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Testdrives: The Modern Road Trip with Chevrolet Orlando

auto, Disney, GEAR, ROAM, USA By September 12, 2011 Tags: , , , , , 6 Comments

So I was invited on this amazing trip that was sponsored by General Motors and included my whole family.  We flew to Orlando, stayed in a stunning home, saw various Orlando attractions and drove a Chevrolet Orlando from Florida to Toronto in the span of 3 days.  The only part I was worried about was the long drive with the kids.  My husband is injured and unable to drive, so I was on the hook for it all.  I was shocked at how enjoyable it was.  It was the quintessential Modern Road Trip.

Not only did we love the car, but the technology that was placed in the vehicle enhanced the trip to an incredible degree.   The gadgets helped endlessly with ‘Are we there yet?’, fighting in the backseat and getting lost.  The only issue was that it was a bit too easy.  Too comfy.  Compared to old-school road trips, where part of the fun is getting lost and having a good old-fashioned family feud about whose fault it was, we were all blissful.  Next time we’d research a few fun things to do off the beaten track and incorporate tech-free hours.  It never really occurred to us that the point of a road trip is that you see things along the way – not just your end destination.  Channeling the movie ‘Cars‘: “All you see on the interstate is the interstate”.  That being said… for the hours you have to put in getting from point A to point B… here’s what got us through.

Components of the Modern Roadtrip:

1.  iPads.  Each child in the back of the car was given an iPad and a credit for iTunes.  And here I was thinking that my next vehicle had to have AV installed.  For the cost of a couple of first-generation iPads and back-of-the-seat attachments, the kids can look at movies as well as find the golden eggs in Angry Birds.  That’s modern.  (Maybe not great parenting but modern all the same).

2.  OnStar – Oh WOW – where have I been?  I feel so secure and I loved talking to a real person.  OnStar got us to Disney and home, though I am so bad at paying attention, my hubby still had to remind me to change lanes.  After a few days I realized that you could also dial friends and family.  I think that’s when my driving deteriorated.

3.  MiFi: Rogers MiFi created a hotspot in the car so that laptops and iPads could be connected to the internet.  If I hadn’t been driving I would have been seriously geeking out…

4.   Sirius XM radio – we made a pact.  If I drive I got to listen to Broadway the whole time..  And Martha Stewart, and favourites from Y2K.  (I was actually nice and changed the channel once in a while).  But I still sang at the top of my lungs as the Appalacian Mountains whisked by.

5.  The backup sensor.  As a tech innovation I have to mention it.  Great tool – especially when someone walks unexpectedly behind the car.  I’ve driven a few cars with video backup and I like the simple beep better.  Less visual distraction.

6.  The USB hookup.  iPods can be connected directly to the car, and you are able to see your whole playlist on the stereo controls.  The best?  There’s a hidden compartment for the music player so you don’t even have to worry about it being stolen when you leave the car.  (Or look at cords all the time).

7.  The fold-down seats.  Popping carseats in and out was super-easy, and all seats in the back folded down flat with tremendous ease.  You don’t even have to jimmy the headrests off – they duck down when you pull the lever.  Because of our fun accommodations as we drove through Savannah and West Virginia, we didn’t actually sleep in the car, but with this feature, you could create a campout in the back.  Think of all of the fun you could have as a family hangin’ in the trunk.

Part of the success of the trip was the vehicle itself.  I haven’t been asked to write anything about it, but I was so impressed that I feel like gushing.  For the past few years we have been test driving BMWs, Land Rovers, Porsches and lots of family vehicles.  (Well, expensive family vehicles.)  We’re starting to develop a pretty clear idea of essentials for busy moms and families.  In terms of the Chevrolet Orlando, we gave it a high score.  Here’s why:

1.  Carseats clipped in easily.
2.  Good visibility and windows that were large.
3.  The backup sensor (we’re usually pretty tired).
4.  Not only can the stroller get into the trunk with ease, but there was a ton of room for our shopping after a trip to Target.  (Much room needed, believe me).
5.  You can you see the kids in the back seat (the Orlando has a childview mirror)
6.  7 seats with the option of putting 6 up so that there is still storage in the trunk.
7.  Don’t laugh.  It’s important.  I didn’t break a nail or two when opening the driver door quickly.  The handle is long-nail-friendly.
8.  The technology was amazing – electrical ports front and back, and USB.
9.  Drink holders in the armrest in the back for the kids.
10.  Automatically locks when you put the car in drive.
11. Windshield wipers covered a big surface area.
12.  OnStar handsfree calling and Navigation – knowing where you’re going reduces stress.
13.  Low back windows in order to increase kids’ visibility – it keeps them entertained.
14.  Don’t laugh again.  I liked the look of the car.  I want a friendly-looking beast of a vehicle.
15.  I loved the driver’s armrest.
16.  Ease of cruise control rocked – right on the steering wheel.
17. All seatbelt clips had fabric around them which prevented mini lego pieces (and Cheerios, and smarties… ) falling into Neverland (excuse the Disney reference).
18.  The material of the seats seems totally durable and dried really well when we soaked it.  With rainwater.  Stop snickering.
19.  The seats go very high up for short/vertically challenged people.
20.  Directional compass right on console is so helpful for those of us who are navigationally impaired.
21.  Easily cleanable cockpit without many places for dust and schmutz to collect.
22.  You can put a drink in each of the doors.
23.  You can open the trunk hatch with one hand when you’re carrying a baby as well as groceries.
24.  The driver’s seat goes really far back in case you need to use the car as a nursing/feeding place.
25.  Especially with seats 6 and 7 down, the back makes a great diaper change area.

Mom stuff that’s crucial – wouldn’t you agree?  In all, we loved the car and also the idea of a family roadtrip.  We became closer as a family and saw areas of North America that we have only ever heard about.  Now, if only we could find the rest of those Golden Eggs.

Disclosure: UrbanMommies was provided air and car travel, accommodation, meals and one day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.  For more insights, we Tweeted under the hashtag #chevyorlando.


Disney World, Orlando Florida

Disney, ROAM By September 12, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , 1 Comment

After an incredible trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, I feel super-connected to my family and am flooded with memories and images that I will cherish for a very long time.  The kids gave up the bunks for their own king bed together.  They held hands as they slept.  The grins and shyness at meeting the ‘real’ Woody and Jessie are etched into my consciousness.  We enjoyed every minute.  We felt like great parents, and all of the bits of good behaviour and thankfulness made us feel as if we’ve done a bang-up job for the past few years.  (Especially when we left a store at the end of each ride empty-handed and no meltdown occurred).

Both of our boys (3 and 5) were transfixed with the rides, the performances that popped up out of nowhere, the Jedi training Academy, and the plentitude of characters that were wandering around.  I was very impressed with how many opportunities there were for photos with Disney stars.

That being said, I had already booked a lunch with the Disney princesses (the last time I came, I was 8 and I remember that being the only way one could see characters).  We jumped on a boat from Hollywood Studios to Epcot, and raced to lunch.  I should mention that my husband is currently in a wheelchair (torn achilles tendon) and I pushed him (usually with the kids on his lap) around for hours.  When we got to Akershus (Norway Pavillion) I was soaked with the 90 degree heat but the lunch (and the air conditioning) was out of this world.  Apparently Johnny Depp’s fav restaurant at Disney (he donated his red throne from Pirates of the Carribean), we were whisked into a castle only to meet Belle (in the gold gown) at the front.  Needless to say, my 5 year old son dove for cover.  Not because he’s against girly things (pink is his favourite colour) but because he was so taken by her princess beauty that shyness overwhelmed him (after just having done a rollercoaster and conquered the dark side of the force).  The little one, incidentally, was asleep in the wheelchair, and missed every princess.  My husband and I proudly have an 8 x 10 of he, I, and Belle (me looking like the soaked-in-sweat third wheel).  Lunch was exquisite, the service was even better, we (well not my shy son or the asleep one) met all 5 Disney princesses and the chef will be emailing me recipes of my favourite dishes – not because they even knew I was a writer, but because that’s what they do.  Cool.

In all 4 Disney parks we experienced customer service like I’ve never seen.  You know.. it’s super expensive for a family to come to Disney (and the Park didn’t sponsor me in any way, by the way).  But throughout our day, I didn’t have one single criticism of the place.  No chips in any paint.  Perfect smiles from every server, security person and vendor.  The ‘Magical’ experience for every family seems to be taken to heart by all Disney personnel (or ‘cast’ as they call them.)  Many families save for a lifetime to allow their kids to experience Disney, and you know, I think Walt Disney World does such a good job that all of the saving is totally worth it.  The key, though?  Good parenting.  After every ride, everywhere you turn, there is stuff to buy.  Stuff that kids really want (Disney does their homework on desirable kitch).  I overheard one mom screaming at her child in the ladies’ room for asking for more toys, and witnessed so many tantrums.  Most people would say: ‘prepare the kids’.  ‘Know what you’re getting into before you go and figure out how you will handle it.’  But really?  How are you supposed to prepare?  Disney is like no experience on earth.  Just set some boundaries, stick to your guns, and know that this experience and the sensory overload is probably just as overwhelming and difficult to manage for your children as it is for you.

One piece of large crowded areas that always scares me is safety.  The kids have business cards in their shoes and know their names and numbers, but I still wasn’t relaxed.  I mentioned lost children to the lady at the will call booth, and she handed over shiny buttons sporting ‘My First time at Disney’, on which I wrote all info on the back with a sharpie marker.  (Several employees throughout the day picked up on the buttons and talked to the kids about it being their first time).  Still…. what if (gasp) some psycho-crazy nabbed them and easily disposed of the buttons and cards.  (I also wrote on their arms with pen but it was so hot the sweat got rid of it within an hour).  So I conjured up an idea.  Henna Tattoos.  Can I patent that? I think I might be brilliant.

A highlight of my day at Hollywood Studios was the Muppet 3D experience.  It is so comforting to know that the stuff I watched every Sunday when I grew up still goes strong.  And it has also evolved.  The 3D experience transposed on Kermit and gang was so warm and current.  And the kids liked it as much as the new stuff – Cars, the Little Mermaid, or anything else.

At both Epcot (for obvious reasons) and the Magic Kingdom, I was so impressed on the inclusion of different cultures and esthetics into the park.  The catch?  A parent must choose to go to these places over the roller coasters and help children understand (yes, I was the obnoxious one on ‘It’s a Small World’ teaching about continents) but the learning opportunities are certainly there, provided by Disney.

Magic Kingdom is all about tradition – an American tradition, a cultural icon that is Disney – and there is no alcohol at the Magic Kingdom.  While it would be nice at times (ahem) to have a glass of wine after the “why can’t I get the 3 foot Buzz Lightyear temper tantrum”, it is also incredible.  I’m sure more money could be made if they sold liquor, but the party atmosphere didn’t suffer a bit, and I am sure parents were more attentive and tuned in to their kids without the late afternoon beer skin.  Good job, Disney, on being a role model.  That’s one lesson I’m certainly taking home.

In all, we have come back with so many family memories.  My goal for the year is to incorporate as much magic into our daily lives as possible – Magic a la Disney.

top 10 travel destinations for kids

Top 10 Travel Destinations for Kids

Disney, International, ROAM, USA By May 16, 2011 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 1 Comment

Once you have kids, the days of stolen mini-breaks with your honey are pretty much gone, unless you have a great nanny or very forbearing parents nearby! Traveling with a family can be tricky and expensive, but it is possible to enjoy a vacation with the kids; in fact, sometimes it’s even more fun than vacationing alone with your partner…although it is a different kind of “fun!” Here are the top 10 travel destinations for kids.