The chocoholic’s travel guide

If you’re regretting that Easter bunnies only arrive once a year, it’s the perfect time to consider some chocolate-themed travel (before egg overload puts you off).

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I’ve actually managed to line mine up already with a trip to St Lucia planned next month, and May’s part of the Take12Trips challenge. Yes, that’s right, the Caribbean island is home to chocolate plantations, Hotel Chocolat’s Boucan hotel and even a chocolate trail.

And of course, there’s always Belgium a short Eurostar trip away. But you needn’t even venture that far afield…

Bournemouth
If you haven’t spent a weekend break in a chocolate-themed hotel, you can’t call yourself a true chocolate lover. The Chocolate Hotel in Bournemouth has 15 chocolate-themed rooms that can even come with chocolate fountains, plus they can arrange kids’ chocolate parties.

Brighton
There’s chocolateries and then there’s Choccywoccydoodah, with locations in central London and its new Brighton site. The stores’ bar du chocolat is basically sugar-coated heaven for chocolate lovers. From the fantastical cakes to truffles, hot chocolate and chocolate figurines, it’s grown-up indulgence that’s just as good for kids.

London
Take a Chocolate Ecstasy walking tour with ‘certified chocoholic’ expert guides as they point out the capital’s best chocolate stores and experiences as you wander the city’s side streets and alleys. Although they’re aimed at adults, the company says accompanied children are welcome and there’s no more than 15 minutes’ walking between stops. Oh, and there’s discounts if you’re not full at the end.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Never be short of chocolate again – learn how to make your own. Artisan chocolatier Jane Williams, who’s created chocolates for the Queen, runs masterclasses at her studios so expect expert tips and creations including strawberry and Champagne truffles or decorated heart-shaped chocolate lollipops. Best for adults, but for other chocolate courses check out suggestions on Chocolate Tourism.

Birmingham
If you’ve grown up (or are growing up) in the UK, Cadbury is likely to be part of your heritage and childhood memories. The Cadbury World tour traces chocolate’s history and arrival to Europe, plus seeing liquid chocolate, watching chocolatiers at work and chasing a giant Crème Egg… There’s also the Bourneville Experience, where you can design your own packaging.
Or if you’re in Wales, go behind the scenes on a tour of Michton Chocolate Factory in Swansea – no under-threes.

And if it’s the bunnies you prefer, there’s always Japan’s rabbit cafes

 

Image: Jonathan Reyes/Flickr

The top 10 child seat checks

You wait ages for a car seat post to come along, then there’s suddenly two in two days… After yesterday’s news of the inflatable car seat, Which? has released a new guide for parents to help make sure your existing model is fitted safely.

Because however high-tech or award-winning your seat might be, it won’t be effective if it’s not fitted correctly – they even mark down designs that are difficult to fit as they’ve got a higher risk of parents making a mistake.

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The consumer expertshave identified 10 common problems to watch out for, with a downloadable guide as well as videos on how to fit them properly if you do discover a problem.

So whether you’re planning a long Easter journey or a last-minute trip to stock up on Easter eggs, it’s worth running through these checks first.

1. Is the seatbelt secure and untwisted?
2. If the seat is rearward facing, is the handlebar in the position shown in the instructions?
3. Is the car seat sitting squarely on the seat of the car and is the headrest in the correct position as shown in your instructions?
4. Is the seatbelt following the correct red or blue route guides?
5. Is the seatbelt buckle in the right place?
6. For Isofix seats, do the visual indicators show it is fitted correctly?
7. Is your Isofix drop down foot securely on the floor, and/is the top tether firmly attached?
8. Have you removed any thick clothes?
9. For younger children, are the shoulder pads level with your child’s shoulders and is the harness not too tight or loose?
10. For older children, is the seatbelt across their shoulder and hips?

 

Image courtesy of Which?

The inflatable car seat

There are some truly weird baby products out there – and at first glance, an inflatable car seat seems to be one of them.

No, it’s not a belated April Fool, it’s a new idea from Volvo, currently in development. And after coming across it on the Mother & Baby magazine website, I started thinking that this is actually a very clever solution if you’re travelling with young children.

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I’ve found myself attempting to wrestle with an unfamiliar model through a haze of jetlag, watched by unhelpful car hire staff and to the soundtrack of an exhausted baby.

I’ve also found myself paying over the odds to get around Miami as no taxi would pick us up without our own car seat, and inevitably none of them had their own.

And most parents have tales to tell of dragging bulky car seats through an airport, then putting them at the mercy of baggage handlers, rather than risking the often dirty and dilapidated seats offered in rental cars… and their extortionate fees.

So an alternative that weighs under 5kg, can go into your luggage, inflates in less than 40 seconds and can even be inflated by Bluetooth is something I’d check out.

The key, of course, is safety. As it’s not on the market yet, there’s no details of safety certification (or what sizes the seat might come in) but as a rear-facing model, it’s already off to a good start.

And given that Volvo developed the first child seat prototype, the first rearward-facing child seat, the booster cushion and the first rearward-facing seat with ISOFIX fittings, they know what they’re talking about.

I bet a few people mocked most of those when they were announced too…

 

Image and video courtesy of Volvo

The perfect summer sunglasses for kids

A couple of weeks ago, when the sun finally started shining again, I began my quest for my new perfect pair of sunglasses.

But after spending a gorgeously sunny afternoon exploring a new park with Minnie, I’ve realised I need to add sunglasses for kids to my shopping list.

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We’ve had a pair of Baby Banz passed on from a friend of mine – cleverly designed for babies and toddlers with a Velcro strap around the head, shatter-resistant frame and some impressive category 3 lenses (offering about the best protection out there).

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Needless to say Minnie, who resists any kind of hat and only vaguely tolerates hoods, wasn’t a fan of something over her face. The last time we tried them, in the Caribbean, she put up with them for about a millisecond before pulling them off.

A combination of hat, buggy hood and muslin kept most of the glare off her then – now she yells if the hood goes up even an inch and is usually running around anyway.

But today the ‘bright light’ of the spring sun finally convinced her to leave them on. Except as they’re designed for ages 0-2, she’ll have grown out of them fairly soon.

So if I can persuade her to keep normal style sunglasses on, there’s some very cute ones out there.

John Lewis Ditsy Floral Wayfarers, £6, are girly without being too pink – for ages two to 12.

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Or they also have some pastel polkadot sunglasses, £6, which make me think of eating ice-cream on a beach.

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Accessorize Kids has some Tropical Wayfarers, also £6, which are one size – so without seeing them in real life, I’m not sure how well they’d work on a toddler.

For something simpler, Marks & Spencer’s Opaque frame sunglasses in Coral, £4, are bright but not too fussy – plus have 100% UV protection. Available in one size.

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And at House of Fraser, the Pumpkin Patch Spliced Aviator sunglasses, £7.50, might say they’re for boys but I love the colours.

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If you do want something girlier, the Daisy Frame sunglasses, also £7.50 from the same range, are a fun sunny yellow.

house-fraser-kids-daisy-sunglasses

Debenhams has a similar pair in navy from BlueZoo for £4.50 – labelled as for 36 months and above due to choking hazard, so best for older kids.

Inevitably Mini Boden has a couple of very cute designs – a white pair with green polkadot arms for £12.

boden-girls-kids-sunglasses

And most unusual of all, a pair of tortoiseshell shades, also £12, which look like a shrunken version of an adult style – perfect if you’ve got someone dying to copy Mummy… or have had as many primary colours as you can take!

boden-girls-kids-sunglasses-tortoiseshell

 

Images: Joni Bouma/Flickr. All product images courtesy of the retailer, Baby Banz image courtesy of John Lewis.

 

Reviewed: new Kiddylicious and Organix snack ranges

Left to her own devices, Minnie has been known to throw away half a biscuit because she’s full, request banana over crepes and get wildly excited about the thought of sweetcorn.

She’s also hoovered up hot cross bun as if someone was about to snatch it from her plate and discovered that this weird cold stuff called ice cream is actually pretty nice.

snack-sign-neon-eat

While I believe firmly in everything in moderation, from cucumber to chocolate, I do want to keep her diet as healthy as possible while I’m still even vaguely in control.

Which means I’m always alert for new toddler snack ranges for when we’re out and about, to mix up the favourites of breadstick or rice cakes. I’m also hoping that more of them might taste of, well, something – having tried at least one which appeared to be crunch and air.

First up, Kiddylicious, which has launched two gluten-free ranges for seven months and up, to join their existing older ranges.

kiddylicious-fruity-puffsThe Fruity Puffs come in strawberry, blueberry and banana flavours, and look vaguely like a fruit flavoured Wotsit might (only without the neon orange glow or any artificial additives).

Both blueberry and banana got the thumbs up from Minnie, who’s usually happy to try anything involving fruit.

Twice infused with fruit flavours, that does translate to purple dust on the blueberry version – which, in the hands of a toddler, translates to purple smears all over everything so I might be sticking to the banana option in future.

For even smaller hands, they’re a good shape to start self-feeding as well – easy to grip and munch/gum through.

kiddylicious-tomato-flying-saucers-reviewSecond, there’s a savoury range of Flying Saucers in tomato or cheese. And I got my wish for something that actually tasted of what it said on the packet – the cheese ones are properly cheesy.

Slightly too much so for Minnie I think, who stopped after a handful. We’ve hit fussier territory recently so I can’t help suspecting she’d have wolfed them down if they’d been around six months ago.

Both are available in Asda and Ocado, priced 55p, with more stores to follow.

And Organix has a new addition to its range too, the Goodies organic Sweetcorn Salsa Snappy Crocs – not such a snappy name admittedly, but perfect toddler snacking.

Sweetcorn_Salsa_Snappy_CroThe crocodile shape is probably half the fun, the sweetcorn ticks the sweetness box for babies and the vegetables box for parents (along with no artificial colours, flavours or added salt), plus the taste is slightly more adventurous than most things out there.

Minnie is already a huge fan of the Spicy Tomato Stars (along with another mum friend of mine, who shall remain nameless) as well as sweetcorn, so these look set to be another permanent addition to the cupboard.

Fortunately they come as a multipack, with four 15g bags for £1.99. Currently available in Asda and in major retailers from June.

 

Disclosure: I was sent samples by both Kiddylicious and Organix to review. Minnie’s opinions are very firmly her own.

Images: Seth Anderson/Flickr and courtesy of Kiddylicious and Organix