New Orleans – the Perfect Parent Getaway

French Market
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The plane had just landed in New Orleans and nobody was urgently telling me they had to use the bathroom or that they couldn’t find the right shade of blue in their crayons. Nope, the kids weren’t with us on this trip. Now I love traveling with my children and exposing them to new and interesting places, but sometimes we all need a little adult break. Just about every year we’ve been able to sneak away for a night. That’s 24 hours of adults-only time and for our 10 year wedding anniversary we said this trip was going to be different. We prepped the kids for an extended stay with the grandparents and hopped on a plain for five days in the Crescent City.  This whole trip was about seeing and experiencing areas that we wouldn’t be able to if we had brought our two young cherubs and what better way than the fun, yet romantic allure of New Orleans!

Our stay was just a sneak-peak of all that NOLA has to offer but I’m highlighting the “best of” from our trip so enjoy!

Where to Stay – Boutique Hotel Splurge

Located just a block from the extreme of Bourbon Street, Hotel Mazarin offers couples a romantic escape from the hurriedness of the French Quarter with an elegant lobby and peaceful courtyard. The phenomenal breakfast buffet included made to order buttery pancakes and omelets too. My favorite aspect of this hotel, apart from the great location, was the black marble tile throughout the rooms and shower. It added a bit of adult elegance and slight edginess that I don’t regularly see in my family friendly hotels. We splurged on the hotel as we don’t often get to take advantage of more boutique style accommodations when traveling with kids.

Hotel Mazarin

The courtyard at the romantic Hotel Mazarin

Gastronomical Bliss in NOLA

This category clearly needs to be narrowed down more because New Orleans has some of the most unique cuisine in the country so plan on trying it all! Here are a few of our favorites from budget to splurge this sampling of NOLA will leave your mouth watering.

CrawfishFelix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar –  Forget the lines at the more famous Acme’s Oyster and head across the street to the real deal at Felix’s. Sit at the old-school countertop and watch the oyster’s being shucked with speed and precision – over 1,200 oysters per day. Crawfish come broiled by the pound and couple them with a local Abita pint and you’re set!

Emeril’s Delmonico – I was hesitant on going to a restaurant of the big Food Network king thinking it would be a constant advertisement, but friends and reviews assured me this was decadence. Oh, and were they right. The restaurant Delmonico, conveniently located on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in the Garden District, was purchased by Emeril Lagasse in 1998 and completely remodeled and revamped. The service was absolutely impeccable and the Creole food was a work of art creatively paired and exquisite presentation. Emeril’s Delmonico is first class and well worth the price.

K Paul’s – Famed New Orleans chef, Paul Prudhomme’s cozy restaurant sits in the heart of the French Quarter and creates scrumptious Cajun entrees with a modern twist. Starting with a classic fried green tomato appetizer and shrimp remoulaude turned classic southern into something totally unexpected for the taste buds. The blackened meats and fish were delicious and a house specialty.

Cafe du Monde – One cannot leave New Orleans without trying the famed hot beignets covered in powered sugar and melting in your mouth. Café du Monde is the more famous destination but tends to have lines during the day. The indoor/outdoor café is open 24 hours a day and we made this our midnight stop on the walk back from Frenchmen Street to our hotel. Coffee and steaming pastries at midnight – something you definitely can’t experience with two little kids in tow.

Cafe du Monde

Delicious midnight snack at Cafe du Monde

Must See Sites and Sounds

Frenchmen Street – One of the reasons we wanted to visit New Orleans was for the incredible music scene. My kids would have loved all of the music but it was the night time scene that drew us here! Frenchmen Street is known for its stretch of clubs just outside the French Quarter but still an easy walk. From Vago, DB’s, Snug Harbor to our favorite Café Negril, the dozen or so clubs on Frenchmen Street most clubs have music all night with the evening’s band posted on the front window. From brass bands to jazz to just plain funky, you will find it here. I could serious come here every night and that’s just what we did during our visit!

Our evenings in New Orleans reminded me of when we used to spontaneously go out pre-kids. Carelessly walking from club to club was an amazing way to reconnect and one of the reasons I’d go back to New Orleans in a heartbeat!

Bike Tour I love visiting a city and getting an initial overview via some tourist mechanism. The 12 mile guided bike tour around New Orleans from Free Wheelin’ Bike Tours was exactly the kind of tour we were looking for. Again, another activity that would have been impossible with two little kids but almost kind of romantic for us, even with the dozen or so other bikers. This locally owned operation provides riders with the good, the bad and the ugly of their beloved city.  We loved this tour so much here is a separate post on it!

Free Wheelin Bike Tour

National WWII Museum Although I believe in life long learning, a historical visit to the National WWII Museum didn’t seem to fit the vibe of our trip but my husband convinced me to go. Now, this spectacularly massive homage to the war of wars is a site I would tell all visitors (especially those traveling without young kids) to see. From the 4D movie Beyond all Boundaries to the changing exhibits, this museum will educate even the biggest WWII history buffs.   Here is another post  for those looking for more details.

National World War II Museum

A must explore – the National World War II Museum

French Quarter Like many looking for a romantic getaway, we stayed in the French Quarter which makes touring it all the easier. Each block has its own niche from the shops on Royal Street to the frat-like parties on Bourbon you’ll find where you belong. Find a cocktail at Patrick’s Bar Vin Wine Bar (nicely located adjacent to the Hotel Mazarin), take a steamboat ride along the great Mississippi River, or people watch in Jackson Square. Remember, you can take your libations with you as long as you keep it in plastic!

French Quarter

Lastly, if you have the time, get out of New Orleans for a day and learn about the history by visiting one of the former plantations, try a local eatery serving up crawfish by the pound, and go alligator watching on one of the swamps nearby.

Outside NOLA

Swamp tours, gators, and history outside of the city of New Orleans

One travel aspect I really miss from my pre-kids traveling day is the freedom to roam an area in the early dawn hours of the morning before a city really comes alive. I took advantage of this and took off with a coffee and my camera to see the French Quarter. It was me and the trucks unloading fresh oysters, along with cleaners wiping away the grime from the night before, and musicians heading home. Finding that freedom again, that sense of who I am as an adult and not just a parent, was one of the many reasons this brief sojourn away was so worth the splurge.

Need more convincing on why parents should take adults-only getaways? Read on:

Why Parent Getaways are Important

I would like to thank the New Orleans CVB for providing some complimentary admissions during my visit but my opinions are always my own.

Photo Friday – Faerie Paradise at the Enchanted Woods of Winterthur

Winterthur
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I wish I could tell you about details about the glorious 175 room DuPont estate located at what is now called Winterthur.  Or more, that I perused through the current exhibit on the Costumes of Downton Abbey.  Oh to see Sybil’s harem pants!  But no, our visit was quite delightful, very kid friendly but we missed some of the more adult sites!

Winterthur, the DuPont estate and gardens turned museum located outside of Wilmington, Delaware was my destination before driving the four plus hours back home solo with two kids.  Our goal was to see the famed children’s garden, the Enchanted Woods, and other gardens.  The mission was to let my kids burn off as much energy as possible so they would sleep in the car (and I could listen to my book on CD).  Mission accomplished!

Winterthur

And yes, the eggs actually roll around in this oversized nest!

The Enchanted Woods is a dream for faerie loving, troll hunting kids with a bit of the Shire of Middle Earth mixed in.   Best of all, the kids had their own map to guide them that my 6 year old (after recently learning about maps in school) took and ran with it directing us from one area to another.  There are lots of hidden objects to spot to which makes this garden feel even more magical. From the doors that open to rooms built for faeries or the whimsical full scale faerie cottage, the Enchanted Gardens at Winterthur are a site to see.

Winterthur

Winterthur

This Faerie Cottage is the perfect size for magical moments for little kids.

Winterthur

Winterthur

When entering this mushroom garden, steam fills the area and makes all feel as if a spell or sorts was cast – very cool!

Tips for Visiting

  • You can easily spend close to an entire day visiting Winterthur as the grounds are massive, and the home and gallery tours can take several hours. Plus admission is on the high side at $20/adult and $5/kids.  Plan your day wisely.
  • There is a shuttle that takes you from the visitor center to the Enchanted Woods and I recommend you take it (especially if traveling with little kids), and walk through the gardens on the way back.
  • Make reservations for the home and special exhibit tours prior to arriving to save time and make sure you actually get in (given my hurried circumstances, I didn’t do this).
  • Make sure to visit the Touch-it room located inside the main house (and included in your general admission) for a kid-friendly, hands-on, educational component to your visit.
  • The Enchanted Woods is not just for kids but definitely a great spot for delicious children’s pictures (think Christmas card photo worthy).

Winterthur is definitely a place I would like to visit more thoroughly next time because it really has so much to offer. Until then, the Enchanted Woods will always be fondly remembered by my kids and I!

Traveling Home From Home

Grandfather's 90th
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It’s been a long weekend back at home where I grew up on Long Island and I’m writing this while traveling on the Long Island Railroad. This was a trip I used to frequently take with the excitement and enthusiasm of any teen with little to no responsibilities looking to explore New York City. The anticipation and exhilaration of getting out of suburbia for the day grew with each shabby station.  Now I’m traveling home from home.

This trip was different because each shabby station is now taking me closer to where my little family is and where I now call home. I came back to where I grew up to say good-bye to my grandfather. At 38 years old I know I’m very fortunate to have had three of my grandparents with me into adulthood. A feat not many can say.

This weekend made me feel more like an Italian American than I have felt in years as we zig-zagged between Nassau County,  where my grandparents resided, to Suffolk to where my parents are and the final resting place of my grandfather. I ate more semolina bread, homemade mozzarella, sopressata, and pasta than I have had in years and heard more of the Italian language spoken then I can remember.

This is how I grew up though and I’ve been largely removed from it for the last 20 years. Having time to sit on a train, by myself I might add, and reflect on my family, my upbringing, and all of the aspects of my childhood that made me who I am today fills me with incredible gratitude but also sadness when I remember why I’m on this train to begin with.

And then the train passes Pinelawn Memorial Park station which is the final resting place for many Veterans and I lose it. Sobbing as quietly as I can on the train that seems to take forever to move.  Pinelawn is a cemetary now closed to new inhabitants but would have been where we laid my grandfather to rest. Instead now all Veterans in the area can call Calverton National Park on the east end of Long Island their final home and this is part of why we zig-zagged across the Island.

Right now, on this train I’m making a commitment to myself and my kids to visit LI more and make sure my children see where they come from and to spend as much time as possible with their grandparents. My parents generation grew up in a time when Italians were trying to assimilate and blend more. But growing up I still always knew of fish on Christmas Eve, homemade zepolles, and every possible family occasion included those dry colorful Italian cookies. My kids aren’t experiencing that and I want them to. I want them to learn to loathe those cookies as much as I did (still do).

I’m traveling home from home with such a strong desire to try and blend the two homes more for my family. To bring the parts of my family and upbringing to more center stage for my own children. I’m traveling home with sadness in my heart knowing my kids will never know my grandfather in the way I knew him. I’m traveling home with so much love to shower them with since I’ve barely seen them over the last four days. I’m traveling home from home in the most fitting mode possible – the Long Island Railroad. Rest in peace grandpa!

Exploring Salem’s Pickering Wharf with Kids

Pickering Wharf in Salem
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After a crowd filled day in Boston with two kids, the calm, quintessentially New England landscape of Salem’s Pickering Wharf was exactly what we were looking for during our weekend escape to Massachusetts.  Here’s an added incentive – the wharf and touring the tall ship, USS Friendship are completely FREE!

Salem is infamously known for it’s tragic witch trials and modern-day witchcraft.  It’s the go to New England spot in October with month-long festivities planned during Halloween Happenings.  However, if you are looking to escape while stepping back in time, visit Salem during the warmer months for a relaxing family getaway drenched in history.

Pickering Wharf, Salem, Massachusetts

Pickering Wharf was once a key trading port of New England with 13 separate custom houses.  Nowadays the wharf serves as the home to the USS Friendship, a replica of one of the great cargo ships of the 18th century and is part of the Salem Maritime National Historic site.  There is one remaining custom house across from the wharf that is operated by the National Park Service and open to visitors.  Pickering Wharf is actually a great area for kids who have enough self control to not run themselves off the wharf.  My kids are 3 and 6 and did just fine.

Pickering Wharf, Salem, Massachusetts

Every 100 feet or so stands a hands-on station telling the story of the wharf, the merchants and sailors who used to crowd it and the cargo they used to carry.  The stations are completely geared for kids, but interesting enough for adults, and can truly captivate a child’s interest in the past.

Pickering Wharf, Salem, Massachusetts

The main attraction outside of the beautiful scenery and history of Pickering Wharf, is the USS Friendship, a reproduction of the 1797 trading vessel.  The ship still sails occasionally but is mostly docked in Salem where volunteers and staff provide visitors with a  wealth of history and lots of areas for kids to climb.

USS Friendship, Salem

There are two decks open to the public including a lower level complete with hammocks and food provisions to demonstrate life at sea.  Again, my kids loved roaming the decks of this ship and I loved that we could leisurely explore and learn about the area.

USS Friendship, Salem

For more information on visiting Pickering Wharf in Salem, including free audio guides and walking tours check out the National Park Service site of the Salem Maritime National Historic site.

If you want to treat your kids to a sugar high, walk across the street from the wharf to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Shop.  The company has been in existence since 1806 though the store front location is fairly recent.  Delicious handmade chocolates and other edibles will not disappoint but note the store is small and your kids will likely start to get a little crazy once inside.  Consider yourself warned!   Lastly, the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem (2 New Liberty Street) is pretty spectacular and again, geared with families in mind complete with a coloring station, hands-on attractions and dress up area.

There are many more places to explore in Salem, and we did see some of them,  but we really loved the calming surroundings of Pickering Wharf.  There is so much amazing history in Salem it’s hard to leave disappointed!

New Vacation Treasure Hunts from Clued in Kids and *SPECIAL DISCOUNT*

Travel activities for kids
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When we’re traveling we normally don’t spend a lot of time in hotel rooms.  But when we do, it’s pretty spectacular when I really plan ahead and come with an arsenal of new activities for the kids.  Now that I have a budding reader, I was pretty excited when the nice people at Clued in Kids sent me a complimentary treasure hunt activity pad geared specifically for a vacation treasure hunts.

Clued in Kids provides kids with an assortment of puzzles, word search, foreign language skills and other educational fun all designed around a treasure hunt theme.  Most of the hunts are geared for the home or classroom setting but the latest series is all about travel!  The activities were all created by teachers and parents and are geared from kids age 5 and up.

Now to lucky the readers of Wandering Working Mom you can receive 20% off at Clued in Kids by using the code: WanderingWorkingMom (one word) at check out now through the end of June 2014.

Here’s Why Clued in Kids is Great for Your Next Vacation

  • The hunt takes less than 10 minutes to set up and provides explicit directions of where to leave the next clue (you really can’t screw this up).
  • It provides one or several kids with a good half an hour of educational fun.
  • The clue pad is easy to pack (you can also purchase and download the treasure hunt instead of the receiving the clue pad and printouts via regular mail).
  • It’s inexpensive fun.  Yes you could probably devise a treasure hunt for your kids but you likely won’t have the time to do this when packing for a vacation.  For as little as $5.99 you can buy it an go!

Clued in Kids

Remember to pack a special “treasure” for the end of the hunt.  I honestly forgot about this one explicit detail and ended up hiding the Smart Food Popcorn the hotel provided as the big treasure at the end.  It was either that or a mini-shampoo.  It was actually pretty fun to set up the hunt and to see my little explorer dive into this with the spirit of a true adventurer.   If you don’t have travel plans in the near future you can find treasure hunts for all sorts of themes from sports to dinosaurs to holidays.  So take advantage of the 20% discount (WanderingWorkingMom) and stock up on treasure hunts for those rainy summer days or pack one in your suitcase for your next hotel adventure!