A Travellerspoint blog

Where We Stayed: Hampton Inn BWI

My last hotel review from my Thanksgiving trip is below, finally!

We first stayed at this hotel back in 2009 during DC's big blizzard (I hope to tell that story in another post). Our experience there was positive--well, as much as one could expect given the circumstances. When we realized that we needed to stay near BWI for our recent Mexico trip, this was the first place we thought of. We checked ratings and rates at other nearby hotels, and this one gave us the best combination of features and parking for the price.

We stayed at the Hampton for 2 nights: 1 before our flight and 1 after. Each time we were in a different type of room. We had a room with 2 double beds the night before our flight. Upon our return, we had a room with a king bed and a pull-out sofa. Both were about the same size and had equally nice furnishings. However, things got a bit tricky once we pulled out the sofabed in the second room because then was no good place to put the ottoman that had been in front of the sofa. We ended up pushing the ottoman all the way down to the other end of the room, up against the door to the hallway.

I always worry about planes waking me up at airport hotels. Luckily, this was not an issue any of the nights we stayed at this Hampton Inn. Their shuttle to and from BWI was reliable as well. Another great thing about this hotel was that the staff was always gracious with us, even though my daughter was in full-tantrum mode both evenings we checked in.

Breakfast: Typical Hampton Inn complimentary breakfast with continental plus hot items.
Bathroom: shower-tub combination
Blow dryer: yes
Elevator: yes
Internet: free in-room wifi. We didn't have any problems with it.
Nearest playground: Not sure
Recommend for families with young kids: definitely, at least for a short stay.
Recommend for people without kids: definitely.
Website: http://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/maryland/hampton-inn-baltimore-washington-international-airport-BALATHX/index.html

Posted by amikulski 18:18 Archived in USA Tagged children hotels Comments (0)

Holiday Inn Philadelphia Midtown

We stayed at this hotel for two nights while I attended a conference on the front end of my family's Thanksgiving vacation. It's 5 city blocks from the convention center and the Reading Terminal Market.

In all, we were pleased with our stay. The rooms weren't huge, but they were decent sized. There are hospitals near the hotel, so we did hear an occasional siren, but it wasn't a problem for us. Our room was on the eighth floor, which put some space between us and the street noise. In all, it was quieter than I expected given the hotel's location in the center of the city .

Breakfast: the complimentary breakfast had the typical Holiday Inn Express spread with cinnamon rolls, rotating hot items, and cold items. The staff working this area were polite and kept the area well stocked.
Blow dryer: yes
Elevator: yes
Internet: free in-room wifi. I don't recall any problems with it.
Nearest playground: not sure. We didn't see any nearby on the map of the area.
Recommend for families with young kids: yes, if they're looking for something centrally located
Recommend for people without kids: sure
Website:http://www.hiexpress.com/hotels/us/en/philadelphia/phlmt/hoteldetail

Posted by amikulski 19:23 Archived in USA Tagged children hotels pennsylvania Comments (0)

Where We Stayed: Grand Palladium Riviera Maya (White Sands)

The Grand Palladium Riviera Maya is between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, about an hour south of the CancĂșn airport. The architects had an eco-friendly mindset, as they tried to build around the mangroves and other aspects of the environment. Because of this, you will see local wildlife throughout the resort...

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which my daughter loved seeing.

The resort consists of 4 hotels (not counting a group of suites that have some of their own facilities). We stayed at the White Sands. There are 2 lobby complexes with shopping and food and a main pool behind them; in other words, 2 hotels share a lobby complex. Guests are able to use the facilities in both complexes no matter where they are staying.

Beach:

Pictures are better than words to describe it.

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The beach is rocky in some places, but gets better as you head north. I recommend swimming with swim shoes/sandals/etc., especially if you're on the south end of the beach.

Pools:

Both main pools are generously sized, with lots of beach chairs. There are small kiddie pools by the main pools, but the main pools themselves have some very shallow areas that work well for kids. The water was cold enough that you really noticed it at first, but it felt nice once you were used to it.

Room:

We had a 1 bedroom suite, with a bed in the bedroom and a couch in the living area that converted to a full-size bed. It was very spacious, and we were really happy with it. The only improvement we would suggest is to upgrade the quality of the sheets, as ours were scratchy and pilled. The pillows weren't the best quality either, but we did not take advantage of the pillow menu, which had other offerings for an additional fee.

Kid Club:

Lots of resorts only have kid club offerings for children 4 and up. One of the reasons this property caught our eye was that they had a mini-kids' club for ages 1 to 3. My daughter spent a couple of hours there nearly every day of the trip. At 3.5, she was getting a bit old for some of the mini-club offerings. There are strict regulations about keeping kids in the club that corresponds to their age, so playing with the 4-8 year-olds was not an option unless my husband or I were there to supervise. We did that on occasion, and it was fine. I understand the need to follow rules, but the result is that the fit isn't always the best for kids at the far ends of each age group. Although they did have a small jumpy-jump and other physical activities in the room especially for the mini-club, the kids there never went to play outside. I never saw them doing crafts either, even though it was listed on their schedule of activities. Even though I was bummed about that, my daughter wasn't. Every day she would ask to go to the kid's club, and getting her to leave for lunch or beach time took some effort, so I think she had a good time there.

Food:

I had read other travelers' reviews of the resort, including their opinions about food, which varied widely. Part of this is, of course, because of people's different tastes, but I think another part of it is that the quality of items can vary even in the same buffet. I saw this in my family, where how much we enjoyed certain meals depended on exactly what we ate. In general, I felt that the majority of the food was decent: not awesome enough for me to write a glowing recommendation, but not bad, either.

At the buffets, the Mexican items and the fish were among the best, which makes sense given our location.

Breakfast (served at the buffets only) was the best meal of the day. I especially liked the freshly blended juices.

For lunch, we preferred the buffets to the beach bar. The latter is more convenient because you can get a plate of food and bring it back to your beach chair, but the variety is not nearly as good.

For dinner, we tried to mix it up by visiting the buffets as well as the sit-down places. Only two sit-down places take reservations, with the rest taking guests first-come, first-serve. We really liked this system because there was no mad rush in the morning to make reservations. We also never had to wait more than 10-15 minutes for a table. The buffet dinners had a different theme each night of the week, so if you went to the buffet more than one night, you didn't eat exactly the same thing.

With the exception of the Teppanyaki and Brazilian barbecue restaurants, where kids are served as adults, the sit-down places we visited had the same kid's menu. It had many choices that you might find on a kid's menu at a US restaurant (spaghetti and meatballs, mini-pizza, etc.). My daughter was happy with what she had.

Food worth trying:
Pollo con chile verde (at breakfast),
Tacos al pastor (Mexican restaurant. This is typical Mexican bar food. I don't know why they don't have it at the snack bars.)

Don't try:
Pasta carbonara (Italian restaurant Portofino)
Arroz con leche at breakfast (It's not the dessert at breakfast, but literally just rice and milk.)

Our rank order of sit-down restaurants: Mexican and Brazilian tied for first, Japanese, Italian

Breakfast: included
Bathroom: our room had a large shower and a separate jetted tub. The showerhead is on a handle that detaches, so the shower was a good place to give my daughter a quick rinse. Although we used the bathtub most nights, the ledge was pretty high. My daughter couldn't just climb in like she does at home, so she had to be lifted in and out of the tub. This is not the easiest thing when your child weighs over 40 lbs.
Blow dryer: yes
Elevators: not sure, because there are several buildings, which are all fairly spread out along the property. Our room was in a building with three floors, and I don't remember seeing one there.
Highchairs: although we didn't use any, we saw them at the restaurants.
Internet: free wifi in the lobbies, available in your room at an extra charge. We used the lobby wifi only. It was fine, though I think the signal was better in the White Sands and Riviera lobbies than the others. Sometimes you could also get the lobby signal at the restaurants on that side of the resort, though that was hit or miss.
Nearest playground: The Kid Club has one.
Refrigerator: yes. It is stocked as a mini-bar, but you could move some drinks out/around to make room for snacks.
Strollers: we didn't travel with one, but I did want to mention that we saw several families with them, and they seemed to be doing fine. The best main pool for families on wheels is the one on the Cantenah/Colonial side, because you need to cross a bridge with stairs to go over the lagoon that surrounds the pool on the White Sands/Riviera side. For families who didn't pack their stroller but wish they had, the kid club checks out plastic kid cars with tall handles so that adults can push their little ones along.
Recommend for families with young kids: definitely. The resort is welcoming to young kids and offers them activities and gear like highchairs.
Recommend for people without kids: definitely. Even though the resort is kid-friendly, I never got the impression that it was only for families with kids. Childless travelers will also find activities and food to their liking.
Website: http://www.palladiumhotelgroup.com/en/hotels/destination/america/mexico/riviera-maya/grand-palladium-white-sand-resort-spa/

Posted by amikulski 18:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches children hotels mexico Comments (0)

Thanksgiving: Trading Turkey for Tacos

sunny 75 °F

This year we ended up making some unconventional plans for Thanksgiving. My parents had made plans to spend the week in California, where my sister lives. My husband and I had a full week off for the first time in years. In all, we had the time and freedom to try something new. After considering several options, we decided to spend some time in the Riviera Maya.

Our first stop was in Philadelphia, where I had a conference the weekend before Thanksgiving. While I was in sessions, my husband and daughter checked out the Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia's children's museum. They enjoyed it, though it seemed pricey at $16/person plus $8 for parking.

Our original idea had been to find a flight out of Philly because we would already be there. We did lots of searches for Philly departures, but as it turned out, the prices and itineraries out of Baltimore were much better, enough so to make it worth the drive. We also had the chance to meet with friends whose son is the same age, so we had a play date as an added bonus.

As with other trips, getting there and getting adjusted were the hardest parts. In this case, my daughter hadn't napped all week, and it was really catching up to her by the day we flew out. She also said that she missed her school friends and seemed distraught that we might have moved permanently. We assured her that this was just a vacation and that she would see her friends in a week. We also had her check out the resort's kid club so she could make new friends. The routine did get better, but towards the end of our stay, my daughter came down with a nasty cold and cough. Fortunately, there was some kid-friendly cough syrup at the hotel store that helped her feel much less miserable.

Despite those little bumps in the road, we had a great time in Mexico. One of the things I miss most about Arizona is all the Mexican food, so having the chance to eat lots of it more than made up for missing out on the traditional turkey dinner. I only wish we there had been more time so that we could have gone to MĂ©rida: I studied abroad there and still keep in touch with my host family. It would have been great to see them, but they were just far enough away to make it difficult to get there.

This was our first time at an all-inclusive resort, so I was a little worried that we might start to feel bored or stir-crazy on the property. Fortunately, that wasn't the case. We found that there was a large enough variety of things to eat and do to keep us happy. Granted, my husband and I were looking to relax, so we weren't asking for lots of activities. As for my daughter, I don't know exactly what she was expecting, but she enjoyed the beach, pool, and kid's club there. I'll give a more detailed review of where we stayed in my next post.

In the meantime, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving, wherever you were!

Posted by amikulski 20:17 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches children mexico Comments (0)

Catching Up: Vegas

Back in April, we drove to Las Vegas for my sister-in-law's bridal shower. She had been coming to visit us instead of the other way around since my daughter was born, so this was our first family trip to Vegas. We thought that it would be a good practice run for our longer road trip east the following month.

One concern about a long road trip is keeping a toddler occupied. This trip debuted two items for that: an iPad and a tray that gives kids a flat surface where they can eat or color. Both were a success, perhaps too successful, because my daughter pretty much always wanted the tray in her lap with the iPad playing one of her shows.

Another concern on this trip was bathroom breaks, namely the relative lack of places where you can take one. We handled this by taking bathroom breaks when we could and encouraging my daughter to go. Sometimes that encouragement took the form of bribing her with candy, which worked about half the time. We had no roadside emergencies, though, so I'll count that as a success.

We had some free time that weekend, so we set out to visit some attractions that would appeal to both kids and adults.

Our first stop was the Ethel M. chocolate factory. Touring the actual factory went pretty quickly because there are no staff making chocolates on the weekend. We spent more time in the two factory stores: one for M&M -themed products and one for Ethel M. goods. There is also a botanical garden there.

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Then we took a play break a couple of miles away at Sunset Park.

Later that day, we went to Paris Las Vegas. My daughter recognizes the Eiffel Tower from her t-shirt, so I thought she would get a kick out of going. She still talks about how she went there. We went to the top of the tower for views of the strip...

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...and to watch the fountains at the Bellagio.

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We also did lots of good eating on our trip. In addition to the great spread at the bridal shower, we had some nice meals out at Babycakes, The Original Pancake House, and Society Cafe at the Wynn.

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Thanks for reading! Next I'll catch up on some children's museums that we visited in the Phoenix area last spring.

Posted by amikulski 13:30 Archived in USA Tagged children las vegas Comments (0)

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