15 Family Friendly Things To Do In Chicago And The Suburbs This Summer

Disclosure: While this is not a sponsored post, I have partnered with most of these attractions over the years or have ongoing relationships with them. Thanks to all of the Chicago and suburban attractions that support this blog and provide my family with amazing experiences! Regardless of relationship though, all thoughts are my own honest opinions.

Visiting Chicago soon? I’ve put together a list of family-friendly things to do in the city and the nearby suburbs during the warm summer months. Many of these are even fun to do during the other seasons as well if you are visiting Chicago at another time of the year.

1. Enjoy a White Sox baseball game on one of their Family Sundays.

I’ll admit that I’m not a huge baseball fan (football is my true love) but there is just something special about sitting at a baseball game with my family and a crowd of people cheering for the same team that makes for a fun afternoon. We enjoy going to Chicago White Sox baseball games, especially on their kid-friendly Family Sundays where they have many special kid-focused activities and the opportunity to run the bases after games. Some games they even have special autograph sessions the kids can go to if they arrive early enough! Learn more about Chicago White Sox Family Sundays here.

2. Spend a day of hands-on learning fun at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Chicago is home to many amazing museums but the Museum of Science and Industry is one of our family’s favorites. I really like that it provides so many hands-on learning activities and I feel like it’s one of those places you can go every few months and there are always new things to discover. This summer there is a new exhibit we are looking forward to checking out called The Science Behind Pixar (at MSI until 1/6/19).  This 13,000-square foot, interactive exhibit showcases how Pixar artists and computer scientists use science, technology, engineering, and math to bring Pixar’s award-winning films to life.

3. Enjoy a sunny day at the beach.

Chicago might not be near the ocean but it’s off of Lake Michigan which means there are plenty of sandy beaches along the lakefront…26 free beaches to be exact! If you are headed to Adler Planetarium or the Shedd Aquarium you might want to add 12th Street Beach onto your agenda as well since it’s right there. It’s not a huge beach but we enjoyed going and dipping our toes in the water a bit.

4. Check out one of the many fairs and festivals going on.

There is no shortage of fairs and festivals in the city. From music to art to literature there are typically at least a couple fairs or festivals going on each weekend. Here’s a guide to some of the best festivals and fairs happening in Chicago this summer.

5. See Chicago from all different viewpoints. 

Chicago is typically explored by foot but there are so many other ways to see the city and I share 7 unique ways to see Chicago here. You can view Chicago from above by taking an elevator up to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower, you can go on a carriage ride or take a trolley around the city, and you can take a boat ride along the river or out on the lake.

6. Go bowling at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center.

Spend a rainy afternoon at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center (or go on a nice day and take advantage of their “sunny day” special passes). They have bowling of course but there are other fun games to do as well like billiards, shuffleboards, foosball, and air hockey. And make sure to eat while you are there. I was extremely impressed with all the food offerings they have. All their food is made in-house and whenever possible they source hormone-free, GMO-free, fresh, local ingredients. They also offer a number of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-friendly items. My favorite appetizers were the Southwestern Spring Rolls and Buffalo Chicken Wontons but they offer dinner options along with dessert (trust me, you don’t want to skip dessert).

7. Enjoy all the fun that Millenium Park has to offer.

You can’t visit the city of Chicago without a visit to Millennium Park (and Maggie Daley Park which is connected to it). During the summer you’ll find kids splashing around Crown Fountain or playing at the 3-acre play garden at Maggie Daley Park. There is plenty of architecture to check out (including “the bean” which is a tourist photo spot) and a garden full of beauty to admire. On summer evenings you’ll even find live music and movies at Jay Pritzker Pavillion’s open-air venue.

8. Visit Navy Pier, Chicago’s #1 tourist destination.

Many know this 3,300-foot-long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan as home to the Chicago Children’s Museum and the iconic giant ferris wheel but there is so much more to do there. Visitors can catch a show at the AMC Navy Pier IMAX Theatre, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater or just outside Navy Pier on the Polk Bros Performance Lawns. Those who love art would be interested in the art exhibits that Navy Pier hosts and those who prefer water to land will want to experience one of the cruises that departs Navy Pier. Cap off the day with dinner at one of the restaurants at Navy Pier and an evening display of fireworks on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

9. Eat your way through the city.

Chicago is known for their deep dish pizza but did you know about all the other Chicago staples? Make sure to also taste all of my Chicago’s favorites like Portillo’s hot dogs, Garrett’s popcorn, Fannie May’s chocolates, and Shake Shack’s burgers. Choose Chicago offers 20 iconic eats here if you want even more ideas of restaurants to eat at.

10. Explore life underwater at the Shedd Aquarium or check out one of their new outdoor aquatic experiences.

Two of my favorite activities to do at the Shedd Aquarium are to pet the stingrays and watch the dolphin show. There is a new exhibit called Underwater Beauty that explores the unique beauty that can be found underwater and features over a thousand animals representing 100 species from across the globe, including eels that ribbon, shrimp that can break glass, sea jellies that pulse and fish that swim backwards. In addition to everything at the Shedd, this summer they are offering new outdoor aquatic experiences. designed to spark curiosity for local waters and wildlife by bringing people closer to them. From a traveling aquarium exhibiting animals in some of Chicago’s neighborhood streets and parks, to a new floating island conservation program for Chicago River kayakers, to hands-on science experiences in a boat on Lake Michigan I saw a special about this on our local news and I hope to be able to experience Chicago’s waters in this unique way this summer! Find all the details about these new outdoor aquatic experiences here.

Living just outside of the city I know how much fun can be found in some of Chicago’s nearby suburbs so, if you are up for a visit to the suburbs, check out these fun activities….

11. Take your LEGO loving children for a trip to LEGOLAND.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center is the ultimate indoor LEGO playground with 2 rides, 10 LEGO build & play zones, a 4D cinema & much more! Kids will love seeing everything that the master builders built, including a mini Chicago (built from over 1.5 million bricks!) and some of their favorite characters and scenes from Star Wars. There is also a Pirates Adventure Island playground inside which seems to draw my boys in each time! There are always fun events going on at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, too. Last time we went there was a “kids vs. grownups” challenge (which the kids pretty much won…surprise. surprise…) and coming soon they will have lots of additional fun for their 10th Anniversary Celebration. I also love that they host sensory-friendly “Play Well Days”the first Saturday of each month for those with Autism, SPD, and other special needs, so if you are looking for something sensory-friendly put that on your calendar :)

12. Take the train to Naperville, a local suburb that has a great downtown area that is accessible right off the Metra tracks.

Naperville is by far my favorite Chicago suburb. There is so much to do there and it’s all easy to get to from the train station. I love just walking around the Downtown area and along the riverwalk while my boys play Pokemon Go and try to catch the many Pokemon available. There’s DuPage Children’s Museum, a popular place for children to play and explore, which my boys loved to play at when they were little. On hot days you’ll want to spend time at Centennial Beach, the “swimming hole” created in an old abandoned quarry. There’s also a Paddleboat Quarry where you can rent paddleboats and kayaks. We loved spending time on the water in our little paddleboat! Make sure to check to see if there are any special events going on as well. Ribfest is early in July so it’s over for this summer but I recommend it if you are out in the area during that time!

13. Have a splashtastic time at Raging Waves in Yorkville.

Raging Waves, the largest waterpark in Illinois, is full of summer fun for all ages. Adults and kids will both love the wave pool, body slides, and tube slides. There’s also a 1/4 mile long lazy river for relaxing as you float along. Young kids will have a blast playing at Kangaroo Falls which has slides, water cannons, rope bridges, water hoses and a dumping bucket. There’s also Koala Kove, a zero depth entry pool with four slides for the littlest of waterpark visitors. Learn more and get tickets here.

14. Spend the afternoon at Brookfield Zoo.

Brookfield Zoo has been the zoo I’ve visited since I was a young girl and I love taking my kids there now. This 216 acre zoo is home to around 450 species of animals so there are lots of animals to see. Kids will especially love the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Hamill Family Wild Encounters where they can get up close and interact with the animals. If your kids love playing in water make sure to bring a change of clothes because there is a splash pad they will want to play at along with two playgrounds. My favorite thing to do at the zoo in the summer though is enjoy live music at their Summer Nights on Fridays and Saturdays (through August 18th this summer).

15. Have a thrilling time at Great America.

If you have thrill-seekers in your family you’ll want to add Six Flags Great America, located in Gurnee, to your summer bucket list. With over 100 attractions and rides along with an attached waterpark, Great America is a place your whole family will enjoy. My boys love the roller coasters, including American Eagle, the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, which Jacob braved as soon as he was tall enough to ride. My favorite on a hot day is Logger’s Run because it’s a great way to cool off when it’s hot out. Young kids will love that there are 3 areas in the park that are just for them!

For even more ideas check out my Chicago Bucket List and this list of free things to do in Chicago! Also, if you are heading to Chicago with someone who has sensory sensitivities, this Sensory-Friendly Chicago list (that I’m in the process of compiling) may help your family have a successful visit to Chicago.

What do you love to do in Chicago with your family? I’d love to hear about it! Comments on the blog are closed because I’d rather chat with you on social media! :) 

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Guide To Visiting Put-In-Bay With Kids

Last summer we went to Cedar Point and decided to spend an extra day exploring Put-In-Bay, Ohio, before we headed home to the Chicago suburbs. I am so glad we decided to extend our stay because that has been one of my favorite vacations to date. Put-In-Bay provides an atmosphere much like one you’d find in the Caribbean and it was just a nice family getaway spent relaxing and enjoying “island time”. If you need a break from busy sports schedules and the hectic daily grind, this is the place for you!

To get to Put-In-Bay you need to take a ferry. We took a Miller Ferry from Sandusky, Ohio where we were staying. You can take a car along on the ferry but I’d suggest leaving it behind and just renting a golf cart to get around. It was pretty affordable and not only is it convenient, it’s fun to drive around in.

Here are the things you’ll want to do with your family when you visit:

Aquatic Visitor’s Center (Historic Fish Hatchery and Education Center)

We loved this FREE activity! Families can learn more about Lake Erie by exploring its rich history and experiencing science up close at the Aquatic Visitors Center. Afterwards, borrow some fishing poles and bait and go fishing off the pier! Learn more here.

DeRivera Park

Any place with a playground is a “must visit” in my kids’ minds! DeRivera Park is a large shaded park right in the heart of the little downtown area. Children will love the large playground while parents will love the water views. There are also some historic landmarks in the area that are interesting to learn about.

 Eat at The Keys Restaurants

It’s no secret that sitting near the water, eating on an outdoor patio, is one of my favorite things to do so when I saw this adorable, colorful patio area I just knew we had to stop for lunch. Waterfront views, delicious food, and music that makes you feel like you are vacationing in the Florida Keys makes this place top of my list for mealtime.

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has enough activities to keep a family busy for almost a whole day. From exploring a cave to gemstone mining to playing mini-golf to visiting a butterfly house to checking out antique cars, the whole family will find something they love! My boys favorite activity there was Fort aMAZE’n, a giant maze they enjoyed racing the clock to find their way out of. Learn more about all Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has to offer here.

Walking around town

Walking along the lakefront was a relaxing way to spend the morning and I enjoyed going into shops that were around the middle of the town as well. If it’s hot out make sure to stop by Dairy Isle for a cool treat to enjoy while you walk around town!

Chocolate Museum & Cafe

Those with a sweet tooth will want to visit the Chocolate Museum and enjoy a treat from their cafe which they can enjoy outside in the picnic area. I thought it was interesting to walk around the museum area but the boys just wanted to hurry through to check out the array of chocolatey goodness that they offered in their cafe.

I loved every minute we spent in Put-In-Bay, Ohio and am so glad we made the trip over to the island. Have you ever visited? I’d love to hear what other things your family enjoyed doing if so!

Chicago Staycation With The Family At Radisson Blu Aqua

Thanks to Radisson Blu Aqua for hosting my family for a complimentary stay at their hotel.

I’m always on the lookout for getaways close to where we live in the Chicago suburbs and our recent stay at the Radisson Blu Aqua did not dissapoint. I was happy to find so much to do inside the hotel which makes it perfect for winter staycations. Best of all, it’s located right in the heart of Chicago, close to Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and other popular tourist attractions.

When we first arrived at the Radisson Blu Aqua I was thrilled to be able to see bits of the lake from my room. A water view is always top of my list anytime I travel! I also had a nice view of the hotel’s rooftop courtyard along with Millennium Park’s concert shelter.

While a water view is at the top of my list, so is a nice room. When we travel we often have to take breaks in our room in between activities to give Lucas downtime, so we spend a lot more time in our room than the typical family might. The rooms at the hotel were nicely furnished with comfortable beds and a fabulous rain shower in the bathroom.

Once we relax a bit in the room the boys typically want to go to the pool. We discovered the Radisson Blu Aqua has two pools, a large outdoor pool and a smaller indoor lap pool. Since it was too cold for an outoor swim, the boys played in the indoor one. There is also a hot tub which is nice for relaxing after a long day.

After swimming we went to explore the other ammeneties the hotel offered. My sports playing boy immediately fell in love with the indoor basketball court and probably could have spent all evening practicing for the upcoming basketball season. The hotel also had a large workout room and a game room. We didn’t use the workout room but the boys did enjoy playing a game of pool in the game room.

After a busy weekend of enjoying the hotel amenities and exploring all that Chicago has to offer we ended the weekend with brunch at Filini, the hotel’s restaurant. There was such a great variety and all of our favorite foods, from made-to-order omelets to delicious pastries, all beautifully displayed.

If you are looking for a winter getaway, look no further than the “wavy hotel” as my kids like to call it. The Radisson Blu Aqua is a wonderful place to stay no matter the season! You can learn more and make reservations online here.

Does your family enjoy staycations?

10 Things To Do With Kids In Fort Wayne

Thanks to Visit Fort Wayne for hosting my family on this press trip.

Last month we took a short trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Despite being just a few hours away from the Chicago area (where I have lived most of my life), I had never visited Fort Wayne before. I discovered that there is so much for families to do in Fort Wayne and wanted to share some of my family’s favorite activities from our trip!

Go on a safari at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

Out of the dozen or so zoos that I have visited around the US, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is by far my favorite. I loved how this zoo was more of an immersive experience than just looking at animals on display like we typically do at zoos. The zoo is split into regions like the African Journey Safari Trail, the Australian Adventure and the Indonesian Rain Forest. They also have rides you can go on like the Sky Safari (where you can get a bird’s eye view of the animals in the African Journey exhibit), the Crocodile Creek adventure ride canoe boats, and the Z.O.&O. RAILROAD train that takes you around the zoo. Learn more about the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo here.

 

Run around at the Bob Arnold Northside Park playground

We love discovering new playgrounds in the towns we visit and my boys were very impressed with the children’s playground at the Bob Arnold Northside Park. The playground has an area for little ones as well as a larger structure for 5-12 year olds.

Learn through hands-on play at Science Central

Science was never my favorite subject in school but Science Central has over 130 hands-on exhibits that teach science concepts in an engaging way. From learning about the world in the 3-D Science on a Sphere exhibit to exploring water flow at the large water table, children will have a lot of fun playing at Science Central.

Enjoy a treat at The Yummi Bunni 

The Yummi Bunni is THE place to get ice cream in Fort Wayne. They offer ice cream in cups or their signature Yummi Bun (which is basically a donut). They have new flavors weekly and also offer gluten free and vegan options. (I had soy ice cream for the first time and it was delicious!) Make sure to snap a pic of your kids in front of the selfie wall for a cute vacation memento.

Discover nature at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory

I wasn’t sure if my boys were going to enjoy a botanical conservatory or if this was more geared towards adults but my kids ended up having tons of fun here. I felt like the entire conservatory was developed with families in mind and that bringing young children was not only welcome but encouraged there. They have a discovery corner located right outside the lobby that has stories and activities related to a monthly theme. The area is geared towards grades pre-k through K but my 3rd and 4th graders enjoyed it as well! While walking between the three indoor gardens the boys discovered activities along the way including an “underground” slide, a little pretend market and some building activities. We also enjoyed looking at the hundreds of plants as we walked around the indoor and outdoor gardens. Learn more about the Botanical Conservatory here.

Swim in a pool 

Fort Wayne has a number of pools and splash pads around town that are open during the warmer months but we enjoyed swimming at our hotel’s pool. We stayed at the Hilton Fort Wayne located at the Grand Wayne convention center and it had an indoor pool (which is a must-have when traveling with kids in my opinion). The pool area had lots of windows with views of the city and the hotel was close to everything which was convenient.

Enjoy a TinCaps Minor League Baseball Game

If you are traveling to Fort Wayne with a little baseball fan you’ll want to see if the TinCaps are playing a home game while you are in town. (They play during the spring and summer months.) Besides baseball, visitors will enjoy Parkview Field- where the TinCaps play- because it is a beautiful stadium with a great variety of foods at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay for a whole game because it started raining an hour in but it was fun while we were there.

Go on a hike or family walk

Fort Wayne is home to over 90 miles of trails. We climbed the set of steps near the Old Fort which gave us a great view of the river from above and was the perfect spot to snap a photo. Here’s a trail map so you can find the trail for your family to explore.

Take a ride down one of the rivers

Did you know that Fort Wayne has three rivers? I was surprised to learn this! The best way to experience the riverfront area is via boat. There are a number of tours but we went on Sweet Breeze, Fort Wayne’s authentic 1840s canal boat replica, where we learned about Fort Wayne’s history and future plans for the riverbank area. Learn about all the riverboat rides here.

Walk around downtown Fort Wayne

There’s lots more to explore in Fort Wayne and we enjoyed walking around the downtown area. You can visit the Fort Wayne Museum of Art or catch a show at The Embassy Theatre.

Overall, we had a great trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana! If you live there, or have visited in the past, I’d love to hear what other things you think we should add to our list to do next time. If you’ve never visited what things do you think your family would enjoy doing in Fort Wayne?

Why You Need To Visit The Shedd Aquarium This Fall

Thanks to the Shedd Aquarium for sponsoring this post.

I know it’s not officially fall yet but Labor Day has just passed, the kids are back in school, and the weather is getting cooler so I consider this time the unofficial fall season :) If you are looking for something to do indoors and are in the Chicago area you’ll want to visit the Shedd Aquarium before life gets too busy with school events, sports and the holidays.

The Shedd is encouraging families to clear their “Sheddule” and find some time to unwind with family and friends at the aquarium. To make this even easier for cash strapped families they are offering 24 consecutive FREE days for Illinois residents starting tomorrow September 6th and going through September 30th. Illinoisans can enjoy free general admission with full access to the aquarium’s permanent and special exhibits, including Waters of the WorldCaribbean ReefAmazon RisingWild ReefAbbott OceanariumAmphibians special exhibit, the aquatic show and Stingray Touch experience. Admission can be upgraded to include 4-D Experience for $4.95 per guest- which is well worth it in my opinion.

In addition to free days for all Illinois residents, the Shedd will honor all senior guests with free admission Tuesdays and Wednesdays (from 9am to 2pm) in September. (Seniors will receive complementary admission for themselves plus one accompanying adult partner.)

When you visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall make sure these things are on your to-do list:

1) Touch the Stingrays. This outdoor exhibit, open until October, was the highlight of my trip to the Shedd. It was fascinating watching them glide through the water and I loved being able to touch them to see what they felt like.

2) View the whales, dolphins and sea otters underwater. Get a unique view of them in the underwater viewing galleries.

3) Enjoy a 4-D experience. The Shedd’s new experience- Splash and Bubbles is filled with music, fun, and everyone’s favorite citizens of the sea! The 4-D Experience combines the visual drama of a 3-D film with a variety of sensory effects built into the seats and the theater environment. Families with children will love this! (Note to sensory families: If your child is a sensory avoider or easily overwhelmed you may want to skip this experience. Mine are seekers so they loved it! Make sure to check out the Shedd’s Sensory Friendly App, too!)

4) Visit the Polar Play Zone. Let kids play in the polar playscape and explore a child sized submarine.

5) Find Nemo. Have your children look for a percula clownfish. Children will love seeing a real life version of one of their favorite Disney characters.

6) Touch a sea star. They may be called starfish but did you know that sea stars are not fish? In the sea star touch exhibit you can dip your hand into the water and touch their strong skin and examine the hundreds of tiny tube feet that help these extraordinary animals feel, feed and move around their environment.

7) Check out an aquatic presentation. The Shedd Aquarium’s show is unlike others you may find. Not only do you see animals like beluga whales, sea lions and dolphins performing but you’ll learn how they are cared for every day by their trainers and how the Shedd way of training highlights their incredible natural behaviors. It was interesting to watch!

8) Go to a shark animal chat. Learn about sharks during a daily shark animal chat in the Wild Reef exhibit. One question they’ll answer is why sharks don’t eat the fish they swim with.

Also, the Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea exhibit is opening September 23rd. This traveling exhibit will feature massive, colorful sculptures of familiar ocean animals including reef fishes, sharks, octopus, penguins, sea lions and more made entirely of plastic marine debris removed from West Coast beaches. It sounds really interesting and looks like a beautiful exhibit from the photos I’ve seen!

What will you discover when you #ClearYourSheddule and visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall? 

 

7 Unique Ways To See Chicago

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

Whether you are visiting Chicago for the first time, rediscovering “the windy city” you fell in love with years ago, or call Chicago home, you’ll discover new and exciting things every time you explore it. Since I live in the suburbs I’ve been to Chicago dozens of times and each time I visit I have a different experience. There are some ways to get unique views of the city that will help you see it in a new way that both Chicago tourists and locals would enjoy.

Take a trolley ride.

While you could drive around the city on your own, taking a trolley is such a better way to explore the city because the tour guide shares interesting facts along the way. Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. offers four distinct tours this summer that highlight the best sites Chicago has to offer: Chicago Trolley’s iconic Downtown Tour, the Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route, the Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route and the Night Tour. For those wanting to experience Chicago by water, Chicago Trolley also offers the Land, Lake and River Package combining the best of the Downtown Tour together with Mercury Skyline Cruises boat tour. 

The Downtown Tour stops at 13 distinct locations around the city. Beginning at the Sheraton Hotel, tours will venture south over the Michigan Avenue Bridge to Skydeck at the Willis Tower, then over to Millennium Park, stopping by the Art Institute, Hilton Chicago, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Maggie Daley Park. Looping north, the tour continues to Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place, the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago and ending at the Hard Rock Café. The full Downtown Tour departs from downtown Chicago Trolley kiosks with all day access to hop-on and hop-off. Tours operate daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and are approximately two hours in duration.

The Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from the Sheraton Hotel and heads to the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s oldest cultural institution. Passengers then visit Lincoln Park Zoo before the tour ends with a trip to Wrigley Field.

The Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from Sheraton Hotel and travels south directly to the Museum of Science & Industry. The tour then explores one of the richest cultural communities in the Midwest, Chicago’s Chinatown.

The Night Tour showcases Chicago’s dazzling skyline and illuminated landmarks after the sun goes down. Beginning at Sheraton Hotel the Night Tour makes stops at the Skydeck, Hilton Chicago, Navy Pier and the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago, allowing passengers to hop-on or hop-off throughout the evening. The Night Tour operates daily from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and is approximately 90 minutes in duration.

Take a tour by boat. 

There are a number of companies that offer architecture river cruises because Chicago’s rich history can be told through the beautiful buildings in our city. The breeze as you travel down the river feels nice on a hot, sticky day, too!

Get a birds eye view of the city from Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge. 

The Ledge is located at the top of the Sears Tower (yes, I called it the Sears tower because Chicagoans don’t call it by it’s new name of “Willis Tower”….) Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge offers spectacular views of up to 50 miles and four states from the 103rd floor. Their glass boxes with glass floors extend out the side of the building and let you stand 1,353 feet up in the air looking down.

Go on a carriage ride.

There’s no more relaxing way to explore the city than from the comforts of a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage ride is a memorable way to explore the city at a slower pace.

Get a beautiful view of the skyline from the lake.

Whether you go out on a friend’s boat or a chartered ride, there’s nothing like seeing Chicago’s skyline from the lake. I’d recommend going later in the day on a Wednesday or Saturday so you can watch the sunset and then stay for the firework show over Navy Pier.

Go out in a kayak on the river.

Want to explore Chicago at your own pace on the water? Rent a kayak and travel down the river for a unique view of the city while you get some exercise.

Take a ride on the new ferris wheel at Navy Pier. 

Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel is an iconic part of the Chicago skyline. At nearly 200 feet tall, the wheel offers visitors unparalleled, 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. The Centennial Wheel’s enclosed gondolas provide a comfortable experience year-round.

Have you ever been to Chicago? If so, I’d love to hear about your visit, and if not, what are you waiting for!?

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!)

Enjoy A Family Staycation At Pheasant Run Resort

Thanks to Pheasant Run Resort for hosting our family for a staycation.

Summer is in full swing and, if you have been longing to take a vacation but can’t afford to or haven’t been able to get away for a week long trip, I have the perfect option for you. Take a staycation! If you are in the Chicago area you’ll find family fun in the burbs at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles.

Pheasant Run Resort has an awesome Summer Splash package available Sundays through Thursdays, through September 4th. The package includes one night’s accommodations in a deluxe room, one 16” pizza and a two-liter soda, plus $10 worth of tokens for the Swamp Arcade all for just $149 per night for a family of four. The newly refreshed tower rooms have great views of the golf course and some, like our room, even have views of the local airport for those kids who love watching airplanes take off and land.

No need to leave the resort to find things to do on your staycation because Pheasant Run Resort has a variety of things that the whole family will enjoy doing. From swimming in their indoor/outdoor pool to playing air hockey in the arcade to getting ice cream from their ice cream shop, families will truly feel like they are on vacation. In addition, there is always something going on during the days and evenings, like arts & crafts, a scavenger hunt around the resort, and s’mores around the firepit. Families that enjoy golf can even play on Pheasant Run’s popular 18-hole course for just $10 after 5:30!

Looking for a bit of entertainment? You can find live music in some of their restaurants and bars in the evenings along with entertainment on their indoor “Bourbon Street”. Pheasant Run Resort also offers Zanie’s Comedy shows and a brand new iPanic Escape Room.

Hoping for more of a relaxing stay? For moms that can get away for a bit, there’s even a spa! With over 200 treatments, the resort’s spa was recently voted #1 by the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Overall, Pheasant Run Resort is just a fabulous place to get away from the daily responsibilities for a few days. Learn more about their Summer Splash Package and make reservations here.

Summer Fun At Cedar Point

Thanks to Cedar Fair for sponsoring this post and providing this great mini-vacation to Cedar Point for our family.

Happy 4th of July! Summer is in full swing which means our days are spent trying to get in as much outdoor fun as possible. We love going to theme parks and recently visited Cedar Point for the first time. We had such a great day at the park and I wanted to share about it before I headed out to enjoy some music and fireworks with my family.

Located in Sandusky, Ohio, Cedar Point is a 364-acre park with over 150 attractions, including 70 amazing rides. The park is home to 17 world-class roller coasters which is why many call it the “rollercoaster capital of the world”.

My boys loved riding the rollercoasters, especially Lucas my little dare devil! He is the kid on the rides with his hands in the air and a smile upon his face who was so thrilled he was finally tall enough to ride the bigger rollercoasters and was able to ride his very first “upside down” rollercoaster (the Corkscrew). I just loved hearing the excitement in his voice as he shared about the rollercoaster we went on.

My favorite coaster was the Magnum XL-200, a coaster that gave us beautiful views of the park and the lake as we went up to the top of this 205 foot tall coaster. With speeds up to 72 MPH this coaster is one of the extreme thrill rides in the park!

There were a lot of other fun rides the boys enjoyed like “Joe Cool’s Dodgem Driving School” bumper cars, “Ocean Motion” the rocking ship, and the “Tiki Twirl” spinning ride.

As a family we enjoyed going on the “Giant Wheel” Ferris wheel, “Sky Ride” cable cars and the Cedar Point train, all of which gave us fabulous views of the whole park.

Cedar Point has much more than rides though! Check out the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit, meet Snoopy and his friends, or catch a show. We really enjoyed the All Wheels Extreme show featuring stunts performed by talented bikers, skaters and gymnasts from all over the country.

We also liked checking out all the animals in the Cedar Point Barnyard. This year they are even offering pony rides which Lucas was so excited to do because he loves horses. 

On hot summer days you won’t want to miss a visit to Cedar Point Shores Water Park! New for 2017, guests of the park can enjoy 18 acres of splish-splashin’ fun, featuring four new water attractions- Point Plummet, Portside Plunge, Lemmy’s Lagoon, and Lakeslide Landing.

Beach lover? Yeah, Cedar Point has that, too! Take a dip in the lake or just relax on Cedar Point Beach and watch as the kids build some sand castles. It was the perfect way to spend some time before we went to dinner.

The fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down! When it gets dark the park lights up. End your day at the park with Luminosity, a show featuring high-energy dancers, live music, aerial artists, pyrotechnics and so much more. Then, stay a little longer as the DJ spins your favorite songs. This all-ages celebration is the only way to end your day!

Overall we had a great time. There’s plenty to do at the main park and the water park that you could easily spend a few days exploring the park. If you aren’t local make sure to stay in a Cedar Point hotel to get access to the park an hour before everyone else! (We stayed off property at the Cedar Point Express which I’ll be sharing about soon!) As far as lines go, I was surprised to find that the lines for rides and food weren’t long which was nice because we were able to do more than I thought we would.

(Disability Information: For those families who are coming to the park with someone who has a disability, the park does offer accommodations. With Lucas on the Autism Spectrum, he often has a hard time and becomes overwhelmed at theme parks because of the crowds and waiting. Cedar Point has an Alternate Access pass which lets guests with disabilities or special needs get a boarding pass that allows them to rest in a comfortable spot, away from the crowds, until the boarding time and then enter the ride via the Alternate Access Entrance. Depending on how Lucas is doing there are days when passes like this are the only way we can spend a day at a theme park. Thankfully though, since Lucas was having a good day and the park wasn’t too crowded, we only had to use this pass a couple times throughout our day.)

Have you ever been to Cedar Point? What is your favorite thing to do there?

Family Fun In Lake Geneva

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and there was a lot more to do with kids than I thought there was going to be. It’s definitely a town I’d recommend if you are looking for a quick vacation this summer! I wanted to share some of our favorite activities that we did while we were there along with suggesting a great place to stay and a couple places you may want to eat at.

Paradise Miniature Golf

This 18-hole miniature golf course is fairly inexpensive fun in a touristy town. The course was nice and well-maintained though the waterfall seemed to be under construction or not turned on yet for the season (which didn’t impact play in any way).  The course only had a few other families using it while we were there so it was quiet. We enjoyed playing and had a lot of laughs when a couple of our balls ended up in the water and we had to try to fish them out.

Moose Mountain Falls Indoor Waterpark (Located Inside Timber Ridge Lodge)

Guests staying at Timber Ridge Lodge can enjoy full access to Moose Mountain Falls indoor waterpark and the outdoor pool areas. The indoor waterpark is perfect for rainy day fun and easily won the “favorite thing to do” title from the boys. I like that the indoor waterpark was split in to two pools- one that was great for babies and toddlers and one for everyone else. The deeper one had basketball hoops on one end and Jacob ended up spending most his time there. There are two large water slides- a tube slide and a raft slide- that the boys loved going down along with two smaller slides. There was also an “adults only” hot tub (though I didn’t have a chance to try it out) and a lazy river. The outdoor pool areas are a little small in my opinion but if it’s nice out you probably don’t want to be sitting around the hotel anyway! Parents of young children will appreciate that the little kids have a separate pool area to play in.

Geneva Lake Museum of History

I’m going to be honest- visiting the history museum wasn’t on my list of things to-do when I headed to Lake Geneva. We had arrived at our lunch restaurant an hour before it opened so we had some free time and the museum happened to be across the street so we decided to go. I’m so glad we did! The boys, especially Lucas, really liked exploring it and I enjoyed checking it out as well. The first part was a “Main Street” that had replica homes you could go in to see how people lived during certain time periods. There are also a number of exhibits including a shoe exhibit, military exhibit, and train exhibit. Kids get in free to this museum and to make it even more fun for them, make sure to ask for a BINGO game they can play while walking through the museum!

Downtown Lake Geneva

One of my favorite things to do is walk around towns that have cute little downtown areas and Lake Geneva’s did not disappoint. Downtown Lake Geneva is fairly large with lots of great stores to check out and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating areas. The boys enjoyed playing Pokemon Go as we explored the area. They also discovered a comic book store and a children’s book store which they thought were awesome. I enjoyed shopping at all of the stores with “lake life” decor as I imagined furnishing my dream lake home. Another great thing about the downtown area was that parking was so cheap! It was only $1 an hour to park downtown which will shock those from nearby cities like Chicago or Milwaukee.

Riviera Beach

Located right in the heart of downtown Lake Geneva, Riviera Beach provides the perfect way to cool off when it’s hot outside. Though the city was packed last weekend, the beach itself wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. The beach area was clean and had lifeguards watching the water. There was a charge to get in the beach area but, if you are looking to save money and don’t care about getting in the water, there is a large grassy area right behind the beach that’s great for picnics and doesn’t cost anything to enjoy. Make sure to stop in the adjacent Riviera Pavilion for some ice cream, too!

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you are traveling via car make sure to stop by the nearby Jelly Belly Factory for a free tour and candy. The Mars Cheese Castle is a great place to stop for lunch and some snacks on your way to Lake Geneva as well!

Families will love staying in a suite at Timber Ridge Lodge for waterpark access. (They also have giant jet tubs for a little end of the day relaxing….)

We ate at a handful of restaurants but a couple I’d suggest are Carvetti’s Bar & Grill and Popeye’s. Carvetti’s has a nice patio area and, best of all, kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal! Popeye’s is right across from the beach and has nice lake views. I loved sitting in their outdoor table area and their food was really good.

Have you visited Lake Geneva before? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorite family-friendly activities!

 

The Best Gift For People Who Love To Travel

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

One of my favorite things to do is travel. I love going new places with my family and spending quality time with them away from all of the household chores and to-do’s. Though our trips are limited to a few days or a week, I like to keep the memories alive by incorporating bits of my travels in my home. I shared before about some of the travel collections I have, including mugs and magnets, but one thing I always wanted was a giant map to hang and mark our travels on.

I finally found an amazing travel map at 76th & Newbury, an online shop that specializes in custom designs for the home. I love that their maps are made of high quality canvas and can be completely customized. Not only can they be personalized with names, but you can pick the colors of the canvas and the text and choose a quote that’s meaningful to you. Each custom design comes with a proof so you can see what it will look like and request edits if needed. I decided I didn’t like the color combo I had originally requested and asked for an image that was on it to be removed and both requests were done without problem. They want you to LOVE your custom creation!

There are a number of travel quotes I love but in the end I decided to put this one on our map:

I chose to get one of their world maps that I could put pushpins in to mark our travels but they also have some you can put pictures on. I think this is such a cute idea:

Know any newlyweds? How adorable is this personalized map for couples:

76th & Newbury has so many wonderful gift ideas! Do you know someone who would love one of their travel maps this Christmas?

Speedy Fun On The Go

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #RaceDayRelief #CollectiveBias

Calling all racing fans! Start your engines because I have a fun activity to keep your kids busy this season. Your little ones will love racing cars on their own race track while you watch the race on tv. This DIY travel case and race track for toy cars is also perfect for on the go play! It’s great for the plane, Grandma’s house, or wherever you may find yourself over the next few months!

Don’t forget to pack the Advil®, too, because it’ll come in handy for headaches and any other aches and pains that come your way, whether it’s tension headaches from all the race day excitement, muscle aches from bringing all of those heavy Christmas boxes down from the attic or the headaches that come from dealing with the in-laws ;) I keep a bottle of Advil® Film-Coated tablets in my purse so I’m never without it!

Materials needed:

  • Empty Wipes Case
  • Black Paper Plates
  • Scissors
  • Glue/Glue Stick
  • Construction Paper
  • Toy Cars
  • Road Signs (Optional)
  • Cutout Letters (Optional)

Directions to make the track:

  • Cut a paper plate in half
  • Cut around the plate, taking off the raised rim
  • Cut a small half circle shape out of the plate to make a wide upside down “u” shape
  • Repeat the previous steps to make multiple pieces of track

You can use construction paper to cover up the images on the baby wipe container and even add letters if you’d like to. I chose to add the word “cars” to the top of the case.

Fill the box with cars, track pieces and road signs. If you have some race flags that would be a fun addition, too!

So now that you have something to keep the kids busy have you thought about what will keep you going on race day and beyond? For aches and pains you’ll want to have Advil® Film-Coated tablets. The Rapid Release Formula goes to work in minutes on tough pain* like headaches, muscle aches, toothaches, menstrual cramps, back pain, and aches and pains associated with the common cold. You’ll want this fast acting medicine so you don’t have to miss out on all the race day fun, like racing cars on the homemade race track with your kids. Don’t miss these precious moments because you are in pain!

You can find Advil® Film-Coated tablets, along with everything you need to make your race track, at your local Walmart. Before you shop make sure to grab this coupon for $3 off!

Race fans will also want to make sure to watch Ty Dillon in car #95 at the race in Miami on November 20th. It’s going to be a great race!

Do your little ones love racing cars? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@aliciamarie112). I’d love to hear about your family’s race day fun!

*Among OTC pain relievers.

How We Fill Our Home With Travel Memories

Do you love to travel? So do I! Traveling is one of my favorite things to do- whether I’m exploring a new place or visiting somewhere I’ve been a dozen times. I thought it would be fun to share about ways our family remembers our special vacations by filling our home with travel memories.

The first way is pretty obvious and that is with photos of our travels. I have four square collage frames and a half dozen smaller frames I use to display our photos. I set the picture frames on a cube shelf unit and hang the collage frames on the wall above it. Seeing my family’s smiles and photos of where we have journeyed to makes me extremely happy.

Another way I fill our home with travel memories is with three collections I have. I hang Starbucks “You Are Here” mugs above my coffee cart from places that have mugs for their state (This is a plee to Starbucks- please make a mug for every state! I seek out my Iced Caramel Machiatto wherever I am and am bummed when I go to states that don’t have mugs made for them. #FirstWorldProblems). A second item I collect on my travels is fun magnets to stick on our mini-fridge. I often find these at tourist stores or gas stations. A year or so ago I also started collecting Christmas ornaments for our tree at the holidays.

I also try to bring something home from every place I go- whether it’s my airplane ticket, sand from the beach, or a napkin from the resort’s restaurant. My memory is horrible since having kids but I have found that physical things jog my memory so it’s nice to have them. I plan to make a travel scrapbook in the near future.

The other thing I recently started with my boys is a map of their travels. I bought a cork board map and little push pins and every time we return from a family trip they add a pin to their map. Right now it’s looking a little empty on the West Coast but I hope a trip to California sometime in the next couple years will give them their first pin there :)

How do you remember your travels and fill your home with travel memories? I’d love for you to leave a comment below and let me know.

 

10 Things For Families To Do In Dubuque, Iowa

Thanks to Dubuque CVB for hosting me in their town.

I have shared about where to stay and where to eat in Dubuque, Iowa and now I’m sharing about what there is for families to do in Dubuque.

1. Splash around in the indoor water park at Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark. Whether your little ones like the splash pad area, the water slides, or the big bucket that dumps water on them, they’ll have a great time at this waterpark.

2. Steer a boat at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Kids will enjoy pretending to be a boat captain as they steer their boat around a little pool.

3. Take a ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator. Get a bird’s eye view of downtown Dubuque and the Mississippi River from the top of the hill and enjoy the ride as you go up and down on the world’s shortest, steepest elevator ride.

4. Visit the Dinosaur exhibit, Dinosaurs Unearthed, at National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium (now through 10/10/16). Dinosaur loving kids will get a kick out of seeing life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, along with fossil and skeleton specimens.

5. Have lunch by the water and watch boats go by. There are a number of restaurants that are near the water but my favorite was The Yardarm.

6. Families with children 10 years and older can go ziplining at Sky Tours Zip Line. Experience all 9 ziplines on a 2-hour guided tour of historic Union Park. Learn all about it in this video from Angie’s Lens.

7. Take a tour of the William M. Black, an old Mississippi River dredging boat. Explore where the crew worked, slept, ate and lived and imagine with your children what life must have been like for that crew. This boat is part of The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium and is located outside nearby. The tour admission is included in your ticket price.

8. Walk around downtown Dubuque, where there are a number of stores, and the Port area which features a riverwalk. It’s the perfect way to spend a sunny, warm day.

9. Visit The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Look at the animals, get up close to animals in the “touch tank”, learn about the river and more!

10. Not in the city, but nearby, baseball fans and movie buffs will love visiting the baseball field where the movie Field of Dreams was filmed. Families can even play baseball on the field!

Have anything to add? If so, I’d love to hear about what you enjoy doing in Dubuque so I can add it to my list of things to do next time I’m in town.

Best Places To Eat In Springfield, Missouri

My family had a great time visiting Springfield, Missouri last month. I’ve shared about where we stayed and the best things to do with your kids while you are there and today I wanted to share about the places to eat at. Below are six of our favorites that we went to while we were there.

Best Places For Lunch

Big Momma’s Coffee & Espresso Bar – We had lunch here one day and the food was delicious. Though a coffee shop, I thought they had an impressive menu for lunch. My mom chose to get a salad and slice of quiche while I enjoyed a sandwich with chips and an iced coffee drink.

Incredible Pizza Company – Incredible Pizza Company is a buffet restaurant located inside their large entertainment building. There is pizza (obviously) but also a great salad bar, other sides and entrees, and a variety of desserts. The kids both love buffets so they were in heaven and for the price I thought it was well worth it. With one of their packages, for $26.99, you got a $25 game card and an all you can eat buffet which basically makes the buffet only $1.99/person.

Best Places For Dinner

Andy B’s – We enjoyed eating dinner while we bowled at Andy B’s. They had a special deal where if you purchased an item off a special menu you would receive a $10 game card. If you are planning to play games in the arcade anyways it is worth it to take this deal.

Image from Jimm’s Steakhouse & Pub

Jimm’s Steakhouse & Pub – This was by far the best meal I had while in Springfield. Not only was it delicious but it was very affordable considering I had steak and my mom had prime rib. We went during their early evening dinner which is offered Sunday 11-3 and Monday through Friday 3-6pm. Our meals came with a side, salad bar, warm honey wheat bread, dessert and a drink for only about $16. The kid’s meals, priced at $5.49 to $7.19, came with the salad bar, a drink and an ice cream sundae.

Best Places For A Snack Or Treat

Urban Cup – We stopped here for gourmet cupcakes and coffee. The shop was adorable and there were a variety of cupcakes to choose from. Lucas chose carrot cake and Jacob chose a chocolate one.

Pinneapple Whip – On a hot day there is nothing better than a cold treat. I noticed this trailer as I was driving and had to pull over to try it and I’m glad I did because their pineapple whips are delicious!

Do you have any favorite places to eat in Springfield? I’d love to know so I can add them to my list of places to check out on my next visit.

10 Things For Families To Do In Springfield, Missouri

If you are looking for a family friendly town that also has some history, you’ll want to visit Springfield, Missouri. I recently went there with my mom and kids on a sponsored press trip and found it was the perfect mix of learning and fun.

Here are some of the things our family enjoyed doing while we were there.

Andy B’s Restaurant & Entertainment

Andy B’s Restaurant & Entertainment center is a huge building filled with lots for families to do. With 21 lanes of traditional bowling, 10 VIB (Very Important Bowler) bowling lanes, an underground laser tag arena designed to look, feel and sound like an abandoned mine, a large arcade game room with every game you could want, and a full-service Restaurant and Bar, you’ll never run out of fun things to do at Andy B’s.

We enjoyed bowling together at Andy B’s. They have a really updated system with an interactive scoring system that allows you to customize the game for your group and adds a lot more fun to the bowling game. While we bowled we ordered food and they had a great deal going on where you received a free game card with every item ordered from their special menu. After bowling the kids played laser tag and some video games and arcade games for tickets. We all had a great time there!

Learn more here.

Discovery Center

Discovery Center of Springfield (DCS) is an interactive, hands-on museum committed to inspiring people of all ages with a life-long love of learning and an appreciation of the world and our place in it. Kids will have such a fun time playing with the exhibits that they will forget they are learning!

Our favorite part of the museum was the area that explored careers. The kids loved pretending to do a newscast on television where they sat behind a desk just like a real news anchor would and talked to a camera that was recording them. They could pretend to be weathermen and give the weather report using a green screen as well. Another area they enjoyed was the grocery store where they took turns shopping and being the cashier. Other areas they could pretend in included a doctor’s office, a newspaper office, a construction zone and a theater among about a dozen other areas.

Learn more here.

Askinosie Chocolate Tour & Tasting

Askinosie Chocolate is a small batch bean to bar chocolate manufacturer sourcing 100% of their beans directly from the farmers. At Askinosie Chocolate they hold the craft and quality of their chocolate in almost equal balance with doing as much good as they can in the world. They have a great business model and improve the communities of both where they are located and the farmer’s where they get the beans from. They offer tours of their factory where people can learn about how and why they make chocolate, their cocoa origins, their farmer partners, and their engagement in their community and their origin communities.

The boys were open to doing anything that involved chocolate- Luke’s favorite food group- though they were very surprised to find that cocoa nibs do not taste like the chocolate they are used to. We enjoyed the tour though and learned about how chocolate was made and where the cocoa beans come from. We tasted some pieces of chocolate that they sell and the boys loved the white chocolate the most. After the tour we bought some chocolate because, hello- chocolate. (Please note: The tours are for older children. If you have a child under five they require they be held or in a stroller for safety reasons.)

Learn more about Askinosie Chocolate Tours here.

Wilson’s Creek National Battelfield

Wilson’s Creek was the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River, and the site of the death of Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general killed in action. The costly Southern victory on August 10, 1861, focused national attention on the war in Missouri. Visitors can visit this National Park to check out their Wilson’s Creek museum and then take a self-guided tour of the battlefield by vehicle. Along the tour you can stop at eight places that are considered significant battle-related locations including The Ray House, dating from the 1850s, which served as a temporary field hospital for Southern soldiers following the battle. There are five walking trails off the tour road, varying in length from 1/4 to 3/4 of a mile and a seven mile trail system for horseback riding and hiking.

I honestly wasn’t sure how much the boys would enjoy the tour, because they haven’t learned about the war in school yet, but they seemed to really like it. We were lucky to meet some costumed characters at one of the stops that showed us what the dress looked like during the Civil War, what types of things they would have carried and what their guns looked like. We even had a private demonstration of how they would have loaded and shot their guns which I think Jacob really enjoyed.

Learn more here.

Arcade At Incredible Pizza Company

America’s Incredible Pizza Company has been voted as the #1 Family Entertainment Center in the world, twice, and it’s easy to see why! Along with a delicious buffet they have plenty for the family to do. They have a large trampoline area, arcade games, go karts, rides, laser tag, an XD theater, bowling, rides, and an area just for little ones.

The boys loved playing the arcade games of course. We also raced go karts. Jacob was tall enough to drive his own go kart so it was him against Lucas and I and I loved seeing his smile as he was racing. We all enjoyed the buffet which had a great salad bar, pizza selection, and variety of desserts.

Learn more here.

Fantastic Caverns

Fantastic Caverns is America’s only ride-through cave. It was discovered in 1862 by an Ozarks farmer -or more precisely, by his dog, who crawled through an entrance. It wasn’t until five years later that the first exploration took place: 12 women from Springfield, answering a newspaper ad seeking explorers, ventured into the cave. Because the beauty of Fantastic Caverns is vulnerable, the Cave is toured in jeep-drawn trams. Since you ride all of the way through, you experience the magnitude, the stillness, and the splendor of Fantastic Caverns while preserving its natural features.

I loved being able to sit down and enjoy a ride through the cave. It was a much better way to explore it than having to walk through because you could really focus on looking at it the whole time instead of having to watch where you were walking. The boys loved when they turned the lights off and we were in complete silence and darkness for a bit.

Learn more here.

Fun Acre Mini Golf

Fun Acre has an 18 hole mini golf course and batting cages. Though it is not the most well kept mini golf course we’ve ever played on, it is the cheapest which is why I’m adding it to my list. Adults play for $2.50, kids ages 5-11 play for $1.75 and children 4 and under are free. We had a lot of fun playing mini-golf here!

Learn more here.

Swim At The Historic Best Western Rail Haven

We loved staying at this hotel. They have a great outdoor pool that the kids loved playing in. Read my whole review of our stay here.

Two other places that looked fun but we didn’t explore much were Ms. Gilmore’s Tea Room and Bass Pro Shops. The tea room was next door to a restaurant we ate at and I walked through it briefly. It was so adorable and the perfect place to have afternoon tea with your child! Bass Pro Shops is also a place I’d recommend. We have one near us and there is always a lot to do there. This one in Springfield is the original Bass Pro Shops store and probably three times the size of other Bass Pro Shops. They are even getting an aquarium soon which I thought was awesome!

Overall we enjoyed all the things we did while in Springfield, Missouri. Stay tuned for my post on the best places to eat while you are there!

Waterfront Views At Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark In Dubuque

Disclosure: I received a complimentary stay but all opinions are my own.

Every time I wake up in a hotel room with a waterfront view I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. I recently stayed at the Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark in Dubuque, Iowa and loved waking up to the Mississippi river outside my window.

In addition to having a wonderful view, my room was spacious and comfortable. I liked that the room had a desk so I could get some work done. It also had a mini-fridge and microwave so I could bring back my dinner leftovers which was nice because I always order more than I can eat and I hate throwing the food away because I’m traveling and have no way of reheating them.

Probably the best feature for families is that Grand Harbor Resort has an indoor water park. Grand Harbor Resort’s water park offers 25,000 square feet of wet fun for the entire family. Their water park has waterslides, tube rides, rope ladders, waterspouts, water chutes, squirt guns, and water cannons, as well as a lazy river, activity pools, and two giant hot tub whirlpools. There was also plenty of seating around the water park which I appreciated.

Near the water park they have a game room with video and arcade games. For those that like to workout on vacation (I’ve heard some people do this lol) the resort has a fitness center as well. If you are just looking to relax in your room, Grand Harbor has free wifi and large flat screen televisions.

After a day full of all that fun you don’t have to walk very far to dinner because there is a Tony Roma’s restaurant in the resort. I loved sitting outside on the patio and they have a great variety of food for every meal.

To learn more about Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark you can visit them online here. Stay tuned to learn what other fun things Dubuque, Iowa has for families.

Family Guide To Visiting Bowling Green, Kentucky

I recently had the chance to visit Bowling Green, Kentucky as a guest of the CVB and it was very different from what I was expecting. Instead of a small farming community I found a town very similar to my own Chicago suburb that had plenty of things to do for the whole family.

Bowling Green is an easy drive from Chicago and worth the short hour drive if you will be nearby in Nashville. You’ll want to be geared for fun when you visit!

National Corvette Museum

The first thing that comes to mind when many hear “Bowling Green” is the National Corvette Museum and it’s definitely a popular tourist stop. The 115,000 sq. ft. building houses more than 80 Corvette models and one-of-a-kind concept cars spanning the history of Corvette. Made even more famous by the Corvette sink-hole, they now have a special exhibit about that national phenomenon that caused millions of dollars in damage to a number of rare corvettes. I found it interesting to look at.

Kid’s Activity at the National Corvette Museum

Those with young kids will want to visit the car themed playroom at the museum. They also have a Corvette Cafe so you can have lunch in the retro diner while you are at the museum, too.

Drag racer at the Annual NMCA Bluegrass Nationals

Speaking of cars, Bowling Green is home to the Beech Bend Raceway Park. Check the schedule online to see if anything is going on while you are there. I was lucky enough to visit during the Annual NMCA Bluegrass Nationals and got to see all the drag racing cars up close and personal, along with having the chance to talk to some of the drag racers themselves. I never watched drag racing before but I found it fascinating to watch and enjoyed listening to how passionate the drivers are.

Kentucky Rumbler, Wooden Coaster at Beech Bend Amusement Park

Next to the race track are two must visits during the summer months- Beech Bend Amusement Park and Splash Lagoon Water Park. Though these parks look to be on the smaller side, there is plenty for families to do here for the whole day and I loved that it was cheaper than all of the other amusement parks I’ve been to and there were no long lines to stand in. There are over 30 rides, mini-golf, a petting farm, a pool, water slides and other water attractions. If you love coasters you’ll want to make sure to ride the Kentucky Rumbler (currently ranked in the Top 33 wooden roller coasters worldwide!)

Mammoth Cave National Park

Want to spend even more time outside? Mammoth Cave National Park is a free U.S. national park. You can walk or bike around the park but the most popular thing to do is take a cave tour. The park encompasses portions of Mammoth Cave, the longest cave system known in the world at over 400 miles of cave that has been discovered. There are a variety of cave tours but I went on one called the “Frozen Niagara” that was one of the easier tours, prefect for families.

Trail at Lost River Cave

Another cave in Bowling Green is the Lost River Cave which offers a boat tour of their cave. It was fun to explore the cave by boat on their tour which lasted about 45 minutes. There are lots of other activities to do with kids here including walking along trails, playing bird bingo, cooling off at the natural spring, treasure mining, visiting the butterfly habitat and playing at their Nature Explore Outdoor Classroom.

Brisket Pizza at Lost River Pizza Co

Once you work up an appetite at Lost River Cave you’ll want to stop by the nearby restaurant, Lost River Pizza Cofor lunch. Though most well-known for their pizza, make sure to get an appetizer to go with it, like their spicy fried pickles, Brown Ale Shrooms, or wings. For kids there are plenty of affordable options.

Ice cream from Chaney’s Dairy Barn

Don’t forget dessert! Head on over to Chaney’s Dairy Barn for some homemade ice cream. Named #1 ice cream in Kentucky by USA Today, you will see why after just one taste! There are a variety of flavors from Bourbon Crunch to Mocha Moo. I tried their peanut butter fudge swirl in a waffle cone and it was delicious. During the summer they also host events like farm tours and outdoor “MOOvie” nights so be sure to check their calendar to see what’s going on during your visit. Have baseball fans in your home? Head out to a Hot Rods baseball game while you are in town. They also have a great kid’s play area, with a playground and carousel, for kids to play. They have theme nights and other fun events so again, check the calendar to see what’s happening. I went to a game on Star Wars night and it was fun to see so many in costumes. Within walking distance of the baseball stadium is the Railpark & Train Museum. The train museum is in a former station and has historical exhibits, a model railroad & vintage car tours. It was interesting to walk through the train cars and imagine what it would have been like to travel in them years ago. I also enjoyed checking out their downtown area. Fountain Square Park in the middle of their downtown is a beautiful place to sit and relax. They also had a number of storefronts, including Mary Jane’s Chocolates, for those of you who love chocolates. If you like to stop at Farmer’s Markets, it should be noted that Bowling Green has a large Farmer’s Market that’s open a couple times a week year-round.

Amazing firebread at Montana Grille

One other place I enjoyed eating while in Bowling Green was Montana Grille (not to be confused with the chain restaurant that has a similar name). They had lots to choose from on the menu and I loved the cabin-like atmosphere. Favorites include their Bourbon filet, Spike’s Mean Beans and Jalapeno Cornbread.

As you can see, there are tons of great places to play and eat in Bowling Green. You’ll need a place to sleep as well and I’d recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn. It’s a well-taken care of hotel with spacious guest rooms, nice outdoor patio areas and a delicious breakfast selection. The hotel also has an indoor pool as well which I know is always on my boys’ wish list when it comes to accommodations.

Bowling Green, Kentucky has plenty of fun for the whole family! What are you most looking forward to doing on your visit?

‘I Need Vitamin Sea’ Printable

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CentrumFunFlavors #CollectiveBias

Life is typically very busy but I find that things can get really chaotic during the spring and summer seasons when I’m traveling a few times a month. This past month was no exception- I traveled to Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa with only one day in between the first two trips and a few days in between the last two. I love traveling but it really messes with my schedule and routine. I’m very Type A so this is hard for me. One routine that I struggle with is taking my vitamins every day.

I thought of a few ways to help me remember to take my multi-vitamin on a regular basis. The first was to go to Walmart to buy new Centrum Vitamints* that I can take on the go, without any water.

I bought two flavors- Cool Mint and Raspberry. I put my mints in a vitamin case which takes up minimum room in my purse or suitcase and ensures that I always have my vitamins with me. These vitamins freshen my breath like a breath mint so every time I reach for gum or a mint I’ll see my vitamin container and take one of the Vitamints instead.

I also realized that I need a reminder at home to help me remember to take my vitamins on a daily basis. Since I love to travel I chose to create a fun print that I can add to my travel display. Those who visit me will think my “I need vitamin sea” print is just a quote about my love of being by the water but to me it will have a double meaning. My travel display is in a spot that I pass by numerous times a day and can see from both my kitchen and my television room so it will also serve as a reminder to take my vitamins. Pretty clever, huh?

Want to get the print for yourself? Download the image here and then print it out. You can stick it on your bulletin board, refrigerator or frame it and display it.

Want to use an image that reminds you of your own travels? Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own:

1) Go to picmonkey.com

2) Go to “edit photo” and upload your photo. I chose one that had a lot of water since I just wanted the text on water (check out how clear that water is in the Bahamas!)

3) Crop the image

4) Resize your image so that it is the size you want (Here is a link to photo dimensions that I found helpful)

5) Use the text option to insert the words “I need vitamin sea” to your image and then pick the font, color and size you want the text to be

6) Once you are satisfied with your print, save the image in picmonkey. (I chose to then upload it to Google Drive so I could resave it as a PDF)

7) Print, frame and display!

Enjoy staying healthy with simple solutions like Centrum Gummies and Vitamints. You can find coupons here. What methods do you use to remember to take your vitamin every day? I would love to hear your tips!

*These statements have not been evaluated by the food and drug administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

The Historic Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel

A few weeks ago I visited Springfield, Missouri with my mom and children. Visiting as a guest of the CVB, we received a complimentary stay at the historic Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel. According to their website, the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven motel features eight original sandstone cottages that were built in 1938, just 12 years after Route 66 was established in Springfield as one of the main routes that leads to the west coast.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect because of the motel’s age and the fact that it was a chain motel but I was pleasantly surprised when we got there. The staff was extremely kind and helpful, there were fresh cookies available when we checked in and our room was nice and clean. They also provided many great amenities like free wi-fi, parking, complimentary breakfast and a “to go” snack bag upon checkout.

The first thing we noticed upon pulling into the parking lot was the vintage charm of the hotel. I loved the ambiance. There is an old Ford Crown Victoria out in front along with a phone booth and some old gas pumps.

The lobby of the motel also had a vintage feel with the cafe area bringing me back to the sock hop era. The breakfast buffet area was modernized though. In the mornings you could make your own Belgium waffle and they had a variety of toppings to choose from. Other options included a number of hot breakfast foods (like eggs, sausage and biscuits with gravy), cereal and bakery items. There was also a fridge with waters, yogurts and fruit. For drinks they had a hot drink machine (which my boys loved getting hot chocolate from) and a juice machine. Overall, I thought the selection for a complimentary breakfast was great.

Once we checked in and grabbed our freshly baked cookies we headed to our room which was just a short drive away. The room itself was typically furnished with two beds, a table and chairs and a dresser with a large flat screen TV on it. The dresser had both a minifridge and microwave which I love because it helps to save on food when you can bring your own simple lunches and dinners to heat up or store your leftovers when you order too much from the restaurant.

The bathroom was a bit small but had a bathtub which the boys enjoyed splashing in. There was also a counter with a large mirror outside the bathroom which provided extra space and helped keep things moving in the mornings with everyone sharing one bathroom trying to get ready.

Speaking of splashing, the boys were the first ones in the motel’s pool this season. Though it was a warm day the water was still chilly since it had just been filled but that didn’t stop the boys from playing in it. I sat under a pergola while I watched the boys swim as my mom took a nap in the deck chair beside me.

I liked that the motel had a lot of outdoor space. Besides the pool area there was a large covered area with tables and chairs, outdoor seating outside the lobby and chairs outside each room. It is the perfect place to relax when you aren’t exploring Springfield, Missouri!

10 Road Trip Preparation Tips For Parents

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #DotComDIY #CollectiveBias

My family loves going on road trips. We do a lot of travel around the Midwest but we also drive the car for other vacations as well and have traveled as far as Miami and New York City from the suburbs of Chicago. It takes a lot of preparation and time to drive places but I’ve found that it is much more affordable for our family of four. Since we are headed into the busy travel season, I wanted to share some of our tips for preparing for road trips with kids that can help you save both time and money.

TIP #1: Prepare in advance

My first tip is to prepare in advance. I find that when I start making my lists and preparing at least a month in advance things just run smoother. Things I do include making a packing list, booking any hotel stays we might need to split up a longer trip and making a shopping list. Though I don’t shop, or pack, that far in advance, I’ve found that I always think of things I want to make sure to buy or bring and it just helps having lists already started. It also helps save money because I can look for deals on things.

TIP #2: Make sure your vehicle is ready for the long drive

Another thing that should be done in advance is making sure your vehicle is ready for the long drive. We usually do this the week before we are leaving. We clean out the van of all the sports gear and other items we will not need and vacuum it out. We make sure the tires are in good condition and not low on air. This is also the perfect time for an oil change.

To save myself time and money I’ve discovered that I can easily order oil and other road trip necessities online at Walmart.com and get them delivered to my home or pick them up at the store. I love the convenience of this because I can shop at anytime of the day and avoid the crowds and lines at the checkout.

Right now Walmart.com has great deals for Pennzoil products. I found this 5qt Pennzoil Platinum High Mileage 5W-30 Motor Oil on Rollback for $22.47. I saved $2.50 just by shopping online! The high mileage oil is perfect for our van because it just hit 100,000 miles and this oil helps to reduce leaks and oil consumption in higher mileage engines to help keep them running clean and going strong for a long time.

TIP #3: Pack more than you think you will need

One of the things I love about driving as opposed to flying is that I can pack as much as I want. I’ve found that it is always a good idea to pack more than I think I will use. It’s no fun having to buy something you know you have at home, especially when things are lots more expensive at tourist destinations or gas stations. I often pack out of season items as well because you never know what you will need. I’ve taken a summer trip to the lake before and needed jeans and light coats during the day and sweatshirts under the coats once the sun went down. A few of the things I always pack are extra clothes, bathing suits (even if going somewhere without a pool), and double the socks and underwear I think the boys will need.

TIP #4: Pack an activity bag for each child

I let my boys each pack a backpack full of fun for the car ride. They each bring a couple electronics, books, small toys, travel games and coloring items. These bags are set in between their two seats and it works great because then they can trade items when they get bored of them. I also always have a couple additional games or toys tucked in my bag that I pull out when we are more than halfway to our destination which the boys always enjoy.

TIP #5: Bring plenty of snacks

It never fails that my boys are hungry anytime they are in the car for more than 5 minutes. For road trips everyone gets to pick a few favorite snacks to bring along. Putting the food in snack size ziploc bags helps keep the portions reasonable and the car a little cleaner. We also pack a cooler with drinks and put it towards the hatch opening so when we stop for bathroom breaks everyone can get a nice cold drink from the cooler which saves money because we don’t have to buy drinks on the go (other than my Iced Coffee from coffee shops along the way).

TIP #6: Be thoughtful when packing the car

There is nothing more annoying than being on a long road trip and discovering that things you need aren’t within reach. We’ve had one of the boys spill something before and the wipes were all the way in the back and it wastes time having to pull over somewhere to get out and get them. I recommend having a bag of important things up front. Our necessities bag includes a plastic bag for garbage, wipes and/or paper towels, extra batteries for the handheld electronics, water bottles and a first aid kit. I also found that ordering some motion sickness over-the-counter medicine for Jacob on Walmart.com (when I’m buying my oil) is a very good idea since that is something we don’t keep stocked on a regular basis but is something I need to bring with on road trips.

TIP #7: Do as much the night before as possible

We tend to leave for road trips as early in the morning as possible so we like to get as much done the night before as we can. This includes putting gas in the car, making sure all electronics are charged, putting the suitcases in the car and gathering everything else we need by the front door. The things we have to get at the last minute all go on a list that is put by my purse so that nothing is left behind in the morning rush to get out of the house.

TIP #8: Make sure everyone will be comfortable in the car.

I always put a sweatshirt, blanket and pillow in the car for everyone so that we all stay warm during the trip. We also dress in comfortable clothes because it makes the long ride more bearable. I usually find that keeping the boys in their pajamas is easiest since we are normally waking them up in the mornings to leave.

TIP #9: Have a plan for the inevitable “I’m bored”

I like to have a list of games we can play when the kids start to get restless. We play things like “I Spy”, “Guess who?” (ie I’m thinking of a Super Hero who wears red), “This or that?” (ie ice cream or cake?) and find the letters of the alphabet on signs we pass by. Our favorite game though, and one that I frequently play with the kids is one we call “the color game” but can be about anything from colors to foods to games. The object is to take turns saying something in the category without repeating something that has already been said. My boys can keep the color game going for a good half hour using colors from the crayon box.

TIP #10: Enjoy it!

So your car is ready to go and everything is packed. You’ve armed yourself with plenty of snacks and some fun game ideas. Now there is nothing to do but just drive safely and enjoy your road trip. It’s quality time with your family making memories that you all are going to cherish for years to come. We enjoy stopping at the state lines and taking pictures as a way to capture the memories!

Remember, you can find all the necessities you need for your road trip, like Pennzoil motor oil and travel games, at Walmart.com. Their site-to-store option is awesome because you can place your order and pick up at your convenience, avoiding the crowds. What things do you make sure to pack for road trips? Any special games your family loves to play or tips you have to make the trip more enjoyable? Leave a comment below and let me know! :)

 

Travelers Can Earn Points Faster With The New Choice Privileges

I love traveling and enjoy it even more when I get perks. One program I’ve been a member of for the past couple years is Choice Privileges so I am happy to be working with them on this sponsored post to share about some changes to their rewards program which gives people points for staying at Choice Hotel chains. Choice Hotels has more than 6,300 hotels in over 35 countries and territories.

The demand for bigger, better, and faster rewards from loyalty programs is at an all-time high so Choice Hotels has made some exciting changes to their rewards program to meet this demand. Their program now brings greater and faster value to their over 25 million Choice Privileges members.

Some of the new benefits include:

Your Extras. Weekday travelers can earn a special reward — a little something ‘extra’ — right when they check in. For each qualifying stay that includes at least 1 weekday night (any night Sun. through Thurs.), the member can earn a special reward of their choice. U.S members have 5 options, varying from Fuel Rewards® savings at participating Shell locations to Amazon.com credit. International members have 2 options: 500 bonus points or 100 airline miles from participating airline carriers.

FlexRewards. Get to a free night faster— Members can redeem points for free nights at discounted point levels at participating hotels, varying by season. There will be up to 2,000 hotels reduced during either the weekdays or weekend at any time.

Digital Gift Cards. The first hotel company to offer immediate in-app gift card downloads, Choice Privileges members can receive instant gratification with new digital gift cards.

Keep Your Points. As long as members stay active by completing a qualifying activity at least once every 18 months, they get to keep their points.

10 Points per Dollar. All 5,500 Choice Hotels now earn 10 points per dollar spent – including economy and extended stay hotels, such as MainStay Suites, Suburban, EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn.

Which new reward are you most excited about?

My Gourmet Inclusive Nickelodeon Getaway In Mexico {AKA That Time I Got Slimed}

I am thankful to have had the chance to be invited on a press trip to Azul Beach Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico. If your family is looking for your next vacation spot, read on below for all the slime-tastic fun that you can experience in a beautiful all-inclusive resort.

ABOUT THE RESORT

Azul Beach Hotel by Karisma is a beachfront oasis that caters to families and couples who desire a more intimate experience. The resort has 148 deluxe rooms and suites (including some swim-up rooms), six restaurants, five pools, four bars, a Nickelodeon themed kids club and a spa. They feature a Gourmet Inclusive® Experience which means gourmet meals, premium drinks and excellent service from beach butlers to room service.

THE LOCATION

Azul Beach Hotel is situated on the beautiful Mexican Caribbean in the heart of Riviera Maya. The hotel is located 20 minutes south of Cancun International Airport and 35 minutes south of downtown Cancun.

THE ACCOMODATIONS

The suite was large and spacious as you can see in the video above. I loved the large bathtub, the comfy beds, the sitting area and the view from my balcony.

THE FOOD AND DRINKS

Karisma Hotels pride themselves on offering The Gourmet Inclusive® experience throughout their resorts. Azul Beach has five restaurants. Blue serves a variety of world cuisines along with a delicious assortment of food at their breakfast buffet. Chil offers an array of burgers, salads, wraps and tacos for lunch and has a patio that overlooks the water.

Latino offers a variety of a la carte dinner options, all with a latin flair. Tainan is the place to go if you are in the mood for Asian food, including my favorite, Sushi. Roma is the resort’s Italian restaurant, serving large portions at dinner-time.

The resort also has four bars. Agavero, their Tequila bar, serves 30 different tequilas served straight, frozen or mixed. Aquanox bar and Chil bar serve my favorite fruity drinks. Try a Miami Vice while you are there (it’s a layered strawberry daquiri and pina colada drink). They also have a swim-up bar called Bubbles which lets you enjoy your drink without even getting out of the pool!

Along with the restaurants and bars they offer room service and service at the beach. One of my favorite times on the trip was sitting on the beach in a cabana with some of the other bloggers and getting drinks and lunch delivered while we enjoyed time by the ocean.

THE FUN FOR KIDS

I loved vacationing alongside SpongeBob, Dora, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We had breakfast with the characters, found them walking around the resort during the day and danced with them at night. We even got special Nickelodeon goodies delivered to our room.

Azul Beach features a couple places just for the kids. The Azulitos Playhouse by Nickelodeon has themed activities planned for every day so that parents are free to enjoy some kid-free time.

For children 4 to 12 years old, the My Gym Center at Azulitos Playhouse offers daily classes and programs designed to help children develop physically, cognitively and emotionally.

And, in true Nickelodeon fashion, I got slimed. Green goo was dumped all over me and I was brought back to my childhood.

Another thing that sets Karisma hotels apart is that they really think about the needs of families with little ones and do everything they can to make the trip as smooth as possible. From having baby food readily available to providing baby monitors for parents who want to relax on their deck while baby is napping, they provide so many amenities so you don’t have to pack them.

THE FUN FOR ADULTS

Azul Beach features a number of activities for adults such as yoga, Tequila tastings, live music and beach volleyball. They also have excursions people can sign up for, like swimming with the dolphins or scuba diving.

The spa at Azul Beach is the perfect place to relax while getting treated to a massage, manicure, or one of their other services. Adults would even enjoy just relaxing while they soaked in the tub right in their room.

EXPLORING NEARBY, AZUL SENSATORI HOTEL

While in Mexico I had a chance to visit Azul Sensatori hotel which was nearby. Here are some pictures from my visit there!

Looking for your next family escape? You will find it at Azul Beach!

Exploring Glenview, Illinois With Kids

Thanks to Go Roma for sponsoring this post.

I love taking road trips and one of the best things about living in the Chicago area is the amount of fun things there are for families to do within just an hour or two of where we live. A few weeks ago we headed to a town I’d never been to before called Glenview which is about 14 miles North of the city.

The boys and I spent a whole day exploring the town and didn’t even get to do everything on my list. Here are the things I’d recommend doing on your next trip to Glenview.

Play: Little Bear Garden Park

My boys spent hours playing at Little Bear Garden Park. It was a wonderful area with something for everyone. There was a playground, splash pad, huge sand pit, and plenty of grassy area and seating. There was also a path that went around the park with storybook pages every so often which would be perfect for families with preschoolers to walk around and read a book as they went along the path. The park was busy but large enough that it did not feel overcrowded.

Eat: Go Roma

I enjoyed eating at Go Roma when I was pregnant with Jacob so I was excited to see that a new location opened in Glenview. Go Roma features quick and delicious Italian foods. Their pizza is my favorite. Go Roma was affordable which I appreciated when I was working retail and on a very tight budget and I still appreciate.

When we tried out their new location for lunch I got the BBQ Chicken Pizza which I really enjoyed. I loved that the chicken was very prevalent on the pizza instead of diced up really tiny and barely there like at some other places.

Jacob got the kid’s cheese pizza and Lucas got the kid’s macaroni and cheese. They were so excited to see that their kid’s meal came with a cookie and they happily gobbled up their entree to get to their dessert.

Shop: The Glen Town Center

If you love shopping you will enjoy spending time at The Glen Town Center. It’s a beautiful, outdoor shopping area with stores, restaurants, and even a movie theater. I found Fourth of July shirts for the boys at Carter’s and looked around a few other clothing stores. We stopped by The Book Market and then stepped out of the sun for a bit and spent time reading our books while I enjoyed a coffee. We checked out the local candy store, Rocket Fizz, and ended with a trip to GameStop so the boys could look at Skylanders.

Some other places located in Glenview that we didn’t get to visit are Wagner Farm, the Grove and Kohl Children’s Museum. There really is enough to keep families busy for a day or two and it’s so close to the city for those who want to visit Chicago but then escape the hustle and bustle (and parking fees) of the city!

Have you been to Glenview? What other fun places should we check out next time we visit?

 

We Love Family Time Around The Campfire

Thanks to CustomInk for sponsoring our camping trip and providing us fun shirts to wear as we made great memories!

 

One of the best parts about summer is all of the quality family time that it brings. Every time we have a day or two without anything scheduled I try to schedule a road trip to somewhere within two to three hours. A few weekends ago we spent a couple days camping as a family.

Camping, to me, is the ultimate family trip because there are no tvs and lots of time spent telling stories around the campfire, talking in sleeping bags as we fall asleep and playing games at the picnic table.

We ended up picking a rainy weekend to enjoy nature but we were in a cabin so we just relaxed on the porch and under our tent as we talked and enjoyed an early lunch.

Thankfully the rain tapered off and there was some sunshine for us to get out and enjoy the day. The boys clamored to get in the pool and had fun jumping in and playing games in the water.

After the pool they wanted to check out the playground. They immediately found other kids to play with and started playing tag, one of their favorite games. There was also a tetherball pole so Sinisa and I took turns playing with the kids. It was a fun game I remembered from my childhood but neither of the kids had played before.

After exploring the campgrounds we headed back to our cabin for dinner. While the burgers were on the grill we played a game of Uno and some of the fun toys we had brought.

After dinner it was time for a camping favorite- smores! The boys laughed as daddy accidentally caught the marshmallows on fire. When they were nice and crisp we’d squish them between graham crackers and chocolate to make the best dessert!

***

I’ll have the memories of our amazing camping trip for years to come. I’d like to thank CustomInk for sponsoring our family trip and also sending us some fun shirts to wear. I created them myself online in less than 5 minutes and each was personalized with our name on the back of them.

CustomInk is the leading online provider of custom apparel and accessories for groups and occasions. CustomInk believes that t-shirts and other custom products have the power to bring people together and strengthen their sense of community. CustomInk combines an easy online Design Lab with personal customer care to help its customers create the perfect design for any club, school, business, team, or charity.

Let CustomInk help you make your next family reunion or family outing even more special! What would you create shirts for?

Wisconsin Getaway

Disclosure: I am receiving a free stay at the resort in exchange for a post.

We’ve started planning our spring and summer trips and I’m so excited to visit some new places! Along with a couple longer trips we try to take smaller road trips that are just a day or two long because with Sinisa’s work schedule these are the easiest for us to do. We get up to Wisconsin quite often and I’m looking forward to exploring a new town. We will be staying at the beautiful Blue Harbor Resort & Spa in Sheboygan.

Blue Harbor Resort & Spa is the #1 resort on Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan coast. With stunning beachfront and water views, Blue Harbor Resort features 182 suites, 64 villas, more than 17,000 square feet of meeting and event space, a 54,000 square-foot indoor waterpark entertainment area including a mini glow golf course, a full service spa, three restaurants, and recreation amenities including watersports and access to the Bull golf course. This award winning resort is located just two hours north of Chicago in nearby and scenic Sheboygan, WI, and is known as the “Malibu of the Midwest.”

To plan a trip to the resort yourself, visit BlueHarborResort.com or call 866.701.BLUE. My Readers receive FREE Water Park Passes and Savings Up to 30% OFF with this exclusive Blue Harbor Resort coupon http://usfamilycoupons.com/coupon.php?regionid=75&bid=11746&dealid=1749.

Pizza Making And Fun At Four Seasons Hotel Chicago

(Disclosure: My family and I received accommodations courtesy of the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago but all thoughts are my own.)

What’s more fun than eating pizza? Making it! My boys stepped into the kitchen at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago during our recent stay there and had a lot of fun creating their very own pizzas.

The kids donned their chef’s hats and were greeted with an assortment of pizza ingredients on a table and a cook who was there to help them create the perfect pizza pies. First they slathered sauce on the dough, then they sprinkled cheese on and finally they started adding the ingredients.

Jake tried making his as colorful as he could by adding lots of peppers and ingredients by the handful. Lucas on the other hand was very specific in placement and put each ingredient down in just the right place, as if he was creating an artistic masterpiece.

The boys really loved creating their own pizzas and still talk about the fun they had. They were very proud of what they made.

After we made the pizzas we headed upstairs to our room for the next surprise- dessert before dinner! The “Ice Cream Man” (who was actually the ice cream lady) arrived at our room so we could create our own personalized sundaes.

Jacob and Lucas liked the assortment of toppings available and loaded their sundaes with whipped cream, sprinkles and chocolate sauce.

Even mommy got her own ice cream sundae! So delicious!

After our ice cream we decided to checkout the indoor pool area. The 50 foot long pool is in a gorgeous domed room and there is a hot tub for adults, a swimming lap lane, and plenty of lounge chairs.

Pool image courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago website

The kids worked up an appetite while playing in the pool so we called down to the kitchen to have the pizzas made. They were quickly brought up to our room on a room service cart. The boys were excited to see that their doughy creations had turned into our dinner.

While the boys had fun making the pizzas I don’t think they realized that whatever they added would be on the pizzas we were going to be later eating. If your children are picky eaters you may want to remind them of this fact. Jacob likes peppers so he was okay but Lucas added a little of everything to his and then wanted everything picked off his slice when it was time to eat.

After dinner we decided to check out another area of the hotel- their kid’s clubroom. Seriously, the fun at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago doesn’t end! We went up to the room, opened the door, and discovered a room full of toys and games. The room also had a great view of the city to enjoy while playing.

When we were done playing it was time for some family cuddle time while we watched a movie. The hotel had a nice selection of family friendly movies that you can borrow to watch in your room.

They also provided us with popcorn and coke that we could enjoy while watching the movie.

Once the kids were fast asleep it was mommy’s time to relax and I got to pretend I was at a spa and take an {uninterrupted} bubble bath in the extra large tub. It was heavenly.

The perfect ending to our day in Chicago was being able to sleep in a nice bed.

The next morning I got to lounge around and enjoy the view a bit since the bedroom had a door to separate it from the sitting area.

Want to enjoy a little family getaway to Chicago? When you book your stay at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago just request the Let’s Get Away package. It includes:

  • A visit from the Hotel’s Ice Cream Man or Martini Man, or Pizza Making Class with a chef
  • A USD 50.00 Spa credit or overnight valet parking for one vehicle
  • Age-appropriate in-room amenities
  • Luxurious accommodations in an Executive Suite

Always available to guests of Four Seasons Hotel Chicago:

Escape The Cold At Wilderness Resort {Wisconsin Dells}

My family and I received a complimentary stay at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells but thoughts are my own.

During the winter, on frigid Chicago days, we like to escape to the indoor water parks of Wisconsin Dells. We recently visited the Wilderness Resort to explore all the new indoor fun they had from water slides to go karts to mini golf.

We spent the majority of our time in our bathing suits playing at three of the four indoor water parks on the property. Our favorite one was the Klondike Kavern and their large family friendly play structure called the Bonanza Bluff. The boys especially loved the fact that they could go down the water slides all by themselves. The Wild WaterDome’s wave pool (the largest indoor wave pool in the nation!) was fun for all and I really liked all of the sunlight coming through the roof.

We didn’t go on many water slides as a family while we were there since the kids are both small but there are a variety of both tube and raft slides to choose from. We went on one that was completely dark throughout most of the ride which we all enjoyed.

After a water filled day of fun we had a nice, spacious room to go back to. The room had two double beds, two person table and dresser with tv on one side of a privacy wall and then a wet bar with stools and sitting area on the other. The sitting area features a sleeper sofa, coffee table, television, and sink area.

The room had both a microwave and mini-fridge which means you can bring your own snacks and meals for the kids. The room also features a deck off the sleeping area which is perfect for trips taken in the warmer months. Ours faced a wooded area which would make for a relaxing way to end the day.

Though the draw of the Wilderness Resort is the water parks, they also feature a lot of other family friendly activities to do. We got Wild Fun Passes which gave us admission to some of the top attractions at the resort. We played blacklight mini-golf together and raced go karts.

Sinisa and the boys even went on a high ropes course. I was so proud of the boys, especially Jacob who is afraid of heights but tried the course anyways.

I’m really glad that we got the Wild Fun Pass because we were able to do things that we normally wouldn’t (like the sky ropes course). The passes can be used by anyone in the family so if one person doesn’t want to do something on their pass another family member can use it. If you are interested in this pass, I saw on the website today that these passes are buy three, get one free. Learn more about the pass and the limited time offer here.

We can’t wait to visit the Wilderness Resort again soon!

Join The #USTravelChat Next Week

I’m excited to help moderate the first Wanderlust Moms US travel chat! I hope you will join us next Wednesday night to talk about fun things to do in Florida.

HOSTS: @WanderlustMoms, @Kbunn, @DebThompson

MODERATORS: @SavingUGreenMom, @mommy_GAGA, @funsavingmoney, @aliciamarie112, @karynlocke

SPONSORS:

WHERE: ON TWITTER BY FOLLOWING THE HASHTAG #USTRAVELCHAT

WHEN: November 19th, 9pm-10pm EST

HOW TO PARTICIPATE: You must be following the hosts and sponsors on Twitter as well as RSVP via the linky in this post to be eligible to win

PRIZES:

  • $50 Amazon Gift Card from @WanderlustMoms
  • 2 tickets to Medieval Times Dinner Theater @MedievalTimes
  • $100 Pilot Travel Center Gift Card @PilotTravel

GRAND PRIZE: 2 night stay at Tuckaway Shores Resort AND 4 tickets to Kennedy Space Center & Lunch w/ an Astronaut

Indiana Dunes ~ Summer 2014

Even though I live in the Midwest and am no where near an ocean, I still am able to enjoy the beach. Chicago has numerous beaches along the lakefront but I prefer to head to Indiana and visit the Indiana Dunes. Only an hour and a half away from my day-to-day life is my sandy escape.

Overall, I’ve found the Dunes to be pretty clean, the water temperature comfortable and the beach area not very crowded. Here are some of my favorite pictures from our day trip earlier this month.

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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!

Views From Beaches Resort in Jamaica

A couple months ago I talked about our amazing sponsored stay at Beaches Resort in Negril, Jamaica and shared how kid-friendly the resort was. As the weather here in Chicago is teetering between Winter and Spring, I am daydreaming of the warm weather of Jamaica and Beaches Negril and wanted to share more pictures of the resort with you all. Pictures do not do this place justice. It was truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been and I hope to go back and stay again soon.

Our room (we could see the ocean from our patio!)

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 The private beach

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Eating with views of the water (we ate on the beach a couple times as well!)

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Great pools!

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I really loved how everything was open and airy throughout the resort.

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See why I hope to go back to Negril to stay at Beaches Resort again soon? It’s such a beautiful place!

Beaches Negril Resort & Spa: Jamaica’s Family Friendly Resort

Do you ever have an experience that is so absolutely amazing that you can’t even put it into words? This is how I feel about my trip to Jamaica. I was blessed with the opportunity to travel on a press trip with my son Jacob to visit Jamaica and stay at the Beaches Negril Resort and Spa. I’ve honestly never been somewhere so wonderful. Before my trip was over I knew that I wanted to save up money to go back again with my whole family.

Our experience is going to be split into multiple posts since I have way too many pictures to share but I thought I’d start off by sharing about the family friendly aspect of the resort we stayed at. I think a lot of places use the term “family friendly” very loosely but Beaches Negril Resort and Spa truly is. They made TripAdvisor® Travelers’ Choice Awards list of ‘Top 25 Hotels for Families in the World’ last year and they definitely deserved to make that list.

Beaches has a partnership with Sesame Street and we experienced fun with the Sesame Street characters all throughout our stay. The first night we went to a party to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the partnership between the two companies. There was even cake!

Every week there is also a character parade. It was fun to watch the characters dancing.

There was a balloon artist that was making balloon animals and other things for the kids. He made Jacob a sword and a crown.

When the parade passed by everyone followed the characters as they led us to the beach to eat a huge buffet dinner. Jacob enjoyed meeting all of the characters as we listened to live music.

During our stay we did a few other different Sesame Street activities. We watched a live Sesame Street show in an auditorium. We also turned ‘Trash to Treasure’ with Oscar the Grouch.

Jacob’s favorite Sesame Street activity was having Elmo come to our room and read a bedtime story with him. He was so surprised to have Elmo knock on the door and come visit! First they stretched and then they settled down to listen to a story before Elmo left a stuffed animal with Jacob to drift off to sleep with.

Another fun activity we participated in was Pop-Up Adventure Play. The children arrived to a grassy area with boxes, tape, leftover materials and numerous other discarded items. It was amazing to watch the children use their imaginations. Two boys built and airplane, some of the kids put together a bakery, and Jacob and his friend built some sort of huge building before helping “open” their bakery.

Along with all of the activities there are pools with water slides, a playground, an Xbox lounge, a DJ Scratch Academy, and a fabulous child care center.

Stay tuned for more details about the Resort, the food, Jamaica, and our visit to a local school with the Sandals Foundation!

50 Things To Do When You’re Stuck At An Airport

50 Things To Do When You

 

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.

Silver Dollar City {Branson, MO}

(Disclosure: I received a free trip to Branson and free tickets to Silver Dollar City while I was there. All thoughts are my own.)

Since becoming a mom I hadn’t been on an amusement park ride more exciting than a kiddie rollercoaster so I was really excited to spend a day at Silver Dollar City Attractions in Branson, Missouri. This park is home to Outlaw Run, the world’s first and only double barrel roll on a wood coaster, with a 720-degree (double) barrel roll. It’s also the only wood coaster to twist upside down three times, the world’s steepest wood coaster with a first drop of 162 feet (more than 16 stories) at 81 degrees, and the second fastest wood coaster in the world, reaching a top speed of 68 miles per hour. I had a chance to ride Outlaw Run and wow! What an adrenaline Rush! It was a great way to start my day at Silver Dollar City. There are over 30 rides at Silver Dollar City.

Outlaw Run! This is a view from the train ride. See how the coaster goes upside down? I was brave and rode that ride!

After that ride we headed over to the Grand Exposition area where the kiddie rides are located. The great thing about all the rides for the kids was that they were all big enough that the adults could ride, too. The boys loved that I could sit with them on the rides but Jacob also loved finding rides that he was big enough to go on all by himself. My little boy is growing up!

Big boy on the carousel

Jacob’s favorite ride was the flying elephants where you could push a button and go up or down. Lucas loved the teacup ride. My favorite ride that we all went on was “Fire in the hole”, an indoor rollercoaster that went through a dark building and had a couple drops that you couldn’t see coming. There was also a train we took around the park that included a stop at a staged interactive show in the woods.

The teacup ride that Lucas enjoyed.

There were plenty of other things for the kids to do as well. There was a climbing area where the children could climb up steps, through netted areas, and down through obstacles. There was a sand area for children to play as well. If you wanted a memory from the park that your child could take home with you, there was a store where children could make their own stuffed animals.

The climbing area for the kids

If you are not into rides that’s ok because there are plenty of other things to do at Silver Dollar City as well. There are over 40 live shows every day, ranging from Western Stunt Shows to string bands to cooking. There are craftsmen all throughout the park so you can watch them create works of art that are sure to become treasured by your family as heirloom keepsakes.

We had an extra special time because the National Harvest Fest is going on through October 26th. Over 125 visiting craftsmen from around the country have all come to one place. There is so much to look at! One of my favorites was a woman that was making art out of barbed wire!

Barbed wire art

During your day of fun there is plenty to eat. The park serves buffet breakfast and lunch for those who are really hungry. The ladies in the buffet were extremely friendly. Jacob had cantaloupe at breakfast and at the lunch buffet was looking for the cantaloupe and was upset that he didn’t see any on the buffet. Overhearing him, one of the ladies went back into the kitchen and got some from the refrigerator. It’s small things like that that sometimes mean the most and that’s definitely a story I will retell often :) There are also over a dozen restaurants serving food throughout the park. I stopped at a store where they made delicious apple items and got a hot apple turnover smothered with homemade apple butter. Yum! They also had some spiral potatoes with different seasonings that I wanted to try.

Overall, we had a great day of old-fashioned fun at Silver Dollar City! It is truly a place that has something for everyone and the whole family can enjoy. We spent about 6 hours there and didn’t even see half the park. I’d love to go back there again soon to ride more of the adult rides and see some of the shows that they have.

(Disclosure: I received free tickets to Silver Dollar City but all thoughts are my own.)

 

Fun Things To Do In Branson, Missouri

I am super excited to be heading to Branson, Missouri on a blogging trip with US Family Guide and Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. I have heard there are many fun things to do in this Midwest vacation town. Here are some of the things I will be doing on my trip:

Live Shows: There are many star-studded country music performances in Branson. If you aren’t a country music fan don’t worry because there are many other shows as well. I’m hoping to experience the Acrobats of China featuring the New Shanghai Circus. The Showboat, The Price is Right LIVE, and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction all look enjoyable as well.

riverblast-battle

Image of Silver Dollar City courtesy Of Branson, MO tourism department

Silver Dollar City: This award winning theme park, with over 30 rides, is sure to be tons of fun! For families with little ones they have a special area just for kids called “Half Dollar Hollar”. There are over 40 live shows daily, 60 specialty shops, and plenty of home style meal options {I’m looking forward to trying their beef brisket. yum!}. From September 12th to October 26th Silver Dollar City will be hosting the National Harvest Festival.

Hollywood Wax Museum - Pirates of the Carribean

Image from Hollywood Wax Museum courtesy of Branson, MO tourism office

Hollywood Wax Museum: I’ll be rubbing elbows with celebrities at the Wax Museum. Hope to see some of my favorite actors and actresses there so I can get my picture taken with them.

Branson Tracks: The Track Family Fun Parks provide the fastest way for your family to have fun together in Branson, MO. High-rise and classic go-kart tracks for all ages, laser tag, bumper boats, bumper cars, kids’ rides, mini golf, arcades and more – all with no gate admission charge. I love racing in go-karts so I can’t wait for that adrenaline rush!

The possibilities for a memorable vacation with those closest to you are truly limitless in Branson! Get special offers here:

Have you ever been to Branson, MO? What attractions or shows should I visit while I’m there?

(Disclosure: I am receiving accommodations and experiences courtesy of Branson Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. All thoughts are my own.)

Chula Vista Resort Exclusive Discount For My Readers {25% Off Your Stay!}

I am so excited to bring you all this exclusive discount to Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells! I am a Chula Vista Resort Brand Ambassador along with 8 other bloggers and this discount we are sharing is the best discount that you will find. I loved our stay at Chula Vista Resort and I’m sure you will enjoy a stay there as well.

Here are the details on this exclusive discount:

The discount is valid any Sunday–Thursday, now through November 27, 2013, and on any room style. The only day it’s not valid is October 13, 2013. Find out more about the resort, the discount details and make reservations using this link to get the 25% off.

(Disclosure: As an ambassador, my family stayed at the resort for free. Thoughts are my own. I may receive compensation for posting this discount.)

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.)

Air Classics Museum of Aviation {Sugar Grove, IL}

On our way home from a water park a couple weeks ago we passed by a bunch of old airplanes. I had to stop and get some pictures of them.

I discovered that they were part of an Aviation museum. The planes outside include an A-7 that flew in the Gulf War and a UH-1 Huey helicopter.

Inside the museum there are displays of uniforms and other aviation memorabilia from the 1930’s to the present time. The museum is located in Sugar Grove, IL (right outside of Aurora) and the musuem’s general hours are Saturday and Sunday 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. Organized tour hours available at other times as well. Learn more about the museum by checking out their website.

I think this museum would be fun for all ages. If you visit it I’d love to hear your thoughts about it in the comments below.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center {Schaumburg, IL}

(Disclosure: I am receiving a family pass in exchange for promoting LEGOLAND. Will share my review after my visit.)

Visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago and it’s like you’ve just jumped into the world’s biggest box of LEGO bricks! With over 3 million LEGO bricks, rides and a 4D movie theatre all under one roof, what will you discover?

I am excited to take my family to LEGOLAND since the boys are just starting to get into building with LEGO bricks. I can’t wait to see their faces when they see everything they will get to play with!

My readers can get a FREE Child Admission with Full Paid $20 Adult Admission!

Volo Auto Museum {Volo, IL}

(Disclosure: I am receiving a family pack of tickets to the Volo Auto Museum for posting about it.)

Volo Auto Museum is not just for car lovers or men, its fun for the whole family!  36 acres, mostly all indoors and includes fifty thousand square feet of antiques and gifts, a life like military combat zone, Betty’s Diner featuring decor which includes Elvis Presley’s autographed guitar, PeeWee Hermans Bicycle and more.  Plus over 300 restored collector automobiles from the early teens through today.

The largest collection of famous Hollywood TV and movie cars like the Batmobile, Ecto 1 from Ghostbusters and numerous others.  New for 2013 is the Cars in Wonderland Exhibit; it has all your favorite childhood cars from the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine to Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater from CARS all surrounded by movie-like setting from your favorite Disney and Looney Tunes Cartoons, such as Beauty and the Beast, Litter Mermaid, Coyote and Road Runner and others.

Volo Auto Museum is more than a car museum, its memories and education for all ages! My Readers can save up to $12 off Admission at Volo Auto Museum with this coupon.

Exclusive Coupons For Family Fun In Illinois {Summer 2013}

Hope you all are enjoying your summer! I wanted to share some great coupons with you all to help you save money this summer and have fun with your families on a budget :)

 

The Best Restaurants In The United States, Canada And The United Kingdom

Remember a couple days ago when I posted my favorite family friendly restaurants around the Naperville, IL area? Well now I am excited to share posts from bloggers all around the United States and even some from Canada and the United Kingdom so that next time you travel you will have a list of recommended restaurants to try!

Eastern US

Tampa, Florida – I Run for Wine
Annapolis, Maryland – Maryland Momma’s Rambles
Framingham, Massachusetts – 3 Garnets & 2 Sapphires
Orleans County, New York – Living Off Love and Coffee
Charlotte, North Carolina – MommyB Knows Best
Eastern North Carolina – Rebecca Lately
Raleigh, North Carolina – The Dirty Floor Diaries
East Greenwich, Rhode Island – Mama Luvs Books
Richmond, Virginia – Close to Home

Western US

Phoenix, Arizona – Brie Brie Blooms
Aliso Viejo, California – Una Colombiana en California
Oceanside, California – Adventures of Valley Writer
San Diego, California – Toot Sweet 4 Two
Wildomar, California – Simple Sojourns
Las Vegas, Nevada – Growing Up Gabel
Las Vegas, Nevada – Home Cooking Memories
Reno, Nevada – Saving in Nevada
NE Oklahoma (Route 66) – The Creative Princess
Tulsa, Oklahoma – Masterpiece
Austin, Texas – Texas Type A Mom
Dallas, Texas – The Effortless Mom
Dallas/Denton County, Texas – Coffee & Giggles
Houston, Texas – A Day in Motherhood
Palestine, Texas – Going Crazy! Wanna Go?
Provo, Utah – Clarks Condensed
Salina/Sevier, Utah – Home Maid Simple
Salt Lake City, Utah – Summer Scraps
Bainbridge Island, Washington – Popcorn and Pearls
Seattle, Washington – Faith Filled Food for Moms

Northern US

Chicago, Illinois – East 9th Street
Lake County, Illinois – THE ROCK FATHER
Long Grove (NW Chicago Suburbs), Illinois– Make Dinner Easy
Naperville, Illinois – Making Time for Mommy
Cincinnati, Ohio/Northern Kentucky – {enjoy the view}
Detroit, Michigan – Roasted Beanz
West Michigan – Eat Local, West Michigan!
Rochester, Minnesota – The Mama Report
St. Charles, Missouri – Robyn’s Online World
St. Louis, Missouri – inRandom
Omaha, Nebraska – Midwest Mammas
Seward, Nebraska – Busy-at-Home
Dayton, Ohio – Mudpies and Tiaras
Miami County, Ohio – The Home and Garden Cafe
Greenville, South Carolina – The Destiny Manifest
Milwaukee, Wisconsin – Outnumbered 3 to 1
Norwalk, Wisconsin – The Mommy Bunch

Southern US

Northwest Arkansas – Jamie’s Thots
Northwest Arkansas – MamaBuzz
Atlanta, Georgia – The Jort Report
Cumming, Georgia – In the Kitchen with KP

Canada

Quispamsis/Saint John, New Brunswick – Older Mommy Still Yummy
London, Ontario – Creative Cynchronicity

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Trunki Kid’s Suitcase From Melissa & Doug {Giveaway}

I told you all about Melissa & Doug’s Top Twenty List the other day and promised a giveaway of one of the great gift items on there. It was hard to make up my mind as to which one to giveaway but I really love the one I chose and I hope you will too!

GIVEAWAY:

Blue Trunki Suitcase from Melissa & Doug

This is a great suitcase for traveling on long trips or just weekends at Grandma’s. It has wheels so children can ride it while the parent pulls them around. There are also additional stickers that can be purchased so children can personalize it themselves.

HOW TO ENTER:

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

1) Tell me who you want to win the Trunki for

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Like Making Time For Mommy on Facebook

4) Follow me on Pinterest

5) Comment on another one of my posts

Giveaway ends November 25, 2012 at 11:59pm Central time. US 18+ only.

(Disclosure: I received a product for posting about Melissa & Doug’s toy list. This giveaway is not associated with Facebook in any way.)