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

 

 

 

Inside Baby Flyer’s Suitcase- South of the Border Edition

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The view from Villa Del Palmar- Nuevo Vallarta

We’re currently lucky enough to be on a week’s vacation at the family timeshare (massive thanks to Baby Flyer’s Mema and Bumpa, CAR’s parents, for being timeshare booking experts) in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico!  We’ve decided to embrace the fact that it’s summer, and we’re going to be making the most of Baby Flyer’s last few months as a lap infant.  We’re relaxing in Mexico, then headed to visit family in Seattle, will follow it up with a trip through Scandinavia (there will be updates), and finish the summer with a long weekend in Santa Fe, NM.

Back to the purpose of this post, we thought it would be fun to show you what we packed for Baby Flyer, since we get plenty of questions about what we bring on trips. We will probably be spending most of our time relaxing at the resort. Or as much relaxing as you can with an active 17 month old, so her suitcase is full of ‘resort ware.’

We believe there are different types of vacations and it’s alright to enjoy them all. Sometimes we do lots of exploring and see new things, and other times we soak up time as a family and enjoy the water and being in one place without as many appointments and expectations.

For all of our trips, I’ve been sharing a medium sized suitcase with Baby Flyer.  It seems more simple to have one suitcase to wheel around than two, especially when flying by myself.  I always seem to under-pack for myself and over-pack for Baby Flyer.  I never know how many outfits she will need in a day.  Some days she is fine with one and other days she needs two.  Luckily for this trip, the condo we’re staying in has private laundry, which is a huge benefit with a little one.

It’s the last minute items that always fill up our suitcase.  Things like her white noise machine, monitor (we just packed the monitor portion), eating mat, sleep sack, snacks, running shoes, and nebulizer to name a few.

For this vacation, I expect that we will spend a lot of time in the water, in the shade by the pool, and up in the room.  We are meeting my parents, sister, brother in law, nephew, and niece.  We haven’t all been together since October so I think we are all looking forward to it!

FLYING

Baby Flyer typically flies in pants with either a long, or short sleeve shirt.  It’s comfortable and convenient for changing her diaper as you only have to pull down her pants and there aren’t any snaps.  She wore a pair of Robeez soft soled moccasins which are softer and less clunky and seemed for comfortable for when she stood on our laps during the flight.

SWIM

Baby Flyer has fair skin and so we try our best to keep her covered up as much as possible, and have her wear protective swim clothing and sunblock.  Luckily she is excellent at wearing her sun hat without too much complaint.  The velcro closure under the chin has helped us keep it on.  It may have been a help that we’ve been putting a hat on her since she was a baby…maybe?  Sunglasses are a different story.  We haven’t had as much success, even though she does like to play with them.

All of these swim outfits have UPF fabric so we don’t have to worry as much about the parts of her body that are covered up.

I had wanted to buy Baby Flyer a pair of Native sandals but they didn’t fit her feet.  Her feet are pretty small, she just grew into a size 4, but they are still a little chubby.  I ended up finding a pair of Teva Water Sandals at the Nordstrom Rack for a good price.

Our whole family uses Coola sunblock.  We just love it!  It doesn’t even feel like you’re wearing sunblock when you have it on.  We use the Coola Mineral Sport Sunscreen and the  Coola Mineral Matte Finish Face on us, while we bought the Baby version for Baby Flyer.  Both apply so evenly and thinly and we find that they protect our skin.  I tried the Beauty Counter stick face sunscreen and didn’t find it protected my skin as well and always left it feeling sticky, like I could tell I was wearing sunscreen, and was hard to wash off.  However, I have friends who love it.  To each their own.

DRESSSES

Baby Flyer tends to wear a lot of casual dresses so we packed quite a few.  Even though Mexico is hot and humid during the summer, we included a couple pants as options to wear with the dresses if she needed them.  Not pictured, we also packed a pair of white shorts to wear under some of her shorter dresses.  Sometimes she’s interested in her taking off her diaper so covering it up helps keep it on.

A family friend has an online Scandinavian children’s clothing store, Ittikid, so some of her dresses are from her shop.  We try to support her whenever we can plus the clothing is cute and always so soft!

ROMPERS

I packed her a couple of rompers.  Baby Flyer had this Patagonia romper last year and we bought it at the end of the season when it was on sale for this year.  We love her Patagonia hat!  It’s UPF fabric, velcros under her chin, is reversible, and has a wide brim.  It literally goes everywhere with us and was a no brainer to pack it.  Her Keen sandals have been working out well so far this summer.  We had a coupon for the Nordstrom Rack and found a pair in her size there, so we only had to pay $9 for them.

SHORTS

JULY 4TH OUTFIT

Baby Flyer’s Mema found this top on sale at Old Navy and thought it had a perfect hint of patriotic flair for the 4th of July.

It may seem like Baby Flyer has a lot of shoes, however, up until two weeks ago she only had one pair of sneakers.  Just recently she outgrew them so we bought her two pairs in a size 4 for her to grow in to.  We also wanted something that would give her a feet some air since it’s warm in the summer where we live.

That’s pretty much the run-down!  We’re in Mexico for a week, so reviews and updates to follow from the beach!

~CAR & Baby Flyer

 

It Takes a Village…To Cross The Country

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The thought of flying alone with a baby or toddler can be fairly daunting.  I always worry how Baby Flyer is going to behave and if my fellow passengers are going to be understanding.  I’m always concerned that I’m going to be bothering them and they will cringe when they see they’re sitting next to a little one for the next three or more hours.  Basically, I’m hyper-aware of inconveniencing anyone.

Most of the time, passengers will smile and interact with Baby Flyer during boarding as they walk to their seat, and there will be one or two people near us that might show some interest in her periodically throughout the flight.  But for the majority of the flight, it’s me and her and, sometimes a kind Flight Attendant.  There’s always going to be the occasional seatmate that doesn’t say a word, but that could happen with or without a little one.

While this hasn’t always been the case, most of my experience traveling alone with a baby is that people are surprisingly friendly and offer to help whenever they can.  The people on our two flights back to LAX last Friday were exceptional!

It began with the person next to us in 3A saying during boarding, “Don’t worry about what happens.  I know how flying with a baby is.”  These simple words meant so much.  In all of our flights, I had never had this happen.  Yes, people have been understanding, but to say it outright at the beginning of the flight when a lot of people probably wanted to try and get some sleep meant so much.  We had an early morning flight, and boarding had started at 6am.  It was welcoming and comforting to know he understood.

Baby Flyer nursed during take off and surprisingly stayed awake for the first part of the flight.  She was active and curious, really wanting to get down and walk around but for the most part, I was able to distract her with toys and snacks at our seat.  At one point when she really wanted to get down, I tried to distract her with the camera on my phone (it’s not usually a go-to toy for us around the house) and that didn’t work to well…

Boo Boo camera face

Sometimes it’s just too early to smile for the camera.

She only fell asleep for the last hour and stayed asleep during landing and taxiing.  I opted to wait to eat until she took a nap since we’re at the stage where she wants to touch everything, I thought it would be fairly messy if I ate while she was awake.  After the meal service was done, the Flight Attendant stopped by and said to let him know at any point when I wanted to eat.  Again, simple act but normally when I ask to delay my meal, the Flight Attendants have seemed slightly annoyed.

We were in the bulkhead and I had taken my bag down after take off and hadn’t put it back up before she fell asleep on me.  This same Flight Attendant offered to zip it and put it up for me.  Simple gestures mean so much.

Once we landed, Baby Flyer was still sleeping but woke up right as it was time to get off the plane.  Since we were changing terminals, I took a few minutes to get organized and put Baby Flyer in our Ergo 360 Carrier.  The same friendly Flight Attendant saw that I needed to buckle the strap on my back (probably the only difficult part of putting this carrier on) and he came over and buckled it for me.  He was young and seemed really enthusiastic about his job.  I can’t say enough how much of a difference a friendly cabin crew can make in a day of traveling.

Ergo Baby Airport

We lounge hopped, as they say, and spent our time in the American Express Centurion Lounge, and then AA Admirals Club.  Baby Flyer enjoyed the time to stretch her legs and move around.  She also had a few bites to eat.  We’ve discussed lounge memberships here before, but as Baby Flyer gets older we are finding them even more important with the amount we fly.  Having access to safe kids’ spaces, and free food and drinks, as well as generally better facilities for diaper and clothes changes goes a long way.  If you want to learn more about the best and most cost-effective way to access these spaces, you can read plenty about them at CruisingAltitude, CET’s other site, or get advice from our consulting site AltitudeConsulting as well.

Admirals Kids Club

A day of flying is all fun and games with a layover at the Admirals’ Club.

On our second flight, it felt like the whole cabin was playing and interacting with Baby Flyer.  She LOVED it!  I loved it too.  I stood for part of boarding with Baby Flyer facing out in the Ergo.  She was smiling, kicking her feet, yelling ‘hi!’, and doing her social laugh to everyone who passed by.  As a result, she was getting a lot of attention which she loved, and was setting the tone for the flight.  The man directly behind us kept commenting how Baby Flyer was the happiest baby he’d met…. and he had 6 kids and has 15 grandchildren!!  It’s hard to be nervous about flying on your own with a baby when you get a reception like that.

There were two men in aisle seats directly behind us who were smiling and playing peekaboo with Baby Flyer.  She was hamming it up for both of them!  It was pretty cute because neither man knew the other was doing it but both were getting big smiles.  The person next to us in 1B took a picture of Baby Flyer smiling and laughing at the beginning of the flight.  Not knowing he was doing it, I just went with it.  He later showed me a text with the photo he sent his teenage daughter who says he’s not funny anymore, that said “See, someone still thinks I’m funny!”

Baby Flyer again nursed during take off and stayed awake for the first part of the flight.  She amazingly didn’t want to get down and walk, but was content playing and snacking.  She would periodically stand up and peek over the seats at her new friends.  Sure enough, they were playing back.  One man would play peekaboo with her over the seats and down the aisle.  I appreciated the extra help with entertaining her and thanked him after the flight.  He said he enjoyed it too.  The woman across the aisle from us would occasionally reach her hand out and then take it back and Madeline would try and reach for it, which was entertaining for a couple minutes.

The Flight Attendant was amazing on this flight as well.  I asked to eat later when she was sleeping and he completely understood.  He kept checking to see if I needed anything and if I was ready to eat.  Once she finally fell asleep towards the end, he asked if I was ready and brought the tray over.  Since while holding her I can’t take out the whole tray, I asked for the main entree and served it on the mini tray they usually use for drinks and nuts.  It worked quite well.

As a bonus, while Baby Flyer napped, I was able to finish the movie, Bridget Jones’s Baby that I started on our way to Massachusetts.  I thought it was cute and entertaining, especially since I enjoy a good chick flick mid-flight.

Since Baby Flyer was sleeping at the end of the flight, I had help again putting my bag up.  (A note on seat selection here- Lately I’ve been choosing bulkhead seats to give a little more space in front of me to stand during boarding, or to let Baby Flyer stand during the flight in front of me.  It’s nice, but it does mean you have to put even small bags in the overhead for takeoff and landing.)  This time it was from the woman across the aisle from us.  Once we landed, it felt like multiple people were asking if I needed any help putting on the Ergo or getting my bags down from the overhead bin.  Everyone was SO friendly!

I’ve never experienced flights like these where so many people were so kind.  Don’t get me wrong- we’ve met plenty of nice people over our years of flying, both with and without Baby Flyer, but this day really stood out.  I surprisingly felt refreshed when we got to LAX after waking up at 3:15 and flying across the country with an almost 14 month old.  I really felt the effect of the kindness of others.

I guess in the end, experiences like this are reminders that even small acts of kindness or helpfulness can go a long way to improving someone else’s day.  It’s something I hope to keep in mind as often as possible.

Safe travels & kind wishes,

-CAR

Snowed In, Flight Changes, and Other Adventures

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Baby Flyer and I went to Massachusetts last week for a family visit.  It was just the two of us on the trip, so I had to brush up on my ‘flying alone with baby’ skills, but all went pretty well considering.  I’ve come to realize that while flying with our baby-turning-toddler is definitely different from our old flights, it can be pretty fun nonetheless.  It’s definitely more active, but she can be a pretty great travel companion.  Plus, it’s honestly surprising how kind other travelers can be when you’re doing your best to entertain a baby through a flight.  Baby Flyer has made her share of ‘in-flight friends’ already.

We were supposed to leave to fly home Tuesday, but in anticipation of what’s turned out to be the biggest winter storm of the year, American Airlines emailed me at the end of last week offering to waive the (usually significant) change fee if I changed our flight in advance to avoid flying on the day the storm was predicted.

Though adjusting plans is never simple, I’m so glad I changed early when there were still plenty of options and seats available, because our flight was understandably cancelled.  Since my original flight was already confirmed in first class, I really didn’t want to be a victim of post-storm overbooking, and stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat with a busy toddler on my lap.  So, I jumped at the opportunity to change early.  We’re now set to fly back to LA on Friday.  The whole process of changing our ticket was actually incredibly easy.  It’s all done online now when there’s a weather emergency.  No waiting on hold!  You log in to your American Airlines account, find your ticket record, and then you can search for and see the available options.  Our new ticket ended up being $1.87 cheaper so we now have a $1.87 credit.

So, that taken care of, we could get back to enjoying our time away, and settle in to wait for the snow.  However, this same climate we were now enjoying tends to highlight how much I’ve (surprisingly) gotten used to not having this be our normal.  Baby Flyer loves being outside!  Unless it’s pouring rain, getting some fresh air is part of our everyday routine.  Since she was born, I’ve appreciated our mild winters SO much more.  I keep saying I would have to learn how to be a parent of a young child in a cold climate.

MPeekaboo

It’s cold out here!

It’s not just me either, I’m pretty sure Baby Flyer has gotten pretty spoiled with our typically nice weather.  Case in point- one afternoon we bundled Baby Flyer up for a short walk on a beautiful new handicap accessible trail.  It ended up being particularly windy that day and we had to cut our walk even shorter.  Even though only part of her face was sticking out, I’m not sure she enjoyed the wind all that much.

Fort River Trail

Photo Credit- Trip Advisor

When we were flying in last week, I was surprised to see no snow on the ground.  This is Western Massachusetts at the end of Winter.  I was expecting at least brown crusty snow, and instead was greeted by grass and bare trees.  The week before we got here, they had unseasonably warm temperatures and all the snow melted.

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The backyard ‘before’ picture.

So, when I learned that a big snowstorm was predicted, I was pretty excited!  It was just what I was craving.  As crazy as it sounds, I was actually looking forward to shoveling (and grateful that I was here to help my parents do it).  And this snowstorm did not disappoint!

Snowy Sky

Coming down

All in all, we got about a foot of fresh powdery snow!  There was plenty of playing, and yes, shoveling to satisfy my itching for a good workout after being in the house too long.

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It’s thiiiiiiis deep!

We were lucky enough to be able to borrow a snow suit for Baby Flyer since we all were pretty excited to take her outside for her first real snow day.  Once the snow wasn’t quite as heavy, we took her out and she LOVED it!  She kept trying to step on top of the snow, like she does with stairs (she loves stairs lately).  She didn’t want to come in but we were worried her feet would get chilly since she only had on a pair of sneakers.  The next day, we borrowed a pair of boots for her.  I couldn’t wait for us to go outside.

Msnowwalk2

Playtime!!

Baby Flyer was pretty fascinated with the snow in general, even from inside.  She liked standing on the back of the couch looking out the window and watching it fall.  She seemed so intrigued.  The first time she looked out the front door, she seemed so puzzled and took a good long look.  It really reminds you how much we take our own understanding of the world for granted when you see her mind working on a new experience like this.  These are the moments where I really appreciate being able to travel and show her different parts of the country and the world.

LookingAtTheSnow

Watching the transformation outside

All in all, we are making the most of our longer trip.  The town was pretty quiet on Tuesday with most places closed.  We stayed home all day, since the roads were pretty snowy.  Today though, regular life is resuming as people dig themselves and their cars out.  I even ventured out for a 5 mile run this morning.  It was slow and slippery (not surprisingly).  There were snow banks I had to leap over, but it was perfect- sunny and barely any wind.

Icecicles

You don’t see these in Los Angeles!

In the end it was a fun adventure, and a longer trip than anticipated.  We definitely made the best of it, and Baby Flyer got her first real snow day!  Now we’re headed back to LA for a week or so before a trip to Seattle.  We’re pretty sure we’re in for some authentic rainstorms up there, but hopefully nothing this dramatic!

~CR & Baby Flyer