Toddler Friendly Flights – Emirates Airlines

We recently traveled return on Emirates airlines from SA to Europe (including stopovers at Dubai) with twin 4-year olds.

We chose Emirates airlines as they fly directly out of Durban, and they have excellent perks for little travelers.

Here are some of my favorite things about Emirates when traveling with toddlers:

1. Kid Friendly Meals

Children’s meals are served first, so parents can usually aid their little ones with their meals before their own arrive.

The kids meals are lovely! The girls had Mac and cheese, roast chicken and mash and spaghetti bolognaise (all served with a side of veggies). They were served chocolate cake with sprinkles for dessert and waffles and chocolate sauce for breakfast. They had crackers and cheese, individually packaged cereals, and chocolate bars and strawberry milkshakes. The girls were well fed on our flights, and although they didn’t eat everything, I did not have to worry about them going hungry.

2. Kids Toys and Activities

Emirates is extremely kid-friendly. Little travelers get a blanket and collectible plush animal. Older children get an activity pack in a sling bag that includes puzzles and coloring.

On some flights the girls got little backpacks with an activity book that included stickers and color pencils.

They really enjoyed their blankets and plush toys. They still use them even today.

Our haul from just 4 flights
Lovely bag with a ton of activities
What’s inside
A furry backpack with sticker games

3. Kids Entertainment

There’s an endless supply of entertainment available for children on the Emirates play on demand ICE entertainment system. From puzzles to video games, coloring to cartoons, the screen provides unlimited entertainment for children. There’s a beautiful collection of family movies, including Disney classics, and a long list of children’s popular series and songs. Long haul flights are definitely not the time to be limiting screen time.

4. Cool rewards program

The Emirates Skywards Skysurfer program rewards its young travelers in much the way typical airline loyalty programs do. But there are additional perks for kids, such as guaranteed window seats and points that can be redeemed for toys and gadgets on the Emirates online shop.

5. Families come first

Emirates is one of the few airlines that still allow passengers traveling with young kids to board first. It is such a relief to get out of those long lines, get seated, set them up with their entertainment and catch our breath while the rest of the plane boards. On long haul flights the boarding process can take up to an hour. Imagine standing in a line with a crabby toddler for that long?!

For some the stopover in Dubai might be off putting, but I really enjoyed the break in a otherwise long trip. I appreciated being able to get off the plane, walk around and use regular-sized bathrooms! I think it also created a good opportunity for the girls to overcome any “cabin fever” that may have started to set in.

I highly recommend Emirates for family-Friendly travel, and I’ll be hard pressed to choose otherwise when we travel again.

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Top 5 Airplane Activities for Toddlers

 

We recently flew from Durban to Europe – two long haul flights – with twin toddlers.

To say I was having sleepless nights prior to the trip is an understatement. You see, prior to having my own kids, I was extremely intolerant with children on flights. I was the mean woman staring you down if your baby would not quiet, and the one tutting at parents whose toddlers threw tantrums.

I judged frazzled, overwhelmed parents without a shred of mercy… so I was convinced that my karma would come back to bite me in the rear. I imagined one (or both of my girls throwing epic tantrums onboard) and a million eyes staring me down with accusatory judgement. I mean, I would deserve it, right?

Since having kids, it’s clear that those parents were not out to get me when their kids cried on my flights. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about toddlers who were bored mindless because they’re not made to sit still for 8 hours at a time. It’s about little babies who’s ears are painfully adjusting to the altitude differences. I know that now, and am able to empathize – something I wasn’t able to do before.

But since I was convinced my kids would be monsters on the plane, I did a ton of research into activities that would keep them busy on the long haul flights.

I can highly recommend the following, bearing in mind that my children are four years old.

  1. Melissa and Doug Water Wow books

This was a standout winner for us. This exciting paint-with-water coloring book includes four reusable pages and a refillable water pen. Simply use the pen to color in each scene–details and vibrant color appear with every stroke! Magic! The girls played with these books for hours on the flights, and they’re still not bored of them months later!

  1. Play Doh

A universal favorite with kids of all ages, we packed a few cans of Play-Doh in the girls backpacks for in case of emergency (aka meltdowns). It is the perfect quiet-time activity and kept their attention just when the flights were starting to feel endless. I didn’t take any cutters/accessories, worrying the girls would lose them, but in hindsight, I should have carried a few to keep them engaged for longer.

  1. Dot to Dot Coloring Books and crayons

I bought inexpensive dot-to-dot coloring books for the girls, along with a pack of crayons each. Emirates Airlines provides a cute activity book for kids as well. We pulled this out when the girls started getting antsy about sitting in one place for over 6 hours. Since they were newly introduced to the dot-to-dot concept, the found it very entertaining.

  1. Melissa and Doug Puffy Stickers

I would recommend this for children who are slightly older (above 5, I think). These reusable stickers come with a folding board scene that can open up to create a playmate for the stickers. You can find different scenes such as Vehicles, Town, Safari and Riding Club. I bought the Fairy and Mermaid ones for the girls. I would recommend it for older kids as I found my girls didn’t fully grasp the concept of creating a “story” with the stickers, and rather stick them on the tray table!

  1. Wrapped surprises

I read this tip on numerous blogs, and it works! Wrap a few inexpensive toys in gift wrap, and present it to the child who’s extremely bored/on the verge of a tantrum. The excitement of opening a ‘present’ will instantly transform their mood and grab their attention. I bought 2-3 cheap toys from the Crazy Store and wrapped them up before the trip. I only had to use this tactic once, but it really does work!

Like I said, I was worried sick about their behavior on the long flights, so I prepared in earnest. You could use just one of these tips -or all- depending on your level of OCD!

If you’ve flown long-haul with little kids before, let me know what’s worked for you!

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Cruising Pros and Cons

Thinking of booking a family cruise? – Here’s everything you need to know.

I’ve recently stepped off a local (South African) MSC-operated cruise from Cape Town to Durban. I was under the impression that cruises are a wonderful, low-stress holiday for families – boy was I wrong! 

Sure, there are some pros to cruising… cruise companies wouldn’t be the profit-making conglomerates they are if everyone hated cruising… but after our first family cruise, I’ve decided it’s not for us. 

I’ve put together a list of pros and cons of cruise holidays below, trying hard to remain as unbiased as possible despite our negative experience. The information below is my opinion, yours may be very different. Also remember that I am solely looking at cruising from a family perspective i.e. travelling with kids. Adult-only groups may also find they have a different experience.

PROs to Family Cruising

 You get to see many places without the hassle of actually traveling.

Lugging around heavy suitcases, using public transport,and figuring out maps in an unfamiliar place are some of the travel hassles that are alleviated when travelling on a cruise itinerary. Your booking will clearly let you know which ports of call are included in your cruise, you get a pre-set amount of time at each port and excursions can be arranged in advance if you want to see a particular historical site at the stop over city. 

 

 All you can eat food – included in your ticket price

Technically, you don’t need to reach for your wallet once you board the cruise. Food is abundant and served almost all day at the ship’s restaurants and snack areas. Drinks are not included. Save for water fountains and coffee in the buffet area ONLY. No drinks are included at the restaurants.

 

 Entertainment – included in your ticket price

From deck parties to quizzes and games, the entertainment staff are there specifically to ensure people have a good time. They urge people onto the dancefloor in the clubs and lounges and facilitate competitions and games during the day. 

The ship’s onboard theatre normally schedules a different show each night and this is usually a highlight for me.

 

 Kids Clubs

Most cruise lines (local MSC included) have different age-appropriate kids clubs that can keep kids entertained, busy and SAFE, whilst parents enjoy some adult time.Our kids flat out refused to stay in a strange place with strange people without us present, and even the thrill of LEGO could not convince them otherwise. So if your children are also a bit clingy, this may not be an option. 

 

CONs to Family Cruising

 Crowds

If you loathe large crowds, I’d strongly recommend staying away from cruises.

Unless you decide to stay in your stateroom and order room service the entire time, you WILL find yourself surrounded by people anywhere you go on the cruise ship.

 

 Endless queues

There’s no two ways about it, if there’s thousands of people getting on the cruise, there’s will be queues to embark, queues to get into the restaurant, to activate your cruise card, to get a drink at the bar, to pay your bill at the end, to disembark etc etc etc 

And maybe your kids are different, but my kids are averse to queues…they just don’t understand why we had to stand in a 30-minute line to get into the onboard restaurant. Come to think of it, neither could we. 

We found queues just about everywhere, and most annoying, long lines at every single elevator. It became extremely frustrating after a while.

 

 Unpredictable weather conditions

When booking a cruise, please remember that you are at the mercy of the weather. The cruise company have significant terms and conditions that wholly cover them if they need to change/cancel itineraries and this can leave you with unexpected costs and lots of strife.

 

 Space

If your “kids cruise free” as cruise companies normally punt, it means your children (2max) will be sharing your cabin with you. Unless you plump for a balcony suite, you’ll struggle with cabin space. It’s shocking really just how cramped you are… imagine opening a large suitcase on the bed while your children and partner try to share the same tiny corridor you’re standing in. I could not cope with the lack of space to shower and dress in. 

 

 Motion Sickness

I think this depends on various factors, the speed the ship is travelling, sea winds, the captain’s skill, and your own body’s susceptibility to motion sickness. I’ve been on 2 Mediterranean cruises and have actually marvelled on how I felt nothing on the ship. The local MSC cruise however was dreadful in terms of sea sickness for me (and several of my family members). We were sick the entire time. The ship rocked and lurched so drastically, I could not stand in my cabin without holding on to something for support and safety. And now, two days since disembarking the ship, I still feel my head spin from that motion. 

 

 Communicating with family – lack of cell signal

One of the biggest gripes for me personally was not being able to send a simple message to our family WhatsApp group to let them know I’m going to breakfast or going to the deck for some sunshine. We were a big group so keeping in touch was a hassle. And looking for someone on a cruise ship is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Parents with older kids might also find this challenging if they needed to easily locate their teenager, for example.

 

 Kids Cruise Free

I mentioned this above but wanted to add this to the ‘con’ list, because even if you love your own kids and want to be around them all day…you most certainly don’t want to be surrounded by hordes of sugar-hyped kids for the entire duration of your holiday. And that’s precisely what I found on our cruise ship. Most people have taken advantage of the ‘kids cruise free’ offer and there were kids everywhere! Kids splashing noisily in the pools, pushing you at the buffet lines, babies crying as you try to read your book on deck…just kids literally everywhere. If you work at a daycare, it might just be your cup of tea, but otherwise…not so much.

 

 Terrible Food

I mentioned above that food is abundant, but what happens when you’re stuck on a ship and the food is just awful? That was my experience on our local MSC cruise. The food looked and tasted like mass produced fodder. Perhaps we were just unlucky with the food due to the delays, maybe the food was prepared for the ship in haste? I don’t know…but the buffet was inedible and I found the restaurant offering was actually just something from the buffet which was plated and brought to your table. I ate hardly anything at all. And to be honest I could not find a single passenger that enjoyed the food onboard.

 

 Price of goods onboard. 

Ok, I expected drinks, spa treatments etc to be quite costly onboard, but even I was shocked that an average cocktail could set you back $6 plus 15% tax. That’s over ZAR100 for a single drink. All onboard charges are in US Dollars which makes it tricky to work out the conversion rates before you charge something to your card. 

A single jumbo-sized photo costs $10, plus an additional $10 for the (single) digital version. I think many people got a very nasty surprise when they got their bills on the last night to realise their few onboard swipes meant they were liable to pay thousands of Rands. 

 

I’ll never say never, but I’d be VERY unlikely to book a cruise for our family again. Besides the nasty experience we had with MSC Cruise Lines (a story for another day), I found cruising extremely stressful and tiring, which is not what a holiday should be. The crowds and lines were impossible at times, and the lack of space was a definite turn off. Add to that inedible food and motion sickness…and well, no thanks!

 

 

 

 

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