Earlier this month, we returned from a 12 day trip to Europe. We had gone to Paris with Caleb when he was 8 months old, but Paris was our only destination for 10 days on that trip, and he was just barely mobile. This time around, our itinerary was a little more complicated, it was winter, and there were two kids to deal with as opposed to just one. We survived and we made some great memories, but it definitely was not an easy trip.
While I admire families like The Bucket List Family, the reality is that we are not them and this is not our full time gig. Traveling with small kids is a lot of work. We made some beautiful memories, but it is NOT for the faint of heart.
We decided to take this trip because Eddie's cousin (who is Chloe's godmother) had a baby girl in September and we wanted to meet her. They live in Luxembourg. But we also figured if we were making the trip, then we were going to add a couple of stops while we were there.
We booked everything on this trip ourselves and did not use a travel agent. I checked fares for a few weeks until we found something we were comfortable with. (A tip: Use Google Flights or Skyscanner to help you find the best combinations out there. You can't book it on Google, but it will send you to the sites to book with the rates they find.)
For hotels, we had points with several of our credit cards, so we browsed their sites and booked what was most convenient for us and what fit in with our points value. We then booked our travel arrangements from one city to the next. We flew from London to Luxembourg and we took a train from Luxembourg to Paris (it was significantly cheaper and way less time consuming than sitting in an airport). We also booked a rental car for the days were staying in Luxembourg.
We did not book any tours or activities in advance because we weren't sure what the kids would be up for. We decided to take it day by day.
This was a winter trip, and we were expecting temperatures in the thirties, so we wanted to make sure we packed accordingly. However, because of the transfers and traveling to different cities, we wanted to keep our packing as minimalist as we possibly could. We didn't totally succeed, but we had very few pieces of clothing that didn't get worn on the trip. We ended up with three suitcases - one large one for Eddie & I, a medium one for Caleb and Chloe, and a small carry-on bag that we used to carry a change of clothes for each of us and prescription medications.
Fashion and perfectly curated looks were not a priority - I mean we all still looked put together, but my outfits were probably not the most stylish. I went for function, convenience, and being able to use pieces multiple times. I stuck to a color palette - in our case black, white, and grey, and threw a few more colorful pieces in for each person. We each had two pairs of shoes, but we all could probably have left one pair behind.
We packed plenty of light, thin layers that we could add or remove depending on the weather, and each of us had a puffer jacket. We made sure to have enough socks for layering, gloves, hats, and scarves.
For Chloe, I packed enough diapers to last us through the day of travel and two days after. I ended up stopping in a grocery store and picking up a small pack of diapers once during the trip (they had the exact brand of diapers we use for Chloe - Pampers Pure).
We packed all the medications we knew we would need on a regular basis, and all the regular emergency medications. Things I wish I had: the nebulizer and an extra bottle of Benadryl packed in one of the suitcases. They took our children's Benadryl at security in London Heathrow, and we couldn't get anymore while we were there.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles
Before this trip, Chloe has never been on a plane. I wasn't sure how she would do. All things considered, she did pretty well. We booked an 8 hour overnight flight from Miami to London (Virgin Atlantic) in the hopes that the kids would sleep. We arrived at the airport early, and we were able to get bulkhead seats and a toddler cot. Caleb slept about 2 hours at the start of the flight. Chloe didn't fall asleep until about 5 hours in. Once we were able to transfer her to the cot, it was much more pleasant.
From London, we flew to Luxembourg, but that was a very short flight. We flew British Airways. The security line at Heathrow is pretty insane and they are very particular about liquids. We had our Benadryl taken away here and there was NO getting around it with them.
Once we arrived in Luxembourg, we had a rental car waiting for us. We booked directly through their website (Sixt) and we rented car seats for this kids. We ended up with a BMW X3 and it was perfect for car seats, two strollers, and all our bags. Having a rental car was one of the nicest things we did on the trip. We were able to take multiple day trips, and being able to leave things in the car was nice. Plus, the kids are used to being in cars, so their behavior was usually much better in the car than in other settings.
We took a train from Luxembourg to Paris, and that was pretty fun, too. However, France's transit workers were on strike so our first train got cancelled. We were able to rebook, thankfully, but the train was PACKED when we got on it. I would definitely recommend "splurging" for the first class train - we were able to sit at a table and had large, cushioned, comfortable chairs; and have a game plan for getting bags, kids, strollers, etc. on and off the train.
Our final flight was from Paris to Miami. We flew Air France, which has to be one of the most family/kid-friendly airlines I've been on. As soon as they noticed that we had small children at the boarding gate, they ushered us to a separate line for families. We were able to board after the first and business class passengers, which is always helpful with small kids. As soon as we were in the air, the crew handed out kids activity kits, and for the meals and snacks, kids were always served first. Their meals were really kid friendly and appropriate, too.
What Did We Learn? SO MUCH.
If you're planning an international trip with small kids, I hope this helps you!
*This post contains affiliate links and gifted products. All opinions are my own.
Summer is here, whether you're ready or not! Memorial Day weekend is behind us, kids are wrapping up the school year, the days are getting longer, and the beach is calling your name, right? But before you hit the beach, there are a couple of things you should make sure you have with you. I've compiled my top 5 items for a day at the beach. These work whether you have kids or not - they're really just essential beach items to keep you comfortable and safe in the sun!
If you take nothing else with you to the beach, take sunscreen. Melanoma is becoming more and more prevalent, and it's so scary. There's a big debate going on about chemical vs. physical sunscreens, and what you need to know is that chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and then release them from the skin, while physical sunscreen literally acts as a physical barrier to UV rays. This article has a good breakdown, and it says that at the end of the day, as long as you are using something that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and use the product correctly (which means reapplying often), then you should be fine. For the kids, I really love using Blue Lizard sunscreen, and I actually use it on myself, too. My skin is really sensitive to the sun and I have found it to be what protects my skin the best.
2. A Towel ft. Tesalate
Any towel will do, but Tesalate sent me this sand-free towel for a review and it has come in so handy! First of all, this "Mojito" design is gorgeous. Secondly, Tesalate towels are made with AbsorbLite™ fabric. They rapidly dry compared to regular ones, while still being able to absorb a lot of water. It's also compact and light, and folds to about a quarter of the size of a regular beach towel. It's perfect not just for the beach, but also for yoga, picnics, and any outdoor activities. And even when it's wet, the sand comes right off of it.
3. A Beach Bag ft. Tingueli
I have been through dozens of beach bags, and this is the first one that I can say is truly functional and does everything I need it to do. The Tingueli beach bag was also sent to me in exchange for my review. It is large and the main compartment comfortably holds 2 full sized beach towels and multiple hats, a book or magazine, baby wipes, and diapers for Chloe. The bottom of the bag is a leak-proof cooler compartment, where you can store drinks and snacks along with ice or ice packs to keep everything cold. It has several pockets on the outside, as well as an inner compartment and a zippered pocket on the outside for things like cell phones and keys. It's truly such a functional beach bag, and at a really great price point!
Your skin needs protection, but so do your eyes! Sunglasses are a necessity for me - otherwise I'm squinting, which in turn creates wrinkles. So bring sunglasses along. We've got really cute ones for Caleb that the kind people from Toucca Kids sent for him. They've got UVA and UVB protection, they are polarized, and they're shatter and scratch resistant. Plus they look really cute, too!
5. A Hat
We all bring hats to the beach in our family, but it's especially important to me for the littlest ones. Chloe won't leave sunglasses on, so the hats helps shield her eyes from the sun, as well as protecting her head, her face, her ears, and her neck. The one Chloe is wearing here was a gift and I'm not sure where it's from, but I've linked another great option here.
Those are my top 5 items to take to the beach, but we definitely don't JUST take five items with us. What else do we take? Here's an extended list...
What did I miss? What are your must-have beach items? Let me know!
And get ready to enjoy the sunshine!
I know I promised you guys this post almost 2 months ago already, but I finally got around to putting it in writing, and it was a lot more involved than I thought it would be! Our time on the Disney Magic for the Marvel Day at Sea sailing was amazing. These cruises bring a magic that only Disney can provide. We were on the ship for Caleb‘s birthday and the way that he was treated and made to feel really special was something that I would not trade for the entire world.
We had actually been on a Disney cruise a couple years back. Before Caleb turned one, we did a special sailing for New Year’s, but it was very short. It was a three night sailing and we only stopped at Castaway Cay. We had a great time, but we definitely felt like a longer amount of time was necessary to truly enjoy being on the Disney cruise - especially when it came to seeing characters. So when we saw this opportunity for a Marvel sailing, we jumped at the chance, since Caleb has an obsession with all things Marvel.
I’m going to break this up into two posts: the cruise and ship itself, and the Marvel Day At Sea - as I think that will be the easiest for you to follow. There are certain things that are given when it comes to cruising: your food is all included, entertainment is included, and there are different ports of call. As far as schedules go, getting information, and logistics, it works just like any other cruise ship. For questions on what to pack, head over to my post on packing for a Disney Cruise.
We were on the Disney Magic, which is the oldest and smallest of their fleet. The ship is easy to navigate, state rooms are all in one area and not completely spread apart, and it’s not too far to go from your state room to the dining room, or from the dining room to the theater. There is also plenty to do on the ship - they have an amazing kids club (Oceaneer Club) and that could take a post all on its own. It is very secure, and provides tons of opportunities for kids to go in either on their own or accompanied by their parents. I didn’t get to use the fitness center on the ship, but my husband did and said it was great. The adults only section of the ship is amazing and so relaxing from what I can tell (since I only walked through there). There are bars and areas to grab a drink all over the ship, and there is plenty of seating throughout as well. There are two main pool areas, a splash pad for little ones who are still in diapers, a waterslide, and the adults only pool. There are theaters, a nightclub, a several areas for dancing and people watching in the evenings.
The one thing that really stuck out to us the first time we cruised with Disney was how conducive the staterooms were to families. First of all, they have actual BATHTUBS. Not teeny tiny showers you’re trying to squeeze into or bathing your kids and struggling to not drop them. The bathrooms are also split up - one door for the toilet and a sink, and another for the bathtub and a sink. Two sinks! Definitely useful fo four people getting ready at the same time. Staterooms have plenty of storage - drawers, cabinets, and shelves, so you can put everyone’s things away. The bed is also raised high enough where you can store your luggage AND strollers underneath! You can request a pack n play for babies to sleep in (which we did), and they will also bring you a diaper genie.
One of the things I enjoyed on the ship was going to the movies. In the Walt Disney theater, you can watch movies that are still out in theaters. So while we were on the ship, we were able to watch Mary Poppins returns, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch yet.
As far as entertainment in the evenings, we only made it to two of the shows. Since my kids go to sleep relatively early, and are pretty miserable if they don’t get to sleep, I did not want to keep them up five nights and suffer the consequences. So we watched two of the shows in the theater, and we watched another on the closed circuit TV in our state room while the kids were asleep. On Pirate Night (in lieu of a formal night, they do Pirate Night, which is so nice to not have to dress up in formalwear with kids), they have an awesome deck party with a show with Mickey and Minnie and fireworks! The last night Caleb stayed up and Chloe went to the nursery - more on both of those later.
There are also characters available throughout the ship at different times of the day. Sometimes you need to make a line for them, other times they are dancing and interacting with passengers. There are also special character meet and greets that you book ahead of time online. They don’t cost extra, but they only allow a certain number of people to take part and it usually includes more than one character. We did this for the Marvel Day at Sea. But if you don’t get a coveted spot, show up early and ask if there is any way you can get in. We did this with Chloe and the princesses, and they asked us to wait a few minutes. Once the line went down completely, they let us in, and Chloe got to meet Cinderella, Bella, and Tiana.
Disney’s private island is nothing short of perfect. Even though it was January and the water was a little cold for our taste, we got down and enjoyed the beach and the island. Food is provided at two locations, there is a separate 21+ section on the island, and plenty of lounge chairs throughout. There is a splash pad for kids, and there is an outpost of the Oceaneer Club, called Scuttle’s Cove where you can drop off your kids and they will have activities for them. There are bars throughout the island as well. A couple of important notes. You get towels to use as you disembark from the ship. There is a shuttle, just like in the parking lot at Disney World. You can take the shuttle or you can walk. When you get off the shuttle at the beach, there are strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs available, free of charge, that will get you through the sand. We actually grabbed strollers for the kids (they were brand new BOB strollers), and a wagon for all of our stuff. We ended up grabbing a spot near the front part of the island, close to the food. But we did take a walk and explore a little more of the island, and it was relaxed throughout. We even got to see a wedding taking place!
The Oceaneer Club has some great activities for kids. At the beginning of the cruise, if you register your child for the Oceaneer Club, they will receive a Magic Band. This gives the cast members working in the Club your child’s location. They can only be signed out by adults who are on a pre-approved list, and the adults have to give a “secret word” that you designate when you register them. The Oceaneer Club is spread into two areas: the Club and the Lab. There are activities designated as “Open House,” which means you can go in with your child to one of the areas. The other area is secured and children who are not with an adult are kept in the secure side.
We left Chloe in the nursery one evening and they were great, as well. They get a similar Magic Band, but it is placed on their ankles. They have plenty of staff in the nursery and it is a welcoming space. They are clearly experienced because they whisked Chloe away from me and didn’t delay the goodbye, and she was perfectly fine. She actually fell asleep shortly after we left and when we picked her up, she was still asleep. (Tiny note: the nursery does have an additional cost, while the Oceaneer Club does not.)
Food & Dining
There are plenty of places to eat and grab a bite on the ship. Lumiere’s is open for breakfast and lunch if you would like to sit down to eat, and Cabanas is the buffet that is open for breakfast and lunch (and dinner, too, if I’m not mistaken!). There are also spots near the pool where you can grab a bite if the buffet isn’t open and you’re hungry.
Dinner is set up in such a way where you rotate to the different restaurants but your waitstaff follows you from one restaurant to the next, so every night you have the same waitstaff. This means they learn your likes and your dislikes, but you get to see a new environment. In the case of the Magic there are three main dining rooms: Animator’s Palate, Rapunzel’s Table, and Lumiere’s. The food was great - we thoroughly enjoyed everything and there was a lot of variety available for everyone in our party - from healthy options to rich, decadent ones. If there were any special requests, those were taken care of for us with ease, as well. If you really need something, and can’t find it, ask! Especially when it comes to food allergies or something for the kids, Disney knows how to get it done right!
I would pay over and over and over again for Disney’s service. We had exceptional service throughout - from our waitstaff to our cabin steward. Caleb befriended one of the entertainers at dinner one day, and we spotted him at a show the next night. After we went over and talked to him for a few minutes, and he found out it was Caleb’s birthday, he had a backpack full of goodies delivered to our stateroom for Caleb. It was such a nice touch and one that Caleb still talks about (he uses the backpack for school every day).
All in all, I’d say a Disney cruise is totally worth taking, and an experience the whole family will love. As a matter of fact, I might go check out next year’s sailings right now.
P.S. If you plan on doing a lot of character photo opps, get the photo package. It's not cheap, but we ended up with over 75 photos on a USB. It would have cost us way more to get all the photos we would have wanted to get and we didn't have to stress over getting a good photo ourselves.
A lot of you were very interested in what (and how) I packed for our Disney cruise, and have asked for a packing list for that. So I put one together for you!
It's pretty self-explanatory. Some things I packed are specific to a Disney cruise, but I didn't really include them in here (super hero costumes, Mickey ears, pirate outfits). The cruise line also provided a pack n play so we didn't have to take that. They have high chairs available at every restaurant, and are really accommodating when it comes to food for kids (Chloe is already eating table food so I just took a few purees just in case).
Chloe was also sick before we left on the cruise (she had a cold that turned into bronchiolitis) so I took more medication and a nebulizer to continue treating her and in case she got worse.
I also packed one outfit per day and didn't necessarily use them all. The day at Castaway Cay we were in swimsuits and cover ups all day, so the "outfits" for that day didn't get used.
Click on the file below to download the PDF of my cruise packing list.
Questions about what I packed? Suggestions on how to make it better? Send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org!
We spent the last days of 2018 and the first days of 2019 in a gorgeous cabin in Black Mountain, North Carolina. We spent a week there with family, and it was a great, relaxing way to start the year. I'll share a little more about the location later this week, but one of the biggest hurdles for me for any trip is packing.
I am a notorious overpacker, and since we are from Miami, traveling to where the temperature is even slightly colder than we're used to makes me want to be extra prepared. I over packed a little for this trip, but in all fairness we stayed in the cabin and in pajamas on multiple days, which means some of the other clothes I took didn't get used.
We had a couple of activities planned and we knew we were going to the Biltmore Estate one of the days, so I made sure to pack a couple of outfits that were a little nicer (not fancy by any means but jeans instead of sweatpants and nicer sweaters that we never get to wear!).
We stayed in a rental home, so there were some things we took that I might not have taken if we were staying in a hotel, but my list is pretty comprehensive. I've included some blank spaces for you to add in things that are specific to you and your family, but it's a good starting point!
Click on the file below the image to download a PDF file of the packing list!
I hope this helps you pack for your next trip! And if you think I have forgotten anything, let me know in the comments!