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Travelogue: Cayman Islands (Ritz Carlton)

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ith only two weeks left before the end of my maternity leave (cue: tears) we decided last minute to get out of the city for a quick beach getaway with the girls. I've been reading numerous positive reviews of how kid-friendly the ritz Carlton in grand cayman was and thought we should give it a shot especially since we've never been to the Cayman Islands.

Getting there:

Flying from JFK on jetblue, It was a quick 3 hour and 15 min flight time which is ideal when traveling with a toddler and baby. We lucked out with an empty row (hello!) so it was smooth sailing from takeoff to touchdown. Deplaning at Arrival required a bit of handling since there's no gateway - it's an old school staircase onto the tarmac and then walking to arrivals / customs.  Because we carry-on our luggage (yep, even with 2 kids) having a bjorn and a walking toddler was efficient and fortunately the jetblue staff was equally helpful in giving us a hand down the stairwell.

Travel tip: on a previous flight to Dallas, virgin airlines broke our umbrella stroller. As a replacement, we looked at umbrella strollers for newborns and landed on a mclaren quest with a universal boogie board attachment that fit the bill perfectly. Granted no car seat this time around but we knew we'd be mostly resort bound and not driving much for this trip. It worked out really well for us. All about traveling lighter and smarter!

The resort: nice big property with two main buildings connected by a bridge on the 3rd floor. There are 2 resort pools, one Oceanside and another on the resort side. In addition to being near the main lobby, the Resort side pool is next to Anidiamo (Italian restaurant) and starfish cay (kids water playground) and the basketball courts. Nearby is the kids environment ambassador club where there's plenty of family and kids programming to keep them busy. If you've got little ones who may never want to leave this area you may actually want a room resort side rather than Oceanside.

*resort tip: get a 3rd floor room close to the elevators if you're the type to drop by your room often. We were in 271 which was at the very end of the hall and having to get to our room was a bit of a trek even from the lobby.

The pool by the ocean is a decent size and is a few steps from the ocean. Both pool and ocean have plenty of chairs that are serviced by Bar Jacks which is your typical poolside eats of grilled foods and salads as well as your cold beers and frozen cocktails (I was a big fan of the shrimp quesadilla and Cuban colada!). Though both pools run about 4 1/2 ft in the shallow end, life vests and some pool/beach toys are available for toddlers and up.

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he beach is fairly shallow and there are a variety of activities to partake in. Our crew was too young for these activities so hubby and I traded off in taking our 18 month old, winter, to swim or play while Nyla chilled, ate, or slept.

Food: all the restaurants were fairly decent.

The breakfast buffet at Seven  is good and pricey (~$40/pp) but was included with our room. If it wasn't, I am pretty sure we would have gone to a local restaurant instead to get more bang for our buck. We also had dinner at Seven but didn't have anything that stood out except for the bread (ugh soo good and warm). Service at both meal times was prompt and courteous and accommodated us easily with high chair and a spot for our stroller.

Bar jacks by the pool was good and had we been there for more days, it's a place we'd most likely return to.

In room dining: decently good. Shrimp quesadilla wasn't exactly up to par with the one at bar jacks but it was fine. A little detail I appreciated - they tell you when your order is ready (approx 30 min) by noting aloud what time the order is taken and what time you should expect it at your door. I also believe you can order from any of the restaurants because hubby wanted key lime pie from seven and they made it happen. I had the Creme brûlée and it was delicious

Sushi restaurant: I guess this a popular spot because no walkins were being taken due to capacity so reserve ahead of time. However they will serve you same menu in the lobby lounge which is what we opted to do. Unfortunately this was the worst experience ever. We sat and waited for 2 basic rolls and kids meal for over an hour.  It was really unbelievable as we saw other folk who arrived after us get their food. And with a restless toddler in tow, you can imagine how challenging this could be. the manager was hard to find and our poor waiter who was transferred onto to our table mid-wait could see my anger and frustration and took it upon himself to comp our meal because even he had a hard time tracking the manager. I'm not a sushi person but the hubby said it was quite good and he would have ordered more if it wasn't for the crazy wait and lack of attention.

Starfish cay. Winter did not want to leave. She loved just playing in the fountains and splashing on the ground. Though it's better suited for those over 36" tall to ride the mini slides, younger ones will be just as entertained with the various sprinklers, fountains and overall watery aura of this playground.

Island outings:

Because it was a short trip we didn't get off the property much. Dining alone is a pretty penny so hit up local restaurants if you're trying to save.

TIP: Whenever we travel we take concierge suggestions but we also ask the day to day staff (waiters, housekeeping, taxi drivers, etc) where THEY eat. It always gives us a peek into the local non-touristy life of a place and we always come back with stories and full, happy tummies.

We are at Catch and champion house on this trip. Champion house was definitely a local spot but one that everyone we spoke to recommended. Hubby had the oxtail and I had BBQ chicken which was delicious. Oxtail was "ok" according to him. There's no AC so be prepared if you come on a smoldering day (or order takeout and bring it to the beach or back to your hotel). Catch was our brunch outing and is a fairly newish restaurant. it was really good and a nice recommendation from our concierge. Both hubby and I really loved everything we had and would have come back if we were staying longer. There are interior and exterior seating which is nice if you get hit with a rainstorm. You can still eat overlooking the water.

Our one excursion was to the turtle farm. We figured this was toddler friendly and it is for the most part. I would stick to the turtle section and skip the "water park" - it's literally a bunch of tanks where you can see these amazingly huge turtles and in one part even "catch" them and hold them up. Children under 5 are not recommended to touch or handle the turtles because of bacteria their immune systems may not be developed  enough to tackle. I'd recommend bringing your own hand sanitizer though. It was a cute excursion but it was getting hot and barely any shade so we were in and out in less than an hour. They provide a free shuttle between several hotels and the park at certain times though the staff is pretty flexible and took us and another family back early.

All in all, this trip was exactly what we had planned it out to be. A quick infant-friendly island getaway for some R&R. I recommend the ritz especially for families and the cayman islands for its direct-flight proximity to nyc. On the island, everyone speaks English, takes US dollars (though there is cayman currency) and for the most part very friendly! Small (or big if you like your spirits) thing to note is that Sunday is dry on the island so no alcohol is served/sold Sunday morning (?) so keep in mind if you were on the hunt for a raging brunch day party. Happy travels!

Week 1

Thoughts: Newborns are SMALL. I miss a full night's sleep. Its nice not feeling completely out of the loop this time around. Not a rookie. But then again doubts come up.  Stop comparing. Stop comparing. Stop comparing :)  Winter loves her sister.  Make time for Winter.





Hello Nyla Reign

 Nyla came into the world right on her due date and quickly at that! Considering this was me right after my usual weekly doctor check-in that morning:
I was apparently 4cm already but having no contractions. My doctor said she'd probably be seeing me at the hospital later that night or tomorrow morning. But seeing that I had been 2-3 cm and can go "any day now" for the past 3 weeks, I took everything with a grain of salt. I resolved to do lunges my whole way home.
There's a reason why she's the doctor (lol). The contractions kicked in around 4ish that afternoon and they were the real deal. This is me around 7:30 pm - an hour or so after being admitted (at 8-9cm! woop woop!) and the epidural already kicked in. Look who's enjoying bbq and look who's waiting for go-time (i'm already 10 cm but doctor wanted baby to drop into a lower position.) 
After an hour and a half of waiting watching the cavs game and we've got the go ahead. 5 min of pushing and here she is! I don't think I was ready for how fast it went. Crazy fast. If labor with Winter was like a marathon (3 hours?!) then Nyla's delivery was like the 50 yard dash.
Winter came to visit the next day. I think she was more concerned about seeing her mommy and daddy than interacting with this little human everyone was doting over. She didn't really want any part of the kumbaya moment.
 But when we brought her little sister home, she did a complete 180 and couldn't stop doting over "Lala" (can't quite grasp saying "Ny-" ...its cute)...
and had no issues sharing hugs with daddy. We're so lucky and blessed with the addition of Nyla. Now its on to learning how to juggle 2!!!

Disney Dream Recap (with an infant!)

Itching to escape the city for a beach vacay, we looked at several caribbean spots but in the back of my head, I always like to put cruising on my list of options mainly for the no-brainer, all inclusive nature of a cruise. Food- check. accommodations - check. Entertainment - check. Relaxation - check plus.  So for vacation, I just happened to look up a disney cruise and everything seemed to line up: dates, price (it was almost half off the regular  cost), and weather. We booked with less than 2 weeks to the sailing date. That gave me 2 weeks to do some serious internet sleuthing to prep for our first time on a Disney Cruise. Things I've learned:
the beds are super comfy
Our stateroom: 7126. That couch turns into a bed. Cribs are available upon request
Which room to book? Due to the last minute booking, I opted for a guaranteed balcony room. This means you don't choose your stateroom but instead get placed based on what's left. We ended up with a great room. The disney staterooms are designed for FAMILIES. So there's space and storage and the split bathroom (a tub and a shower?! and separate toilet room?) was a plus. Don't be afraid to book a guaranteed room - you might end up scoring a better room than you bargained for.
Disney Dream lobby atrium
Cruising with an infant: I thought Winter (and us lol) would totally miss out on all the fun being that she's not old enough to use the Oceaneer's club (starts at 3 years old) which is basically the best daycare/camp I've ever seen for kids but the great thing about Disney is they've thought of that as well and have a decent sized playroom nursery that takes infants younger than 3 and at a very reasonable rate ($9/hr).  
Meals are infant friendly too  
Winter was still in soft-food land so we found the restaurants (as expected) to be very accommodating. And because of the rotational dining system Disney has (with 3-4 themed restaurants you rotate through for dinner), your waiters will be prepared by the second night. Our waiter would have winter's food ready and pureed to go right after seating us. Food wise, I thought it was good not great but better than I was expecting. Coming off Celebrity cruises, I thought their food (and service) was excellent but that's just a different cruise experience I thought that shouldn't be compared. 
infants can't go in the pools but can enjoy the nemo splash area
Win is her name! My baby blowing away the competition...
Activities: Disney is so detailed oriented that there's activities for every age group on board. No one is left out. I was surprised to meet a good number of groups who were traveling without any children at all (strange? a little, but these were hardcore cruisers or Disney enthusiasts so I give them a pass). She was curious and the presence of hundreds of kids was fun for her. She had a few play areas she could venture into (nemo splash area), character meet and greets she could attend and even an activity or two she can participate in (diaper dash?!)
Not staged - it really looks like this.
Ports: We were on a short 4 day cruise to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay (disney's private island).  All cruise reports say to skip bahamas and opt to stay on ship but we've never been so we checked out Atlantis and the Cove. Atlantis felt dated but the water park looked awesome so we'll save for an older Winter. Castaway Cay was as great as everyone reported it to be. We only had Coco Cay (royal carribbean's private island) to compare it to and its hands down above and beyond Coco. The boat literally pulls up to the island, which I assume is an engineering feat unto itself but it lends to easy disembarking  (rather than hopping on a ferry to island like other cruise lines). Again, designed for everyone - (paved roads, trams, private adult only beach/area, cabanas for families, etc) Disney thinks of everything.  I heard about the 5k they host on the island so I laced up and ran in that despite the crazy humidity, sun, and late morning heat.  It's unofficially timed and the crew members who run the race make it as fun-minded and non-competitive as possible (spoiler: everyone gets a medal - even if you cheat the course - which is a little boring, but you get your workout in). 
Don't let the smile fool you, I wanted to a pass out from the heat/humidity!
The beach areas are jam packed with recreational options for families but I liked that even the sand and design of the beach (very gradual slope) were infant-friendly. You're treated to a bbq lunch buffet/picnic on the island so don't skip it!

Overall: It was a great vacation for the family.  I forgot to add they do Halloween on the Seas which lets the kids trick or treat in costume (and families went ALL OUT FOR THIS). Also memorable was Pirates of the Caribbean night (how apropo) where you have a midnight buffet and a fireworks show off the ship (pretty cool). I hear christmastime is also fun and magical for guests. This was an added bonus to the experience.
Arggh! Pirate night!
 I would definitely disney cruise it up again but only when Winter can take advantage of the Oceaneer's club (It's seriously amazing and I'm a bit jealous us adults can't enjoy it!). However if you have an infant and are seriously considering it- go for it! we met a few couples traveling with infants and they like us, took everything in stride and enjoyed the option that they could have alone time whenever they wished or just have a fun new experience together as a family.   As you can see from the video, we had a great time!


Winter's 1st Birthday Pajama Jammy Jam

For her first bday, we knew she wouldn't really know what was going on (nor would she probably remember it) so this was a party for everyone—Winter's older kid friends and of course, us parents! So when I found out about Baby Loves Disco and that they were throwing an event just days before Winter's bday - it was a done deal about what Winter's party theme was going to be: an all-out day party.  Because of all the offerings both via entertainment and snacks given to guests, there's little I had to do in terms of decorations and food. We had a cake ordered, I bought a tray of lumpia and pancit, and a few pizza pies and called it a day. All in all I think ALL our guests both young and old had a blast and Winter, well, she managed to stay up to see her cake and bottle sparklers go off so I think she was in happyland too. See all the photos here.











Winter's TV Debut

When winter got the chance to play an extra on a cable television show, we jumped at the chance and flew to LA for filming. You never know if you'll ever get the opportunity to do this (no matter how old you are) so we went into this with an open mind and tried to have fun and keep it playful for her.  Her role was to be a fussy baby and at this age, she had NO problems playing the part (who is this strange lady holding me? Mommy?!?! Insert meltdown here). It stressed me out more that she was ruining the shot but everybody on set was so nice an accommodating that all just made the best of the situation and got the take down. I can't wait to see if she makes the final edit! Here's some pics we were able to take behind the scenes in the midst of the craziness:
Winter in costume about to shoot her scene

She got her own trailer!

Living it up with daddy
She's all smiles now... lol

Behind the scenes: Winter's first modeling gig

When Winter was 3 months, I emailed a few agencies to try to get her into baby modeling. I'm sure it's a competitive industry (what mom doesn't think their baby is the cutest??!) but I said why not. The worst that could happen is that they say "no." Fortunately,  by chance, one agency immediately responded to my email and asked if Winter was available for a babies r us shoot the following day. Um...Yes!  So here's our experience of Winter's first (and hopefully not last!) photoshoot:
The shoot was across the river in Jersey so we ubered over since I didn't want to deal with directions and parking. It was pricey but the best idea ever because it was a hard to get to AND there was no street parking
Winter fell asleep on the way there which was perfect. She's at her best after waking up from a nap.  We were in a holding room which housed wardrobe and a changing table (and unlimited supply of diapers and changing accessories) I got to indulge in freshly baked madelines and a cup of tea while also chatting with another mom (also a model) and her son (also napping and 3 months). We talked about what I found most new moms talk about which was the delivery day lol.
The baby handler suggested that we let Winter sleep up until she had to go shoot so she slept. Soon after, I had to wake her up to get her into wardrobe, which as you can see was this minty green long-sleeved onesie. It was too long for her so she rolled up the sleeves. Hair and makeup artist came and admired your hair and just combed it out to look even fuller. 
Then we trekked across to the street to the actual set which look like a beautifully lit living room. It was here I found out Winter would be modeling a baby swing. I handed her off to the baby handler who positioned her on the swing. Hair and Makeup combed out her hair again (hey, she's gotta earn that check!) and fixed Winter's onesie. Everything was moving quickly to keep her entertained. The baby handler made lots of silly faces and shook a bunch of rattles which was more than enough to get Winter laughing and to get the photographer snapping.  She smiled so much that it was literally 5-maybe 10 minutes long when the photog said he was good with the shots!  Already?! I tried to take more photos but my phone conveniently died (DARNIT!). Anyhow there was another baby model who modeled the same swing so I was still unsure whether or not she would be chosen for the ad. From experience of working a pediatric shoot, you always shoot options for kid shoots because you never know what the kid's mood will be that day so you hope one will be on point for the shoot.  I did gather from the art director that it would be for a May circular so after we left it was a waiting game until.....
I found out Winter made it!!!! And to top it off, she were even featured on the cover! 
Go Winter! Makes me want to go and buy a rose chandelier baby swing! :)