Why Camping Trips Make Some Of The Best Family Vacations

I love taking mini-vacations with my family and I’ve shared before about how much we enjoy camping. There’s just something about being in nature, away from most of our technology, that creates the perfect atmosphere for quality family time making great memories together. I wanted to share why I believe that camping trips make some of the best family vacations, whether you visit a campsite across the country or just camp overnight in the next town over.

Camping creates the most uninterrupted family time together. When we are at home we are all going different directions, between work, school, sports and activities. When we are camping though, we spend most of our time together. Camping trips mean your family is with each other from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep (and even then you stay together sleeping in the same tent or cabin!)

Everyone pitches in and gets the work done on the campsite. Whether it’s pitching the tent, building the campfire, or making dinner, everyone’s help is needed to get the job done. Often at home we don’t spend time doing all of the daily chores together but it’s nice to work as a team to make things run smoothly.

Camping trips are made for relaxing. For the most part, camping is a pretty unscheduled vacation. There are no places you need to be early in the morning and no dinner reservations to keep. Most of the time camping is spent just sitting around the campfire- what could be more relaxing than that?

Families get a break from electronics while camping. Nowadays most families, including our’s, are addicted to their technology. Camping is a pretty unplugged vacation with no tv, no video games and limited cell reception and wi-fi. We bring our phones along but try to limit use to the early mornings (when the boys wake up before the sun!) and then a little bit in the evenings while the kids are waiting for dinner to cook on the campfire or grill. It’s a change for the boys but they don’t seem to mind that much because they are too busy playing or roasting marshmallows for s’mores.

Kids can have more independence at a campground than they might get otherwise. Since many campgrounds are fairly small, kids can get a sense of independence while still being under the watchful eyes of their parents. I was able to let my boys go to the playground and walk around with other kids while watching them from my chair at our campsite. This made my boys feel like “big kids” but still gave me comfort knowing where they were and what they were doing.

Campgrounds are a great way for kids to meet different types of people, practice their social skills and make new friends. Since families tend to stay at campgrounds for at least a couple days (and sometimes even a week or more) children can develop friendships with kids that come from different states and backgrounds than they do. This last time we went camping, Lucas- who typically has a harder time making new friends- quickly became friends with a girl about his age and he spent a lot of time playing with her. They got along so well that the second he woke up in the morning he was standing at our cabin door waiting to see when she woke up so he could go play with her. It was the cutest thing to watch and I loved seeing the friendship they had formed in less than a day.

Camping gets kids outside. I’ll be honest- my kids don’t spend nearly as much time outside as they should (and most of the time they are outside is spent dong structured activities like sports). Camping is a great way to get kids outside playing and leads to a lot of spontaneous fun. We love bringing balls, toy rockets, and other things that they can play with.

Campgrounds often offer a lot of free fun. Once you pay for the campsite rental most everything else is free. We’ve enjoyed hayrides, flashlight candy hunts, face painting, swimming in the pool, a jumpy, mini-golf, a playground and more! It’s nice not having to pay for every little thing we want to do and it ends up being a fairly cheap vacation.

Have you ever gone camping with your family? I’d love to hear about your favorite camping memories in the comments below! (P.S.- Don’t love the idea of tent camping? I’ve discovered camping cabins and I’m in love!)

Share Your #VacayGoneCrayCray Story

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.)

I love going on vacation with my family. It’s nice to just get away and relax. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to be at least! Have you ever went somewhere and had things go awry?

I remember one time I was so excited to visit an apple festival in a town about an hour and a half away. It was going to be a road trip and a quick mini-vaca to enjoy some of my favorite Fall traditions. So we got directions from the internet, loaded the car and were off. We drove and we drove and we drove. We could not find this little town, even after stopping and asking for directions! We ended up having to just turn around and heading home. When all was said and done we had spent about six hours driving without ever having stopped anywhere. Every time the weather starts to get cooler I am reminded of that story. Maybe one day we will try to go to the fest again and we will actually find it!

Do you have a crazy vacation story of your own? Choice Hotels, one of the world’s leading hotel franchisors, is celebrating their 75th anniversary and wants to hear your story so they can help turn those crazy misadventures back into positive memories. You can tell your vacation misadventure stories for the opportunity to have your trip re-enacted by YouTube sensations Rhett & Link who will select the best of the worst vacation experiences to reenact on their Good Mythical Morning Show every Thursday. Along with that, you will have a chance to win a grand prize of $10,000 to re-do the trip that went awry the first time around. The winner will be announced on August 29th.

Here is the first #VacayGoneCrayCray story that was re-enacted (it starts at 4:19 in the video below):

For Official Rules, including prize descriptions, and how to enter, visit www.vacaygonecraycray.com.

 

Free Fun At The St. Louis Zoo

I love finding free activities in towns that I visit so I was really excited to be in St. Louis last weekend and discover that their zoo had no entrance fee. Not only was it free, but it’s a fan favorite. It was just announced that is had been voted the second best U.S. zoo in the Readers’ Choice awards by USA Today (beating out the zoo I’m a member of, Brookfield Zoo in Chicago).

The zoo grounds were beautiful and the zoo was spread out so it didn’t seem very crowded for a Holiday weekend. The zoo boasts over 600 species so there was lots for us to see in our short afternoon there. We probably didn’t even see half of what the zoo had to offer.

Lucas noticed the train going around the zoo and just had to ride it. We sat in the back and the boys all got to help the Conductor. They loved saying “All Aboard!” into the loudspeaker.

And no trip to the zoo is complete without a stop to the snack area for an “Elephant’s Ear”!

We had a great time at the zoo. Can’t wait to go back!

Note: There is a fee to park but you can park a bit farther away and walk if you want it to be absolutely free :) Some attractions also cost money. We chose to do the train which was $5/person. There is an option to buy a decently priced package which includes the train and a number of other attractions. If we were there longer we would have probably chosen to buy the package.

Beaches Turks & Caicos Debuts Key West Luxury Village

(Disclosure: I was invited to Beaches Turks & Caicos for the opening of their Key West village but all thoughts are my own.)

I was so excited to head to Beaches Turks & Caicos earlier this week. Not only was I headed to check out a resort, but it was the first trip that Sinisa and I have ever taken together without the kids. I love traveling with my boys but sometimes it’s just nice to get away and have some couple time ;)

This was my first time to the islands and my second time checking out a Beaches resort (see my thoughts on Beaches Negril here). The resort was only a 15 minute van ride away from the airport. The resort was gorgeous and well-deserving of the Six Star Black Diamond Award for overall excellence that was bestowed upon it.

I took hundreds of pictures throughout my visit, including many of the other three villages at the resort, so I’m just going to focus on the Key West village that we stayed at for this post. This new village at the resort features more than 150 suites and villas, three gourmet restaurants, private pools and more!

There was lots of outdoor space to enjoy. I loved that even though the resort was almost at full capacity, it didn’t FEEL like it was. Even the beach never got too busy!

Our room overlooked the garden space. I worked a few of the days we were there but I didn’t mind sitting in the room because it felt nice and airy, especially when the balcony doors were open and we had a nice breeze.


When we weren’t in our room or at the beach we were sitting by the pool or eating at one of the restaurants that overlooked the water.

Stay tuned for more about Beaches Turks & Caicos! It’s the perfect place for a couples escape or a family vacation :)

Enjoying A Day At Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas

(Disclosure: My family received a complimentary vacation on MSC Cruises but all thoughts are my own.)

On our recent cruise, we stopped in the Bahamas and spent a few hours at the beach in Great Stirrup Cay. We left the kids in the kid’s club on the boat (since they had gotten too much sun at our first stop) so it was just Sinisa and I. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the afternoon!

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The beach’s sand wasn’t silky smooth like at other places we’ve visited and the ground as you walk into the ocean is full of rocks. While I don’t think the beach itself was that nice, the water was amazing. It was clearer than the other islands in the Caribbean we’ve visited.

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Great Stirrup Cay was really busy. When we got to the beach a few hours after our ship had arrived, almost every beach chair was being used. I did notice that if we would have walked down the beach more there were open chairs but that was away from everything else (including the food).

Along with the beautiful water of Great Stirrup Cay, other perks included on duty lifeguards and the fact that our food and drinks were included just like they were on the ship.

Overall, it was a really relaxing afternoon. We enjoyed just sitting on the edge of the water with a cold drink in our hands as we chatted. We are looking forward to visiting again!

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago: A Kid-Friendly Luxury Hotel

Despite living only about an hour away from Chicago, we don’t really go downtown that often. I wanted to go somewhere over President’s Day since the boys were out of school and I had the day off from work, so our family headed to Chicago for a couple days of fun in the big city. I was really excited about this trip because I would be reviewing The Ritz-Carlton Chicago hotel. I had heard of this hotel, and assumed it would be too “fancy” for me to bring the boys to, but when they invited us for a “family sleepover” we decided to go and I’m so glad we did.

When I checked out the website I noticed a few things immediately that keyed me in to how great it would be for kids. Room-wise they offered childproof rooms which I think is great for people with young children. They also had a bunch of amenities just for the kids. To keep children occupied they also had a pool, cookie baking, and a candy cart that you could have come to your room.

When we first walked into the suite I was amazed at how large it was. We were staying in their Deluxe Lake-View Suite. It was about the size of my first apartment. Here is a video walk-through of the suite:

This suite was located on the 24th floor and was on the corner so we had lake views from every room. I even got to wake up to the lake outside of my window as I laid in bed! That to me is a dream!

The boys were so excited to see a little tent in the room. One of the maids also came before bedtime for “turn down” service and made the pullout couch into a bed for the boys. Some of my other favorite kid-friendly features in the room were the bathrobes and kid-toiletries. 

We didn’t make it to the pool but the boys loved baking cookies in the kitchen. They were then delivered to our room about an hour later with whipped cream and sprinkles so the boys could decorate them and then eat them.

There were delicious treats for mommy and daddy, too!

Along with the fun inside the hotel, guests of The Ritz-Carlton can take an elevator down to the Water Tower mall. This was perfect for our winter visit to the city because we could enjoy the mall and it’s restaurants without having to put on our coats and walk in the slush and snow outside. The boys enjoyed playing at the LEGO store and Luke and I walked through the American Girl store. We also went up every escalator in the mall and then took the elevator down.

Another thing I liked was that the check-in and check-out times were really generous. Check-out was at noon so we were able to walk down Michigan Avenue and relax in our room a bit before we had to leave. We wanted to avoid this wintery weather for as long as we could….

Are you looking to enjoy an evening in Chicago? While the $785/night suites are a little pricier than my family would normally stay in, I think it’s worth splurging a bit to experience the luxury that we did! When I checked there were also hotel rooms priced at $295/night. Along with the beautiful hotel located in the perfect spot on Michigan Avenue, the staff was excellent and the beds were really comfortable. I think both couples and families would enjoy staying at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago. It is definitely a hotel we will go back to!

(Disclosure: My family received a free stay at the hotel but all thoughts are my own.)

Escape The Cold At KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort {Giveaway & Coupon Code}

(Disclosure: My family received a complimentary stay at the resort but all thoughts are my own.)

It’s been cold and snowy here in Chicago and I’m really ready for warmer weather. Last weekend we took an hour and a half drive North to Gurnee and escaped to the warmth of KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort.

Once inside we immediately felt like we were in Florida. The main hall was decorated to look like a street and it hinted at the fun we were going to have during our stay.

At check-in we learned that KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark is conveniently cashless. We received a Smart Band® RFID wristband which was our room key and also allowed us to charge everything back to our room just by the swipe of our wrists. The wristbands can be used for vending machines, token dispensers in the arcade, lockers, restaurants, spa, gift shops, and concessions at KeyLime Cove. I loved that we didn’t have to carry cash or worry about losing our room key.

After we checked in and headed to our room which continued the tropical theme. I thought it was nice that the sleeping area and the “living” area were separated by a sliding door because it created different living spaces.

Once we put everything in our room, the boys were begging to go to the waterpark. KeyLime Cove Resort’s Lost Paradise waterpark features 65,000 square feet of indoor fun. They have a wave pool, water slides, lazy river, and a great kid’s area.

I really love that the waterpark opens at 9am on weekends because my kids wake up really early and it is so hard to wait three or four hours for the park to open like at some places we’ve been. As far as safety goes, I thought the lifeguards were very aware of what was going on at all times and none of them looked “checked out” while doing there job. There was also plenty of seating in the water park.

The resort features a lot of other fun activities outside of the water park. I loved that there was a kid’s daily “Fun-tivities Guide” to tell us what was happening each day. The guide features new activities almost hourly during the day where children can participate in a kids’ parade, decorate a cookie, do a scavenger hunt, listen to a story, or do a craft. These activities are free! The boys did one where they colored a sports visor to wear. There is also a large arcade for kids of all ages.

Adults have a lot of options at the resort. Looking to relax? The resort has a spa with all sorts of services offered. Like to shop? Check out one of the unique shops to find the perfect gift for a friend.

While at KeyLime Cove you are bound to get hungry. There are many delicious options. While there we enjoyed a breakfast buffet at D.W. Anderson’s. The buffet featured an omelet station and a waffle station. I’m not really a fan of buffets but really loved this one because the food was freshly cooked and didn’t seem like it had been sitting there a while. The buffet even had blintzes which Sinisa loved and you don’t normally see at buffets. While at the water park we lunch from their Sharky’s Big Bites snack area. Dinner at The Crazy Toucan also exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed a strawberry colada with cheesy crab logs. Crab is my favorite food and this mixture of crab and cheese on toasted bread was amazing. They also had a large variety of choices for the kids. We headed to Island Temptations for dessert where candy, ice cream, coffee and more is available.

Overall, we had a great time at KeyLime Cove Resort. We stayed one night and enjoyed the waterpark the day before our stay and the day after which was perfect for my young kids. Then we headed home in this…

It was nice escaping reality for a bit :) Do you want to take a mini-vacation like my family did? Check out the great deal below!

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One reader will win a $50 KeyLime Cove gift card

HOW TO ENTER:

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Giveaway ends March 1, 2014 at 11:59pm Central time. Must be 21 or over and a US resident to enter.

Great Midwest Family Vacation Town {Branson, MO}

I recently traveled to Branson, Missouri with a few other bloggers on a trip with US Family Guide courtesy of Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. What was supposed to be a mom/daughter trip ended up being more of a family trip but in a way I’m glad the boys could come with because that gave me the chance to see how kid-friendly Branson was. I went into the trip thinking Branson was more of a place for adults but I left knowing that it is a perfect family vacation destination.

Branson is quite a drive from the Chicago area but do-able. Leaving in the afternoon meant the kids slept most of the car ride. Once we got to Branson we checked in to Thousand Hills Golf Resort where we were staying for the duration of our trip. The condo we stayed in was beautiful and bigger than my first apartment with a view of the golf course.

Condo at Thousand Hills Golf Resort

We spent our first day at Silver Dollar City. I started the day by riding their new record-breaking ride, Outlaw Run. It’s the first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster, the only wood coaster to twist upside down three times, the world’s steepest wood coaster, and the second fastest wood coaster in the world. It was an amazing thrill! I spent the rest of the day with my kids riding “kiddie rides”, eating delicious food, and walking around looking at the 125+ booths of crafts during their National Harvest Fest.

Rides at Silver Dollar City

After a day at Silver Dollar City we went back to our hotel room, changed, and headed to Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede for dinner and show. The show was action packed and we loved watching all of the performers including the man who rode 2 horses through a ring of fire and the ostrich race. My boys even got to be part of the show as they chased chickens in the arena while about a thousand people watched.

Ostrich Race at Dixie Stampede

After a good night’s rest we headed to the Hollywood Wax Museum where my mom and the boys posed with wax figures of famous actors and actresses. Some of them looked so real!

My favorite wax celebrity at the Hollywood Wax Museum- so real!

 Our next stop was to The Track Family Fun Parks. With 5 locations spread along the main highway, there is something for everyone at “the tracks”. The boys loved riding Go-Karts by themselves and all of the kiddie rides. My favorite was racing Go-Karts on a couple of the best tracks that I’ve ever been on.

Go-Kart fun at The Track Family Fun Parks

Our evening consisted of a nice dinner cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle. We enjoyed delicious food while watching some great talent. One of the women performing had me amazed when she was playing the violin upside down while doing aerials! The comedian and magician was so good that I’m still trying to figure out how he did one of his last tricks.

Beautiful evening for a cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle

The next day was our last day in Branson. We spent our morning at the Titanic Museum. I found it interesting to learn more about this ship I had only known about from the movie. The boys loved all of the interactive exhibits.

Model ship we saw at the Titanic Museum

Before we left we stopped at the Christmas store and a local shop selling taffy. We had a great time together on our trip. If you are looking for a family-friendly vacation spot I recommend heading to Branson, Missouri. See more fun things to do at ExploreBranson.com!

Thousand Hills Golf Resort {Branson, MO}

(Disclosure: I received a free trip to Branson, Missouri and while I was there stayed at Thousand Hills Golf Resort courtesy of the resort. All thoughts are my own.)

After a long day of traveling, nothing feels better than coming back to the hotel room and relaxing before falling asleep in a nice comfy bed. While I was in Branson I was lucky enough to stay at an amazing resort called the Thousand Hills Golf Resort.

Thousand Hills Hotel, Golf Resort and Conference Center provides Branson lodging luxury, variety and convenience found nowhere else in Missouri. Whether you choose the secluded Branson cabins, the centrally located condos that surround the 18-hole golf course, or prefer to be on Table Rock Lake you will enjoy many features not found at competing Branson, Missouri hotels and resorts. All three of their Branson Lodging properties feature free wi-fi internet, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, exercise facility and hotel lodging loaded with special features.

My family stayed in one of the one bedroom condos. The living room and bedroom had a view of the golf course. The condo also had a balcony with table and chairs for relaxing or eating outside.

When I walked into the condo for the first time I was amazed at the size of it. It was larger than my first apartment!

The main living area featured a kitchen, dining room, and living room. There was a closet with a washer and dryer off of the dining room which is perfect for families staying a while.

I liked the fact that there was a full kitchen complete with small appliances. Eating out can be expensive so running to the grocery store and cooking your own food is an easy way to save money while traveling.

The living room had a pull-out couch which we used during our stay. There was also a large TV with a DVD player so we ran to Redbox and got a couple movies for the evenings.

The bedroom was really spacious. It contained a large bed, 2 nightstands, and an armoire with a television. The bedroom had a “his” and “hers” closet and a sink area w/ mirror which is nice for getting ready in the morning when someone is in the bathroom. The two door bathroom was off the bedroom and featured a nice Jacuzzi tub.

The features of the condo units include:

  • Swimming Pool
  • Whirlpool Jacuzzi-Type Tub
  • Private Patio or Deck
  • Spacious Living Room
  • Fully-Equipped Kitchen
  • DVD Player
  • Televisions in all bedrooms
  • Cable Television
  • Premium Channels with ESPN, HBO
  • Pull-Out Sofa Sleeper
  • Washers and Dryers
  • Soaps & Detergents
  • Iron with Ironing Board
  • All Major Appliances
  • AM/FM Alarm Clock Radios
  • All Linens Furnished
  • Electronic Door Locks
  • Free WiFi Internet

The condos sound like they’d be expensive but they are really affordable and comparable in price to normal hotel rooms. The smallest unit starts at $74/night. The one bedroom condos start at $115/night. There are also 2, 3, 4, and 5 bedroom condo and town-home options that sleep anywhere from 2-12 people.

If you will be traveling to Branson, Missouri I recommend staying at the Thousand Hills Golf Resort. Learn more about the resort here.

Cave Of The Mounds {Blue Mounds, WI}

Last month we went on a mini-vacation to Wisconsin Dells. On our way there we made a slight detour off our route because I had arranged for my family to go on a press tour of Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark. I had never heard of this cave before July but it sounded really interesting so it was worth the 45 minutes or so of additional drive time.

Once we arrived at Cave of the Mounds we signed up for a cave tour time and then went into a little gift shop filled with beautiful rocks and gemstones.

In the gift shop were bags of sand for purchase. These weren’t just filled with sand but some had gemstones hidden inside and some had fossils in them. We chose to dig for gemstones. Once we got the bags we went to the “mining” area and dumped the bags out into sifters.

At first the boys just dug through the sand and then rinsed the rocks off in the water. Eventually though they immersed the whole sifter of sand in the running water and found the smaller rocks that way.

The boys thought this mining process was lots of fun. Each boy found about 15 rocks/gemstones in their bag of sand. After we did our mining it was time for our cave tour. The small group of people on the tour are first led into a small room where we watched a movie about the cave and it’s history.

I found the movie really interesting though it was kind of hard for the kids to sit through because they are used to animated shows. Once we watched the movies we were led into the cold, dark cave. I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

The inside of the cave was beautiful. All these rock formations had formed inside and our tour guide explained how this cave had been built over thousands of years.

The tour ended up lasting a lot longer than I thought it was going to. The boys behaved pretty well during it and only started getting antsy at the end.

I took so many pictures inside the cave but the pictures don’t really do it justice. It’s really something you just have to experience yourself :)

Once the tour was over Lucas wanted to dig for more gemstones. We went to a big sandbox full of gemstones where the kids could use shovels to dig for goodies they could take home.

Look at this pretty rock I found!

Also, on the grounds are a beautiful garden area and plenty of greenery. We wanted to finish our trip to the Dells so we didn’t get a chance to check out the garden area but it looked nice and serene.

Overall, we had a great afternoon at Cave of the Mounds. It was a fun way to enjoy nature and was definitely worth the drive. Learn more about Cave of the Mounds, National Natural Landmark, here.

(Disclosure: We received press tickets but all thoughts are my own.)

Original Wisconsin Ducks {Wisconsin Dells, WI}

When I was younger my family went to Wisconsin Dells and rode on vehicles called “Ducks”. That is one of the things I wanted to do with my own family when we went to the Dells last week. There are multiple different “Ducks” there now, so I wasn’t sure which one I had gone on when I was little so we decided to stick with the “Original” ones.

Since I didn’t know how long the wait was until the next ride, the boys and I sat in the car while Sinisa went and bought our tickets. When he came back, tickets in hand, and told me he’d just spent almost $80 I could not believe it. Obviously, I did not look at prices when I was younger so I don’t know if that’s how much it was or if the price had went up a lot.

The Ducks depart every 10 minutes so we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes. They travel on both land and water. Each Duck has a driver who also acts as a tour guide. Ours was hilarious and told jokes must of the ride. He also pointed things out along the way.

The views from the boat were beautiful and I really enjoyed being on the water. The boat didn’t travel as fast as I had remembered it did. We went into the water at one point and made a splash with the boat but other than that it was a pretty calm ride. On land we didn’t go more than 20 miles per hour but there were points in the woods where I definitely felt like I was on a roller coaster (and Jacob loved that part).

Overall, it was a nice way to relax in the constant flurry of a tourist town. I think it’s something that every Wisconsin Dells visitor should do at least once just because of it’s iconic status.

(Disclosure: As stated above we bought our own tickets. This post is not compensated in any way.)

Timbavati Wildlife Park {Wisconsin Dells, WI}

While we were in Wisconsin back in June we received free tickets to Timbavati Wildlife Park from our hotel. The park had just reopened and I could tell that it wasn’t finished yet because there were a lot of empty areas. I know the Dells are known for their water parks but it was nice to get out and enjoy nature while we were there.

The boys favorite animal was the lion.

My very favorite exhibit was the giraffes because people could feed them! There was a table set up with little cups of food for the giraffes that people c0uld buy. I don’t know how things will work when the zoo gets busier but I loved being able to pet the giraffes. I mean, how many people can say they’ve done that?!

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Aren’t these giraffes just gorgeous? This was definitely a favorite of my Wisconsin Dells visit.

Chula Vista Resort {Wisconsin Dells, WI}

I am so excited to be heading to Wisconsin Dells in a couple weeks. I am a Chula Vista Resort Ambassador so my family will be staying at the Chula Vista Resort which I’ve never been to before. The pictures on the website make me even more excited because it looks like we are going to have an amazing time. I am looking forward to relaxing and my kids are looking forward to checking out the waterpark.

And you don’t think I’d leave you all, my readers, out of the fun do you!? After our mini-vacation I will be giving away a 2 night stay at Chula Vista Resort to one of you so you can take your family on a fun vacation, too!

(Disclosure: As stated above, I am a Chula Vista Resort Ambassador so I am receiving a complementary stay. All thoughts are my own.)

Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty {Wisconsin Dells, WI}

One of my favorite Midwest vacation destinations is Wisconsin Dells. I remember going there when I was younger and we would always have breakfast at least one morning at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty.

Now that I have kids of my own I knew we had to stop by the restaurant when we went to the Dells for our very first family vacation.

Everything was just like I had remembered. Old fashioned tables and tableware and homemade food served family style. It was a great way to start off the day. My favorite are their sugar covered doughnuts! And just a heads up- if you want French Toast you need to get there early in the morning because that’s the only time they offer them.

Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty serves lunch and dinner as well but I’ve never tried anything but their breakfast selection. They also have a cute little touristy store that you can shop in while you wait for your table.

(Disclosure: This is not a compensated post. We paid for our meal and all thoughts are my own.)

Easing the Stress of Holiday Travel with Kids

For some parents, the hassle of getting to your holiday destination, coupled with the inevitable schedule disruptions, is enough to make you want to just stay home. Of course, that usually isn’t enough to allow you to cancel travel plans, especially when grandma and grandpa are waiting to spoil your kids.

Claire Haas, mom of two and Vice President of Education for Kiddie Academy offers the following tips for handling holiday travel with your kids:

• Consider traveling at off-peak hours. Start your trip at 9 p.m. instead of 9 a.m. You’ll avoid traffic, and the kids may just sleep for part of the trip. Increase the chances for sleep by an extended playground trip to burn off energy before you buckle them in the car seats.

• A dollar store cookie sheet with magnets works great as a lap desk for the car or on a plane. The raised edge can help prevent crayons and cars from landing on the floor.

• If you’re facing a long car ride with the kids, pack each a “travel activity bag” with new games and activities to keep them busy. Keep the bag in the front seat with you, and dole out a new item each hour. For example, a printed map for playing the license plate game. Or, bubbles to blow out the car window.

• Consider relaxing any restrictions on daily screen time. Video games, iPads and laptops can be true lifesavers when dealing with kids facing hours in close proximity to their siblings.

• You have two choices on bedtime disruptions during holiday travel – stick to your routine while away from home, or just accept that rules are out the window, and make the best of it. For some children, staying up past bedtime during the holidays is a special treat they’ll remember fondly. Do what you think will work best for your family, and shrug off the raised eyebrows you may get from a great aunt because you’re letting the kids stay up late or insisting they stay on schedule.

For more parenting tips, including a downloadable checklist of suggested items for your travel activity bag, visit Kiddie Academy’s Family Essentials blog.

(Disclosure: This post is not compensated. I just thought the tips would be helpful.)

Kalahari Resorts {Giveaway!}

I am super excited to share about Kalahari Resorts, a wonderful family destination that I will be working with for the month of December. I’m extra excited because this will be the first vacation that our family has ever taken together!

It might be chilly inside but it’s hot at the Kalahari Resort so pull out that bathing suit and get ready to escape for a little fun! Check this place out:

The Waterpark Slides

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A fantastic place for the little ones to play

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Lazy River

Kalahari Resorts in the Dells has Wisconsin’s Largest Waterpark and includes fun and exciting rides and features for both your tiny tots and older kids.

· Their indoor waterpark recently installed a state-of-the-art Kids Play Zone named Tiko’s Watering Hole. Catered specifically for your tiny tots, this 5,000-square-foot, interactive play area features activities, slides and a 200-foot-long lazy river made just for them.

· The indoor waterpark also features America’s first indoor super loop slides. All three slides present a near 60 foot drop, and the Super Loop Sahara Sidewinder slides takes guests on a 250-plus foot journey from high above the roof of the waterpark to the water below.

· Our Indoor Theme Park has over 100,000 square feet of family fun with a ton of indoor attractions and activities.

· Other popular indoor attractions include:

-The Tanzanian Twister, a 40 mph exciting pipe-style ride
-Victoria Falls, a 84-foot family raft ride for the whole family
-Rippling Rhino, Kalahari’s longest tube slide at 400 feet long

TWITTER PARTY:

Come join us on Twitter tomorrow for a Kalahari Resorts Twitter Party!

December 1, 2012 12:30-1:30pm Central time

Follow @aliciamarie112 and #Kalahari

DISCOUNT:

Want to stay at Kalahari Resorts?

Click here for a great discount code!

GIVEAWAY:

One reader will win a fantastic prize package from Kalahari Resorts!!!

Package includes:

* 1-night stay in Hut or Desert Style Room

* Complimentary Indoor Theme Park Passes

Please note the terms of the voucher:

Wisconsin Dells location only. NOT VALID: Friday and Saturdays. Blackout dates include November 21-22, 2012, December 21-January 5, 2013, January 20, 2013, February 17, 2013, March 17-31, 2013, April 1-4, 2013, May 26, 2013, June 23 – August 18, 2013, September 1, 2013, and October 13, 2013. Please call (877) 525-2427 for availability. No cash value expires 1 year from date of issue.

HOW TO ENTER:

{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

1) Leave a comment telling me why you want to win

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Like Kalahari Resorts on Facebook

4) Like Making Time For Mommy on Facebook

5) Subscribe to this blog via email {look in upper right hand corner}

Giveaway ends December 20, 2012 at 11:59pm Central time. This giveaway is only for the items stated and does not cover any travel, fees, etc. associated with the package.

(Disclosure: I am receiving a package from Kalahari Resorts in exchange for my posts.)

National Geographic Kids Travel Books {Prize Pack Giveaway}

Summer is almost here and for many families that means vacations. Family vacations are full of fun but one thing that many children don’t enjoy are the long hours in the car that they often start with. To beat boredom, National Geographic Kids has created two books that are perfect for road trips.

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas contains maps, games, interesting facts and boredom busters to make your next journey an adventure to remember.  Every state is featured and includes a map of the state, 5 cool things to do there, fun facts about the state and the animals that live there and even quirky roadside attractions.  And, in case this comes in handy, helpful traffic laws you won’t believe.

If you’re trying to decide which of our country’s amazing national parks to visit, NG Kids, together with the National Park Trust, has created National Parks Guide U.S.A.  Broken down into regions of the country, this handy guide has all you need to make your visit to these treasured parks an experience your family will never forget.

My family doesn’t have any vacations planned but these books make me want to plan a very long road trip so I can visit all the cool places in these books. I thought about planning some short day trips or overnight trips in August when Lucas is out of school so I took a look at the information on the nearby states in the Road Trip Atlas. Indiana has some beach dunes that are fun, a town called Santa Claus that is full of Christmas-themed attractions, and an Amish country. Wisconsin has the Dells which I love but I also learned there is a cheese castle right by the Illinois border so I’ve added that to my fun places to visit list. Iowa has some living history farms that would be interesting to tour and take a look at where food comes from.

Overall, I think that children will love these books and they will find hours of entertainment in them as they travel.

BUY THEM:

The books can be purchased online at the following places:

The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas

National Parks Guide U.S.A.

GIVEAWAY:

One person will win a Road Warrior prize package featuring a copy of The Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas, a copy of National Parks Guide U.S.A., a stuffed Buddy Bison and a Buddy Bison t-shirt.

HOW TO ENTER:

{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

1) Tell me where you’d like to go for a family vacation

2) Like Making Time For Mommy on Facebook

3) Like National Geographic Kids on Facebook

4) Follow @aliciamarie112 on Twitter

5) Follow @NGKidsBks on Twitter

6) Share this giveaway on a social network

Giveaway ends June 6, 2012 at 11:59pm Central time. Open to US and Canada.

(Disclosure: I received copies of the books from National Geographic Kids to review but all thoughts are my own.)

Discover Branson

I haven’t gone on vacation since I lived with my parents but a month or so ago I decided that it was time for our family to go on our very first vacation. I have been researching places online, talking to friends, and chatting about vacation destinations on Twitter and I still haven’t narrowed down where we are going to go. When I was asked to write about a popular vacation destination, Branson, Missouri, I jumped at the chance because it would give me an opportunity to look into the destination more.

My main goals when looking for a vacation are to find something affordable and family friendly. I looked online at a website that had Branson vacation packages to see what Branson had to offer. I have been to Missouri but don’t think I’ve ever visited Branson so I was surprised at all the fun things there were to do there. Ziplining looked fun but wouldn’t work for our family because we have young kids. Looking more I did find a lot of fun things that would be family friendly. Silver Dollar City has something in June called KidsFest which looks like something my kids would love {especially because Dora would be there}. There is also a Dinosaur Museum and a water park. One of my childhood favorites “The Ducks” {that I’ve ridden on in the Dells} can also be found in Branson so I was excited to find that out.

Will we end up in Branson, MO on vacation this year? Guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to the blog and see where we end up :)

(Disclosure: This is a compensated post but all thoughts are my own.)

Win A Winter Wonderland Family Vacation!

U.S. Family Guide is giving away 2 Winter Wonderland Family Vacations to readers of the blogs in their networks! Enter to win by clicking on the banners below and filling out the forms. Let me know in the comments below if you enter either of them. Good luck! :)

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Win a Winter Wonderland Family Vacation to Estes Park, Colorado.
Vacation includes: 5 nights deluxe accommodations in 2 bedroom condo for a family of up to 8

Estes Park, Colorado is a charming mountain resort community situated at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors can explore the park and view amazing wildlife or experience an endless variety of outdoor activities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. Other activities for families include the Estes Park Winter Festival, incredible shopping, dining and outdoor fun.

Welcome to Gunnison-Crested Butte – the heart and soul of the rugged Rocky Mountains in Southwest Colorado. If you’re looking for something unpretentious, authentic and a stark contrast from the ordinary, you’ll be happy to get to know us! Our friendly 1880’s Western and Victorian mountain towns make Gunnison-Crested Butte a unique Rocky Mountain vacation destination – spring, summer, winter, or fall. At Crested Butte Lodging & Property Management, we understand quality of lodging can make or break your vacation. We have carefully evaluated and inspected each property and have categorized our accommodations to further help you make your selection. We want you to come to Crested Butte, Colorado to relax and have fun – not hassle with your accommodations. We promise a vacation you’ll never forget! Call 1-888-412-7310 to make lodging arrangements.

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This contest ends February 1, 2012

(Disclosure: I was not compensated for posting this. As a blogger I am entered to win one of two blogger vacations. I get extra entries when you all enter so please do. Hope one of you wins!)