I’m so pleased to share this post from Stacey – she and her family just returned from their first family vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I was delighted to help her book their first trip with their 8-month-old daughter and am even more delighted at how wonderfully it went! Read on for Stacey’s great tips and observations, and get in touch if you’re ready to plan your first trip with baby!
The Flight: We flew direct from Ottawa with Sunwing. We upgraded to Elite Plus which gave us an extra 6 inches of leg room, afforded us an extra 10 kg baggage allowance (30kg instead of the standard 20kg), and gave us priority check-in at the airport; yay for no line-ups! In my opinion these three “perks” were well worth the cost of the upgrade. A lap infant takes up more room than I realized and we took full advantage of our extra baggage allowance.
Our flight was supposed to depart at 3:30pm but upon arrival at the airport we learned it was delayed 3 hours (and later an additional 2). We checked our bags at the counter and took the baby back home for a proper nap before heading back.
Back at the airport, we went through security and then watched the departures monitor as our departure time inched forward little by little. In the end, we were delayed about 5 hours in total. Needless to say, the Little Miss was exhausted by the time we boarded.
Baby was overstimulated and fussy and therefore didn’t want to fall a sleep on the flight, despite it being way past her bedtime. We were able to keep her fairly content by standing, sitting, bouncing, singing, pointing out new things, etc. We also brought a few small new toys for her to play with. They entertained her for only a short time, but I’m still glad we brought them.
We packed an arsenal of disinfectant wipes and wiped down everything within her reach as soon as we boarded (and boy did she reach!).
Little Miss finally passed out from sheer exhaustion at around the 3 1/2 hour mark and slept for about 45 mins, long enough that when she woke up there wasn’t too much left of the 5 hour flight. The flight was anything but relaxing, but we hadn’t expected it to be.
One thing I hadn’t planned on was not being allowed to breastfeed during take-off and landing to help with baby’s ears. I had counted on this after having read countless trip reports on travelling with a baby, so I was surprised when they told me I had to hold her against me in the “burping” position. I suppose it makes sense, but I do think her ears bothered her during take-off and landing, particularly on the way home.
The flight home was far less eventful. There was a 1 1/2 hour delay but they were able to shave some time off the flight itself so we only arrived home an hour late. Aside from the crying during take-off (and boy did she cry), Little Miss slept the whole way…on me. No pee breaks for Mommy, but it was worth it to have a quiet, sleeping baby. For that return flight, despite having paid for the seats with more leg room, I discovered a few empty rows near the back of the plane after take-off, so I went back and chose a row, lifted all the arm rests and cozzied up as best I could for the long haul. My husband checked on us often and helped me with my meal so that the baby could keep sleeping. After all, happy baby, happy parents! Tip: I learned quickly to keep my seatbelt buckled at all times so as not to risk waking a sleeping baby when the seatbelt sign comes on and the flight attendants come around to make you buckle up!
Toward the end of the flight I moved back up to my seat in the 3rd row so that we could be first off the aircraft and avoid the line-up at customs. *Something to consider if you’re flying with a lap infant: on Sunwing and on most aircraft the armrests don’t lift up in the first row (and on the Sunwing 737 aircraft the first row on the right hand side of the plane is actually labelled “row 2”).
I changed baby’s diaper once on the plane. I used the change table in the bathroom – doable but a bit of a challenge to fold down and disinfect one-handed while holding baby (those bathrooms are so disgusting, I couldn’t bring myself not to wipe down whatever she could reach). If I were to do it again I’d have my husband hold her while I set up/wiped down the change station, or potentially even use an empty row of seats if that were an option.
Gear: We plan to travel often with our little one so these purchases made sense for us.
For starters, we brought a car seat just in case we had to ride in anything other than a bus in Mexico. We bought the Cosco Scenera on sale specifically for travelling so as not to risk damaging our Britax, and we practiced installing and removing it at home before the trip. We packed it in a duffle bag. We didn’t end up having to use it but it gave me great peace of mind.
We also decided to buy an UPPAbaby G-luxe umbrella stroller specifically for travel; it was worth every penny and we found ourselves singing its praises several times on this trip, starting at the airport. We splurged on the G-Luxe travel bag as well. We kept the stroller with us until we boarded the plane and then put it in its protective bag and gate checked it. The bag probably wasn’t necessary but I liked knowing that if the stroller was damaged on the aircraft while in the bag, UPPAbaby would fix/replace it free of charge. It took all of 30 seconds, if that, to get the G-Luxe in and out of the bag and while not in use it fit into the basket under the stroller. The sun shade on this stroller is superb and we love that the seat back reclines.
We also tucked a small soft-structured baby carrier (the Beco Butterfly II) into our carry-on bag. This particular carrier can be used front and back, and can also be rolled up and clipped around your waist like a fanny pack. If you wear the “fanny pack” to the side, your baby can sit on it and you can carry her on your hip without having to use any muscle power – handy if you’re standing around with an antsy baby but don’t want to go so far as to strap them into the carrier. We found the front-carry option particularly handy upon arrival at the airport in Mexico at 2:00am when baby was tired and fussy and just wanted to be held. It allowed us both to be hands-free so we could collect and carry/drag/push all our bags and gear.
While you can hardly call it “gear”, Sippin’ Spouts deserve a mention here as they turned out to be the most used items on our trip. They are a pair of different sized sippy cup-type nozzles that screw on to water bottles so your baby can stay hydrated on the go. Fantastic and inexpensive.
Even less expensive but equally handy were the plethora of large ziplock bags we brought. They held everything from snacks to wet bathing suits and they were especially handy for toting diapers, wipes, and bum cream around inside a sandy beach bag.
The Resort: The Now Amber, located 10-15 mins from the airport, was nothing short of excellent. Beautiful, modern, spotless and service-oriented. This place has it all.
When we arrived at 2:30am, check-in was quick and painless. No bracelets, no fuss, no muss.
There were a few hiccups when we got to our room, the biggest one being no crib. Of less immediate importance, the electronic safe wasn’t working and there was no remote for the TV. We called the front desk and within minutes there was someone there setting up the crib, someone else delivering the TV remote and a third person repairing the safe. We were in bed, lights out and snoring by 3:30am. Very impressed.
The only other hiccup, though not much of an issue for us, seemed to be the unpredictability of the housekeeping. Some guests said it was 5:00pm before their room was cleaned. On our first day they showed up at 2:00pm. We simply asked if our room could be cleaned earlier so that we could come back to the room with the baby to nap in the afternoon and they were very accommodating. Our room was cleaned before noon every day and only once did we need to prompt them.
Guest rooms were beautiful and very spacious, and offered free (thats right, free!) in-room calling to Canada and the U.S., no strings attached. The hotel even had its own app you could download where you could check out the day’s activities, review your room charges, and even transfer your room phone in order to place and receive calls from your mobile device for free. Very impressive.
Rooms were equipped with fully stocked mini-bars, including 4 bottles of water daily. We drink a lot of water and on more than one occasion called down to ask for 10 bottles to get us through the day. It was never an issue. Bottles of water were also readily available at all the resort’s bars.
The bathroom in our hotel room was huge and had a separate tub and large walk-in shower with a bench seat and an adjustable shower head that you could remove and hold to rinse off. We found this to be the easiest way to bathe the baby as she tries to drink the bath water at home and we were not willing to risk her getting a mouthful of water down there. It was a two-person job but it did the trick.
There is a buffet and several a la carte restaurants on the property, none of which require advance reservations. Some restaurants are adults only, but there are always multiple options for families for dinner. And we were always offered a high chair, although we usually just left baby in the stroller as she seemed content. Don’t mess with a good thing, right? And let’s not forget the 24 hour room service, which turned out to be our friend on more than one occasion. After a day of adventure off the resort it hardly seemed fair to ask a tired 8 month old to then sit through dinner. Room service has a 30 minute guarantee, which they actually adhere to (shocking, I know!) and which is so much appreciated when you need the food to get there in a jiffy so that you can get a tired baby to bed without interruptions.
Our munchkin was a bit young for the kids’ “Explorer Club” but it looked great. They had tons of activities and a fantastic looking, well shaded kids area with all the very best equipment. I noticed that they even had a program where you could drop your little ones off for dinner and a movie while you enjoy a Mommy/Daddy dinner date. Their teen area (the name escapes me) had rave reviews as well. It was basically a teenager’s hangout paradise, with all the latest gadgets.
The hotel grounds are beautiful and grand, yet the property is small enough that you are never too far from your room; much appreciated with baby in tow. There are 3 pools and a hot tub on the property. The kid’s pool is complete with a water slide, and the beach front pool has a swim up bar for thirsty mommies and daddies. Pool and beach-side drink/food service was great. The pools were kept very clean and we saw technicians there daily, both day and evening, checking to ensure optimal quality of the pool water.
Check-out at the hotel was very simple. Nothing to sign, no towel cards to turn in or bracelets to cut off. Simply turn in your keys and away you go. Check out was at noon but our airport transfer was at 6:30pm and for $10/hour we were able to keep our room until we left. It was well worth it to have a place for baby to nap and to wash the sand and sunscreen off before the trek home.
Puerto Vallarta: A beautiful city that is very easy to get around both walking and by bus (which you catch on the main street outside the hotel). Taxis are also plentiful and inexpensive but we didn’t want to be bothered installing and then dragging around the car seat (and weren’t comfortable riding in a cab with the baby on our laps, although it seems to be commonly done down there) so we walked and took the bus everywhere. Hold on *tightly* if you’re trying out the bus. It’s quite a ride.
The downtown area and beautiful seaside “malecon” (boardwalk) is about a 20-25 minute walk from the hotel. Watch your step though! The roads and sidewalks tend to want to jump up and bite you. Walk all the way south along the Malecon until it ends (around Los Muertos Beach) and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Old Vallarta, with fabulous restaurants and artisan shops abound.
Just outside the hotel is a local department store called Coppel that is great in a pinch if you need clothing or baby gear. Prices are pretty well the same as North America. Down the street about a 5 minute walk is a WalMart-esque store called Mega that has a larger selection and brands that you’re more likely to recognize (e.g. Pampers), not to mention they sell groceries and alcohol.
All in all, our first trip with baby could not have gone better and as a result we’re already planning our next adventure. The key for us was learning to go with the flow, which I’ll admit was a bit of a struggle at times. But we kept reminding each other of the best two pieces of first-time baby travel advice that we received:
1. Relax! Babies feel your stress. If you’re fretting about the flight, baby will know. Of course, do whatever you can to keep baby happy in the air, but if a meltdown ensues and the other passengers are giving you the stink-eye, remember that you paid for your ticket just the same as they did and try to roll with the punches. It wont last forever; and
2. This vacation will not be like your pre-baby vacations where you had the freedom to come and go as it pleased you. Go with baby’s flow, accept the slower pace and embrace it, because the moment you do it all gets easier.