Our toddler Owen has been so fortunate to have opportunities to travel the world at such a young age. He's been to Thailand, Italy, Greece, Canada, Hawaii, Disneyland, and more. We know that he won't remember most of these trips years from now, but he definitely remembers them vividly for months and has absorbed so much about other places and cultures. I believe that these global experiences will impact the person he becomes.
With Baby #2 expected this Fall, I know our lives are going to be a bit more chaotic. However, I really hope to continue exposing our kids to the amazing people and places in this world. We plan on traveling with our kids as they grow up, but there are definitely some places that would be cool to see as a young child.
Toddler Travel Bucket List:
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Santorini was one of the stops on our Royal Caribbean Cruise around the Mediterranean. I'd wanted to see Santorini ever since I watched The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It seemed like such an exotic island and the white houses and blue doors simply sold me!
Santorini was much drier than I anticipated. When we got to Oia, we had one hour to walk around town. Since it was such a short time, we just grabbed a few things from the backpack and hit the road. We first headed to a little spot to see the two blue domed churches that are featured in many postcards of Santorini. Then, we hiked to the ruins of a castle to get better photos of Oia. It was a 10 min walk and we were all fried by the time we got there!
Since we had such a short time in Oia, we just put Owen in the baby carrier and completely forgot about his sun hat. Poor guy was so hot that we had to take him out of the carrier so he could cool off a bit. We headed to one of the many souvenir shops that lined the streets hoping to soak up some air conditioning. Owen decided to pick up a shot glass that was on a shelf his height and he dropped it on the ground, where it shattered. He was very startled, but immediately grabbed another and threw it on the ground. We were mortified! He'd never done anything like that before. The shopkeeper came out and gently scolded him, while showing us that she wasn't really upset but wanted to make sure he knew it wasn't okay. Then she quickly ushered us inside because of the heat. That's when things got interesting.
She told us that they were in the midst of a heat wave and that people were dying. She literally ran to grab Owen wet paper towels to cool off his head and neck and gave him a straw hat. We were told how vital it was to keep his head covered and even though we explained his hat was just a few minutes away in the bus, she insisted that we take the straw hat to protect him on the walk. This is when we really felt like unprepared parents and that we had endangered our child. This is not a good feeling.
On the bus, our tour guide informed us that it was 40 degrees Celsius outside and was the hottest day of the year! The 30 minute bus ride back to Fira was nice so that we could all cool down in the air conditioned bus, drink some water and Owen could grab a snack.
By the time we got to Fira, we were ready to grab an early dinner. We brought out our Rick Steves book and he suggested a restaurant called Archipelegos. The view was amazing and the food was delicious! We ate the very best mussels we have ever had (butter, dill, lemon, Greek wine, garlic). We also tried the tomato fritters (something Santorini is known for) and they were so flavorful, with a crunchy exterior and a burst of tomato goodness in the middle with a thick tzakiki sauce to dip in, which Owen appreciated! Darren had the veal souvlaki that also packed quite a bit of flavor. The seafood risotto wasn't nearly as tasty as the rest of the dishes, but was okay. We also got freshly squeezed orange juice and the Greek version of Fanta. Both were very refreshing on the hot day!
As we headed back to the boat, we got to see the parade of donkeys coming up the steep cliff. This was also a memorable scene from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, so I was thrilled! But, when I turned to show Owen, I realized that he was passed out in the carrier. He stayed asleep the whole way down the cliff (inside a gondola) and all the way back to the ship.
Check out more about our Royal Caribbean Cruise through the Mediterranean
Cruising with a Toddler
A Toddler in Rome
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On our cruise around the Mediterranean last summer, on of our stops was Athens. We arrived in Athens on the same day that their Prime Minister stepped down and Athens was a true ghost town. It was a bit eerie as we drove through the city.
We boarded a bus and drove past many buildings and statues and had 10 minutes to look around the Panhellenic stadium, which was much larger than I expected. Then, we headed to the Acropolis, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Greece. It was at this point that were put on our headsets to listen to our guide lecture about the Acropolis. It was very hard to hear and my husband and I just looked at each other before taking them off and walking around on our own. For us, it's better to experience in person and read about it later. Additionally, it was difficult to interact with Owen while we had on headsets (and he just wanted to take them off our ears.)
It was very hot (no surprise) and the marble underneath us was very slick. It would be very dangerous in the rain! We had Owen in the carrier for all the walking up and down the stairs. The Acropolis was very crowded. Once we got up near the Parthenon, we took Owen out of the carrier so he could walk around and cool off a bit. The ground was very uneven, so we really had to watch him extra closely. Plus, it was crowded and we didn't want to lose him!
I thought we would be able to walk around the Parthenon, but it was under construction and everything was roped off with lots of security guards. It makes total sense. I just thought it would be more like the Colosseum, where you can walk around more. We completely lucked out that a photographer my husband met earlier in the trip offered to take our photo at the most perfect time!
Because I'm obsessed with dressing Owen in costumes, I had brought a toga that I had constructed from a pillow case. We quickly changed him into the toga and started taking photos when another tourist came up to us and said that her friend got kicked out of the Acropolis for wearing a toga. Since there were security guards everywhere, we got nervous and just took a few photos before quickly putting his regular clothes back on. Then, we grabbed our Seahawks 12th Man flag and took a few photos!
At the end of our tour, we were dropped off at the port terminal where we caught a cab to a gyro place at another port so my husband could finally have a really gyro in Greece! We were not disappointed! Plus they had fries with a delicious sauce that Owen couldn't get enough of.
While Athens was very doable with a toddler (and would be with a baby, as well) I think we'll hold off coming back until the kids are older and have learned a bit about Greek history and mythology. Having more background information (even if it's just watching Percy Jackson movies) would make Athens fascinating for kids!
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We were invited to a family wedding in Tuscany last summer and we decided to do some travel before the wedding. This was our first time taking our toddler to Europe so we really thought about where we'd like to go and how cumbersome it might be. The kicker is that the destination wedding was black-tie and involved several events where we'd need nice clean clothes, so we had to bring more than usual.
After much contemplation, we opted to do a Greek Isles cruise on Royal Caribbean. I had never been on a cruise before (I assumed they were just for old people) and I had always said that I'd rather spend more time at the destination rather than getting there. I was completely mistaken!
Our cruise was the perfect fit for our 20 month old! For one thing, the service on board was absolutely outstanding! Maybe it's because our past experiences have made our standards so low that we feel like we have to apologize when we bring our son out and about, but I almost cried several times because we were treated so nicely! They actually begged us to bring our son to the dining room each night, where he had about 15 servers calling him nicknames and bringing him bread and special treats!
They also had a fantastic on-board babies and toddlers program. It was open in the mornings for parents to come play with their kids for free. They had movies running in the background and several large toys. This was nice to meet other parents of toddlers and to get Owen used to the space. In the afternoons, it became a drop-off zone for just $6/hour. In the evenings it was just $8/hour and they ordered Owen dinner. He loved it so much that he didn't want to leave when we picked him up! They gave us a pager in case there were any problems. They also gave us a bag of toys that we were able to borrow for the duration of the cruise.
The excursions were also the right fit for our family. First of all, toddlers are free (but we could have left him in the kids club.) The buses were air conditioned, which was a nice contrast to the August heat in Greece. We brought a backpack with snacks, lots of water, extra clothes, sunscreen, teething medications, and a camera. We also brought sun hats for everyone and our Boba carrier. The one downside to the excursions (besides the cost) is that most came with a tour guide and you had to wear little ear pieces that are very tempting for toddlers to yank out of your ear over and over again. We found that was less stress to take off the ear piece and just walk around the sites and read about them in our guide books. This gave Owen more of an opportunity to walk around and explore. While we could have done the excursions for cheaper on our own, the ease of just showing up and not worrying about missing the boat (literally) was worth the extra cost with a toddler. Now that we have a family cruise under our belt, we might opt for just one or two excursions in the future and do something more laid back the rest of the days.
We chatted with other parents of small children on board and one of them mentioned that kids have to be at least 6 years old to be in one of those flip-down beds. The parents ended up having to book adjoining cabins so their toddlers could be in regular beds. That was really good to know! It was a tight squeeze with the crib in our cabin and it would be impossible to cram 2 in there. Another parent said her daughter preferred to play in the kids club rather than do excursions, so they put her in the kids club and they'd go off the boat to explore the port. We saw a lot of parents and toddlers doing laps on the deck. We also saw parents struggling with their strollers on the cobblestones at the ports. Having been to Europe before, we knew it would be tricky and chose not to bring our stroller. We don't regret that decision. We brought a bunch of swim diapers with us only to find out that toddlers weren't welcome in any of the pools on board.
All in all, Royal Caribbean was a fantastic choice for our family! When the cruise ended, we were really sad to say goodbye to everyone (and to say goodbye for really good service!) We will definitely be cruising as a family again!
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I'm a mom to a 3-year-old and a baby. We believe in traveling as a family as soon as possible and sharing our tips and tricks with other families!