Glamping at The Canopi 

Yes, the lagoon really is this shade of blue. The Canopi isn’t The Aman, but if you manage your expectations on service and dining options (this is still Bintan, after all), you’ll be just fine! 

We stayed for three days and two nights, and the kids REALLY REALLY enjoyed themselves. The Canopi is extremely family-friendly, with a range of activities for junior, from toddler to teens. 

First up, the tents, which is what this “Glamping” experience is really all about!  The photos on The Canopi website are accurate, the tents and interiors are as they appear. We booked as a group, a Garden Tent (no Jacuzzi), a Lagoon-view Tent and the bells-and-whistles Glamping Deluxe Tent.  

The Canopi is really affordable, with weekday prices starting under SG$200, we booked our stay on Booking.com It does get about 30-40% higher (and much more crowded) on weekends. Take a day off if you can and go on a weekday, we had the whole resort to ourselves on Tuesday (photos coming up)! 

This is the view of our Deluxe Glamping Tent… best of all (IMHO), it came with its own electric scooter for the duration of our stay! 

Fully air-conditioned, comfortable bedding,  our tent was clean and felt pretty new (we stayed in Tent 95). I think it’s part of a new wing at Canopi, because it feels much newer and in better-condition than the Garden and Lagoon-view tent (Tent 12 and 23) that our friends stayed in. The boys enjoying mid-day ice cream in front of Tent 12, which came with a sheltered outdoor Jacuzzi.

On that note, it’s probably not that important to book Lagoon-view as there really are no windows on the tents. They do give more proximity to the lagoon, but that doesn’t make a huge difference as the compound isn’t that large, and the tents at the back (like 95 where we stayed) were allocated scooters for getting around. I have to say I was impressed with the outdoor Jacuzzi bath-tub in our Deluxe Glamping Safari tent (bigger than the one we got when glamping in The Aman hah!). It was massive, and unexpected for a $300 a night room. It was a good-quality Jacuzzi, the kids loved splashing around in it, which was a good option for afternoons when the mid-day sun can get blisteringly hot. 

Yes, it’s open at the top to the outdoors, but I didn’t see any insects or mozzies; it was blissfully creature-free. Just remember however, that you signed up for ‘Glamping’ so do expect that there’s something of the outdoors in The Canopi. 

Next up, and this was one of our favourite things about the resort, was all the various fun modes of transport around the resort! ​

From buggies which took us to our rooms and around the resort…… to these cool vintage-look Ford Model Ts which ferried us to the Activity Centre…… and my favorite was the electric scooters which we were given for the duration of our stay! The kids loved the scooters, they’re electric-powered and capped at a top speed of 20kmh. They do provide helmets, which prudent parents would put on their kids (and on themselves)….  then there are those that love to feel the wind in their hair and prefer fedoras to helmets (don’t judge, please)! 

They are light enough so that I could ride around with my little ones. The scooters were great for traveling with ease around the resort. This is the restaurant where we have the hotel breakfast. The food selection is mediocre, but there’s an egg station and their mini pastries are actually pretty good! There’s also a sandy little playground in front of the restaurant.

In addition to all the buggies, scooters and electric cars, there are also land activities like ATVs and these 2-seater UTVs which you could rent (about $45 for a 40 minute tour). The little ones below 7 weren’t allowed on the ATVs so we had to be content with these buggies, which were also worth a spin, although….

… I must have the only kid who could fall asleep on an ATV! Amidst the dust, roaring engine and bumpy road, my son falls asleep. … he did wake up at the very end, and shouted “That was fun!” Hmmm.  Oh, bring sunglasses, maybe a scarf for the dust, and wear sunblock! The UTVs aren’t for small toddlers, Jake didn’t get to ride at all, but there are plenty other things you can do with the littler ones.

Now we get to the highlight of The Canopi, which is really that azure-blue saltwater lagoon in the middle of it all. You can rent floats (for fun and photos) about $6 an hour and these little paddle boats $10 an hour. … Daddy Shark Doo Doo Doo Doo.

The kids had so much fun, although they tired of the toys after 15 minutes, and by day two, they really just wanted to splash around and enjoy the water. The lagoon was very well-maintained when we were there. They keep it meticulously clean, trawling with nets every morning, and had lifeguards stationed around the lagoon. It was also surprisingly empty. Even on Sunday afternoon, there were never really more than 4-5 groups of other people around us at any point of time, and on Monday and Tuesday, we were often the only people visible in the whole lagoon. 

I do have advice to share on the best times to enjoy the lagoon. It gets blisteringly hot very early on, with the sun in full blaze by 9am. As Bintan is an hour behind Singapore, we started with early breakfast at 730am (830am SG time) and hit the lagoon for a dip at 9am when the activities first open. 

There are inflatable playgrounds and bouncy castles, some are free to Canopi guests and some are payable. These activities are also open to the public under Treasure Bay, but we didn’t see anyone here at all on Monday and Tuesday – like on this insanely fun bouncy water slide with a shallow pool, which was great for toddlers, and no one was here except us! 
It’s very strange that they start their activities at 9am and close at around 5pm just as the weather gets beautiful, they start to deflate all the floats and pack up all the water toys 😦 

My advice is to start at 9am, head back into the shade before 11am as it gets intensely hot and there’s so little shelter around the lagoon (we got burnt as pink as peaches), and to come out again around 4pm. The sun starts to ease off at 430pm so you can hit some activities from 4-5pm and just stay on to enjoy sunset in the lagoon even after they have put away all the toys. 

Apart from the lagoon, there honestly isn’t a whole lot else to do at The Canopi. We scootered around a few times, tried all three restaurants (mediocre at best, plenty of other reviews on these online, so I won’t go there… manage your expectations on dining, like I said), so by Day 2 we headed out to see what else there was to do. 

Five minutes away by car is Lagoi Bay, where you can find the ghost town that is Lagoi Plaza. There are only a handful of shops open in what could have been a really pretty promenade mall. On the weekday afternoon that we were there, there were only two restaurants open (not a great lunch place), but the kids loved the little train ride which only cost about SG$1 to ride. 

We also discovered this awesome lantern park at Lagoi Bay which featured endangered species and sea creatures. It was a magical experience, even for us adults,  with larger-than-life animals and ocean denizens lighting up the park. There were elephants, rhinos, sharks, dolphins, manta Raya and many more. Post check-out on our last day, we made a visit to exclusive resort The Sanchaya next door for ice cream and coffee. We stayed on this property when it first opened three years ago, and found it as posh as ever. Making himself right at home! The Sanchaya is a great escape for luxury lovers, expect to pay top dollar. Having stayed at both resorts in Bintan, I’d have to say that The Canopi is much better if you’re traveling with kids. The Sanchaya is certainly Insta-worthy, but it’s not a place I felt I could freely let my rascals run around without disturbing the other guests.  It’s a pretty place for a stopover, but you need to have your hotel call ahead if you want to make a visit as they don’t take walk-ins. 

All in all, we enjoyed our two night stay at The Canopi, barring the service hiccups, and lack of dining options.  

One last (big) tip on arrival timing – we took the 8am Ferry out of Singapore, and got there waaaaay too early. Perhaps if we had arrived on a weekday instead of Sunday morning it might have been possible for an early check-in. But it seems we arrived at peak occupancy (the Saturday night guests hadn’t checked out yet). We asked for a lift to the activity centre and had to wait over 10 minutes for a ride, there were a few miscommunications, and when we tried to feed the kids at 950am, we were told the restaurant kitchen closes at 10am and that they wouldn’t serve food again until 1130am. I asked where I could feed the kids, and they told us, “Sorry, we don’t have food until 11:30am”. This was so not cool. My suggestion would be to take the noon ferry out which should get you in closer to check-in time, for a more pleasant experience. 

To wrap it up… The Canopi is a great little escape, just manage your expectations… it’s good value for money, and great for Bintan!

KEEP CALM & GLAMP ON! 

Jake’s First Birthday – It’s a Panda Party! 

Jake’s favorite toy is a simple black and white panda from Ikea. He has many fancy toys, but somehow Panda is his favorite. 

The one toy he hugs to sleep and carries around the house, his one true love.

For his first birthday we decided to throw a panda party, as that was something he could probably relate to.

After three very elaborate parties for big brother, and realizing that Tyler remembered nothing from those parties, I decided on a DIY party for Jake. It’s not so very difficult once you set a theme, to build a party around it.

We started with the dessert table. Once you have the cake and dessert table sorted out, that’s probably 50% of the job done! We got ours from Little House of Dreams. I found clippings of inspirations and ideas that I liked (just google your theme), sent those to the folks of LHOD and they turned out the gorgeous table that was the centrepiece of our Panda Party! 
Vanilla cupcakes Cake pops in mini comes Panda donuts 

The cake!

Voila! On my request, we added silver foil balloons spelling out his name and black and white pom poms – and the effect was exactly what I hoped for! 

I do have one party-planning tip though: The dessert table only contained sweets, and I did expect that some of my guests might want savories. To keep within a budget, I simply ordered savory mini tarts and a selection of mini croissants from Delifrance they have a little catering menu which is extremely affordable. I recommend that you re-plate them though. See how fabulous they look on simple wooden boards, square plates and cake stands! You can find most of these styles of boards and plates at IKEA.

Just have them collected an hour before the party starts, and with the help of a friend (or two), everything can be beautifully plated within 15 minutes! If you don’t know how many to order, just estimate that each adult guest could eat about four canapés, and that would be a safe number to order (eg 30 guests x 4 = 120 mini tarts).

Last note on F&B: Don’t forget pretty plates and matching napkins! It’s important to pay attention to details. These were also from Little House of Dreams.

 Next up – I love scattering gifts around the party for guests, almost like a little treasure hunt, which makes the event fun and engaging and carries the theme through.  I ordered black and white bibs, panda socks and panda hats, and even panda iPhone covers for the mums and dads- through Up Bub and Away. You can see some of the panda items in their Panda-themed gift set. They are also able to source according to specific requested themes if you contact them at least 8 weeks ahead. 


A big tip for kids’ party-planning, try to keep it age-specific; you can’t really have a party that caters from one to twelve years old. Kids at these ages enjoy different activities, and big kids in the same bouncy castle or ball-pit as small ones can over-run them. 

As this was a party for a one year old, I capped the guest list to kids two and below. I did plan an activity table to occupy their older siblings (more on that later), but I decided that our party should focus on babies and activities that they would enjoy. 

Another major success tip: The venue is all-important. An outdoor venue can leave your with hot, cranky toddlers and babies! 

We booked the Kids Atelier at Trehaus. The space has high ceilings and is filled with natural sunlight. They have affordable weekend rental packages, which can include  drinks and catering. 

I order six black & white baby walkers online, which work fabulously for babies who aren’t quite walking yet. The black and white walkers fit in perfectly with the monochromatic party scheme.

Little guests totally enjoying the walkers! Then I made a DIY ballpit with an inflatable float from ToysR’Us and filled it with ELC balls that I bought Mothercare (it takes about 5 bags of balls to fill a circular ballpit about 5 feet wide). 

As for making the guests feel at home, I rented black and white bean bags from Doob. They’re actually an awesome bean bag retailer, but they do also rent out bean bags for parties and events. 

As many of the little guests aren’t actually walking yet, and many are still crawling in fact. I decided to make this a no-shoes party to keep the floor clean for them (hence all the gift socks above… Aaaaah, now you see!), and the soft, plush and cosy bean bags were perfect for this occasion (and spill-proof)! 

To complement my all black and white theme, Doob threw in some Topiary bean bags which I absolutely love! 

Next up, the Panda adoption station. We bought a bunch of pandas from Ikea, identical to his favorite panda and others we ordered from Up Bub & Away

We bought ribbons from Jalan Sultan and index cards from Daiso and created personalized name tags for all the pandas!  We let big brother Bubu get involved by naming all the pandas, so many of them ended up wth rather eccentric names – Hoony, Teacup and Dudu among others.

Mayhem the night before, where Bubu wants to unroll all my ribbons and Jake is a little overwhelmed to see so many pandas! The finished result, our Panda Adoption station where all our little black and white friends found new homes!  

Now we know I’m big into personalization, as that’s what people really remember. I created personalized Panda gift tags for all the kids, which doubled up as Luggage/ School Bag tags. 
I ordered mine from Lugo Co which are a cool little business I discovered on Instagram. You can DM or drop them a Line and they made all my Panda tags within about 10 days. Loved these! They turned out so well! Now to fill these gorgeous goodie bags with something memorable… I worked with Carda to create personalized stationary for all the little guests. Each guest received their own custom note cards (which came with elegant envelopes, which are perfect as Thank You and Birthday Gift note cards that are sure to impress!

As for party entertainment, I decided to forego the usual magic show and balloon-twister as the kids are really too young to appreciate these. Instead, I ordered Panda walking balloons for each kid to take home as a fun souvenir. These worked really great, because the kids loved them so much they dragged them out to play right away, and filled the space with much happiness  and laughter. 
You The other main activity was the sensory table we booked with Tickle Your Senses. The awesome ladies there created a custom panda themed station for is, where kids got to create their own Panda on a mountain with real bamboo leaves, using hand-made play-dough, and play with black and white water beads. 

This activity station was a huge hit, and best of all, kept the bigger kids occupied for the whole two hours! 

Who doesn’t love beautiful photos of their kids? Tempting as it is to have daddy shoot it all on his iPhone or point-and-shoot camera, this was the one thing I didn’t cut costs on, because the photos are all that your one year old is going to have, to remember his first ever party by. Make sure the photos are good. A dedicated photographer can also help you work the room and make sure all your guests are captured.

No stress, so daddy can also hang out with his friends! I booked both an event photographer and photo station (which they can design to your theme) from Instangraphy. They took most of the lovely photo I used here, as well as family portraits for my guests, against a black and white striped background. 


I thought the stripes worked well as opposed to a cutesie panda backdrop because you still want these to be photos your guests can keep as family portraits, and not just as party favors. 

Lastly, I’m a fan of dress codes as that can give you great party pictures!  With a panda theme, this one was easy – Black and White, of course! Here’s a wonderful photograph below of all our guests and their little ones dressed in theme!

That about sums up everything we did for Jake’s first birthday party! 

Perhaps I’ll leave you with a final tip!  We booked a Cake Smash and photo shoot for Jake. I think it’s a lovely “new tradition” (oxymoron?)! It’s a great opportunity to capture the historic milestone of Jake’s first birthday, and create keepsakes to cherish and share with him when he’s older. We booked ours with Little House of Dreams and Studio Loft who have a Cake x Studio Shoot package available. 

We also used the cake smash image as a birthday party reminder, using a simple design/layout app to add the text (I used Rhonna on this one).
And that’s all folks! Happy planning – enjoy every minute! It was a fair amount of work, but also so much fun! I’ve begun planning for his next birthday already 😉 

Spa Escapes: ESPA (Resorts World Sentosa)

We (my two girlfriends and I) were looking for an afternoon escape, somewhere to lose ourselves – no kids!- and decided to take a half day off our hectic work schedules to check into ESPA at Resorts World.  

So THIS is the sight that greets you as you enter the green sanctuary that is ESPA. We feel an amazing sense of calm, as if we have entered an oasis a thousand miles from every day cares.

We start off with healthy juices at Tangerine, the spa cafe, unwinding before our treatments. The cafe is really pretty, filled with sunlight, set in a glass house nestled amidst a backdrop of water, nature and greens. They encourage us to wander out in our spa robes, and because it’s such an exclusive setting, we hardly see another soul, we are quite happy to do so! 

This is the Tea Lounge (below), where they pick you up for your treatments. It overlooks the heated Rock Pool- where you can enjoy an outdoor onsen-style experience pre or post-treatment. 
This is me (above), totally blissed out… We still can’t believe this is actually in Singapore – just 15 minutes away from the central business district!…and check out these awesome pods in the Sleep Lounge! They resemble First Class suite beds, and come with reading lamps for some quiet time. These would be so amazing if we were doing a full-day at the spa, or if you were just a frazzled, harassed mama who wanted to escape for an hour of total silence.

The spa treatment rooms aren’t as spectacular as the outdoor pool and lounge areas. The rooms are small and don’t have much of a view, but the skilled therapists and quality of our massage (all three of us compared notes after) – had us agreeing we could have done an even longer treatment (we did the 90 minute personalized massage). 

After our treatments, we roll out like pampered poodles to enjoy the hot rock pools, then jump into the cold plunge pool (gaaaaaaaah… such a hair-raising experience – chilling but super refreshing!). We also loved that there was a separate ladies only hot pool (picture below) and cold plunge pool connected to the changing area; the gentlemen have their own pools attached to their respective change areas.

We wrap up with a three-course healthy dinner at Tangerine, featuring cuisine by award-winning celebrity chef Ian Kittichai, who is renowned for mixing classic flavors with a range of innovative cooking techniques. While the menu at Tangerine is very small (only 2-3 options each for appetizers, mains and dessert), the dishes do not disappoint. See below – as yummy as its pretty!

To us, the highlight of ESPA is actually its lush resort-style design and ambience, set around a pond amidst a natural, tropical forest setting. With its outdoor pools and luxe lounges. I can’t imagine any city spa could give the same sense of complete escape.

I believe it’s very important for moms to have their own ‘me’ time. Sandwiched between the demands of work, family, kids and everything else – there’s very little self-time left. This spa getaway – even if just for a short half-day was like “chicken soup for the soul” – healing, rejuvenating, pure ‘me’ time to recharge and reconnect with old friends. 

It’s hard to say goodbye, and after just four hours here, we leave already planning our next Spa escape. 
Note: Prices for a 60 minute personalized massage start at SG$200 – but that would give you access to all the pools, lounges and facilities. Parking can add up to quite a lot for half day, but fortunately you can fully redeem parking with a minimum spend of $400 treatments at the spa.
 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Hong Kong Disneyland

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there lived a little girl who fell in love with a Magic Kingdom called Disneyland.  Such a joyful place of happy music, fun rides, glorious lights and fireworks… But above all, she treasured the beautiful moments with her family. 

My earliest happy travel memories are from being with my family in Disneyworld in Florida, and I wanted my little princes’ first experiences of this special place to be just as magical. 

Tyler is not Disneyland newbie, as he has visited Paris Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, all under the age of two. But it’s only been on our last two trips, now that he’s three, that I feel he’s now really able to appreciate and understand what’s going on on the park.

Tyler in Paris Disneyland (18 months)
Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest of all the Disney parks in the world. It even has a tiny little castle, which looks more like a turret than a castle, when compared to the soaring Disney palaces in Paris (the prettiest) and Orlando (grandest), but it’s still a Disney castle!

“It’s Disneylaaaaaand!!”

In terms of rides, the park can be covered in one day. There are only two thrill rides – Space Mountain and Grizzly Gulch, so this probably isn’t too exciting a park for teenagers, but it’s great for toddlers as many of the rides don’t have height limits or can accommodate toddlers – such as Dumbo, Cindarella’s Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Mad Hatter’s Teacups (Fantasy Land), Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear, Autopia (Tomorrowland), Slinky Dog and Parachute Drop (Toy Story Land).  

Autopia (where he can drive his own little car on one of two circuits, the height limit to ride with adults is 82cm).

Orbitron (below) which is like Dumbo, but the line moves slightly faster as each flying saucer can take four guests. 

 

Cindarella’s Carousel – a classic Disney favorite.   
  The carousel in Disneyland Hong Kong has short wait times, I’ve never seen the line longer than 15-20 minutes even when it was crowded in the park.   Dumbo is the ride with one of the longest lines. I’ve never seen it shorter than 45 minutes, the quintessential classic ride, which makes of course for iconic photos.

Your first question is probably how much time do I need to cover the park, should I stay in a Disney Hotel?  

The answer is – if you’re there for the rides and just to take some photos, a day is enough, but if you’re there to really soak in the buzz and enjoy that Disney Magic –  I would stay overnight, and I’ll tell you why. 

I’ve done the day trip version of HK Disneyland, arriving in the morning to try to do all the rides, shows and catch the fireworks. It felt hectic, like we were constantly rushing place to place in FOMO mode. I didn’t enjoy it as much. It wasn’t about the queue for rides – you’ll find that if you’re lucky, like I’ve had friends visit in September and October that said they walked on to all the rides and there was no queue at all – HK Disneyland doesn’t have the extremely long over-an-hour wait queues like Tokyo or Paris Disneyland can have. 

The longest wait I saw this trip (and we went in December which is a peak season) was 50 minutes. The rides that will likely have queues are Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh and Autopia, but none exceeded an hour. You can also plan your day to avoid the crowds and use the FastPasses, but it will still be tiring – honestly a little too intense to be enjoyable or fun, especially with a toddler in tow.

So, if you decide to stay overnight in a Disney hotel, there’s only one I would recommend you should stay at – The Disneyland Hotel.  

The view from our room at the Kimgdom Club (below.It’s a gorgeous Disney hotel, much nicer than the Disney Hollywood Hotel where some of our party stayed, then when they came over and saw the Disneyland Hotel, they regretted not paying that little bit more for the upgrade. 

There’s the Enchanted Garden with the hedge maze by the sea, there’s a playroom with soft play areas, a boat, a mini cinema (ok, a big TV, I’m a little partial to Disneyland!) where they play Disney films and cartoons and an activity corner where they have programs where the kids can learn to draw Mickey Mouse etc.    

The Kids Club playroom (below).


    

If you’re a huge fan of character photography and want to meet all the classic Disney stars (like Mickey, Minnie, Goofie, Pluto etc), I suggest you book the Character Breakfast at the Enchanted Garden in Disneyland Hotel (two seatings per day with one at 730am and another at 930am). The characters come to your table while you’re having breakfast, and cover the room methodically so you just sit tight and wait for them to approach you. The minders do shoo you back to your table if it’s not your turn, so manage the expectations of your little ones who try to run up to Mickey or Minnie to give him a big hug. And you’ll constantly hear this “Boop Boop Boop Boop” call nearby, as the photographers seem to use it to attract the attention of errant babies and toddlers who fail to pose for photos.  

Laser death stare at Minnie Mouse.    Whaaaaaat. 
Jake succumbs to the “Boop Boop Boop Boop” … But Tyler isn’t having any of that.  

Our earlier trip was in December last year so all the characters are in Christmas costumes. This time round (April trip), they were in their regular clothes.  

  “Hey boy, I like your T-shirt!”   They’re also insistent on taking photos of you and your kids on their own camera, as their goal is to sell you their pics (which they leave on your table all printed out in glossy folders, and I expect they’ll charge you if you walk out with them), but you don’t have to buy their photos, they do also help you take pics with your iPhone. 

The Princess characters aren’t as easy to locate. They take photos with guests at fixed times in Fantasyland (next to the Disney Castle). They weren’t able to tell you exactly where to find each princess until the morning of each day itself. So if you were looking for say Sophie or Belle, you would have to try your luck and just check with information desk when you arrived in the park, as there’s a different roster every day (I suppose based on which princess showed up for work haha)! Anyway, we scored photos with Anna and Elsa – bumping into them just before they closed the queue. 

Shy guy.On several visits to the park, we booked the VIP Private Tour.  This was to ensure we got to try all the rides and experience the park without losing time on lines (or grumpy toddlers). The tour allows direct access (via the exit) to all rides, and takes up to six people – kids under three don’t count, and goes for three hours. It costs HK$4688 or about US$600 (SGD850) and can be worth it if you share between 2 or 3 families. The best time to book the tour is to plan it on a three hour block ending at the start of a show time as they reserve the best seats in the house for guests on the VIP tour. I wouldn’t do the shows during the three hour tour itself (they’ll take up about 45 minutes each between seating and show times), so I recommend you check the show timings before booking the tour (you can choose from two shows – Lion King or Mickey’s Wondrous Book). Timings may change depending on time of booking, so best to check before you travel on the Disneyland Show Schedule and coincide the end time of your VIP tour with the start time of the shows you can then maximize your time on rides instead of  sitting through shows. Note: the VIP tour doesn’t let you cut the lines for character photography, you still have to wait your turn for those. 


Even if you do not to book the tour, I can share some useful tips from our tour guide. 
First, if you want to avoid the crowd and hit the park early, start by turning left of the castle, towards the Jungle and Adventureland area. Our guides shared that everyone usually starts by turning right towards Tomorrowland (I guess most people are right-handed so it’s a natural instinct to turn right instead of left?)! Strange, but these insiders believe you can avoid the crowd pattern if you work the park backwards from what most people are doing! 

Another big tip… There’s a secret spot to catch the “Paint the Night” show (not the fireworks which are at 830pm, but the electric float parade that comes just before the fireworks, at 730pm.  Instead of joining the crowds that line the streets, head to the area just next to the theatre that’s currently playing Mickey’s Wondrous Storybook. Just on the right (if you’re facing the theatre) there’s a gate where the parade starts and all the floats will come out of here. 


You can have the best view from here as its not crowded (the general public haven’t seemed to figure out that this is the starting point of the parade), so you should have a front row view and the little ones will have a fantastic time seeing their favorite floats and characters up close!  Here are some of our favorite floats, from our view at the gate where the parade begins (Photo credits for the series of night shots to my friend Mark Shaw) 

  
    
On our last trip to Disneyland (April 2016), we also discovered the best way to watch the “Disney in the Stars” fireworks. As I mentioned earlier, the Hong Kong Disneyland castle is teeny-tiny… Which means it’s hard to get an unobstructed view of the castle where you can also see the video projections that accompany the fireworks. If one or two inconsiderate people stand up or put their kids on their shoulders for a better view, it blocks the view of every person behind him.  Many people sit and wait early in a designated area right in front of the castle.  This can fill up with squatters an hour or more before the show, but it can be hard to sit and wait out there with restless toddlers in tow, so that wasn’t an option for us. 

And then we discovered that there was a special, reserved space with an amazing view, right in front of the castle (just behind the designated seating area), in an area cordoned off for VIP guest viewing.  You get access to this area if you take up the Fireworks VIP dinner package. It was pretty good value, like a 6-course Chinese dinner at the Maxim’s-operated Plaza Inn (the Chinese restaurant), and you get a wrist band that gives you access to this cordoned-off VIP area which isn’t crowded at all. We rocked up fifteen minutes before the fireworks and got an awesome spot with a dead-centre, 100% unobstructed view of the castle and fireworks. 

Worth every penny of the dinner! 

A final tip- Do HK Disneyland when the weather is cool if you can, I can vouch that it’s a much more pleasant experience. It can be so uncomfortably hot in the summer months.  We went in April and December when it was fairly cool, and found it much more enjoyable than a previous trip we made in the hot summer months.  High summer temperatures can make toddlers sweaty and cranky- and it may not be the most enjoyable experience for everyone, so do check on the average temperatures before you go, if your little one like mine, gets  grumpy when it’s hot. 
Until our next Disney trip then… (We are planning LA year – this time with Jakey too, who will then be 18 months old).

…and the two little princes love the Magic Kingdom, it became a special place of joyful family memories and they all lived happily ever after… Once upon a dream! 

TYL3R Squadron Takes Flight! 

Which three year old boy doesn’t love airplanes! Mine was no exception, so we planned a party celebrating his love of all kinds of airplanes!   

 We booked the gorgeous event hall at Hort Park, which had a big enough space to contain the motorized airplane rides we rented, and also a lawn where we placed the plane-themed merry-go-round. 

The setup featured a long runway, a video screen to play his favorite Super Wings videos, a plane-themed bouncy castle and baby ball-pit and slide for the littlest guests, oh and not forgetting an X Box PlayStation with an air-combat game for the daddies!    

   

   Especially loving his Super Wings fondant cake topped with his favorite airplane Jett, from Little House of Dreams
 Airplane themed dessert and canapé table designed by Luxe Catering.  Sky blue and red theme for the dessert table. 

 

 Aren’t these propeller cake pops adorable?   I also got these cool aviator hats which were really popular with the little guests and looked great in photos! 

   Baby brother Jake enjoys the rides too! 
 Tyler’s flight suit is from an online store called Fly Boys, where you can choose the suit and the different patches to decorate.   

I ordered personalized Ts and luggage tags for the kids who came from the Tyl3r Squadron party-  Who doesn’t love personalized keepsakes!

    Don’t forget to create a nice spot for photos!
 

  A sky-print photo wall where guests can take photos!    The little ones love this airplane roundabout! 

    
  Venue rental includes a huge lawn where the older kids can play. One big tip: Don’t try to cater to kids of ALL ages. The best parties focus on kids within an age range, there’s no way you can entertain everyone from a 2 year old to a 10 year old, so I kept the party mainly to kids his age and capped it at six years of age. Big kids get bored easily and can play rough around small kids, so I find its best to focus on kids of a certain age and keep it tight – after all, it’s your little one’s party, not yours- and it’s all about his experience on his big day!   We did however, have a PlayStation on site for the biggest kids! Keeping the daddies happy helps everyone have a good time! 
   

    

Here we all are! Airplane themed party for my fly little guy … Now on to planning Jake’s first birthday party in 3 months!

Note: I can’t take the credit for planning the party, I had the help of my awesome team at Mercury Events… And if you love the photos, look for John at Episode Photography

Diggersite – Bob The Builder comes to Life! 

Like many three year olds, mine adores Bob and his machines, especially that yellow digger called Scoop.  We sprinted here after we came across Diggersite when a friend shared a link. They have no website (at time of post) but they have a Facebook page. 
   Diggersite is located at 1020 East Coast Park #01-04, between a Burger King and a Prawning place. He could hardly contain his excitement when he saw the diggers, and wanted to jump in one right away!   

There are a total of six diggers in three stations, two outdoors and one indoors. They are working small scale replicas of actual diggers.   We started at this the station where you try to swing the digger arm and knock down the bottles – or at least that’s what I thought! It hardly mattered, he was just excited to sit in one and rotate left to right (I will be uploading a video clip in my IG @tjinlee if you want to see this)!     His face when the ride stops. 

It costs $7 for a 5 minute ride. For a kid his age, it’s pretty similar to sitting in one of those $2 mall joy rides in a shopping center… But 100 times cooler! We bought 3 credits for $18 (then had to add $7 for his fourth ride)!
   We venture out into the excavation site where there were three diggers set around a sand pit filled with bricks and buckets.  

He was not so enthused when we were told it was advisable for me to ride with him, as he was too little to really operate the digger.  

 (I’m not in my builder attire as we came straight here after a day of back-to-back work meetings for mama – my attempt at work-life balance, and highlight of my day.)

We attempt to operate our digger and were able to rotate the machine, lower and raise the digger arm and scoop and pick up and dump sand. It revealed to my son that his mother is not terribly coordinated nor good at remembering  which lever swiveled which way to go up, down, tilt or rotate…  

Meantime, in the digger opposite us, a far more coordinated father-son duo were busy and efficiently scooping sand into the little buckets in the sand (show offs)!

After 5 minutes of riding with me, I decided to let him have his own ride. He enjoyed just sitting in it and pushing all the levers around, looking like a real pro! 

  

  There are bricks scattered in the sand so you can also attempt to pick those up with your scoop. 

After two rides on the excavator diggers, we head indoors to try the claw digger, which is like a giant version of the amusement park claw machine. 

I coerced him into wearing the construction hat (there’s also a vest but he’s not that cooperative), which you can loan without charge when playing with the diggers. 

   
    
  It’s really hard to operate these indoor diggers if you’re three years old – or maybe my son just inherited his mother’s lack of coordination skills. As before he just really enjoyed sitting in the digger and pulling all the levers, so it was great fun nonetheless! 

   

His face (again!) when it stops.

The biggest tip I can give you is to come on a weekday. I read that they are really crowded on weekends, and it can be a very long wait for an excited toddler who can’t wait to jump in a digger, to have 3-4 other kids queued up before his turn.

Diggersite opens from 10am to 10pm, and there are floodlights at night ensure the place is bright as day, without the scorching heat and sun. 

We had an awesome end to the day with OJ at Burger King, followed by the discovery of these four seater family bikes in the rental place next door where toddlers can sit up front with their own steering wheel…But that’s another story.  

 

My Tot Friendly Travel : Melbourne (Part 2: Hotels, Dining & Highlights)

I’ve covered our top family-friendly Melbourne activities in my previous post, in this one I will share our favorite eats, where we stayed, and tips for getting about.

 Starting with where we stayed, I believe that the hotel can be about 50% of the entire experience – from its location, which enhances or affects all the logistics, to the general enjoyment based on comfort and interaction with the city. So yes, hotels are extremely important to me, and the first thing I look at when I travel.

When I asked around, 9 out of 10 people who live in, or traveled regularly to, Melbourne heartily recommended the Crown Hotels (Metropole and Tower). It can be pricey, but is a very central and convenient place to stay. The other recommendation that came online for a family booking was the Stamford Plaza Melbourne. Both had great reviews on Tripadvisor.

We spent four nights in the Crown Towers (we stayed in and highly recommend the Suite, we booked on http://www.hotels.com and got the Suite for about AUD620 per night in peak season, the same price as my friend paid for a Deluxe room on another website for the same trip, the suite was twice the size and twice as nice!).

We also stayed three nights in Stamford Plaza, as we liked the location in Little Collins Street, literally a stone’s throw from all the hip eateries and main shopping belt. We recommend Crown Towers but found the Stamford Plaza unimpressive – rooms were dark and a little old, our room sliding door actually came off its hinge and there were insufficient windows so the place was dark. The rooms were also really small, too small to fit a cot or spare bed comfortably. We were more than happy to move over to Crown Towers after three days.

He settles in like a boss.    That view though!

 Don’t forget to bring your swimmers! There’s this gorgeous huge indoor heated pool, kept at about 30 degrees and with beautiful skylights so the place is filled with natural light but the water stays warm all year round.  Finally, enjoying a soak in the bath tub- his favorite pastime in hotels!

If you were looking for an alternative location though, the hotel we would recommend would be the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, along Collins Street. It had an unbeatable location right on the main shopping and dining stretch, and a nice buzzy cafe in front.

The first thing we did after we checked in was to make a visit to the Eureka Skydeck on Level 88. It’s the highest vantage point open to the public, and offers awe-inspiring 360 degree bird’s eye views of the city.


 The Eureka Skydeck is only steps away from the bustling and buzzy South Bank, and also where the Crown casinos are located. The best way to experience this beautiful waterfront part of the city is on foot (and stroller).

Hello seagull…   He got sleepy and grumpy halfway through (likely the 3 hour time difference which had him sleepy by 6pm) , thanks goodness we brought the stroller!
  Moving on to our Top 5 dining experiences (with toddler in tow):

1) Hardware Societe
So there’s this iconic little French breakfast-brunch place nestled in the middle of town on 120 Hardware Street, walking distance from Little Collins Street where we were staying. You can’t make reservations, I gather they’re pretty full most of the time. They have a limited number high chairs, we scored only one – but as many places in Melbourne don’t have high chairs at all, this wasn’t unexpected.

With a name like “Hardware Societe” I had expected a modern, industrial setup, a little of that factory-chic type eatery – but nope, it’s kind of a low-key, laid back rustic cafe with butterfly wallpaper and little marble tables. It’s not a big place at all, about 40 seats indoors and another 20 outdoors.
 The coffee here is freshly made, and so served one latte/ cappuccino at a time. Not posh, but served fresh and piping hot. Good stuff!  We ordered an iced chocolate for Bubu thinking we would get like, a milo with ice cubes in it… And this is what arrived!    OMG. Chocolate milk on a bed of fudge sauce laden with vanilla ice cream! Clearly not what I (as the parent of a two year old) envisioned for breakfast when I asked for an iced chocolate! Notwithstanding my iced chocolate expectations, he loved it of course! #supersugarhigh

     
Breakfast here was really really good! Traditional fare, nothing exceptionally new or creative, but just really fresh, hearty and well-done. We had the Baked Eggs and Chorizo, Lobster Eggs Benedict and Contintental Breakfast – none of the orders disappointed. Easy to see why this place is packed out. Worth the little wait!

2) Pure South Dining

We visited this restaurant located on Southgate at the South Bank waterfront (well there’s no real view of the water, maybe I mean on the main walkway) while staying in Crown Towers. It came highly recommended by a local, as his absolute favorite restaurant in the whole city, so we gave it a try.

Cuisine is best described as Modern Australian with a focus on fresh Australian and Tasmanian produce. I’m not much of a food reviewer so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking …Scallops

Fresh fish of the day


Seared tuna

Lamb loin  Beef steak

All in all, we really enjoyed dining at Pure South. They don’t have high chairs like many other Melbourne dining establishments, but food and service were faultless, and the other diners were welcoming of our occasionally fussy toddler, and didn’t glare at us once, instead giving him occasional nods and smiles.

3) Cumulus Inc

Located on Flinders Lane, this is another highly-recommended restaurant in Melbourne that doesn’t take reservations. We tried our luck on a Sunday evening, arriving at 6:30pm and found the place fairly empty. The restaurant has a great vibe with high ceilings and a bustling open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work.

Again, they didn’t have high chairs but they were able to give us seating in the corner banquette area so the kids could sit on the sofa, and that worked out just fine.   The restaurant did get more crowded later in the evening, but not to the point where there was a long wait or line for anyone.

 We ordered sharing plates – Parma ham, Ox tongue, Sweet & Sour cauliflower and Tuna Tartare. All really good, we had seconds of the cauliflower, and the Tuna Tartare atop pea mash and goat curd which came highly recommended was indeed very tasty!

 

    Beef for the main course, and I can’t remember what dessert we had, but we demolished everything!  Heartily enjoyed and would recommend Cumulus Inc.

4)  Cutler & Co

Upscale restaurant in an old metalworks factory with an open kitchen, posh decor and a pricey menu, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Located in the arty and bohemian Fitzroy area, described as a “foodie Mecca” online, top 10 in Australia (#10 in Melbourne on Tripadvisor) – and one of my favorite experiences of the trip.

  Again, no high chairs but as you can see, the little ones settle quite comfortably into the banquettes (and when wedged between two adults, are quite well contained-phew!)   We ordered lots of plates to share – everything was really fresh, and exquisitely presented. My favorites were the pastrami on toast and the duck leg – Mmmmmmm!

    
  

5) Hammer & Tong 412

We can’t wrap up a Melbourne food journal without at least one more brunch/ brekkie place, which is what seems to be a signature of the  Melbs dining scene.

Hammer & Tong is an unpretentious little cafe (I would guess it seats about 50 in total) with an amazingly innovative menu and options that will have you wishing you could order for 5-6 people, as there are so many tempting dishes that you will want to try!

We waited 10 minutes for a table (decent), and 45 minutes for the food (not okay! The waitstaff apologized to us twice for the exceptionally long wait – but with a baby and a hungry toddler, it was just too long a wait for food). So I would suggest either not going on a Saturday morning, or not going with hungry kids – we ended up feeding Bubu gummy bears to keep his hunger at bay and he ate about 26 then wasn’t hungry any more!)

   The Soft Shell Crab burger and Ox Cheek Eggs Benedict are two of the signature dishes here. Both very very good. 

The ramen is another signature dish.

Signing off with another gratuitous Jakey photo…  And our entire itinerary below which may come in handy when planning!


Melbourne itinerary
Day 1

  • Arrive and check in
  • Chill out – Eureka Sky Deck

Day 2

  • 930am arrive collingwood farm
  • 10am Collingwood Farm – Cow Milking, The Farm Cafe is supposed to be good
  • 12pm Lunch at Abbotsford Convent
  • 2pm Diamond Valley Railway (11-5pm) 570 Main Road, Elkham Victoria – 30 min from Melbourne only open Sunday
  • Montsalvat Artists Colony (close 5pm)
  • 630pm Cumulus Inc Dinner – 45 Flinders Lane (no bookings taken)

Day 3

  • 9am drive to Belgrave (1 hour)
  • 10am Arrive, sort out ticketing, take photos, buy snacks and drinks
  • 11.10am Puffing Billy departure to Lakeside- 1 hour train ride) 1 hour Lakeside- Lunch
  • 230pm return train (1 hour return) Arrive back at Belgrave station around 330pm. Drive back to Melbourne 1 hour. Arrive back at hotel 330-4pm
  • 5pm Snack / Asian tapas at Chin Chin
  • 8pm Dinner – SuperNormal

Day 4

  • 9am Melbourne Zoo – Werribee Open Range Zoo – New toddler adventure trail program (only open Tuesday and Friday) – must call to book the safari. Book also Magic Moments with Koala (have to call) $12 per adult, 10 min up close with fave animal of your choice
  • Dinner – Pure South Dining

Day 5

  • 9am Breakfast – Hardware Societe
  • 10am Melbourne Museum (10-5pm open) – Real dinosaur bones
  • 1pm Botanic Gardens Lunch – Jardin Tan (botanic gardens observatory building – child friendly) and Children’s Garden
  • 7pm Dinner – The Meat & Wine Co

Day 6

Yarra River Day Out

  • 10am Healesville Sanctuary – Koala Bear experience with Magic Moments booking
  • 12pm Lunch and wine tastings – Coombe Farm on Melba Estate
  • Yarra Glen Adventure Playground
  • Yarra River Chocolaterie and Ice creameries – free tastings

Day 7

Brunswick street in Fitzroy- Bohemian place for street culture, art and gelato

  • 12pm Lunch at Cutler & Co Explore Fitzroy neighborhood
  • 3pm Visit to Myers and David Jones toy department
  • 7-11pm Luna Park

Day 8

  • 930am Breakfast at Hammer & Tong
  • 1pm Shopping and Lunch at Chapel Street
  • Check out and fly home

P.S. Almost forgot to share my tip for dealing with a very long line at customs when you first arrive (we arrived along with two other flights and had an Express pass but people told us near the front of the line that they had been waiting two hours!) . You can either get an Express Pass from your airlines at disembarkation (given to business class passengers and travelers with infants, they don’t automatically offer it to you if you have little ones but the customs officer told me you could ask for one from your airline). He also gave me a tip, that they bring to the front of the line those people who have children “in distress” – so if your baby is crying or fussing, they let them join the Express line. Hmm, beats waiting in line for two hours with fussy little ones!

IMG_3279

Last tip: This pram! The Mountain Buggy Nano folds up small enough to bring on the plane, and still rugged enough to go on farm trails and garden paths with ease. Best travel pram ever!

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Melbourne (Top Things to Do)

What impressed me most about Melbourne is how incredibly family-friendly the city is, in terms of activities and their general attitude to kids.

My Australian friends tell me that Melbourne is more laid-back than Sydney, and so is more welcoming of children in places like nice restaurants.  

Our biggest take out after a few days there is that days are short (even though the sun sets past 8pm in the summer most activities wrap by 5pm), so start early and end early.

This can be a little challenging if you’re traveling from South East Asia where Melbourne is 3 or more hours ahead, so my suggestion is not to plan anything the first morning (Bubu had to be roused at 9am for the itinerary when he usually wakes up at 7am) and ease into the schedule over the next couple of days, but definitely aim to start early like 9am and you can have an early dinner (which is also more convenient as it’s less crowded) and put the little ones to bed by 8pm, so they can be fresh as daisies for the next day! 

This is our review of some of the top family experiences in the city, what Bubu enjoyed the most, and in my next post, I will share our dining and hotel reccomendations, the full itinerary and more family travel tips (like what to do if there’s a two hour wait at Customs when you get off the plane).

I planned the itinerary so there are usually at least two back-to-back activities on the itinerary, all catered for shorter transport time, and pairing things that are nearby for convenience.

We got around by driving and with GPS, it’s actually really easily to navigate around Melbourne. Car rental was very affordable, less than $500 for the whole 8 days (but adding on the two car seats almost doubled the rental price).  
Okay, let’s go!

1) Collingwood Children’s Farm  & Abbotsford Convent (Weekend Market) 

What’s awesome about Collingwood Farm is that it’s only 10 minutes from downtown Melbourne, which is great. What’s not so great is the rather underwhelming collection of animals – some chicken, a few goats and a milk cow – were the main farmyard stars that we encountered.     

  The recommended highlight online is the 10am cow-milking session where kids get to have a hands-on experience milking a real cow! You can also have a fresh farm breakfast and explore the farm where they have chickens, goats, cows and a cool (don’t pet him, he’s violent) cat.  

SO! Bubu hated the cow-milking. He fussed about sitting outdoors in the sun, freaked out that there were flies everywhere (why does no one ever mention in all the travel articles online that Melbourne is fly-infested in the summertime!) 

Clearly, not all kids are cut out for farm life.  

 Not happy.  

   Yes, he’s recoiled in horror –  “NO WANT COW!!!”

  Post-cow trauma bribery with orange juice and a very yummy chocolate milkshake.   

I’ve still included Collingwood farm as I can see why some kids could probably enjoy this, but the real highlight wasn’t the farm – which was still worth a visit, the little cafe is recommended over the actual farm (great coffee and fresh breakfast), but Abbortsford Convent – a short walk next door is where he really enjoyed himself!

On weekends, there’s a craft and fashion market (I love the Retrobub stall with super cute handmade onesies, hoodies and Ts), live jazz music,and everyone just sprawled out on the grass and chillaxing in the sun

 Bubu really had fun just sitting in the grass (being surrounded by my friend’s three pretty daughters didn’t hurt)! 

      

    
So cute, right? We left with that grey fox onesie from Retrobub!      

Brunch was excellent, we had burgers, ribs, chocolate cake, lemon tart and really good breakfast pastries. Our friends who lived in Melbourne brought us here, and I would definitely recommend it too.It is worth making the trip to visit both Collingwood and Abbotsford  as they are just side by side, and only 10-15 minutes drive out from the city. If we lived in Melbourne we would probably make regular visits to Abbotsford for its great family-friendly environment and weekend market set in a lovely cluster of buildings, formerly a convent, I would presume.

2) Diamond Valley Miniature Railway & Montsalvat Artist Colony (Eltham)  

Which little boy doesn’t love Thomas the Train? We decided to make his train fantasies come to life by taking him to Diamond Valley Railway. This cool miniature railway only opens on Sundays – check out their schedule on their website, and is run by a team of passionate volunteers.   Located in Eltham, about 30 minutes from central Melbourne, you ride on mini trains on a track that takes about 12 minutes to complete. At only $3 per ride (and a reasonable 15-20 minute queue each time), Bubu loved it so much we had to ride twice! 

 He’s captivated by the tiny trains!     
  

“Nooooo daddy … I don’t want to leave!” 

After two rounds on the trains, we headed to Montsalvat, an artist’s colony in Eltham located just 5 minutes from Diamond Valley Railway.  Open seven days a week, this charming European style colony created in the 1940s had more ducks, geese (and even peacocks) than Collingwood, and Bubu enjoyed it much more than the farm! 

    
    
To my disappointment, we arrived at 4.45pm and found the place closing for the day (hence my tip to start the day earlier as many places and attractions wrap up at 5pm). There was still fun to be had – tailing the peacocks and geese, and exploring the picturesque grounds (a favorite for wedding shoots) even though we weren’t able to have any wine or coffee as the restaurant on the premises was closing.  

Baby Jake in his farm-inspired OOTD.   
Our verdict for Eltham: The Diamond Valley Railway is a delight for little ones. Kids older than six might find it a little boring, but it was perfect for toddlers. The train even goes through two dark tunnels for a little thrill!  Montsalvat is worth the stopover if you’re already in Eltham, you’ll get beautiful photos for your holiday album.

3) Puffing Billy Railway (Belgrave) 

  This was hands-down mommy’s favorite day out! The Puffing Billy steam train station is located in Belgrave, about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne city, and has close to hourly departures to Lakeside (about one hour away) and Gembrook (about 90 minutes each way). Online reviews shared that Gembrook was probably a more bustling place to visit, but given that you’re traveling with little ones, Lakeside is probably a more ideal stopover, as the journey by train is the main highlight of the day out, and not so much the destination.  

With a super friendly crew (and an amiable Station Master who is used to being asked if he’s the Fat Controller) , the kids were welcomed for photo opps and the train engineers even gave Bubu a chance to climb into the train driver’s cabin, he really enjoyed his day out!

  This is how you’re supposed to ride the Puffing Billy- with your legs hanging off the the side of the train!  
  The train passed farms and forests – a pretty journey in great weather! I’m told it’s not as pleasant in winter time so I would probably save this for warmer weather.   
 There’s not a whole lot to do at Lakeside – no lovely little cafes, more just a stopover canteen selling sandwiches and some hot food, but you can pick up iced coffee and ice creams (lifesaver), or pack your own picnic for outdoor dining.  

There is a small lake with some paddle boats, and a kids playground which Bubu really enjoyed. The stopover is about an hour long, so we were mostly killing time until we could get back on the train. This little city slicker actually asked me for coins when he saw this ride haha!

     

 Someone’s happy to be back on the train!   

 Ting ting ting at the street crossings Bidding farewell to the trains!

What an awesome day out – It may not be as exciting for older kids, but what a special treat it was for a two year old, it was like his Thomas the Train fantasies come true!  Tip: Bring along your own Thomas toys- they sell them at the station for a premium, and we were coerced into buying one for our over-excited toddler.

4) Werribee Open Range Zoo  

There are three zoos in Melbourne, you probably could do just one or two. We chose Werribee because they had a newly launched Toddler Trail program that took place with advance bookings on Tuesdays and Friday’s only (you can call in to book), and besides the safari pictures looked like awesome fun! 

   

 We started the tour at the zoo by feeding worms to some squeaky meerkats. 

We then boarded an open-sided safari bus for a private tour of the open range zoo. 
 At first he hated it! There were the usual flies, strong wind, and flying sand and he refused to wear his sunglasses so got sand in his eyes and was very upset (Tip: bring little sunglasses to protect your toddler’s eyes from the flying sand) 
     

  He perked up after taking a “momfie” with some giraffes.  The giraffes were really curious and got super close to the safari car.

   
Our friend and his daughter have a close encounter with a curious giraffe.
  He did warm up by the end, although he was very happy to finally get off the safari car, and made a beeline for…..   
 … A mechanical car. 

The highlight of our visit to Werrobee was the mechanical car (!!), and the Ranger Kids Play Area. There was a helicopter there (which he got so excited about he fell down its steps twice) along with dress-up costumes, large stuffed animals to play with and a turtle enclosure.  

  Ranger Bubu and Scout Nicole on the lookout for animals to rescue! We didn’t stay very long to explore the zoo as the blistering sun, dry heat and summer flies made it rather unpleasant for the toddlers. The safari drive and the Ranger Kids play areas were the definite highlights. You can complete this zoo in a half day or less, planning another activity into the day’s itinerary if you wish. 

5) Yarra Valley Day Trip

There’s a lot to do in beautiful Yarra Valley, including hot air balloon rides, river cruises, wine yard visits and so much more. But we decided to only do a day trip, and this is what we covered. 

We started with a visit to the Healsville Animal Sanctuary, on a mission to get up close with a Koala Bear!  To do this you can pre-book a Magic Moment with the zoo, and for $12, you can have an up-close experience with this cuddly marsupial! You’re not allowed to touch or carry them, but hey – I had my hands full anyway!  

 You can also get up close to dingos and wombats and other Australian wildlife, but my little city slicker wasn’t enjoying the heat (and flies) and clamored to go back to the van, so it was a really short visit for us. Next we headed out to Coombe Farm at the Melba Estate for lunch. There are many gorgeous vineyards and wineries that you can visit in this area – like De Bortoli and the Chandon Estate, we decided on a friend’s recommendation to try Coombe at Melba Estate.  It was a beautiful setting, excellent food and the kids enjoyed having lots of space to run and explore.

   

  Wine-tasting at the Bar, followers by yummy lunch. 
 Post-lunch, we drop in at the Yarra Glen Adventure Playground for half an hour of play and exploration… Which was great fun for the kids – big and small! 

    
  
Dads having fun!   
After the activity break, we head to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, one or the area’s top attractions, to stuff ourselves again!  
Lots of beautiful open space and greenery to run around in!   

 Chocolate tastings! Bubu is in chocolate heaven!
   
  Happiness!  

 And that about sums up our day at Yarra Valley! We could definitely have spent a day or two here – maybe next time. 

 6) Melbourne Museum & Royal Botanic Gardens

Last up, two of the city’s top attractions. We didn’t get to cover them properly because our toddler decided he hated dinosaur bones, and the flies drove us out of the Royal Botanic Gardens…  

        He refused to look at them. The irony of his Dino T shirt and his Dino blanket aren’t lost on me.

  

  

He did eventually warm up to the Kids Play area, located in a corner of the museum and dedicated to under fives, this was a great area for Bubu with books, nooks and lots of tactile self-play. 

  

   Baby Jake can’t run away.    The Melbourne Museum is housed in a stunning modern building, it could totally be a great experience  for many kids! 

Next, we took a 5 minute drive to get to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we had lunch at Jardin Tan (which I think just means “Garden Tan”) a Vietnamese cafe – probably owned by some guy with last name Tan- set in a glass conservatory inside the garden.  


  

 I’ve heard that the Vietnamese food in Melbourne is very very good, but the fare at Jardin Tan was underwhelming, and just way too salty. The fried chicken was inedible, the best dish was the rice paper roll.  Mediocre food notwithstanding, the cafe was still a decent place to have lunch if you want something with a pretty ambience, and very nearby to the Children’s Garden.

Post-lunch, I tried to coax the little man into coming down from his pram and exploring the children’s garden – no luck, the heat and flies made him grumpy. Knowing now about the fly situation, I would have bought a fly net for the pram with me, even if it made me look like a silly tourist (because my friends who live there said the locals aren’t bothered by the flies and I would risk looking uncool if I had a fly cover) – screw looking cool, give me the fly cover any day!

So that’s a wrap for my pick of Melbourne attractions for toddlers! 

I’ll get round to working on my next post on Melbourne which talks about some dining options, fringe activities and more kid-friendly travel tips. Up next! 

Leaving you with a gratuitous image of my sweet baby Jake xxx

 

My Tot-Friendly Travel: Bali, Indonesia (Part 2)

Now, let’s talk about what to do and where to go with your twos and belows in tow.  

Bali is full of tiny cafes and hipster eateries which while so cool when you’re a couple, are a nightmare for groups larger than six and many don’t have high chairs. 

Seminyak is now so tourist-infested, it feels like the new Kuta, so while we headed back there for a few of our stalwart favorites, we also ventured into new territory, basing ourselves in Canggu (see my earlier post on accommodation).

To our delight, there’s actually quite a lot of family friendly activities in Canggu. There’s are water slides at The Canggu Beach Club, pony rides at the Bali Equestrian Centre (which we didn’t have time to do, but found online), and beaches that aren’t as crowded as the ones in Seminyak and Kuta. 

Here is my photo journal from what we did do:   

   
On the first day, we caught the sunset at La Laguna, which is a beachfront bar and dining venue in Canggu. It’s a sprawling compound with areas for dining, lounging for drinks on bean bags or sitting at the bar. 

There’s some kind of farm there – I wouldn’t call it a petting zoo because it looked rather haphazard, with a bunch of (rather wild-looking) animals – turkeys, geese, ducks and one nervous brown rabbit that we spotted living among some discarded furniture. Bubu was rather fearless and tried to run after the ferocious-looking geese, which were taller than him, and I actually thought we might get attacked!  

   There’s a pretty lake of some kind in front of the beach.   The beach and sunset aren’t to be compared with the stunners you’ll see at sundown on Seminyak beach, but it’s pretty enough, and a lot less crowded.     

Snacks, sandwiches, juices, smoothies and cocktails – the food was decent. Service was appalling, hard to get any kind of attention probably because the place is quite spread out. Overall, La Laguna is rustic and charming enough, and worth a visit. The highlight for Bubu were all the ducks swimming and waddling around, and he had a blast running up and down the wooden deck leading to the beach  – great for families because there’s so much space!   

 

On day two, we started out early and checked out Milk & Madu for breakfast in the Canggu neighbourhood. There are actually loads of cool little cafes that we drove past that we would love to have checked out in the same area. I took down their names when we drove by: Coffee & Oven, Quince and Cinta Cafe (all along Jalan Rawa).  Spending only three days there, we didn’t get to try them all, so this is Milk & Madu: 

Dining takes place in an airy little pavilion which seats about 30-40, with outdoor tables that’s seat another 20 or so. There’s a good selection of salads and pastries at the counter, fresh jams and produce in jars for sale, and breakfast fare aplenty on the menu. 
We had the French toast, eggs and chorizo and the classic big breakfast – all good! They have high chairs, but only one or two – definitely not enough, as the place is very popular with families.  There were maybe two high chairs and we had to vie with other hawk-eyed parents all trying to score one!  

 (Score! We got a high chair!) 

Other than that, I do recommend this as a family-friendly place – great for a casual, no-fuss family meal.


  

After a hearty breakfast, we headed to Deus Ex Machina, Temple of Enthusiasm (which means “God in the Machine”- very far from  our initial guess that it meant two ex mechanics haha!)  

This custom motorcycle shop also offers surfboards, apparel and boardshorts for sale – apparently there’s serious street cred in their threads, so the cool kids in my office tell me – and there’s a courtyard behind where little ones can roam. There’s also a cafe here, but we were advised by a Canggu regular that’s it’s underwhelming fare, the advice was to check out Deus but not to eat there!   
  They make their own custom motorcycles and surfboards here, and if you wander into the courtyard behind the shop, you can see the craftsmen at work on the bikes and boards. Pretty cool, eh?   

After an activity-packed morning, we head back to our Canggu home-base (Villa Simona Oasis) for a couple hours of relaxation, where my friends were all still getting massages, and the littles all hopped into the pool!  


For lunch, we decided to make the 20 minute drive to Seminyak where we visit one of our favorite lunch hangouts, Sardine. This spot never gets old, I like to visit before dark as you’ll miss out on seeing the gorgeous scenery when night falls.  

They are well-known for their scenery and their seafood. Both equally top-notch!     




Again, this lovely eatery had no high chair, but Bubu was passed out anyway, so we just propped him up with cushions, and let him doze!  Jakey had his car seat (good move to bring car seat BTW, so you can put baby down once he’s sleeping. We brought his baby carrier as well but it’s kind of hard to relax and eat with baby in a sling -especially in warm, tropical weather where you’ll just both get really hot and sticky!) 

  

 Grumpy Bubu just woke from his nap…And hey, more ducks and geese – but Bubu was too drowsy to chase them, so it was Mummy that herded these into a corner for a photo! He finally perks up enough to enjoy the scenery at Sardine – so gorgeous!   

Next, we pop over to Potatohead to catch the sunset, where our contacts at Villa Simona helped us score two of the coveted beach beds at this super popula spot. The entrance of Potatohead looks like a coliseum made up of hundreds of rustic  wooden slats and shutters, and is always jaw-dropping for first-time visitors.   Truth be told, Potatohead is much more of a party spot than a family hangout. You won’t see a lot of families and under-twelves here, it has more of a cocktail party vibe, but we always like it because it has an amazing view of the most spectacular imaginable sunset, and a pool with a shallow wading area for babies. It can get very crowded here, but all is good if you can score a beach bed.   Jake is oblivious to the party atmosphere and quite happy chilling on his beach bed. Bubu and the boys enjoy fish and chips (one or the lads seems to think the table is tastier than the food) with the best spot on the beach to catch the incredible sunset.    IMG_7968-0

We wrap up our evening in Seminyak with dinner at Il Lido, which is located at the old Cafe Warisan. Lovely garden setting in a restaurant that seats about 80-100 diners, great service, faultless Italian food, and it was very empty when we dined there on a Saturday night which made it great for our big group with lots of kids (and they had many many high chairs- no fighting here!)  

Next morning, for breakfast, we asked Made, our villa driver, to take us somewhere cool in the Canggu neighbourhood (surprise us!) and he brought us to Old Man at Echo Beach.     

 Only good vibes here!  We loved this laid-back beachfront diner. Echo Beach is a black sand beach populated with locals, tattooed surfers and carefree bohemians who look like they’ve made Bali their home. It’s not very touristy, which was part of its charm for me. There was plenty of space for Bubu to run around and explore, breakfast was satisfying- we had the corn fritters, green eggs and ham and the classic breakfast. Discovering this little hideaway, with its colorful umbrellas and cheerful boho vibes in Canggu was one of the highlights of our trip.           

Craving some local fare for lunch, we decided to venture back to nearby Seminyak, scoring a table at Merah Putih.  

 Such a photogenic space, filled with gorgeous natural sunlight and high ‘vaulted’ ceilings, a  where traditional Balinese meets modern design. 

     
    
  Gorgeous setting and incredibly tasty local fare (even the nasi goreng topped with egg and keropok looks posh here), well worth paying the premium to dine in this glamorous, elegant air-conditioned hall with soaring ceilings. We will be back for sure! 

Post-lunch, the mommies escape for a couple hours to the Rob Peetoom Hair Spa for pampering… While we send the daddies and kinda back to the villa for pool-time and massages. Aaah… This is Bali life!

We wrap the night up with a final dinner at Meja Kawi, located on the second floor of Ku De Ta. This modern restaurant has a degustation menu featuring molecular gastronomy with Indonesian influences, and is relatively good value for this genre of cuisine.   

  

The final morning of our departure, we wake up early to brunch at Bungalow Cafe. It’s a hippie, boho cafe filled with books, home decor products and quaint curios. It was much smaller and darker than I expected, having first found this place based on glowing reviews online.  

    
  Across the street, is the Bungalow Living store, which was filled with gorgeous stuff for the home, I love the affordably-priced cushions, woven baskets and quirky knick-knacks all in gloriously pretty fabrics.  
 With that, it’s a wrap! We head straight to the airport from Bungalow Cafe. 

Bali has a spanking new airport, much better than the old one. Here’s an airport tip – there’s a viewing gallery next to the Haagen Dazs where you can actually see the planes speeding down the runway and lifting off. Bubu was delighted with this – I made videos for him on my iPhone, and he still comes to me every morning asking to watch those airplane videos!  

  
For ease of planning, I’ve added my 4 day itinerary and notes below, we didn’t get to do everything, of course – but I know we will be back before long! 
Day 1 

Arrive in Bali 

Stop by Be Chocolat to buy artisanal chocolate on way to Villa in Canggu

Lunch and Massage in Villa 

Check out Canggu Beach Club (water slides)  

530pm Sunset at La Laguna 

8 PM Dinner at Naughty Nuri’s, Smokehouse (best American style ribs) or La Finca Canggu dinner

Day 2

9am Breakfast at Milk and Madu

1030am Check out Deux ex Machina (motorcycle cafe and shop)

1pm Lunch – Warung Eropa 2 (best crispy duck in Bali) on Echo Beach or Sardine in Seminyak 

5pm Potatohead  – Swim, sunset drinks 

730pm – Dinner at Il Lido (Cafe Warisan) or restaurant Mamasan (Seminyak)

Day 3

9am – Brunch at Old Man, Echo Beach or Alila Seminyak or Starfish Bloo at W Hotel

11am – Kids and daddies head back to villa (Swim at villa or Water Slides at Canggu Beach Club) 

1pm – Lunch at Merah Putih 

330pm – Spa at Rob Peetoom Mummies – Seminyak shopping 

8pm Dinner at  Mejekawi, Kudeta level 2 

Day 4

9am – Breakfast and Shopping at Bungalow Cafe and Bungalow Living

Depart for Airport 

Making A Mini Me 

      I’ve always been curious about 3D digital printing, and when the opportunity came to make a Uu 3D miniature figurine of Bubu and myself, I jumped at the experience!     

       What is significantly different about the technology offered this time round vs a year ago when Uu figurines were first available, is that the creators have come up with the camera technology to capture fast-moving children (and pets)!     

      What to wear? They suggested that we come “as we are”, in clothes that we are comfortable in, or that represent us. I dressed Bubu in his favorite Whistle & Flute T and distressed denim shorts. I would have put his beloved gold winged shoes on him, but we were advised that the technology doesn’t capture metallic colors so well. 

       
      In the past, with less sophisticated technology, you would have to stand still for at least 2 minutes each time while they captured multiple images of you from around 6 different angles (about half an hour of standing and posing in all). This was to give them a 360 degree capture of their subject so they could channel it into the 3D printing.   

       I’m so stoked that Bubu was the first little one captured by this new technology by Uu, where it was difficult or impossible before to shoot babies and restless toddlers, the new setup which features 80 cameras in a 360 degree surround setup (The Rig) they needed only one second to capture my intrepid son!   

      The whole process was pretty painless. Took only minutes for each of us.  You go 15 minutes before your scheduled timing to check your hair and attire, step into the rig (a circle of cameras), they take 3 shots – and you’re done! 
       
      The images captured are then sent to Japan for printing and editing, where they choose the best of the three, and the figurines will be printed in high composite powder. Hence the figurines will have a clay-like texture and feel.  They even scale it to your proportionate heights, to capture the relative sizes between you and the little one.

       It takes 3 months to create the figurines out of Japan, and we wait excitedly!  

      Finally, they arrive in Singapore for the pop-up shop at Scotts Square!  

      Check out the Uu shop, you’ll see a row of local celebrities… And in the front window, there we are… Bubu and I! 

       
         

       

      This is the first time Bubu sees his mini figurine, and he is super excited when he sees it! He starts giggling and tapping on the glass. We can’t wait to be able to take home our mini figurines at the end of the exhibition! 

       

      The figurines can seem pricey, ranging from $900 to $2800 depending on sizes of the figurines, from 15cm to 35cm, but if you put it into perspective, it’s what one might (arguably) pay for a handbag! 

      These figurines do immortalize your little one (I actually wish I had been able to do this a year ago when he was at his roundest and chubbiest), and that’s truly priceless.  

      Uu is now at Scotts Square #03-14/15 from today till Nov 8 2015. 

      For more information, check out this super cute Uu video (Big U meet Small u) which also features Bubu in action: