Day 0 = California to Australia

Yes, you should go to Australia.  And yes, you should go to Australia even if you have kids.  And yes, you should buy that extra ticket for your child, even if they are under 2 and can technically fly free.  You will not regret it.

On Wednesday, July 24th, 2013, we began our adventure to the best family vacation!  And we had friends, Ann Ming and Kevin Chao, that were crazy enough to come with us from California to Australia, with a 22-month old as well.  Yes, two toddlers and two sets of crazy parents.  Best trip ever!!!!!  And by the way, we've definitely found our future travel buddies =)

Here we go!  A suitcase and a carry-on bag for each of us, plus a stroller, carseat, and one bonus bag (more about this later).
When choosing flights, the number one priority was a DIRECT flight to Sydney.  Absolutely.   From San Francisco, the only direct flight was with United, which is not a fun plane to fly on because they are old planes and they do not have individual entertainment systems (another priority).  Therefore, we decided to fly out of Los Angeles, and then you have many more options.  Of course, cost is the second priority, and fortunately, Qantas had amazing deals for the summer (well, California summer = Australia winter).  It is a 15-hour flight to Sydney, Australia, but if you can get on the newer Qantas Airbus red-eye flights, it is a pretty great flight.

We heart Qantas Airlines.
"Zaydee, we're going to sleep on the plane!  Isn't that fun???" (repeated many times in the days before our trip to prepare for our red-eye flight)
Zaydee meeting her soon-to-be new best friend, Rowan (aka Ro-Ro), in the airport check-in line.
Waiting in the terminal and checking out our plane from the window.
OK, so everyone wants to know, "How was the plane ride???"  So here we break down some key points for those of you that are curious, or for parents who may be traveling in the future and need some plane tips:

1) Like we mentioned earlier, buy a ticket for your under-2 year old child.  15 hours is such a long flight that you and your child need the extra space.  Space to sit, space to play, space to eat, space to stretch, space to move... later in our trip, we had a few flights that were only 2-3 hours, so for those we didn't buy seats for the kids. 

2) Know your child's sleep tendencies.  For us, we knew Zaydee would sleep best in her carseat because she does that on long car rides, so we cleared it with Qantas before our trip.  At home, she falls asleep in her crib by herself, so she is not used to us being around.  If we didn't bring the carseat, there would be no way Zaydee would just cuddle to sleep or lay down on us.  It's just not how Zaydee works.  However for Ro Ro, Ann Ming and Kevin knew that he could fall asleep anywhere as long as they cuddled with him.  So he just slept horizontally on the seat between them on the flight and they didn't need a carseat. 

3) Before the trip, start shifting your child's sleep schedule closer to the destination time zone to help with jet lag.  For example, we knew Australia was 17 hours ahead, or for us we just counted 7 hours back, i.e. if your child normally sleeps at 8pm in California = 8pm minus 7 hours = haha, bedtime is going to be at 1pm in Australia!  So both of our families started shifting our child's sleeptime back at least a week before our trip, about a half hour each day.  Zaydee was sleeping at midnight the last day before our Australia trip = 12am minus 7 hours = 5pm in Australia - not too bad!  Shift before the trip and then when you get to your destination, shift a little bit more, then you're good.  During our trip, Zaydee went to sleep at about 7pm each night, which is only shifting 2 more hours = no real jet lag on the trip!  Of course, it may not be so easy if you fly somewhere that is exactly 12 hours difference, but California to Australia is actually pretty doable.

4) Test out Benadryl sometime before the trip if you are not against using it.  Ro Ro never needed it because he is able to sleep anywhere, but for Zaydee, she's a resister and we needed to have some "help" to promote sleep.  A few days before our trip, we gave her Benadryl an hour before bedtime to see her reaction.  You must test Benadryl because some kids get the reverse reaction and become super hyper (not the reaction you want on a red-eye flight for 15 hours!!!).  Zaydee didn't get obviously drowsy, but she didn't get hyper either.  She just started getting ... clumsy?

5) Pack a "bonus bag."  I mentioned this earlier in our first photo.  The bonus bag is a carry-on that has everything you can bring to distract and entertain your child.  It is the emergency bag.  It is the lifesaver.  It is the key to avoiding tantrums bag.  What's in the bonus bag?  Well, it depends on your kid.  For Ro Ro, he just needs his toy cars and he can play with them FOR HOURS.  Driving them, lining them up, turning them, stacking them.  In the plane, in the restaurant, in the hotel room, in line... Ro Ro is a happy camper when he has his "Tsuh Tsuh."  Zaydee... on the other hand, has a one-minute attention span.  So our bonus bag had stickers, books, crayons, watercolor, wikki stix, play-doh, glow sticks, etch-a-sketch, containers to open, q tips, felt figurines, I think you get the idea.  And of course, her favorite snacks.  Oh... and James downloaded lots of kid-friendly apps for the iPad, which she had never used prior to this trip, but were part of the super-duper-backup-plan-in-case-of-a-zero-hours-of-sleep-toddler.  Bonus bag.  And don't forget that extra change of clothes.  You never know when you might need it.  Ro Ro had a poop explosion =)

6)  Book a red-eye flight that arrives in the morning (again to help with jetlag).  Our flight was at 10:10pm at night, so that meant settle on the plane, play a bit, eat, play some more, and then it's midnight, or when she had been going to bed the past few days.  Tired and ready and a dose of Benadryl, and for Zaydee she sleeps with her special blankets, stuffed animal, and lullaby music, so our pre-tested headphones on, and...

"Please don't wake up, please don't wake up, please don't wake up, please don't wake up."
Zaydee ended up being awake the first 2 hours of the flight, then slept straight for 8 hours (WOOHOO!), awake again 3 hours to eat breakfast and play, then slept again for 1 hour, then awake the last hour to land = total 9 hours sleep out of a 15 hour flight!  Ro Ro also slept just as long, if not longer than Zaydee!  Good job babies!

The Chao Family's "That Wasn't So Bad" picture!

The Yu Family's "We Survived the Plane Ride" picture!
Probably the more unpleasant part of the travel process was after the plane ride, when you're so relieved the kids slept, and you're ready to leave the airport... but then you see the customs line.  The always. so. long. and. hot. customs. line.  Zaydee pretty much lost it as we waited about an hour in line, but who can blame her?

Ro Ro = "I love to cuddle with mama and play with my cars."
Zaydee = "GET ME OUT OF THE ERGO!!! (for those of you that don't know, the ergo is the carrier we use.  Zaydee is generally more hot all the time, so we just become a sweaty mess everytime we use the ergo).
A note about packing.  We tend to be over-packers.  We like to be prepared for everything, i.e. bonus bag.  But we justified packing so much because technically it's winter in Australia.  So in Sydney, which is in the South-East of Australia, it's in the 60s during the day and 40s at night, which means jackets and pants and layers.  But part of our itinerary was going to Cairns, which is in the North-East section of Australia, and the temperature there was between the 50s and 70s, so t-shirt and shorts.  So we packed a lot.  For example, I needed my UGGS for Sydney, and my flip flops for Cairns, and sneakers for active stuff.  Winter clothes, summer clothes, toiletries, laptops... and then there's all of Zaydee's things.  Regular diapers, nighttime diapers, swim diapers, wipes. (I suppose we could've bought some in Australia like Ann Ming and Kevin).  We needed her eating chair because she always eats better there (I suppose that wasn't really necessary).  Stroller, Carseat, Pack and play were big items to lug around, but essential.  Why did we have so much stuff???

Our luggage.  As compared to...
Their luggage.  Are you kidding?!  2 Suitcases, 2 Carry-ons, Carseat, and Stroller (3 less items than us).

Day 0, or the travel day, to Australia completed!  We actually "lost" Thursday, the 25th of July, and arrived at 6am on Friday, the 26th of July.  Actually, after customs and getting luggage and taking a 30 minute taxi to our hotel in Circular Quay, it was already 9am.  So tired... but wanting to stay awake to adjust for the jet lag!  Oh and probably tired because James and I can't resist watching movie after movie on plane rides, therefore, not sleeping.  Haha, it's part of the fun of traveling, right?

All the fancier photos like this one are courtesy of our travel buddy, Kevin!

On to our official first day in Sydney.....

Day 1 = Sydney: Circular Quay, Harbour Bridge, Opera House, Royal Botanical Gardens

Friday, July 26, 2013
One of our first day attractions, the Sydney Opera House.
Location, location, location.  James booked our hotel rooms at the Radisson Blu, and it was in the perfect location to be able to walk to all the main sites in Sydney.  Although a bit more expensive than we had wanted to spend, the convenience to walk to restaurants, shopping, and attractions was well worth it!

By the time we had finally arrived to our hotel and checked in, it was already past 9am.  The kids had already been up since 5am from the flight, so we went across the street from our hotel to the ACE Coffee Shop to have some ham and cheese croissants, fancy PB&J, and flat whites.  (Flat whites, which are similar to lattes but smoother, became the new drink of our trip).  After full bellies, we put the kids down for naptime for a couple of hours... and the adults had naptime too!

Ro Ro naptime.
Thankfully, the kids have an internal clock and after 2-3 hours, they are ready to get up from naptime (whereas the adults probably could've slept until nighttime and would have become really jetlagged..).  1:00 pm, and we were ready to go explore Sydney!

Birds, birds... a lot of birds!!!
And not always just the normal birds we see... what is that??
In just about 10 minutes, we were able to walk to the must-see Circular Quay.  The Circular Quay is a major transportation hub with trains, buses, and ferries.  It is quite a magnificent sight to see the famous Harbour Bridge on one side and the equally famous Opera House on the other. 

Never knew how close the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were to each other!
Although it was technically Winter, we lucked out having really beautiful and warm weather (during the day).
Great first day attraction to let it sink in right away that we're really in Australia!
A view of downtown Sydney behind us... very similar to San Francisco feel.
First family photo with Zaydee looking in the camera!
Chao family photo with a better view of the Harbour Bridge.
Inside the Opera House checking out the schedule of performances.   If we didn't have kids, we would have loved to attend a show!  Too bad...
Finally letting the kids out of the stroller!  Also, one of James' co-fellows from USC who is originally from Australia, Scott, met up with us.
Nice large space to run around outside of the Opera House.  RUN RUN RUN RUN... FALL.
 Right next to the Opera House is the Royal Botanical Gardens.  We took a nice stroll through the Gardens, enjoying the sunshine and space for the kids to run.  There were lots of people just reading or sleeping throughout the Gardens and you really appreciate how the city keeps the environment clean and well-taken care of.

Zaydee exploring one of the construction areas in the Gardens.
Imagine Central Park in New York, but much much cleaner.
 After walking through the Royal Botanical Gardens, it was approaching sunset, so we decided to have dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants in front of the Opera House.  Opera Bar is the popular spot and where we wanted to go, but they didn't have room, so we went to Opera Kitchen next door.  Our first dinner in Sydney turned out to be our most expensive and worst dinner because of the bad service, ridiculous prices, and the aggressive birds!!!  The only thing that made up for it was the incredible views of the Bridge.  Go to Opera Bar instead!

Yes, Opera Bar.  No, Opera Kitchen.
The start of dinner.  Notice the seagulls behind us, and that is after shooing away several VERY AGGRESSIVE ones already!
The end of dinner.  5pm AUS time = 2am CA time.  Zaydee can barely keep her head up.  And I ordered that martini thinking it would be $10 or so... no.  Didn't know until afterwards that it was DOUBLE.  Expensive!!!
 Our first day in Sydney concluded around 6pm, but it was a productive afternoon visiting Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Good night Sydney, we love you already!!!

But we don't love you, seagulls.  Find your food elsewhere!!!

Day 2 = Sydney: Darling Harbour, Tumbalong Park, Taronga Zoo

 Saturday, July 27, 2013

Good thing they don't sell Tim Tam's at home.  Good. Thing.
Since we were on a California schedule, the kids woke up around 5am on our second day.   Unfortunately, not much is open that early on the weekends, including breakfast places or cafe's (weekdays are a different story).  Convenience stores, however, are open, and so we went to a 7-11 to buy some water for the day, some milk for the kids, and we had heard about Tim Tam's, so we bought a few packs for later.  We walked around searching for breakfast food, but all the places we tried were closed.  Well, let's just say Tim Tam's became breakfast that morning, and boy are they GOOD.  Another reason we travel well with Ann Ming and Kevin.  They love to eat junk food like we do =)

Good (very early) morning!  Poor Zaydee still looking very tired...
After our failed breakfast attempts, we decided to walk to Darling Harbour, where the Sydney Convention Center, National Maritime Museum, and Sydney Aquarium and Zoo are located.  It was early enough that the only other people there were 3 Chinese people doing Tai-Chi.  Yeah, it was THAT early.

Zaydee totally intrigued... is this a new dance?
Ann Ming couldn't resist either.
The kids had a great time running around the harbour, playing on the bridges, and seeing the birds.  Water and boats aren't common things we see!

Ro Ro's contagious smile!
Time to wake up Sydney!
 Finally, we discovered a restaurant called Toki Hotel that opened around 7:30am and we were able to eat an Aussie Brekkie (breakfast), which is pretty similar to American breakfasts with sausage, eggs, toast, potatoes, etc.  Muesli was a new term that we learned when we ordered it with yogurt, thinking it was granola, but it was more grain-like with dried fruits and nuts.  Muesli became another regular food item on our trip, in addition to our flat whites and Tim Tams.

Brekkie Dance Party at the Restaurant while we waited for our food.
"Dance Daddy Dance," says Ro!
The stage is too irresistible for a natural performer like Zaydee!
After breakfast, we discovered an incredible playground called Tumbalong Park.  In fact, all the playgrounds we went to in Australia during our trip were incredible.  They just all had great designs that incorporate unique climbing structures, and also separate areas for sand and water play too.  James had just as much fun as Zaydee!

Best park ever!  It even had a zipline!
James using the rope climb to get to the top of the slide.
Down the slide that lands into the sand pit.
"I wanna climb that!" says James.
The water play section of the park is huge!
It's freezing Zaydee!!!
Love how playing can be educational too - this one simulates a floodgate.
After an eventful morning at Darling Harbour and the Tumbalong Park, it was naptime.  On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Central Baking Depot which was highly rated on Yelp.  We bought some almond croissants, choco croissants, banana bread, and carrot cake to snack on.  Yummy!

On our walk to the Central Baking Depot, we saw a bird standing on one leg... so Zaydee had to imitate it!  Silly girl!
We had a big afternoon planned after naptime to visit the Taronga Zoo, which is one of the attractions that was highlighted in every guidebook and website we had researched before the trip.  To get to the Taronga Zoo, we walked to Circular Quay and took a 15-minute ferry ride to the entrance of Taronga Zoo.  Of course, this was super exciting for the kids since it was Zaydee's first ferry ride, and the views along the way were of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, so the adults enjoyed it too!

Ready for our first ferry ride!
Leaving Circular Quay and seeing the right side of the Opera House.
In front of the Opera House - a very different view than what we are used to!
Passing the Opera House and on our way to Taronga Zoo!
Bye Bye Opera House and Harbour Bridge - what a beautiful harbour!

Excited munchkins just staring at the water and waves!
 After disembarking the ferry, you have to take a gondola up to the entrance of Taronga Zoo.  No wonder all the guidebooks say that the kids love going to the zoo - first ferry, and now gondola?  Fun!

First Gondola ride for the kiddos!
Chao family going up the hill backwards!
Yu family with the views of Sydney behind us!
At the entrance of Taronga Park, ready to see all the animals!
 Who doesn't love zoos?  In addition to seeing kangaroos and koalas, we learned a few new or uncommon animal names on this trip, including my favorite, the Echidna, which looks like a mix of a porcupine and hedgehog.  There was also the Emu, which looks like an ostrich, the Cassowary, who is commonly known as the "Roadrunner" - Beep Beep! - the Wombat, which is a cute-looking enormous hamster, the Wallaby, who is similar to the Kangaroo but smaller and has a softer nose, the Tasmanian Devil, which looks nothing like the cartoon character, and many other animals I can't remember the names of...

Welcome to the Taronga Zoo!
The best zoos are the ones that are designed smart so that kids can have a great view!
Sitting on daddy's shoulders was the new favorite mode of transportation for Zaydee!
Zaydee's Halloween Costume from last year!
One of Zaydee's most favorite animals.
They had a section of the zoo where you can walk among the Kangaroos and Wallabies.  No fence or separation!
Uh oh... don't know the name of this one...
 One of the main recommendations at the Taronga Zoo is to watch the Bird Show.  First of all, it has amazing views of Sydney.  Secondly, these birds are very well-trained and the show is indeed impressive!  Third, get ready to have your hats grazed by bird wings... DUCK!

The amazing view of Sydney at the Bird Show.
Our daughter has no loyalty to us, and prefers other people... often.  Is that strange???
Fine!  Daddy and Mommy will sit by ourselves!
Ro Ro, will you sit with us???  5 seconds, but a great 5 seconds!
Well-trained, big, and exotic birds.  Fantastic show!
Clap Clap Clap!!!  Yay!!!
The end of the show... flocks of birds flying overhead on cue like Fantasmic in Disneyland.  How do they do that?

 Unfortunately, since we only did a half-day at the zoo, we weren't able to see everything.  The zoo closed at 5pm and it was time for us to go back on the ferry.  Ferry?  Yay!!!

The ferry ride home with exhausted kiddos and parents.  They were ok not hanging over the rails this time.
Perfect timing to see the sunset from the ferry ride!

Sunset on the skyline...
Pirate ship?
Searching for open restaurants that were child-friendly was a bit difficult since it was a Saturday night.  After walking to multiple restaurants including a Malaysian noodle place and then a pizzeria, we settled with one of the fast food chains called Pie Face.  They are known for their different types of meat pies. Too bad by the time we got our food to-go and rushed back to the hotel, it was way past bedtime and poor Zaydee had a MAJOR meltdown.

Not thrilled about meat pies, but at least we tried an authentic Australian fast food place!
 Overall, a great day exploring Darling Harbour and the Taronga Zoo, despite the failed food attempts for both breakfast and dinner!  Note to future travelers: Yelp is not that reliable in Australia - places that say they are open are NOT, especially on weekends.

Another good night Sydney!
PS.  The first package of Tim Tams were gone by the end of the day, and the second one had been opened.  Uh oh...