Posts in Family Vacations
SPRINGTIME IN IRELAND
Gleninchaquin Park

Gleninchaquin Park

What was the most pleasant surprise from my recent trip to Ireland?  The food!  It is delicious!  

During my short but sweet visit to Ireland, I was expecting to be surrounded by the beautiful countryside, castles and manors that leave one speechless…and lots of Guinness.  However, I really didn’t expect much in terms of the food in Ireland.  I have to say, every meal was just outstanding, from the seafood in the pubs to fine dining.  It also helps to be escorted by a private driver guide who knows where the locals get the best meals in town.  

I flew into Cork on a cold, rainy day and transferred directly to Sheen Falls Lodge.  My suite on the third floor was located right over the rushing waterfalls, making my 3 night stay so relaxing.    For a larger group staying at Sheen Falls Lodge, I highly recommend staying in one of the cottages on property with full kitchens, ensuite baths and private patios with beautiful views.  They are bright and airy with large living spaces for families or friends to enjoy.  The location of Sheen Falls is perfect for relaxing, enjoying the town of Kenmore and exploring the Beara Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.  It is a great home base for visiting the Southwest region of Ireland for a few days.  The hotel has new owners, and they have given the hotel an extensive refurbishment making it a must stay during a trip to Ireland.

Our first day was filled with massages, a horseback trail ride and resting after our long travels.  The next day I was just in awe of the beauty of the Beara Peninsula.  We enjoyed lunch at a  tiny pub with the most incredible seafood.  We also hiked Gleninchaquin Park.  It was so wonderful to enjoy a hike where the only other people were locals enjoying a day off.  The woman who owns the land was so sweet welcoming us to her beautiful property.  Her husband and she had spent years taking care of the hiking trails for all to enjoy.  

While driving through Ireland is fabulous, it can also be exhausting.  I highly recommend spending a day just enjoying the grounds and activities offered at Sheen Falls Lodge. It can also be a day to stroll through Kenmare.  It is a lovely, quintessential Irish village with great shops and pubs.  Afterwards, enjoy a wine tasting with the sommelier at Sheen Falls followed by a private dinner in the wine cellar.  I have such fond memories of the friendly staff at Sheen Falls Lodge and can’t wait to return with my family!

We next visited Ballyfin, a countryside manor house located in County Loais.  Ballyfin is considered one of the very best hotels in Ireland and that reputation is well deserved.  It is a very special place to visit for a peaceful, romantic escape.  In addition, It also has so many wonderful activities on property, that a large family with both active kids and grandparents wanting to enjoy the manor house or carriage ride through the property will enjoy their time at Ballyfin.  

Each room at Ballyfin is individually decorated.  You feel as if you are staying in someone’s home.  The staff treats you as family and greets you outside upon your arrival.  A very unique and fun experience is to dress in period outfits and enjoy a formal evening with dinner as if living in a different era.  Conversely, you can reserve the lovely cabin on the grounds with the most amazing views of the surrounding landscape where your meal is served picnic style.  Ballyfin is truly a destination in itself and much loved by everyone who visits this very special manor house.

My last night in Ireland was a fun night of pub hopping with an overnight stay at The Westbury.  I love The Westbury, because it is located right in the heart of Grafton Street.  In addition, the friendly, impeccable service from its staff really makes your stay memorable.  While there is much to see and do in Dublin, the most pleasant surprise for me was my tour of Kilmainham Gaol.  This tour of Dublin’s famous prison house is very popular, and tickets must be purchased months in advance.  I learned so much about Ireland’s fascinating history during this tour.  It is really an excellent way to gain an understanding of Ireland and its most important historical figures.

Ireland is a country where one visit is never enough.  It is really a short flight from the East coast and is a great escape for a long weekend or an extensive period to explore the whole island.  I can’t wait for my return visit with my family!

JONES FAMILY TAKES ON ITALY - VENICE
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It was really sad saying good-bye to Florence so soon, but we were really looking forward to Venice!  We woke early to catch our train.  I can’t say what the countryside looked like from the train, because I slept the entire trip.  It was great to wake up refreshed ready to enjoy Venice.

We stayed at Hotel Londra Palace which has an enviable location right on the Grand Canal.  We enjoyed a beautiful view of the Grand Canal from our room, and our rooms felt very regal and large.  We were able to enjoy lunch at dinner at Hotel Londra.  Both meals were delicious!!  It was so great experiencing the meals from different regions in Italy with the variety of cooking methods and specialties.  Although I do believe Teddy ordered spaghetti with red sauce for every single meal.

We only had one day to experience Venice.  We opted for a more unique tour by renting our own private boat and driver to take us to the three islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.  Murano is where you can watch the art of glass blowing.  It is a nice island with a quaint canal of shops.  Burano is a nearby island where the artisans specialize in lace.  We enjoyed this island a bit more with its colorful buildings and gorgeous view of the Venice skyline.  We sat on a sea wall with our gelato and took in the beauty.  Torcello was my favorite island.  It is really small and quaint.  We just had a wonderful time walking along the canals and climbing the bell tower where we had a superb view of the entire region.  

A highlight of our trip was the night-time gondola ride. Unlike the experience of visitors in the summer, we were in the only gondola on the waterways!  It was a really magical way to conclude our trip in Italy.  

I would love to share our experiences in Italy.  Contact me anytime at 314-780-8845 or email me.

JONES FAMILY TAKES ON ITALY - FLORENCE
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Next stop on our tour of Italy — Florence.  We drove from Norcia to Florence with a quick visit to Assisi.   Assisi in March is a real treat, because there are very few visitors.  It is very beautiful and great to visit if you are passing through the area.  

We had the pleasure of staying at Hotel Lungarno during our visit to Florence.  It has recently reopened after a complete renovation.  It has a nautical theme and is right on the Arno River.  When you look out the window, you literally look down at water.  The hotel hangs over the edge.  It overlooks the Ponte Vecchio and is across from the river from the main part of Florence.  It is actually really nice to walk across the bridge after a long day in Florence and experience a more local feel with wonderful, small and traditional trattorias within a block of our hotel.  

We had a beautiful room overlooking the river.  I stopped every few minutes to stand on our Juliet balcony and take in the view.  It is a real treat.  Our boys were in a Jr. Suite without the fabulous view.  Their room felt like a suite with a living room and a step up to the bedroom with a huge bathroom.  It was really inviting and had such a great layout.

The staff is just wonderful.  The bellman with the great smile even walked us to our first dinner and introduced us to the owner of the trattoria.  The Lungarno Collection, owned by the Ferragamo family, has three other hotels in Florence.  They all have very different vibes, and the Hotel Lungarno is their flagship property.  We enjoyed a drink at La Terrazzo Rooftop Bar at the top of the Continentale.  It has the best views of Florence and was wonderful for enjoying the sunset after a long day exploring the city.

We enjoyed a wonderful tour of Florence.  You learn so much more about a city when you have a private guide.  We opted for a half day in Florence, so we could spend the afternoon shopping.  Our wonderful guide Angela is so knowledgeable about the art and history of Florence.  She also knows where to find the best gelato!!!

River Cruises: Fun for the Whole Family
 
The view from castle ruins sitting above Durnstein, Austria

The view from castle ruins sitting above Durnstein, Austria

Checking out the view from our stateroom...

Checking out the view from our stateroom...

Tauck Bridges is well known and loved for their family-centric small group tours.  They now offer specific river cruise itineraries where kids are not only welcome, but Tauck makes the children’s experience a priority.  This summer, I was thrilled to take my 8 year old son Teddy on their Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure.  I had a few reservations about how much fun a young boy can have on a river cruise visiting small European villages, but we had a blast!! 

We flew into Munich, Germany where our private driver met us in the arrivals hall and whisked us to the Hotel Bayerisher Hof to meet our crew.  We then transferred to Vilshofen, Germany where we boarded the MS Esprit.  Our cabin has two twin beds, plenty of closet space and a full wall of windows and a french balcony providing unobstructed views of the countryside.  The lower floor has rooms with just windows.  I think it is well worth the extra money to get the wall of windows and a door to let in the fresh air.  The suites on the top floor are truly as roomy as a hotel room with very spacious bathrooms.  

We visited a few large cities such as Vienna and Salzburg and a few small villages.  Our absolute favorite day was in Durnstein, Austria.  It is such a quintessential small Austrian town where we rode bikes along the river and hiked to the top of castle ruins for a magnificent view of the Danube and bucolic countryside.  Another favorite day was in Brataslava, Slovakia.  Teddy and I loved exploring the capital of Slovakia, visiting its shops and trying its wonderful food.  These smaller towns were a better fit for the young kids.  They were more relaxed and could have fun exploring.  The larger cities were a bit more intimidating for them to navigate.  The teenagers on board seemed to really love visiting the larger cities.

What truly made our trip special was the crew on the MS Esprit.  Carlos, the cruise director, was a great leader and ended every announcement with ‘ciao for now’.  The kids loved it.  The staff was also exceptional and took great care with the kids.  Our tour guides who live in the cities we visited were also wonderful. 

Would I take a river cruise again?  Yes!!  Next time, I want to take the whole family.  This cruise had a nice group of younger kids that all became fast friends.  The teenagers also had their own group and seemed to be having a great time.  As a result, all us moms, dads, grandparents and special friends had a blast enjoying the scenery, great wine and making family memories to last a lifetime.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this special experience at 314-780-8845 or julie@topflighttravels.com.  

Family Vacations: Where to take your kids ages 6-12.

This week, I'm focusing on the best locations to take your kids ages 6-12.  This age is the sweet spot.  They are old enough to take bigger and better trips while, at the same time, they still want to hang out with you.  This is a great age to start exposing kids to different cultures and ways of life.

Once children are at least 6 years old, they are ready for grander adventures.  When traveling with children of this age range, it is important to travel with a company focused on the needs of children.  If your kids aren’t having fun, you won’t have any fun.  

Abercrombie & Kent is one of the best for family travel.  Their Family Luxury Small Group Journeys are designed to let you make the most of every minute.  Created by A & K’s experts specifically for families, each journey is filled with enriching activities, child-friendly hotels and a range of exciting destinations.  For example, your family can have the adventure of a lifetime in China.  You can cruise on the Yangtze River and through the amazing Three Gorges on a three-night cruise; visit the ancient Great Wall of China, then ride a toboggan back down; see the Terra Cotta Warrior army and make your very own clay soldier; meet panda bears in person at a special sanctuary for the bears; see Shanghai from the tallest building in China.  Alternatively, your family can discover Russia: Cruise by boat to St. Petersburg, a city built on 42 islands; privately visit the collection at the State Armory in Moscow; take part in the re-creation of a traditional Russian wedding ceremony; pay a backstage visit to the Moscow Circus and watch the show from a private VIP box and attend a Faberge egg-painting class, taught by a famous St. Petersburg artist.  The more athletic family may wish to visit Australia and New Zealand.  You can journey into the Outback; snorkel and swim with clownfish, manta rays and sea turtles along the Great Barrier Reef; learn to surf at Bondi Beach, then boat through Sydney Harbor; zip line, ride a cable car and trundle by train through an Australian rainforest; take a “funyak” river safari on the Dart River; and journey to the real Middle Earth with a tour of Hobbiton.

Any child over the age of 6 loves a trip to the Galapagos Islands.  I highly recommend joining Lindblad’s National Geographic Endeavour.  These are truly expedition cruises made for children.  The expedition leaders get training from National Geographic Kids and are fantastic at teaching children about the wildlife, such as blue-footed boobies, sea turtles, giant tortoises, red frigate birds, iguanas and sea lions.Children get to learn how to drive a Zodiac craft, snorkel and hike the islands, take wildlife photography lessons and enjoy bridge visits with the captain.  If several kids are onboard, there may be an impromptu pizza and movie night.    If you have the time, you should add Machu Picchu in Peru to your trip.  You can explore the 15th Century Inca ruins and stunning views of the magnificent structures surrounded by green peaks.

Closer to home, this is a great age for your kids to experience our National Parks for the first time.  Backroads and Tauck have excellent tours for families.  Hike the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, visit a ranch with horseback riding, bike ride in the Tetons, take a whitewater rafting adventure down the Snake River, encounter grizzlies, wolves and elk as you explore the wilderness.  If you are looking for a most unique experience, nothing beats Amangiri, an ultra-luxurious resort located in a secluded canyon in the middle of the Grand Circle of National Parks and Monuments.  It offers customized outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, rock climbing, slot canyon tours, rafting, mountain biking, boating and hot air balloon flights.  It also has a 25,000 square foot Aman Spa for Mom and Dad.

Email or call me at 314-780-8845 to plan your next adventure with your kids.