Category Archives: Attractions

Partyman World of Play

When your little ones have got ants in their pants and need to let all their tremendous wish-I-could-bottle-it energy loose in a place where they can’t damage anything (or themselves), they are in need of a soft play area. Preferably a massive one, where parents can sit and have a coffee while watching their darlings go nuts on trampolines and slides.

The Partyman World of Play (3A/3B Grenoble Road, Ozone Leisure Park, OX4 4XP), located right next to the Kassam Stadium, is a gigantic soft play area with themed play sections, an interactive stage, a ball room, private party areas, bumper cars, a two-storey slippy slide, and a toddler area for under-3s. We have visited on several occasions, and the Baberoo has had so much fun she has released all her pent-up energy and exhausted herself so thoroughly she’s fallen asleep on the way home.

Partyman World of Play - slide

We have always visited on a weekday morning during term time, which means it’s very quiet and there’s plenty of space for kids to run around without waiting to take turns in any of the spaces. I shudder to think what it might be like during weekends or parties – but that’s precisely the advantage of having a child under school age! We can choose to come whenever we like during the week. The disadvantage is that not all of the areas are open. The bumper cars and interactive stage have never been in use when we’ve been there, for example. But the fun of the trampolines, ballroom, and slide are always available, and that’s what the Baberoo gravitates to anyway.

To participate, you must pay a one-off fee of £5 to become a member. After that, admission isn’t terribly expensive during non-peak times – babies under age 1 are charged £2, age 1-3 are charged £5, 4-12 year olds are charged £6.95, and adults are free. During peak times prices are higher and adults pay an entry fee as well, but there are also discounts available for booking in advance online, and a range of annual passes or monthly direct debit schemes that make the cost considerably lower if you know your kids love it and want to return several times a month.

When you go, especially if it is summer and your kids are in sandals, remember to bring a pair of socks. The play areas are strictly no-shoes-allowed, but you need to wear hosiery of some kind. This includes parents, so remember to bring your own as well. Preferably black ones – otherwise the bottoms of your socks will quickly become black anyway. It must be a huge job to clean all those play structures, and you can imagine all the little hands (and noses) that touch all of the areas soon cause a lot of buildup. Pro tip: apparently Monday evenings are when cleaning happens, so Tuesday mornings are the best time to go.

I hope that hasn’t put you off, because it’s a fantastic and safe place to play. We will return whenever the Baberoo’s got a surfeit of energy that is best worked off by climbing up to the super-slide a dozen times. Now, here’s how the Partyman World of Play rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to the Oxford Mommy rating scheme.

Menu: If you are holding a baby or little one in one arm, you need to be able to eat with only one hand. The menu at Partyman World of Play offers all-day breakfasts, paninis, baguettes, wraps, pizza, jacket potatoes, and a few main meals – nothing out of the ordinary or super-healthy. Not all of them are easily eaten one-handed, although you can probably manage some of them. But chances are your little ones will be having enough fun that hopefully they won’t need to be held unless they are very small.

Space: There’s a huge amount of space at Partyman World of Play, which means strollers of every size will fit in the thoroughfares and seating area. You’ll be able to park your buggy at a table without worrying that it’s in anyone’s way. There’s also lots of parking if you come by car.

Partyman World of Play - space

Ambiance: The staff are extremely friendly, which means kids feel like they’re very welcome – which they should be, since it’s a place created just for them. The bright colours are really attractive to young ones, and the variety of activities create a sense of excitement. One of the drawbacks is that the lighting in the areas under the giant slide is very dim indeed, and makes those areas look very dark and much less inviting than some of the other sections, and can make them even feel claustrophobic. Also, you have to be able to accept the faint odour of gymnasium.

Facilities: Unfortunately, I can’t say anything good about the toilet facilities at Partyman World of Play. Every time we have been there the bathrooms have been smelly, some of the sinks have been out of order, and there has been water on the floor – not a great ambiance for little ones who are trying to find a dry place to put their potty, or for the ones who are slightly bigger and can use the toilets. There is a baby-changing table in one of the stalls, but it doesn’t have much room in it and the bins have been overflowing whenever we have gone. This particular facility needs to be given more care, because it detracts from the entire experience.

Feeding: If you’re a breastfeeding mother, the seating area is fine for breastfeeding, although the chairs aren’t terribly comfortable. It would be great if some sofas or soft chairs were added so that there was a choice of seating. For those who have kids who can order from the menu, there are a few healthy options along the deep-fried stuff and sweets. The best choice is the Children’s Platter (£3.99), which offers either chicken, ham, or sausages accompanied by four different fruits and vegetables of your choice. They really do heap the fruits and vegetables on the plate, so your little one will get some good nutritious food into them. But there will always be the temptation of crisps, ice creams, and sweets, which are prominently on display.

In total, Partyman World of Play gets a 6.75 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. If it had nicer toilets and better lighting it would rate much higher, but even with these drawbacks it’s one of the best places to go with kids who need to play hard and shake their sillies out.

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It’s Oxford Mommy’s second birthday!

Two years ago I started this blog in order to help parents – including myself! – to find the most baby-friendly places in and around Oxford. I’m constantly amazed at how many people are viewing this site, and I thank every one of my readers for taking the time to look through my reviews. I hope that I’ve been helpful and encouraging, especially to those who are a little bit wary of venturing forth into town with a new baby. I still remember the trepidation I felt when the Baberoo was very small and I had no experience of being a parent. I hope, equally, that families with lots of experience with little ones are also finding these reviews helpful, no matter whether their littlest one is teeny-tiny or nearly ready for school.

I’ve been posting reviews less often this year for a reason that may be familiar to some of you: when the Baberoo consolidated all her naps into one (very long) long nap during the day, it turned out to be at lunchtime, so I could no longer go out to restaurants in the way that I had become accustomed! I decided to honour her naptime (especially since when I didn’t I was faced with a very cranky toddler indeed), so we ended up going out a lot less often than we had done the year before.

Now that we have entered the realm of no naps at all, we are planning to head out for more lunches, activities, and events in the next little while! We are also in the midst of potty-training, so the portion of my reviews that deals with baby-changing facilities will also take into account how well the facilities work when you are lugging around a potty and all the accompanying paraphernalia!

Thanks so much for being part of my readership. I am so pleased to be your guide to Oxford’s best baby- and toddler-friendly venues. If you have any comments, questions, or ideas for future reviews, please get in touch at oxfordmommy@gmail.com.

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Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Parks Road, OX1 3PW) re-opened in February 2014 after 14 months of closure, with a restored glass roof and a new café in the upper gallery. The Baberoo and I have visited a couple of times since then, once with friends during a quiet term-time lunch hour and once during the height of the school holidays.

Dinosaur

There are some fabulous touch-and-feel areas in the museum that babies and toddlers can enjoy, including tiny Mandy the Shetland Pony (an example of taxidermy so adorable that I wanted to stroke her as much as all the kids did; I’m surprised her coat isn’t worn down by all the petting she gets) and two huge tables of touchable specimens. The Baberoo especially enjoyed the stuffed fox, owl, and wallaby. The tables are at adult height, so you will have to hold your baby or sit them right on the table to touch the specimens.

OUMNH touch and feel table

If your little one is toddling around, they’ll have fun running around the museum spaces; just be careful around some of the dinosaurs and other skeletons, which are very easy to reach out and grab for despite the signs warning that they are delicate and not to be touched.

Baberoo and bones

For some reason, every toddler I know who has visited the museum is obsessed by the Victorian iron grates on the floor (although I expect that their obsession will shift to dinosaurs by the time they’re preschoolers). The Baberoo spent a lot of the time running from grate to grate, although she did pause to point out some eggs and animals in some of the glass cases.

Baberoo and grates

One way in which the museum could do better is by improving the signs around the building’s exterior directing you towards the stroller entrance. Signs in different places give conflicting information and the entrance for buggies and wheelchairs is not obvious at all. You could walk from one door to another several times without finding the way in. The picture below shows you where to enter – it’s to the right of the main building, at the first rounded archway. You go in through a door on the left when you enter the archway (you can’t see the door in the picture, but the red arrow points in the correct direction). You then need to turn to the right, go down a corridor, turn left, and take a lift up to the main level or the upper galleries.

OUMNH stroller entrance

We have enjoyed our visits to the museum and we’ll continue to go back in the future. The experience is limited at the moment to the touch-and-feel specimens and the intriguing floor grates, but as the Baberoo gets older she’ll begin to be interested in more of the gallery content. The museum is geared more towards families with school-aged children, but babies and toddlers will still have fun.

So how would I rate the OUMNH for baby- and toddler-friendliness? I usually rate an attraction on an 8-point scale rather than a 10-point scale, since there may not be any scope for the ‘menu’ criteria to be evaluated. However, since the OUMNH has a café and I’ve eaten there, I’ll use my regular 10-point scale instead, with the five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities and feeding (see more about these criteria on my About page).

Menu: The café – run by Mortons, one of Oxford’s independent sandwich bars – serves mainly sandwiches, wraps, cakes, and other lunch/tea fare. Most of the items are easy enough to eat with one hand if you need to hold your baby with the other. The hummus wrap I had on our first visit was good and fresh; the coffee and walnut cake was a little dry. If your baby is on solid food there are some choices in the café that may work; there are special kids’ meal boxes (although some of the contents may be too ‘grown-up’ for some babies and toddlers). Signs in the café ask visitors to please not bring their own food to eat, but on our first visit I ignored this rule, having brought some snacks for the Baberoo. I was pleased I had, because she didn’t want the porridge that I bought her from the café. I think you can probably safely bring things for young babies and toddlers without the museum minding too much. There is an abundance of high chairs for little ones.

OUMNH Cafe

Space: The aisles and spaces within the museum are wide and roomy enough for any stroller, even a double buggy. (Amusingly, they were built this way to accommodate Victorian ladies’ crinolines!) You’ll have no problem manoeuvring your buggy anywhere within the gallery spaces. The café might present more of a spatial challenge; it’s in the upper galleries so it’s narrow and long. When it’s full people tend to station their buggies, high chairs, or an extra regular seat at the side of their table, using part of the aisle.  The lift, which you will need to use in order to get from the stroller entrance to any of the gallery spaces, is quite small and narrow.

Ambiance: This is a really family-friendly museum; they understand that families are one of their primary audiences. There’s a welcoming feeling, and the wide-open spaces and great lighting from the high glass roof make it feel a little less crowded even when it’s chock-full of people. Babies and strollers are made to feel welcome.

Facilities: There is a huge baby-changing toilet near the stroller entrance; it has masses of space and a very large pull-down changing table. The room is clean and fresh-smelling. Since this bathroom is located on the lower ground level you will need to use the lift to get to it (unless you’re using it when entering or leaving the building via the stroller entrance). According to the museum’s website there are also disabled toilets with baby-changing facilities near the main museum entrance.

OUMNH baby changing facilities

Feeding: There are chairs scattered around the museum; if you’re breastfeeding you may be able to find a chair in one of the quieter gallery spaces. They are padded and don’t have arms so they will probably work well for comfort. Little ones who are eating regular food can partake of the café’s offerings; since it’s a museum obviously no food is allowed in any other area.

For baby- and toddler-friendliness the Oxford University Museum of Natural History rates an 8 out of 10. Little ones will have fun exploring the museum’s touch-and-feel activities, and when they’re older they’ll get even more out of it. My advice is to start them young!

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Oxford Mommy’s one-year anniversary

I’ve been blogging for a whole year! Thank you to all my readers – you have given me wonderful feedback and encouragement as the Baberoo and I discover Oxford’s baby-friendly and toddler-friendly venues. I hope we’ll continue to unearth the city’s treasures and give you useful tips and guidance for navigating those first important years while having fun in Oxford!

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Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

I’ve never been much of an animal lover. Zoos and wildlife parks have never held any appeal for me; I prefer cultural and culinary adventures rather than getting up close to nature in all its glory. So I very nearly didn’t go along when the Baberoo’s Gran and Oxford Daddy planned a trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens (near Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4JP; £14.50 for adults, £10 for children 3-16 and seniors, free for under-3s). And that would have been a shame – because as it turned out, it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

And there sure were monkeys. Monkeys, marmosets, lemurs, tamarins, and gibbons! They were all so interesting up close – I never thought I would enjoy observing  small primates so much. The Baberoo loved the smaller animals, especially the meerkats and the squirrel monkeys. She also enjoyed seeing the penguins and tropical birds as well as the larger mammals (although I’m not quite sure she can distinguish between most of them yet: the wolves, warty pigs, and capybaras all elicited a ‘woof woof’ sound).

Cotswold Wildlife Park penguin

What struck me most about the Cotswold Wildlife Park was how nicely it was laid out and how beautiful the vegetation was – both in the animals’ habitats and in the landscaped gardens. The gardens are as finely and professionally cultivated as any botanical garden, although they prefer to refer to their style of horticulture as ‘theatre with plants’. We were lucky enough to go on a beautiful sunny day that was not too hot, but I imagine that the gardens are equally lovely in different seasons. Since nearly everything is outdoors, make sure you plan accordingly with umbrellas, stroller covers, sweaters, jackets, and/or sunscreen, depending on the weather forecast.

Cotswold Wildlife Park landscaped gardens

The Cotswold Wildlife Park is an easily walkable size, and for those who don’t want to walk the whole time there’s a narrow-gauge railway (£1, free for under-3s) that will take you around the park. (Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to fit a stroller onto the train, so it’s not suitable for babies or toddlers.) If you have an older toddler or child who likes crafts, you can also visit the Brass Rubbing Centre, located in the Victorian Manor House in the centre of the Park (open school holidays and summer weekends; £1-£2.50). There’s a Children’s Farmyard where young ones can pet the animals and an Adventure Playground so they can run around, and a new ‘Skymaze’ adventure playground is set to open on July 19th.

Cotswold Manor House

Judging by the number of strollers and small children, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is no secret to families around Oxfordshire. We loved it and will definitely be back. Here’s how it rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Oak Tree Restaurant is the main eatery at the Wildlife Park; it offers standard cafeteria-type dishes such as chilli con carne, jacket potatoes, burgers, or chicken nuggets, with chips as a side for most meals. A few of the dishes can be eaten one-handed if you are holding a baby in one arm. The restaurant offers children’s portions as well as baby-sized portions of most of the main meals. There are also three kiosks serving ice cream and snacks. But frankly, your best bet, for price as well as for ambiance, is to bring a picnic and eat in the gardens or at one of the picnic shelters or picnic tables around the park. We laid our blanket out on the Anniversary Lawn and ate a lovely picnic while we watched the train circling the park.

Space: There’s plenty of space in the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, and even double strollers – of which we saw plenty – will fit comfortably into all the entrances, paths, and facilities (although pushchairs are not allowed in the Madagascar exhibit, so you’ll have to take your little one out if you’d like to visit that one). The hard part is getting there: the Park is two miles south of Burford on the A361, about 20 miles west of Oxford. Coming by car is by far the best (some might say it’s the only) option, as buses to Burford are few and far between. The bus route from Oxford is the Swanbrook No. 853, operating three times daily on weekdays, four times on Saturdays, and once on Sunday, and you need to get a taxi from Burford to the Wildlife Park after getting off the bus. If you don’t have a car, it might be an idea to hire one for the day. Parking is excellent, with staff directing drivers to the next available space in the grass car park.

Ambiance: This is definitely a place for kids and it’s geared towards their enjoyment, from the signage to the Adventure Playground. Whoops of delight and happy faces everywhere made it clear that families were enjoying themselves, and the commercial aspects of the Park were kept very clearly within the shop and the eateries. The animals we saw looked like they were thriving and happy in their surroundings. All the staff we saw were pleasant and knowledgeable.

Facilities: There are four toilet blocks around the park, one of which is in the restaurant. All of them have baby-changing and disabled facilities. The baby-changing in the large block of toilets nearest the shop (shown at left in the picture below) is bigger than the one in the restaurant (shown at right). All of the baby-changing facilities I saw were clean and well-aired.

Cotswold Wildlife Park baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If your little one is eating solid food, you can get a child- or baby-sized meal at the restaurant. If you’re breastfeeding, there are many places to sit around the park, including picnic tables and garden benches, or just on the grass. If you’d like a secluded area for breastfeeding, you’ll be able to find one somewhere around the park.

In total the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens gets an 8.25 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. Although it’s much more geared towards school-aged kids than towards babies or toddlers, I’d highly recommend it as a great day out for even the youngest of babies. Most little ones will be thrilled to get a close-up look at the real-life counterparts of the toys they snuggle with and the animals they read about in books.

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From Baby to Toddler

Well, it’s official. The Baberoo is 18 months old and I can no longer call her a baby. The last few months have seen her shed the last vestiges of babyhood and grow into a walking, running, talking (or at least starting to), joke-loving, happy little girl. She’s certainly a toddler now. I’ll still be calling her the Baberoo in my posts (the Toddleroo just doesn’t have the same ring to it), but she’s no baby any more, and she’s very different to the 7-month-old she was when I started this blog.

Now that her needs and abilities are different from a small baby’s, my reviews will start including ratings based on both baby-friendliness and toddler-friendliness. These are worlds apart, as I’m discovering daily. While some things won’t change much in our life (we still use our huge stroller most of the time, so we still need a lot of space to manoeuvre within restaurants and attractions), some things have changed for good (there’s no way this kid is ever going to nap through a meal again, so no more luxurious uninterrupted lunches for Mommy!).

I’m going to keep on using Menu, Space, Ambiance, Facilities, and Feeding as the points I look at when rating an eatery, activity, or attraction, but within those categories if the needs are different for babies than for toddlers, I’ll discuss both. I hope the blog will continue to be useful for parents of both babies and small children!

If there are any places you’d like me to review, please let me know at oxfordmommy@gmail.com.

Baberoo in the sand

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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Washington DC

Our trip to America with the Baberoo began with 36 hours in New York, then continued on to Princeton, NJ. We left Oxford Daddy there for the week while he did his archival research, and the Baberoo and I took a train trip to Washington DC to visit my sister. I had never been to Washington before but I had heard good things about both its baby-friendliness and its amazing sightseeing opportunities. And of course, it was great to see my sister and also to be able to sleep and eat in a real house instead of being in a hotel and restaurants all the time.

Hands down, Washington DC wins the baby-friendliness award when it comes to transport. The Metro, its underground/subway system, is fully accessible to all strollers (and wheelchairs), with elevators at every single station so that you can get from street level to platform without folding your buggy, even if it’s a huge one or a double stroller. Are you listening, other cities? Every. Single. Station! Just look for the elevator entrance on the street (a dark brown structure with a big M) and you’re on your way down to start your journey. Sometimes it’s a little complicated, with a few elevator changes before you reach your chosen platform, but most of the time it’s straightforward and easy to use. The signposting is also very good and the fares are quite reasonable – most of the time they were $1.70 or so, depending on the time of day and distance travelled. There’s even a section on the Metro website that gives you elevator and escalator status, updated 24 hours a day, so you can see if there are any outages before you travel.

Washington DC Metro

With such a great transport system, I nearly didn’t try any other ways of getting around, but for the sake of thoroughness I decided I better check out the city bus and the taxi service. The city bus requires you to fold up your stroller – which I didn’t know before I attempted to get on, but it does say so right on the door of the bus. So I folded up, but it would have been an easier journey if I’d taken the Metro instead. Unless you’re travelling light and can fold your stroller easily, go for the Metro rather than the bus. Taxis were fine, and not very expensive. It was easy enough to hail one from the street, although by mistake we got one that had been pre-booked by someone else! One note about being in a taxi or walking on the street: drivers in DC are completely nuts and will drive into the intersection even though they have a red light. Be very careful when crossing the street.

Washington DC is a very pretty city, especially in April, when the cherry blossoms are out. We were lucky and picked the exact week when the blossoms were most on show, and we also lucked out with temperatures soaring as high as 26 degrees. It was so beautiful and sunny that everyone seemed in a good mood and the sense of fun was heightened. We decided to take a walk to see the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin, part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. It was gorgeous, but there were so many people walking along the same path that it was also really crowded and slow. Lack of  sunscreen and pretty hot weather made us turn around before we even got to the Jefferson Memorial – but we enjoyed the short walk anyway.

Cherry blossoms

 

We took refuge in the National Museum of American History, one of the many Smithsonian museums (all free). Our exhibit of choice was the First Ladies, which was an amazing look at the contributions made (and the dresses worn!) by Presidents’ wives from Martha Washington onwards. As a fashion lover I found it fascinating, and the Baberoo seemed to like it too – although, as one of the museum docents pointed out when we asked, there is really nothing for under-5s at the museum. The museum has two Family Rest Rooms where you can change your baby. We didn’t manage to make it to any of the other Smithsonian museums, but if you are planning a visit, especially if you plan to stay all day and see many of the museums, your first stop should be the Smithsonian Visitor Center, in the Castle, which is open 1.5 hours earlier than all the museums so you can plan your day. The Smithsonian is great for children and families, but the Baberoo is still too young to enjoy most of it.

We did find a very baby-friendly activity, however, in the form of Story Time… at the Library of Congress! I was so excited to find that the Library has programmes for even the youngest of audiences. The free Story Time for Infants and Toddlers takes place every Friday (except holidays) at 10:30 am. Roll up early, because they only have 50 places (including adults) and they hand out numbered admission stickers on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 10 am. If you are there early and have got your stickers, you can browse the collection of children’s books and play with the toys in the Young Readers Center. The Jefferson Building, where the Young Readers Center is located, requires everyone entering to go through the security system, so leave time for that, especially since you’ll have to put your baby and your stroller through the metal detector separately. Storytime is a fun half-hour with sing-alongs and some books read aloud by the librarian. You get a handout with the words to the songs, so you’ll always know what’s coming up – the theme the day we were there was Springtime. The room was a little warm on the day we went, so the Baberoo got a bit hot and bothered, but she enjoyed most of the experience and if we lived there I’d be first in line every week for this lovely event.

Story Time at the Library of Congress

We mainly took a much-needed break from eating out while we were in Washington – I do love going out to eat, but not twice a day every day for a week! – so we only went to one restaurant. But it was probably my favourite meal of our entire trip to America. We ate an early dinner at Founding Farmers, a restaurant showcasing American cuisine (and owned by a collective of American farmers) in eco-friendly settings. I ordered the Skillet Corn bread ($5) to share with the Baberoo as a starter, and we were presented with a huge cast-iron pan full of the lightest, fluffiest cornbread I have ever had. It came with whipped butter in a pool of honey, with sea salt on top. What a revelation! It was so good that the Baberoo, a big fan of corn and anything corn-based, wolfed it right down, although it was such a big portion that you could actually order it as your meal and not be hungry afterwards. Luckily, I had ordered us a main to share as well, and it was equally good. The Founding Farmers take on Macaroni and Cheese ($14) includes Gouda, Gruyère, ham, peas, and apples, and is a very sophisticated dish for such a comfort-food favourite. We both loved it, and there was enough left to take home and eat for breakfast the next day. The only strike against Founding Farmers is the lack of baby-changing facilities in its bathrooms, which is a shame because they could easily modify the disabled bathroom to include a changing table. Still, they do cater well for babies with good booster seats (that strap onto a regular dining chair) made by Stokke, so I felt that the Baberoo was comfortable and secure while she was eating – more so than with your standard restaurant high chair. Note: the restaurant books up well ahead, so make a reservation!

Founding Farmers

We had a wonderful time in Washington DC, and it was very easy to get around thanks to the brilliant Metro system. There were some opportunities for baby-friendly activities, and I am looking forward to going back sometime when the Baberoo is older so we can really appreciate the museums together. For now, I’m just happy to be back home in good old Oxford, so we can resume our regular schedule of testing the city’s offerings for baby-friendliness.

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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Princeton, NJ

Our family trip to America began with a quick 36 hours in New York City, then continued on to Princeton, New Jersey, where Oxford Daddy spent the week ensconced in Princeton University’s Firestone Library doing archival research. The Baberoo and I explored the lovely Princeton town centre and found as many baby-friendly places as possible.

Princeton Campus

Our first recommendation is the Princeton Public Library. Reopened 10 years ago in a state-of-the-art building, it has an entire floor for children that includes books for all ages, an exhibition area, a special play room with lots of toys, and a separate room for storytime and other educational sessions. We visited three times in two days and met some very friendly parents and their babies. The play room was wonderful; lots of parents and nannies were using it with their babies and small children and the Baberoo enjoyed all the toys, while I appreciated not having to chase her around the bookshelves and re-shelve all the books that she would be pulling out. We went to the storytime session on a Tuesday morning and the presenter, Martha, was wonderful. We had to step out a bit early due to a diaper emergency, but that was OK because there is a baby-changing facility in the bathroom on each of the library’s three floors (in the ladies’ rooms; I’m not sure whether there is something similar in the men’s rooms). The changing table is right outside the doors to the cubicles, so when it is pulled down it obstructs the entrance to some of the cubicles, but other than that it works fine. The Princeton Public Library also has a café and lots of comfy seating areas within the stacks, which came in handy when the Baberoo was napping and I wanted to sit and read for a while. It’s a wonderful resource and if we lived there we would be there almost every day. I think it may be the most baby-friendly public library I’ve ever visited.

Princeton Library

Another lovely baby-friendly place we found in Princeton was the Bookscape at the Cotsen Children’s Library, located on the ground floor of the Firestone Library on the Princeton Campus. The Bookscape is a reading space for children, populated with topiary animals, a wishing well, and a hollow tree full of books to read. There’s also an activity area for free education sessions. Lots of comfy chairs and whimsical furnishings make this a wonderful space for both children and adults. We were the only ones there when we visited, so we had the run of the whole place. The Baberoo loved exploring all the nooks and crannies and having some of her favourite books read to her. There is a baby-changing table in the nearest ladies’ room (just off the main entrance to the Firestone Library), although it’s a small room and you won’t be able to fit your pram inside. The Cotsen Children’s Library has a space at the entrance for you to leave your pram, which can’t be brought into the Bookscape. Don’t forget to also have a walk around the Princeton University campus, which is beautiful.

Cotsen Children's Library

Our third find in Princeton was the fabulous Labyrinth Books (can you tell that we love books in our family?). This bookshop has a great selection of both adult and children’s books, and it has a small space in the children’s section with beanbags and some wooden toys for children to play with. The Baberoo loves beanbags so she had lots of fun, but she’s also at the age where she loves whacking books off of bookshelves, so we only had a short playtime. Still, it’s great if you want to sit and read some books before you buy (you will definitely leave with at least one book!). They also have a baby-changing facility in the women’s bathroom; it’s in one of the cubicles and it’s big enough to fit your pram in.

Labyrinth Books Princeton

Princeton also has a few baby-friendly restaurants in the town centre. During our few days there we visited PJ’s Pancake House (where the Baberoo had some macaroni and cheese, plus some of Mommy’s spaghetti marinara), Teresa Caffe (where the chef made the Baberoo a special dish of peas in brown butter – utterly delicious and only $1!), and the Blue Point Grill (where the Baberoo had some buttered pasta and then ate the side dish of rice that came with Mommy’s hazelnut-and-cherry-crusted tilapia). Most of the sit-down restaurants in town have high chairs and baby-changing facilities.

Blue Point Grill crusted tilapia

There are definitely some baby-unfriendly elements to Princeton, though. In the downtown area, which has been kept very pretty and only has high-end shopping, there’s no supermarket. If you want to buy fresh food like fruit and snacks that a baby will like, there is very little available. There are some great delis (Olives and D’Angelo Italian Market, to name a couple) where you may be able to find a few things that appeal to babies, but if you want a supermarket it’s in another part of town.

Our biggest problem, though, turned out to be where to stay. There is only really one hotel in the middle of Princeton and it’s quite an expensive one, so we went for the less pricey Hampton Inn, which is one of a string of about 20 hotels outside of town that are located up and down the Brunswick Pike (US Highway 1 South). Although it was a fine hotel and we got an absolutely huge room, we realized we had made a big mistake in picking our location. The taxi ride from the hotel to the Princeton town centre is $25, which means $50 a day to get into town and back. This is no problem for most visitors if they don’t have babies, because there is always a hotel shuttle bus that can bring you wherever you want for free. However, we found out upon arrival that the shuttle bus doesn’t take babies. It doesn’t have any car seats, and being a private vehicle it can’t operate by the same rules that taxis do (where you can just seat your baby on your lap). The Hampton Inn were very nice about it and were even up for buying a car seat to use in the shuttle bus, but then discovered that the law required the parents to provide the car seat and even be the ones who installed it in the vehicle every time the baby needed to travel, just in case there was an accident. What a litigious country America is! I would have been very happy to sign a waiver form every time we travelled, but it wasn’t possible. Car seats being the price they are, it wasn’t worth buying one there and just using it for a few days. And there was no alternative to taxis, because there are no city buses that run along the highway (there are hardly any buses in Princeton at all).

So the upshot was, although Oxford Daddy got to take the shuttle bus for free whenever he needed it, the Baberoo and I had to take a taxi every time we went somewhere. On one of the days she was able to nap in her stroller in the afternoon, but on another day I knew she would need to go back to the hotel in the middle of the day to get a good two hours of sleep in an actual bed, so I shelled out an extra $50 to get us back to the hotel from downtown and then back downtown in time to meet Daddy for dinner. That’s $100 that I spent on taxis that day, folks. It was most unexpected and it really put a dent in our finances. We did meet a couple of lovely taxi drivers, though.

I had heard that in America, especially small-town America, it’s assumed that everyone owns a car. In Princeton that seems to definitely be the case. If you’re travelling to Princeton, either bring a car seat with you, drive your own car with a car seat attached (hard to do if you’re coming from across the ocean!) or prepare to spend lots of money on taxis, because there is no other way to get from many of the hotels to the actual town centre. I can recommend Princeton as a nice place to visit for families, but it’s pretty tough getting around with a baby. It was much easier in our next stop, Washington DC, as I will relate in my next blog post!

 

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Oxford Mommy’s 36 Hours in New York City

New York has been one of my favourite cities for a long time, and I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to pass through for a weekend on our way to Princeton, NJ.  I did wonder, having never been there with the Baberoo before, how it would rate on the baby-friendliness scale. Of course, since we were there for only 36 hours, this review isn’t exhaustive ( I’d need a whole New York Mommy blog for that!) but we did discover some things about the city – or Manhattan, to be exact, since we didn’t have time to visit the other boroughs – that may be useful to parents travelling in from out of town.

First things first: transportation. We were travelling with our fold-up umbrella stroller (the Uppababy G-Luxe), which is a very light and fairly small.  After doing some research on the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) site, I figured using the bus seemed like a good option, and being so familiar with the buses in Oxford I figured it would be a similar experience. Not so. Apparently you need to fold up your stroller when you board a New York bus, which to me cancels out the convenience of not having to go underground and contend with subway stairs. The bus did get us places fairly quickly, although that was probably because it was early Saturday morning and there wasn’t much traffic.  It’s also good for sightseeing – on our ride up Madison Avenue from Midtown to Harlem we saw lots of great New York buildings. But if you’re carrying lots of bags or by yourself with a stroller you have to collapse when you board, the bus can be tricky.

NYC busSince we had to fold the stroller on the bus, we figured we would try the subway the next time we were going out. Not too many stations are equipped with elevators giving access to the platforms, but our hotel was near Grand Central Station, which is wheelchair accessible, as was our destination station. In theory that meant we didn’t have to fold up the stroller and take the Baberoo out. However, it’s not easy to actually locate the elevators that bring you down to platform level, and at our connecting station we absolutely could not find an elevator to get us off the platform, and we had to fold up the stroller and carry the Baberoo up the stairs. We then found the (very grotty) elevator down to our connecting train’s platform, but had to wait several minutes in a queue of strollers. Basically, the speed of a subway ride is compromised by the amount of time it takes to locate and wait for the elevator, so a trip that would have taken 20 minutes at most took us at least 45.

NYC Subway

Having tried the bus and the subway and having found both lacking in baby-friendliness, we bit the bullet and on our next trip we hailed a cab. Or rather, a very savvy New Yorker cousin of ours hailed it for us, and managed to snag it despite the fancy young woman in polka-dot skinnies and Louboutins also trying to flag it down (sorry, lady). The cab turned out to be a great option. It got us back to our hotel fast, and it was easy enough to pre-fold the stroller on the sidewalk before hailing the cab so the we didn’t have to do it on the fly while also trying to load bags and baby in. The Baberoo loved sitting on her daddy’s lap for the ride, and it took us right to the door of our hotel. No wonder so many New Yorkers are standing out in the street trying to get cabs. They really top the buses and the subway. But of course, they add a cost to your trip – our average cost was $16 per ride and we did it four times, so there goes half a week’s grocery money.

NYC Taxicab

The other option, of course, is to walk. We really enjoyed a 45-block walk from Harlem to the Upper East Side, going through parts of Central Park (although we had to go back to the sidewalk when it got too hilly). We also walked through Greenwich Village and Soho, and hoofed it to the bus station on our way out of the city. Some streets can be extremely crowded and annoying, so it helps to know which routes to take and some alternatives. (Tip: never try walking down 42nd Street in a hurry.) On the Upper East Side, in very chichi residential areas, we saw what seemed like hundreds of parents walking with their babies in strollers, and at least half of those strollers were Uppababy Vistas – which is the kind we have at home. The Vista is as big as a tank and can’t be folded up very easily, so I wondered how those parents travelled around the city. We came to the conclusion that people have more than one stroller – a big one for walks closer to home, and a fold-up one that they can bring on public transport. (In fact, we were approached on the street by a guy who wanted our opinion on a new stroller he was inventing that could roll down stairs! Only in New York!) Or maybe they drive cars. Or maybe they wear the baby in a carrier when they’re on the bus or subway. In any case, walking is a great option as long as you know your route and an alternative route, and the baby isn’t in dire need of food or a change.

Speaking of diaper changes: that was the most baby-unfriendly part of  our experience. There is almost nowhere to change a baby’s diaper. Even restaurants don’t necessarily have baby-changing facilities. We were lucky that we managed not to have to do any baby-changing in public restrooms, but that was because I scheduled in some nap times back at the hotel, and we also visited friends with a baby (it was a super-fun play date!) so we were able to change the Baberoo at their house. None of the restaurants we went to or cafés we visited had baby-changing facilities. It makes you wonder where anyone changes their baby’s diaper. Does everyone with a child under 3 have to go home every time their kid poops?

The restaurants we visited, while not having any baby-changing facilities, were very welcoming of babies. Our first one was B.Cafe, where we had brunch with the taxicab-hailing cousin. They provided a high chair and stowed our stroller away so that we could get through the restaurant (it would have been impossible to get through with the stroller because of tightly-packed tables). My burger was good and the fries were excellent. The Baberoo didn’t appreciate the stack of pancakes we ordered her, but she did enjoy my burger bun. She was flirting with the staff and with the other patrons at nearby tables and got a whole bunch of compliments, too. In fact, all over town New Yorkers just couldn’t stop gushing about how cute she was, which made us feel pretty chuffed (but also confused: if they love babies so much, how come they don’t make it easier for parents to bring their little ones around the city?)

B.Cafe burger

The next place we ate out, again for brunch, was Eastwood, on the Lower East Side, with some friends who are in the know about the best new places to eat. It has a lovely vibe and a fabulous Scottish-Israeli menu. My fish tacos were great and the Baberoo enjoyed her scrambled eggs. Service was fantastic and really quick, which is always useful when you have a hungry little one clamouring for food. There were no high chairs so she had to sit on my lap, but there was a lot of floor space for the stroller, which she started snoozing in as soon as she finished her meal. I would definitely go back to Eastwood to try some of their other delicious-sounding fare.

Eastwood

We found some fun things for the Baberoo to do while we were visiting the city; one was a simple but really enjoyable trip to the park for a swing ride. There are lots of public parks in New York – the one we visited was Seward Park on the Lower East Side – and the ones we saw were pretty well kept up and quite clean. And only in a New York park can you also spot a contingent of older ladies doing outdoor aerobics to Chinese music.

We also visited a great bookstore, McNally Jackson. They have a fantastic children’s section, with a toy theatre kids can play in, and a great selection of old and new classics. The children’s section is in the basement so you do have to fold up your stroller to get down there, but it’s worth it.

As for where to stay in New York: there are many hotels, from reasonably-priced to over-the-top expensive, but since we only stayed in one of them all I can’t tell you what others might be like. But I can highly recommend the one we chose – the Library Hotel in Midtown. It was excellent in every respect and it went beyond my expectations for baby-friendliness. They provided a very good travel crib, there was ample space in the room to create a baby-changing station, and they had high chairs and great service in the breakfast room, which also served as a 24-hour Reading Room and quiet space (the Library Hotel’s rooms are based on the Dewey Decimal System, each room having a different subject; our bedroom was the Classic Literature room). The hotel’s public bathrooms didn’t have any changing facilities so after we checked out of our room and then suddenly needed to do a diaper change we were a little stuck – but then the staff recommended that we use one of the benches up in their rooftop Poetry Garden, which worked out just fine and was probably the best view the Baberoo will ever have while getting her diaper changed. The Library Hotel isn’t cheap, but it was our anniversary weekend and I decided to splurge, and was it ever worth it.

Library Hotel Reading room

Our trip to New York was over in a flash, but we still managed to cram in a whole bunch of activities and it was a lovely stay. It’s not the most baby-friendly city in terms of baby-changing facilities and transportation (and now I understand why lots of Manhattanites move to Brooklyn when they have kids), but boy, do New Yorkers know how to compliment babies. If you’re travelling there, I recommend using cabs for convenience and factoring the cost into your budget. Having a great, well-located hotel helps too. I can hardly wait to go back when the Baberoo is out of diapers; I suspect that will be loads easier and she’ll be able to appreciate more of the great things about the city.

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Pitt Rivers Museum

Yesterday was day 19 of illness in the Oxford Mommy household. Two back-to-back colds have caused us to cancel all our classes, playdates, and outings for the last couple of weeks and we were going stir-crazy. So I was racking my brains for somewhere to take the Baberoo where she wouldn’t touch things that other babies would then touch and get sick, because I would never want to inflict this cold on anyone else. All of a sudden I had an epiphany: a fun place where you don’t touch stuff? A museum, of course! So we set out for the Pitt Rivers Museum (South Parks Road, OX1 3PP, admission free) where I figured that I would get a little boost from looking at the shrunken heads and realizing that I still don’t look that bad, even after two and a half weeks of no sleep.

Pitt Rivers view from top gallery

The Pitt Rivers is a worldwide anthropological collection, with objects displayed by type rather than by culture or age. Whether you’re interested in musical instruments, boomerangs, clothing, body art, spears, or toys, or just coming to browse through the myriad objects and traditions that the museum houses, you’ll always discover something interesting and unusual. The old-style exhibition cases with their tiny handwritten labels give the museum a dark, enchanting atmosphere. But it’s not musty or boring, and during our visit there was a group of schoolchildren on a booked education session who were really enjoying vivid storytelling by a staff member.

Pitt Rivers ball games case

The Baberoo, being a little cranky because of her cold, was not terribly impressed by the collections, but I enjoyed looking at them, especially the textiles and the ‘ball games’ case. I was also pleased to note, after inspecting the ‘Treatment of the Dead’ case, that I did indeed still look better than a shrunken head. (We’ll have to see if that still applies in a week or so if we’re still not sleeping at night, though.) I do think that the Pitt Rivers collections appeal to older children rather than babies, so if you choose this museum as a destination it’ll mainly be for yourself. Once your kid gets to the age where they can ask all sorts of questions, it’ll be a great place for them too.

So how does the Pitt Rivers rate for baby-friendliness? I’m rating it on my ‘attractions’ scale of 8 points, 2 each for space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about my ratings system, see my About page.

Space: The building the Pitt Rivers shares with the currently-closed Museum of Natural History (reopening in 2014) is an old-style Victorian building and has lots of stairs at the front, so there’s a special entrance at the side for prams and wheelchairs. The signage was good until I got to where I thought I was supposed to go in, and then I was stymied until a staff member helped me. Once inside, there’s a route to follow to get to a lift, which will bring you to the main floor of the Museum of Natural History, which you walk through until you get to the Pitt Rivers. The entrance to the Pitt Rivers is its gift shop, and there’s a platform lift to get to the main court area from there. There’s another (very large) lift that will take you from the court level to the two gallery levels.

Pitt Rivers lift

With all the cases in the court area, you might think there wasn’t enough room to push a baby carriage around, but actually there was plenty of space to get through, even with our very large Uppababy Vista. It was fun to go around corners and be surprised by the contents of the next case, and I never ran into any areas where I couldn’t get through.

Pitt Rivers view from court gallery

Ambiance: Staff were extremely friendly and helpful, which made up for the bad signage at the front. The museum is quite dark and pretty quiet, so it may be a good bet if you want a sleeping baby to stay asleep (unless there’s a school activity going on, in which case you can hear it throughout the space). I also personally appreciate the feeling of being surrounded by things made of natural materials that have taken time, skill, and attention to craft – it’s the kind of atmosphere that can soothe my most uneasy, illness-induced addled-brain feelings.

Facilities: There is a baby-changing area on the court gallery level. It is very pretty. But whoever designed it didn’t think about needing to bring a pushchair in with you, so it is the narrowest possible space. We certainly couldn’t navigate it with our large pushchair and I doubt even the smallest umbrella stroller could make it into the space along with a parent and still have enough room for the door to close. It’s a shame, because it’s a nice-looking room and you can tell the designer tried to maximize the space by putting the changing table directly above the sink.

Pitt Rivers baby changing

However, you are in luck because there’s another baby-changing room elsewhere in the museum, and it’s huge. You need to go back out via the same route you came in, through the Museum of Natural History and down in the lift to the corridor leading to the wheelchair/pram exit. In that corridor there is a massive disabled/baby change toilet which has all the space you need.

Piitt Rivers disabled and baby changing toilet

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo while we were at the museum, and of course actual food and drink wouldn’t be permitted inside the museum building. As for breastfeeding, I’ve been happy to do so in many other museums, although there aren’t too many seats available at the Pitt Rivers. The only ones I saw were within the court gallery, right amongst the display cases. I don’t think there were any in the non-gallery areas (ie, the corridors, near the lifts, etc), but I did see someone sitting on a bench in the area outside the Pitt Rivers entrance (in the under-construction Museum of Natural History). Your choices are limited for sure, and I would probably go elsewhere for a feed.

The Pitt Rivers Museum gets a 5.75 out of 8 on my baby-friendliness scale. It’s a nice place to go for a quiet and extremely interesting afternoon away from the bright lights and big crowds of central Oxford – not only during this pre-Christmas rush season, but at any time of the year.

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