10 Reasons Everything Is Awesome at the LEGOLAND Hotel

Our five-year-old's birthday wish was to spend the night at the new Florida LEGOLAND® Hotel. And quite honestly, I was pretty pumped to check it out myself. We took advantage of the Florida resident rate (35% off) and were set. There are always extra deals and promos here. I Read more

Park City, Utah Skiing With The Family

It's been awhile since the entire family went west, but it was time! I had a few snickers when I announced our plans to embark on a ski adventure with the entire family to Park City, Utah during the Sundance Film Festival. But, then again places that people don't Read more

The Newest Vacation Rental in Orlando

I'm so excited to share my most recent article in PLAYGROUND magazine. Friends from my hometown in Pennsylvania have created the most amazing vacation rental space here in Orlando. Click through to read about the inspiration behind this awesome home and how you can book your stay.   Follow our family Read more

Family Getaway Postcard Inn St. Pete Beach

A few weeks ago, our family, along with two other Orlando families,ventured to St. Pete beach on the Gulf Coast to celebrate a little friend's 8th birthday at the Postcard Inn. I was attracted to the aesthetics of this trendy spot since it was transformed from a Travelodge in Read more

Best Play Spots in Paris

It's almost three weeks since we returned from Europe, and I've finally sifted through my photos. I felt like my first post should talk about the fun playgrounds/parks in Paris. What an awesome experience to see the girls jumping right into the mix at playgrounds many miles from their Read more

Travel

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!

Instagram

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. 

 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel Leave a comment

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.
Instagram

 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel Leave a comment

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.  

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

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!
Instagram

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel Leave a comment

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!
Instagram

 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

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!

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Orlando, Travel 3 Comments

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 like you would for a human. All the while the characters are in the process of saving the aging Aquarium, which they do with Winter’s help.

That's Winter behind Mia's big smile!

We decided this summer would be a great time to meet Winter in person. Only about 1.5 hours from Orlando is beautiful Clearwater Beach and the somewhat small Aquarium. Staff at the Aquarium give you the feeling they are family and all have a vested interest in the success of the facility. Mia likes to talk and the staff there took the time to answer EVERY SINGLE question she had with no sign of annoyance. There are no bells and whistles here, but in a good way. Just fish, sharks, dolphins, stingrays, turtles, otters, local shell and geography exhibits and daily educational shows that incorporate the marine life.

Mia & Charli checking out the prosthetic tail

After the success of Dolphin Tale, the Aquarium now has a new facility located just a trolleyride away that is dedicated to the making of the movie – Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure. We weren’t able to get to this facility, but it was included in our entrance price and the trolleyride is free! Winter calls the main Aquarium home.

I highly recommend visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium for an authentic marine life experience. Prices are reasonable. $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids. Teachers and active military get in free!  There are often coupons available like this one on TampaBay360 for $2 off each ticket purchased.

If you can’t make it to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium just yet, you can follow Winter on Twitter or even view Winter through the online webcam! 

The operating room from the movie

 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel 3 Comments

Weekday Pass At Aquatica!

Great news! There’s a new Weekday Pass from Aquaticathat allows you and your family to enjoy unlimited weekday access through Dec. 31, 2012.

Aquatica

We are big Sea World fans so Aquatica is basically a shoe-in on our local favorite activities list.  Aquatica takes guests in, over and under the water with some super cool water rides and animal encounters with Commerson’s dolphins, exotic birds and more!

I know as a full-time working mom, weekday passes to attractions aren’t always worth the money, but Aquatica is open until 7pm and even 8 pm most weekdays during the summer!

 With the Weekday Pass, guests can play every weekday this summer, and for the rest of the year, for just $59.99 plus tax. There’s even an option to purchase a weekend day for just $15 when you show your Weekday Pass at the front gate. (This is an awesome option!)

Guests can experience Aquatica’s 38 thrilling water slides, rivers and lagoons, side-by-side wave pools and two interactive water playgrounds designed for the littlest of swimmers.

For more info visit Aquatica’s website.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Orlando, Travel Leave a comment

Chicago – The Urban Family Vacay

A few years back we ventured to Chicago for a long weekend over the 4th of July. At first, the thought of galavanting around in cabs in the city with my then one-year-old frightened me. I myself had no travel reservations, but this was a whole new ball of kiddie wax. In the end, I decided to escape the Orlando humidity for the crisp summer breeze in Chicago.

Check out my travel feature in the summer issue of PLAYGROUND magazine. You can read the online issue (by clicking through below) or stop by one of the Central Florida distribution points for your very own copy.

Once you read this, you too will be ready for your urban family vacation!

 

Click to read the article online (page 40-41)

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel Leave a comment

Make The Most of Your Disney Dream!

Back from our long awaited Disney Dream cruise and so excited to share tips!

Me & Charli with Mickey & Minnie

Our famly decided to embark on the three day cruise out of Port Canaveral (close to our home in Orlando) taking us to Nassau, Bahamas and Disney’s private Caribbean island.

It’s no secret Disney’s cruises are not cheap. Hopefully some of these tips will help you make the most of your Disney Dream.

Use a travel agent. We used an amazing travel agent here in town. This trip was a big deal to us and I couldn’t risk going through a travel booking site where you didn’t have a dedicated person helping you along. Our agent was able to answer all questions ahead of time and had us set up with exactly what we needed for our multi-dimensional family.

Mia & Her Buds At The Sail Away Party

No crowds for me.  When first on board you WILL feel a little crowded. Do not despair. This is the ONLY time EVERYONE on the ship is doing the SAME thing at the SAME time. We  skipped getting off the ship in Nassau. It was better to stay on board while the rest of the ship ventured off to the straw markets. (Been there done that) View Atlantis and Nassau from the ship! You’ll be thankful for this advice once you get to Castaway Cay. On your day at Castaway Cay, don’t rush to get to the beach in the morning. Hold off, enjoy the empty pool deck and head over after lunch when the crowds are heading back. You don’t have to be back on the ship until 4:30 pm so going at noon will give you plenty of time to enjoy the amazing island.

Ride the Aquaduck – See characters. The Aquaduck is the highly sought after waterslide that takes cruisers above the ship and over the ocean. There can be a wait at times. Same story with getting a picture with the characters who appear on the first floor of the ship. Best times to ride the Aquaduck are around 6:30 pm when the first diners are headed to dinner, when others are on shore excursions or on the final days of your voyage. Best times to see characters are early morning or mid-day when others are on excursions or pool side.

Mia & Madi Snorkeling Castaway Cay

It’s a “family” vacation. Yeah it is, but let it go. My other half was focused on the family spending non-stop time together, but as it turns out we were much happier together when we could spend a little time doing our own thing. Mia was obsessed with the Oceaneers Club, Madi love the tween area and Charli was perfectly content at It’s A Small World. The Disney cast members who interact with the kids are amazing. Plus, you have two phones (provided by Disney) that work on board so you can be reached at any time by the kids clubs. Or, if you have a tween, they can take the other phone to check in.

Did I mention the “adult” time? Yes that’s me on the raft floating off into the sunset!

A good morning. There’s a room service breakfast order form in your desk drawer. No one will tell you about this, but it is there. Use it! (A big thank you to The Theme Park Mom for this tip) Even if you plan to go to one of the restaurants for breakfast, you can enjoy your coffee, fruit and bagels on the balcony before you ready to head out. (Oh yeah, get a room with a balcony!! It’s worth the extra money for sure.) 

Not just for kids. It’s no lie, I would totally embark on the Dream without kids. There’s an adult pool area and an entire  part of the ship that caters to adult nightlife. Adults can eat at the adults only restaurants for an additional charge. Castaway Cay has an entire section dedicated to “us big kids” with yoga, private lagoon, sand bars and eateries.

Travel with a fun group!

 

 

Lastly, we traveled with two other families, which added to our fun. Highly recommended to travel in a group! I could go on and on about this perfect family vacation, but I’ll stop my novel here. If you are planning a Disney cruise, please feel free to comment and I’ll answer your questions the best I can. I absorbed all I could onboard and am already thinking about how/when we can ship off again!

 

 

 

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Email Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr

Posted on by Amanda in Travel 1 Comment
Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On LinkedinCheck Our Feed