Kid-friendly cruises: A resource to find them

One of the best features of the MSC cruise I took with my 17 year-old-daughter and 7-year-old son this summer from Venice to a Greece was the kid’s club. It wasn’t that I wanted a place to dump my son–we took him on every shore excursion, but when we were on the ship, it gave him a chance to play with other kids and use up energy. He has a lot of energy.

For anyone taking a cruise with a child–or a teen for that matter, look to see what the options are for his or her age group. Also, make sure that before you get your mind set on a particular cruise that your child is age appropriate for that cruise.

Look at the shore excursion options if you’re interested in those to see what age a child has to be in order to go. Some trips have age requirements due to safety factors. If excursions are mostly for adult passengers, maybe you ought to reconsider your choice.

There’s a handy press release guide at that highlights cruise line offerings for the younger crowd–even infants. When planning a cruise vacation with a child this can be a handy place to start. As you read through each listing, you’ll notice specifics like what ages are programs geared towards and what services are offered for babies. Some cruises don’t have any specific programs for kids, while others are a kid’s paradise.

Checking out options is a great way to visualize a cruise in the first place. That’s what happened to me. I imagined my son on the cruise and then we had to go.

Going to Yosemite? Don’t take the minivan!

One of the great draws of visiting a National Park like Yosemite in California is that you can get very close to nature and see animals in their own habitat. But there is a limit to just how close you want to get to certain animals, especially black bears, which can be dangerous to both humans and cars as they look for food.

There are several ways to reduce your risk of having an unpleasant encounter with a black bear, and as it turns out, not driving a mini van may be one of them.

A study done by the Journal Mammology over a 7 year period in Yosemite has shown that black bears in the region seem to prefer minivans as their vehicle of choice when looking for a snack. But, the study reveals, it’s not actually the car style and size the bears are attracted to (and no, they don’t care about the car’s crash safety ratings either), it’s more about fuel efficiency. And by “fuel efficiency”, they mean which cars provide the most food for the bears.

It seems that minivan drivers are more likely to be traveling with a family and toting around small children – children who inevitably leave open snack containers in the car or who leave a trail of chips and cookies behind them.

The researchers also hypothesized that minivans that often carry small children may have stronger food odors even when there is no food inside, because kids are likely to spill, and that minivans may be more likely to contain a cooler of food, because they are larger and can accommodate one more easily. The researchers also wondered if minivans were just easier for the bears to break into.

Out of 908 cars broken into in the 7 year period, 22% were minivans, 22.5% were SUVs, 17% were small cars and 13.7% were sedans.

Method for quieting child on plane: Works better without the vomit

Too bad Pamela Root, the latest woman to be kicked off a plane with her child because of her child’s behavior, didn’t have Lisa Belkin’s method of calming down a screaming toddler. Not the whole method though, just part of it. The whole version is gross. And yes, it is funny–very funny. But it is gross, very gross as well. It’s also a cautionary tale of sorts regarding those handy barf bags tucked into an airplane’s seat back pockets.

Belkin, who writes for the Motherlode blog in the New York Times, recounts her own trapped-on-a plane-with-an-unruly toddler story. In Belkin’s case, it was her own toddler who would not be consoled. Well aware of the looks of horror and sympathy being directed her way by the other passengers, and the not so friendly skies look of the flight attendant who was closest to her, Belkin feared being jettisoned off the plane.

In a flash of brilliance, Belkin pulled the barf bag out of a seat pocket, drew a face on it, slipped her hand inside and turned her hand into a puppet show. Her child stopped crying immediately, pleased as punch.

Belkin, figuring that if one puppet was a hit, two might be Oscar winning material, thrust her other hand into another barf bag. Unfortunately, someone already had found a use for the barf bag– the use for which it was meant.

Yep. There was Belkin, her hand in a barf bag covered with vomit, and her puppet show at a screeching halt. Fortunately, her husband, who had not been very useful up to that point, was there to help out while Belkin bounded for the restroom lickety split for a sanitation session in the lavatory before the plane took off.

After reading Belkin’s story, I’m thankful that when I used a barf bag this summer to hold my son’s Lego airplane pieces from the toy I bought at the Detroit airport, I didn’t have a mess to clean up. Vomit on Legos? Gaad.

I bought the toy as a way to keep him occupied on our way to Venice via Amsterdam. Fortunately, he’s at the age where the in-flight movies do the trick just fine.

The TSA took my baby story: The relationship between psychology, customer service and traveling with a young one

After watching the TSA video of the mother blogger who claimed in a post on her blog “My Bottle’s Up” that a TSA agent temporarily took her baby son out of her sight during the security screening process at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport, I had thoughts about TSA security screening.

Katie wrote a post about this incident earlier today, but there are other points worth making, particularly when considering factors that helped create this partly true, partly fabricated TSA vs. passenger story–even if the fabrications may not have been intentional.

There are a couple of details about this incident that indicate that perhaps TSA still has a bit of work to do when it comes to perfecting customer service and truly understanding human psychology and behavior.

Although I’ve been generally impressed with most TSA agents, there are times when it has been clear to me that bad practices can have adverse effects.

Here are points that came to mind when I looked into this latest TSA vs. passenger story:

1. People who are flying are consumers. They’ve paid for a flight. That means they have expectations of being able to catch their flights. This can produce anxiety if expectations and reality are not matching up when TSA’s security measures become cumbersome, time-consuming and seem ridiculous.

2. A person flying alone with a young child has a bit of paraphernalia to deal with. Along with the child, consider the stroller, bottle, diaper bag, and various objects the caregiver has brought along to keep the child happy. It’s enough of a process to get belongings for one person ready for security. Add in the rigmarole it takes to take a child through the security check, and there’s potential for more anxiety.

3. TSA is a government entity that has all the power at a security check. Regardless that most TSA agents are splendid and do their jobs with the highest professionalism, there are jerks–not many, but there are some.

Plus, there are passengers who have had bad experiences with authority figures–or have anxiety about authority figures. There’s something about going through security that can make even the most law abiding citizens worry.

4. When the mother did get red flagged for a security check because the alarm went off, she was put, along with her child, in a clear box-like room with Plexiglas walls. That seems like a recipe for high anxiety. Why wasn’t she checked as soon as she beeped? Why the box-like room? The more I watched her in the room, the more anxious I felt. She was stuck until someone made a move.

First, there she is holding a young child and being ignored. Watch how many times her hand goes up as she’s trying to get someone’s attention. Watch how her feet are shifting. She’s having problems. Certainly it’s not rocket science to know that people with young children don’t really need to be put in a box-like room without knowing how long they’ll need to wait in it, if at all. Frankly, making people wait before getting the wand feels like a bit of a power play to me.

5. When you are stuck in a box- like room, but the others around you are able to go about their merry way, it can make you feel even worse. While the woman is in the room with her child, others are passing through security without a hitch. Why wouldn’t this put her on edge? Or is the role of TSA really about testing our patience?

6. Even when she was finally checked, the process was maddeningly slow. She was then taken over to sit in a chair for an even longer amount of time. For some reason TSA kept talking to her. I can imagine the “Yoooouuur in a huuurrryyy arrre yyyyouuuuu? Trying to catch a flight? This will teach you a lesson about trying to get TSA to hurry, and I’d watch the attitude, Lady.”

Running a wand over someone should be quick and easy. I’ve been wanded a few times myself. In my experience, it”s been a slam dunk process. This woman was checked and rechecked. She could have completely undressed and got dressed again longer than it took TSA to clear her. The whole time she was being checked, her baby is off to the side in the stroller. There’s nothing worse as a parent to be in a situation when you are in a busy place with your eye off your child. The child was not taken anywhere, but the woman might have been thinking the child could have been.

Even though TSA did not separate this woman from her child, as the woman claimed an agent did, I’d say that TSA didn’t do a whole lot to ensure that this woman would give them high marks on customer service. If anything, it looks to me like the TSA agent was having a bit of a power play.

In Katie’s post, she mentioned that she didn’t think the woman was separated from her belongings like she claims she was. I think she was.

From what I saw, a woman with blond hair gathered the belongings off the conveyor belt. It took some time for the mother to be reunited with her belongings, some of which belonged to her child. One of the belongings was a laptop. It doesn’t take long for a laptop to be snatched.

Like Katie said, the woman didn’t appear to make a phone call to her mother or her husband on her cell phone like she claimed she did–unless it is a teensy tiny cell phone that none of us can see.

Maybe it was a cell phone of her imagination–the one that she uses whenever she’s fending off an anxiety attack. Regardless of the details about this story that are not true, TSA at this particular airport, at least, still has some work to do.

Perhaps this particular TSA could take pointers from this security sign at the airport in Houston.

“Families and Those Needing Special Attention” are listed first. “Small children; strollers” are under the first bullet point.

If a mom (or a dad) and the baby in arms beep, help them first–with a smile. Say, “Sorry to inconvience you, but I need to find out why you beeped. Thanks for your understanding.”

It will work like a charm.

Travelers Tool Kit: Shae by Air, DVD for kids about air travel

This week I lent a friend of mine two large suitcases with wheels, a carry-on sized bag with wheels and the DVD, Shae by Air: Every Child can Be a Good Little Traveler. She was heading off to Bolivia on her own with her three children, ages 7, 4 and 2.

The more we talked about air travel with kids, the more I remembered the DVD. The DVD is geared towards young children who have not flown before, or those who may need a refresher about what to expect. Because the angles of the shots are from the kid’s perspective, children are more likely to be drawn into the story.

I could have used this DVD several years ago. The first time my daughter flew she was 3-years-old and didn’t know English. We took great pains to have the interpreter talk with her about the things she could expect once we got on the plane. However, I forgot those details that would happen from the airport door to the plane. Because we were flying from Hanoi, departure was low key. If we had been navigating a large airport, the experience may have been overwhelming. This was also before 9/11 and air travel changed. Having this DVD would have helped when we left Singapore.

Shae by Air covers each step as creator Scotty Kober uses her own daughter’s first journey–a trip to Paris, as a focal point for the explanations. Starting with packing a suitcase with a few toys and items to keep busy on the plane, the DVD is a charming look at travel from a kid’s perspective.

Kober’s voice captures the excitement of a child’s first trip, while including those details that could stump even the seasoned parent traveler. Long lines and TSA can be nerve-wracking at times even for those who know what to do. For a child, taking off a coat, and putting the stuffed animal or doll down on the conveyor belt so the items can go on a trip through the X-ray machine can be daunting. Leaving mom, dad or the adult in charge on one side of the metal detector while the child goes through and then waiting for the adult to come through can be alarming.

Handing tickets over to the gate attendant, finding a seat, storing luggage, putting on a seat belt and eating snacks are also included in the narrative. So is an explanation about ear popping and what to do about it. You’ll be pleased to know that Kober also includes not bothering the other passengers by kicking the seat in front.

When I showed this video to my son when he was four, he pronounced it a thumbs up, even though he had flown before and knows what to expect. For him, watching Shae take her trip was a way to see what he knows. She’s also a darling little girl. Listening to the narrative and watching Shae calmed me down.

For my friend who is hopefully squared away with her three kids in Bolivia visiting family who lives there, I hope the DVD helped her kids know what to do on their trip so that mom and the passengers around them had a smooth, uneventful ride. Or if there were events, they didn’t cause them.

The DVD comes with a made for kids packing list and two-luggage tags that my son also enjoyed playing with. They made him feel grown up.

Although the narrative doesn’t include every last detail of flying its a good start. People flying with kids could think of those details not in the DVD and explain them. You could even say, “What would Shae do in this situation?”