FREE Things to Do at Singapore’s Changi Airport for Kids + Adults

Ever since my daughter turned 1, we’ve taken an annual trip to Indonesia to visit my family. Next week, she’ll be going on her 7th transatlantic flight (our 4th one with just the two of us) and her 7th transit in Singapore’s Changi Airport, arguably the most complete and entertaining airport in the world.

The time we spend inside Changi Airport is always a lot of fun as there are things to do, eat, and see that could keep you busy for days.

ACRONYM KEY
TA = TripAdvisor Rating
SGD = Singapore Dollar

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GET CONNECTED, FOOD, SLEEP, ENTERTAINMENT,
PLAYGROUNDS, SPAS, FREE SINGAPORE TOURS, SHOPPING

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GET CONNECTED

The first thing I always do when I arrive at Changi is get access to the FREE WI-FI. There are four ways to set this up:

1. Text Message via Mobile Phone
This is not ideal for international passengers due to roaming charges. If you’d like to go this route, enter your mobile number on the WiFi login page to receive a One-Time-Password via SMS/text message.

2. WiFi Password Kiosk
Simply scan your passport at these WiFi Kiosks to obtain a password for 3 hours of free WiFi access. Renew at any similar kiosk once the 3 hour period ends. They are located strategically across terminals and inside some gates.

3. Information Counters
Simply approach the counter and present your passport to the customer service agent to obtain a password for 3 hours of free internet access.

4. Computer/Internet Stations
If you don’t have a Wi-Fi enabled device, there are internet stations with computers throughout the airport.

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FOOD

At Changi Airport, you will find a huge variety of food from all over the world, from your typical American fast food joints to sushi, ramen, donuts, and pastas. One of my favorite things about Singapore, however, is the “Singaporean” food. With it’s Chinese roots and it being a central hub to many Asian countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, the food options at food courts and hawker centers can seem ENDLESS, and possibly, a little overwhelming for a first timer.

YOU WILL HAVE TO GET RID OF ANY BEVERAGES AND NON-TSA APPROVED LIQUIDS BEFORE YOUR FLIGHT.

At Changi Airport, you go through the typical TSA airport screening as you enter your gate just before departure.

FOOD TO CONSIDER TRYING

Of course, the following is a very short list compared to the long list of actual options you’d have eating in Singapore. Here are just a few ideas of things you might consider ordering if you come across it while at Changi Airport instead of … yet another burger, sandwich, or spaghetti.

I haven’t even scratched the surface with the following examples of food you can eat at Changi. A *** indicates a popular dish in Singapore and a must try.

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Laksa***,
Airport Staff Canteen
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Nasi Lemak***,
PappaMia T1

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Singapore Chili Crab***,
Seafood Paradise T2

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Carrot Cake*** (w/ white radish NOT carrot),
Airport Staff Canteen


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Curry Puff***,
Tip Top T1, T2, T3

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Rendang***,
Curry Time T3

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Hainanese
Chicken Rice***
,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Kaya Toast,
Ya Kun Kaya Toast

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Char Kway Teow***,
Kopitiam T3


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Kway Chap,
Airport Staff Canteen 

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Fried Hokkien Mee, Ngee Kee
Airport Staff Canteen

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Duck Porridge,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Yong To Fu w/Tom Yum Broth,
Kopitiam T3

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Bak Kut Teh,
Rong Chen T2

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Cendol,
PappaMia T1
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Roti Prata,
Kopitiam T3  

 

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Nasi Padang,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Mee Rebus,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Mee Siam,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Mixed Rice,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Mala Fragrant Pot
Airport Staff Canteen

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Ban Mian,
Airport Staff Canteen

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Mee Sotong,
Airport Staff Canteen

PLACES TO EAT

 
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1. Food Courts for Local/Asian Food

Kopitiam
Hours: 24 Hours

Terminal 3, Public Area, Basement 2

Straits Food Village
Hours: 24 Hours
Terminal 2, Transit Area, Departure Transit Lounge Central, Level 3

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 2. Airport Staff Canteen

Find some of the best and cheapest hawker fare for as low as 3 SGD (that’s under US$3 a plate.)

Terminal 1
Hours: 7AM-8PM

This is the biggest canteen with more than 25 stalls. Follow signs to the restrooms with red doors and take the elevator down to Basement 1.

Terminal 2
Level 3 Mezzanine, near parking area. Locate the Starbucks on Level 2, take the nearest elevator to the car park at Level 3, walk up the staircase, turn left, and look for the unlabeled iron door.

Note: CNN featured an article about the airport staff canteens HERE.

 3. American Fast Food Chains

Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s, Subway

 4. Restaurants

There are too many restaurants to list here. Find the complete list at the official website of Changi Airport.

 Image Source  5. Convenience Stores & Pharmacies

Find toiletries, unique regional snacks, and other basic needs at one of the available 24 hour convenience stores.

7-Eleven (Convenience Store)
Open 24 Hours
Terminal 1, Departure Transit Lounge West, Level 2
Terminal 2, Departure Transit Lounge South, Level 3

Cheers (Convenience Store)
Open 24 Hours
Terminal 2, Departure Check-in Hall, Level 2
Terminal 3, Arrivals Hall, Level 1
Terminal 3, Departure Transit Lounge North, Level 3

Watsons (Pharmacy)
Limited Hours

Terminal 2, Outside Transit Area, Level 2
Terminal 3, Level 2, Departure Lounge, Near B Gates
Terminal 3, Outside Transit Area, Basement 2

 
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 6. Recommended Specialty Food

Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao
Decent dim sum.
Terminal 1

Hong Kong Sheng Kee Dessert
Delicious custard egg tarts.
Terminal 2 & 3

Ippudo Express
A branch of the popular ramen shop in NYC.
Terminal 2 & 3

Thai Express
I loved the branch in Jakarta which closed down, so while the Changi location hasn’t been as great, I tend to go back just to order my favorite mango salad (but only when the mango is still green). 
Terminal 3, outside of Transit Area

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SLEEP + NAPPING

If you have a long layover, you’ll probably want to get a little sleep.

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1. Snooze Lounges (Free)
Terminal 1: Transit East, Level 3, Transit Area
Terminal 2: Sanctuary Lounge, Transit North Pier, opp E5
Terminal 2: Oasis Lounge, Transit North Pier, Opp E11
Terminal 3: Transit North Mezzanine, near to Singapore Food Street
 
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2. Pay-Per-Use Lounges

Terminal 1
Dnata LoungeTA 3.5* Airside
Plaza Premium Lounge: TA 4* Level 3. Departure West

Terminal 2
Ambassador: TA 3.5* next to the Sunflower Garden.

Terminal 3
Ambassador: TA 3.5* near Movie Theatre
Dnata Lounge: TA 3.5* Departure Transit Hall, Mezzanine
The Haven: TA 4* TA Outside transit area, Arrivals Hall

 


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3. Aerotel Singapore

TA 4* Terminal 1: Level 3, Departure/Transit Lounge, near Gate D41

 
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 4. Ambassador Transit Hotel & Lounge (50+ SGD)

TA 4* They have hotel rooms that you can rent for 6 hour blocks or a marginally less expensive lounge for you to nap, shower, and use the gym. The hotel has been fully booked twice on my visits, so I’d recommend booking in advance.

 5. Off-Site Hotel

This last option means leaving Changi Airport, but leaving/returning to the airport is pretty fast and seamless relative to other countries’ airports, and there are plenty of nearby choices for you to book a hotel room with free airport transfer.

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ENTERTAINMENT

1. Take a FREE Tour of Singapore

Assuming you have a transit of more than 5.5 hours, you can sign up for a FREE 2.5 TOUR of Singapore. All you have to do is register at least one hour before the start of the tour by visiting the Free Singapore Tour (FST) Registration Booth (near Transfer Lounge F in Terminal 2, or Transfer Lounge A in Terminal 3) upon arrival. Make sure that your passport is on the visa waiver list by checking HERE.


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Heritage Tour (FREE)

Duration: around 2.5 hours
Minimum Transit Time: 5.5 hours
Language: English only

– Financial & Commercial District
– Singapore River & the Merlion
– Chinatown
– Little India
– Kampong Glam

Find out Heritage Tour timings


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City Sights Tour (FREE)

Duration: around 2.5 hours
Minimum Transit Time: 6 hours
Language: English only

– Marina Bay Waterfront Promenade
– Singapore Flyer
– Marina Bay Sands
– Esplanade
– Gardens by the Bay
– Singapore River & the Merlion
– Art Science Museum Singapore

Find out City Sights Tour timings

2. Explore the Gardens


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Butterfly Garden (FREE)
Terminal 3, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2/Level 3

The world’s first airport butterfly garden has flowering plants, lush greenery and a grotto-waterfall. It contains around 1,000 tropical butterflies from as many as 40 species during the different seasons of the year.  There are also areas where you can learn more about the breeding and feeding of the butterflies.


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Water Lily Garden (FREE)
Terminal 1, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2, Transit Area

This may not be a large space, but as someone who grew up finding water lilies intriguing, this is one of my favorite spots to walk by at Changi. These plants include the Sacred Lotus and the Amazon Water Lily – one of the largest aquatic plant in the world.

 
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Cactus Garden (FREE)
Terminal 1, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 3, Transit Area

This garden features more than 100 species of cacti and arid plants from the deserts and dry areas of Asia, Africa and America. Part of its popularity may also be the bar within the garden, where travelers can enjoy a drink or two as they relax.

 
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Orchid Garden (FREE)
Terminal 2, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2, Transit Area

The Orchid Garden features more than 700 orchids of 30 species grouped by their various colours and shapes.

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Terminal 2, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 3, Transit Area

The rooftop garden features several varieties of sunflowers grown in Changi Airport’s very own nursery. We haven’t been to this one but plan to check it out next week.


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Enchanted Garden (FREE)
Terminal 2, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 2, Transit Area

This is one of my daughter’s favorite areas of the airport. This is an interactive and decorative garden that “magically” comes to life with sight and sound by way of motion sensors and LED lighting while you weave through the garden. This “garden” includes a combination of freshly-cut flowers, soft ferns, and stained-glass.

3. Take the Kids to a Playground


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Canopy Playground by T1 Garden (FREE)
Departure Transit Lounge East, next to Outdoor Garden, Level 2, Transit Area

The sign at this playground says that the mostly padded play structure is for kids ages 18 months to 12 years, but it looks like it might be more appealing to younger kids below the age of 7. Vibrant colors, tunnels, a slide, and obstacles makes this a popular choice.

 

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Playground by T1 Level 3 (FREE)
Departure Transit Lounge West, Level 3

 
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Playground by T2 Family Zone (FREE)
Departure Transit Lounge North, next to the Family Zone, Level 2, Transit Area
Playground by T3 SATS Lounge (FREE)
Departure Transit Lounge Central, next to SATS Special Service Lounge, Level 2, Transit Area
Image Source Playground by T3 Basement (FREE)
Basement 2, Outside Arcade

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Playground by T3 A-Gates (FREE)
Departure Transit Lounge, outside gate holdroom A16 – A20, Level 2, Transit Area

This is the biggest free playground at Changi Airport.

 Image Source Image Source Mr. Bean-Themed SingKids Playground (18 SGD)
Terminal 3, Basement 2

This playground has a bouncy house, some slides, a small padded area for younger kids to use ride-on toys, and many other structures. What sets it apart from a regular playground is, aside from the size and sheer amount of equipment, the “Mr. Bean” theme.

4. Go to the Movie Theater

Terminal 2
Departure Transit Lounge, near the Sunflower Garden, Level 3, Transit Area

Hours: 24 hours, but closed for weekly maintenance between Thursday 10PM and Friday 4AM

Click HERE for the Screening Schedule

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Terminal 3
Departure Transit Lounge North, near Ambassador Transit Lounge, Level 3, Transit Area

Hours: 24 hours, but closed for weekly maintenance between 1PM-6PM on Thursdays

Click HERE for the Screening Schedule


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There are also plenty of other areas throughout the terminals where you could sit down and watch the news or sports.

Look at one of the many airport maps while you’re there, take a walk around, or approach an Information Desk to find out where these areas can be found throughout the airport.

5. Play Games for FREE

Changi Airport features an Entertainment Deck located in Terminal 2, at the Departure Transit Lounge next to the Sunflower Garden on Level 3.

 
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 Playstation 3 (FREE)

Games:  Coming Soon

 
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 XBox 360 (FREE)

Games: Coming Soon

 XBox Kinect Room (FREE)

Games: Coming Soon

 
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 LAN Gaming Room (FREE)

Games:  Coming Soon

 MTV Video/Music Booths

Listen to music and watch music videos.

6. Slide Down the Longest Slide in Singapore


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Terminal 3, Arrival Hall, Level 1, Public Area

Hours: 12PM – 10:30PM Daily
Requirements:
Must be 1.3m-2m or 51″-78″ to slide.

Cost: 
This slide is sometimes free to travelers boarding T3. In addition, for every $10 spent at T3 of Changi Airport in a single same day receipt*, visitors can redeem one ride at the Terminal 3 Level 1 Information Counter.

Cross off the world’s tallest indoor slide in an airport from your bucket list. At 4 stories tall and 12 metres high, you’ll get a thrilling experience and a chance to revisit the kid in you.

7. Ride the Skytrain

Image SourceImage Source Hours of Operation: 5:00AM – 2:30AM

This automated driverless people mover isn’t just a convenient way to move between Terminals 1, 2, and 3 at Singapore Changi Airport, but also a great way to entertain the kids! It takes approximately 4 minutes to get from one terminal to another. All stations are air conditioned and offer screens indicating the arrival time of the next train.

Neat fact: This was the first driverless and automated system in Asia when it opened in 1990.

8. Take a Dip in the Rooftop Swimming Pool or Jacuzzi


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Cost: SGD 17
Hours: 6am-12am daily

Terminal 1, Aerotal Airport Transit Hotel, Departure Transit Lounge, Level 3, Transit Area ( near D Gates)

This rooftop pool is located at the Aerotel Airport Transit Hotel at Terminal 1 and free for all guests of the hotel, but anyone willing to spend 17 SGD can use the pool, jacuzzi, poolside bar, and/or the shower facilities. Travellers are invited to relax and enjoy these facilities while waiting for their next flight.

9. Try Your Hand at Arts & Crafts

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Wood Block Rubbing Station

Create your own imprints from rubbing surfaces of icons inspired by local Singapore culture and Changi Airport. Take home a piece of personalised momento from Changi today!

Terminal 1
Viewing Mall, Level 3, Public Area

Terminal 2
Departure Transit Lounge South, next to the Orchid Garden, Level 2, Transit Area

Terminal 3
Next to the Fountain area, Level B2, Public Area
Departure Transit Lounge North, Outside gate holdroom B1-B4, Level 2, Transit Area

10. Visit an Exhibit

 
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Kinetic Rain

Terminal 1

Kinetic Rain is a moving sculpture that was installed in July 2012 after having been created over a period of two years by artists, animators and programmers from the German design firm Art+Com.

It is quite literally one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing examples of moving art that I have ever seen in person.

 
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 Changi Aviation Gallery

Terminal 3

This is an area for those interested in learning about the history of aviation in Singapore and Changi Airport’s ground operations. Kids who have an interest in airplanes might be delighted to see actual models of unusual aircrafts or learn about how inflight meals are prepared and how pets travel on aircrafts. They also provide fun kid friendly fact sheets.

 

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GET PAMPERED

If you aren’t traveling alone with kids like I am, why not take the opportunity to pamper yourself before your final destination?

Below is the shower at the pay-per-use Ambassador Transit Lounge.
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Take a Shower 

Visit one of the available pay-per-use lounges to take a shower or visit a gym. Scroll up and check the “Sleep” section of this post to find a list of lounges at Changi Airport.

 Image Source Feed Fish … your Dead Skin (SGD 22)

Fish treatments where garra rufa fish eat your dead skin was very popular when I lived in Jakarta. Do your research to see if it’s for you and try it here:

Airport Wellness Oasis
Open: 24 Hours

Terminal 1, Departure Transit Lounge, Near Gate D, Level 2


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Go for a Massage, Manicure, Facial, or Spa Treatment

There are plenty of FREE Osim massage chairs throughout the airport terminals for you to use … and even, for some, to nap on (see photo on the left).

If you aren’t interested in a free massage, you can also have your hair done, get a manicure and pedicure, have a full spa treatment done including a body scrub, or get a facial.

See a complete list of businesses inside Changi that offer Hair, Beauty, and Spa services HERE.


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FREE Makeover at Dior Beauty House

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DUTY FREE SHOPPING

The shopping options at Changi Airport are ENDLESS. From casual wear to high end designers like Hermes and Chanel, you can find a wide array of places to shop for goods while avoiding hefty taxes or the hassle of collecting your receipts to obtain a tax refund at the end of your trip.

Find a complete list of stores at the official website by clicking HERE.

 

How Much Can You Really Save? FREE Dining Plan at Walt Disney World 2017

Every year, Disney World releases a variety of Special Offers for reservations made through their website or phone. One of the best offers by far is the annual Free Disney Dining Plan, especially for families who plan to visit the table service or character dining restaurants when they head to Disney World. Free Disney Dining Plan is a promotion Walt Disney World offers every year for select dates in the fall and winter. It is now available for select dates between August and December 2017 – as long as you book before July 7, 2017!

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WHAT IS A DINING PLAN

One of the most expensive things you’ll likely spend on when you visit WDW is the food. Each character buffet lunch/dinner will run you about $45-$60 (before gratuity) per adult and a quick/counter service meal will run you between $15-$25 depending on what you order for drink/dessert.

For guests who stay on property and book through Disney, the Dining Plan is an option you can add to your reservation. The condition is that ALL members of your party MUST purchase a Dining Plan.* Here is a highlight of the 2017 Dining Plan prices you’d be paying WITHOUT the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion.

* PRO TIP: If you have a family member who is only coming for 1-2 nights, you can add them as a “day guest” to avoid booking and paying for a Dining Plan for the entire trip. 

 

DISNEY DINING PLAN 2017 (NON-PROMO RATES)

PER ADULT, PER NIGHT (ages 10+) PER CHILD, PER NIGHT
(3-9yo)

Quick Service Dining Plan

2 quick-service meals
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$48.19 $20.88

Regular Dining Plan

1 table-service meal
1 quick-service meal
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$69.35 $24.95

Deluxe Dining Plan

3 table service meals (can be applied to quick service, but you’d be losing money)
2 snacks
1 refillable mug

$106.68 $38.75

 

WHEN IS THE FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN PROMO VALID

August 21* – September 30, 2017
November 14 – 20, 2017
November 25 – 27, 2017
December 8 – 23, 2017

*Disney Visa Cardholders can book the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion for arrival dates beginning August 13, 2017.

This promotion is valid for booking through July 7, 2017.

 

WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS

Guests booking the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion for Value or Moderate Resorts will receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan (a $48.19/$20.88 value per night), with guests staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts receiving the Regular Disney Dining Plan (a $69.35/$24.95 value per night). You can, however, choose to book a Value resort and pay the difference to upgrade from the FREE Quick Service Dining Plan to the Regular Dining Plan which upgrades 1 quick service meal per day to a table service/buffet/character dining meal.

Minimum Stay: 3-night/4-day “for domestic markets” according to phone reservation CM, 5-night/6-day according to website*
Minimum Ticket: 2-day Park Hopper per guest ages 3+

* I was able to search and apply the offer to search for a 3 night stay in September.

Get a FREE dining plan when you purchase a minimum of 3-night/4-day Magic Your Way room and a minimum of 2-day Park Hopper tickets per person. I spoke to a Cast Member about not needing a ticket due to being an annual passholder, and they told me that EVERY guest staying at the hotel would need a minimum of a 2-day Park Hopper ticket regardless but that if I purchased one, I could apply the amount spent on it towards the cost of my annual pass when I renew my Premier pass through Disney World OR exchange it for another ticket that would be used on a future visit. Mitchell, a CM from the Ticket Services/Ticket Research department of WDW, told me it would be no problem to exchange & upgrade the 2-day Park Hopper for myself with a 10-day Park Hopper for my daughter to use on a future trip.

 

RECOMMENDED TIME TO GO

With the chosen dates of the special offer, Disney allows you to apply your snack credits to the many delicious offerings at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival (Aug 31-Nov 13), one of my favorite times to go to Disney World. It also happens to be one of the least crowded times of the year to go – September. BUT, how do you pass on Christmas at Disney World? (Seriously, it’s MAGIC.) Christmas decorations go up in early November, so you’d have plenty of time to take advantage of this offer while enjoying the magic of the holidays at Disney World. Keep in mind that some of these dates also mean more expensive resort rates.

 

HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR ACTUAL SAVINGS

When booking special offers like these through Disney World online or by phone, they typically don’t break down the cost of the trip for you.

I did a brief search to see a comparison of what my package total would be for a 7 night trip:

Date: September 17 – 24, 2017
Resort: Value, All-Star Sports
Room Type: Standard Room
Tickets: 6-day Park Hoppers for 1 adult & 1 child
Dining Plan: Regular Dining Plan*

*The Regular Dining Plan is a small upgrade from the free/included Quick Service Dining Plan for Value resorts.

Free Disney
Dining Plan
Separate Bookings (w/Dining Plan) Separate Bookings (No Dining Plan) Price Difference
(w/Dining Plan)
Standard Room  Included $985.19 $985.19  –
6-Day PH Tickets  Included $971.94 $971.94  –
Regular Disney Dining Plan  Included $660.16  –
TOTAL $2132.98 $2617.29 $1,957.13 $484.31

You may actually save more when you’re applying this promotion to something other than the Value resort.

To calculate whether or not the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion is really worth it for your family, feel free to use the following guide:

 

FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN 2017 VALUES
PER PERSON/PER NIGHT

RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $144.57/10+
$62.64/3-9
$192.76/10+
$83.52/3-9
$240.95/10+
$104.40/3-9
$289.14/10+
$125.28/3-9
$337.33/10+
$146.16/3-9
$385.52/10+
$167.04/3-9
$433.71/10+
$187.92/3-9
Regular Dining Plan $208.05/10+
$74.85/3-9
$277.40/10+
$99.80/3-9
$346.75/10+
$124.75/3-9
$416.10/10+
$149.70/3-9
$485.45/10+
$174.65/3-9
$554.80/10+
$199.60/3-9
$624.15/10+
$224.55/3-9

FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN 2017 VALUES
PER 2 ADULTS

RESORT
TYPE
3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $289.14 $385.52 $481.90 $578.28 $674.66 $771.04 $867.42
Regular Dining Plan $416.10 $554.80 $693.50 $832.20 $970.90 $1,109.60 $1,248.30

FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN 2017 VALUES
PER 2 ADULTS + 1 CHILD AGE 3-9

RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $351.78 $469.04 $586.30 $703.56 $820.82 $938.08 $1,055.34
Regular Dining Plan $490.95 $654.60 $818.25 $981.90 $1,145.55 $1,309.20 $1,472.85

FREE DISNEY DINING PLAN 2017 VALUES
PER 1 ADULT + 1 CHILD AGE 3-9

RESORT TYPE 3N/4D 4N/5D 5N/6D 6N/7D 7N/8D 8N/9D 9N/10D
Quick Service Dining Plan $207.21 $276.28 $345.35 $414.42 $483.49 $552.56 $621.63

Regular Dining Plan

$282.90 $377.20 $471.50 $565.80 $660.10 $754.40 $848.70

 

 

Digital Babysitters: Recommended TV Shows For Toddlers & Preschoolers

Oh, so you NEVER let your 3 or 4 year old watch any TV ever? Ever EVER? You’re either part of the .00001% of rare breeds of superhuman that make for perfect parents OR … your pants are on fire.

If your kid’s anything like mine, her first question EVERY single morning is, “So where are we going today?” followed by some version of, “Let’s GO, Mom! The SUN IS UP! GET UuuUUUUuUUUUP!” And, on days when you’re not chauffeuring her around all.day.long., she asks you every 5 minutes to play with/help/make/see/fix/move/do something. You know, because our child-centric living room filled with arts & crafts materials and toys that would make any indoor play place look deserted  is STILL not enough to keep her busy…………

WELL, in those moments, the TV or iPad seems like such a lifesaver.

Sometimes, you just REALLY need that 20mins of time to hide in the restroom and eat something out of your daughter’s Halloween loot of 6 months ago while you talk to Delta about the transatlantic flight you’d like to book…. or….. do things like this, right here. It’s all about finding a healthy balance for you and your kids.

The good thing is, children’s TV today is SO much better than a lot of the mindless junk it was 20 years ago.

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FAVORITE TV SHOWS

 
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 1. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (5/5 on Common Sense Media)
I am such a HUGE fan of this show for social/emotional growth. It addresses many of the common challenges that our little ones face and, fittingly, my daughter even sings the songs whenever it’s relevant. It discusses big milestones like first days of school or new siblings and day to day challenges like feeling scared at night or trying new food. Zee would sing Grown Ups Come Back when she or kids at her previous preschool would get upset at drop off or If You Have To Go Potty when she or a friend needs to go to the restroom. Some of our other favorites include When You WaitFind a Way to Play TogetherUse Your Words, and When You Feel So Mad. Great kid music that also offers ideas for topics to discuss with kids in the car….Mom’s Rating: 5/5
Zee’s Rating: 5/5

Zee LOVED it at ages 2 & 3, at 4 prefers other shows but still wants to listen to the music in the car. May just be bored.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Videos, YouTube, DVR

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2. Sid the Science Kid (4/5 on Common Sense Media)
This show really encourages kids to ask unique questions and seek answers through research, hands-on exploration, and focused observation. My daughter started watching it when she was around 2, and it introduced her to insightful concepts like how the fruits we buy and other things go through a process of change and eventually decay, how our lungs work, and why it’s important to brush your teeth. Jokes can be a bit lame, but my kid’s idea of a joke is saying, “Grasshoppers doing jumpingjacks!”Mom’s Rating: 5/5
Zee’s Rating: 5/5

Zee LOVED it at ages 2 & 3, at 4 prefers other shows but still wants to listen to the music in the car. May just be bored

Where to Watch: Netflix

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3. Team Umizoomi (4/5 on Common Sense Media)
This show is pretty great for it’s implementation of early math concepts including counting, shapes, patterns, and measurements. I had the song, “Dodecahedron” stuck in my head for weeks when we first watched that episode. Oh, GREAT. It’s back. Eeaaaaarrrrwoooorrrmmmmm.Mom’s Rating: 4/5
Zee’s Rating: 4.5/5

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Videos

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4. Super WHY! (4/5 on Common Sense Media)
This show takes (sometimes odd or irrelevant) situations that children might encounter (not wanting to share) and finds answers through popular fairy tales and children’s stories. Children are given the opportunity to change the course of the story by replacing words while, in the process, slowly learning to recognize letters/words.Mom’s Rating: 4/5
Zee’s Rating: 4.5/5

Where to Watch: Netflix

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5. Peg + Cat (5/5 on Common Sense Media)
This show instills an early love for math. One major gripe I have about this show is Peg’s tendency to say, “I am totally freaking out!” What a little drama queen. My daughter picked that one up early, too. *eyeroll* Also, there is an episode about Peg’s alien friend coming from a planet without toilets and having accidents all over someone’s house. So they taught him how to use a toilet, because otherwise they’d have to leave. Some parents may disagree with the potential association between accidents and shame, but my daughter wasn’t really affected by it, as evidenced by the many times Lysol wipes and vinegar were used for cleaning up the floor after watching this episode at least five times at her request.Mom’s Rating: 3.5/5
Zee’s Rating: 4/5

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Videos

OTHER NOTABLE MENTIONS
– Yo Gabba Gabba
– Tumble Leaf
– Little Einsteins
– Mickey Mouse Clubhouse
– Doc McStuffins

SHOWS I LIKED > SHE LIKED
– Bubble Guppies
– Octonauts

SHOWS SHE LIKED > I LIKED
– Shimmer and Shine
– Sofia the First
– Backyardigans
– Elena of Avalor
– Dora and Friends
– Dora the Explorer
– Peppa Pig

Happy Earth Day: Activities, Projects, and Events

We only have one world. Sure, dinosaurs included, things have changed quite a bit since 65,000,000 years ago. The world, along with mankind, has evolved. Medicine, hygiene, and day to day conveniences has improved our general quality of life SO much, we now worry less about being eaten by a wild animal and more about whether or not our phones are able to take quality pictures in low light or if we have enough storage for 100,000 candid pictures of our kids and our Tsum Tsum collection.

We no longer have to hand wash every paint-stained article of clothing and furniture our children touched while working on their latest project and paper maps are practically obsolete. But while our overall quality of life and the time it takes to perform simple tasks have been diminished, we’ve been sucking up more resources and destroying natural habitats of other living beings in exchange for more … everything.

Here are some simple activities we could do with our kids to help reduce our carbon footprint and bring more awareness while celebrating Earth Day:

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1. ENJOY THE OUTDOORS: ATTEND A LOCAL CLEAN-UP EVENT

If there aren’t any clean-up events near you, start your own. Call some friends and head to a local park, beach, or kids’ play area with some speakers for music, gloves and a compostable trash bag.

East SF Bay Cleanups:

City of Oakland Earth Day 2017

City of Oakland Website
23rd Annual Oakland Earth Day
List of 2017 Project Locations

 

City of Alameda Website
Earth Day Festival
Earth Day Beach Cleanup at Crab Cove

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2. SORT AND SEPARATE RECYCLABLES

Make a fun game out of sorting and separating cans, bottles, paper, and boxes.

Sorting Recyclables - Free Printable from totschooling.com
Here is an example of one of the many free printables you can find online. Find the full size version of this specific one at totschooling.net.

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3. PLANT SOMETHING & LEARN ABOUT PLANT CARE

While I’ve never had a green thumb, my daughter LOVES gardening (*cough* playing with dirt) when she visits my Mom. This year, I decided we would start planting things over the summer in a planter that my father in law custom made for Zee’s birthday this year. It will be nice to give her something that she can feel a sense of responsibility over while building self-confidence and a love for nature. Plus, it might just make her eager to eat more veggies! If you don’t have a garden or yard, consider a vertical garden, using windowsills and ledges, hanging planters on balcony railings, or joining a community garden.

Here is a link that might help you decide which variety of veggies or fruits might grow better than others in the SF East Bay Area:
UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda County

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4. REUSE SIMPLE MATERIALS FOR ARTS & CRAFTS

There is a wide variety of fun things you can do with trash. I’ll be posting a longer list of ideas soon, but in the meantime.. here are two examples of arts & crafts ideas using a finished toilet paper roll and an old shoe box.

Toilet Paper Roll-Base Binoculars:

Shoe Box-Base Decorative Storage Box:

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5. DECORATE OR MAKE YOUR OWN TOTE BAGS FOR GROCERIES

There are many sites online that sell plain white or beige colored bags for under $3. It might be nice to buy one that your little one can decorate with hand prints or paint on. Most kids paint is waterproof and easily washed off, so try not to get the bag wet if you want to preserve their artwork. They also sell eco friendly protective coatings for printed products that you could use.

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6. GO FOR AN EARTH DAY SCAVENGER HUNT

While you’re outside enjoying the beautiful weather, you could also make it an opportunity to do a scavenger hunt. Don’t forget to bring snacks, water, sunscreen, and your toilet paper roll binoculars (or real ones). And of course, make or print a list of common objects like rocks, tree stumps, pine cones, insects, or animal tracks.

 

An illustrated checklist for kids to take on hikes.

 

Here is an example of one of the many free printables you can find online. Find the full size version of this specific one at makeandtakes.com

 

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Have some fun and enjoy the beautiful weather this weekend!

 

 

Nevertheless, She Persisted: Raising Strong Girls.. and Boys

We are born into a world that’s filled with people who still have preconceived notions about the role that gender plays in determining a person’s potential and eventual purpose in their communities. So how do we ensure that our children are equipped with the confidence not to be easily influenced as they continue to explore their own desires and develop their own sense of self?

How do we raise strong girls who will nevertheless persist? I have no idea. But… I’ve got a pretty strong willed kid with some real sass.

I’m sure much of that is her personality, but below is a list of some simple things I do that may have also contributed.

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1. ENCOURAGE HER TO SPEAK UP + MAKE SMALL CHOICES

Always remind her to use the power of her words to express herself. Listen to her whenever possible to show her that it works. Teach her to say no if she doesn’t like how someone is treating her, whether it’s a fellow child or an adult. Even if it’s you. Let her make some of her own choices; picking outfits, choosing between options for meals or snack time; have her decide which classes she’s interested in taking.

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2. RESPECT HER BODY

Don’t MAKE her hug, kiss, or speak to people when she doesn’t want to. Yep, this includes Mom and Dad. If you want her to do something, try your level best not to use your size to physically force her to do it; like grabbing her or picking her up against her will. No, it’s not always easy. This last part is hard for me at times, especially when she’s being headstrong *cough* tantrum.

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3. LIMIT SUPERFICIAL COMPLIMENTS

Don’t insist on calling her cute, pretty, or beautiful all.the.time. Point out when she’s brave, strong, or is good at something. Be specific when you compliment. Here are a few compliments I gave her this evening: “Wow, you’re really good at counting!” “You are really good at remembering things!” “I’m glad you noticed where we kept your helmet in the garage. You are so observant!”

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4. ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE

Don’t be too quick to help her out. If she puts her shoes on the wrong feet, so be it. If she wants to wash her own hair, let her. If she shows an interest in mixing the eggs or batter when you’re cooking, let her try. When she doesn’t do something correctly, guide her gently to the conclusion that she may need to try again. Or … to rinse her sticky hair. It may mean more of a mess and take more time, but it’ll be worth it.

 

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5. EXPOSE HER TO STRONG + POSITIVE FEMALE ROLE MODELS

Talk about Malala Yousafzai, Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc, Sacajawea, Marie Curie, Mother Teresa, and others like them. Remember when all the classic princesses needed to be rescued? Thankfully, Disney has introduced plenty of strong and independent female characters in recent years; Mulan, Tiana, Belle, Merida, Rapunzel, Elsa, Anna, and, amongst others, Moana.

 

 

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6. STOP GENDER-TYPING TOYS AND ACTIVITIES

Who decided that trains and cars were for boys and that dolls or kitchen sets  were for girls? Do boys not end up being Dads one day? Will they never cook? Do girls not drive cars? Whether she wants to play soccer, basketball, football, do ballet, tap dance, practice figure skating, or look at bugs – encourage her. She can wear a dress if she chooses to and still be fascinated by bugs as she climbs trees.

 

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7. DON’T TELL HER HOW TO FEEL

Don’t assume she feels/thinks something out loud in front of her. Refrain from saying, “don’t cry” or, dismissively saying, “you are fine” when she’s visibly upset. Instead, ask her to explain how she feels to you and tell her it’s okay to be sad/disappointed, but remind her that using her words will make it easier for you to understand and find a way to help her if she needs it. Her feelings are valid. She is allowed to be sad or disappointed when things don’t go her way, as long as she isn’t hurting anyone or being outwardly disrespectful towards any specific person.

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8. DEVELOP A POSITIVE BODY IMAGE

In our home, when my daughter sees me exercise or pass on sweet treats, I tell her it’s because I’m trying to “be healthier” or “be stronger” as opposed to “be skinny” or “lose weight.” It’s unfortunate that society and Disney has managed to instill some outdated assumptions into a 3 YEAR OLD; long hair is prettier than short (she talked about how she missed my long hair for weeks after I cut my hair last summer), straight hair is better than curly (she started complaining about her curls just before her third birthday). Now, I have developed a tendency of pointing out great short and long haircuts, toned arms and shoulders on swimmers, strong calves on joggers and cyclists, and, because of the obsession with fair skin and whitening treatments among many Asian communities (like the one I grew up in), the beauty in the general uniqueness of ALL people.

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I’d be lying if I said I was consistent across the board with this. These are the self-imposed guidelines I deeply believe in, though. My 4 year old is a very convincing (and sharp-witted) negotiator, so I like to give her the chance to appeal when I’ve said no – assuming she’s using her words to articulate her needs and being respectful. However, there are times I do get frustrated (gritting my teeth here as I recall the chaos that we just went through hours ago at bedtime) when she’s being too strong willed and, uhm… not using her words effectively. At times I get impatient when we are running late and it takes her an extra 15 minutes to do something that might only take me one. All we can do is try our best & hope our kids grow up with the confidence in their ability and potential that we believe they all possess.

Indonesian Independence Day for Kids at Shangri-La Hotel Jakarta

Are you looking for a place to celebrate Indonesia’s Independence Day with your kids on the 17th of August? I took my daughter to Shangri-La’s annual celebration in Jakarta last year and we both had SO much fun! Considering all the food and activities it included, it was such a steal, too! We’ll probably head back to Shangri-La the next time we’re in Indonesia for “Agustusan.”

Cost: 100,000 IDR/child*
Date: August 17, 2016
Time: 11am-2pm
* around 7.50 USD as of this writing

 

ACTIVITIES

Pony Ride

The cost of admission included a pony ride.

          

Parade

The kids were given flags and paraded around the hotel lobby.

Arts & Crafts

Materials for the kids to make necklaces and bracelets were provided.

           

Bouncy House

Soft Play Area for Crawlers

Congkak

There was also an area for kids to play the traditional “congkak” – a game similar to Mancala, but typically with shells.

TRADITIONAL GAMES

Cracker Eating

The first person to finish the cracker without touching it wins. This cracker wasn’t quite the right height for Zee, but she made it nearly 5 minutes without touching!

Pencil in the Bottle

Usually, they tie a pencil to each child’s waist, and whomever gets the pencil in the bottle first wins. In this case, everyone who successfully got the pen in was a winner. And Zee “won!”

There were also a few other games that we did not participate in.

FOOD

Kue Cubit or “Pinched Cake,” a thick, round, pancake-like cake with chocolate sprinkles in the middle that I personally tend to prefer slightly undercooked.

Kue Ape, another pancake-like cake with a soft and fluffy center surrounded by a thin and crispy crepe-like ring, commonly found as a popular street food in Indonesia.

Martabak Mini Tipker [Tipis Kering], a thin, crunchy, and much lighter version of the possible causes of many cardiac arrests – martabak. The classic martabak a butter or margarine soaked pan-fried cake-like snack that is traditionally found stuffed with chocolate sprinkles, cheese, or a combination of both. These days you can find specialty martabak places that offer Toblerone, red velvet, Nutella, and other combinations.

Rambut Nenek or “Grandma’s Hair” is what happens when cotton candy and taffy mates.

This is what it looks like:

Below is a picture of a traditional cart that served Batagor, fried fish dumplings that can be found throughout Indonesia and is often enjoyed with “kecap manis,” a sweet soy sauce, and peanut sauce. Also, Kerak Telor, a Betawi traditional spicy omelette dish made from sticky rice cooked with egg and served with serundeng, fried shallots and dried shrimp.

Siomay, a steamed dumpling similar to the Chinese version of shumai you might find at a dim sum restaurant but with thicker shell and served with peanut sauce in Indonesia + Gorengan or “Fried Foods,” are both very popular. It’s rare to go through more than a week without seeing either of these on the dining table at home.

Obviously, there were a lot of food options. All for 100,000! That’s cheaper than you’d pay if you ACTUALLY bought all this food in the street.

We ended our day with … yep, you guessed it, more food. We had a fabulous and satisfying meal at one of my favorite Jakarta buffets; Satoo. MERDEKA!

For more information, contact:
Shangri-La Jakarta
Kota BNI
Jl. Jendral Sudirman Kav. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
Phone: +62 21 29229999

 

Interview Questions for Parents to Ask Prospective Preschools

Last summer, we were considering moving to Jakarta, Indonesia. Part of the decision making process involved a hunt for preschools. Here is a self-created list of questions that personally helped me determine which schools were a better fit for us than others.

Please feel free to use this as a guide while touring prospective preschools and do let me know if there are any additional questions you think should be added to this list. If you’re wondering why I asked some of these, feel free to comment or shoot me an e-mail. Thanks for reading and please do take the time to subscribe if you’d like to see more posts like this.

Happy touring!

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PHILOSOPHY

What is the school’s teaching philosophy?

When was it established? Is it a franchise?

Who designs or determines their curriculum?

What is their teaching method? Is it mostly directed? Do the kids have any opportunity for free play?

Do they use worksheets? At what age do they give the kids homework?

How do they track the children’s progress? Will parents be able to see this?

How do they handle children who have a hard time following instructions or listening?

Do they have a transition plan for children who may have a rough time adjusting?

How do they handle children who might bite or hit another child? Are the parents notified? Do they have a logbook to keep track of this type of thing?

TEACHERS

What is the student to teacher ratio? How many students are in a classroom?

Are all the adults in the classroom typically teachers or do they have nannies/helpers?

How long have the teachers been there? Do they sign a contract to ensure that they don’t leave before the end of the school year?

Are there parent teacher conferences? Are the teachers available for discussions about the child’s individual progress or potential struggles?

What is the criteria to becoming a teacher at the school? Do they have to have a degree in early childhood development or education or are they trained in house?

Do they have specialist teachers or visiting teachers for subjects like Mandarin, Music, or Dance?

FACILITIES

Do they have a playground?

Do they have a library or any other special rooms or facilities that set them apart from other preschools?

How many restrooms are there? How far is the restroom from the classroom? Do they have large toilets or small toilets? Are the children accompanied to the restroom by an adult?

Is there a waiting area for parents or nannies?

What sort of learning materials do they use? Do they have a wide variety of play based learning tools for children in the classrooms?

Do they own the building or rent?

Do the children have access to screen time while at school?

FOOD, HEALTH, & EXTRAS

Do they provide snack and lunch or do the parents have to pack a daily lunch?

If it’s provided by the school, what does the menu look like? Is it nutritious? Do they accommodate dietary restrictions and/or allergies?

Do they teach a second language? Which? Are they taught by native speakers?

Do they offer extracurricular activities? Which? Are they included in the cost of tuition?

Are all the teachers certified in CPR and/or First Aid? Is there an in-house nurse?

What is their policy for sick kids? Do they check the children’s temperature prior to coming in?

Do the kids take field trips? Where to? Are they included in the price? What type of transportation do they use? Are parents or nannies expected to and/or allowed to join?

What is their protocol in case of a medical emergency? Do they always have a vehicle and driver ready to transport any children to the hospital? Who accompanies the child(ren)? Which hospital do they take the children to?

SECURITY

What is their sign in/sign out policy? Are parents and/or nannies given a badge and is there some method to ID the person who picks up the child?

What happens if nobody who is on the previously approved list is able to pick up the child?

Where do children wait when parents or nannies are late for pick up? Who stays with them?

Are drop offs and pick ups inside a secure and gated area?

Are there security guards? How/where were they trained?

Are there CCTVs inside and outside of the school? Are there CCTVs near/around restrooms?

Is the parking lot private or shared?

Do they have a plan set in place for bomb threats, abduction, intruders?

Do they hold fire and earthquake drills with the children? How frequently?

EXTRAS

Are children able to try out at the school? For how long? Will parents be allowed to observe?

Do they expect all children to be potty trained? If not, who changes diapers and where?

Are parents expected to sign a contract that commits their children to the school for a period of time? How much advance notice do they need prior to withdrawal?

Do they have a part time program or do all children have to attend 5 days a week? Do they provide any options for after care?

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COMING SOON

I will be posting a downloadable comparison table to show the key differences between the schools that my then 3-year-old daughter tried out at while in Jakarta. The list of these schools include Bambino Cipete, Discovery Menteng, EtonHouse, HighScope Simatupang, HighScope Kelapa Gading, Jakarta World Academy, Leap Schoolhouse, Mighty Minds Hang Tuah, and Royal Tots Academy. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about any of the above preschools, feel free to contact me!

 

Easter Egg Hunt at Dunsmuir House

This year, we attended The Great Egg Hunt at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate in Oakland, California. When you block out all the event traffic, long lines, boisterous children, and the mild chaos from lack of proper signage, for a moment, the grand neoclassical mansion looming ahead of you almost makes you feel like a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald book, walking the gardens as you fantasize about life with Jay Gatsby.

          

And then your kid interrupts the thought with a dramatic, “Oh nooooooooo.” The bow on her basket has come undone for the umpteenth time. And CLEARLY, she can’t possibly carry a basket without a bow. Smh.

The grounds were beautiful in springtime.

          

They also had two Easter bunnies – a white bunny with a long line by the entrance and his gray buddy across the mansion.

There were a variety of activities catered to younger children including face painting ($5), a photo op with a pony ($5), arts & crafts, a few performers, and a petting zoo. We didn’t find any food available for sale, but many families  brought picnic baskets or lunchboxes and a blanket to use on the lawn. We weren’t quite that prepared.

The actual Easter egg hunt was kind of a mess. They split up the hunts into different timeframes based on age range:

Ages 0–3: noon
Ages 4–6: 1pm
Ages 7–10: 2pm

This didn’t work out so well for families with more than one child, so we noticed that many parents insisted that their 2 and 3 year olds join their older siblings for the hunt with the 4-6 year old group.

We reached the second line – the one for the egg hunt – at 12:20pm, 40mins before the hunt was scheduled to start. This meant our kids had plenty of time to play!

There was some flower picking..

          

And though my daughter INSISTED on wearing this D&G-like dress she picked out and that Cartier-like love bracelet for her Easter egg hunt,

it didn’t stop her from climbing over trees..

and finding a way to enjoy the outdoors.

By 1pm, the line had reached all the way past the mansion, filled with hundreds of families.

The kids were told to sit and wait for 30 minutes so the staff could allow as many children in. This photo was taken at 1:05pm, 5mins after they started letting children inside. By 1:30pm, there were many crying children who couldn’t see their parents because there were many people sandwiched between them and the fence. And they kept being asked to sit down, so they couldn’t exactly play while they waited.

When the kids were finally allowed to start the egg hunt, many parents ran inside the hunt area to join their children.

I was disappointed to discover that there were hardly any eggs. They had basically just thrown a bunch of no-brand chocolates on the lawn.

          

By the end of the hunt, Zee had only found TWO eggs. The rest were chocolates, many of which were opened and or had been smushed under someone’s shoes. Fortunately, she didn’t want any of her chocolates and was willing to trade them in for a cup of ice cream after lunch.

In the end, what mattered most to my daughter was how much she enjoyed being outside with her best friend and the fun of the hunt.

If what you’re looking for is a place nearby and a chance to spend some time outdoors with family, Dunsmuir House is a pretty good pick. We both had fun that day, but next year we may research other venues for our Easter Egg Hunt.

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Photos taken by Asha with an iPhone 6 Plus.

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MORE INFORMATION

Ages 10 & under: $3.00
Ages 11 & older: $5.00

Face Painting: 11am–2pm
Arts & Crafts: 11am–2pm
Children’s Cafe: 11am–2pm
Petting Zoo: 11am–2pm

Ages 0–3: noon
Ages 4–6: 1pm
Ages 7–10: 2pm

Parking was $10 at a nearby parking lot, unless you plan to arrive before 10am to look for street parking.

Stop Paying Full Price: 5 Easy Steps to Saving Money

The San Francisco Bay Area is a ridiculously expensive place to live.

So how does my kid have all those Disney costumes and way more skinny jeans than I’ve probably ever owned in my adult life? And how do you think I managed to afford taking 12 trips last year? Sure, some of them were only for 2 nights, but they still add up pretty quickly if you’re paying full price for everything. I don’t ever pay full price. STOP PAYING FULL PRICE. Seriously, though. (Yeah, see how I busted out the caps and italics there. It’s that important.)

I just have one simple request in exchange for these AWESOME savings that I’m certain you’ll thank me for later if you are an avid online shopper; please use the links below so I can get a referral bonus. You also get $5-$15 when you sign up using my referral link(s)!

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There are 5 things I NEVER fail to do when I’m spending money online, whether it’s on diapers, clothes, laundry detergent, or hotel reservations:

STEP 1: USE A PRICE COMPARISON TOOL

Google Shopping (90% of the time) – This is my favorite tool, though it generally does not include Amazon.com so I tend to check Amazon.com manually on a separate tab.

Shopping.com (Under 10% of the time)

Price Grabber (Rarely)

… and exclusively for travel,

Kayak (60% of the time) – I only use this for price comparisons, but I never book through kayak because pro tip: hotels.com does price matches. AND you save more money when you book there through a combination of their Welcome Rewards program, MrRebates, and reseller gift cards.

Trivago (40% of the time)

Google Flights (90% of the time) – This is always great because their tool allows you to scan all available flights with flexible dates while selecting multiple departure and arrival airports. I’m a Delta Medallion member so I typically want to fly Delta on longer routes, but occasionally this tool helps me out when I’m flying shorter domestic routes or finding tickets for family members and friends.

STEP 2: SIGN UP FOR FREE CASHBACK AND GET $5 NOW

MrRebates (90% of the time) – Since 2011, I’ve collected $3,878.41 in cashback through MrRebates.com. Sometimes I choose to shop at sites that provide cashback through MrRebates instead of popular big box stores on Amazon simply because of the extra savings through cashback and to avoid added sales tax.

$4000 Cash Back from MrRebates

BeFrugal (Under 10% of the time) – Since 2015, I’ve collected $35.44 in cashback through BeFrugal.com. It’s rare that a site that’s also on MrRebates will offer less of a % cashback than BeFrugal, but it has happened.

$35.44 Earned at BeFrugal

No, it’s not a hoax. No, this is not a credit card offer. No, you don’t have to spend any money or even provide credit card information to sign up. You receive your payments by simply providing your Paypal e-mail address.

If any of you have ever built a website or worked on a blog, you’re probably familiar with ads that provide incentives for successful purchases made through successful clickthroughs. These days, sites like these are making a % of that revenue available to their users.

STEP 3: LOOK FOR A COUPON

MrRebates (+/- 50% of the time) – Yep, they not only offer cashback but also list the available/active coupons for the site you’re shopping from.

4% Cash Back at Hotels.com

RetailMeNot (+/- 50% of the time) – Occasionally, there will be coupons here that aren’t listed anywhere else.

Hotels.com Discount Codes

STEP 4: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF UNWANTED GIFT CARDS

GiftCardGranny (+/- 90% of the time) – This is absolutely my favorite tool for buying gift cards, because it also searches through Raise.com’s inventory. I buy gift cards for a variety of things that I buy online and in person, including Starbucks (18% off as of this moment, but note that this is ever changing based on supply/demand), Jamba Juice, Panera Bread, and other popular chain restaurants and fast food places.

Starbucks Gift Cards for 18% off

Raise (+/- 10% of the time) – Since GiftCardGranny also searches Raise’s inventory, the one real plus side to signing up at Raise is that you can also set alerts when certain gift cards are discounted at more than any specific %.

STEP 5: SIGN UP FOR REWARDS

There are so many rewards programs for travel, fast food, chain restaurants, and even things like Starbucks and Jamba Juice that it likely deserves it’s own post. The ones I find I’ve profited the most from are listed below:

Hotels.com – Their Welcome Rewards program is simple. For every 10 nights you book without a coupon, you get 1 free night at a rate based on the average price you paid for the 10 nights. I keep saving my rewards for a big Europe trip I’d like to take when Zee is old enough to appreciate it, so as of now I have collected 22 free nights since 2008. Their customer service is also unparalleled. I’ve had many positive experiences with them but one in particular sticks out. Once, they moved me from the Hampton Inn Times Square ($158/night) to a suite at the W hotel ($470/night) because the Hampton Inn had run out of the room type I had paid extra for.

22 Free Nights at Hotels.com Welcome Rewards

Delta – They’re not quite as profitable anymore since two years ago, they changed the way you earn miles and made it based on dollars spent as opposed to miles flown. A trip to Indonesia that would’ve earned me 18,000 miles now earns me only 7,500 or so miles. If you consider the fact that a domestic round trip flight costs only 25,000 miles, it’s still a good deal. Reaching Medallion Status (collecting a minimum of over 25,000 medallion-qualifying miles per year) also gives you a few extra perks.

STEP 6: GO SHOPPING, PLAN A TRIP, ENJOY!

Thanks for stopping by! Like I said, you’ll thank me later. (Or you could also buy me a coffee today in the form of a gift card…….)

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Zee’s 3rd Birthday: Kids’ Frozen Birthday Party Ideas

When you move halfway across the world to a place where you don’t know any other parents with young children and your kid’s version of playtime is nursing and chewing on everything in sight, throwing a birthday party seems silly. So for my daughter’s 1st and 2nd birthdays, we were either with my Mom in Southern California or in Disneyland. By a few months prior to Zee’s 3rd birthday, however, we had made a number of good friends with whom we wanted to really celebrate her birthday for the first time with a themed Frozen birthday party with a visit from Arendelle’s royalty.

We had the party at our home, which unfortunately is on a steep hill and does not have a yard. Still, the kids had a lot to do.

You almost couldn’t tell that my daughter wasn’t feeling well that day and that nobody had much sleep at all the night before.

Entertainment

Though throughout my pregnancy, I repeated over and over again that I refuse to ever turn my home into a colorful mess of toys, in reality that is exactly what happened. The living room has officially been claimed by Zee as her space to play. We have a toy kitchen, a mini market, a few small ride-on toys, and a lot of random little toys all over the place.

            

The kids seemed pretty entertained, even though it was arguably a bit chaotic.

The trampoline we bought a week before the party was also a big hit.

Unfortunately, this specific trampoline was a bit too large for our living room and I didn’t like the insufficient padding along the poles.

The kids also danced with each other a little bit as songs from the Frozen soundtrack played in the background.

Anna and Elsa were a big hit with my daughter and the kids.

We go to Disneyland often and she’s always happy to meet the princesses, but they have so many royal visitors that they never have the time to stop and chat.

So we made time for Anna & Elsa to sit with her for 15-20mins while she chatted with them and showed them her toys.

Afterwards, they sat with the kids to tell an interactive story and sing songs.

They also made time to take a picture with each of the guests before the birthday song and cake.

Cake + Sweet Treats

The cake had three tiers in three different flavors.

We had each family bring home a large slice of cake from the bottom two tiers and froze the top tier to have at another date.

           

There were a pretty wide variety of sweet treats.

This was her first time she had ever had her own cake pop..

her own cupcake..

and tried vanilla frosted animal crackers.

Fortunately, she had a banana just before her party started. It may have been the healthiest thing she ate before dinner that day.

Food

We served a variety of savory foods ranging from sliders to pizza to Swedish meatballs along with cheese and crackers.

We also served “Melted Olaf” yogurt cups with candy corn noses and pretzel sticks for arms along with Olaf cheese sticks, drawn by my stepdad Robert.

Party Favors

I bought white paper bags in bulk mostly because I think they’re more versatile and extras can be used for Zee to color/draw on when we send gifts to grandparents. (Because let’s face it – the only people who would appreciate that would be her parents and grandparents.) I cut the snowflakes off of some decoration I had bought for the party and decided not to use.

The bags were filled with a variety of items: play-doh, bubbles, coloring books, crayons, stickers, Frozen-themed freeze dried fruit, and fruit snacks.

Decoration

So, putting aside all of the snowflakes on the windows and the draped teal colored sparkly fabric we used on the tables, this was absolutely my favorite bit of the decoration. It took me 3 hours to do this, which is admittedly a little bit.. sad.

We also had silver burlap, lots of balloons, crystals, teal fabric, and used A LOT of our Christmas ornaments to decorate the table.

Personal Thoughts

Overall, it was a great day. We were so grateful to have had so much help from my friend Rechel, my Mom, her husband Robert, and his best friend Ernie. We were also very grateful to have our friends and Zee’s friends over to celebrate that day.

Although Zee was feeling under the weather, she was pretty happy throughout the entire party and she continued to talk about it for an entire year until she had her Moana themed 4th birthday party a few days ago. Every time we went to Disneyland or met the princesses on our trip to Disney World, she would talk about how Anna & Elsa went to her birthday party.

Ahhh.. to believe in magic again.

___

Photos taken by Ross Marlowe.