Sasha Cooke has won a Grammy, sang leading roles at New York’s Metropolitan Opera and performed on four continents with everyone from the Tokyo Philharmonic to the Orchestre National de Lyon. She’s also brought her three-year-old daughter Evelyn along for the ride, which makes her accomplishments even more impressive. We caught up with Sasha following her recent world premier of the rave-reviewed As One at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and she shared her thoughts on family travel. We’re definitely tagging along for the next family reunion on Molokai, where the Cooke family's connection with the Hawaiian island dates back to the early 20th century.
Q: Where and when did you take your first trip as a family?
When Evelyn was just about one year old, I had jobs in New Zealand and Shanghai ten days apart. Instead of heading all the way home to the States, we decided to take a trip to Thailand. For a part of the time, we rented a private bungalow at the Vijitt Resort near Phuket, where the shore was just fifty yards from our porch. There was an amazing infinity pool also close to the beach, and Evi learned to love cilantro, curry, tofu and pineapple. We also discovered how incredible and generous the Thai people are.
Q: What is your favorite travel memory from childhood and what do you hope your kids remember about their travels?
It sounds silly, but I vividly remember traveling once to the airport for an overnight flight. I think we were headed to Hawaii for a family reunion, and I was young enough that my sister and I kept our pajamas on for the ride. It was an adventure! The beauty of the city lights as we looked down from the airplane struck me then and still come to mind when I have nighttime flights these days. No wonder I became a world traveler! Evelyn has been to nine countries so far, and my hope is that the travel broadens her worldview, even though she may not remember all of it. As she gets older, I plan to make it a priority to see how other cultures live and realize how blessed we are back home.
Q: Have any of your family trips been a complete fail?
Well, on that same trip to Thailand, half of the time turned out to be exactly that. We weren’t thinking about the fact that we were traveling with a one-year-old when we decided to split our time between Phuket and a rented house on a remote island Koh Yao Noi. We wanted to see what the real, non-resort part of the country was like but monsoon season had just begun so most of the time we were shoveling water, maneuvering through mud or keeping mosquitoes off of Evelyn. She has fair skin like me so any bite looked worse than it was. Needless to say, we ended up leaving a few days early to the comforts of a hotel in Bangkok (the Royal Orchid Sheraton).
Q: Name a place (destination or hotel) where you’ll always return and why.
Paris is one of my most favorite cities. I first visited when I was 13 years old and have no doubt it dramatically influenced my passion for other languages and ultimately how I became a singer. The first museum on my list there is always the Musée d’Orsay, and recently I stayed at the beautiful art deco-inspired Hotel du Collectionneur near the Arc de Triomphe. For our trips to visit Molokai, I hope we will stop in Maui at the Westin Hotel where there are numerous waterfalls complete with flamingos as you walk in the lobby.
Q: What’s your dream destination for travel a deux, and what’s on your bucket list for a trip with the family?
My husband is also a singer (baritone Kelly Markgraf) and because we are on the road so much for work, being home usually is our “vacation.” We had our wedding on the island of Molokai, where my uncle runs a retreat center Hui Ho’olana, so a honeymoon after seemed silly. For a nearby weekend getaway (or postponed honeymoon), I hope to make it to Travaasa in Austin. In terms of faraway destinations, so much of the time I feel surrounded by concrete because my work takes me to downtown locations, so a trip abroad would definitely involve the outdoors. Kelly and I have talked about India. My grandmother visited it forty-five times and taught Transcendental Meditation as a result of her connection there. Africa and Tibet are also on my wish list. Family-wise, Disney World is probably in the near future, and we’ll eventually get to some of the off-the-beaten-path locations that I mention above. Before we were parents, we saw some of rural, undeveloped China, which I hope to show Evi when the time is right.
Q: Where would you send first-time visitors for a family day and kid-free night in your hometown?
We are still discovering all of the kid-friendly attractions near our new home in The Woodlands, TX, but so far we love the Downtown Aquarium and Discovery Green in Houston. Most of the year in Texas it’s great to be outside! In the Woodlands, we will head to the splashpad on Market Street or Bouncing Bears for some jumping fun (socks required). For date nights, we very much enjoy Hubbell & Hudson restaurant and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion for an outdoor concert. In Houston, I’m a fan of Uchi, Max’s Wine Dive and Blue Fish Sushi near Houston Grand Opera.
Q: What’s your traveling uniform? Do your kids have one as well?
I never leave for a flight without a scarf, not only because I’m a singer but because the body feels warmer when the neck is covered. I always wear pants or leggings and shoes that cover the toes for the same reason. After traveling in business class every now and again, I borrowed the idea of bringing socks on board for added comfort. With my daughter, layers are a good idea of course and having a change of clothing. Once on my way to the Grammys, Evi was sicker than ever before and went through about three changes of clothing. I also learned on that trip that when you are a mother of a child younger than one, a change of clothing for yourself is a good idea.
Q: Fill in the blank: Flying with kids is
Never board a plane without...
...snacks! And maybe a surprise small toy. Stickers are great, and there are special markers sold at the airport that don’t stain your clothes, and some that use water. Brilliant!
Q: If parents could design a hotel, all rooms would have…
A memory foam pull-out bed that is actually comfortable OR having a room divider that allows some privacy. I have spent many an evening hiding by the hotel door as my daughter tried to fall asleep in her crib. “Mommy, I see you!” Also, I’ve noticed people are doing away with bathtubs in some of these chicer modern hotels. In Indianapolis, for instance, at the beautiful Alexander Hotel, I had to request a portable tub for my then two-year-old. That would be something to check on if it’s important to you.