Do you remember what it used to be like travelling to far-off cities before you had kids? You could jump in and out of cabs, stay up half the night exploring groovy bars, and you could pack your suitcase in twenty minutes. It's a bit different with kids. All of a sudden you have to think about car seats, and prams, and nap times.
Spontaneity becomes a thing of the past: the new buzz word is Planning.
Travelling with kids means you run a gauntlet of challenges
As a recent traveller back to my old stomping ground with three kids under six in tow, here are some tips to surviving your next holiday to the beautiful city of Sydney.
GETTING OUT OF THE AIRPORT In NSW the laws regarding child restraints ensure that infants under the age of 12 months must be secured in an appropriate restraint in a taxi, but kids aged over 12 months do NOT need to be in a child restraint. As such, it is pretty easy to come by cabs in Sydney with baby seats rolling around their boots. You can either book one with a cab company, or just ask the traffic controllers at the airport that you need a cab with a car seat and they will flag one down for you.
But what do you do if you have a young child? Or two, or three? Sure, the law states you don't need a carseat and that's your choice, but if you feel uncomfortable driving around with your tiny two year old strapped in an adult car seat you still have a few options.
If you are happy to travel by bus or train both run out of the airport directly into the CBD (although the train is pretty pricey $24 adult return) and you will still need to cart all your luggage with you.
The other option, pricey though it is, is to hire a private chauffeur service to come and pick you up directly from the airport. This has the advantage of no waiting (good for late night flights); they will help drag a suitcase or small child; and since you book in advance they will have all the appropriate car seats ready to go, and if necessary a trailer for luggage. We booked a 9-seater to collect three adults and three kids (all requiring car seats) and a LOT of luggage to take us from the airport directly to our CBD hotel for $110 each way.
My tip: make sure you book a large enough car for all your brood AND your luggage, taking into account any shopping you might do. Either specify a luggage trailer (which costs more) or a larger car.
TRAVELLING WITH PRAMS
Sydney has a top notch public transport system – but as Shrek says, it's got layers, like an onion. It operates in sections, and the further out you go, the more privately owned transport companies you will encounter. Assuming though, that you are staying in the city area, you have your choice of buses, trains, ferries as well as the more touristy monorail and light rail.
Don't be afraid of public transport if you have a pram, although it might be prudent to wait until peak hour is over. Many buses, and all trains and ferries are accessible for prams (although Museum Station in the CBD is NOT accessible for wheelchairs and prams). Buses which are wheelchair (and pram) accessible have a sticker in the front window, and are marked with an 'a' or a wheelchair symbol on the timetable.
Only in these buses is there space for your child to remain in the pram on the bus, otherwise you will be asked to take your child out, and fold the pram before getting on board. Some buses have pram/wheelchair access via the middle door of the bus, in which case you need to let the driver know you want them to open the door. CLICK here for more info on travelling on buses with prams. Prams (and the small children in them) are free and do not require a ticket.
FREE CBD SHUTTLE
There is a free shuttle bus that operates every 10 minutes in the CBD. The 555 runs in a loop from Central Station to Circular Quay via Elizabeth and George Streets and is accessible from any bus stop that has the green shuttle logo. The CBD shuttle operates on weekdays between 9.30am to 3.30pm (with a late finish of 9pm on Thursdays) and from 9.30am to 6.00pm on weekends. All free shuttle buses are pram accessible.
The most economical way of buying public transport tickets will depend on how long you are staying and what you want to do. If you are staying for a week and plan on doing lots of travelling then a 'MyBus' or 'MyMulti' weekly ticket is your best bet. As it sounds, the MyBus gives you unlimited travel on all buses, while the MyMulti gives you unlimited travel on buses, trains, light rail and ferries. (Monthly and quarterly passes are also available).
Trains are a pram-friendly option (not during peak hour though)
Click here for current pricing but as of October 2012 a weekly MyMulti1 cost $43 for an adult and $21.50 for a concession. All kids aged four and above require a ticket, kids three and under travel free. As a comparison, an adult return ferry trip from the city to Manly costs $14, and an adult return train trip (less than 10km) costs $6.80, making the MyMulti really good value.
The other advantage to the Multi ticket is that it saves you mucking around with coins when you are trying to drag kids on and off the bus.
You can buy MyMulti tickets from a huge number of ticket outlets including CityRail Stations, and selected 7-Elevens and newsagents – just look for the little bus logo sign.
FAMILY FUNDAY SUNDAY
One option to see a lot of what Sydney has to offer without spending heaps of money is the Family FunDay Sunday ticket, which gives you unlimited travel on all buses, trains, ferries and light rail every Sunday for only $2.50 per person. You can even go all the way out to Newcastle and Woollongong. For $2.50!
You can buy tickets on board *most* buses but you can also pre-purchase tickets in advance (they don't 'start' until you punch them for the first time). The only catch is that you must be related (not sure how they check this) and must include at least one adult and one child.
PLAY A WHILE, PLAY FOREVER
If the thought of getting your kids on and off buses is making you nauseous then you are basically restricted by how far the smallest member of your group can walk. Luckily Sydney is pretty flat, and has some pretty amazing attractions.
Unfortunately, most three year olds couldn't care less about museums or the Opera House and they just want to play. Depending on where you are staying, you are probably close to one of Sydney's 400 parks and open spaces, although not all have playgrounds.
Here is a list of all of the central playgrounds in Sydney (such as Glebe, Redfern, Surry Hills, Annandale, Paddington and Woolloomooloo). They have even listed them according to the type of play equipment, whether it is enclosed or not, what type of shade there is and if there are toilet or picnic facilities.
For example, there are two playgrounds in the CBD: Cook and Phillip Park Playground in Yurrong St which is enclosed and suitable for kids aged 5 years and older; and the Tumbalong Park Playground (at the south end of Darling Harbour near the Chinese Gardens) which was refurbished in 2011 and has new equipment for all ages including water play.
RUN OUT OF NAPPIES?
Unlike some other Australian cities (not naming anyone Perth), Sydney actually has large scale grocery stores right in the heart of the city. So needing to buy nappies or Weetbix or sunscreen won't require you to re-mortgage the house after a trip to an expensive pharmacy or corner store.
There is a Woolworths located on the corner of George Street and Park Street (near Town Hall) and a Coles at 650 George Street (down towards Haymarket).
This is a really useful article for anyone travelling with children and babies around Australia. My son used to just love the water park at Darling Harbour. With so many other kids all splashing away, you can't go wrong.
If anyone needs safe transport in Sydney, they should check out Baby Cabs \ Sydney Baby Taxi as they offer a fantastic, child and family friendly premium transport service with Australian accredited safety child seats and restraints. They are really helpful and know how to keep your kids happy in the car.