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Family Friday: A Travel Social Network for Kids

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Attention mini-jetsetters: a new travel social networking site for kids, ShrinkJet, is set to launch next month. Once your child signs up, he or she can share experiences about restaurants, museums, playgrounds etc. in his or her hometown and other cities around the world with other like-minded travelers. 

I was skeptical at first (how many of these sites do we need?) but after doing some research, I'll admit I'm impressed. Think of it as a well-curated version of Trip Advisor for little ones, with interactive maps, photo sharing, and a fun, user-friendly design.

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of ShrinkJet

 

Family Friday: Dude Ranches for Little Dudes

 

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Just thinking about my little dudes riding through the wild west on horses makes me smile. No cell phones, iPads, or TV. Just the Great Outdoors before them and me by their side. Where can I live out my country-western fantasies? Check out these great family dude ranches for the quintessential experience of the American frontier.


The secluded Encampement, in Wyoming, is one of the largest dude ranches in the country with more than 100,000 acres of hills and woods to explore. You're not required to ride with a wrangler (but you should know the ropes before venturing out on your own). For those who prefer to stay out of the saddle, there's golf, tennis, hiking, and great food from a Cordon Bleu-trained chef.

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Family Friday: Kids Spa Treatments

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I am a serious massage-junkie. And as a mom, there's nothing I enjoy more than a day at the spa. As it turns out, your kids want to be pampered, too. To meet this need, hotels across the globe are rolling out treatments geared towards teens and their younger siblings.

I'm not sure my 3-year-old twin boys are quite ready for a deep-tissue rub or pedicure, but yours might be. Check out these amazing packages I found, to make your kids can feel and look years younger.

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Family Friday: Finally, A Stylish Stroller

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Finding a fashionable stroller is close to impossible. When I had my twins, I spent a month searching for just the right one—something functional that wouldn't sacrifice my already waning style. Who would have guessed that New York's The Mark Hotel, in partnership with Maclaren, would develop what might possibly be the chicest one I've seen?

Check out the black-and-white ride above. Am I right? The Mark Hotel Baby Stroller is available for hotel guests starting April 15. I just hope they roll it out to the public soon. We moms need it.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Jon Nissenbaum, courtesy of The Mark

Family Friday: The Statue of Liberty Reopens

Statue of Liberty

"Check out the big green lady!"

I looked in the direction my kids were pointing across the New York Harbor and couldn't disagree with their assessment. From the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, the Statue of Liberty loomed large and lovely.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but despite living in New York for more than twenty years, I've never visited. This summer, I'm determined to make that trip. Closed since October due to damage from Hurricane Sandy, Lady Liberty is re-opening July 4. I have no more excuses.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo by Michael Briggs

Family Friday: Embracing The All-Inclusive Resort

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Admit it. As a parent, the idea of an all-inclusive is incredibly appealing. I never thought I'd be a fan, but two kids later, things are changing.

It's the easiest kind of travel: non-stop supervised activities for the kids, free time for you, restaurants within walking distance, and of course, nighttime babysitters. And with the new crop of stylish all-inclusive resorts, it's not all blue cocktails and spring breakers. Here, four of my favorite deals for spring and summer.
 
° Club Med: Starting in May, kids under 4 stay free; ages 4 to 12 get 50% off; and teens receive a 40% discount. Clubmed.com; April through October.

° Now Resorts & Spas: With every night at the resort (3 night minimum), you'll get a $50 air credit, per room. Do the math and that could save you $200 for a four-night stay. Bonus: You're eligible for up to $400 in resort coupons. Nowresorts.com; April 1 through December 22.

° Elite Island Resorts: Travelers get a $300 air credit on stays 3 to 6 nights, and $500 for 7 nights-and one child stays free. Eliteislandresorts.com; April 8 through end of August.

° Beaches: If you book a minimum of 3 nights at any Beaches resort, you'll get 65% off. Beaches.com; through 2013.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Club Med

Family Friday: The Hotel That Lego Built

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My three-year-old architect uses Legos to build "crazy towers," so I'm used to them reaching three-, four-, even five-feet in height. But now Legoland has built a true to scale version in Carlsbad, Calfornia that functions as an actual hotel. It opens April 15, and it might be incredibly cool—or incredibly weird.

The LEGOLAND Hotel has a dragon-guarded entrance; pirate-themed rooms with Lego skeletons and swords on the walls; several interactive play areas; and for parents, a somewhat Lego-free Skyline Bar.

My kids would love it. Me? I’m not so sure.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND California Resort

Family Friday: Sarasota Beckons

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Two decades ago a little girl stood on a hot tennis court grumpily swatting at yellow balls, her parents' dreams of a professional tennis career dashed. She counted the minutes until she could get back to the beach with her sisters...

With that sunny stretch of sand still in my mind, I decided to give Sarasota, on the Florida Gulf Coast, another shot with my own family. It was the middle of February and we were desperate for a long weekend of much-needed sun. What we got was a record-breaking freeze. Thankfully, Sarasota has a lot more than beautiful beaches (and there are plenty). Here's what we discovered:

° An amazing aquarium. The Mote Marine Laboratory offers sea turtles, dolphins, and an adorable manatee named Hugh, that my son Miles thought looked like my dad.

° Florida's largest bird sanctuary. The Save Our Birds Wild Bird Learning Center is home to hundreds of injured owls, pelicans, and other seabirds, teaching the kids that animals get boo-boos, too.

° Some damn good restaurants. Yes, we spent a lot of time eating, and I wasn't going to let a little cold ruin my dream of lounging on a terrace with a cocktail. There's Mar Vista, hidden at the end of Long Boat Key (order the fried calamari); the Italian Salute for dinner; the Peruvian Selva Grill, with tangy Pisco Sours; the diner-like Blue Dolphin Cafe for blueberry pancakes; and my sons' favorite, the waterfront, no-frills Old Salty Dog, where all the seafood is fried--and then fried again.

° Beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. We spent an entire afternoon wandering around these 14 acres, which are filled with bamboo and banyan groves, orchids and bromeliads, and a mangrove forest. The best part: the indoor Kids' Corner, an interactive space with plant-themed books, puzzles, activities and crafts.

There's more: The renowned Ringling Art Museum, a downtown with great galleries, and of course, lots of good ice cream parlors (a must-stop for every afternoon).

As for where to stay, the Long Boat Key Club is right on the beach and ideal for families: 2 and 3 bedroom suites with everything you need—dining table, kitchen, a super-friendly staff, and a flat screen TV for movie nights if you decide to stay in.

Family Friday: Pack It Up

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I can never pack enough stuff to keep my kids entertained on the road. My bag is usually overflowing with crayons, paper, books... The list goes on, and yet, I almost always forget something. So in a world where fruits and veggies come in squeezable tubes, it's no surprise that a company had come up with pre-packaging packing.

Kidville has recently partnered with luxury travel service Portico to create ready-to-go packs for kids. Crocodile Creek puzzle games? Check. A super cute mini-pillow? Check. Melissa and Doug activity books? Check. Plus, a lot more. What I love most, though, is the actual bag, designed by Skiphop with colorful monkeys and dogs--and just the right size for my 3-year-olds. Care to checkout Portico Travel Pals for yourself? They are free for Portico members during March and on sale at Kidville.com. And no... they haven't bribed me with free products. I just like the idea of someone else packing for me.

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Image courtesy of Portico

Family Friday: Italian Fun for Renaissance Kids

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The hills of Fiesole, Italy are about to be filled with the sounds of toddlers. The Villa San Michele—one of my absolute favorite hotels in the world—is launching a new kids program.

Villa San Michele

If you've ever been to the property, you wouldn't necessarily describe it as "child friendly." The 15th-Century hilltop Renaissance building was in part designed by Michelangelo and has the most breathtaking views of Florence. And while my 3-year-olds could care less about all that, now there's a reason to take them. Starting this May, the hotel is launching the "Smile Club" boutique, a complimentary program for kids ages 4-12 housed in a chapel on the property. There's jewelery- and craft-making, cookie baking, Italian lessons, treasure hunts, hikes, and even a dedicated kids concierge to direct you to the best kid-friendly spots in the city. Botticelli for you. Pizza for them. Need I say more? 

Clara Sedlak is a mom of two and a senior editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photos courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. | Genivs Loci

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