Archive for the Category »Italy «

  Where Kids Will Like to Roam in Rome – Plus Tips You Should Know Before You Go

In my opinion, it is always a special time in Rome, Italy.

But particularly right now, it is especially festive. The ancient city is the top Italian destination for Easter week, or Settimana Santa, primarily because of the events led by the Pope in Vatican City. Special masses are said on Palm Sunday and Easter, attracting large crowds.

But many of us can’t make it to Rome on Easter, so here are some things to do in one of Europe’s most fascinating and layered cities, with the kids all year round. Rome offers so much for families, but you have to be prepared – the Italians are warm and inviting to children, and hotels and restaurants are welcoming. But the museums are some of the least prepared for children of those I’ve seen in Europe – especially compared to London or Paris, where some museums have special family programs and activities.

Looking beyond museums, I  pulled together a list of things to do in Rome with the family…. some that go beyond the expected sights to see.

Saint Peter's Square

Saint Peter’s Square

Join an audience with the Pope at the Vatican It doesn’t need to be Easter! Bring your kids to see the Pope himself. Papal Audiences are held on Wednesdays (if the Pope is in Rome, of course). Visitors have the chance to see him in St. Peter’s Square and receive the Papal or Apostolic Blessing. The Pope does a greeting in few different languages, including Italian, English, French, and Spanish, and a ceremony consisting of small teachings and readings.  They are normally scheduled to start at 10:30, or may start earlier depending on the heat. In summer, the readings are done outside, where there is usually sanding room if you don’t get tickets. Tickets are free, but be sure to arrive early to get good seats! Visit for more details

Note: It is quite an interesting spectacle, but might not hold the attention of very young children. If you want to see the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, plan to stay longer and get tickets in advance through The kids will like climbing the Cupola, the dome of St Peter’s – what a spectacular view from top!!



Rome Treasure Hunts Get to know Rome in the most fun way possible! A group of Roman tour guides have created games, trivia, and quizzes for families. There are multiple tours, including an ancient Rome tour, a Vatican treasure hunt, and an Ancient Ostia treasure hunt. Most tours last 3-4 hours, and include line-skipping privileges.  Visit for pricing and reservation details.

Colosseum Of course, once can’t visit Rome without going to the Colosseum… and kids will love taking stroll through history. Middle school students may be  learning about ancient civilizations, so that’s a good age to take the kids.

A tour will shed insight about gladiators and the history. Located in the heart of Piazza del Colosseo, the ancient building is host to thousands of tours a day. Tickets cost €15.50 and operating hours are from 9-4, although there may be changes due to weather. Check out for more info.

Roman gladiator school from

Roman gladiator school from

To go beyond the normal Colosseum tour, there is actually an interactive “Gladiator School” for those who like to dig a little deeper. You have to know your kids – do they like participating? It’s a gladiator history lesson mixed with role playing. Here’s the info:


Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Trevi Fountain from Amore travel guides

Throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain

Arguably the most famous fountain in the world, the Fontana de Trevi is found in the Trevi district in Rome.

Made of mostly travertine, it is the largest fountain in all of Rome, standing 86 feet high, and 161 feet wide. Children can throw coins into the fountain, but make sure you do it correctly to ensure a trip back to Rome: Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. Make a wish!

This is more than a quick stop -  there are plenty of dining options and gelato in the square itself.

The fountain was refurbished in 1998; the stonework was scrubbed and all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired by skilled artisans and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps. And thank you Fendi! In January 2013, it was announced that the Italian fashion company would sponsor a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain; it will be the most thorough restoration in the fountain’s history.




Roman Catacombs

On a hot day, this is the coolest place to be: underground tunnels that served as burial grounds for Romans. Not many bones, but a lot of interesting things to see – and sort of spooky for the older child.

The 40 or so known catacombs are actually outside the ancient walls of Rome. From the first through the fifth centuries,  an estimated 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels were dug, with networks of galleries as many as five layers deep.

{Pompeii, from

{Pompeii, from


For a quick day trip outside of Rome, nothing is more fascinating than seeing the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

On display are what excavators found…. I didn’t find it gruesome, but there are sensitive remains on display. Be ready to explain to young children what happened. There are casts of human bodies as they were  when the volcano struck.

From Rome, take a two hour train ride to Naples, then at that train station, take a local train to Pompeii. Beware of people trying to take advantage of tourists at the train stations.


–Driving in Rome is nuts. Only for the person who wants to be stressed out. I highly recommend against it and take cabs or public transportation.

–When visiting churches, including the Vatican and St Peter’s, remember to wear conservative clothing – shirts with sleeves and no short shorts.


  Hotel of the Week: Ever Dream of Renting a Villa in Italy? Here Are Some Highly Regarded Companies

I’ve had a half dozen friends and acquaintances ask me about renting a villa in Italy recently. Many were confused about where to even begin the task of finding a reputable rental company, or a high quality villa that would fit many people.

So, I called upon my friends at the Italian Tourism Board in New York! They enthusiastically recommended a few companies, and the properties look  UH-MA-ZING.

The first company is the Parker Company. The Parker Company rents certified villas all over Italy – From seaside properties on the Amalfi Coast and the Italian Riviera to villas and farmhouses in Tuscany and Umbria to lakeside accommodations on Lake Como & Lake Garda to apartments in Rome, Florence and Venice.  There are enough properties for every size group and different budgets.

Here is an example of a property -



Villa Montecristo in Chiusi, Tuscany. This home sleeps 12…. there is a nice review written about each property from former guests so you can gather more details.



During high peak season, (Mid-June-July) it rents for $8575… but in shoulder season May – beginning of June, you can get it for $5850!


Not only do they have some stylin’ villas, they can arrange tours where you  wine taste, see ceramic making, go truffle hunting or simply toss a pizza in mama’s kitchen.

Another recommended company with high-end villas is Papaverorentals. This company says it has a wide range of castles, farmhouses, cottages and apartments too. Some properties come with maid service, which is a very nice touch. The company is run by a third generation Italian-American, who knows some of the owners of the featured villas. Both companies offer help in trip planning.

Here is an example of a villa available through Papaverorentals -



Il Colegio in Siena…walking distance into town.


Mama Mia this looks incredible – it isn’t often you find something so contemporary in Italy – most of the time you will find old school design.


Il Colegio sleeps 12, and all the rooms are on one floor. This house comes with a maid, and a chef is available!!

It is pricey – high season May 31- Aug 29is $17,000 a week… Mid season/shoulder season the price drops to $12,900 a week.

I have rented villas in Italy before, and in other countries, and here are things you should remember:

1) There may be tourist tax added to the price – based on per person per night  – ask if children are exempt.

2) Try and be flexible with dates – not traveling in high season can save you thousands of dollars in a week.

3) Ask if there is a cleaning service who will clean before you arrive, and not the owners. I have walked into not-so-clean rental homes before.

4) If you have small children and are renting a property with a pool, ask if there is a pool cover. Also ask if there is a pool heater!

5) Be prepared to encounter new critters – We were once the first of the season to rent a villa in Tuscany, and the place was infested with scorpions, which are common out in the country! Make sure you are in touch with the rental company if something like that happens, although the locals we mentioned it to just laughed as if it were part of the la dolce vita ;)

And remember – the benefits are fantastic – the opportunity to live like a local, more space than a hotel, the opportunity to eat at home after shopping in a local market, and the ability to stay with a larger group in one place, for sometimes a cheaper stay than a nice hotel.

Have a great weekend.





  Hotel of the Week: This Is On My Bucket List – Great Mother Daughter Trip!

It almost sounds  cliche…. a 17th century villa in the Italian countryside offering cooking classes with local Italian ingredients. You can visualize the aged stone walls, Italian women in aprons pinching everyone’s cheeks, and the vines surrounding the property.

casa-gregorio-italy ext-16

Casa Gregorio to some extent breaks that cliche.



A cooking school/B & B, a culinary vacation here teaches wine and olive harvest cooking, as well as authentic Italian recipes handed down from generations.


But mind you, this is not your grandmother’s kitchen.

Casa Gregorio was started by Gregory Aulensi ….

Castro dei Volsci, from

Castro dei Volsci, from

After spending time as an interior designer in Florida, he stumbled upon this worn down house in the village of Castro dei Volsci in the Roman countryside, and decided to renovate. His interior design skills are evident – this is more Phillipe Starck than “Under the Tuscan Sun.:”

small kitch with food

The kitchen is oh so sleek…

Casa Gregorio from

Casa Gregorio from


guest room

The rooms recently renovated…

And a new villa off property that sleeps up to six is now available for a more private experience.

family room

The upscale accommodations are only part of the intrigue – but it does make this culinary escape stand out.

The cooking school  is a very hands on experience – Guests learn to make homemade pasta, and pizza in a wood burning oven, among other things, and get a local tour of restaurants.

If you’ve never stayed at a smaller establishment like this, part of the fun is being with the other guests and mingling with international travelers.

The cost for this culinary quest: In 2014 it will be approx. $3500 per person for double occupancy. That includes seven days, six nights,, all meals,  transportation to and from airport, and of course, cooking classes. All ages are welcome, which makes me want to take my daughter in a few years – It is a family environment only 60 miles from Rome.

Buon Appetito!


  World Record: A Ferrari fetches $27.5 million. See the allure at the Ferrari Musem.


If you haven’t heard, a world record was set last week at the oh so chi chi car auction in Pebble Beach, CA – timed with Monterey Car Week. That is the most money ever paid for a car at a public auction. Whew – that’s a lotta dough.

That uber-expensive car is an ultra rare 1967 Ferrari/GTB 4*S NART Spider. Must be some car.

For those of us who would love a deeper appreciation for just why a classic car would be worth more than most people make in 10 lifetimes…. or worth a sum of money that could feed millions of people…then the Ferrari museum in Italy is a good place to switch gears.

Enzo Ferrari Museum from

Enzo Ferrari Museum from

You can see various Ferraris on display, and  get an education on the automaker’s racing history.



You can also see what it’s like behind the racing wheel of this Italian Stallion of cars  at the museum simulator  - that, however, is an additional price on top of admission.



It should be noted, I have heard mixed reviews about the museum – if you fancy fancy cars, then chances are you will be in your element here. Also note – this is a museum, and like other museums, you can’t touch the works of art.


You can also pay extra for a tour of the Ferrari factory – which actually sounds super interesting – BUT – unless you are a Ferrari owner, this tour consists mostly of driving in a tour bus on the periphery of the factory – not worth the extra money to see it. If you are a Ferrari owner, (how many of you are out there?) then you can get the VIP tour.


The museum is located in Maranello, about a 45 minute drive from Bologna. The factory is not far.

If you really want to live la dolce vita, there are indeed other car museums you can see on your journey – this is after all, Italy. Some are rather close to each other in the same area….

The Museo dell’Automobile in Turino – an interesting collection putting an historical spin on their wheels.

The Mille Miglia Museum in Brescia, open since 2004, it honors Brescia’s legendary car race. This is an an architecturally significant building – a monastery – and is not a traditional museum, but rather an exhibition space where visitors can cover –not only theoretically- the entire physical and historical route of the Mille Miglia across Italy, passing through regions, cities and crowds of people

The Vintage Alfa Romeo Museum – Milan –

The Lambourghini Museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese-



  Comfort Food Travel: Out on the Water

I recently turned to my young daughter while in an airport and had a senior moment. “Ava… WHAT CITY ARE WE IN ?”

I’d rather think of it as a rock star moment, caused by waking up in many different destinations, and exhaustion from fun late nights and rock n roll.

It might be because I HAVE been on the road a lot this year…. but have also gone down some new roads in life which have left me preoccupied.

A close friend, diagnosed with a terrible disease, at too young an age.

My daughter, possibly leaving the womb of her tight knit soccer team to join a club team.

So.. after that little cathartic rant, can I ask – aren’t we all longing for that peaceful place?  Where in the world have you been that you just feel it in your bones… a place that goes right to the core of you? Where do you feel a worldly connection?

I call it comfort food travel -For me…. one obvious place is out on the water. It is a unique, and peaceful perspective from which to admire the world…and the rhythm of the gentle waves reverberates for days after. There are many destinations in the world where you can access the ocean, bay, etc and here are a few suggestions:

SUP -Stand Up Paddling or kayaking- If you’ve never tried it, there are schools all over the world to help you. It is always fun to learn something new on a trip – let this be your take away.


You get up close with the marine life, admiring brightly colored coral and schools of fish. (I SUPed over baby sharks here in Burma!) No to mention, bring a friend and it is a bonding outing. in Bali. in Maui.

Lucky Catch Cruises, Portland Maine

A working lobster boat in Maine:

If you make it to Portland Maine, you gotta take a Lucky Catch Cruise. This is one of my travel highlights – Capt Tom takes you out on his lobster boat during lobster season, and involves you in the process of catching lobster – a huge industry for the state of Maine. Kids are more than welcome, and learn so much about the cycle of food – from the bottom of the ocean to your dinner plate. You can buy the lobster you catch for a mere $5!!

To top it off, on a nice day it is a relaxing cruise where you can take in the gorgeous Maine coastline and some iconic lighthouses. I will write more about this one of a kind experience at the beginning of lobster season.

Newport Beach

Rent an electric boat: This is fun because you can be your own captain.

You can rent these little electric boats that fit about 10 people, and cruise through many water ways in the U.S. Florida, Maryland, and here in California to name a few. It’s not expensive, and they don’t go fast for you first timers. It doesn’t have to be summer – You can pull down plastic covers to block the breeze….

…Here in California, this winter night is crisp and clear. It gets more crowded and harder to rent in the summer.

Venice, Italy, 1988

A gondola ride in Italy:

- Really… I know it can be touristy, but ya gotta do it once. The first time I rode on the canals of Venice, I felt like I had been there in former lives. As you look out on the palaces along the Grand Canal, you are enveloped in the blanket of old world charm. A 60 minute ride typically costs about 100 euro, but you can try to negotiate.

A much less costly option is to take a vaporetto ride on the Grand Canal.

Take a ski boat or a fishing boat out – These can be arranged at most hotels in Cabo…

Florida Keys

or Florida. Once again, another fun activity for kids.

As we enter spring…  be mindful of what floats your boat, and go for it. You deserve the fun… and comfort.

  Hotels of the Week: Those to Watch in 2012

There are so many hotels opening in 2012 – good news for travelers. More rooms = more destinations to explore, & lower prices if there are more rooms than demand.

What are your new year’s resolutions? If to travel fully and transport yourself so completely is one of them, you’ll want to see these special places. Bon Voyage my friends – wake up your passion.

Here are some intriguing hotels that either just opened … or will open in 2012.


On the “off the radar” Turkish Riviera is the new Amanruya. Part of the exclusive Aman Resorts, this hotel on the Aegean Coast is romantic experience.

Amanruya, Turkish Riviera

It is a collection of five-star cottages – each with a pool, private garden, outdoor shower, and lounging pergola. Let it roll off your tongue “I am retreating to my lounging pergola…”

Inside, the design is smashing and classic.

The hotel is on the Bodrum Peninsula…and has a small beach.


Speaking of beautiful beaches, what also comes to mind is the Six Senses Con Dao in Vietnam – a country on my must see list.

This is the first five start resort on these Vietnamese islands – remote, but accessible – just take a 45  minute flight from Ho Chi Minh City.

There are 50 villas on this property – each with it’s own infinity pool… ranging in size from single level to duplex, and one bedroom to four.

Six Sense Con Dao offers water sports, snorkeling, diving, cooking classes, and trips to remote beaches. This will work for Valentine’s Day.


Heading to the country…. we’ve got Castello di Casole in Tuscany. This dramatic 4200 acre estate will open in 2012.

Castello di Casole entices those who would love to vacation among enchanting vineyards and olive groves. The estate has more than 100 acres of organic vineyards dotting its gorgeous landscape.

In addition to vineyard tours, wine tastings, winemaker dinners and events on property with the winemaking team, the resort offers Italian winery tours at some of Italy’s most prestigious wineries.

One can also expand his or her wine cellar, manage a collection and experience the world’s fine wines through the resort’s partnership with specialty wine retailers.

A little bit of luxury in the Italian countryside… and there are residencies too for those looking to spend even more time there.


The British Virgin Islands are near and dear to me… I shot a few shows there and always want to return. Scrub Island Resort would be a good reason!

Ocean view rooms… secluded, crystal clear beaches with seriously turquoise waters.. Can’t ya just feel the gentle breeze? The resort is right ona marina, so for those of you with yachts, ahem,  you are welcome. Water sports abound here, and the resort also hosts weddings.

Scrub Island

The rooms are tasteful and tropical.It is officially an island resort with one of those beautiful ceiling fans.


If you are craving city life, you will get your fill of London this year since this world class city is host to the 2012 Olympics. One new hotel opening is the BVLGARI – classy, but hopefully not too stuffy.

BVLGARI Hotel, London

It is a joint venture between Italian jeweller BVLGARI and Marriott International, located in the Knightsbridge area. The BVLGARI stamp doesn’t mean bling comes with the room, and by the looks of the brand’s design, it is not too flashy. This photo is of a room at the Bvlgari in Milan, since the London hotel is not open yet.

BVLGARI in Milan

As always, happy travels and have a great weekend.

  Do You Ever Disagree on Where to Go on Vacation? Here Are Some Solutions…

I am a member of – meaning I am able to receive offers from avid travelers all over the world to exchange houses at some point. It is totally fun fantasizing about visiting some of the places from which I receive offers.

Interior Gardens and Pool: Terrace, master, living room kitchen, and dining room to the left; two bedrooms, library and TV room straight ahead.

So the other day, when I received a too-good-to-be-true request to exchange with the palatial home above  in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I was all over it. San Miguel de Allende may not be up there say with London or Paris as one of the top five places to visit, but  I have read and heard so much about it, I have been itching to go…and this was a free place to stay for a couple weeks.

In the words of Lyle Lovett, I thought this was a “dream made to order, south of the border…” until I proposed it to m y husband for our family vacation. To my surprise, the response was a flat out “No.” Not a “Let’s think about it…or Maybe..” but “NO.”  Hasta la vista Mexico. He had no interest, didn’t think it would be good for the kids, etc.

Really? Even though he relies on and trusts my travel knowledge, and I plan the trips,  he wouldn’t budge.

I am always up for any kind of trip and ready for an adventure, but I am sure this happens in a lot in families. So I called upon my travel agent slash family travel therapist John Clifford for some advice. ( He suggests:

1) One partner gets to choose the current destination (say, a summer vacation) and the next trip, the other partner chooses (say a holiday trip,or next vacation).

2) The couple agrees to choose a “neutral” third destination that they jointly agree upon.

3)Choose a destination  that “hits all the passion points” and tends to please most all couples. A few are:

Costa Rica: Abundant nature with immense rainforests teeming with wildlife, breathtaking beaches, affordable & romantic resorts, endless beaches, mountains, rivers & valleys, exciting adventures, seems to please even the most picky couple.

Mexico: Vibrant culture, colonial cities full of charm, ancient Mayan ruins, culinary delights, resorts that run from boutique to over the top, beaches that blind the eye, the country has it all. (Uh, John…can you please place a call to my husband on this?? LOL)

Italy: Who doesn’t love Italy, whether you’re a movie star, or a couple taking your first trip together? The cradle of civilization boasts iconic cities from coasts, to mountains, artists such as da Vinci and Michelangelo, islands with spewing volcanoes, to other worldly Venice with her gondolas, the infamous Roman Empire and her ruins, or the Lake District’s belle of swanky, Lake Como. With millennia of history dating back to the 9th century BC, art, culture, and dreamscapes of Italy seduce both men & women.  Italy once ruled the world, and it often overpowers visitors with a heady mix of more than the average mind can comprehend.

My suggestion -go to a region that offers both beach and culture or beach and city. The French Riviera worked for us – our first home exchange.

There are so many fantastic places in the world to travel, if you just take some time to think about it, you and your partner are bound to find something to satisfy all tastes. Now – who wants to join me in San Miguel de Allende?

  Where was George Clooney this weekend?

Really ladies – is that what it takes to get you to read my blog?

He was in LA at a private screening of his new movie “Ides of March.” I was there, and it is a smart and entertaining film – the twists are unpredictable.. and the cinematography is beautiful. (Note the opening and closing shots.) It is worth paying more and seeing it on the big screen – it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year… and although George Clooney is a draw, it is actually actor Ryan Gosling who stole the show.

Afterward, Clooney gave a Q and A session with those of us in the screening room, where he talked a lot about making the movie.  So – since this is not a movie review site, why am I writing this? Because “Ides of March” was shot in Clooney’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. But I kept thinking… man I wish this were shot in anther town where he lives part of the year – Laglio, Lake Como. (Of course the movie would not have made any sense being shot there, but one can daydream, right?)

George Clooney's Italian Villa

Clooney owns a villa on the lake – Villa Oleander.It is a 15 bedroom  gorgeous piece of property on the lake, with the mountains in the background. For a slideshow of a house tour Clooney gave Diane Sawyer, go to


Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio

Lake Como actually has four main towns, all of which are picturesque – Bellagio being the prettiest. Vaporetti and car-ferries can take you from one place to another.

Beautiful Lake Como

Lake Como has always been an exclusive retreat for the stars… Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner are said to have stayed at the famed Villa d’Este… Madonna has been spotted in the region… and Georgio Armani reportedly has a villa here as well.

Lake Como is only 25 miles north of Milan, and worth a trip, especially if you have already done the “must see” stops in Italy like Rome, Florence, and Venice. Clooney reportedly has said buying the villa at Lake Como is “the best thing he’s ever done.” How can you pass up an endorsement like that?

  Where to Take Your Kids Before They Move Out.

School is back in session.. life is getting back to routine. My oldest started middle school… so last spring’s 5th grade graduation was a milestone for me: He was leaving the nurturing nest of our sweet elementary school.

Actually, it was compounded by the fact that my youngest graduated kindergarten just the day before… the stark contrast between the 5 year olds and 10 year olds made me realize they grow so fast. So me, being sentimental, started to think that – OMG – the empty nest doesn’t seem too far away. A bit dramatic? Maybe.

Have you thought about what you want your life to be when you are an empty-nester? (That is another blog post!) Or…have you thought about what you want to do with your kids while you still have them at home? Where would you like to take family vacations before they are too busy… or have moved away? You only have so many chances to create indelible travel moments together.

I have thought about this. Everyone is different, but there are some general themes that would make for memorable family get aways.

1) I will start with the most obvious, and probably easiest: Hit the beach. Rent a beach house, plant your toes in the sand, BBQ at sunset, play on the beach, and bring board games. With just simple pleasures, there are many opportunities for bonding time. Hawaii will also work here – there is nothing like getting to an island – can’t recreate that vibe as much as I have tried. Hawaii is the easiest for many reasons: With kids you want things simple, and it is an English speaking, American state…. everything is pretty convenient. Cue the sea breeze please.

2) Brave a World-Class Big City or Two. World class museums, taxis zipping by, wonderful parks. I would put New York City, Paris, London, and Rome on that list. San Francisco too – but it is more laid back.

You can also find many free things to do in large cities – take advantage of free days at museums, the many free activities in parks from puppet shows to concerts to playgrounds. When I took my kids to Paris, it was unbelievable how long we could sit in a park and watch our kids play on all the play areas so different than anything we have in America, as well as multi-generational pick-up games of soccer that they joined.

3) Sneak in a History Lesson: Everyone would love their children to have a sense of the world, and historic moments. Seeing is believing over just learning in textbooks. Some locations steeped in history make awesome family vacations. Did I mention Rome? I am again. The birthplace of Western civilization, there are many a history lesson to be found here. There are tours about Julius Caesar… and standing relics of ancient Rome like the Forum and Coliseum. Vatican city is important whether you are a practicing Catholic or not  - what a statement it makes about organized religion, and it’s importance to many people. No to mention, the art history lesson there…the Sistine Chapel and the architecture of Basilica di San Pietro.

Also on my list: Greece, Washington DC – tour the capitol and White House, visit the monuments, and if you have time go to Gettysburg, Boston, or London.

4) Lions and Tigers and Bears and Nature. Expose your kids to the good old outdoors, and all the creatures that call  it home. Kids love animals – even teens find them interesting. In Alaska, I met some teens who said Alaska was their best family vacation – believe me, if you’ve been to Alaska, you know how original it is compared to the rest of America. Bear viewing, kayaking with bald eagles, hiking glaciers are all possible in the Last Frontier.

Easier to get to for most, are our national parks. Yellowstone may be one of the best I’ve visited for animal viewing, along with being an incredible geological lab for all! Your kids will love the spouting geysers, bubbling mudpots, and hissing steam vents… Yellowstone has the greatest concentration of thermal features in the country—nearly 10,000 of them.

There is also the Galapagos Islands – home of the blue-footed booby, the Great Barrier Reef for some amazing viewing of marine life, and Africa for an organized safari, which is better for older kids.

5) Lastly – it is a rite of passage for a child to visit a theme park. You only capture that thrill for a short time, so indulge them, no matter how crowded and how bad the food.:)

Some of these trips can be done on a budget. Forgive me if I have missed some other potential trips.

But now, you have time, and hopefully inspiration to plan for next summer… these are trips that will last a lifetime.

  You should see the exciting new hotels opening in 2011…

Some seriously fabulous new hotels to check out – and there’s something for everyone. 2011 is looking good for travel.

Here is a sampling of a few new hotels:

1)  The Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong… slated to open March 2011, it’s claim to fame is that it will be the tallest hotel in the world (Occupying the top floors of the ICC building in Kowloon.). That IS a big deal, but if you have any idea of how majestic the views are in Hong Kong, then you will completely understand the, ahem, “heightened” importance.

Prepare yourself: Hong Kong is very Western… only in key pockets did I feel like I was really in China.

2) I am delirious over the recent collection of hotels that have opened in Sicily, Italy. Not kidding. Just visit the below websites. Some of the most beautiful settings, and classically elegant buildings….These would be my picks for dream destinations…. not the typical Italian tourist place (Rome, Florence…) but so much to offer.

—The Grand Hotel Timeo in Taormina :

Set right near the Greek Theatre…with spectacular views from the terrace. Bedroom balconies are nice, reminiscent of those at the Splendido in Portofino. Situated in the middle of the village, beaches are nearby.

The 72 room Grand Timeo dates from 1873 and features views of Mount Etna and the Bay of Naxos from panoramic terraces and guest rooms. Sorry these photos are so small – go to the website – it won’t disappoint!

The other noteworthy hotel in Sicily, another Orient Express hotel, is the Villa Sant’ Andrea. Right on it’s own exclusive beach, it is breathtaking..and 5-star heaven. If you want to leave for some culture and village life, a cable car whisks you away.

Villa Sant'Andrea, Sicily, Italy

Visit this website too. The best photos couldn’t be downloaded.

And lastly, and great excursion for families – a new Disney cruise…The third ship in the Disney fleet, the Disney Dream will take it’s maiden voyage Jan. 26. The ship holds 4000 passengers and sails to the Bahamas. As anyone who has ever done anything with Disney knows, it caters to children – and boasts to have the largest water coaster at sea! There is always plenty of entertainment for all on Disney cruises, and even if you don’t love being with large groups, I don’ t know many families who haven’t had a good time on a Disney cruise.

DIsney Dream Cruise Ship - water coaster

My bags are ready to be packed!