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

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