Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hawaii Trip Review (part 3 of more than 1)

Hawaii Review Part 1

So your there, now what?

So, when you last left us, we had flown to Hawaii, whats left?  Well, lets talk about Car Rental!!

Car Rental with a Toddler

To recap a bit, we have now flown from Chicago to Hawaii with our 20 month old and ALL the stuff that goes with that.  Most important to the Car Rental topic, we had his car seat.

We have 2 car seats at home, one in each car.  We chose to bring our Britax Marathon with us both for the plane ride, as well as for the vehicles in Hawaii.  We HIGHLY recommend doing this.  You CAN rent car seats along with the car, however you have NO IDEA what condition they are in or how they have been treated!

So, here are the actual details and account of our Car Rental experience:

  • First Car Rental - Honolulu Airport  (BEST EXPERIENCE)
    • Rented from Alamo
    • Reserved on
    • Rented a Full Size car
    • Ended up with a Nissan Altima
    • Alamo let us pick our own vehicle
    • ALL car rentals from the Airport in Honolulu require a shuttle to and from the terminal
  • Second Rental - Maui Airport
    • Rented from Enterprise
    • Reserved on
    • Rented a Full Size car
    • Enterprise assigned a vehicle
    • Ended up with a Chevy Impala First
      • DID NOT fit the car seat properly
    • Switched to a Chrysler 200
      • DID fit car seat
    • All car rentals from the Airport in Maui require a shuttle to and from the terminal
    • Note: Enterprise was AMAZING in accommodating us in switching vehicles.  We did not notice how badly the carseat fit since it was POURING rain.
  • Final Rental - Honolulu Airport (Day Rental)
    • Rented from Hertz
    • Reserved on
    • Rented a Standard SUV
    • Hertz Assigned  a vehicle
    • Ended up with a Jeep Liberty (hated it)
What did we learn?
  • Allow time for Shuttles to and from the Terminal.  Add 30 minutes to your plans to account for this.
  • CHOOSING A CAR was a huge advantage, it allowed us to pick a car that fit the car seat comfortably
  • DOUBLE CHECK car seat fit before you drive off
  • Double Check brake function and engine function.  Both us and other family with us had mechanical issues with their vehicles
Overall, renting a car in  Hawaii was painless.  It was nice to have that freedom to move around!! 

Notes from N:

  • Check your credit card and personal auto insurance policy on rental car insurance coverage.  Most personal auto insurance will cover a rental car the same as your own car. A lot of credit cards will cover your deductible if you use it to reserve.
  •   Paying for the rental car company to refuel your car is a WASTE OF MONEY.  Plan the extra 15 minutes to fill it up yourself.
  • Check, double check and triple check the car including the glove box and center console storage when you drop it off so you don’t leave anything behind. 
  • check double check and triple check the overhead bins and under your seat when getting off the plane.  Put anything you take off/ stop using back in a bag AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  DON’T use the seat back pockets for your personal belongings. (don't ask why) 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hawaii Trip Review (part 2 of more than 1)

Hawaii Trip Part 1
Hawaii Trip Part 3

Jumping back in

In the previous post, we talked about the night before, getting to the Airport, and getting through Security.  Now lets move on!

At the Gate

Honestly, it was our time at the Gate that was the worst.  That being said, it wasn't BAD, but it was the time that B wanted to move around the most.  We tried to let him do as much walking as possible.  We carried him to other windows so he could watch outside.  I even found a deserted gate and let him climb around on the chairs and played hide-and-seek around signs and desks.
We did have our Tablets with us, but even though he requested Baby Signing Time or Sesame Street, he never actually watch them.  So that was a little frustrating.
We recommend that you time your diaper changes so that you change a diaper JUST BEFORE boarding starts. This put B in a good mood since he liked the "Elmo-Cookie" diapers SO much, and it also makes sure he is comfortable for the first part of the flight when you can't get up.
Next thing to note is, it never hurts to ask for things from the gate agent.  You won't always get them, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

United Airlines Policy

I wanted to highlight this specifically.  United Airlines no longer does pre-boarding for families with small children.  They claim it makes the process faster.  I completely disagree with this policy, as families traveling with Car Seats they intend to use will and can slow down boarding when you don't let them get on first.  No matter the policy, if you CAN send one Parent first, and let the other wait with the toddler until everyone else is boarded, you'll have a happier toddler!

Gate Agent and Boarding

So, again, ask the Gate Agent for things, and here is what we asked for:
  • Priority Boarding for us
  • (if no) Priority Boarding or Early Boarding for ONE of us with the car seat
  • IF your traveling with a lap child, ask if there are empty seats you could have
  • Ask for gate check tags if you need them for a stroller or seat
The Gate Agent in Chicago reiterated United's policy, but recognized the situation and allowed one of us to board early to get the seat installed since one of us was waiting with B.  This works out pretty well.  We recommend trying this, and taking both the car seat, and ANY bags you want to go in the overhead.  You'll have plenty of room for those carry ones, and you'll find it much easier to get the car seat IN the plane and installed.  Since one of us waiting with B, this also gave us a chance to  run around a little more, and wave to mommy or daddy.  We waited until almost everyone else was on the plane before getting on.
This plan worked for us on every flight EXCEPT one.  After our layover in LA, the gate agent was quite unwilling to be flexible, and did not allow one of us to board early.   One of us did wait with B, but N had to install the car seat after about half the plane had boarded, and it didn't fit down the isle.  She was lucky that another passenger helped her carrying above heads.  She also struggled with the seat belt (PRACTICE PEOPLE), so when B and I got there, she was frazzled and the seat was still not installed.  I got there and helped and we got settled.
Our Island Hoppers on Hawaiian Airlines, B was a lap child, but we still waited to board, and even sent one person early with the big carry on to get that settled.  We really tried to limit the time B was on the plane and in his seat.

The Flights

I wanted to take a second to talk about how we kept B happy and content ON the plane.  We prepared ourselves with a bunch of things for him:
  • Wrapped toys
  • Goldfish Crackers
  • Suckers (dumdums)
  • Cheerios
  • iPad/Touchpad
  • Flash Cards (Baby Signing Time)
  • Books
  • Elmo/Bud (lovies)
  • Blanket
  • Headphones (more on this later)
I will say, you need to be prepared to entertain your Toddler for the first part of the flight. Really the only thing we found that would keep him happy was to actively talk/tickle/point with him.  B had no problems with ear pressure on this flight, but we did have suckers with us to help with that.  He RARELY gets suckers, so this was a GREAT treat.
AS well, I HIGHLY recommend the wrapped toy idea.  We got about a dozen dollar store toys and wrapped them in bright paper.  If he got fussy, he got to "Open Pesent!" and that worked great.  He also was very content to watch shows or movies on our tablets.  We did get him headphones, but he ditched those early and was content just to watch.  I'd test this out before hand with your child.
Other than our overnight flight home, he fell asleep before landing and slept through landing.  This was a BLESSING.
And once on the ground, we took our time.  We were the last off the plane on one leg.  Don't be in a rush, you're going to slow others down and have them irritated with you!

Now, I haven't talked about it yet, but here is where my favorite travel accessory was the BEST.
Specifically, we had a Britax Car Seat Travel Cart for our Britax Marathon Carseat.
This basically turns your car seat into a stroller.  Its VERY easy to get the seat in and out of.  And B ALWAYS wanted to ride after a flight.  He was still sleepy, and we needed to contain him a bit while we located luggage.  HIGHLY recommend this kind of cart!

Final thought for this post (I'll break this here):
Here is our luggage/carry on situation, just for reference:
  1. 2 LARGE Suitcases (checked)
  2. Car Seat (Gate Checked or Used)
  3. Car Seat Cart (Gate Checked with Car Seat, or in Overhead Bin carry on)
  4. 1 Rolling Carryon
  5. 1 Adult Backpack Carryon
  6. 1 Toddler Backpack ("Elmo PakPak") Carryon
  7. 1 LARGE purse/diaper bag Carryon
Make sure to check with your airline on what  you can and can no carry on, it does change!

That's it for now, we will get into Car Rental and Car Travel in the next post!!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hawaii Trip Review (1 of more than 1)

Hawaii Review Part 2

Hello Readers!! 

We are 10 days back in Illinois after 10 days in Hawaii, and I'll tell you what, I'm ready to be warm again!  We had a great time, and really saw a lot and enjoyed ourselves.  However, when we left Honolulu it was after the sun went down and was 75 degrees.  Landing in the Chicago the next morning, it was 5 degrees... 5 DEGREES!!! BRRRRR COLD!!  Or, as little B would say, BR CODE.... haha.

So, I think I'll break this up into a few posts.  We learned a LOT about travel with our little man, and I want to share those things with you.  I think I'll break this down into 2 categories:

  1. Travel with a Toddler (air and car)
  2. Hawaii with a Toddler
I want to break this up because there are specific things about both that don't apply to the other.  I think our experience with Air Travel and Car Rental will apply to ANYONE traveling, where as our experience with Hawaiian stuff will primarily only apply to folks in Hawaii.

So, lets get started with #1 - Travel with a Toddler!

Here is how I'm going to break it down

  1. Getting to and being in an Airport
  2. Boarding and being ON the plane
  3. Car Rental
  4. General Travel at your destination

 1.  Getting to and being IN an Airport

First off, here are the travel details from our trip:
  • We left Thursday after work (~4pm) and drove to the Chicago Area
  • We spent the night at N's Dad's house.
  • We hired a car to take us to O'hare Airport at 5:30am
  • We had a layover in LA
  • We landed in Honolulu
  • We had an "Island Hopper" to and back from Maui
  • We flew DIRECT overnight from Honolulu back to Chicago
  • We hired a car to take us back to the house where the van was

Generally speaking

We learned a lot about this part of traveling with a toddler from this.  I think the first thing to note is... Toddlers NEVER SIT STILL.  Make sure you plan for this.  As well, a LOT of time is going to be spent in a car seat, so try to maximize the amount of time your little one gets to run around.

The night before

I won't bore you with driving TO Chicago, as we have made this 2 hours drive dozens of times.  I would, however, recommend getting close to the airport the night before, especially if your flight is in the morning.  This allowed us to eliminate some stuff from luggage.  We didn't have to have diapers or clothes or other toddler needs packed and carried with us just for the night before or the morning of.  We left all that stuff at the house, and only took with what we needed for the vacation.

A Short Aside - Cloth Diapering

I'll pause for a second to mention one thing.  We cloth diaper our little man.  He wears BumGenius pocket diapers almost exclusively.  We've used disposables when battling a yeast based diaper infection, but he is in cloth 99% of the time.  We made the decision this time to only bring disposables.  We made this decision for a number of reasons.  #1 - we could buy diapers in Hawaii, so we didn't have to pack that many.  #2 - dealing with a MEGA messy cloth diaper (and you know it will happen at a bad time) ON the airplane didn't seem like fun.  and #3 - B LOVES the sesame street themed disposables we get.  He gets excited at an "Elmo-Cookie Diaper".  (this boy LOVES his Elmo)
I will say, after all is said and done, I think we were right.  The first plane we were in had NO changing tables in the lavs, and we had to use a combination of a standing diaper change, and changing diapers on the closed toilet.... NOT FUN.  And it would have been worse with cloth, because you can't just throw them away.

Travel to the Airport

Back to the travel part.  One thing to note if your hiring a car.  We opted for a Towncar (it was only about 5 dollars more), but NEITHER of them had LATCH, so if you've not practiced installing your car seat using the seatbelt... PRACTICE!!  As well, you'll need this practice on the plane, since there is no latch on any plane.
I would highly recommend hiring a car like this to take you to the airport.  This gave us an extra set of hands loading and unloading the car, and we didn't have to worry about parking or walking.  He dropped us off RIGHT at the SkyCap or curbside check in.
In the Chicagoland area, we highly recommend Naperville Taxi.  We payed a flat 40 bucks from Woodridge to O'hare, and payed the 5 dollar extra charge for the Towncar.  The drivers were friendly and helpful, and it was a pleasure to travel this way.  If your not in Chicagoland, look for these kind of flat rate airport services.
Next, we would also recomend checking in ONLINE before you go, and using the curbside check in.  Doing this got us past all of the difficult line waiting and into the terminal were we could collect our thoughts and prepare for security very quickly.   Remember to tip the SkyCap, its worth it!

The Dreaded Security

I will be honest and say this part of air travel caused me the most anxiety.  N and I had flown enough to know how to get through security quickly ourselves, but travel with B complicates the situation.  In general we do the following for ourselves:
  • Slip on shoes or sandals
  • Put EVERYTHING except boarding passes and ID in a carryon outside pocket, including
    • Belt
    • Wallet
    • Jewelry
    • Change
    • ANYTHING in your pocket
  • Put restricted liquids in ziplock in outside pocket for quick grabbing
We did these things for ourselves, but again, having B with us complicated the situation.  Since we had decided to bring his Car Seat (and we HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend this), we had an extra item to figure out.
Things to be aware of when it comes to going THROUGH security with a toddler:
  • Toddlers may KEEP their shoes on
  • Toddlers MAY be required to walk themselves
  • Some car seats will NOT fit in the xray machine
  • You CAN carry on a cup of milk or juice for your toddler
I think the best way to give you a sense of how this worked is to walk you through it.  I'll use our first security check at O'hare at 6 in the morning, as it was an ideal situation.

  • After check in, we stopped BEFORE security and verified we were ready
    • Phones, belts, change, wallets, jewelry in a bag
    • Boarding passes and ID's IN HAND
  • Made our way to the security point
  • No one was in line, so no wait before TSA checked our IDs and Boarding passes
    • no ID was required for B
  • Passed ID check, moved to screening line (no one in line)
  • Informed TSA agent that our Car Seat might not fit in X-Ray machine
  • TSA Agent checked, then informed us it would be hand checked
    • Left cart attached (more on cart later)
  • We noticed the metal detector was blocked off, and only the Body Scanner was being used
  • Informed TSA agent that B would not stand still long enough for Scanner
  • TSA offered to let all of us go through metal detector.
  • Place all stuff on belt for x-ray machine
  • N went through metal detector
  • I encouraged B to walk through himself (he thought this was fun, and this made the TSA agents smile and giggle)
  • I went through metal detector
  • Gathered stuff from Xray machine
  • TSA Agent brought us our Car Seat
It went REALLY well in this instance, and generally, we had a GREAT experience with the TSA on this trip.  I want to note that they did fully hand check the car seat, including swabbing for explosives.  After the first check, we told the TSA agents that the seat didn't fit on the last flight, and they just manually checked it with no question.
Now, I want to point out that there was no wait at O'hare that Friday morning, and that helped.  The experience was little different at other airports, specifically:
  • Hawaiian Airlines flying from Honolulu to Maui:
    • Found "Green Circle" special needs/family check in line (had to ask a TSA Agent)
    • "Green Circle" lines are designed for people traveling that may need extra time to prepare or get through screening
  • Hawaiian Airlines flying from Maui to Honolulu
    • No Green Circle, but not much of a line
  • United flying from Honolulu to Chicago
    • No Green Circle available
    • Longer line
    • TSA only allowed me through the metal detector with B
    • I had to HOLD B through the metal detector
    • N was required to go through the Body Scanner
    • My Hat, Bryan's milk cup, and our boarding passes got "Stuck" in the machine
So, outside of our security check flying home, we had VERY positive experience.  We asked questions, made sure we were in an appropriate line for our special needs/time to prepare needs, and we were friendly.  Our experience was a couple of smiles from our 21 month old melted hearts and put smiles on peoples faces.  We were running a little late getting to the airport for our return home flight, so that added to the stress level, so that was part of the problem there, and the longer lines didn't help.

I'm going to break here... Stay tuned for Part 2 of more than 1.. haha

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Here comes the Hawaii Review!

Hello Readers!! (both of you, lol)

N is going over the Hawaii Review Posts that I have written tonight, and we will get the first published tomorrow!!

I've tried to include details, experiences, and tips for the TRAVEL portion of our trip in the first 3 posts I will share!!

I hope you enjoy!

Oh, and on another note, we may actually have one more travel even this year before the cruise.  We are tentatively planning to travel to Virginia Beach sometime early summer.  I'll share that experience as well!!