Browse Tag by Travelling with five
Reviews, Travelling with 5

Italy with the kids – Viareggio, Tuscany

A typical street of Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

Just a half-hour drive from Pisa airport, Viareggio, the second largest town in the province of Lucca, turned out to be our ‘city break’ with a difference.

A typical street of Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

We just had our annual Italy fix in what started out with the intention of being a city break.

Having booked cheap flights to Pisa, I thought we would use it as a base to explore a little of the surrounding Tuscan region, somewhere we haven’t seen much of before. However, we soon realised that with temperatures reaching 30°C, it wouldn’t be practical or fun to drag three kids around areas of historical interest.

I explored the region a little more and discovered Viareggio on the Tuscan coast. It looked lovely and within easy reach of Pisa, so I based my search there. The most difficult thing about organising a holiday for a family of five is finding accommodation that will be big enough for all of you. It’s one of the most frustrating jobs that takes the pleasure out of my annual holiday search.

More often than not, when you look at hotels on line, you aren’t given the option to have more than two children and when you try to book an inter-connecting room, this is rarely guaranteed. This is one of the reasons why I will never risk booking two rooms in a hotel unless I’m sure that we can be together. I prefer, instead, to find somewhere that will suit the five of us and that obviously makes the search difficult.

Where to stay in Viareggio

I’m happy to say, that I found a hotel right on the sea front in Viareggio that offered a two-bedroomed apartment, complete with living area (with sofa bed) and kitchenette. I couldn’t believe my luck. The Palace Hotel, isn’t one of the largest in the area and it doesn’t have it’s own pool, however, the hotel has an agreement with a privately owned pool directly opposite, right on the beach, where you can pay for usage and also hire sunbeds on the beach, if you want them.

The Palace Hotel, Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life
The hotel, with its pretty, painted exterior

The hotel was beautiful, a pleasant surprise and the room perfect for our needs. My eldest daughter took the sofa bed, whilst the two little ones shared one bedroom and we had the other. Although we were at the back of the hotel and you accessed the apartments via a side gate, not through the hotel itself, we had two balconies and our room overlooked a lovely little tiled courtyard area. I’m also happy to report, that for the first time ever, I actually slept really well whilst on holiday. With my back problems such as they are, I always find when we go away the matresses are too hard or too soft or whatever, they just don’t match up to my own one at home and it makes for an uncomfortable stay. This time, I didn’t have that problem at all.

The staff at the Palace Hotel were so amazing. They couldn’t do enough for you and that adds so much to your stay, particularly given we have a child with dietary needs. At breakfast, my son had a choice of milks: almond, hazelnut, rice, oat and soya. There was also lacto-free milk on offer (though he can’t have that). They gave him gluten free cereals, gluten and dairy free bread and a choice of cakes (though not always dairy free). That, plus the fruit and Alpro soya yoghurt, meant that my son ate like a King every morning. He was more than happy.

Dining out gluten and dairy free in Viareggio

I did some research before we left home (as I usually do), to jot down the names of some restaurants that supposedly catered for allergies and when we arrived, we showed this list to the reception staff, who matched it up to their own list of recommended restaurants. Two of ours weren’t on the hotel’s list, but they booked us in one of them for dinner and directed us towards the other one for lunch.

We didn’t need to worry too much though, as most places in this area seemed well aware of allergies and happy to cater for them. It certainly takes the pressure off when you go out for meals, especially in an area where English isn’t commonly spoken. As long as you can say ‘senza glutine’ and ‘senza latosio’, you can’t go far wrong.

Our favourite places were:

Olive e Cena

The staff at this restaurant were fantastic and more than happy to swap the menu around in order to find something to suit, not only my son, but the girls too. This is the first Italian restaurant I’ve been to that has its menu on just two pages, but despite the simplicity, we didn’t know what the food was. A very patient waiter sat down with us to explain everything, then made sure we ordered something child friendly for the girls and gluten and dairy free for the little man. Not only that, the food was delicious.

Ristorante Casablanca

This was another restaurant where we had the waitress running backwards and forwards on our behalf to make sure we could order something suitable for our allergic one. We felt guilty, but ever so grateful at the same time and it was the reason we went back to this place a few times during the course of our stay.

Amaro

This place is expensive, but if you are a fan of meat, it’s worth a visit. Amaro is a Braceria – a grill – so that means simple, meat dishes, but with maximum flavour due to the quality of the meat. The steaks my husband and I had were so enormous, I don’t know what we were thinking when we ordered them. We could have easily shared. I felt like I was on an episode of man versus food. Gorgeous though.

La Casina

We had such a feast at this restaurant, having ordered a selection of dishes for all of us to share. This restaurant, being away from the seafront promenade, was also great value for money and well worth a visit if you are taking a walk through the pine forest and fancy a stop off.

We also found the best sorbets and granitas, including a dairy free chocolate version at Gelataria Etna. This may be one of the smaller gelaterias, slightly unassuming, but it’s family run, with the friendliest staff and truly delicious gelato.

Things to do in Viareggio

The beach and promenade

The coastline of Viareggio includes over 20km of sandy beach, each section privately owned and kitted out with sunbeds for hire. The sea, although appearing quite rough, actually proved safe for the little ones, as you can wade out for a sizeable distance before it even reaches your waist.

Alongside the beach is a wide pedestrianised promenade, providing 3km of shops, restaurants and cafes. What is lovely about this area, is that the road is far enough away from the restaurants for them not to be affected by the traffic noise.

The boulevard of Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

Hire a bike

There are cycle lanes everywhere in this town, including along the main promenade and cycling seems the chosen mode of transport for most of the people who live there. If cycling in the heat of the summer sun isn’t for you, there is a pine forest right in the centre of town that provides the right amount of shade for cycling in.

Cycling in the pine forest of Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

The pine forest

The Pineta di Ponente was an unexpected find for us. Right at the end of our road, what looked merely like an ordinary forest and nothing more turned out to be a hidden gem in terms of activity. On entering the woods on the east side, we thought we’d come to a retirement community. Here, the oldies hang out at the shaded cafe, drinking coffee, smoking and putting the world to rights, whilst across from them, you’ll find a competitive game of something akin to short mat bowls being held.

The pine forest in Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

Then, as we walked further into the woods, on the wide, tarmacked avenue, we came across an inflatable slide and play area.

Inflatable slide fun in the pine forest, Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

Further on, we discovered children’s rides, amusement games, go carts and even a giant scalextrics. There is everything in here to keep your children amused for hours.

Go carts in the pine forest of Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

Giant Scalextric in the pine forest, Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

You will also find cafes and refreshment stops along the way, including these Ciambelle, we discovered at Gato Nero.

Ciambelle in Viareggio, Italy - A Free From Life

My daughters and I decided to hire a bike in the woods one day and we rode the whole length and back in just under an hour. The bikes cost 2 euros each, so it was well worth the money.

Visit the leaning tower of Pisa

As I mentioned, we didn’t book this trip with the intention of moving more than a few paces at a time. And it was right to think that way. It was so hot, that sight seeing would have been hard work. We did, however, take the children in to Pisa one early evening and going from Viareggio by train could not have been easier.

Pisa, Italy - a Free From Life
The leaning tower of Pisa – it really does lean that much

The journey, just one stop to Pisa San Rossare (not Pisa Centrale), took fifteen minutes, followed by a five minute walk to the famous tower and cathedral complex. We looked around the museum and cathedral, but didn’t go up the tower itself, before buying obligatory Pisa relics from the market and then heading back to Viareggio for dinner. Easy.

The verdict

To say we were a little taken with Viareggio is an understatement. As we’ve now been to Italy with the children a few times, they are becoming as obsessed with the country as we are. We all fell in love with this lovely town and it’s people and I have no doubt that we will return there.

My Travel Monkey
Reviews, Travelling with 5

Tips for planning a trip to Disneyland

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

Planning a trip to Disneyland Florida can be a daunting task. I know, because I’ve recently done it and I’d like to share a few tips to help make your trip run as smoothly as possible.

Booking

Are you going to go for a package holiday or book flights and accommodation yourself?

When we checked prices, we found a much better deal by booking separate flights and accommodation. Advanced planning meant that we booked everything a whole year in advance. Yes, you read that right, we booked as soon as we could get on there as that’s the only way to get the best deals.

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to hotels and villas in Orlando and around the neighbouring areas. Whether you want to stay on site or further afield is up to you and what sort of accommodation you are looking for. Disney hotel guests can get entrance into the parks an hour earlier than everyone else during what’s called ‘Magic Hour’, plus you can easily get to the parks via the monorail system or shuttle bus. Everyone else has to wait until offical opening times and if your accommodation doesn’t provide a shuttle transportation service, you have to make your own way there.

We stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. This is not a Disney resort, but is only a short 10-15 minute drive to the parks, depending which one you were going to (it’s nearest to Magic Kingdom). Apparently, the hotel is built on the only piece of land that Walt Disney was unable to purchase. I chose this hotel for the accommodation it offered, as well as the location.

As a family of five, we always struggle to find accommodation big enough. Many hotels only allow up to two adults and two children in one room and will not guarantee that a second room you book will be interconnecting. I will never risk booking anything if this is the case. I like to know what we are getting before we get there.

The Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek had a few options and we went for a King room, interconnecting with two Queens. This meant we had one room for us and the children in the other, with the girls sharing one bed and my son in a bed of his own. They had their own bathroom and we could shut the door between us so they could go to sleep earlier and we didn’t need to disturb them.

Overlooking a golf course, the setting is stunning and when relaxing by the pool, you feel a million miles away from the hectic theme parks. The hotel is ajoined to the Waldorf Astoria and between them, the two hotels have a number of different restaurants to choose from. Both have a pool, but the Hilton has a lazy river, particularly popular with the kids. In the evening, there was often a poolside Disney movie playing and during the day, craft activities. For the grown ups, the Waldorf has a spa.

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

The Waldorf is more upmarket, but the Hilton felt more relaxed and family friendly.

Getting About

There is a shuttle bus that runs to and from the theme parks and the hotel all day. If you want to get a cab, it’s easy to pick one up right outside the hotel door (the concierge will see to this for you). Cabs are reasonably priced and we used them a number of times, given that we were so close to the parks.

If you stay near to the theme parks, you don’t need to hire a car. We had an airport transfer arrange for us by the hotel and we booked one ourselves for the return trip. We also booked transport to take us to the Florida Mall for an afternoon of shopping.

For going further afield, car hire would be a good option.

Tickets

Take advantage of the ticket offers on this side of the Atlantic rather than waiting until you get there. It will be much cheaper that way. You can buy a seven day or fourteen day ticket to cover six parks (that’s four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot, plus two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach).

You’ll get an on-line confirmation, then on your first day, you can pick up tickets from the Will Call kiosks at the entrance to the parks.

Itinerary

This is probably the most daunting part of booking your trip. I like to know my trip is organised to an extent, but I don’t like the idea of every hour of every day being mapped out. It can feel as though you are doing that when planning your Disney trip, but I can assure you that any planning you do will be worth it to save the aggravation of queues.

First thing’s first – Download the My Disney Experience app

This will be your go-to app for the whole trip, believe me. You can link your Disney park tickets to this app, so it includes all your party’s details. Then you can use it to book FastPass+ tickets (more about those in a minute), dinner reservations and check queuing times, amongst many other useful things (location of characters, facilities and photographers).

Decide where you want to go each day

I initially had the idea that we would do one day in a park and one day off. I think that works well if you are staying further afield, but if you are closer, you might want to consider doing half days everyday, which is what we did. Here are the reasons why:

The time difference – being five hours behind meant that we were up and ready to go bright and early every morning and so able to get to the parks for opening time. This worked well to take advantage of the slightly quieter first hour. The disadvantage was that by lunch time, we were all shattered, so an afternoon lazing by the pool at the hotel was welcomed by all of us.

Busy time of year – we went at Christmas and although not too bad in the mornings, by lunchtimes the parks really did fill up and it can become a bit unbearable.

The weather – although unseasonably hot, we were experiencing weather in the high twenties/early thirties. The mornings started out cloudy, but warm and when the sun burnt those clouds away by lunchtime, it was hot, hot, hot – not conducive to traipsing round a theme park with children in tow.

Half days means you can spread out your visits over two days, so it’s less hectic/stressful/tiring. We had ten days altogether and here’s what our ininery looked like:

Day 1: Magic Kingdom

Day 2: Magic Kingdom

Day 3: Animal Kingdom

Day 4: Animal Kingdom

Day 5: Magic Kingdom (For a couple of hours, as it was Christmas Day – it was heaving though)

Day 6: Hollywood Studies

Day 7: Hollywood Studios

Day 8: Epcot

Day 9: Day off

Day 10: Home

As you can see, we only did one day in Epcot because we were getting ‘theme-parked out’ by then. We managed to do all the rides we wanted to do in the time we were there. One day was enough for us in this park. We also didn’t fancy going to the water parks. One was closed for refurbishment anyway, but we had a lovely pool with lazy river at our hotel and that was enough for all of us.

Look at the park maps

You don’t want to book three FastPass+ tickets that have you trailing from one side of the park to the other and back again, so plan to book them within the same area. For example, Magic Kingdom has four areas: Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Frontierland. If you look at a map of the park, you will see that it makes sense to split it in half, meaning that you can do Tomorrowland and Fantasyland on one day and Adventureland and Frontierland on the other.

Do the same with the other parks by picking out three rides or attractions that are close together.

Make a list of all the things you want to do in each park. Remember, you can book FastPass tickets for shows and even for seeing characters (in Magic Kingdom only).

Booking FastPass+ tickets

You can book up to three FastPass+ tickets per day. Each ‘ticket’ gives you an hour’s slot for a ride of your choice. Turn up at any time during this hour and you bypass the main queues. This service doesn’t cost anything and it is well worth doing, especially if you have young children.

This is another advantage to visiting a park over two days. You can book three FastPass+ tickets for each day and by doing so, you can cover most of the rides or attractions that you want to visit.

Book your FastPass+ tickets up to one month before you go

Set your alarm on your phone to make sure you remember to do this. Tickets go quickly, especially during busy periods like Christmas and once they are all dished out, that’s it. Using the Disney app, you can pick out your three rides or attractions and it gives you time slots to choose from.

If you have a lot of rides and attractions you want to do, my advice would be to book your three FastPass tickets from around 10am and do some of the rides you haven’t booked tickets for before then. Getting in at opening time and heading to the back of the park first, will ensure you get on a ride with minimal wait times and without a FastPass. We did this at Epcot with a ride called Soarin. When we got to this ride, the wait time was ten minutes and by the time we came out from the ride, the wait had gone up to 45 minutes.

Magic Bands

These are an optional extra, but well worth it, in my opinion. When you go to the Will Call kiosk on your first visit to one of the parks, you can purchase Magic Bands for each family member (around $12 each) and get all your ticket and FastPass+ information put on them.

Entrance to the parks and all the rides requires scanning of tickets or Magic Bands and for ease (and reducing the risk of losing tickets) the Magic Bands fasten securely around your wrist and all you need to do is touch it to the scanning machine. Each family member wears their own band, which contains all their ticket and ID information. You can use them on subsequent visits too (if you ever decide to go back), for up to ten years.

The Magic Bands also have another use. If you get any photos taken in the park, or on the rides, you can scan them to your band and keep them all in one place. At the end of your stay, you can purchase any that you want to keep, which leads me to another pre-purchase option – the Memory Maker.

Memory Maker – all your photos in one place

We bought this via the Disney app before we left the UK and at first, I wondered whether I had done the right thing. However, we ended our trip with over 300 photos, so I think I can safely say it was worth it. You can scan every photo from the rides you go on, plus in every park you’ll find official Disney photographers stationed at various points. If you don’t go to the first one you see as you walk in, you will find another one within a few minutes’ walk where there’s little or no queue and you can get a photo souvenir of you and your family. Every character photo taken can also be scanned to your band and linked to the Memory Maker.

I don’t know about you, but it’s not often that we get many photos of all five of us when we go on holiday. Usually, it’s one of us taking the photos of the other four, so in that sense, it was a great opportunity for lots of family portraits. Making use of the Memory Maker also meant that we got some surprise shots like this:

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

And this:

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

Dining

I come to this section with a particular emphasis on catering for food intolerances. Regular readers will know my youngest can’t eat gluten and dairy. Whenever we go away, I spend a good deal of time researching suitable places where we can eat. You don’t need to worry about that when you go to Disney I’m happy to report.

We only ate in the parks once, opting instead for snacks, before heading back to our hotel. We found a ‘free-from’ kiosk in Animal Kingdom (opposite Starbucks, just before the bridge going in to Africa) and on the occasion we did eat, at the counter service eatery ABC Commissary in Hollywood Studios, I was able to order a gluten and dairy free children’s meal for my son.

The quick service eateries in the parks are fine if you don’t mind fast food. If you want to eat in one of the restaurants though, it’s best to book in advance, particularly if you want to experience a character meal.

Eating in the parks isn’t cheap either. If you can, take your own water and snacks. You can always refill your water bottles at one of the water fountains.

Where to eat

Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney) has a range of restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes. Undergoing extensive development, this area is set to double in size once it’s finished.

We ate here a number of times and anywhere we went to, we were asked if there were any special dietary requirements amongst our group. Following this, the chef (usually the head chef) would come to see us to talk through what we could have and help our son with his order. It was all very easy, never an issue and made eating out a relaxed and enjoyable experience.

My top picks

  • Bongos Cuban Cafe
  • Rainforest Cafe (there is another one in Animal Kingdom if you have difficulties getting into this one) – fun themed restaurant, where you are surrounded by sounds of the jungle
  • T-Rex – Dinosaur themed restaurant. Not for those wanting a quiet meal!
  • Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas
  • Erin McKenna’s Bakery NYC – if you can’t get dessert in your restaurant, treat yourself to something from here. You can even pre-order your baked goods to be delivered to any restaurant in any of the parks. We also ordered a gluten and dairy free birthday cake from here, which was delivered to our hotel.

Our hotel did a good job of looking after my son when it came to eating. On our first day, one of the chefs from the Harvest Bistro sat down with us and went through everything. They couldn’t have been anymore accommodating.

Highlights

There are so many great moments, that it would be impossible to list them all. Here are a few of our favourites from each park.

Magic Kingdom:

  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Tomorrowland Speedway
  • Space Mountain
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid
  • Splash Mountain
  • Thunder Mountain

Animal Kingdom:

  • Primeval Whirl
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Festival of the Lion King
  • Dinosaur
  • Expedition Everest
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug

Hollywood Studios:

  • Lights, Motor Action – stunt show
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage
  • Toy Story Mania
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (a favourite of my eldest daughter)

I swear, you have no control over your face when this ride sets off (it’s that fast!)

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

  • Star Tours – The Adventure Continues

My youngest son loved this. He also enjoyed the Jedi Training Academy

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

Epcot:

  • Soarin
  • Spaceship Earth
  • Test Track
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends
  • Project Tomorrow: Inventing the World

Of course no trip to Disney would be complete without meeting your favourite characters. We have shots with Buzz and Woody, Cinderella and Rapunzel, the Jungle Book crew, Monster Inc, Sophia the First, to name but a few. Our favourite had to be this pair though:

 

Tips for planning your Disney trip - A Free From Life

 

This has been an epic post, but it was an epic trip and deserved a full-featured write-up. If you have any tips you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments section.

 

Sharing for Monday Escapes

My Travel Monkey

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Reviews, Travelling with 5

Family time in Sorrento – culture, dining gluten and dairy free and enjoying swings in a cafe!

Family holiday to Sorrento - A Free From Life

Our latest trip with the children took us to Italy, to Sorrento on the beautiful Amalfi coast. Having been there as a couple, many moons ago, we wanted the kids to experience the rich history of the area. They are now at an age where they appreciate a bit of culture and we’ve been taking full advantage of that.

There is a lot to see in this particular area of Italy though and if you do go there with young children, you really have to pick and choose what you want to visit. They can only cope with so much sight seeing and you don’t want to put them off for future trips!

We chose Pompeii and it’s a big site that will take you a whole day to get around. I would advise going on a cooler day, as it’s hard work in the heat. We didn’t even see all of it when we went, but just standing in the main piazza in the shadow of Vesuvius, you really do have a sense of the magnitude of destruction that occurred that day in AD79. The difference between Pompeii and Herculaneum, another excavation site that is closer to Vesuvius, is that Pompeii was covered by ash and Herculaneum by volcanic mud. Only a small site has been excavated at Herculaneum due to the new town being built right on top of it, but what has been uncovered was much better preserved.

Pompeii - A Free From Life
Rare shot of the five of us, sunglasses and all!

My six year old son was fascinated that a volcano could erupt and completely destroy a city in such a short space of time. In fact, he wouldn’t stop asking questions about earthquakes and eruptions for the rest of the holiday. I think he was a bit worried that it might happen again whilst we were there and he was happy to be reassured that across the bay in Sorrento, we would be safe.

My other daughter, the eight year old, was fascinated with Vesuvius for a different reason and wanted to make the trip to see the crater. Needless to say, my son didn’t want to go anywhere near it and neither did my eldest daughter, so my husband took her.
Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

 

We stayed behind and went to a coffee shop, overlooking the bay and the mountain. We wondered whether the other two members of our family would actually get to see anything at the top of the volcano because it seemed to be shrouded in mist the whole day, apparently they did.

 

Family trip to Sorrento - A Free From Life

Getting around

We rarely take organised tours when we go on holiday, particularly in Italy because we have visited so many times now and know the way things work over there. Train travel is really easy and cheap too. The train from Sorrento to Pompeii Escavi takes around 30 minutes and the entrance to the historical site is a two minute walk. Going one more stop on the line to Ercolano (Herculaneum), you can visit the excavation site there, or you can catch a bus from the station that takes you up Vesuvius. Please note, you can only go so far by bus and the rest is on foot. It’s steep and takes around twenty minutes to get to the crater. Whenever you travel by train in Italy, you must also remember to validate your ticket before you board. This means getting it stamped by one of the machines in the station, with the day’s date.

Accommodation

There are many hotels and apartments in Sorrento, but as usual, when looking for something that would suit the five of us, it wasn’t so easy. We opted for an apartment at Villa Terrazza, which gave us three bedrooms, large living and dining area and kitchen. The Villa is beautiful and you can’t get any nearer to the sea. It’s also a five minute walk to the main square and all the shops and restaurants. The only thing I would say about our apartment is that it could do with a bit of freshening up. It’s a bit dated and being on the lower floor (we had the Paradise Suite), it often smelt musty.

Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Eating out

I went with a list of restaurants I’d looked up on Trip Advisor that accommodate for gluten free diners, but I needn’t have bothered. Every place we went to seemed to be aware and could provide something to suit our needs. Unless you are particularly looking for gluten free pizza or pasta, you can find something suitable for a gluten and dairy free diet on the extensive menus. Choose from antipasti including bresaola (dried beef) and rocket, seafood and grilled fish, steaks or chicken. Potatoes are always roasted in oil and it’s not common practice to add butter to the vegetables. If you tell them your needs, staff are educated and understanding. My son was well looked after the whole time we were away. My top picks are:

Ristorante La Lanterna

This was our favourite restaurant and we ate here several times. They offered gluten free pasta, but not pizza, however, they would adapt any dish to make sure if included or excluded what you can or can’t eat.

L’Osteria del Buonconvento

This restaurant has an extensive menu and they also offered gluten free pasta. It’s housed in a old church, which makes for a beautiful interior to enjoy your meal.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Bar Syrenuse

Right in the main square, this place can get busy, but as we were there late in the season, we had no problem getting in. Although we didn’t eat here for dinner, we enjoyed a couple of breakfasts, including scrambled eggs (made without milk), bacon and gluten free rolls.

You can’t go to Italy without sampling the ice cream and the Gelataria’s over there are like works of art. I was so impressed that we found two places that catered for both gluten and dairy free customers. In addition to the usual fruit sorbets, both offered a chocolate sorbet that was amazing (and I don’t even like ice cream!). It’s made by melting dark chocolate, mixing with some sugar and water and then churning in the same way you would any other ice cream.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Gelataria Zini is located just off one of the narrow shop lined streets and is a great place to call in for refreshments if you needing a pick me up after all that shopping. There are a couple of tables in there too, if you want to hang around for coffee.

Gluten and dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Puro is a cafe with a difference. Not only can you choose from an extensive range of ice creams, they also do savoury food, hot drinks and alcohol. The difference I just mentioned is this addition to the cafe:

Gluten and Dairy free dining in Sorrento - A Free From Life

Yes, swings, really. I love that they have these, even though they take up space that could be given to two or maybe three more tables.

The Amalfi coast is rocky and steep but there are a few beaches and the water is shallow and clear and there is a handy lift you can use to get down to the shoreline from the town.

Family holiday in Sorrento - A Free From Life

The port operates a busy timetable of boats running to and from the island of Capri and also to Naples. In peak season, you can also catch a boat to the other towns along the coast line. We took the children to Capri but they didn’t enjoy it. It’s a pretty place but they found it boring. You can’t win ’em all though can you? Like I said, these types of holidays are what my husband and I used to enjoy before we had the children. Now we’re trying to introduce them to the children, but taking into consideration what might interest them, not just what we want to see. If we’re going to continue taking these kinds of trips, we have to cater for all of us, otherwise they would be no fun for anyone and that defeats the object completely.

As for our next trip, we’re not sure yet. Perhaps you could give me some ideas?

My Travel Monkey
Travelling with 5

Travelling with Food Intolerances – The Ups and Downs of In-Flight Meals

Airlines traveller's guide to In-Flight Meals - A Free From Life

I know from experience what it’s like when an airlines messes up on the meal you ordered. My son, who cannot eat dairy or gluten, was given a child’s meal by mistake (a dairy and gluten fest) on a flight to America last year. There was no alternative for him, apart from a bit of green salad that the team managed to scrape together. It was a nightmare.

The mix up came because I couldn’t order him both a dairy AND gluten free meal. It was one or the other. The alternative was perhaps a vegan meal, but I wasn’t sure if it would suit a five year old child. So I rang up customer services, explained the situation and thought it was sorted. What went wrong (I think), was that they marked him down as ‘child’ and he ended up with the same meal as his sisters – macaroni cheese, yoghurt and chocolate!

There is no way I will go on a flight without taking food for him after that experience, regardless what I order in advance. And after finding the whole process somewhat confusing, I decided to put together some air travel tips for people with food intolerances.

I worked with the team at SheKnowsUK to produce an infographic setting out what the major airlines offer in terms of in-flight meals and how you go about ordering them. You can see the result here. I was amazed at how different the airlines approach their in-flight meal service, but most offer essentially the same choices. When it comes to ordering both gluten and dairy free in-flight meals for my son, it looks like that’s not going to happen any time soon. For us, it will be a case of choosing one or the other and picking out what he can eat, whilst adding to it with our own food.

Have you had any bad experiences with airlines food? Let me know.

Travelling with 5

City Breaks with the Kids – New York

City breaks with the kids - New York - afreefromlife.com

My husband and I really wanted to go to New York for his fortieth Birthday last year and we were originally planning to go on our own. But then we had a change of heart. Our kids are aged ten, seven and five now. They can walk unaided, are fully toilet trained and can sit for long periods of time and amuse themselves. We’ve spent years avoiding foreign travel (particularly long haul), due to the sheer effort and organisation that is required to take three young children away on holiday. But we felt we’d done UK holiday parks to death and had reached a point where we were itching for some adventure further afield. It didn’t feel right to not share this with the kids. It was time.

First stop – book flights. That was the easy bit, but at the same time it was a scary moment knowing that we had actually committed ourselves. We were really doing this.

Second stop – accommodation. This is always the difficult bit when organising a holiday for a family of five and New York was no exception. When I looked on line at hotel rooms, the majority would only allow four people per room (the drop down menu for adding children often only allowed a maximum of two). The problem is, if you try to book two rooms, you can’t always guarantee that they will be interconnecting.

I got around this problem by contacting the hotels directly to find out what they could offer us. Hotel rooms in New York are notoriously small and the last thing I wanted from my holiday was for all five of us to be cramped in to a small space and getting on each other’s nerves. When you have a large family, it doesn’t matter how large the room actually is, you are much better off if you can spread yourself out over two rooms instead of all being in the one.

I was lucky to find a room at the Hotel Beacon. It was a one-bedroomed suite, with two Queen size beds, plus a double pull out sofa bed in the living room area. There was also a kitchenette, complete with cooker, hob, microwave, fridge/freezer and coffee machine. This was the perfect option for us, as it had enough beds for all of us, the space to move around in (and be able to put the two younger kids to bed, whilst we stayed up in the other room) and as we were staying on a room only basis, we had the option to be able to use the facilities in the room for breakfasts and light meals.

Third stop – planning the trip. One thing’s for sure, you know with a city break that you won’t be spending your time relaxing by a pool. But the good thing about choosing a location like New York is that it has so many famous landmarks you know what you want to see before you even get there. This is a great advantage when it comes to planning your trip.

The first thing I did was make a list of all the places that we each wanted to go to (I love lists, so this was no problem at all for me). Then I printed some maps of New York city and highlighted all the locations. I used MapaPlan.com where I found separate maps for the Uptown, Midtown and Downtown areas of the city. New York is huge, so it is easier to break it down in to sections. I could see which of the museums, shops and sites that we wanted to go to were near to each other, so that we could plan our days.

Things to organise before going to New York:

1. Application for each family member to ESTA, a pre-entry visa that must be completed by all foreign nationals before entering the United States.

2. Pre-book tickets for major attractions. There are three main New York ticket passes that are available:

New York City Pass – a pre paid ticket for entrance into six of the major New York attractions.

New York Explorer Pass – you pay for 3, 5 or 7 attractions (you don’t have to pre-book which ones).

New York Pass – one pass that you pre pay for 1, 2, 3, 5 or 7 days.

The selling point of these passes is that you save money on entrance tickets and can skip ticket lines.

I chose the Explorer pass, as I thought it would work best for us. My advice upon returning is that the City pass is by far the best option. Every place we went to had a separate queue for City pass holders. We skipped some queues with our pass, but in most cases still had to join a ticket queue along with everybody else.

3. Booking a Broadway show:

If you plan on seeing a show whilst you are away it is advisable to pre book your tickets, as they sell out months in advance. I used Kanoo Travel and they were really helpful. They got me eight fantastic stall seats for the Saturday matinee showing of Matilda.

 

Fourth stop – enjoy the holiday. I’m not saying we had a rigid itinerary, but we knew what we wanted to see and we knew roughly where everything was. Once there, we had to allow for jet lag and to gauge how the children would cope with the full on days, but on the whole, we stuck to our original plans.

Here’s my guide on what to see:

1. Natural History Museum – huge dinosaur section and a space centre worth visiting for.

2. Metropolitan Museum of Art – full of ancient artefacts. Particularly of interest if you have Percy Jackson fans.

3. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – set on the aircraft carrier, Intrepid. Includes numerous aircraft carriers, Concorde and the retired space shuttle, Enterprise.

4. Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Centre observatory – amazing views of the city, including a direct view of the Empire State building. Not as busy as the Empire State building either.

5. Toys R Us, Times Square – huge toy shop, with a Ferris wheel at its centre. Displays of Transformers, Lego figures and a life size T-Rex make it well worth a visit. The kids had more fun in here than at FAO Schwarz, which is only really worth a visit for the floor piano.

6. American Girl store – one for the girls, but a must. Beautiful store dedicated to this hugely popular doll.

7. Central Park – a gorgeous space in the middle of a busy city. Look out for the Hans Christian Andersen and the Alice in Wonderland statues, the model boating lake and the zoo.

8. Statue of Liberty – a boat trip to Liberty Island and entrance to the statue is included in the City Pass tickets (tickets to go to the crown are extra).

9. Grand Central Station – apart from seeing where Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria escaped to from the zoo (for all Madagascar fans), parents are sure to appreciate this beautiful station building.

Where to eat:

I looked specifically for restaurants that had a gluten free menu, so we could be assured we would at least be able to find something our five year old could eat. But these restaurants are all family friendly too.

1. Pappardella – Uptown – a short walk from our hotel, this Italian restaurant was able to provide gluten free bread and pasta and sorbet desert, so my son was over the moon. For the rest of us, there was a good choice of tasty and reasonably priced dishes.

2. Nice Martin – Uptown – also near our hotel, this French restaurant was pricey, but the food was good.

3. Viand – Uptown – this restaurant was literally next door to our hotel and opened all day. They had a fantastic choice for breakfast and although they didn’t have gluten free options, they were very flexible on mixing and matching options from the menu, plus they had soya milk, which was a bonus.

4. Nizza – Theatre district – lovely Italian restaurant, which also offers a gluten free menu.

5. American Girl Store – Midtown – we ate in the restaurant here. It was pre-booked and any allergy requests were specified upon booking, which meant that my son was catered for in advance. The lunch was a three course set menu, with a choice of main courses.

6. Bills Bar & Burger – Downtown (near World Trade Centre) – fantastic food and great service. Was pleasantly surprised to find that the burgers were wheat free and they offered gluten free buns.

Travelling around:

We thought that we would end up having to get two taxis everywhere we went, but all of the yellow cab drivers were happy to let four of us in the back (though I’m sure that it wasn’t legal). Travelling by cab was not my favourite way to get around New York though. The roads are terrible. Not only are they horrendously busy, they are full of potholes after the long harsh winter. The cab drivers are impatient and swerve in and out of the traffic queues, speeding up whenever possible, only to be heavy on the brakes as they catch up to the rest of the traffic again.

The subway was a little tricky to work out, but one local showed us how to get a Metro card, where you put in an amount that you need to travel, so that it is all on the one ticket (each subway journey is $2.75 per person each way). There are no officials working down there to ask, but for some reason when you get down to the subway, the locals are more friendly than they are up on the street!

New York may have a reputation for being unfriendly, but apart from the occasional service worker, we found quite the opposite. More than once, we were approached by a local whilst studying our map and asked if we needed help, pointing us in the direction we needed to go.

Fifth stop – the verdict:

April was a great time to go. It was busy in the main areas like Times Square, Broadway and down by the World Trade Centre, but in general it was nowhere near as busy as I was expecting it to be. The weather was great, warming up over the course of the week to be pleasant enough to walk around without coats on, but not too hot that it became unbearable. We all had a fantastic and unforgettable trip. The only thing I didn’t get to do was any girly shopping, so I will definitely be going back.

Top of the Rock