CAT | Destination Guides
As most of you know, we are avid skiers. Brian and I are not good skiers but we do ski a lot. One thing we don’t do very often is ski with our kids. There are several reasons (or it is fair to say, excuses) for this. First, with the exception of the three year old, our kids are much better skiers. The last time we went out for a family ski day, our kids literally skied circles around us – and I do mean literally! Frankly, the complaining about our slow skiing gets old after a while – I know I am slow but I also know what knee surgery and the 12 months of rehab feel like. I have earned the right to ski slowly.
The real reason is that I am terrified to be on the lift with my kids – especially the 3 and 5 year olds. I know, in my head, that they ride the lift numerous times a day with no issues. But, when they are sitting next to me squirming around and bending over to watch the skiers beneath the lift; the visions of all the things that can go wrong constantly flash through my head. And then there is the act of getting off the lift. I am comfortable getting myself off but have no idea how to help the three year old off. I am told she just needs a gentle push (really just support until her little legs reach the ground) but I can’t seem to grasp exactly how to do that and still get myself off in one piece (and without taking out one of my other kids).
I see people do it all the time so I am looking to you, my fellow skiers for advice. How do you conquer your fear of taking little kids on the lift and helping them off?
The snow is beginning to fall in the mountains and the Front Range inhabitants of Colorado are eagerly anticipating the start of the ski/board season. If you are planning a ski vacation this winter, you can save money by doing some planning now.
1. Book lodging early. There are many great deals to be had if you book before the season starts. Condo and lodge owners are anxious to get some funds in the door so they often offer great deals – even for peak travel dates.
2. Price lift tickets. If you are planning on skiing for 5 or more days at one resort, check the prices on the purchase of season passes. We have found that buying a season ticket at pre-season pricing (which generally ends in October) can be cheaper than daily lift tickets if you are skiing over 5 five days. Plus, it gives you an added incentive to book a second ski trip!
3. Gear discounts. Many ski shops get the bulk of their new gear in late October. Prior to that, there are great sales to be found on last year’s merchandise. Stock up on winter gear for the kids at a fraction of the price.
4. Look into ski school pricing. It is likely too early to book ski school for the kids but sometimes you can find discounted “local” package deals on lessons. They are designed to encourage local residents to try the ski school but you don’t have to actually be local to use the discounts. They aren’t widely advertised and you need to carefully read the fine print to make sure they are available on the dates of your trip.
We will have ski trip tips throughout the season. Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail if there is something specific you want to know.
Hope to see you on the slopes soon!
A trip to Prague is a journey back in time to the days of storybook castles, river sieges and glorious Gothic and Baroque architecture. Europeans consider Prague a fun weekend destination. For those traveling longer distances, it is the perfect first stop on a European adventure – especially if traveling with kids. We spent 3 full days exploring the city of Prague and one day at a nearby castle. While you could spend weeks in the Bohemian countryside, four days allows sufficient time to leisurely explore the highlights.
This guide is based on our adventures in Prague. I know there are places we missed (we have to leave something for our next visit) and opinions as to “important” sites will vary. Our vacations are geared on creating fun, memorable experiences for all members of the family – not just the kids. Recommendations are based on our family experience and we were not compensated in any way to include them in our guide. In fact, no one even knew we would be writing about them!
Need to Know
Currency: Koruna (symbol: Kč ) | Exchange rate of approximately 20 Kč to $1 USD. Euros are sometimes accepted but not at a favorable exchange rate.
Language: Czech | In the tourist areas, most people speak at least a little English and we encountered no language issues.
Visas: Travelers from the US and Canada do not require visas for short-term stays (under 90 days).
Electricity: Standard European 220v. Outlets are two-prong with a round pin.
Safety & Security: Prague is overall a very safe city. As with any tourist spot, pick-pockets are around so keep track of your valuables.
Toilets: Plenty of pay toilets are scattered throughout the city (expect to pay 5Kč – 10Kč). We found shopkeepers and restaurants to be very accommodating to “emergency” stops. We used their private facilities on several occasions.
Attitude toward families: Very receptive. The people of Prague are friendly and stopped us often to comment on our children (4 blond girls ages 2, 4, 6, and 8 are a spectacle everywhere!). Few restaurants had children’s menus but they all offered smaller portions for kids. [Tip: Order one "adult" meal to split between two or three kids. It is often cheaper than ordering from the kid's menu.] As a bonus, there were ice cream shops and bakeries everywhere – great for snack times! Men are expected to help with strollers and we often saw guys helping women up curbs and on/off of public transport.
Where to stay: We stayed at the Intercontinental Praha and I would recommend it to other traveling families. I wrote more about the hotel in a prior post. Location is key in this city. It is easy to navigate on foot so pick somewhere close to one of the three major tourist spots.
Where to eat: We had good luck at every restaurant we tried. Given that restaurants are constantly changing, I recommend asking your hotel concierge and checking guidebooks (Frommer’s Prague had a good selection of restaurants – including kid friendly ones). Even our pickiest kid had no trouble finding things to eat here.
Growing up in the United States, I am always amazed at how old things are in Europe and Prague is certainly no exception. The banks of the Vltava River where Prague stands today were first settled in 500 B.C. Now that is truly ancient! Many of the famous buildings and historical sites date from the 1100s – 1600s. Prague experienced its Golden Age with the reign of Charles IV from 1344 – 1378 and some of the buildings and the bridge constructed during his reign are still in use.
The Czech Republic transitioned through several types of government during the centuries, including 20 years of Communism that ended with the Velvet Revolution in 1989. They have since become a member of the EU with a thriving democracy.
There are three main sites to explore in Prague – Prague Castle, Lesser Town and Old Town. Prague Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the river. Lesser town is nestled beneath the castle and Old Town is just a short walk across the Charles Bridge. The historic Jewish center and New Town are also worth a quick visit but both are within walking distance of Old Town. One of the great things about Prague is that the entire city is pedestrian friendly – you can easily walk from the castle to Old Town in 30 minutes – even with kids!
What to See
Start with the Big 3 – Prague Castle, Lesser Town and Old Town – and expand from there.
Prague Castle: Prague Castle dominates the skyline of Prague and, being uphill, is the logical place to begin the day. Save little legs the walk uphill and catch the funicular railway up Petřín Hill. Get your bearings (and a great workout) by climbing the Petřín Tower – a 60 meter steel framework tower that resembles the Eiffel Tower. Then walk through the gardens to Prague Castle. The guidebooks will also steer you to the nearby mirror maze - it is not worth the expense (50 Kč). My kids spent about 5 minutes in it and were done. [Tip: Carry the Czech equivalent of pennies & quarters (1 Kč & 10 Kč coins) to use the press-a-penny machines located throughout Prague]
Construction on Prague Castle was started in the 9th Century and today it is the seat of the President of the Czech Republic and serves as the political center of the city and country. It is the largest medieval castle complex in Europe and a premier tourist attraction, which means it is very busy. The spires that dominate the skyline are from St. Vitus Cathedral, located within the castle complex. There are lots of quiet courtyards for the kids to run but the tours are geared toward adults and somewhat boring for kids. There is a nice toy museum located here but it is a museum so the toys aren’t for playing (a concept my kids grasped once we inside). There are plenty of snack/cafes and clean, functional toilets throughout (many with changing facilities). As with most of Prague, umbrella strollers are a challenge over the cobblestones – Phil & Ted buggies are much more common.
Prague Castle is not a Disney Castle – it is actually a vast complex that looks much like old government buildings with the beautiful St. Vitus Cathedral in the middle. This can be disappointing to kids (and adults) with preconceived notions of what a castle should look like.
Lesser Town: A downhill walk/run leads you directly to Lesser Town. Lesser Town was founded in 1257 and retains much of its original character. The highlight of Lesser Town, for adults, is St. Nicholas Church. Use the name to your advantage (think jolly old St Nick) and take a peek inside – it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Lesser Town is filled with gardens and beautiful quaint buildings that quickly bored my kids [Tip: The buildings have intricate detailing that makes for great I Spy or scavenger hunt games.] There are many restaurants in this area so try and be here around mealtime. From Lesser Town, walk across the Charles Bridge and continue down to Old Town. The Charles Bridge was completed in 1400 and was open to wheeled traffic for 600 years. 30 Baroque statues adorn this now pedestrian only bridge and it still serves as a primary link between Lesser Town and Old Town. A word of caution – this bridge is very busy and pick-pockets are known to frequent the area so hold onto your wallet. On the way from Lesser Town to Old Town you will walk past the Jewish quarter. This is an interesting area to explore but can be very crowded with tour groups.
Old Town: Walking into Old Town feels like walking back in time. Old Town Square was the central marketplace for Prague in the 12th century and it still bustles today (although now it caters to tourists). The Square is surrounded by buildings of Romanesque, Baroque and Gothic architecture and is simply breath-taking. One highlight for kids is the Astronomical Clock. Built in 1410, its doors open hourly to reveal a sort of medieval morality play. My kids were entranced by the spectacle and we wandered back to see it a couple of times. The Square itself often hosts festivals that get crowded with tourists and locals alike. We were visiting during the World Cup and there was a huge TV showing the games, a stage with live entertainment, games and food stalls scattered around the Square.
Old Town is a fantastic place to wander and get lost in the maze of streets that are blissfully free of cars. Many shops and restaurants are located in this area so snacks (and toy stores) are plentiful. Fancy a tour? Hop on one of the horse drawn buggies and get a ride around the area or take a vintage car tour – both start in the square. Kids need to burn off some steam? Pop into one of the numerous quiet courtyards and let them run around while you enjoy a pint at a sidewalk pub.
Getting out of Town: The Czech Republic is seemingly filled with castles so it seemed a shame not to head out to the countryside and visit at least one. The closest two are Karlstejn Castle and Krivoklat Castle. Both are about a 30 – 45 minute drive from Prague and it is possible to see both in the same day if you are speedy. We were given the following descriptions of the Castles:
Karlstejn Castle: Often crowded and very touristy. The exterior is a classic, Disney castle but the inside and tour are disappointing.
Krivoklat Castle: Less crowded (and limited dining options). Plain exterior but spectacular inside and great tour.
We chose Karlstejn Castle because we knew that the kids would be awed be seeing a real castle and less interested in the interior. This was definitely the right decision for our family.
Karlstejn Castle was constructed by Charles IV from 1348 – 1357. It’s primary purpose was to safeguard the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire. It has been restored to resemble its original medieval state.
Karlstejn castle is perched high up a hill and dominates the landscape and it does, in fact, look like a Disney castle – see for yourself at their website. You park at the bottom of the hill and walk up a windy road through a small town (dominated with craft stores, tourist shops and cafes) to the castle entrance. It took us about 50 minutes to walk to the top and it is a fairly steep walk for little legs – plan on taking some rest stops. Luckily there are lots of fun things to look at along the way – a highlight being the chance to hold a live owl. At the top, you can explore the courtyards and the Well Tower for free. They offer beautiful views over the countryside and the kids loved looking down at how far they had walked. The primary tour lasts about 50 minutes and takes you through the Imperial Palace, Hall of Knights, Chapel of St Nicholas, Royal Bedroom and Audience Hall. It costs 250 Kč ($12.50) for adults and 20 Kč ($1) for children under 6. The entire family enjoyed the tour and it was definitely long enough for the kids. The guide shared some secrets of castle life with my kids (where the bathrooms were, for instance) that made my kids feel really special. We have been on castle tours in several countries and this was by far my favorite. It was the first one that really gave us glimpses of life back then – the good and the bad!
The walk down to the town took about 30 minutes and then we spent a few hours exploring the shops willed with locally made crafts and toys. A late lunch at one of the cafes rounded out the day perfectly!
Whether your kids are world travelers or this is their first international trip, Prague is a first rate choice. The city looks like it belongs in the pages of a storybook yet has all the modern conveniences that traveling families expect. The city is used to welcoming tourists and embraces them with ease and charm. Our family felt welcomed everywhere we went and all the kids are ready to go back again.
No trip with 8 people is complete without at least one person getting sick. Today was my day. Brian was in his last day of meetings so my parents had the job of entertaining the kids.
Before going further, a quick Prague geography lesson might help. Prague is nestled on the Vltava River. Prague Castle is perched high over Lesser Town and a short walk over one of the historical bridges leads you to Old Town. These are the three prime tourist areas of Prague – all within easy walking distance of each other.
After a nice, late breakfast they were off to take a boat tour of the Vltava River. The boat ride was a huge hit as was the subsequent walk over the historic Charles Bridge to lunch in Lesser Town. The Charles Bridge was constructed in 1357 and is open for pedestrian traffic only. There are 30 Baroque statues lining the bridge that date back as far as the 1600′s. As a word of caution, this bridge is extremely busy and a known area for pick-pockets to target. It is worth walking across but the best view of the bridge, in my opinion, is from one of the other bridges spanning the Vltava or via boat.
They spent a little time exploring the quaint shops and admiring the buildings and parks in Lesser Town – including St. Nicholas’ Church – and then it was back to the hotel for swimming. Just in time, as two kids started feeling bad on the way home and fell asleep while the others went swimming.
After about 12 – 15 hours of sleeping, everyone was better and ready to tackle day 3 – our first day with a driver and guide to showcase the city.
Coming up next – a family guide to Prague! First hand accounts of where to go, where to stay and what to avoid.
If at all possible, we never schedule a hard first day of the vacation – no alarm clocks or strict itineraries! While Brian was off to meetings, the rest of us spent the day exploring Prague. And what a city it is to explore!
If you are looking for the perfect place to take kids on their first European trip – this is the place. It is a picturesque fairytale city complete with a castle, a working astronomical clock and numerous parks. Old Town has lanes to wander that are blissfully free of traffic and plenty of places for emergency potty stops or snack breaks. My favorite feature is that it is easily walkable by even the youngest kids. Word of caution – the cobblestone streets make for bumpy stroller rides and most people seemed to have Phil & Ted strollers instead of the umbrella strollers that are quite common in the rest of Europe.
We spent the day wandering the streets in Old Town followed by a quick dip in the pool. In short, a relaxing, low-key way to start the trip.
Travel Tips from Day 1:
Plan an easy first day.
Always book a hotel that includes free breakfast. We have discovered that breakfast in Europe can be extremely expensive – 30 Euros or more per person!