Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort veranda

The classy Balboa Bay Beach Resort, on 1221 West Coast Highway in  Newport Beach, overlooks the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
This establishment’s spacious rooms and convenient location make it an ideal hotel for families that wish to experience California’s Orange County area. In fact, the resort is only a short distance away from the beach,  amusement parks, and the nearby South Coast Plaza.

Thinking the resort would provide a fun mini-vacation, for our LA-based family, we booked our hotel via Groupon.
After completing the purchase, we contacted the hotel front desk to ask for a feather-free, quiet room to accommodate our son’s autism.
Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort street

Décor

The Mediterranean-style resort spread over 15 acres features 159 guest rooms and ten suites with courtyard or bay views.
The hotel public places were decorated in a timeless nautical style with accent colors ranging from tan to burgundy, giving it a laid-back yet sophisticated feel.

Fellow Travelers

During the weekends, the guests were equally divided among beach-going families and couples on romantic holidays.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort corridor

Our Welcome

Upon arriving at the hotel earlier than we had anticipated, a long line of fancy cars greeted us. There was a wine festival taking place that day, and those vehicles were all headed towards the valet parking area.

Despite the opulent size of the hotel, the actual ordinary check-in area was somewhat small and disappointing for us as first-time visitors.

We soon discovered, there was a minor problem with our reservation since the Groupon coupon kept coming up on the front desk computers as null and void. After the error got sorted out, check in was speedy.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort seats

So, how was our room?

Our room, 340, a standard room, was on the hotel’s top floor. For larger families, the hotel offers a variety of accommodations including connecting rooms and two-bed room suites.

The white and beige tones used for space provided an understated elegance successfully carried through the room and bath areas.
The room’s two rattan base queen beds were comfortable and had the perfect ‘bounce’ in them.
Besides the beds, the room had a high dresser housing a large screen TV, a DVD player, and mini cooler as well as a working area with a desk.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort shutters

We appreciated the room had ample seating -two chairs and two benches, as well as the wooden plantation shutters that efficiently blocked the bright morning light out.
Our room, facing the pool had a veranda with a small table and two chairs, making it convenient for us to sit and enjoy the sunsets.Parents should be aware that though the sliding door to the balcony did have a lock, it was placed rather low which would enable some kids to open it.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort chest

Amenities provided by the resort included bathrobes and slippers as well as a coffee/tea maker and a safe for valuables.
We thought the complimentary Evian water was a nice touch.The resort’s complimentary Wi-Fi is very reliable.
However, those traveling with a family may find the number of power sockets provided less than adequate. Bringing along a Phillips ultra-slim USB charger is recommended so that all electronic devices can be ‘juiced up’ faster.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort tub

Bathroom

The well-lit bathroom made lavish use of both marble and granite.
The facilities were sectioned off into four different areas ( tub, shower, vanity, commode) to ensure privacy.The shower glass shower enclosure helped keep it from flooding the room. We never ran out of towels or aromatherapy infused toiletries because the hotel provided more than enough.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort shampoo

Amenities 

The hotel’s well-equipped fitness center was open 24 hours a day so guests could exercise anytime. The hotel also featured a pool, hair salon and onsite spa wth steam rooms, saunas, and whirlpools.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort desk

Dining

There are currently three dining venues in the Balboa Resort- the ‘Waterline’ serving seafood and steaks, the ‘A&O  Kitchen and Bar’  for guests seeking a family-style dining experience and ‘Blend ‘ for specialty coffees and sandwiches.

 Cost  

Rooms start at $300 a night, so budget conscious travelers should be on the lookout for deals on discount sites. Parking fees range between 20$ to 30$, the valet option being the more pricey of the two.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort food

Autism Travel Tips

The closets have a light that that can be left on at night without disturbing anyone’s sleep.
Parents with noise sensitive children should ask for a quiet room away from the pool, elevators, and street traffic.
The bathroom does not have built-in grab bars for the tub or shower.
Parents should bring an anti-slip bath mat if their child needs one.
There are a DVD  player and a large flat screen TV in every room so feel free to bring your kid’s favorite DVDs.
Parents of children with a tendency to wander off should bring stick -on contact alarms or separate locks for both the front and balcony doors.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan

 

 

 

ELEVATE

Travelers looking for a unique travel destination should put the country of Jordan on their bucket list.
Despite the unrest, its northern neighbor is experiencing and the resulting influx of refugees, Jordan is a thriving tourist destination. A relatively small country, its rich history and a plethora of family-friendly sites make it the ideal destination for all ages to enjoy. For families traveling with autism here are our recommendations of autism-friendly lodging, foods and spots to visit.

 

Not to be Missed Outdoor Experiences

Petra

Petra, a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for its enormous monumental tombs and archeological exhibits, gives visitors a glimpse of what life was like 2,000 years ago. The top-notch tourist attraction is situated deep within the southern deserts of Jordan. The majestic city intricately built into the rocks was a crossroads for merchant caravans passing through the area.

Under Nabataean traders, it was a flourishing business hub for spices, textiles, and incense brought in by caravans along the spice and trade routes. Within the city, the famous monastery is a must-see! It is 850 steps up in the cliffs carved into the red sandstone, and there are two options for reaching the summit – by foot or by donkey. Though the Bedouin donkey-handlers accompany tourists, parents should be aware that this multi-sensory experience might not be suitable for everyone.  Climbing takes longer but may feel safer than riding donkeys to some. Moreover, visitors can rest and take a break in the shade.

 

stones

Photo Credit Wojtek Ogrodowczyk ( Flickr)

  • Autism Travel Tips: Comfy walking shoes are a must as is sunscreen and drinking water.
  • Make sure to freeze the water before the start of your journey as it is hot even in winter and hot drinking water is not pleasant.
  • Decide beforehand if you will travel by donkey or go by foot as there is no negotiating with the donkey handlers once you have started on the journey.
  • Be advised that traveling by donkey is hot, smelly and uncomfortable, so this may not be the ideal way to ascend the cliffs.
  • If you choose to climb by foot; plan extra time for resting along the way.

Jerash

Jerash is known as being the Rome away from Rome. For many centuries this gem lay hidden under sand which preserved it making it one of the best Roman provincial towns in the world. Discovered in 1806 by a German explorer, it was excavated and has been restored to its former glory.

Tourists can marvel at the renovated Hippodrome that can seat over four hundred spectators and enjoy a recreated Roman army and chariot experience which is the one of its kind in the world.

Just like in the movie Ben-Hur, viewers to the narrated show, given twice a day witness a live show with a seven-lap race complete with horse-drawn chariots, fully armed legionnaires and gladiators fighting for their trophies.

 

 SUNRISE Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan

Photo credit:Merlijn Hoek (Flickr)

 

Autism Travel Tips:

  • To walk around the city and explore the ruins, be sure to have comfortable walking shoes, plenty of drinks and sunscreen.
  • If you are going to see the show – book the 11 am performance and ask to sit in the very back so you can use some shade like an umbrella without obscuring the view for other tourists. Bring water, sunscreen, and a blanket or pillows to sit on as the paving stones can be uncomfortable.

Wadi Rum

Those craving an authentic scouting overnight adventure  can get it at the Wadi Rum Bedouin Guides Camp. The experience, started by a Wadi Rum native includes camel tours, jeep tours, hiking, and sleeping under the starry expanse of sky in the desert. Wadi Rum is part of the territory belonging to the Zalabea Bedouin tribe, and its members are famous for their sense of humor, camel husbandry skills, traditional medicine and unparalleled hospitality.

 

tent Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan                                                                                        Photo credit: Ted Swedenburg (Flickr)

Autism Travel Tips:

  • This adventure is NOT for everyone!
  • Parents need to prepare your kid to ‘rough it’ and explain that anyone eating and sleeping outdoors is constantly at the mercy of the elements. So, it can be incredibly hot or rain on you. In other words, accommodations from Mother Nature are not easy to come by.
  • You can bring your own pillows, blankets, and a flashlight to help but if your child isn’t an outdoors type of person, and if they have particular dietary requirements, this is an outing to skip.

 

The Dead Sea

By far the most famous and popular of the four outdoor activities is the Dead Sea experience. Not only is it unique and highly sensory but  one that can accommodate multigenerational travel families.
The outing is free, and all you have to do is lay back and relax. The extremely high salt content of the water does the work for you. As soon as you enter the water, you become so buoyant, and your body immediately feels lighter.

This experience is a great stress reliever and will allow your body to rejuvenate as you peacefully relax. For many children on the spectrum, they find the sensation unique.

water Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan
Autism Travel Tips:

  • Packing Sunscreen and water for this venue goes without saying.
  • Travelers should leave flip flops on the beach and bring goggles to protect the eyes. Salt water is tough on anyone, let alone for kids on the spectrum.

Must Try Jordanian Dishes

An integral part of visiting Jordan is sampling the local food. Similar to other Middle Eastern dishes, Jordanian cuisine utilizes  ingredients like olive oil, garlic, and lemon, which make the food relatively light and healthy.
Two dishes worth trying are Fatet Djaj and Mansaf, which is also known as the national dish of Jordan.

Fatet Djaj is a chicken casserole comprised of chicken, rice, and fried bread topped with yogurt and toasted almonds.
Mansaf is a platter of tender lamb cooked with yellow rice and Marcona almonds and then topped off with a hot yogurt sauce.
The entree will appeal to kids as it is a sensory experience customarily eaten with hands and no dining utensils.

Manaf Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan

Photo Credit: Mario Ray Borg (Flickr)

Where to Stay

If you’re in search of lodging during your stay in the Jordanian capital, look no further than Amman Four Seasons Hotel.The five-star property is located in the prestigious Al Sweifiyah residential area close to the Baraka Mall as well as city landmarks. The upscale property offers free afternoon tea, valet service, and even photography tours.

When visiting the Dead Sea area, Hotel Kempinski Ishtar is another upscale lodging property to consider. Located on the shores of the hypersaline sea, the hotel is a convenient haven for guests seeking privacy and comfort. With its nine outdoor lagoons and pools, 100,000 square foot spa and balconies overlooking the Dead Sea, the hotel  does a great job in accommodating families.

 

aerial shot Taking your Kids with Autism to Jordan

Photo Credit      Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (Flickr)

 

What to bring home

Local artisan jewelry and hand painted pottery pieces make good souvenir choices. Other items to look for are Dead Sea beauty products (especially mud masks), Bedouin textiles and spices.

 

Have you visited Jordan with family- what are your tips? 

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

PRISON

Witchcraft and Halloween are often closely associated. But back in 1600s Salem, witchcraft was a wild accusation that could easily lead to the death of the accused with little real evidence. This dark period in history is still remembered and preserved in the original Salem Massachusetts location. Here, you can practically walk through history.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts is infamous for the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s. From 1692-1693, 20 people, mostly women, were executed after being accused, tried, and found guilty of witchcraft. Just 16 miles from the big city of Boston, Salem is a great place to go for a day trip (or more if you have time) to learn more about the history of the town and this sordid part of American history. It feels like a place out of time. The townspeople pride themselves in trying to preserve the history as much as possible.

Getting there

If you are driving from Boston, you can take U.S. 1 N or 95 N. You can take bus 450 or 455 from Haymarket Square to downtown Salem. If you come by train, from North Station take the Rockport/Ipswich Line to the Salem Depot (about 30 minutes). For complete directions from any place, visit the Salem website. Be aware that most of the museums close by four, so an overnight stay is recommended.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

What to Do

There are several museums so you can tailor the visit depending on the ages of the kids. Be sure to start at the Salem Visitor’s Center for maps and info. There is a course you can follow to make sure you see all the museums and landmarks. The course is marked on the concrete throughout the town, yellow brick road style. Kids might get a kick out of following the pavement to see the different landmarks.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

We started off at the Witch History Museum at 197 Essex Street, which seemed to be a better place for older kids and adults. This museum had recorded and narrated segments of what lead to the trials, the trials themselves, and outcome. There are live sized presentations depicting aspects of life and the trials, and stories of people that were accused of being witches (or in one minister’s case, charged with being the devil). The museum is open daily from April-November and features some special Halloween tours. Admission is $9/person, but you can save money if you purchase a combo ticket for the Witch History Museum, the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the New England Pirate Museum (all within walking distance of each other). Check out this video of our experience at the Witch History Museum.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

Be sure to take some time when you are walking on Essex to see all the unique lampposts that portray witches along with the stores filled with tarot cards, incense, and other magical artifacts.

Next, visit the Witch Dungeon Museum, at 16 Lynde Street. At this unique experience, there was a simulated mini-trial. Then we got to experience first hand the conditions the prisoners endured, including a standing only space cell for those who were poor. This one might be a little scary for younger children. This museum is open daily from April-November. Fact sheets are available in a variety of languages.

At this point, we had worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped for a delicious lunch at the Boston Hot Dog Company at 60 Washington Street. We got three different hot dogs: the Boston Club Dog (tomato, bacon bits, lettuce), Texas Dog (chili, sauteed onions, jalapeno peppers), and Chicago Dog (onion, tomato, peppers, shredded lettuce, green relish, grey poupon mustard, poppy seeds, celery salt and deli pickle).

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

Then we went to the Salem Witch Museum 19 1/2 N Washington Square, which is geared more towards middle school and high school kids. The museum is more educational, with a detailed historical background of the trials and then a mini exhibit that carries the theme to modern days explaining Wicca and how people today still face persecution in the U.S. because of beliefs, race, or sexual orientation. The Salem Witch Museum is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm, and tickets are $10.50 for adults, $7.50 for children (6-14 years).

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

We ended our day in Salem with the New England Pirate Museum that showed artifacts and explained how piracy was prevalent in the area. The tour is around 20-30 minutes, and the guides encourage participation and questions.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Be sure to prepare your kid with stories of what happened beforehand, so they know what to expect. Topics like death, witches or pirates can be scary or overwhelming.
  • Keep in mind that most of Salem is a walking tour, and everything is nearby. It could be helpful to have a car for those who have a difficult time walking long distances.
  • Most museums have a place to sit and listen or watch a presentation
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Although walkable, it is spread out.

A Family Day in Salem Massachusetts

  • Get a good map from the visitor’s center, because you can easily get lost.
  • Be aware of the tour times in each museum, because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting there five or ten minutes after the start of the tour.
  • Again, staying overnight is recommended, especially if you or your kid is an avid history fan. Our son was frustrated with the fact he could only see a few museums out of the many that are there.

Overall, if you are ever in Boston, do take time to see Salem. It’s a step back in time full of exciting information. Old and young visitors will enjoy seeing and learning about this preserved section of history.

Taking Your Kids to Paris Churches

Paris is beautiful. Whether you’re traveling on your own or traveling with family, there is something for everyone in your family to enjoy. From priceless art exhibits to delicious food to unique shopping boutiques and more, Paris is the city to visit if you have a thirst for adventure, a passion for history or an eye for fashion.

The lovely sights across Paris are just one reason why travelers are gearing up for a visit. Paris is known for its culture, art, cafes and tourist sights. If you’re traveling to Paris and are looking for some must-see places, then you should consider putting the city’s famous churches on your itinerary. Of course, you can’t visit every major church that Paris has to offer. Narrowing it down might be hard because there’s so many to choose from and so much history to soak up; however, I can list the top 4 on my list and hope that one or all of them end up on your bucket list when touring the City of Light.

Notre Dame

Taking Your Kids to Paris ChurchesNotre Dame is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Its history dates back more than 800 years! Maurice de Sully desired a cathedral worthy of the grand capital. The project was encouraged by his then classmate, King Louise VII. Construction began in 1163, and at the time of construction, the entire city banded together to see the idea come to fruition. While some participated in actively building, others offered money and knowledge. Construction on Notre Dame continued for 100 years.

Notre Dame was dedicated to Mary, Mother of God, and housed within are over 37 different variations of the virgin mother. These representations include works of art like stained glass windows, paintings, sculptures, etc. Aside from its dedication to Mary, known as the Lady of Paris, Notre Dame was also home to multiple historical events such as the marriage of Henry IV and Marguerite de Valois.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Notre Dame is open most days from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm
  • Admission is free for anyone under 18
  • Visitors with a Paris Museum Pass get in free with noticeably shorter wait times
  • Admission to Notre Dame is done in groups of 20 every 10 minutes with lengthy wait times by the entrance
  • The many fan-shaped stairs leading up to the towers are old and can be slippery after rain, so it is important to wear comfortable shoes with traction
  • There is no place to stop or catch a breath without delaying other patrons, so make sure to prepare your son or daughter for the experience
  • You can find Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite, the oldest part of Paris
  • You can access Notre Dame via the Metro or Rer (travel train) as well as other buses running nearby

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur, in the neighborhood of Montmartre, was constructed in 1919. If you go to the top of Butte Montmartre, you’re afforded a breathtaking view of the city below. Housed within the walls of the Sacre Coeur, you’ll find France’s largest mosaic as well as the crypt, which is well worth the visit if you’ve got some time to spare.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The tour includes a visit to the crypt and may take at least an hour, so prepare your child for a long time period of relative quiet and observance of church mannerisms
  • Admission to the Dome’s breathtaking view of the city is 6 euros
  • If you want to visit just the crypt you can expect a lower admission price
  • Ask for a discount if your child is younger than 18 or disabled
  • A ramp and lift are readily available to accommodate those with physical disabilities
  • The Dome and crypt are both closed from the 1st to the 15th of January
  • For more details, remember to look on the website for recently updated hours

Taking Your Kids to Paris ChurchesSaint Chapelle

Saint Chapelle was built in an astonishing 7 years. The construction of Saint Chapelle was intended to become the housing for ancient Christian relics such as Christ’s Crown of Thorns which was acquired by Saint Louis, the head of the Western Christianity at the time of Saint Chapelle’s construction.

One of the most beautiful aspects of Saint Chapelle is its stained glass windows. Spanning across 15 windows, each of which measures 15 meters high, is 1,113 scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. The scenes recount the history of the world until the arrival of the relics Saint Chapelle was built to house. The stained glass windows are famous around the world, not only for their beauty but also because they’re the largest collection of original stained glass windows and are a big draw for tourists and native Parisians.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Summer hours differ from fall hours, so be sure to check the website
  • Saint Chapelle has no organized tour, so you can spend as long or as short of a time as you wish wandering the church
  • The church sits within walking distance of other historical spots, making it easy to plan a mini day trip of history and architecture

La Madeleine

La Madeleine is dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. The first design was drawn up by Pierre Constant d’Ivry and began construction in 1764. After his death, Guillaume-Martin Couture took on the project and decided he wanted to start the project over completely. The design was based on the Roman Pantheon.

Taking Your Kids to Paris Churches

By the time the revolution came to pass the La Madeleine had sawed a discontinuation of construction. Debate swirled about what its purpose would be in Revolutionary France. Ideas for a ballroom, library and marketplace were all suggested but discarded upon discussion. It wasn’t until 1806 that Napoleon decided what the site was to become: Temple of the Glory of the Great Army. It was that decision that caused the construction to be deconstructed and started anew. It was after the fall of Napoleon that it was decided by King Louise XVII that it would be used as a church. Construction was finally completed in 1842.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • La Madeleine is within the heart of Paris, a short distance from the main department store Galeries Lafayette that can itself become a day destination and other famous patisseries that serve world famous desserts
  • There are two different tours, independent and guided
  • Free admission to visitors using the independent tour feature
  • Doors are open from 9:30 am to 7 pm

Taking Your Kids to Paris ChurchesSaint-Sulpice

Saint-Sulpice was built in the 17th century. Today the church is one of the biggest in Paris. If you’re touring local churches in Paris and want to make your itinerary memorable then adding Saint-Sulpice into the lineup of places to see is definitely a must. Inside Saint-Sulpice visitors can admire the nave of the church while taking in Chapelle de la Vierge with a statue of Jean-Baptiste Pigalle and much more. The best part is that cameras are allowed within the church so you can document your trip with pictures to share with your loved ones who couldn’t make the trip with you.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Independent and guided tours are available for visitors
  • Admission is free
  • Doors are open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, so you’ll have all day to make the trip

Taking the kids to Paris Churches

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum statue

During his fifty-year career, Ronald Reagan inspired US citizens and world leaders to aspire to and to achieve more than they had previously imagined.
His legacy lives on for all to embrace and to discover at the Reagan Presidential Library where notable public figures, exhibits, and ongoing events depict and showcase Ronald Reagan’s esteemed values, actions, and his fierce pioneering spirit of determination, vision, and “peace through strength.”.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum oval office

The Library Layout

The Library’s introductory sections include the late president’s childhood, acting career and his California governor days.
The central section starts with his nomination as the republic party candidate for president and continues through his two elections and presidency days.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum displays
Highlights of the White House Years include a replica of the Reagan Oval Office office decorated in brown hues, with the iconic a jar of jelly beans on the desk, newspaper clips of the assassination attempt in March of 1981 and first lady Nancy Reagan’s dresses to various official functions.
Furthermore, the Library has an entire section dedicated to the Cold War era with recorded video clips, pictures and even a replica of a Berlin tunnel that connected East Germany to its Western counterpart.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum berlin tunnel

Guests can enjoy exploring the fascinating Air Force One Pavilion and walk on board the real Air Force One aircraft donning tail number 27000, that flew not only Ronald Reagan but six other US presidents as well.
Many guests are surprised by the modest size of the bedroom and personal quarters in comparison to the office and kitchen.Across from the aircraft, the pavilion showcases several presidential motorcade vehicles including a Johnson-era Sikorsky VH-3 Sea King, the 1984 presidential parade limousine, a 1982 LAPD police car, two 1980s police motorcycles, and a 1986 Secret Service vehicle.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum air force 1

Visitors exploring the grounds can visit Ronald Reagan’s grave and memorial overlooking the Pacific Ocean as well as a large piece of the Berlin Wall.Furthermore, there are picnic areas for those who wish to enjoy dining outdoors.

Know before you go

With its vast expanse of exhibits, it is necessary for most visitors to allow about 3 to 4 full hours to enjoy the galleries and grounds.
The museum operates on a self-guided tour with tour guides available for large groups.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must for trekking the multiple areas of the grounds perched on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean on one side, and a superb canyon view to the East.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum views

Parking is free, and there is also an area for special needs parking in close to the entrance.Patrons with disabilities can also use the visitor drop-off located at the entrance in the front.

Admission of $16 grants entry to all galleries, exhibits, and all of the outdoor grounds. The entire loop through the museum is approximately ½ mile long. A $7.00, rental fee allows the use of an audio-visual tour device.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum info

Autism Travel Tips

The museum is quite autism friendly and manages to captivate kids with autism with its interactive displays.
If your kid is a history buff like ours, the  $7.00 rental fee, for the audio-visual tour on the museum’s I-pod is a good idea.
Air Force One is a historical artifact and, therefore, is the only place in the Museum that is not wheelchair user accessible.
Other locations contain ramps or elevators to allow easy access throughout the museum.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum plane view

Flash photography is prohibited inside the museum, but visitors are encouraged to take as many pictures and selfies with the different exhibits with their camera or the I-pod rental.
Additionally, no photography of any kind is allowed inside Air Force. One

There are two on-site cafes: the Country  Cafe located on the west side of the property overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a smaller menu and the Ronald Reagan Pub, in the Air Force One Pavilion with a larger selection of beverages, pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, and desserts.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum helicopter

The gift shop is hands down the best we’ve seen in any presidential library and worth exploring.
Aside from the standard books and t-shirts there are many kids’ toys and the obligatory jelly bellies in boxes and jars bearing the presidential seal.

Disclaimer: Special thanks to the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum that provided us with complimentary tickets for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.

reagan library pinterest image

How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions

As the holidays are approaching, many parents have contacted the website with questions about the different shore excursions offered by the various cruise lines in the Caribbean. Since many of them involve animal encounters, I thought I’d answer Leandra’s question about the stingray encounter on the Grand Cayman Island and how appropriate it would be for travelers with autism.

Hi, Margalit.
I’m Leandra from Seattle, Washington. I have been a long-time reader of your blog, and it helps to have someone on a similar journey as ourselves.
My son is a young adult with moderate autism, and we are traveling together to the Caribbean as a family for the very first time. We will be taking a cruise with Carnival Cruise Lines out of Galveston and going to the Yucatán Peninsula and the Cayman Islands.
Since we’re going to celebrate my son’s birthday, we thought to surprise him and book a swim with the stingrays with the Shore Excursion package while we are in Grand Cayman.
While researching the topic, I came across a link to your video on YouTube from a couple of years back and saw that you had made this very same trip when your kid with autism was vacationing with you.
So, I thought I would ask you how autism-friendly the  Cayman Stingray Shore Excursions are and if you have any tips to share?

A kiss How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions

Dear Leandra,
Thank you for contacting me. It’s always good to hear from fellow moms of special needs children.
It’s great that you are going on this Caribbean cruise.
We took that trip back in 2010 when we visited the Grand Cayman, and I have to say that we had a lovely time. My son with autism still remembers it fondly.
It’s great to see that you have been doing research on the topic already so I’ll just add a few things that spring to mind.
One of the things you probably know is that Georgetown is the port where passengers are tendered by boats from the cruise liner to the shore.
It may be a bit tricky if your son struggles to wait in long lines.

If you decide to go with the Cruise Line tour make sure you let the shore excursion manager know about your child’s disability and ask what accommodations can be done for him. You may want to be on one of the first boats so he doesn’t have to wait longer than necessary, if at all possible..

Should you decide to take the cheaper route and book the tour on your own through the Internet or on-site, you should consider leaving the ship 2 to 3 hours after it arrives in Georgetown so that you can avoid the crowds.

 fellow cruisers How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions
Most tours are bundled up with other attractions like a stop at the tiny town of Hell, a visit to a turtle farm or a beach break.

The stingray portion of the tour usually lasts about an hour and a half during which visitors board catamarans and sail close to a sand bar area that has been artificially populated with stingrays.

These stingrays are entirely used to and are familiar with human attention, so they come around waiting to be fed. The water is around 3 feet deep which means it comes up to an adult’s waistline.
You should reiterate to your son that although the large stingrays are very docile creatures he should never approach them from behind and make sure that he does not step on them because their tails can injure him.

 How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions SON AND DAD

Depending on your son’s comfort level in the water he can swim around or stay close to the catamaran boat and watch others enjoying the experience.
Most of the companies that organize these tours supply passengers with snorkeling gear and a life vest.
If your son has never worn a life jacket, it would be advisable to practice at home with him how to wear one or even purchase one and bring it along, especially if he is sensitive to restrictive clothing.

Some people struggle with snorkeling gear and the mask on their face, so it is up to your son and what he is comfortable with and if he is willing to try to hold the mask to his face or not.
For a full sensory experience, I would recommend that he be encouraged to have a few lessons beforehand to be able to submerge his face in the water and properly swim with the stingrays.

 How Autism Friendly are Stingray Shore Excursions TURTLES

Other budget-friendly tips that come to mind are to purchase an inexpensive waterproof camera, and you can take your pictures instead of buying the ones offered by the organizers.

Bring your sunscreen, water bottle and snacks from the ship, so you don’t get stuck with purchasing them during the excursion.

We found that our Stingray visit was enjoyable, and if your son loves animals and has shown an interest in other multi-sensory experiences, then I am sure he will benefit greatly from this one.

I wish him a Happy Birthday and all of you a safe and happy adventure!

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence

 

Alright parents, let’s be honest for a moment; traveling with kids is not always the most fun thing to do in the world.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to show them the world, in fact, I encourage it!

But the truth is it can be very stressful at times, and you are not always able to see the sights that you may want to see due to encroaching nap times, temper tantrums and whining.
So as a parent you have to find a balance between what you and child will enjoy together. Luckily, Florence, filled with architectural gems, culture, and welcoming restaurants is a great destination for families, even those traveling with autism.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence river

City Views

Parents that want to introduce their younger kids to history and art should take their children to the Piazzale Michelangelo. The Piazzale Michelangelo is a beautiful terrace that offers an incredible panoramic view of both Florence and Arno Valley.
Designed in 1869 by Giuseppe Poggi, it was created as part of a major restructuring of the city walls. Poggi designed the base of the terrace as a dedication to Michelangelo, incorporating copies of his work as well as the famous sculpture of David and the Medici chapel statues from San Lorenzo.
The hillside was intended to be a museum as noted in Poggi’s design, but for some reason, the plan was never followed through and instead became a restaurant.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence royal

The Architecture

Next you can head on to the Duomo, capped by a red-tiled cupola, and admire its beautiful marble facade. If the lines are long, you can skip the inside as it is not that impressive but stop to look at the Sagrestia delle Messe (Mass Sacristy),  panels with their inlaid carved wood and beautiful bronze doors depicting scenes of heaven and hell.
If you do decide to brave the crowds and climb all the way to the top, you will be rewarded  (after you catch your breath, that is) with magnificent views of the Florentine city.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence duomo

Old Fashioned Carousel

Another special place that children will enjoy is the Piazza Della Repubblica where you will find an antique carousel that is still in use. This Piazza is Florence’s first public square and is considered to be one of the hubs of Florentine life.
The carousel dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and is owned by the Picci family. The carousel is small, with only 20 horses available but it is just large enough for a child and an accompanying parent as they go round and round the square.Currently, Carlo Picci, a fourth generation Picci, runs the carousel, waving to the small children as they circle by, playing special music dedicated to them.

 

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence square

After a lovely time at the Picci carousel, you should take the kids for the most sought-after Italian treat, gelato.
There are plenty of gelato places you can stop at, but some of the considered exceptional ones are Vivoli, Crum, Badiani and Perche no! Locals also like to stop by Gelateria La Carraia and cross Ponte Alla Carraia while enjoying their sweet treat.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence gelato
If you are planning on touring Florence with, kids then you should schedule a visit of some of its magnificent art museums.
Although museums are not commonly thought of as  ‘fun’ places for kids, there are a few landmarks children should still be introduced to as a way to broaden their overall understanding of the arts.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence museum

Museums

If your child with cannot stand in long lines or face large crowds, a short customized guided tour of the Galleria dell’ Accademia (Gallery of the Academy of Florence), early in the day, is highly recommended.
This gallery is home to Michelangelo’s famous statue of “David” as well as other sculptures of his and paintings from the Renaissance era. The museum was founded in 1784 by Pietro Leopoldo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and also houses works from Paolo Uccello, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Sarto.
By the way, don’t feel too bad if you can’t take a shot of the original statue that may be mobbed by visitors, there’s a replica outside that is usually more accessible.
For the older and more patient youth, The Uffizi Galleries next door is an excellent place to spend a few hours walking around the different exhibits and learning about the different Italian masters.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence outdoor david

Budding teen fashionistas should not miss the Gucci Museo.
Here you can learn about the fashion designer, Gucci’s,90 years of history by following his life. milestones
In the beginning, in the tradition of 14th-century forbears, Gucci made his name as a purveyor of the finest quality of leather accessories. The museum features a CreaKids section where children will be able to participate in hands-on workshops inspired by the museum and help children understand the evolution and importance of fashion through the decades.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence old town

For kids that are fans of fairy tales and palaces, the Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum is an outstanding choice.
The property features tours specially designed for children that are not only educational but interactive as well.
You can walk around with your family and explore many of the Palazzo Vecchio’s most beautiful rooms as well as find the secret passage that leads to Cosimo de Medici and his wife Eleonora’s private chambers. You will also have the opportunity to pretend to be the Medici family by dressing up in copies of the family’s Renaissance gowns and hear about their infatuation with heels!
Children will also be able to hear about the lives of the 11 Medici children and how different it may have been to live back then.
Nearby you should take a break for pizza and souvenir on the city’s old medieval bridge the’ Ponte Vecchio.’

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence town square

Florence is filled with outstanding restaurants, but the one we’d like to recommend is unique in that it employs people with disability.
The venue called I Ragazzi di Sipario is in the historical artisan district of Florence, off the beaten path, but well worth the walk across the river.
It was started by a father who wanted to create a sustainable work environment for his son and others with disabilities who sought employment The place started off with less than ten employees several years back and now has doubled in size after getting glowing reviews of its Tuscan cuisine food on TripAdvisor.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence mom

Autism Travel Tips

  • Talk about Michelangelo and the Medici family with your kid and show them photos and videos of the city’s famous sites.We printed pictures of the landmarks and had our children color them in.
  • Reiterate to your kids the fact that there are hundreds of steps to climb at the different sites like Piazzale Michelangelo and the Duomo – some kids (like ours) enjoyed the challenge.
  • Wearing comfortable shoes  ( anything but flip flops) is a must and make sure you bring bottled water with you, especially during the summer months when it is sweltering.
  • Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence castle
  • Look into the hop on- hop off bus that can take you to the different sites to lessen the walking.
  • Planning on visiting during the summer months (not recommended due to the hoards of tourists), bring a mini fan along since most places don’t have air conditioning.
  • Make sure you stock up on one euro coins for emergencies but have the kids use the museum and hotel restrooms since most others require payment.
  • Book your museum tickets online ahead to bypass the crowds.
  • If your child is on a specific diet like GFCF  or suffers from a particular food allergy, have a list of ingredients translated into Italian  (printed or on your cell phone)  that you can ask about when you order any food items including gelato, to make sure your selection doesn’t include those specific ingredients.

Taking your Kids with Autism to Florence pinterest image

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC sign
As frequent travelers to New York, we’ve always opted to stay in one of two areas-Times Square or Central Park.Last month, for a change of pace, we decided to try the Westin New York Grand Central Hotel and see how family friendly it is.The property with over 700 rooms and suites is close to Grand Central Terminal  and the Chrysler Building in Midtown Manhattan. Based within walking distance to Times Square’s shopping and dining venues, the hotel is moderately priced (for Manhattan standards), and a convenient location for guests arriving into town via rail. The hotel also has event halls for conventions and weddings as well as a rooftop garden where the hotel grows its own herbs.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC lobby

Décor

The outside of the 41-story building is contemporary looking with glass walls, and metallic-colored pillars at the entrance. The lobby and public spaces sport a neutral upscale looking decor in tones of cream, brown and tan accented by splashes of color in cushions and the artwork on the walls.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC reception

Our welcome

My husband and son arrived a day earlier than I did and experienced a smooth, quick check-in.
I arrived at 4 AM the following morning  on a red eye from Europe and managed to get lost while walking a few blocks in the dark from the airport shuttle station to the hotel. When I called the hotel, a staff member not only explained how to get to the hotel but stayed on the line (for a good five minutes) making sure I was alright. Now THAT was great service!

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC bar

The room

We were allocated a king bed with opening sofa room on the 32nd floor. We were a bit leery about getting a room facing the 42nd street, but we heard very little noise.Our carpeted room was reasonably spacious, clean and comfortable. Storage was no problem in the room with both closet hanging space and a large chest of deep drawers. There was also a decently sized work desk, nightstands and a mini sitting area compiled of a chaise and ottoman.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC
The bedside reading lights ,decent sized safe and large mirror at the entrance to the room all added functionality to the room. There was a proper distribution of power outlets throughout the room which is good for a family who have multiple electronic devices that need charging at once. The large screen TV proved challenging to watch from the opening sofa since it couldn’t be moved but didn’t bother us too much as we were busy sightseeing and meeting with friends.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC desk
The hotel supplied bottled drinking water and replenished it daily. There was also a coffee machine with complimentary coffee and tea. At our request, housekeeping provided a no-charge fridge we could fill with snacks and refreshments we purchased for our son. There is a surcharge minibar that is well stocked but be aware that when it comes to the contents you should know that if you move it you pay for it.

 

The bathroom

The bathroom was moderately sized and well-lit with a granite-like, sturdy countertop and tan colored tile and wallpaper. It featured a combo bathtub and shower with a handheld attachment as well as an overhead showerhead that was placed a tad too high up for me.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC ammenity

This bathroom featured a convenient safety grab bar, magnifying mirror and a typical amenity kit with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC bathroom

Dining

Though the hotel itself had only one restaurant with a limited menu, there are various dining options for all budgets in the immediate area: from fast food to elegant sit-down restaurants.Be sure to stop by Grand Central Station and check out all the food venues there :especially those offering desserts.

Family Stay at the Westin Grand Central Hotel NYC restaurant

Autism Travel Tips

  • The hotel windows are all fitted with are special locks that should be reassuring for safety – in particular on the upper floors of the building.
  • If your child is light-sensitive, there are double curtains that effectively block out the light.
  • Request a feather-free room  if  your child has feather allergies
  • Though the property has built-in grab bars, we brought our non-slip mat as a backup
  • Be sure to ask for extra foam padding to place on  the sofa bed if your child feels the mattress is too stiff.

 

Surviving Sequestration When Traveling With Kids

Several parents to kids with autism have approached me this week asking for tips to help them navigate the sequestration chaos. As the NY times article points out; delays can vary anywhere from 10-50 minutes depending on the airport.
What is clear is that these delays will persist (unless the crisis is solved)  as summer travel peaks in the months ahead, so parents should heed warnings and plan accordingly.

10 Tips to Surviving Sequestration when traveling with kids PLANE

Learn the airport layout

Print or bookmark (on a mobile phone or tablet), a map of the airports you will be traveling through to help you locate play areas, food venues and even bathrooms quickly.

Know the flight availability

Download (in advance) at least two travel sites like Kayakchipmunk or Tripit on your mobile devices to help you search possible flight availability on alternate routes, airlines and nearby airports if your flight is delayed or canceled. 

Keep informed

In today’s digital information world, you can be notified via e-mail or instant messaging of flight delays and  TSA lines. Make sure the airline you are flying with has all your current information and can contact you in if any changes were to occur. Also, it is always a smart idea to check your airline and FAA websites for updates.

Add contacts to your mobile devices

Don’t forget to add the airline’s customer service number to the speed-dial list on your phone. This way, you cannot only call from the airport gate but redial fast if you get disconnected.
You might also want to keep the airlines FB and Twitter page links handy since social media has become an acceptable alternate way to communicate with many companies.

Pay close attention to the TSA regulations

Many travelers don’t read the TSA rules ahead of time and fail to pack accordingly.
If you want to pass the checkpoints smoothly and quickly, you need to adhere to the liquid and sharp objects’ recommendations.
Furthermore, be aware that dressing in layers or baggy clothing will automatically trigger a pat-down and further delay you.

Spring for Netflix membership for a month

Consider a subscription to a video service like Netflix or Hulu to entertain your kid while you are traveling. Most companies offer a free trial month, so you can always cancel the service once you return home.

Splurge on the lounge

Airport lounges can be a nice alternative to relax in when flights are delayed.
You can gain access to the lounges if you are a frequent flyer with high status, the holder of certain credit cards or by just purchasing a day pass. Most domestic lounges provide snacks, drinks, and free unlimited Wi-Fi.
A few lounges like United’s Red Carpet at LAX and Newark even come with a separate family room complete with a DVD player and movies to watch.!

Check airport hotel nearby

Make sure you check ahead of time which airport hotels are available and whether they offer a ‘day rate’  ahead of time.This can become a possible option in the event your flight is grossly delayed, and your child with autism needs somewhere to relax for a few hours.

Ask for help

Unless you are confident, your child can face long lines or delays without a meltdown you need to share your child’s diagnosis with airline representatives earlier rather than later.
By doing so, you will ensure their cooperation, get the help you need and avoid misunderstandings that might arise.
Remember to carry a doctor’s note detailing your child’s disability and any accommodations he/she might need.

Stay calm

Whatever the circumstances, don’t forget to maintain your composure and remain calm for two principal reasons.
The first: watching you agitated would only stress your kid further and lead to a potential meltdown.
The second: in our post- 9/11 reality, any rude or threatening word exchange is both counterproductive and could result in airport security officers escorting you off the premises and placing you on the no-fly list.

 

 

Reliving Childhood Memories in Jaffa,Israel

Ever thought of taking your kids to a place you’ve  lived in to revisit it through their eyes?
I did that on our recent trip to the ancient city of Jaffa with my two teen sons.Over the course of a rainy afternoon, we ended up having fun and even learned a few pointers along the way.

Set the Mood

We set off from our Renaissance Hotel on the Tel Aviv promenade on a lazy afternoon to explore the beautiful town of Old Jaffa. My initial plan was to coax the boys to walk there (20-30 minutes leisurely affair) but decided against it, since my autistic son was not having the best of days, and his younger brother was in his usual teenage, solemn mood. So, instead of arguing over that we just hopped into a cab and asked to be dropped off at the clock in the heart of old Jaffa.

 

Old Jaffa 2.0 :Reliving childhood memories with the kids tower

Sweeten the deal with snacks

It was the last day of  Hanukkah, and the local bakery was still offering sufganiyot which are very similar in form and texture to the American donuts— so I treated my kids a quick snack before starting our stroll.Our sensory food tasting experience, however, didn’t stop at the bakery. Soon after, we passed by the famous bakery Abu Lafia (where I used to come every lunch time) and shared my all- time- favorite sesame bagel with za’atar.

Old Jaffa 2.0 :Reliving childhood memories with the kids donuts

 

 

Keep your stories short

As we continued up Yeffet Street, I pointed out my old high school Tabeetha on the left side of the street, right next to the  French high school (and across from the now-defunct French hospital.) Last May, Jeffrey and I walked in and chatted with my old principal and some of my old teachers. He got quite a kick out of hearing my teachers’ stories of my high school years and visiting my old classrooms. This time, unfortunately, we couldn’t  enter the school—it was out of session for Christmas break.

 

Old Jaffa 2.0 :Reliving childhood memories with the kids gate

 

Spice it up with  legends

Turning right, we arrived at the old port. Since its foundation approximately 4000 years ago, the area has seen many changes. While its days as a major port are long over ( it currently serves as a local fishing boat dock ), the area’s restaurants and art galleries are hugely popular with tourists and locals alike.
Every year my classmates And I would brave the narrow stairs and walkways to Simon the Tanner’s house, where according to belief Saint Peter helped Tabitha rise from the dead (which in turn, inspired Jane Walker-Arnott to name the school after her) and visit the lighthouse.
Our class trip would always culminate in the place: the old port to gaze out at the famous Andromeda’s Rock.Since both the tower and the home are undergoing renovations, all we could do this time was to sneak a  peek at the smaller- than-I-remember rock.

 

Old Jaffa's narrow alleys Reliving Childhood Memories in Jaffa,Israel

Add  spectacular views

As a teen, I use to enjoy climbing the small, cobblestone steps and wondering around the different art galleries in the area known as the “Sheath HaGadol.” With its open amphitheater setting and old Ottoman Sarai that currently houses the Jaffa Museum, this is also a superb vantage point to look out at the Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv skyline (not to mention also teach your kid some quick photography techniques).

 

Reliving Childhood Memories in Jaffa,Israel coastlne

 

 

Mix a dab of  pixie dust

Voted by both my kids as the favorite stop we had on our one-hour walk of Jaffa was none other than  “Gesher Hamishalot,”  which translates as “The Wishing Bridge.” Legend has it that if you touch your zodiac sign marked on the stone while gazing into the sea, you will get what you wish for. To my surprise, Jeffrey decided to venture up the steep stairs in the blowing wind, twice to maximize his potential of fulfilling more than one wish.

 

Old Jaffa 2.0 :Reliving childhood memories with the kids bridge

 

Conclude with retail therapy

Last but not least, after acting as the impromptu travel guide, I  got my reward which was a short stop at one of my favorite local stores called Mango. Its setting inside of an old Ottoman building provides a fitting backdrop to the boutique, which sells eccentric clothing and leather shoes and belts. After spending my fifteen allocated minutes in “retail therapy”, I walked out with my Jaffa version of Elton John-like clogs souvenir.

 

Old Jaffa 2.0 :Reliving childhood memories with the kids boutique

 

Have you ever thought of taking your kids back to some of the places you’ve lived in?
If you did -would you recommend it?

 

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