I had some extra time yesterday, so I wrote up a trip report on last year's summer vacation. I will try to focus on what it's like to travel with kids, and show that it is possible.
For a long time, I wanted to see the West Coast. After checking the US Airways award chart, I saw that flights from Europe to Hawaii are the same amount of miles as to the North America region (100k in business) , so I decided to include that as well.
US Airways used to have a buy miles promotion, that the miles only cost 1.35 cpm, so I filled up mine, my wife's, and my parents account with 100k each in preparation for this trip. One ticket I booked with Aeroplan (130k) as they allow an infant for a flat $100, instead of the 10% of a full fare ticket that US would charge.
If you want to travel during high season with miles, you either have to book last minute, or 330 days in advance. That's what I did: last September I booked our flights for this past August. I was very lucky and got what I wanted: booked with miles for all 6 people, each one $1,350 for the US miles plus $78 taxes, and $160 for HNL-LIH-HNL
ZRH-FRA-JFK with LH Business
one night in NY
LGA-ORD-HNL with UA F small flight with HA to Kauai (thanks Dan for the corporate booking)
7 nights in Kauai
LIH-HNL HA, HNL-LAX UA F
7 nights west coast
LAX-MUC-ZRH LH Business
When booking the flight so early, I had to deal with about 7 schedule changes and rebookings. It was not easy doing this with 5 tickets, booked with 2 different mileage programs, but in the end I got a bargain and it was worth it.
While traveling with kids is not easy, it can be done, if you prepare well. We had 20 hours on 5 different flights in less then 2 days, but B"H managed fine. My boys were 6, 5, 3 and 8 months old. The 6 and 5 year old got a PSP before our trip and were busy with them on all flights. For my 3 year old I got an iPad with games and movies. That - with nosh - made the flights very enjoyable for us parents as well. I only give the kids electronic gadgets for flights, so it's something special that keeps them busy. Throughout the year its locked up.
Finally the day arrived...
Our flight from ZRH to FRA left at 7 in the morning and I didn't get too much sleep as it was the day after 9 Av and we only started packing at night, at about midnight. I could have booked the 7:40 flight from ZRH (FRA-JFK 10:00) but with kids I don't like to rush. B"H I didn't, as the 7:40 flight was cancelled.
We landed in Frankfurt at 8:30. This was actually the first time I transferred in Frankfurt, not flying first class. I did miss the limo pick up and only now realized how big that airport is. We made it to the other gate 10 minutes before boarding started, so i would suggest at least 1:20 in FRA to connect, especially with kids that will not run. Since the top floor of the A380 is business and first only, the boarding gate on the top floor is a lounge. That's very good, as you can relax at the gate and when boarding starts, you are at the gate already...
We boarded as late as possible. The flight was full (100+seats in business), so I didn't get a free seat for the baby. He did fit nicely in the bassinet and LH didn't make a issue taking the Maxi Cosi on board. This helped a lot, as my youngest son spend a lot of time in there and was much happier than in the bassinet. My wife just had it on the floor in front of her. This only worked because we traveled in business; in economy they would probably complain, and also is the space limited.
My boys kept themselves busy for 9 hours playing football on the PSP and I was even able to sleep a nice amount. We landed in NY on time and my wife ran to every door looking for the stroller. Every agent told her, that she will find them at a different door of the A380. In the end they only delivered it at baggage claim.
Passport control had a huge line, but an agent told us to skip the line, as were traveling with kids, so we cleared within 5 minutes. I don't know if this is policy, or just a nice guy.
I rented a minivan from Dollar (Chabad $55/day) and drove straight to Pomegranate to stock up on food. They have a great selection, and double wrapped all the food for me, so I only had to heat it up when needed. You are not allowed to bring food into the USA, so this was our only option.
From there we drove straight to our hotel. I booked it through 50,000 Club Carlson points (promotion after one night stay, I "stayed" somewhere for $70) so I basically paid $70 for the night. One room in my name and one in my wife's name, as a Club Carlson Gold (match from SPG Plat) they gave me a nice suite with a connecting room.
We then walked to the Empire State Building and went to the top. You can buy a express pass online, costs a little extra, but there are no lines. Kids under 6 don't pay, so we paid the express for 3 people and were at the top in 10 minutes. For my kids this was amazing, and we also enjoyed it very much. With the express you also skip the line on the way down and the whole thing took us 40 minutes with staying 20 minutes on top. Waiting with 4 kids for 2 hours in line is no fun, so in my opinion it was totally worth it.
We then took a taxi to times square and went into Toys 'R Us as well - the kids wanted to see it. By then it was 7:30 PM and for my kids already 1:30 AM, time for them to go to sleep after getting up at 5 AM. I don't know were they got the energy from, but even our baby was totally with the program and only went to sleep in the hotel room. We arranged a babysitter in advance and met some friends in prime grill. Food and sushi was very good, but I slept through half of it. For me it was 3 AM already, and I had slept only 2 hours the night before...
We got back to our hotel and I had to pack the food in extra suitcases and store the meat in the fridge. At midnight I finally fell asleep, knowing that I have to be up at 4 AM again. I almost didn't hear the alarm, but got up, packed the meat and put our luggage in the car. Parking through Groupon was only 16 dollars for the night :-)
Our flight left LGA at 7 AM and the drive at this time of the day was very short. Dollar has its station outside of the airport and the shuttle doesn't go that often at night, so leave yourself enough time.
I got to the check in counter 90 minutes before our flight. The lady at check in claimed one of our tickets to be a paper ticket. I explained that paper tickets don't exist anymore, but that didn't help. A few minutes before the cutoff time, she managed with the help of a supervisor to check us in, but didn't know how to check the luggage through with HA to Kauai. I didn't have the time to argue, as we had to clear security and make it to the gate on time, but it did cost me a lot of sweat later on in the day.
The flight from LGA to Chicago was uneventful and we flew economy for that small leg, first wasn't available on points. As it's a short flight, it was no big deal.
At Chicago we had 2 hours to change planes. I must say, it was quite a walk. My kids used the time to recharge their iPads and PSP. We boarded the flight early and the UA crew let my kids into the cockpit before takeoff, and they were even allowed to sit in the captains seat for some pictures. Very friendly crew. Unfortunately it was a domestic F only, good enough for a day flight, but I don't know how they get away with it. Its a 9 hour+ flight and the seats are really.... But knowing that we will soon get to the other side of the world and everyone was in a good mood helped a lot
We got kosher food, it was okay, economy plus meal
They served a lot of cocktails and the crew was one of the best i ever encountered. My son once again spend most of the time in his Maxi Cosi on the floor. He crawled around alot in the kitchen and the crew didn't mind, they played with him and were outright nice and accomodating.
After a long flight we finally landed in HNL. We waited for the luggage to arrive (thank you check-in lady at LGA
) and had to take a shuttle bus to the domestic terminal. Quite a shlep with 4 kids and 7 suitcases, everything is also very slow, so once again we almost missed our connection.
Dan arranged the inter-island flight for me via his corporate rate, which gave us free luggage. I didn't realize only 50 pounds were allowed, so I had to repack a lot and paid the overweight fee for 2 bags, as I just didnt have the time. We just made it when boarding started.
The flight was really full, so no carseat on board. Flight to kauai is very short, but you get some nice views and we got to see half the US air force on the way to the runway. We landed at 5 PM and I really started to feel the time difference - in Switzerland it was 5 AM the next morning, and I had slept only 6 hours the last 2 nights. I send my kids and wife with the taxi and took all the suitcases to the rental place.
Reserved a 7 seater SUV though Dollar (Chabad) and got the Traverse. I drive the same car at home, but this was without all the options... what a difference.
The drive to waipouli beach resort was only 20 minutes and easy to find. Our unit was beautiful, new and fully stocked with everything we needed. Had 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, big kitchen, living room and a huge garden right on the beach. We couldn't have asked for more, and didn't regret not staying at the Hyatt for a second. It also came out much cheaper and gave us the extra space over a suite or 2 bedrooms in the hyatt. We had a huge pool, lazy river pool, jacuzzis, water slides, spa.... we might not have had the full service of a hotel, but we would go back right away. For a couple the Hyatt is nicer, but with kids this was a resort-style condo that was just perfect.http://www.waipoulibeachresort.com/http://www.flipkey.com/kapaa-condo-rentals/p150336/
Across the street we had a big supermarket, and we bought all the stuff we needed. After traveling for 2 days and changing 12 timezones, the kids wanted to swim before going to sleep,
The next 7 days were really relaxing, we mostly spent the mornings at the pool and/or beach, and in the afternoon went exploring. We used the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook - what a good investment! We stopped at many waterfalls and small trails that we would have never found without the book. Here a few of the main things we enjoyed:
-Helicopter Tour (took my own helicopter for entire family, call around, if you are flexible on time they will give you a good deal and fit you in when they have no one coming at that hour)
-ATV Tour (2 younger kids stayed with babysitter)
-Sundown Drink on the porch of the St. Regis
-Snorkeling off the last beach before the Napali coast (forgot the name)
We used a local babysitter service, so that we can go out in the evenings and relax a little. I don't remember the name, but they had very good feedback on Yelp and Trip Advisor and no one had a bad word to say about them. So we felt very comfortable leaving them at night when sleeping and also once during the day when we only took the older ones ATVing. They send really nice pleasant girls to look after them, and price was about $20 an hour.
We went to the Hyatt to check it out and have some drinks there. Very nice hotel, but enough people have commented on this.
We spend Shabbes in our unit, ate outdoors and just chilled. Can think of worse places to spend Shabbes. The food from Pomegranate was very good and we didn't miss anything.
The week passed very quickly and we had to leave already. Was a week enough? Yes and no. We did feel like we did a lot, but for sure would not have been bored staying another week. We really fell in love with Hawaii and will go back in the future
The drive to the airport took about 1.5 hours as we had road work, and once again we almost missed the flight, even though I left very early. I returned the car after dropping off all the luggage at the airport, and offered the shuttle driver $10 if he takes me that second
The check-in agent knew how to check our luggage in for our UA HNL-LAX flight as well, so that saved me the shlep at HNL. We were supposed to have a 2 hour connection in HNL, but our flight to LAX was delayed for 3 hours, so our new departure time was at midnight. I actually preferred this, as the kids would fall asleep easier, and we got a chance to drive into HNL. We stopped at the local Chabad for dinner, and went to the shopping mall next door for a quick stroll.
The flight from HNL to LAX was on a small 737 and uneventful. The crew was not very friendly after doing the LAX-HNL and being delayed, long day for them. The meals on the flight were okay, but who needs that at midnight. My kids fell asleep quite fast, and we all slept for about 3 hours.
We landed in LAX and I rented a car from Hertz (Chabad) and upgraded to a nice Suburban, as with the luggage it was almost impossible to stuff it all into a minivan. It was now a Wednesday morning and we planned spending the next 2 days until Shabbes in San Diego. One day Sea World, one day Legoland. I booked the Sheraton Harbour in San Diego with cash and points. I got a suite confirmed before (Platinum) and a connecting room.
The plan was to drop off the luggage, sleep for 2 hours and head to Sea World. I called the hotel and they wouldnt have the room ready until 3 PM, so Sea World, here we come! Who needs sleep?! The drive was very peaceful, as everyone slept. By the time we got to Sea World, I wanted to snooze in the car, but everyone woke up
Davened in the parking lot.
I booked the Sea World tickets online. You can find good discounts if you research a little. I did buy the $40 special access pass. It allowed us front of the line access to all lines and reserved seating at all shows. It was worth every penny. While other people made sure to be at the show 30 minutes early and wait in the heat, we came the minute it started and had the best seats waiting for us. Also, all the rides had very long lines. We skipped these and were on the ride within 2 minutes. San Diego in the summer with the sun boiling down, after traveling through the night, would have been impossible without them. I don't know if they're needed if going not during summer vacation, but when we went, the park was packed. Also not waiting in line with small kids makes sure no one is in a bad mood.
The plan was to stay until 5 PM and then head back to the hotel, but we had such a blast and didnt feel tired at all. I can highly recommend Sea World.We left after 8 PM, and the kids didnt want to leave. I really don't know were this energy came from. We still had sandwiches from the flight and decided not to go out for dinner, as the parents were very tired.
Arrived at the Sheraton, check in went very fast. Got a nice big suite plus connecting bedroom. Nothing fancy, but it did the job, and we didn't come to San Diego to stay at the hotel.
The next day we planned to drive to Legoland. As we were low on food, we stopped by at Ralph's on the way. They have a amazing kosher selection and also make great sandwiches for take out. I once again bought the tickets online and found a "buy one, get one free" promotion, so that saved some money. At Legoland I did something that most people would probably say is crazy: I bought a VIP pass for $150 extra per person. It gives you direct access to all rides and free food and drink at the park. Yes, it was a extra 750 Dollars, but I would not have done it without it.
Every ride had about a one hour wait at least, some even more. There is no way you can enjoy a day at the park in the summer heat with small children like this. We got to do every ride within 30 seconds, as we were allowed to enter via the exit. As we had a small baby, both parents could not go at once on some rides, so the fun rides I did with the kids and 2 minutes later my wife once again. We managed to do all rides and shows within a day, while being totally relaxed, with no whining kids. We didn't get to enjoy the free food that much, besides for drinks, fruits and some kosher ices. Without that pass, we would have needed at least 2 days to do all, so it saved a second day entrance as well.... Expensive? Yes! Worth it? Definitely. Curious to know what you think about it...
After leaving the park very late, we passed Ralph's on the way back to the hotel for some food. Kids were quite tired after such a long day, and we didn't fancy going to a restaurant...
Friday morning we rented a boat from right outside the hotel, and drove around the harbour. It's very interesting, as you get to pass all the aircraft carriers and other navy boats.
We packed our 100 suitcases and made our way to Los Angeles. I was planning on staying by a friend's parents' house for Shabbes, but they left last minute, and we got to use the entire house for ourselves. I got takeout food in advance from ....(forgot the name, but was suggested on DDF ) We spent a nice Shabbes in the Jewish area, and it was nice to get a feel of the Jewish community.
Motze Shabbes we visited the Avenue of the Stars and I must say, I didn't get the whole hype about it. Majorly overrated and the crowd hanging out there was also not very........ dont have the word for it, but you get my point. We picked up some sushi on the way, that was really amazing; the lines at the pizza shops were much too long.
The next day, Universal Studios was on the program, and we were supposed to move out to the SLS hotel. Since the room was not ready early in the morning, we only checked in late at night after Universal studios. At the same time we traveled, another family I knew was in Los Angeles and Hawaii. They wanted me to arrange the entire trip (rental cars, hotels, flights, what to do....) so I agreed and we made up payment would be a exclusive VIP tour of US, that we do together. The VIP tour costs $269, but you are not allowed to do it with kids under 5. The only way one can do it is if you book an entire tour - thats $269x16. Since he wanted to do it anyway, and also had small kids, he agreed, and I got the tour for free. Here the details of the VIP tour:http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/tickets/vip-experience/
We had a amazing tour of US, the tour made the day very special and unforgetable. No lines, special seats at all shows, pictures with the actors of the shows, a lot of behind the scenes, walking real sets.... If you have the extra cash for it, spend it. The Park is enjoyable for kids and adults.
After the tour, we stopped at Pat's for a quick dinner and then checked in at the SLS. I got one room with Cash and points and one room with AAA rate. They wanted to upgrade me to a suite, but as they had no connecting room I declined and got a nice deluxe room. I must admit the hotel is very stylish, but also very much into luxury. The rooms were very nice and we really really liked the hotel
The next day I arranged a local babysitter to take care of the kids for a day, so that I could spend one day with my wife, by ourselves. They spent the day by the pool of the hotel and had a nice time. I rented a Porsche convertible for $199 for a day, and told my wife it will just be a surprise day. I found a Groupon voucher for a flight lesson in Santa Monica for a couple. Each person got a take off and landing plus 20 minutes of flying time. We also got a memory video, all for $129. I booked this in advance and we drove to Sanata Monica airport. They gave us a small 4 seater plane, I went first and my wife sat in the back... It was quite scary, when we taxied to the runway and the pilot said, "you take off" and explained me what to do... But it wasn't so hard, and an experience I will not forget so fast. We flew along the entire coast (Santa Monica, Santa Barbara...) - was really stunning. Then we landed at the airport, and I changed seats with my wife. She took off, and we followed a route along downtown Los Angeles. For $129 we both had flight lessons, and got to see the coast as well as downtown from air - a real bargain
We then drove down to the beach and rented bikes. They have a great bike pass along the beach and we enjoyed it very much. I reserved a table at Tierra Sur restaurant for dinner. Driving along the coast in a porsche convertible was really nice and we had a great time. The restaurant was very nice, the menu quite small, but very good. I didn't think it was the best kosher restaurant, as some people make it, but it's for sure in the top 3. The drive on the way back to Los Angeles was much faster on the main highway, but at night there wasnt much to see anyway.
We had one day for ourselves and made the most of it - we had a fantastic time.
The next day we spent strolling around Los Angeles and shopping. At night we took the kids to a dinner show:http://www.medievaltimes.com/buenapark.aspx
The kids loved it and it was a nice evening out. We were supposed to get kosher, but it didnt work out, and the manager gave us $100 at the gift shop. No big deal, we went to La Gondola for dinner after the show, and had a great meal. La Gondola was my favourite restaurant throughout the trip, the steak was just perfect and service was great.
Last day arrived: We spend the morning shopping for stuff, eating lunch at La Gondola, and packing all our suitcases. On the way back we had 11 suitcases of clothes, American food, and an Artscroll Shas I bought (Siyum Hashas sale). The Staff at the SLS was just great - they picked up all the suitcases from my room, and loaded them into my valet parked car. I didnt have to shlep a single suitcase. A taxi to the airport would have been about $50, so I called a stretch limo for $80 as a nice surprise for my wife and kids to end the trip. You should have seen the smile on the kids' faces. I followed them with my rental to LAX and dropped off all luggage curbside. My family waited there for me until I returned the car.
Check-in was fast and painless, as we only got there 90 minutes before the flight, so there was no line. I must say LAX was quite a comfortable airport. We hit the lounge for 5 minutes to have a drink and made it on time to the gate.
You should have seen the faces, when 4 kids walk into Business Class on a night flight. The flight left at 9:00 PM and my kids slept 11 hours straight, two of my kids were asleep even before takeoff, and didn't make a sound for the entire flight, I got a lot of compliments from other passengers and crew. The flight had WiFi and I got some work done before sleeping 7 hours as well. Meals were okay, once again nothing special.
In Munich we had 3 hours to kill, so we used the time to shower and walk around a little. By the time we got home it was 10 PM and for the kids it was only 11 in the morning LA time, so we all stayed up until 4 AM and then went to sleep for 6 hours. We woke the kids at 10 AM Swiss time, after less than 6 hours of sleep. They had a hard time getting out of bed, but this is the only way of doing it, to get them back into the "normal" time zone. So at night we went to sleep at a normal time, and we didnt have any long term jetlag effects.
This ends my trip report. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Most of the places were covered previously on DDF, but I wanted to show that it is possible to travel with young kids or a baby, and hope you will try it as well. Sure, you will not be able to do every activity, but so what?! Enjoy and make the most out of it. The memory of such a trip with your own kids will last a lifetime. We flew on 9 flights within 17 days, crossed 12 timezones and slept in a lot of different places and all had a blast! Even my wife, that thought it was a crazy idea, would do it again within minutes.
Please feel free to comment, criticize, or ask any questions you may have.