Weekend Trip to Whidbey- Day 1

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Since the holidays are just around the corner, and we’re planning our yearly trip up to Whidbey Island to visit family, it seemed like a good time to finish up this trip report from earlier in the year.  We always enjoy going up north, and American’s new non-stop flights have made it even easier for us lately.  Thanks for reading!

Last weekend we took a last minute trip to Whidbey Island to visit family.  Whidbey is a beautiful and mostly quiet island north of Seattle.  We try to go a few times a year to visit, CET’s Mom, and Madeline’s 96 year old Great Grandmother.

It took us longer than we expected to get to LAX, so we ended up taking the bus to the satellite terminal where our flight was leaving out of and going to the smaller Admirals Club instead of going to the main club in Terminal 4.  The satellite club is small but has the same food offerings as the main club.  A variety of trail mixes, cheese and crackers, hummus, fresh vegetables, olives, angel hair pasta with capers and tomatoes, and mini brownies and a couple kinds of cookies.  It gave Baby Flyer a place to push around her Trunki before our flight.

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Baby Flyer’s outfit by TEA (click for 25% discount), baby moccasins by FRESHLY PICKED 

We were on a regional jet to Seattle.  Before boarding we found out we were upgraded thanks to CET’s Executive Platinum status.  Using Expert Flyer, we knew it looked good for both of us to get moved up, so we linked our tickets so our upgrade was based on her status and I used two of her 500-mile upgrade vouchers (about a $60 value if you don’t have enough available).  We opted to sit together in the bulkhead and were pleasantly surprised with how much leg room there was.  It felt quite spacious.  Baby Flyer stood and welcomed our fellow passengers onto the plane.  She loved it!

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Welcome to our flight to Sea-Tac International Airport.  Our flying time today will be approximately 2 hours, and 45 minutes.  I’ll be your Baby Flyer ambassador for the day…

Much to our surprise, we were served a full meal.  This regional jet didn’t have any way to heat entrees so we had the choice between a cobb chicken salad (with the chicken on the side, perfect for vegetarians!) or a curry chicken wrap.  We were served a small slice of caramel cheesecake for dessert.  Neither of us were expecting a meal, so we probably didn’t need to eat so much for lunch in the Admirals Club beforehand.  Live and learn.  Neither of us finished our entrees but we enjoyed a few bites.  I’m a vegetarian and I had the salad and CET had the wrap.

Since Baby Flyer hadn’t napped yet, and she usually starts her nap between 12 and 12:45, she slept most of our flight up, which gave us time to kick back and relax ourselves.

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We flew out of LAX around 2pm on Friday and flew back on the around 8pm on Monday.  Leaving LAX at 2pm meant we arrived in Seattle in time for rush hour.  Instead of sitting on the freeway in traffic, we opted to visit the Centurion Lounge in the Seattle airport and have some dinner before heading to the rental car center.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Centurion Lounges, they are an airport lounge provided by American Express for cardholders.  The lounges offer regionally inspired food, drink, and comfortable seating.  Some of the bigger clubs even offer spa services (15 minute massages, manicures, and facials) and have a kids’ play room.  Currently, they are in Dallas (DFW), Houston (IAH), Las Vegas (LAS), New York (LGA), Miami (MIA), Seattle (SEA), and San Francisco(SFO).  It seems like they are constantly working on expanding the network, and we’ve heard talk that in the near future there will be one in LAX.  We have the American Express Platinum Card and try and take advantage of all of its benefits.  At some point we will put together a post outlining the card’s benefits for any who’re curious.

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The Centurion in Seattle just opened a new area with lots of additional tables and chairs as well as a full bar.  Prior to this, they served beer and wine and it was served by the waitstaff.  Baby Flyer appreciated the new expansion and spent time against, pushing her Trunki throughout the club.  She made friends with all the waitstaff and loved the attention.

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We left the club around 7 and headed to the rental car center.  By the time we were on the road, traffic was still slow in some areas but was basically moving.  We made the 8:30 ferry to Whidbey and soon after we were settling in for the day.

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Up next- Some island time.

The End of an Era

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Baby Flyer & her trusty bag of snacks hangs out on the ottoman of the Dreamliner’s business class.  Baby Flyer’s outfit by Tea.  (Click here for 25% off coupon)

We just got back from a family trip to Dallas, and we’re quickly realizing that we’re nearing the end of traveling with Baby Flyer as a lap infant.  She’ll be two in January, and that’s both the cutoff by the airlines, and honestly, she’s just getting too big for it!

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Baby Flyer puts on her bib & catches the game at the new Terminal 5 Admirals Club at LAX

So, it seems like a good time to look back and share the synopsis of our experience and give our two cents on what worked, and a few survival tips.

But first, a little about the weekend- We hadn’t had a family trip that we all went on in a little while and so we made good use of American’s earlier US fare sale, and scooped up a couple of $71 round trip tickets from LAX to DFW and back.  We have family in Dallas, so it was a great excuse to go see them ‘just because.’  These kind of trips are even more special now that Baby Flyer is growing so fast, and really enjoys new and different experiences.

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CAR & Baby Flyer checking out their 787 seat.

We flew together on the way out, and scored an upgrade a day ahead of the flight, so we were assigned seats together on American’s 787 Dreamliner.

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The temporary AC at T-4

They’ve been having some issues with the catering service at LAX, so we didn’t know what to expect on board.  Since it was a dinnertime flight, we stopped off at the makeshift Admiral’s Club in Terminal 4 that’s been opened while the regular space is under construction.  It actually worked out well, because they offer full prepackaged grab’n’go meals, along with bottled beverages and snacks, so we stocked up in case.

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The ‘dinner service’ out of LAX.  Not up to the usual, but they did their best.

As it turned out, they did have some limited food on the flight, but it was similar to the options we brought on board.  We both chose the salad option, which came with chips, and packaged cookies.  Honestly, it wasn’t bad, and we arrived in Dallas well fed.  Baby Flyer arrived well rested too, since she took a late nap through the first two hours of the flight.

We stayed with family in Dallas, and rented a car from National for the first couple days of it.  We usually rent from National, since we can choose from the Executive Aisle.  This time, the selection was underwhelming- mostly nondescript midsize sedans, a couple Hundai SUVs and some trucks (it’s TX).  Yet, on a last pass through the row, we spotted a Volvo x60 hatchback… what??  Usually that make is saved for the up-sell area, but we took it and ran.  It was a little more space than a sedan, and fun to drive.

The area of Dallas we stayed in has some fun family activities.  We were walking distance to White Rock lake, which is a lake surrounded by parkland that incorporates plenty of running/biking paths, a playground, and most importantly, lots of ducks and other waterfoul.  Baby Flyer still loves birds, so she really enjoyed a daily walk to feed them and watch them swim around.

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CET had to leave to go back to work early on Monday morning, but CAR and Baby Flyer stayed a few more days.  If you’re an AA flyer like us, you may want to go check out CET’s review of American’s 777-200 Premium Economy class on the return flight.

But back to business here.  In our almost two years of flying with Baby Flyer, we’ve got some takeaways-

Seat Selection:

With the tiniest ones, before they’re moving and standing and walking, bulkhead rows aren’t necessary.  What’s more important at this stage is easy access to your diaper bag and supplies, so having under seat storage is more important.

The Infant Block Trick- On most airlines’ booking software, when a lap infant is added to an adult ticket, the computer blocks a seat in the row, most consistently when two adults on the same reservation (one with the infant) are in the same row.  We’ve had about 50% results with this getting us an empty seat in the middle.  If you have an Expert Flyer membership, you can even see by the big ‘X’ through the seat when an infant block has been put in place by the airline.

However, this won’t work on full or oversold flights, as these blocked seats will be assigned at the last minute to unassigned or standby passengers.

Toys & More:

When Baby Flyer was younger we used to travel with two diaper bags, one mostly full of various extras and toys.  Along the way we moved to just one, and now Baby Flyer has her own ‘travel bag,’ which is both handy and adorable.

She has a mini Fjallraven Kanken backpack.  it’s just the right size to put her toys in, but doesn’t result in something too heavy to carry.  We saw these EVERYWHERE this summer in Europe.  She sometimes wants to wear it, but then quickly reconsiders, so we end up just tossing it over the handle of a rollaboard.

Backpack

 

She has a few standard items that she takes in her very own bag.  We try for things that are interactive, but low on mess and noise.  Some of the current favorites-

Magna Doodle Pro – Travel Edition

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The magna doodle keeps her attention, and is mess free and packable.

Melissa & Doug Water WOW Coloring Book

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These things are made for travel- Just uses water.

Wiki Sticks

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Our local restaurant Saint & Second hands these out as kiddie activities to their youngest patrons.  We ‘hide’ them and save them for the plane.  They’re great to stick to the tray table in different forms & fold into shapes to be unwound.

Homemade Play Dough (click here for recipe– omit the spices if you’re not feeling the fall vibe).

This may seem counter-intuitive.  It could be messy, could get dirty, etc, but hear us out.  With supervision, some play dough can be a great option of last resort…like 10 mins before you’re set to give up and take your toddler to play in the sink in the airplane bathroom.  We pull this out and make shapes and play games on the tray table.  Using a little bit at a time does the trick, and can keep a kiddo happy for awhile, which is the entire point.

Thinking out of the box:

Sometimes you need to go that one step further to feel like you’re ready to fly with a baby, especially an older one.  We’ve tried a few things…

First- New stuff. Anything new really. Head to the dollar store and buy some cheap new toys.  Think one or more per hour of flight time.

Second- If your baby is still fascinated by unwrapping things, try taking the toys in your travel bag, and wrapping them in aluminum foil.  Pull them out when baby gets bored, and let them peel off the foil to ‘discover’ the toy.  Put all the wrapped toys in a gallon sized ziplock bag so you have somewhere to put the used foil in.

Third- All of the above.  Pro tip- If you have an older toddler, we recommend throwing some new toys into the foil mix.  The satisfaction of unwrapping combined with the new toy element may buy you even more peace & quiet.

All of these ideas also omit that either through the plane’s IFE screens, or ones you bring with you, if your kid has favorite shows or games, that’s always an option as well.  Likely because we don’t really have her watch TV at home, Baby Flyer’s attention span for this kind of entertainment usually runs out after about 10 minutes or so, which leaves us needing to be prepared with other distractions.

As our time flying as a family of three in two seats comes to an end, we’re definitely sad.  Not only because now we need to be more crafty about our flight planning, but also simply because Baby Flyer is getting older.  She’s less a baby, and more a kid.  It’s been an amazing journey to watch, and we can’t wait for the next chapter, but the backward glances into her early days always amaze and leave us plenty nostalgic.

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Her first flight at 4 months.  Was she really this tiny??

May your flights be smooth, and your babies be happy this holiday season,

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Happy Thanksgiving!

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We are going to be so devastated when she outgrows her Ergo Baby

We’re actually traveling this Thanksgiving weekend!  In the past few years we’ve tried to stay put to avoid the crowds and high holiday prices, but this year things worked out and we’re taking to the skies to see family in Dallas.

We scored some decent tickets out of the Orange County airport, and back into LAX, which aside from being a nice change, means we’re missing the insanity at LAX!  So far, the experience has been great- short lines, quiet terminal, and the cutest little Admiral’s Club with friendly staff.

 

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Saying “hi” to the planes.

We just might have to head south more often!

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Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  As always, we’re thankful for each other, family, good health, and the wonderful adventures life continues to offer us!

Travel Well,

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This is the Way We Board The Plane…

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Here we go!

….Board the plane, board the plane.

The story so far:

Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Part 2: Well Connected

After our early morning and hop to Boston, it was nice to make it to our final stop before Europe.  We don’t routinely find ourselves going through JFK, so spending a little time there was a nice change.  Plus, we were traveling internationally and so CET’s American Executive Platinum status got us into the Flagship Lounge half of the Admiral’s Club.

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Busy afternoon at the JFK Flagship Lounge

We had a couple hours before our flight, since it was an overnight (as most transatlantic flights tend to be) and so had time to have a meal at the buffet, and let Baby Flyer roam around.

This lounge has been recently re-done, and they did a good job.  However, during peak times even this expanded space is full to capacity.  We ended up grabbing a couple chairs along one of the walls, but almost every seat was taken.

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Full buffett

The food consists of a full hot bar, as well as snacks and desserts.  The drinks are self-serve, and included a wine/champagne bar, as well as a station with a refreshing ‘signature cocktail.’

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Baby Flyer loves some lounge time, and especially enjoyed looking at the planes outside while walking along the wall of windows that makes up one side of the lounge.

At about 45 minutes out, we headed to our gate.  They hadn’t started boarding yet, but it was good we were there on the early side as they needed to re-check our passports (standard procedure).  Since we were in business class, we boarded early.  Baby Flyer LOVED getting to walk down the jetbridge on her own two feet, and holding her own passport!

The plane was one of Finnair’s a330 workhorses.  It has two classes- business and economy, and while the seats were lie-flat and functional, could use some updating.  Finnair has been doing just that through their fleet, including newly purchased a350 long haul aircraft that look amazing inside.

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AY a330 Business Class

We sat in 1A and 1C, which was a window seat and aisle at the front of the cabin.  The interior is laid out in a 1-2-2 or 1-2-1 layout, depending on the row.  This gives good options to both individual travelers and couples.  One thing the service lacked was any kind of mattress pad, which would have been a welcome addition since the seats were on the hard side for sleeping.

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Baby Flyer shows us how to fasten our seatbelts

Finnair does its best to be quintessentially scandi with their decor, including brightly patterned marimekko pillows and blankets, as well as amenity kits.  Their signature pre-departure drink was sparkling wine and blueberry juice, served in ice patterned glasses.

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Inspecting the amenity kit

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Signature drinks before takeoff

The IFE was solid, and included a lot of things you don’t find on AA or Qatar, or probably anything outside of Scandinavian TV, including plenty of nature specials and outdoor adventure documentaries.  Ice.  So very much walking around on ice.

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Rocking out!

I always enjoy checking out new airlines.  Even though Finnair isn’t a true luxury airline like Qatar or Cathay Pacific, it’s a solid choice with pleasant service and a good reputation.  What’s even better about them is that they’re a way to get to Europe that can both avoid the huge award fees that British Airways and Iberia tack on, and can let you skip the chaos of connecting in Heathrow.

The key to award travel to Europe is to just get to Europe, pretty much anywhere in Europe, and then connect from there to where you actually want to go.  Bonus if you actually want to go to the destination, like we did with Helsinki.

The flight itself was long, and not too long at once.  It was an overnight but only 8 hours including taxi, take off, landing, and meal service.  This is the downside of flying East Coast to Europe- even the longest flight only provides for about 4 hours sleep if you’re lucky.  We took off and watched the sunset out of the windows before settling in.

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We’d brought her plenty of pack-able toys, and she was entertained for a few minutes here and there by watching the IFE, or listening to the ‘Finnish Kids’ song station through our Bose.  She also played at our feet for awhile, and set up a fort of sorts in the bulkhead.  They handed out Moomins themed towel/blankets to the kids, and she enjoyed ‘going ny-ny’ on hers.

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Everything is Moomins

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Making a fort

Traveling with a lap infant, especially a lap toddler, is infinitely better the more space you have.  She eventually fell asleep, first on CET (much to CAR’s delight), and then moved over after awhile.  We didn’t sleep much at all, but she did, and woke up grinning and happy on final descent.  We should all be so lucky.

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Someone got to sleep at least

Overall, it was a comfortable way to get the three of us to Europe, especially since we could handle some lost sleep since we didn’t have immediate plans for the day once we got there.

Travel well,

~CET

Up Next- Helsinki!

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Hyvää päivää!!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2- Well Connected

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Heading down the jetbridge, logbook in hand.

The story so far:

Summer in Scandinavia-Trip Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1- Gear Up and Go

Note: The topic of this post is usually the kind of thing I would ramble on about over at Cruising Altitude, and help people with at Altitude Consulting, but since it’s pretty integral to how we ended up in Europe this summer, we’ll include it here too.  Thanks for reading!

So, here’s the thing about award tickets- they can be hard to find, especially in first and business classes. Everyone agrees on this point. Another thing about them is that availability changes over time. Another another thing is that when you have elite status with your chosen airline, there’s a surprising amount of flexibility to shift things around up until the time you start your trip.

Let me put this in context….

When planning an international trip using miles and points, the hardest thing to do is to ‘cross the ocean’ – meaning the flight that takes you to whatever other continent you’re trying to go to. In our case, the general destination was ‘Europe.’ Since Finnair had availability, that ended up meaning Helsinki (which I was thrilled about, honestly).

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All smiles at LAX

However, our home airport is LAX, and there wasn’t any real available routing that would get us from there to JFK where the Finnair flight would pick up, even though on one award you can fly up to 3 segments. I initially just booked the JFK-HEL and back, and then laid in wait to see what better I could do.

Eventually, I sussed out a couple of tickets I could add on from Chicago to Newark (admittedly not JFK, but close enough that American would consider it a ‘connection’) and added that on. LAX to Chicago happened to be much cheaper than LAX to JFK, easier to upgrade, and we didn’t mind the chance to kick off the trip in the Windy City anyway. I still wasn’t happy with the specter of the Newark to JFK hassle, but I let it be for awhile.

After a few months of periodically checking in to see if by any miracle two award seats in the right class got ‘released’ by American’s all mysterious and powerful revenue management program direct from Chicago to JFK (there was one flight that would work, so I wasn’t too hopeful) I finally saw the next best thing, which was a pair of seats going Chicago, to Boston, and then on into JFK.  The first flight had two in First, and the second I’d have to downgrade myself to economy to let CAR and Baby Flyer take the one remaining premium seat.

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Everything we took to the airport for 10 days in Europe….

So in short, our options were to trade the bus, train and bus, or expensive Uber for one more flight and a layover in Boston.  It only took a few minutes of consideration before calling up to make the change.  Two factors played heavily here- if we flew the two flights, we could check our bags all the way through to Helsinki since it was all one award, and it meant we could actually leave the car seat at home entirely.  We didn’t really anticipate getting in any cars in Europe, and this across town taxi ride in NYC was the only time we were sure we’d need it.

A very helpful agent got our award switched over in just a few minutes- the flexibility and the service are great perks of keeping my Oneworld/American status.  As an Executive Platinum, I could also stand by for the upgrade on that second flight in case a seat cleared up.

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“Paying it forward- ‘hidden’ drink chit”

Our day started early out of ORD, but since it was the start of the adventure everyone was in a good mood.  We got there in time for a few minutes and breakfast at the Admiral’s Club.  Since we were flying internationally with Oneworld status, we got a couple free premium drink vouchers.  These can be used for the full bar menu, or also the bottled juices and smoothies.  We didn’t use them all, so we left one behind to ‘pay it forward’ to some other traveler later in the day.

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Baby Flyer knows how to make the most of an early travel day.

The flight went quickly, and Baby Flyer dozed for most of it.  Once in Boston, we headed again to the Admiral’s club (more drink coupons, more paying it forward), and then tried to go to the new British Airways lounge in the international terminal.  I won’t go on here at length about the rules since I’ve already done so over at Cruising Altitude, but in short clear rules need to be set out for this place.  When we were there, according to the website, it was open.  When we got there it was indeed open, but apparently only for Japan Airlines customers.  This however, wasn’t stated anywhere, and caused us to loose about 40 minutes our layover hiking over and back.

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Cruising BOS airport in her new City Mini Zip.  The adjustable footrest is a nice touch.

Putting that behind us, we ended up enjoying the rest of our Boston time at the Club taking turns showering, and watching Baby Flyer in the kids’ room.  A good time was had by all, and soon it was time to head out to JFK!

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Layover playtime (and keeping track of the time)

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She doesn’t mind layovers…

When I’d switched to this flight, I’d then checked in on the tickets online and got a nice extra surprise- AA is currently running one of their 321-T planes on the short hop between Boston and JFK, and so we’d unsuspectingly landed great seats on American’s nicest domestic plane.  Even my “economy” seat put me into what was actually business class, and so we both had lie flats with plenty of room.  Baby Flyer in particular was impressed, and pretty pleased with herself and I’m pretty sure CAR wouldn’t have minded a longer flight to finish her movie in comfort.

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AA’s 321-T Flagship 1st

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Checking out the digs…

We touched down on time into JFK, and headed out once again to the Admiral’s Club.  This time, however, we had access to the International Flagship Lounge for a few hours before our Helsinki flight, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

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My ‘business class’ seat was no slouch either.

And that, will be a good start for the next chapter.

~CET

Up Next: Part 3- This is the way we board the plane, (board the plane)

 

Summer In Scandinavia Part 1- Gear Up & Go!

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In case you missed it, be sure to read the preview post about this trip here: Summer in Scandinavia Preview

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Our flight up to Chicago from LAX- Baby Flyer’s first 787 Dreamliner flight.  (She slept through most of it)

We had a good (if a little tiring after a late arrival and short night) day in the Windy City.  We made the most of our time- we took the train into the city from our airport hotel, and walked the few short blocks from Washington station to Michigan Ave.  We hadn’t been up in time for breakfast at the hotel, so we stopped off at Le Pain Quotidien for some brunch.  Baby Flyer hasn’t been feeling restaurant high chairs lately, so luckily they had a booth for us, and we all managed to eat a good meal.  Next up, we crossed the street to Maggie C. Daily park.

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We visited here last time we were in the city, and Baby Flyer wasn’t walking yet, so she couldn’t do much exploring on her own.  It was also November, so the park was cold and quiet.  This time, it was a different experience.  We both thought she would be entertained for a while since the park has so many different sections and attractions.  

However, this was one of those moments that encapsulates family travel with young kiddos.  This time around the park was full of kids, mostly older than she was, and she wasn’t really enjoying the vibe.  We played on the swings for a bit, and climbed up and down some grass mounds, and then decided to move on. 

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We ended up walking up the waterfront toward Navy Pier, which we hadn’t done before, and made our way to the canal where the boat tours leave from.  At this point Baby Flyer needed a nap soon (and some air conditioning) so we bought tickets for the next river and lake tour.  There are several tour companies that offer similar trips, for around the same prices.  We didn’t have any trouble just getting a ticket a few minutes beforehand on the fly, which was nice.  Most offer some form of an architectural tour, and a lake tour.  The one we took, though not branded ‘architectural’ still hit the highlights of Chicago’s skyline, and given that it was a hot day, it was nice to get out on the lake. 

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We’ve always been curious about these on our Chicago trips, but never quite coughed up the time/money/planning to go.  This time it was a great option.  Baby Flyer LOVES boats, which is good, because we had a lot of them planned throughout the trip.  She had a great time looking around on deck for the first half of the tour, and then we took her downstairs for a nap for the second half.  True, you can’t see nearly as much from below, but the air conditioning was great, as was not having a cranky baby for the rest of the day. 

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From there, we headed back toward the train station, and stumbled upon the world traveler’s best friend when you need a good but easy dinner in a different city- Vapiano!  Vapiano has locations throughout Europe, and the US.  It’s a counter-order, first come first serve for tables place, which rescues the wandering traveler without a reservation.  Plus the food is really quite good, and especially abroad- reasonably priced!  

Now, we’d like to be able to say that Baby Flyer sat nicely in her high chair and let us have a relaxing meal, but that would be a large departure from the truth, which is also why Vapiano is a good choice.  It’s just a little less formal, so if say…your kid wants to spend the whole dinner being helped to climb up and down the stairs from the bathroom while you each take turns quickly eating a slice of pizza, you won’t be all that ashamed. 

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“The Vapiano card” – you order from different stations and scan your card as you go, then check out on the way out the door.  Nice when baby is tired and you don’t want to wait around for the check. 

After we’d had dinner, and Baby Flyer climbed the stairs at least 40 times, we took the train back to our hotel for the night and got organized.  For this trip, we worked hard to lower our ‘luggage footprint’ since we’d have several transitions between cities, including 8 flights, a round trip ferry, and many trains and trams.  

Before, we’d been traveling with a pack-n-play when we needed a bed, and either our britax b-agile, or our summer infant 3D umbrella stroller.  These are fine for simple trips, but for this one we swapped them out for a Phil & Ted’s Traveler crib, and a Baby Jogger Citi Mini Zip with a carrying backpack.  What a DIFFERENCE!!! 

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The Phil and Ted’s bed is SO light- 8 lbs, y’all!! It sits easily on a rolling suitcase, and has a carry strap as well.  The mattress is like a thermarest camping pad, so it rolls up small.  It sets up in just a few minutes, and Baby Flyer seems to sleep in it as well as she ever did in the pack-n-play.  It’s best if you can put it on carpet though, for a little extra softness. 

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As for the City Mini Zip, we agonized over a travel stroller for quite awhile, and we’re down to the Citi Mini Tour, or going all out on the Babyzen YoYo.  The Mini Tour definitely is the lightest, with the easiest fold, but it seemed like Baby Flyer was a little cramped in it, and she’s not a huge kid for her age.  As per the dimensions, she shouldn’t be, but it is generally a smaller stroller (which is the point).  The YoYo is quite nice, which it well should be for the huge price tag.  When push came to shove, we didn’t feel like we liked it $300+ more than other options, and we didn’t have luck finding one used in time for the trip.  Besides, there’s a certain arrogance on the part of a company to try and sell you a $400 stroller- and not include he seat!  Yes, that’s right- the frame is $400, and if you want your kid to be able to sit in it, that’ll be another $100.  

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The City Mini Zip when folded- reasonably light, around 17 lbs.

We ended up with the Citi Zip because CAR stumbled upon it at Home Goods, of all places.  It was new & heavily discounted.  It folds down nicely, though not as tiny as the City Tour.  In the backpack though, it was comfortable to carry, even decently long distances.  We didn’t try to carry it on the planes, but on the bigger ones with space, it would have fit sideways in the bins.

*Spoiler alert here- we took the stroller on a weekend trip to Seattle and loved it, but after bouncing it over cobblestones in Europe, we didn’t think it fared as well.  Overall, it worked fine for our purposes, but it didn’t seem to take ‘off-roading’ easily.  More on this later.*

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In the end, we got all our luggage down to one carry on size roller, one cabin bag, the bed and stroller backpack, one mid size roller, plus a diaper bag.  It was an amount we could wheel and carry fairly easily, even on 20 min walks to and from train stations.  Once the bigger items were checked, we were going pretty light in the airports.  

What was also different for this trip is that we made the decision to not bring our trusty Cosco travel car seat.  It’s light as car seats go, but bulky, and we just couldn’t justify the hassle since we weren’t planning any rental cars in Europe.  It did mean that we didn’t have the option to take a taxi or Uber (though we heard that in a pinch many European taxis may have a car seat of some kind stashed in the trunk).

We did a mix of checking and gate checking the stroller, and Finnair checked both it and the bed for free as ‘baby items’ even though Baby Flyer didn’t have her own seat.  Baby Flyer wasn’t a big fan of any stroller- travel or otherwise- then, so much of the time it was nice to get rid of it at check in and carry her to the lounge and plane. 

And the nitty gritty of all that, is coming up.

~CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

Up next- Summer In Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected

Resort Life: Nuevo Vallarta

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Baby Flyer checks out the view of the ocean from Villa Del Palmar.  She could get used to this.

We spent a week this summer in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico at the Villa Del Palmar Flamingos. We flew American Airlines and had an overnight layover in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor on the way, and a couple hour layover in DFW on the way back. You bet Baby Flyer visited the Centurion Lounge on the way back, plus the adults all had 15 minute massages!  It was a welcome treat after having an almost 2 hour wait for our bags at baggage claim after customs because everything shut down because of lightening. Of course, safety is important but the wait was unexpected.

We stayed in the Aloft in Phoenix on the way out which has a free shuttle, is very close to the airport, and has a relaxed playful feel. They just started renovating and updating the whole hotel, including the rooms. They have a simple bar menu and we weren’t in the mood to go out for dinner since it was already around 7:45pm. We had grilled cheese- a guilty but tasty dinner, and Baby Flyer roamed around and stretched her legs. While we were waiting for our food, the hotel van took me to CVS to buy Baby Flyer a bottle of baby shampoo. Something I learned- they can take you anywhere within a three mile radius of the hotel for free (excluding tip). It was perfect!.

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The penthouse deck of our humble abode for the week.  We could also get used to this.

Fast forward to finally arriving at the Puerto Vallarta airport- we got off the plane, cleared customs, (which is generally straight forward if all your passports are in order.  Tip for Mexico- they give you back half the form.  Do not loose this part, it’s your ticket back out of the country!).

This airport has undergone some expansions and renovation since we’ve started traveling there several years ago.  It’s nice to see, and makes the experience better.  There’s a small Priority Pass lounge, even, and the majority of the flights are served by standard jet bridges, rather than buses.

After customs, we moved onto the gauntlet of getting our reserved shuttle to the resort.  For whatever reason, in Mexico this is usually the sticking point.  The resort provides us one free transfer per year, which is great, but it does mean you have to reserve in advance, and then wait for them to verify it and find you a driver.  In the end it works out, but it can take some patience.  We did learn that Uber has arrived in PVR, and seemed operative and reasonably priced from the airport, but when CET tried to use it for her return trip, it said ‘no cars available’ from the resort.

That all sorted out, we arrived safely and simply put, Baby Flyer LOVED resort life!  Her day typically looked something like this:

After she woke up, she would often visit the pool or play in the room with her Mema and Bumpa while I worked out. She slept in while on vacation too!  She would wake to nurse around 6 and then go back to sleep for a couple hours. Think her later bed time, two hour time difference, and all the pool time made her sleepy. Then we would meet for breakfast and she got to pick a pastry of her choice (total treat) which she had along with some watermelon or berries and orange juice. Of course, her favorite was what I initially thought was a bran muffin, but turned out to be a chocolate muffin- another first for her. This also was her first time having orange juice and she certainly enjoyed it.

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Check out those curls!

Once we were done eating, she would walk out of the restaurant and lead the way to the pool, so more time splashing around until it was time for her afternoon nap and a quick lunch. Afterwards she would head out to the pool once again, then play in our room while we all got ready for dinner. After dinner, she often would finish the evening with one last wade since the restaurant was next to the pool and it was too tempting not to stop as we walked back to our room. We paddle boarded and played a couple games beach volleyball one morning. It was fun, but let’s just say I have some room for improvement with beach volleyball.

Baby Flyer even managed to stay in her high chair during our long dinners. Something that has rarely been happening lately. But was a welcome change!

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I never appreciated the pool as much as I did on this vacation. As silly as it sounds, I really noticed all the features of the pool while playing with Baby Flyer. From the wading pool to the sprinklers and waterfall steps, to the infinity edges and gradual beach shoreline slopes. There was so much Baby Flyer could do! She doesn’t always like being held in the water when she can’t touch the bottom so she loved being able to walk in so many areas.

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I could have packed Baby Flyer a few less outfits but she did wear almost everything I packed. I thought I was being silly bringing a whole package of swim diapers but we left with only two extra. Her long sleeve UPF rash guard was my favorite since it covered all of her arms and I didn’t have to worry about sunblock. After one afternoon when she wore her short sleeve rash guard and it seemed like she got some sun, despite putting on sunblock multiple times (it’s strong down there!), I ended up just always having her wear the long sleeve top. It turned into a tan, but still…mommy guilt abounds.

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We’ve been going to this resort for years now, and many of the staff are familiar faces which makes it extra fun.  This year for simplicity, we opted for the all-inclusive meal plan so that meant we ate a lot of our meals at the resort.  However, one night we took a cab to the neighboring small town, Bucerias. Pre-baby, we used to do the 30ish minute walk all the time, but since it was so warm that really didn’t sound like much fun with Baby Flyer. We had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Sandrinas. They take Visa and MasterCard but offer a 15% discount if you pay in cash. We also really enjoy Mark’s and Karen’s Place. Both are in Bucerias. Karen’s Place is on the beach which is perfect for watching the sunset. In the past, they have been cash only but there is an onsite ATM (in the adjacent hotel).

Bucerias is a fun town to walk around and get more of an authentic feeling for the area.  Since we’ve been going for so long, we’ve been able to see how it’s changed over the years. They have open air markets where you can find some good deals than from the sales people on the beach.

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Baby Flyer loved spending some time on the beach too, especially as the sun went down and the sand cooled.  Puerto Vallarta’s coastline is beautiful any time, but the sunsets were truly stunning.  No better way to end each day.

By the time we headed home, we were already looking forward to coming back next time!

~CAR

To read more about our trip, you can head over to Cruising Altitude for CET’s trip report and more photos.

Zoom Zoom Zoom

 

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Baby Flyer met ‘Bluebell’ a few months ago now.  When we were expecting, knowing CET’s  passion for travel, CAR’s mom wanted to buy Baby Flyer a suitcase.  Through CET’s travels, she had seen kids with Trunki Ride-On suitcase in different airports, and she instantly knew which suitcase she thought Baby Flyer should have.

Trunki is a pretty fun idea- it’s a ride-on or push-along kids’ suitcase that fits nicely under standard airplane seats, or in the overhead bin.  They come in all kinds of themes and colors.  “Bluebell” the pony comes complete with a saddle and ‘tail.’

We waited to introduce Baby Flyer to Trunki until she was around 13 months because it didn’t seem to be all that useful when she was really small.  However, once she started loving to push anything with wheels around the house, and we were headed up to Seattle for the weekend, it was perfect timing! We thought ‘Bluebell’ would give Baby Flyer some independence. Boy did she love it!

She pushed it all around the Centurion Lounge in the Seatac Airport. They had recently opened a new area with included additional seating and a bar so Baby Flyer had even more space to cruise around.

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We used it to hold some toys for her for the weekend, keeping it fairly light, and sticking with our shared suitcase method we typically do for our clothes.

‘Bluebell’ fit easily in the overhead bin as advertised, and proved to be a trusty travel companion. Baby Flyer was too young to ride ‘Bluebell’ through the airport on this trip, but once she’s older, we expect she will. She’s gone on a few short ‘rides’ through our house and has enjoyed them tremendously. Plus it’s so darn cute!

 

Happy travels!

~CAR

Trip Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

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Nyhavn, Copenhagen.  No, we’re not staying at this floating hotel….but It looks nice, right?

We’re packing again!!  This Summer has already been busy, with trips to Mexico and Seattle, among others, but this next trip is the one that’s been on our calendar for almost a year now.  We’re getting brave, and taking Baby Flyer to Europe!  It’ll be a week and a half of Oneworld award flights, Scandinavian Airbnb rentals, and a few side jaunts here and there.

Our itinerary starts off with a 787 Dreamliner flight to ORD and two nights in Chicago, which we added because our tickets start there.  Since we love that city, we added some time so we’ll have a day there to take Baby Flyer back to Millennium Park.  From there, we head to Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Copenhagen (Denmark).  The international part of the trip lasts 10 nights (plus one on the flight out), and includes plenty of planes, trains, but not really many automobiles.

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The canal in Ruoholahti where we’re staying in Helsinki

This trip was inspired by Finnair opening up some award seats to Oneworld partners in business class for the summer.  Since premium mileage tickets are notoriously hard to find without big taxes and fees, we jumped on them and booked a round trip ticket from JFK to Helsinki in business class for some miles and about $60.  It will be Baby Flyer’s first long haul international flight, but hopefully having the extra space and lie-flat beds will make it reasonably comfortable.

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How Finnair claims we’ll sleep** on their international flights.  **Baby not pictured

Once we get to Helsinki, we’ll have three days and nights to explore the city.  Given that this is a family trip, we’re planning baby friendly activities, and luckily, Scandinavia in general is overall safe and welcoming for family travelers.  Highlights we’re hoping to hit include the ‘Children’s’ Town’ museum- an interactive exhibit where everything is play-with-able for the little ones, and importantly, is indoors, making it a good rainy day option since we’re likely to get at least one of these this time of year.  We’re also hoping to take the boat out to Suomenlinna island, for a little outdoors time, hiking, and sightseeing.

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Tallinn’s Old Town

The next part of the trip is taking the Eckero Line ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia for two nights.  We’re staying in the ‘Old Town,’ which is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  Our plans here mainly involve exploring the medieval town, food and shopping.  We may venture out to Kadriorg Park, which includes palace grounds, as well as gardens, and several museums, and checking out the KGB museum at the Hotel Viru.

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Eckero Line- M/s Finlandia

As for the ferry, we booked the Eckero Line through Direct Ferries.  It’s a 2 hour crossing on a ‘ferry’ that looks more like a small cruise ship, and we went all out (all extra $40 of it) to book a 4 birth cabin with our reservation.  It’s not really necessary, but since the crossing times just about hit Baby Flyer’s naptime, we thought we might find a little privacy nice.  It also means we’ll have a private bathroom as well.

Once we get back to Helsinki, we’ll be off to the airport once again to catch a short flight on Finnair to Copenhagen.  We booked these tickets separately, and they were reasonably priced, so we didn’t use miles.  Technically, if we’d flown Norwegian, we could have saved a few dollars on the ticket price, but this was one of those lessons for people who don’t look hard enough at discount carriers.  Given that we’re Oneworld elites, we have free checked bags, and free advance seat assignments as long as we stay on partner airlines.  Had we flown on Norwegian, our ‘savings’ would quickly have been more than eaten up by the added charges.  Plus, because we’re flying Oneworld, we’ll have lounge access at Finnair’s comfortable and full service lounges before our flight.

We’ve been to Copenhagen before, and it’s stuck in our minds as one of the places we really wanted to get back to.  We’re spending four nights this time, and are looking forward to seeing the city as a family.  Copenhagen has plenty of kid-friendly places to visit and things to do.  It’s full of parks and playgrounds in the city center (Danish companies design the majority of new playground equipment around the world), and since everyone bikes, walks, and takes the train, it’s easy to get around.

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Central Copenhagen

This trip will be the test of our planning, and also of our Airbnb skills.  We’re staying in a suites hotel in Chicago, but once we cross the ocean, it’s all Airbnb all the time.  To start things off, our accommodation in Helsinki is a three bedroom flat in Ruoholahti.  It looks to be an easy walk to the city center, or a very short tram ride.  It will be nice to have the space to give Baby Flyer her own room, so she can go to bed before we do (hopefully!)

Renting an entire flat or house really makes traveling with babies more enjoyable over a traditional hotel.  Having the space, as well as a kitchen, and if you’re lucky, laundry goes a long way.  There are of course some draw backs as well.  If you haven’t seen the property before, there’s really no guarantees on what it will be like, aside from reviews.  Plus, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s really baby-proof, but the same goes for hotels in general.  If you’re lucky, you can generally find a reasonably priced rental as well, especially when compared to the pricey hotels in this part of the world.

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Deer Park (Dyrehaven).  One of my favorite pictures from our last trip there.

After our time in Copenhagen, we start the trek back home again.  We first have a flight back to Helsinki, then a couple of hours to enjoy the airport lounge and collect ourselves before flying Helsinki to JFK, and JFK back to Los Angeles.  That will make for a long day, but it gets us back home seamlessly, and I managed to find some award space in business class on American’s premium transcon plane, so we’ll have space for the three of us.

Wish us luck & happy summer travels to you all!!

-CET, CAR & Baby Flyer

DFW Centurion Lounge Children’s Room Review

We often have a layover at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).  Especially when traveling across the country with Baby Flyer (LAX to BDL), DFW is almost in the middle.  It’s a nice point for us all to stretch our legs and have a change of pace.  Plus, it breaks up the travel time into two manageable flight times (less than 4 hours each, usually somewhere between 2 hrs 30 min and 3 hrs) which makes it seem less daunting, especially when traveling alone with a baby.  We typically have 6am flights which equal an early morning for all of us.  I usually can count on Baby Flyer to nap for at least part of each flight which also helps break it up.

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Since we’re American Express Platinum members, we have access to, and almost always visit the Centurion Lounge when we are in DFW, even if it means riding the Skylink and switching terminals.  It’s worth it!  They have a delicious full complimentary buffet that changes throughout the day, plus free drinks (both alcoholic and otherwise), and even offer 15 minute manicures, facials, and massages!  They also have an excellent kids’ space that has never been crowded.  We’ve always either had it to ourselves or shared it with one or two other kids.

The Centurion is located in Terminal D, opposite Gate D17, on the mezzanine.  The Centurion can be reached from any other terminal via the Skylink train.  Its current hours of operation are 5:30am to 10pm.  Terminal D is the international terminal and was relatively recently renovated.  The Terminal itself has high ceilings and an open feel.

The kids room is a bit hard to find if you don’t know it’s there.  We’d been going to the Centurion for years before having Baby Flyer, and we never even knew it had a kids’ room.  I was so delighted the first time I learned it was there.  It is to the right of the entrance tucked in the far corner next to a conference room.  To keep the room clean and tidy, no food or beverages are allowed.  Aside from the slight inconvenience, I appreciate that the space is clean.  I usually grab something to eat from the buffet and then once I’m done, we head back there to let Baby Flyer loose to roam around and play.

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The room itself is light and airy, as are the other spaces in the lounge.  It’s not huge but has luckily never felt crowded.  There are puffy ‘chairs’ to sit along the perimeter on one side, a young children’s height shelf with lots of toys, a large activity cube with things to do on all sides, as well as a television for older kids.

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Overall, it’s as good or better than any domestic lounge childrens’ lounge spaces we’ve been to, and the added bonus being that the lounge is awesome from an adults’ perspective as well, so truly fun for the whole family.  It makes keeping our Amex Platinum membership make even more sense.  There’s currently lounges like this also in Houston, Miami, Las Vegas, Seattle, and Newark, with more coming soon, including Philly and Hong Kong.  They’re worth planning stopovers around!

Travel well, and enjoy,

~CAR