety of restaurants and bars. One afternoon during happy hour Jono & I chilled on the daybeds at MINT sipping a tropical cocktail, while the kids played happily at kids club! They offer free children's meals (Including dessert!) with every adult main meal. The friendly staff will also drive you there in a golf buggy from the lobby. Although it is only a lovely 5 minute stroll through the pristine resort gardens.

5. KID-SIZED BUFFET STATION

With five of us, getting set up to eat at a buffet, often takes ages, as one of us parents usually goes and fills up the kids plates first, but here there is a cute kid-sized buffet station, where the kids could easily reach and select their own food, and carry it back to the table without the worry of smashing plates all over the restaurant, as they have cartoon character plastic plates, cups and cutlery.....simple but genius!

6. CHOCOLATE HOUR

Yes that is right, chocolate hour! Not only does the resort have your standard happy hour, they also have chocolate hour!  Being Movenpick Resort, each afternoon right around the time you need sugar hit, pick me up, they have an array of delectable chocolate treats on offer, for FREE!

7. POOLS

Movenpick Resort & Spa Karon Beach, offers three pools, however we spent all of our time at the main pool.  It had everything we needed, and more.  The watersilde, a swim up bar, kids areas, with fun bubbling fountains. Pool side food and beverage service, and here's the 'more'..... a call bell button at your sun loungers to ring for service!

 The main pool. 

The main pool. 

 8. BEACHFRONT

Although we spent hours in the amazing large pool, we loved that for a change we could walk directly across the road right on to the famous golden sands of Karon beach.

9. PROXIMITY TO SHOPS, RESTAURANTS, MARKETS AND ATTRACTIONS

The resort is located on the main beachfront road along Karon Beach.  Within easy walking distance there are a string of shops and restaurants with everything that you need and expect in Thailand.  Massages, suits, markets full of designer knock-offs, street food, restaurants with sharks, octopus and all sorts of other weird and wonderful food on display! Of course many a tuk-tuk and tour operator just waiting for you also. We took a tuk tuk up to the Big Buddha, who you can see perched on the top of a hill from the resort lobby.

IMG_8269.JPG

10. LITTLE BIRDS KIDS CLUB

Our kids (and okay us too), were so looking forward to Kids Club, and it did not disappoint.  So much so that when we went to pick the kids up they often wanted to stay longer! The kids have tried out a few Kids Clubs around the world, and this would definitely rank as number one on theirs and our list.  With engaging carers, they always came back with fun stories to tell, braids in Lola's hair and pieces of art. Little birds kids club also run fun daily activities, and Bodie and Lola became Little Chefs one afternoon and made delicious healthy caterpillar sandwiches!  For over 4's Little Birds club is free, for under 4's you can hire a babysitter to attend with them.  Alternatively there is a large room next door, with a whole lot of toys, balls, books and games, where parents and little one's can hang out together and play.  Amazing for rainy days!

The founder of Movenpick once said "we aren't doing anything extraordinary, we are simply successful because we are doing quite normal things in an extraordinary manner"......... and this is why we pick Movenpick!

Movenpick Resorts are currently running a special where you can save up to 30% off and recieve a $20 voucher.  To book your Thailand holiday and secure this great deal, click here.

To book your flights to Thailand click the link below.

 

DisclaimerWe were guests of the Movenpick Resort & Spa at Karon Beach, and offered Media Discounted Rates, however all opinions are my own.

This article contains affiliate links. If you book a stay with Movenpick by clicking through our site, we may receive a small commission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Buddha  

Hotel Review: Sonesta Maho Beach Resort

A romantic weekend away to celebrate your wedding anniversary, with a five, three & seven month old in tow might sound like wishful thinking....however Sonesta Maho Beach Resort was the perfect place to celebrate our seven years of marriage. Jono and I first came to St Maarten on our honeymoon. While only being there for a day, we fell in love with the half French half Dutch Island, Caribbean Island, and knew we had to come back. So here we are now as a family of five, back where it all began. We are spending a month on the island, and decided to break up our time at our HomeAway condo with a luxury all-inclusive resort stay, so headed to Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, situated on the edge of the famous Maho Beach, which is right at the end of St Maarten's airport runway. 

We felt welcomed immediately upon entering the lobby, and while checking in we were offered cold towels and champagne, and fruit punch for the kids. 

We arrived slightly before check in time of 4pm, however were given our all-inclusive identifying wristbands and were told we could start using all the facilities, and even enjoy some lunch and rum punch by the pool.

  The main pool . 

The main pool

We decided to use the restaurant reservation system in the lobby in order to book in at the a la carte restaurants, rather than the buffet, however unfortunately all five restaurants were fully booked that evening. As it wasn't our wedding anniversary until the following night we weren't concerned and were happy to try out the Ocean Terrace Restaurant Buffet and managed to book in to The Point Restaurant for a more intimate dining experience the next night. If you don't want to miss out on reservations, it is recommended that you email guest services prior to your stay to book well ahead. As, although the Ocean Terrace has a wide variety of lovely food, The Point is a much more refined, high quality dining experience.  

By the time we made our reservation, to our surprise, our room was ready (much earlier than expected). 

Sonesta Maho Beach Resort has recently upgraded a number of it's rooms (and is still in the process of upgradng more, as of June 2017). We were fortunate enough to have one of the newly renovated rooms on the 8th floor. It was large and bright with modern fresh decor and a good sized balcony over-looking the pool, and had great views of the aircraft making their final approach, and landing overhead of the adventurous plane-spotting beach goers below. 

Our mini bar was stocked with beer, juice and soft drinks, and being in a Premium guest room we also had complimentary full sized bottles of rum, gin & bourbon! We could have sat back and enjoyed a drink and the view for hours, but this wedding anniversary weekend wasn't all about us, and the kids were itching to get to the pool. 

  They kept saying we had a room with a great view, and boy were they right! 

They kept saying we had a room with a great view, and boy were they right! 

We headed straight to the new children's pool, known as the Aqua Park where the kids played for hours over the next three days. With seven slides, and sea creature structures to entertain them. The pool was shallow enough for the kids to play in, while we relaxed back on the sun loungers with a Piña Colada! This is the only resort on St Maarten to offer a dedicated children's pool, however they are still allowed in the main pool, meaning us parents aren't exiled to a kids pool the whole time, making it a perfect place for families! .  

  The kids enjoying the Aqua Park.  

The kids enjoying the Aqua Park. 

The next day we took advantage of the kids club for a few hours, which caters for children aged 3-12. As soon as the kids entered they were swept up by the staff and added right into a came of chase. There is a large air conditioned indoor area complete with an inside slide from a a safe mezzanine level, and outdoor playground. We  were instantly assured that they would be happy here while we had some child-free time at the swim up bar!

  Celebrating sevens years with some adult only time at the swim up bar. 

Celebrating sevens years with some adult only time at the swim up bar. 

Later that afternoon, after collecting the kids we strolled down the beach to get an up close view of the planes landing and taking off. (Note, for safety reasons it is not recommended to go anywhere near the fence or directly in the firing line of an aircraft powering up for take-off. Certainly with kids) We did however stand under as they landed and all got enough of a thrill out of that). As previuosly mentioned, you do have great views from some of the rooms, and their are many vantage spots around the resort itself. 

  Taking the fly like an aeroplane game to a whole new level.  

Taking the fly like an aeroplane game to a whole new level. 

Each night after dinner we enjoyed the live music out on the deck on the edge of the ocean. The kids danced and the performers interacted with them.

All in all Sonesta Maho Beach Resort has something for everyone, and is an ideal place for a family getaway, with a wedding anniversary celebration thrown in the mix! 

DisclaimerWe were guests of the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and offered Media Discounted Rates, however all opinions are my own.

WEEK 1 - Four Flights, Three Theme Parks, Two Hotels, One Bus, and a whole lot of fun!

After a reasonably easy 12 hour overnight flight from New Zealand, we arrived at LAX just after midday. We were heading straight to Anaheim, for a couple of days at Disneyland & California Adventure Park, so this time we decided not to rent a car, and tried out the Disneyland Resort Express  Shuttle Bus. I was a bit apprehensive about an hour bus ride with the kids after the long flight, and waiting for the bus to collect us from our arrival terminal. Standing curb side on a middle island at LAX for potentially an hour was not how we wanted to start our holiday! However, by some perfect timing miracle, literally as we got to the stop, the bus pulled up. The bus was large, comfortable and even had a toilet. You can pre purchase tickets online, here or just pay on board as we did. The price is $30 per adult, children 11 years and under are free per paying adult, infants are free. They have a large number of Anaheim hotels they drop off at, if like ours, yours isn't one of them, it will only be a minute or two walk away, which even with our 7 bags, 2 car seats, stroller and 3 kids was easy. I would recommend this as a convenient, stress free way to get to Anaheim after a long flight. 

 On our way

On our way

 Although Anaheim and Disneyland Resort offer some fantastic hotels, with great family themes and amazing swimming pools, we decided not to stay at one of those, as we have found with previous visits, that unless you an stay an extra day or two at the hotel when not visiting the Theme Parks, then you really don't have time to use and enjoy the facilities! In saying that, the Best Western Stovall's Inn (where we stayed) does have a great pool area, with 2 pools, 2 hot tubs and a new children's wading pool. We had a swim in the late afternoon the day we arrived, as we weren't heading to Disneyland until the next day. This was the only chance we had to use the pool! The rooms were slightly small, however still large enough for our family of five, and a baby crib! They were clean and modern and had a mini Kitchenette area. The staff are all very helpful, friendly and accomodating. They helped us purchase our Disneyland tickets right from the front desk. A generous buffet breakfast was included, which we always look for in a hotel in Anaheim. It saves time, so you can get to Disneyland nice and early and fills you up nicely before your big day! Each day we walked the easy 15 min walk via Downtown Disney to the parks. For an affordable, convenient stay, we will choose Best Western Stovall's Inn again.

 

 Catching a ride at California Adventure Park

Catching a ride at California Adventure Park

You can read our previous post on our Top 5 Tips for Disneyland with toddlers, which goes into a lot more detail, however here are a few extra tips we learnt this time. 

1. If you only have two days and want to do both parks, I recommend purchasing the one park per day ticket, as you really need a full day at each park. Especially if your children are still young enough to enjoy the characters and young children's ride, but also tall enough (42'') to do most of the bigger rides. You will waste time trying to park hop, and also waste money, as the park hopper tickets are more expensive. (For 3+ days the park hopper ticket is a good option, as after you have done it all, you can hop between the parks to redo your favourites, or see shows. 

2. If your child (like Lola) will get upset when they realise that they are too short for some rides, then I would wait until they are 42'' tall. There are a lot of rides at California Adventure park she missed out on, that broke her heart, especially when Bodie got to ride! (48'' is the next height level and the maximum restriction, however there are only a few of these rides). 

3. A great improvement since our last visit is that they now have a cast member letting you know when the line to have a photo with the characters is closed, and will advise you what time they will be back. No more waiting in line for ages to get to the front and then being abruptly cut off! 

 Meeting Mickey

Meeting Mickey

Tips with having a baby at Disneyland:

1. Parent swap as mentioned in our previous post still worked well this trip. It was a surprise to find we could completely swap riders. As in Jono and Bodie could go together first, while I stayed with Summer, then Lola and I could jump the queue and have our turn! By using this option, and FastPasses we felt like we owned the park and almost never had to wait longer than 10mins! Bodie gave Jono the name, Fast Pass Master!

2. Strollers are not allowed in most queues and attractions, (such as Star Wars Launch Bay). So while it is great to have a stroller, sleep times might be easiest in a carrier, so that for the rides that the baby can go on with the whole family, one of you isn't stuck outside sitting with the stroller. In saying that babies must be awake for the Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. (Although this was a rather psychedelic, loud, spinning ride, that in hindsight I wouldn't take a baby on to! They are also allowed on the teacups practically from the day that they are born, but again I don't recommend it for babies, and luckily Jono and Bodie arrived just as Lola and I were about to board, and I passed Summer over the rails to Jono, - Summer is a spewer at the best of times!!!

3. If you go on It's a Small World just prior to the night time Electrical Parade, and can't find your stroller when you get off, it's not likely to have been stolen, but just moved to a new stroller parking area behind the shop, as they need to clear the original parking area for the parade! As you then have no clue where in the huge pool of strollers it will be, it is a good idea to tie some sort of ribbon or name tag on to the handle in order to make it stand out from the rest! 

Yet again, we had a great couple of days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park, although they can be long days, with a few tears, it is all worth while to see the joy, delight and sometimes nervous excitement in the kids eyes! 

C7AEA5BF-2D6E-4876-A217-545F6795B3F2.JPG

On Day Three we made the easy 1hr drive to Legoland, and yet again had a great couple of days at Legoland and the Legoland hotel. You can read our previous post here. The highlights this time, were the Disco Dance Parties from 6pm each night at the hotel, and the fact that Lola was tall enough for most of the same rides as Bodie, as the height restriction here for the majority of the rides is 36''. 

Best bonuses are:

By staying at the hotel you get early access by half an hour. 

A second day ticket is only $25, when purchased on your first day. 

 The impressive Legoland Hotel

The impressive Legoland Hotel

After four exhausting days at Theme Parks we boarded a red-eye flight to St Martin via JFK (in which all three kids slept like champs on both 4 hour flights!) We were leaving a whole lot of man-made fun behind, to indulge in a whole lot of natural beauty and beach fun for the next month, staying in our Caribbean HomeAway vacation rental in St Martin!

Below our our top reccommedations for a fun, successful day at Disneyland & Legoland!

SANTA MONICA WITH KIDS

Santa Monica has always been a favourite spot of ours.  Years ago, we spent a week there while backpacking around the States, doing all that backpackers do.....shopping, bar-hopping, and staying in hostels. Now that we were a family of four, we had to look at Santa Monica in a whole different way, the days of finding the next happy hour, and sleeping in shared dorms are over.  Luckily Santa Monica is a haven of recreation and entertainment for all ages! 

Santa Monica was our last stop on our 'Theme Park' adventure with the kids.  We wanted a couple of days in an truly LA suburb to round off our trip. With the beach, bike path, and Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park, we couldn't go think of a better place to be.

As we now required more than a couple of bunk beds, we chose to stay at DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Santa Monica.  This hotel is one of few in Santa Monica that offers suites, meaning that we had a separate living room with sofa bed, and a King sized bedroom.   The kids loved the view down to the hotel swimming pool, and loved swimming in it even more!  The room was spacious and well-equipped with a mini-fridge, handy to store the kids snacks.

After checking in, we ventured out to explore the area.  The hotel is an easy three block walk down to the beach and pier. We wanted to make our way, all the way down the beach boardwalk to Venice, so we decided the best way for us to do that was to hire bikes. We had the our trusty Bugaboo Stroller with us, but the bike rental shop was nice enough to store it there until we returned.  We hired two bikes, one with a double seated cart attached to the front, strapped the kids in and headed off.  This boardwalk has some of the best eclectic people watching in LA.  From buskers to an impromptu 'Roller Disco', to men and women working out at Muscle Beach, inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger! The kids and adults were all kept well entertained! There are also a couple of great playgrounds along the way. 

Satisfied with our afternoon out, we headed back to the hotel for a swim, then out to dinner along the Santa Monica Pier.  While waiting for our table at Bubba Gumps we had noticed a very popular looking little burger shack, Pier Burger, so snuck in a cheeky snack to keep the kids tummies content. (And perhaps mine!) It was sooo good!

The next morning we decided to have breakfast on Third Street Promenade. If a walk along the beach to Venice is too far, or you don't fancy hiring bikes, then you can still catch great street-performers and plenty of musical entertainment along Third Street Promenade, from sun up till sun down.  Best of all it is free and keeps the kids entertained.  Another bit of excitement for the kids are the dinosaur statues in the centre of the promenade.

 Roaring with the dinosaurs on Third Street Promenade!

Roaring with the dinosaurs on Third Street Promenade!

As this was a 'Theme Park' vacation after all, we couldn't leave Santa Monica without hitting some rides at Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park. You can purchase rides as you go, which is great, it means you can simply just walk around the fair ground, or if it's your last day, like it was ours, you don't have to blow your budget!  Surprisingly Bodie wasn't quite tall enough for some of the rides, that he certainly was tall enough for at Disneyland, but this didn't matter, as there is a great area and assortment of rides for the smaller kids, and he had just as much fun on these.  The highlight for the kids though, was winning a giant Nemo stuffed toy, which the friendly 'carnie' attendant may or may not have rigged for him!! 

 Hands in the air!  The children's rides at Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park.

Hands in the air!  The children's rides at Santa Monica Pier Amusement Park.

As we had a late night flight from LAX, we headed back to the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton and had a final swim and relaxing soak in the jacuzzi.  Although we had already checked out, the Hotel held our bags for us, which we could easily get access to throughout the day.  The pool area, has excellent changing rooms, with showers and plenty of space to change and freshen up for our flight.

The use of the pool after checking out was a great bonus, as it tired the kids out enough, that with with help of the Air New Zealand Sky Couch, they slept soundly for 10 hours of the flight home!!

 Who needs first class?!

Who needs first class?!

So although it was a different kind of vacation in Santa Monica this time, it can be equally exciting with kids, if not more, as you get to experience it in a new light, and through their eyes!

TRINITY BEACH

When most young newly-wed couples, expecting a baby think 'babymoon', they don't think two bedroom self-contained apartment, rather an exclusive adults only luxury resort!  However we didn't have a babymoon the first time around, so when we were expecting our second baby we headed to North Queensland, Australia for a mini-break to savor the last few weeks we had left as a family of three.

We chose Trinity Beach, just out of Cairns, as our perfect, relaxing destination. (As relaxing as it can be with a 18 month old!) This is where the Marlin Cove Beach Resort comes in. We booked a two bedroom apartment, which was ideal, meaning come 7pm, we could pop the toddler in bed, and relax without worrying about tip-toeing around a studio hotel room.

Although we enjoyed the odd meal at the restaurants in Trinity Beach, the fully-equipped kitchen in our apartment came in handy for breakfast and snacks during the day.  As did the BBQ area by the pool, for an alfresco dinner one evening.

 

 Who needs the beach, when you have sand at your hotel pool!

Who needs the beach, when you have sand at your hotel pool!

Our room had direct access to the amazing resort swimming pool.  This is one of the best I have come across at a resort.  Don't think big, busy, overcrowded resort pool, think, calm, relaxing and practically secluded.  The pool is surrounded in sand, which Bodie happily played in while I rested my pregnancy induced swollen ankles on the sun lounges!  The pool had a great shallow area for Bodie to swim in, and was a lovely warm temperature. Thank goodness this pool was so great and mimicked the beach, as at the beach we were greeted with signs saying "Crocodile sightings, swim at your own risk!"

 

 Yeah, no thanks!

Yeah, no thanks!

 

Another highlight of Marlin Cove Resort was taking an evening stroll through the grounds to spot the wallabies hopping around.  They must enjoy doing the same thing with the guests, as we had one hop right up to check out Bodie's breakfast on the courtyard, one morning!

 

 Spotting Wallabies

Spotting Wallabies

With Cairns being so close to Trinity Beach, we decided to take a trip in for the day.  The Cairns Esplande is fantastic area for families, and Bodie had a ball, playing in the free water park.

 

 Loving the water play area at the Cairns Esplanade!

Loving the water play area at the Cairns Esplanade!

 

If you too, are looking for a relaxing resort in a laid back town, yet close enough to all the excitement and adventure that North Queensland has to offer, then I highly recommend Marlin Cove Resort.

HAWAII

On a whim, when our first baby Bodie was born, we booked a holiday to Hawaii.

I remember it clearly, it was a rainy Sydney day, we were looking out to the beach that we couldn't swim in for a few months until Summer rolled around.  Bodie was a few weeks old sitting on my lap, while Jono was surfing the net, dreaming of actually surfing.  As if it was meant to be, a two for one JETSTAR airfare appeared in his emails. Not only did the deal captivate him, but the destination HAWAII, had us booking right then and there! We had been to Hawaii numerous times, and thought, hey it's been a couple of weeks, we have this parenting thing down.  So the following Valentines Day, we were off for our first big overseas trip with our 10 month old.

Calling your airline ahead and securing a bassinet seat is the best piece of advice that I can give you when traveling with a baby.  Providing your baby's height and weight fit the airlines regulations, then you could be as lucky as us, and have a sleeping baby for 8 hours! The other advice I have when traveling with little ones, is to ask the crew for help! As an international flight attendant for 10 years, I am telling you, we are more than happy to help, and understand the limitations and struggles you have while trying to keep a baby still on your lap, eat some food without knocking it all off the tray table, and even try to get to the loo!  One of the first questions asked at my first interview was "describe the day to day role of a flight attendant." Apart from the important stuff, such as safety and among other things, one of the main answers they were looking for was 'nanny'!  This is so true.  Now, while the crew obviously can't take your child down to the back galley for 10 hours, while you have your wine and watch numerous movies, when it is down time for the crew, between meal services they certainly are happy to help out.  Or perhaps they've kept you a meal aside, while you fed your baby.  So please don't be shy, and ask away!

Right, I went off on a bit of a tangent there, (hopefully helpful to some of you).

As we had visited Waikiki many times, this time we thought we would jump straight on a plane for a quick 25min flight to Kauai.  We had previously spent a few days on Kauai, but it is never enough so we just had to go again.

We booked 4 nights at the KAUAI MARRIOTT RESORT. After doing some goggle research and seeing aerial views of the swimming pool there was no way I was staying anywhere else!

 Great pool, great view, great family holiday!

Great pool, great view, great family holiday!

Upon arriving at Lihue airport, a shuttle picked us up and drove us the 5 min drive to the resort.  It was so close, it literally felt like we took a back gate out of the airport, and there we were.  Perfect for a 10 month old, after being on an aircraft for the previous 10 hours!

As we entered the lobby, we knew this was going to be a luxurious stay.  Our Garden View Guest Room was conveniently located on the ground floor, meaning we could easily wheel the pram in and out on to the lovely grassed area out front, which had a hammock swinging between palms trees, perfectly placed right outside our room.  The room was spacious with a large comfortable bed, a double couch, and plenty of space for the baby crib, that the hotel provided for us.

 Relaxing on the hammock outside our room

Relaxing on the hammock outside our room

I just had to get in and explore the pool that is described as one of the largest pools in Hawaii.  It sure lived up to all the amazing photos that I had seen, and surprised me even more, with the hexagon hot tubs enclosed by large majestic looking pillars, that had direct access from the swimming pool.

 Just a little bit of luxury for this Mumma!

Just a little bit of luxury for this Mumma!

Our next few days here were spent between the main pool, the great little toddler pool with a water slide, and the amazingly scenic Kalapaki Beach, that is directly in front of the resort.  The most perfect soft green grass between the boardwalk and the sand was ideal for the moments that we didn't feel like dealing with a 10 month old and sand! We loved watching the cruise ships come and go, they looked so huge, that they seemed to close the gap in the bay between the surrounding mountains.  One of our first tastes of Kauai was on one of those cruise ships, so each time I saw one, a warm feeling of nostalgia would wash over me.  We had great big buffet breakfasts at the Aupaka Terrace, and tasty poolside dining and cocktails from Kukui's on Kalapaki Beach.  Bodie also enjoyed feeding the Koi Fish by the lobby each morning.

 Feeding the Koi their breakfast, before breakfast

Feeding the Koi their breakfast, before breakfast

 Is it going to fit??

Is it going to fit??

We also strolled down the beach side boardwalk one night to dine at the famous Dukes Restaurant, and walked across the road to the Harbor Mall for hotdogs.

This trip, we did not hire a car or explore Kauai, we felt we had everything we needed at the KAUAI MARRIOTT RESORT. Sun, sand, pool, ocean, restaurants, and a local feel with the Harbor Mall.  We will be back!

The rest of our Hawaiian adventure as a family was spent on Oahu.  Back in 2010 we got married on the North Shore, so thought it only fitting to bring our first born back to where our family began! We would absolutely love to live on the North Shore, but all we could do for now, was book a wee home, via HomeAway.com and pretend to be locals for a week.  We hired bikes that were dropped off right at our door, along with a cart on the back to tow Bodie around in.  This was perfect, rather than a toddler bike seat, as some days he had nap in there while we had a relaxing lunch after biking into Haleiwa town! We also had a car on the North Shore, which I highly recommend if you want to check out the numerous famous beaches, such as Sunset, Pipeline, and my favourite, Waimea Bay.  A car is also handy to have, to pull off the road at Laniakea Beach and see the Green Sea Turtles that love to sunbath on the sand.

 Our first wee  home away  from home cottage

Our first wee home away from home cottage

 Visiting the turtles at Laniakea Beach

Visiting the turtles at Laniakea Beach

To end off our trip, we had to do the obligatory stay in Waikiki, to fulfill our shopping needs. Although Waikiki is very touristy and in such contrast to the more secluded Kauai, and North Shore, there is still a lot of natural beauty here.  Floating out in the soft gentle waves of Waikiki, on a typically touristy highlighter inflatable lilo, gazing at Diamond Head is the perfect way to end our first family vacation. We survived our first trip with a baby and ignited a flame to venture on more and more!

 A tiny tourist in Waikiki

A tiny tourist in Waikiki