Last month we ventured to Los Angeles for our first long distance vacation with Lennon. We were excited for some sun and relaxation and even more excited that my mom and sister were joining us (ahem babysitters ahem). Perry and I have been to Los Angeles on multiple occasions (3 times for me and 4 for Perry) as has my sister, Melina so the great thing about this is there wasn't much planning involved and we didn't feel like we needed to run around to see every attraction that LA has to offer. My mom and dad visited in the 1980s for their honeymoon so it had been a long time for her but she was not fussed about what we did and was just happy to not be sat at a desk. Being a place we had already visited and having the extra hands made LA a great first choice for our first family trip. Here's how it went down!
After surviving Lennon's first plane ride (or more so our first plane ride with a baby in tow), we took a courtesy shuttle to Payless Car Rental to rent a car. Having read the reviews, we were anticipating a long line and a long line is what we arrived to. We couldn't complain though with the ridiculously cheap rate of . We waited about 45 minutes to see an agent that then directed us to a location in the parking lot to pick out a car of our choice. There were no cars left in the category we selected so we got to pick one from the next level (which worked out in our favor as we had a LOT of baggage). Despite having 1.5 stars out of a possible 5, the staff does really try their best and the rates are unbeatable! (An aside: what is even more unbeatable? It cost us only $27.50 to fill up at the end of the trip....5 days of driving all over LA! I couldn't believe it)!
The one stressful thing there was about planning this trip was the accommodations. We were trying to keep spending to a minimum but the exchange rate was not improving. When Perry and I visited in 2013, we stayed in the Hollywood Downtowner Inn, a budget hotel/motel that was in a very convenient location and had everything we needed at a price that didn't break the bank (and included breakfast on top of that). We booked a room at the same hotel for a nominal price of $475 US and since there would be 4 of us, that worked out to a price that fit the budget. We contemplated booking two rooms but with the exchange rate being the way it was, we thought we would just keep the one room, especially since we weren't planning on spending much time in our room. My one concern was how Lennon's bedtime would work out, especially since there wasn't another room to put him in. We looked at booking a room at Embassy Suites which we have stayed at plenty of times before and would have worked well as the rooms offer a living room and bedroom and would allow us to put him to sleep in the bedroom while we unwinded in the living room. The rates were much more though and we figured we could spend that money elsewhere (and seeing as we have a 5 week trip to Europe booked for the upcoming month, it made sense to us to not prioritize staying in a pricier hotel). We called the Hollywood Downtowner Inn to see if they had a family suite and they mentioned they had something in the works but would not be ready for our arrival. I called a few days before as well to see if the suite was ready but the representative I spoke with was a bit vague. We brought along the playpen and thought we could set it up in the kitchenette and move it to the room when we would go to bed or just bring him into bed with us when we went to bed. We had no idea how it would work and just thought we would play it by ear. It had been a long day and we were exhausted so we were really looking forward to getting some rest.
We finally arrived to the hotel at about 9:30pm - way past Lennon's 7 o'clock bedtime - and the lady at front desk had the best news for us after such a long day of travel: we had been upgraded to a suite! I was so happy, I could have kissed her! They had a suite after all but it is not bookable online as sometimes they rent it out long term. The suite had two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a bathroom. It was basic but just what we needed as we could put Lennon to sleep in our room and unwind in the room my mom and sister were sharing. We were very excited about this and it just made our day. We slept VERY well and when we awoke the next morning: time to explore LA!
Our first full day included a stop to the airport to pick up my sister (she took a different flight due to work obligations). Since the airport was close to the coast, we headed to Venice Beach for a stroll and some people watching. I don't find Venice Beach to be anything that spectacular but it seems like a must do when in LA. I would have loved to rent a bike and go for a bike ride but we weren't in a situation to do that yet. We watched some street performers, enjoyed the blue skies and palm trees and browsed the plethora of tourist shops.
Next up was the "nearby" (as far as LA is concerned) Santa Monica. We always enjoy our visits to Santa Monica. We had intentions of walking the pier but we spent a lot of time eating a late lunch by which point our parking was about to expire so all our time was spent on the Third Street Promenade with the intention of returning to Santa Monica later in the week for that mandatory walk on the pier. We made a quick stop to Diddy Riese for some delectable cookies and ice cream sandwiches on the way home and then we called it a night. Diddy Riese is definitely worth the visit, even if its not anywhere nearby!
The next day was spent at Universal Studios, but that deserves its own blog post (coming soon).
Our third full day was spent at The Farmers Market and The Grove shopping centre followed by a drive around Beverley Hills to gawk at the beautiful homes.
Day 4 - our last full day in LA - was spent touring cemeteries where some notable Hollywood stars are laid to rest. The cemeteries were beautiful and a real contrast from the hustle and bustle of LA. We first stopped at Hollywood Forever cemetery as it was very close to our hotel. The information center in the cemetery sells maps showing who is buried where. There are a LOT of Hollywood greats buried here, many from before our time but there were some very recent burial such as Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, Mickey Rooney and even a tribute to Toto, the dog from the "Wizard of Oz".
We then headed to Forest Lawn Memorial Park which is massive in comparison to Hollywood Forever. There is no map indicating who is buried where but we followed a very detailed "tour" from Seeing Stars to see some resting places. The one that we were most interested in seeing was Michael Jackson's but he is buried in a highly secured area in a part of a the Great Mausoleum that is not open to the public. So we had to settle for being in the same building as him. The cemeteries, as morbid as some may think them to be, were actually a nice change from the go go go of LA and they really were beautiful!
Following the two cemeteries, we headed back to Santa Monica for a feast at the Cheesecake Factory, a walk on the pier, and a return to Cheesecake Factory to get some cheesecake to go. Yes, out of all the places we could have dined at in LA, we chose the Cheesecake Factory. We are big fans and we don't have CF in Canada so for us it was a must! Lennon also needed his first Cheesecake Factory experience! We think he enjoyed it, don't you?
Santa Monica pier is somewhere we have been every time we have traveled to LA. Every trip has included the same photo ops: the Bubba Gump/Forrest Gump bench, the Route 66 sign, the pier, the welcome sign, the ferris wheel, amongst others. I recommend it for some good 'ol Americana fun, people watching, a scenic stroll and a nice sunset!
Our last official day, we had a flight back home at 8pm so this allowed for one last stop (it would have allowed for many more if we didn't have a baby as everything takes soooo much longer but no complaints)! We headed to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We have been to the Walk of Fame every previous trip as well and weren't that interested in returning this time but there was one star we had to visit, and we did so on our way to the airport for a little photo shoot (of which the photos have not been edited or cropped).
We just couldn't resist! We also got some family photos in while we were at it:
It seems to be that Ringo is Lennon's fave!
And that was our last stop before heading to the airport to fly back home! It was a fun 5ish days. It took forever to get going in the mornings (very rarely did we leave the hotel before 11am) but once we got going, we had a lot of fun exploring LA. Huge thanks to Yiayia and Auntie Melina for all their help! It really made things so much easier.
If I could give any tips for a first trip with baby, it would be to go somewhere you have been before, are familiar with, or somewhere that doesn't involve a lot of planning or running around to see lots of attractions and to go somewhere where there may be relatives (or invite along a family member or friend)...the extra hands, if you can get them, make a huge difference, especially if you plan on doing lots of excursions and running around. Of course, this is just from my own experience, but if you get overwhelmed with too much family or extra hands, there are trips that are easier than others (I imagine an all inclusive resort would be amazing as a first trip!)
Now to see how we get on in Europe! Check back soon for our day at Universal Studios and to see how we get on in Europe!
The hubby and I definitely have a travel bug and have traveled extensively. I am always browsing the internet to look for deals to wherever and prior to having a baby, I would often book trips spontaneously, sometimes without even getting Perry's approval ("oh hi hunny, how was your day? Guess what? I booked us a trip to Miami to see Paul McCartney"). I have not been so inclined to be spontaneous like this with a baby but, earlier this year, when I received an email notifying me of a $65 return flight (all in) to Los Angeles from Vancouver, I could not pass this up! We want our offspring to be worldly and well traveled and this would be a good start! We also have a long journey to Europe booked for the end of this month and I thought this would make great practice! The $65 deal was actually a mistake fare that was luckily honored by the airline (Delta partnered withWestJet), even though I am pretty sure they do not make money on this as the base fare was $0 and the taxes and airport fees were $65. Thanks Delta and WestJet! We got my mom and sister on board (literally and figuratively) and then all we had to do was wait for April, pack and hop on a plane! Oh, if only it was so simple with a baby!
I sought the advice from various moms that had flown with a baby and also browsed various mommy groups on social media for tips on how to have a successful flight and I felt pretty prepared and relaxed about the idea. I had read and reviewed the airline's policies and guidelines on traveling with an infant and I had made a "to-do" and "to-pack" list months before and added to it as I remembered things I would need. I had set aside Lennon's clothes suitable for the warm California weather months in advance and did the same with Perry's and I's closer to our departure date. The packing was a lot easier than expected. If anything, the thing I was most worried about was the plane ride and making sure I had everything necessary for every possible situation. It helped to remind myself that Lennon can easily be calmed by nursing him but I still packed a whole lot of extras, just in case: extra clothes in case of a poop explosion, a couple of blankets in case he was cold, rattles, books and other toys, Baby Banz noise cancellation headphones, the Ergobaby carrier, soothers and so on. The days of carrying on a book, an iPod and some snacks were seemingly over!
Everything was packed the night before our flight except for the toiletries we needed to use in the morning. Just before Lennon's bedtime, we were changing the sheet on his crib while he played on our bed (about two feet from the crib) with some toys...I think you can see where this is going...He did a double roll and unfortunately rolled off the bed. This was his first big "bonk" and we of course felt terrible and like the worst parents in the world. A little nursing went a long way and he was calmed down in no time. We weren't too concerned as he had calmed down and didn't have any serious symptoms but I felt nervous about flying and to a different country, just in case there was anything serious that we didn't notice. So the next morning, our doctor had an available appointment and we luckily had time to visit as our flight wasn't until 4pm. Prior to the doctor's appointment, we decided to head to the laundromat to wash the cloth diapers so that they wouldn't sit in the diaper pail for another 5 days. We then saw the doctor, who wasn't concerned at all and confirmed that Lennon was fine (and reassured us that we weren't terrible parents). My sister was on an outbound flight the next day but we had to go pick my mom up in Richmond (about 20 minutes away). We made a stop to Whole Foods to pick up some non-toxic baby sunscreen and to London Drugs to pick up a lens cap for my camera (seriously, Canon needs to start having strings attached to their lens caps), and THEN once we picked my mom up, we stopped to exchange some money in order to avoid the terrible rates and fees that are usually associated with currency exchanges at airports. We had done well up til this point but on the short drive to the airport, Lennon started to get fussy and things started to get a bit hectic!
We were hoping to have three hours at the airport but only had about 2.5. Perry dropped us off along the curb of US departures with all our baggage...and boy did we have a lot of baggage! He then went to park the car and met us at the check in counter. We had a LOT of stuff: car seat, stroller, breast pump, diaper bag, play pen (for Lennon to sleep in as our hotel didn't have a crib), a carry on backpack for Perry, 2 suitcases to check in...all for a 5 night journey! We were going to leave the car seat in Vancouver and rent one from the car rental company in LA as we were aware that with WestJet, we could check in two baby items at no cost and we already had a stroller and playpen. After enquiring with the extremely helpful Greg at the Westjet self check in kiosks , he assured us that there wouldn't be a charge as we were bringing the stroller to the gate with us and therefore it is considered a "gate check", which I guess is different than checking it in at check-in! We were then helped by Gavin who weighed our suitcases and checked to make sure we had the right amount of baggage but then he brought to our attention that Perry, being a British citizen, requires an electronic visa waiver for the states but his had expired and he needed to apply for a new one! This added about 15 minutes to our check in process but it had to be done. Finally, the check in was complete and we were very pleased with our first experience with WestJet! Now we had to pass through security and board the plane, right? I wish!
Vancouver International Airport is a very nice looking and clean airport. It has been voted one of the top airports in the world on multiple occasions but the one thing I do not like about it is the number of steps involved when flying to the U S of A. You can't simply drop your luggage off when you check in, you need to take the luggage to a drop off area which is down the hall from the check in counter. You then need to go through the security checkpoint. Lennon was starting to get fussy again at this point and I was getting a bit stressed because of the time and because there seemed to be a long line for the security clearance. One of the security officers noticed that he was getting fussy and luckily allowed us to enter the priority line. This helped a great deal, but what didn't help is that both Perry AND Lennon had been selected randomly for in depth screening. This doesn't usually take a lot of extra time but this added step did add to the already lengthy process of reaching our gate! I had to sit down for a moment as I felt I was going to have a panic attack and poor Lennon could sense that this was a stressful situation so I whipped out the food source and nursed him before continuing to yet another step...
When traveling to the United States via YVR, you clear customs in Vancouver, not your final destination. This is great because when you arrive at your destination in the states, you only need to pick up your baggage (if you have anything checked in) and be on your way. However, it is a step that can easily make things stressful, especially when traveling with young ones and just want to get to your gate (or head to the nearest lounge to chug a glass of wine). Luckily it went quicker than it used to as they now have automated machines to speed up the process (an aside: I used to work at the airport) but it just adds to the already lengthy process when flying to the United States from YVR.
So we had to check in, then take our luggage to the drop off area, then clear security, then clear customs. The one regret I have is that we didn't have Lennon in the carrier. I had the carrier with me but I assumed that Lennon would need to be seen for both the security and customs clearances so we just had him out and took turns holding him. I then saw some other parents carrying their babies and not needing to take them out. I now know for next time that we can carry him (although different airports may have different rules). This will makes things so much easier and also allow him to have a nap (as his afternoon nap was skipped due to the check in process).
We FINALLY got to our gate and our fellow passengers were already being checked in. I needed to settle down so we hurried over to a nearby wine bar and downed a glass of wine (I just couldn't wait until the beverage service on board). Oh yeah and we also changed Lennon's diaper. It was advised by many parents to change the diaper before boarding the plane (especially if a short flight) as the change tables in the airplane bathrooms are tiny (you can imagine how tiny when thinking of how small airplane bathrooms are) and flight attendants do not allow you to change a diaper on the seats or floor due to hygiene reasons.
I have already written so much about baby's first flight...and I haven't even gotten to the part where we were on the plane! This says a lot! We finally got to the gate...the last party to arrive - oops! But this meant less time spent on the plane! We got into our seats and I attempted to nurse Lennon during the take off which was recommended by most if not all moms I spoke to as it helps with the change in cabin pressure. I succeeded somewhat but he was just too curious, excited and distracted by this new environment to want to nurse. He just wanted to keep peeking out to look around and be social with the other passengers (as you can see in the photos below).
Luckily his ears weren't affected by the change in air pressure and this could have been due to the Baby Banz headphones we packed. On our return flight, we didn't have the headphones on him after take off but nearing the end of the flight, he made a few cries while sleeping in my arms and when I noticed my ears pop, I realized we were beginning to descend and that the cabin pressure was changing so we popped the headphones on and he didn't get upset again after that. Who knows if it's the headphones or not that helped but they do look darn adorable - if you can get them and keep them on your little ones that is!
He eventually had a nap in the carrier and the rest of the time was spent having cuddles with yiayia (who was a huge help) and playing peekaboo with other passengers.
Luckily it was only a 3 hour flight and it went quickly. All in all, we had a great experience with his first flight but the flight was the relaxing part..it would have been even more relaxing if we could have skipped all the steps at the airport! Now we know for next time to allow lots of extra time (as we did for the return flight which went very smoothly) and to not do any running around beforehand (like exchanging money, shopping, packing etc). Those would be my two big tips....and another two big tips: babywearing makes things much easier...and so does bringing a grandma, auntie or other relative or friend along if it is feasible. You can never have too many hands!
We are hoping for a smooth journey to Europe but Lennon will probably be crawling by then...and the flight is more than 3 times longer than the one to LA so it might be a whole new ball game....and Yiayia won't be there to help us this time! We can do it, right?! Wish us luck and do comment below if you have anymore tips for flying with a baby!
Here is a gallery of some more photos from Lennon's first flight (and some from the second too). You can click on the photos for a description. I took a lot of photos, but what can I say? This was a total Proud Mommy Moment (and I'm a total momarazzi anyways)!