Quirky hotel amenity: Pirate tuck-ins for children at Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island

ritz-carlton, amelia islandWhat better way for a child to end a day full of swimming and sea than to be tucked-in by a pirate? At the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, in Florida not only does Pirate Luis Aury provide a bedtime story, but Princess Amelia and a blue and gold macaw make an appearance, as well. Children will also be given cookies and milk as well as a treasure chest full of loot. The tuck-ins can be scheduled in between 7PM and 10PM and cost $45 per child.

Going to be staying at the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, during the holiday season? Parents can opt for a complimentary Santa tuck-in instead. Not only will children get to be read a bedtime story by good old Saint Nick himself, they will also be given a holiday gift.

Exploring ancient Rome in Mérida, Spain

Spain, Roman, theatre, Merida
It’s Christmas. What do you get an avid traveler who used to be an archaeologist?
For my wife the answer is obvious–a trip to a Roman city!

So here we are in Mérida, capital of the province of Extremadura in Spain, not far from the Portuguese border. In Roman times it was called Emerita Augusta and was capital of the province of Lusitania. This province took up most of the western Iberian peninsula, including most of what is now Portugal. The city was founded in 25 BC as a home for retired legionnaires on an important bridge linking the western part of the Iberian peninsula with the rest of the Empire. Putting a bunch of tough old veterans in such an important spot was no accident. The city boasts numerous well-preserved buildings and together they’re now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s a five-hour ride from Madrid on a comfortable train. Almudena and I brought along my five-year-old son Julián to give him a bit of classical education. (No cute kid photos, sorry. Too many freaks on the Internet)

Our first stop was Mérida’s greatest hits–an amphitheater for gladiator fights and one of the best preserved Roman theaters in the Roman world.

Both of these buildings were among the first to go up in the new city. Since the Romans were building a provincial capital from scratch, they wanted it to have all the amenities. The theater was a center for Roman social and cultural life and this one, when it was finished in 15 BC, was built on a grand scale with seats for 6,000 people. One interesting aspect of this theater is that it underwent a major improvement between the years 333 and 335 AD. This was after the Empire had converted to Christianity, and the early Christians denounced the theaters as immoral. The popular plays making fun of the church probably didn’t help their attitude. As I discussed in my post on the death of paganism, the conversion from paganism to Christianity was neither rapid nor straightforward. At this early stage it was still unthinkable to found a new city without a theater. The backdrop even has statues of pagan deities such as Serapis and Ceres. Although they’re from an earlier building stage than the Christian-era improvements, the fact that they weren’t removed is significant.

%Gallery-112089%Julián didn’t care about that, though. He was far more interested in the dark tunnels leading under the seats in a long, spooky semicircle around the theater. At first his fear of dark, unfamiliar places fought with his natural curiosity, but with Dad accompanying him he decided to chance it. It turned out there was no danger other than a rather large puddle we both stumbled into.

On stage he got a lesson in acoustics. The shape of the seats magnifies sounds. Voices carry further, and a snap of the fingers sounds like a pistol shot.

Next door was the amphitheater, where gladiators fought it out for the entertainment of the masses. Built in 8 BC, it seated 15,000, more than twice the amount as the theater. This was a city for veteran legionnaires, after all! Julián didn’t know what gladiators were so I explained it to him and soon throngs of ghostly Romans were cheering as Sean the Barbarian fought the Emperor Julián. He wanted to be a ninja and was disappointed to learn that there weren’t any in ancient Rome.

These two places are enough to make the trip worthwhile, but there are more than a dozen other ancient Roman buildings in Mérida as well. The best way to sum up the experience of walking through these remains was what I overheard some Italian tourists: “Bellissimo!
If the Italians are impressed, you know it’s good.

This is the first in a new series: Exploring Extremadura, Spain’s historic southwest

Coming up next: More Roman heritage from Mérida!

Galley Gossip: Four year-old kid discusses airport security & TSA pat downs


The following video was created for parents traveling with small kids who might be a little nervous about subjecting their children to the new TSA procedures. Regardless of how you may feel about the new enhanced security measures, there’s no need for children to be scared. My son will explain to them what a pat down is and even share a few tips. But first a few things the TSA would like you to know about going through airport security with children…

  • TSA will screen everyone, regardless of age, including babies.
  • NEVER leave babies in an infant carrier while it goes through the X-ray.
  • All children must be removed from strollers and slings when passing through the machine.
  • All children’s items must go through the X-ray; diaper bags, toys, strollers, slings, etc.
  • If any of your items do not fit through the X-ray, a TSA officer will physically and visually inspect it.
  • If your child can walk through the metal detector unassisted, TSA recommends you and your child walk through separately.
  • Do not pass your baby to a TSA officer to hold as you walk through the X-ray machine.
  • If you choose to carry a child through and the alarm sounds, TSA will check both of you.
  • Medication, baby formula, food and breast milk, and juice are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces, and are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint.
  • Children under 12 who require extra screening will be subjected to a “modified” pat down. It’s less intrusive than what an adult might receive.
  • Click the link for information regarding children travelers with special needs or medical conditions.




Photo courtesy of Tatiana Mik

Galley Gossip: Blocked ears – how to ease the pain in flight

You’re on a flight trying to get a little rest when the kid whose been kicking your seat for the last half hour suddenly begins to scream.You do what any normal passenger would do and spin around, shooting the parents an evil look. When that doesn’t work you ring your flight attendant call light and ask the attendant if perhaps she can help, all the while thinking thank God we’re landing soon. What the heck is wrong with that kid!

Blocked ears. Altitude changes increase air pressure as the plane lowers. The change in pressure pushes the eardrum inward. Because children have relatively narrow Eustachian tubes, they may not function as effectively as an adults’, especially if they’re clogged by an inflammation or ear infection. Blocked ears can cause severe pain, dullness in hearing, and can occasionally lead to hearing loss.

What a parent can do

  1. Don’t allow the child to sleep during descent
  2. Find something to suck on; a bottle, pacifier, gum or hard candy
  3. Postpone any future air travel if a cold, sinus infection, or allergy attack is present.
  4. Ignore the jerk seated in front of you.

What to do when your own ears hurt

  1. Steam helps. Many passengers will ask for wads of hot wet paper towels stuffed inside plastic cups that are then placed over the ears. The steam seeps from the cloth through the cup and into the ear. But because so many people have been burned using this technique, flight attendants (at my airline) no longer do this.
  2. Chew gum or constantly swallow or yawn during descent. This allows the muscles in the Eustachian tube to contract and open, equalizing the pressure. When you hear a clicking noise, you’ll know it’s working.
  3. Use a nasal spray or decongestant. When you’re feeling congested, use it a few hours before the flight and also an hour before landing.
  4. Do the Valsalva maneuver. This is the best way to clear clogged ears. Pinch your nose and close your mouth while forcibly exhaling through your nostrils. Continue to do this periodically until landing.Once on the ground do not use Valsalva maneuver.

Are your ears bothering you after a flight? Do what I do and try taking taking a hot steamy shower and drink plenty of hot tea. If plagued with ear pressurization problems, invest in a pair of disposable ear plugs like EarPlanes which can be found online and at local pharmacies in sizes for both adults and children, and don’t leave home without them!

Photo courtesy of TomD

Let your kids run before getting to the hotel – Traveling with kids tip

Kids may have pent-up energy if they’ve spent a long time on a plane or in the car. If you remember to let them stop at a playground or a mall on the way to the hotel, or use the pool right away when you arrive at the hotel, you can help them tone it down when they’re in the hallways or the room.

Others will appreciate if you teach your children not to make excessive noise because they may be resting.