Fun Travel Prep for Kids - Paris & London

It's not everyday you travel over the pond to such amazing places like Paris and London. I decided to start the journey for me and Mia long before we packed our bags for the airport. Here are a few fun things we did to get ready and excited! My brother sent Read more

Hidden Gem: Sand Key Florida

My other half planned a short getaway for our nine year anniversary. I wasn't exactly sure where we were headed, but knew it was somewhere around Clearwater Beach. As we drove over the bridge to Clearwater, I kept expecting a turn off at one of the many beach hotels. To my surprise Read more

Westin Cape Coral Weekend Getaway

Most of you who follow my Instagram or Twitter know that we had a fabulously fun weekend at the Westin in Cape Coral, FL a few weeks ago. The property became a Westin in December of 2013 and underwent a plethora of renovations, which I believe puts it in the best Read more

Disney's Art of Animation Resort

We finally had the chance to visit Disney's Art of Animation Resort this week for a little staycation. It is located where construction on the unfinished half of Disney's Pop Century Resort was started, but later abandoned after 9/11. The resort is the first to be built in the complex Read more

Healthy Lunchbox Ideas

Mia has a book called Samantha's Silly-icious Sandwiches. Samantha gets sick of having the same boring sandwich in her lunch everyday and decides to create her own unique sandwiches. Her "Silly-icious Sandwiches" turn into a hit at school and a booming business, which she soon hands over for her Read more

Meeting Winter - Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Most of the world has seen (or at least heard of) the movie Dolphin Tale. The story highlights the rescue of a wounded dolphin who ends up losing one very important important thing... a tale! The Clearwater Marine Aquarium works hard in the movie to create a prosthetic tail just Read more

Travel

Fun Travel Prep for Kids – Paris & London

It’s not everyday you travel over the pond to such amazing places like Paris and London. I decided to start the journey for me and Mia long before we packed our bags for the airport. Here are a few fun things we did to get ready and excited!

Kiddie Travel Journal

Kiddie Travel Journal

My brother sent an awesome kids travel journal so Mia could document her first international trip. She created her packing list, wrote down what she thinks will be her favorite things and even drew in pictures of what she imagines will happen on her trip. There are pages for pre, during and post trip. The journal is simplistic and is an easy and great way to document the adventure through your child’s eyes.

We visited our local library and found multiple gems like Kidding Around London and Count Your Way Through France. Books that talk about landmarks and quirky facts are the best. For instance did you know a baguette can be up to three feet?

The library also had a London and Paris DVD from the series Travel With Kids that we were able to check out.

Mia received the book Charlotte in Paris, from my sister. While in Paris, Charlotte dines at a cafe on the Champs-Elysees, watches a marionette show in the Tuileries gardens and celebrates her birthday at the Eiffel Tower. Mia will celebrate her 8th birthday at the Eiffel Tower as well! Perfect.

Charlotte in Paris

Charlotte in Paris

Last but not least, Mia has been working on the fun kids language app Duolingo for weeks. She is not speaking fluent French just yet, but she definitely knows more than me and is going to have fun recognizing and hearing words she knows.

I can’t wait to share the fun details of our upcoming travels.

Follow our journey on Instagram and Twitter!

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Hidden Gem: Sand Key Florida

My other half planned a short getaway for our nine year anniversary. I wasn’t exactly sure where we were headed, but knew it was somewhere around Clearwater Beach.

Marriott Sand Key

Marriott Sand Key

As we drove over the bridge to Clearwater, I kept expecting a turn off at one of the many beach hotels.

To my surprise we headed over a bridge away from Clearwater Beach and turned into the Marriott Sand Key.

We only had Saturday and Sunday to spend in the area, but I can tell you this was pure paradise. Close enough to Clearwater tourist area to enjoy the pier and shops if you wanted, but far enough that you are amongst residential condos and free to enjoy a beach undergoing a nourishment project that welcomes a plethora of amazing shells.

Sand Key Beach

Sand Key Beach

The Marriott Sand Key has an amazing pool area, kids club (We’ll be back withthe kids), restaurants (on location and nearby), fun water sports, tiki bar, great room views and friendly staff.

We will definitely be back!

Be sure to follow more of our family travel & adventures on Instagram!

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Orlando Parents Vote On Their Local Hotel Favorites

Living in one of the most visited locations in the world means that families living in Orlando have a plethora of options when it comes to a staycation. Readers of PLAYGROUND magazine voted on their top staycation choices in town and I had the pleasure of writing about the results. I was also able to throw a few faves of my own in there. I think it’s a must read for Orlando parents and really any family traveling to Otown. Click below for the full article (pages 32-34)

Staycations in our backyard!

Staycations in our backyard!

Be sure to follow our family travel adventures on Instagram!

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Florida Turtle Adventure

During a recent trip to visit friends in Jupiter, FL, we stumbled upon the Loggerhead Marinelife Center. This place is amazing. We knew it was amazing when we saw the designated “after hours turtle hatchling drop off” area at the entrance. The girls wandered through a small aquarium area before heading out near the beach to the state of the art turtle rehabilitation area.

Intrigued with this turtle's story...

Intrigued with this turtle’s story…

Each tank had a different turtle with a unique rescue story. An educator stood at each tank to talk to guests about the turtle’s situation and plan for rehabilitation. From the rehab tank area, you can peek into the indoor medical care area to observe turtles being looked after or undergoing medical testing.

Most all of these turtles will be returned to their natural habitat within days or weeks. Others that are not fit to be released back into the wild will remain or be sent to larger aquarium environments were they will thrive.

New turtle friends.

New turtle friends

The Loggerhead Center is a hidden gem and a wonderful place to take the family. Be sure to stop off on your next trip to South Florida.

 

If you can’t make it to Florida, go to the Center’s website where you can track the progress of their turtles, adopt a turtle of your own or even view a live turtle cam.

Guests are recommended to make a donation upon entering, but there’s no set admission cost.

Follow our family travel adventures on Instagram!

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Westin Cape Coral Weekend Getaway

Most of you who follow my Instagram or Twitter know that we had a fabulously fun weekend at the Westin in Cape Coral, FL a few weeks ago. The property became a Westin in December of 2013 and underwent a plethora of renovations, which I believe puts it in the best hotel category on the West Coast of Florida.

Ready to set sail.

Ready to set sail.

The hotel is tucked away off of I-75, south of Sarasota and in the small canal filled town of Cape Coral. The drive was three hours from Orlando and from what other guests at the resort said, it was around two and a half hours from West Palm airport. The property is not beach front, but it is on the water with access to Fort Myers beach via water taxi direct from the resort. We took advantage of the water taxi and even spotted a few dolphins on our journey.

Our room was a two-bedroom suite with two bathrooms, a full kitchen plus a washer and dryer. Perfect set-up for a family. All the Westin’s rooms have private screened-in balconies with views of the Gulf of Mexico or the river. Your stay includes a ton of amenities including guest access to three pools, bike rentals, tennis courts and daily resort activities.

Westin Kids Club

Westin Kids Club

The Westin Kids Club, for ages 4 to 12, was definitely a high point of Mia’s trip. Parents can opt for a half-day ($40) or a full day ($70). She did the half day session, which included lunch (bonus!) and crafts.

Not a shabby coffee view.

Not a shabby coffee view.

She made a cute little beach themed tote bag and a colorful flower pot. The Kids Club takes the older kids on outdoor excursions when the weather permits.

The Westin staff was extremely friendly and helpful. From Taylor at the front desk to the wait staff at Marker 92, the onsite restaurant. Taylor was actually one of the main attractions for my kids as they requested continuously to go by and say hi.

 

I spoke with several guests who had scored a variety of room rates. A couple was staying in a room with two double beds for $85 per night. It looks like our two-bedroom suite was going for $195 in October. The fall is the slow season for Florida hotels, but the weather is amazing.

Beautiful views are everywhere!

Beautiful views are everywhere!

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a mom of two, well let’s say highly energetic girls, the Westin Cape Coral was perfect and fun for all of us.

Follow our family travel adventures on Instagram!

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Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary stay at the Westin Cape Coral to review their new Westin Kids Club. All thoughts and opinions about the Westin Cape Coral are my own. 

 

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Family Fun At Idlewild Park

I’ve been meaning to post about a summer day trip we took while at my parent’s house in the Pittsburgh area. We had the chance to visit Idlewild Park, just about an hour outside of Pittsburgh.

Family fun at Idlewild

Family fun at Idlewild

I grew up going to Idlewild, and remarkably, not a whole lot has changed. However, this park somehow manages to keep the new generation of kids just as entertained as the one before. Not to mention the park was just awarded the Golden Ticket for Best Children’s Park by Amusement Today Magazine

Storybook Forest, Jumping Jungle, Olde Idlewild and Soak Zone are the main areas at Idlewild. The park is just big enough to not be exhausting. As a parent, this is VERY important. We all loved strolling through Storybook Forest and interacting with the nursery rhyme characters. Charli tried desperately to remove the sword from the stone. Jumping Jungle had all of us, grown ups included, jumping into the ball pit and rope climbing like champions. We were ready for our picnic lunch after all the jumping. We brought a cooler (yes, you can do that at Idlewild) and left it at a picnic table near our car.

Idlewild Park and Soak Zone

Idlewild Park and Soak Zone

After lunch, we broke apart – little kids went to ride Olde Idlewild’s kiddie rides and the kids at heart went on some of the more thrilling rides in Olde Idlewild. We didn’t make it to the Soak Zone during this trip, but you can get all the details here. From what I’ve heard, the Soak Zone aligns with the rest of the park and has areas that are fun for every age.

Often, there are deals at Giant Eagle or other local businesses in the Pittsburgh area so keep an eye out. The park is a summer family favorite, but they are also open for weekends in September and October and have family Halloween activities. Campgrounds are close by and if you are visiting the Pittsburgh area, it’s just a short drive.

I wanted to post this info because so many friends had asked about my Instagram and Facebook photos from our trip. It really lives up to its accolade as Best Children’s Park. Next summer seems far off, but keep Idlewild top of mind when you start to plan!

Keep up with our family adventures through my Instagram.
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Adventures of Bella & Harry Giveaway

Our family loves to travel, but we haven’t had the opportunity to get to far away places like the adorable Chihuahuas Bella & Harry who visit Rome and Edinburgh in their two newest adventure books. Someday we will get there!

Bella & Harry Let's Visit Edinburgh

Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Edinburgh

The Bella & Harry series was developed to inspire young readers to embrace the world and encourage its exploration. This is creatively done through the funny yet informative adventures of cute sibling Chihuahuas Bella and Harry, while traveling through various countries.

Bella & Harry Let's Visit Rome

Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Rome

Whether you are planning a trip or just in the mood to take an imaginative journey, these books are great way for kids, and parents, to learn about these far off places in a fun way. I definitely felt a little more worldly myself after reading the books with the girls.

I am obsessed with this series because it aspires to stimulate children’s imaginations and helps them to  understand the world in which we live.

I have both Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Rome and Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Edinburgh to give away to one (1) lucky reader.

 

 

How to Enter:

  • Leave a comment below letting me know what far off place you hope to visit with your family someday. 

Extra Entries:

I’ll announce the winner on Monday, August 26. Happy discovering!

I was provided copies of Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Rome and Bella & Harry Let’s Visit Edinburgh for review.  

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Posted on by Amanda in Giveaways, Travel 27 Comments

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

We finally had the chance to visit Disney’s Art of Animation Resort this week for a little staycation. It is located where Lobby Art of Animationconstruction on the unfinished half of Disney’s Pop Century Resort was started, but later abandoned after 9/11.

The resort is the first to be built in the complex in over seven years and the fifth to be placed in the value-priced category, along with Disney’s All-Star resort family. Family suites opened in May 2012, and standard rooms opened in September 2012. It took us some time, but we finally made a visit last week with my mom in town.

I wasn’t keen on visiting any of the parks in mid-July at the height of tourist season and heat in Florida so I felt a stay at Art of Animation might just do the trick. Upon arrival, there was a sketch artist sketching away and the lobby was decorated with sketches from popular Disney films. I knew right then as my daughters sat mesmerized watching the artist, that we had made a great decision.

We stayed at The Little Mermaid building, which was perfect for the girls and our short staycation. The entire room was themed after the popular Disney movie. Even the bathtub was painted to represent Ariel’s treasure trove. The Little Mermaid pool area is surrounded by large characters from the movie.

Nemo's Splash PadThe other resort themed buildings include Lion King, Finding Nemo and Cars. My girls had a blast walking through the center area between the resorts and bonding with the extremely well-done characters from the movies and replicated atmospheres.

At Nemo’s Big Blue Pool, my mom and I indulged in a signature cocktail, which was a reasonable $7.50 and the girls swam around in the beach entry pool under the large water spraying jellyfish. There’s a splashpad where my two-year-old spent a huge amount of time splashing around and poolside activities kept the kids entertained all day. Did I mention this is the largest Disney resort pool? There was even a showing of Cinderella under the stars poolside.

The Landscape of Flavors eatery had a wide variety of food to select from and healthy side selections like grapes, apples and yogurt for the girls. I had a Screen shot 2013-07-19 at 1.05.47 PMdelicious veggie burger. For four of us (two adults and two children) our dinner came to about $35. That’s a great price for a meal on Disney property.

In total, there are 1,984 rooms, of which 1,120 are family suites capable of housing up to six people, featuring living rooms and bedrooms. Our room for one night was $148 (prices vary) plus tax. Check on prices here.  As a mom on a budget, this price is super attractive for family fun.

Art of Animation

This was definitely a memory with Nana that will last a lifetime. We had a blast. I can say for sure, we will be going back sometime in the fall for Charli’s birthday!

 

Check out more photos from our most recent Art of Animation visit and other family adventures on Instagram. Be sure to follow me!
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10 Tips For Visiting Disney World Fantasyland

We live in Orlando so it was pretty much mandatory we check out Disney’s new Fantasyland last weekend during the soft opening. My wonderful uncle had sent along a handful of “after 4 pm” passes for me to use before Dec. 31 so timing was perfect.

New Fantasyland

Limited on time with our “after 4 pm” passes, we didn’t have the chance to experience every detail of Fantasyland. However, I did play the part of “extremely annoying and inquisitive theme park girl” and had  way too many questions for Disney cast members. (I’m sure my face is on a list somewhere.) I’ve also been getting the inside scoop from local Orlando friends. Official Grand Opening is tomorrow – Dec. 6.

And now, I present to you my top 10 insider tips for Disney’s new Fantasyland!

1.) Meet Ariel on her turf. The girls were ecstatic to meet Ariel in her Grotto. The line (on a busy holiday weekend) was only 20 minutes and moved quickly. The girls enjoyed toying around with the seashells imbedded in the walls during our wait. The photographers let us take our time once we reached Ariel too. Bonus!

2.) Join the Circus.  Don’t pass up Storybook Circus. It’s full of fun and home to the classic Dumbo ride and the Barnstormer kiddie roller coaster, an all-time Magic Kingdom favorite. Luckily, Barnstormer made the transition over to Fantasyland from the former Toon Town. Casey Jr. Splash & Soak Station looks like it would be tons of fun on a hot Orlando day.

3.) Have fun waiting for Dumbo. Much to my surprise the Dumbo line dumped us into a play area complete with activities for little ones and older kids. The adult receives a pager when the group enters the play area and the pager goes off when it’s near time to ride. The play area was a little hectic, but genius for avoiding typical line waiting meltdowns.

Ariel’s Grotto

4.) See Disney friends up close and in one place. At Pete’s Silly Sideshow in Storybook Circus, Goofy, Donald, Daisy and Minnie are circus stars and ready to meet guests. We were limited on time so our meet and greet was with Ariel, but this is on the list for next visit. Always good to know where you can find all of the characters in one place instead of meeting by chance on a park walkway!

5.) Go Under The Sea. The ride itself is built into Prince Eric’s castle. No worries on meltdowns in this line either! Kids are entertained with Scuttle’s scavenger hunt and the chance for little ones to sort Ariel’s whosits and whatsits. Fun things to do in line means sanity for parents. Thank you Disney. Guests board a giant clam shell and ride through musical scenes from The Little Mermaid.

6.) Be A Guest.  Beast’s castle is actually the Be Our Guest, quick service food by day and fine dining by night restaurant. This is one of the most touted attractions in Fantasyland! I’m going to go ahead and recommend making a dinner reservation for the next, um, forever if you plan on dining there. Be Our Guest might be on your list as a parent spending the day in busy Disney for multiple reasons, but important to note it is the ONLY place in Magic Kingdom that serves beer and wine… Just sayin.

7.) Live the story.  Enchanted Tales With Belle lets you step into the actual story reliving the “tale as old as time” with recognizable characters leading the way. The journey begins in Maurice’s workshop. The actual “story telling” lasts around 20-30 minutes so be prepared if you have, say… a two-year-old who doesn’t like to cooperate or be confined. However, if they are obsessed with princesses and Belle, like my little one, you are good to go.

Gaston & my girls outside his tavern

8.) More than just a tavern.Gaston’s Tavern is more than just a quick-service food spot. Go inside, take a seat in Gatson’s chair and have a delicious A LeFou’s Brew. Brew is made up of  no-sugar added frozen apple juice with a hint of toasted marshmallow, topped with all-natural passion fruit-mango foam. Yum! The tavern is an attraction in itself and my girls ran into Gaston right outside.

 9.) If you’re wondering why there’s still some construction going on, it’s because there’s more to come!  Princess Fairy Tale Hall will be home to the Disney Princess meet and greet and is scheduled to open in 2013. The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will open in 2014.

10.) There will be a wait. Lastly, it’s inevitable there will be a line and there will be a wait. I think as a parent once you put yourself in that mindset, your day will be a lot better. There’s always Fast Pass, if it’s available. Pack snacks and drinks to save money on in between meal hunger and don’t forget that Mickey Mouse and princess costume from home. This will save you on souvenir purchases!

Get more insider tips from my friend here in Orlando The Suburban Mom or visit Disney’s Fantasyland page.

Check out photos from our most recent Magic Kingdom visit on Instagram. Be sure to follow me!
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Posted on by Amanda in Orlando, Travel 6 Comments

Sea Creatures, Tricks and Treats Oh My!

We’ve been doing Sea Word’s annual Spooktacular for a few years now and each year seems just a little more Spooktacular!

Sea World Halloween Spooktacular

The Spooktacular festivities are taking places weekends in October (now) from 12 – 8 pm and entry is included with admission. We take advantage of the annual pass offer every year so the Spooktacular is a no-brainer when it comes to Halloween activities for us in Orlando.

The fun colorful characters and scenery really make  Spooktacular for me and my girls. Oh, and the bubbles… There are bubble machines in every direction. The elaborately costumed sea creatures are super friendly and I’ve never run into a long line for a photo opp. This year, the Spooktacular fun spills over into Happy Harbor, where kids can partake in the usual Harbor fun and hop on a Spooktacular train ride.

We had a chance to catch  Sesame Street Countdown to Halloween, which you can see at different times daily, before we started our trick-or-treat adventure. My little one was mesmerized by her Sesame Street friends all dressed up for Halloween.

Coming from a Spooktacular expert, here are my top tips:

Sea witches!

  • Don’t do Spooktacular right at noon. Waiting till late afternoon is best – cooler and less crowded.
  • Sea World provides treat bags for collecting goodies so leave your trick or treat bags at home unless you really want to lug them.
  • Make sure you take the path for Penelope’s Party Zone – lots of crafting fun and a dance party (think top fun dance hits, limbo and hula hooping waterside) your little ones will love.
  • Bring a change of clothes if you are going in costume and plan on seeing some other sites. Not fun being splashed by Shamu in costume.
Go forth and be spooky!

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Posted on by Amanda in Orlando, Travel 3 Comments