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Great Wolf Lodge New England Review

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandLast month we spent a weekend at the newly opened Great Wolf Lodge New England. The girls were beyond excited about this weekend. Over the moon excited. You see, they’ve been asking forever now for a trip to the Pocono Mountains Great Wolf Lodge, but I had been stalling because that’s a heck of a drive from here. And then they opened a location here in Massachusetts, which is SO much more convenient. So off we went.

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Great Wolf Lodge, it’s an indoor water park resort. A resort filled with so much to do that you couldn’t possibly do it all in one weekend. Water slides that will thrill young and old alike, a wave pool, lazy river and an indoor/outdoor hot tub too!

But if getting wet isn’t your thing, you won’t have a hard time finding something else fun to do. Great Wolf Lodge has lots of activities that don’t require bathing suits. Bowling, putt-putt, arcade games, and live shows scheduled throughout the day. So many activities that they actually publish a daily schedule. It’s not hard to find something fun for every member of the family.

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandWhile we were visiting, we got to sample some of the menu items for the upcoming seasonal events. If you are visiting during the holidays, the chefs at Great Wolf Lodge have gone all out planning special menu items for the holiday season. We sampled so many wonderful dishes like short ribs, fresh carved turkey, pastas, all sorts of seafood and more sweet treats than I care to admit.

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandIf you asked my girls what their favorite activity was at Great Wolf Lodge, without a doubt the answer would be the water slides. They just loved them. But a close second was MagiQuest.  An indoor virtual scavenger hunt of sorts where the kiddos use an interactive wand to take part in video adventures which has them searching for items hidden around the resort…

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandEven though I’m not a huge fan of video games, this was rather different and fun! This game had us logging some serious miles around the resort in search of clues and answers to riddles. I have to tell you, I was pooped by the end of it!
Great Wolf Lodge New England Dunkin DonutsGreat Wolf Lodge New England has lots of dining options. From super casual pizza (which was rather good) to sit-down dining with a glass of wine. But I was especially pleased that they have a Dunkin’ Donuts. If mom is going to be on her feet all day long and into the night, she needs her Dunkies!

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandSo what did we think of the rooms? Well, at first we had wished we had reserved one of the themed suites. But I have to tell you, as cute as they are, we weren’t in our room long enough to care whether or not it was themed. Our standard suite was super comfy and still charming with rustic lodge style decor. We didn’t feel like we were missing out by not having the fancier digs.

The standard suite was spacious and comfortable. Equipped with a coffee maker, fridge and microwave, it was the perfect setup for a family of up to five people. So if you are debating between the two, don’t worry if you don’t get the fancier themed suite. You will still be very happy and comfortable in the standard suite.

Great Wolf Lodge New EnglandThe Great Wolf Lodge ended up being even better than I had anticipated. Comfortable accommodations, hospitable service, good food and more stuff to do than time we had to do it. Which of course left us wanting to come back again!

If you are thinking about visiting Great Wolf Lodge New England, there are some special events coming up that you should check out. This month they are celebrating Howl-O-Ween with all kinds of fun activities including a Monster Bash Dance Party and Trick or Treat Trail.

If you visit Great Wolf Lodge late November through the end of December, you can take part in Snowland where there are all kinds of seasonal fun including a visit from Santa, indoor snow showers and other holiday activities!

No matter when you come, you’ll be glad you did. We loved it and bet you will too!

This is not a sponsored post. Great Wolf Lodge did host us for one night of our two night stay and invited us to some planned activities. However we did pay our own way the rest of the weekend. And we’d do it again too!

Brimfield Antique Show Shopper’s Guide

Brimfield Shopper's GuideThe Brimfield Antique Show is billed as the largest outdoor antique show in the country. Located in Western Massachusetts in the charming town of Brimfield, the show is held three times a year in May, July and September and is a not to be missed treasure hunt for the diehard antiques fan.

With over 6,000 dealers, odds are good that you will find that special something that you are looking for along with countless other treasures you didn’t even know you needed. And while I conquered Brimfield in one day, the serious antiques collector could spend several days at the show and still not see it all. It really is that massive.

The following are some tips and tricks I learned during my Brimfield experience that will hopefully better prepare you for a day of treasure shopping…

The Schedule

Before you even start your car, be sure to study the show schedule. The Brimfield Antique Show consists of many sub shows that are open on different days and times. And while there are always dealers open for business on any given day, certain fields are open on certain days with different start times. I planned my visit to coincide with the May’s Antique Market opening which requires vendors to set up their wares at the same time that the gates open which sort of levels the playing field for all.

Going earlier in the week may be beneficial if you want choice pick of the offerings, but rest assured that you will still find tons of desirable merchandise if you go towards the end of the show and you’ll have the added benefit of getting a better price so that the vendors avoid lugging their wares home.

Parking

As you drive into Brimfield on Rte 20, you will see many private parking lots with attendants trying to wave you in. Resist the urge to park at the first lots you see. There’s tons of parking in the heart of the action and it costs only a few dollars more. You do not want to be walking back to a remote parking spot after a day of non-stop walking. Not to mention you will  be lugging your purchases around and they will feel exponentially heavier as you walk to your bargain $5 parking spot.

I arrived at 8:30am on Thursday which was the opening day of May’s. I was one of the first people in the lot and I paid $8 to park. The lot which is located right across the street from May’s is smack dab in the middle of the Brimfield action which makes it a no-brainer parking spot. Spend the extra $3. Your feet and arms will thank you.

Shopping Cart

What to Bring

A trip to Brimfield is not as simple as jumping in the car with your pocketbook. There are some items that you really should bring along with you or your day will not be as lovely as it ought to be. Here are the necessities:

  • Cash While some dealers have card readers for their smartphones, cash is still king. ATMs are readily available, but the surcharges are hefty. Bring cash and keep it close to your body.
  • Sunscreen There are few shady spots in this outdoor show besides the tents that house the dealers. You will be exposed to the sun all day long, so be certain to bring sunscreen. I did not see anyone selling it at the show, so be prepared.
  • Umbrella Conversely it could rain all day long, so put an umbrella in your vehicle in case you need it. The show is rain or shine. Be prepared for rain.
  • Hand Wipes You will be so very glad that you brought hand wipes to Brimfield because your hands will be filthy after an hour into it. I saw only one hand washing station at Brimfield. Eating lunch will be miserable with 100 year old dust on your hands. Bring wipes.
  • Shopping Cart While a shopping cart sounds like overkill, you will be so thankful for it after you make your first purchase. That two pound mixing bowl is going to feel like a twenty pound bowling ball about fifteen minutes after you purchase it. Seemingly everyone toted a shopping cart around, so you will be in very good company. I especially like this shopping cart as it has a liner and cover.
  • Padding Toss in some old towels, newspaper or tattered shirts to wrap around breakables. As you wheel your cart over the gravel and grassy grounds of Brimfield, things will jostle and bump into each other in your cart. Wrapping your treasures in some fabric or paper will protect them.
  • Water Bottles Staying hydrated is very important while you walk around in the hot sun. Be sure to bring water. If you don’t feel like carting around water all day long, there are vendors who sell it for $1-$2 per bottle.

Know What It’s Worth

If you collect anything, odds are good that you are familiar with the values of your collection. But if you want to purchase something that you aren’t familiar with, use your smartphone to see what the item is worth by discretely doing a search on eBay or Etsy. Do be sure to be discrete as a courtesy to the dealer. But don’t feel guilty for looking up a value because no one wants to be hosed. And knowing the value of an antique helps with the next tip, haggling…

Haggle

While the idea of haggling may sound intimidating, it is entirely expected at Brimfield. You will not insult the dealers if you haggle the proper way. The easiest way I’ve found to get a better price is to ask that very question. “What is your best price for this?” I did not pay sticker price for a single thing I purchased at Brimfield. Often times I paid almost half of what the items were marked. And if you feel that the price is not reasonable enough, know that you will probably see that same item somewhere else at Brimfield for less money.

Pilgrim Sandwich Brimfield

Sustenance

All of this antique hunting is going to make you hungry. Lucky for you, Brimfield is brimming over with good eats. Of course there’s the requisite carnival fare like funnel cakes, kettle corn, ice cream and other fat and carb laden treats, but there are also vendors offering up unique options like the fantastic pilgrim sandwich I had for lunch which was a pretty good deal for $8.50. It wasn’t a small sandwich for darn sure and it was stuffed with freshly carved before my eyes turkey. Wonderful.

I also saw beautiful lobster rolls, Thai food, barbecue and chowder, just to name a few. You won’t go hungry at Brimfield.

Brimfield Bathrooms

Bathrooms

At some point you will need to visit a potty during your visit. While there are lots of porta potties at Brimfield, I only saw one with hand washing facilities. That’s not to say that there aren’t more, it’s just the only one I saw that day. While I am not a fan of porta potties, honestly I hate them, these potties were tolerable because the one I used was manned by an attendant and kept as clean as a porta potty could be. This station which was located in the Hertan field was about as good as it gets. Washing my hands felt awesome!

Kids or No Kids, Pets or No Pets 

The Brimfield Antique Show is not particularly kid or pet friendly. So many breakables are placed on makeshift shelving on portable tables that one bump could bring the entire display down. I did see some kids in strollers and none of them looked happy. And while I didn’t see a no pets sign anywhere, the general consensus was that they aren’t welcome. Think hard before bringing your little folk or fur babies.

The Brimfield Antique Show is a not to be missed event for the antiques lover. And even if you don’t buy a single thing, it’s great fun to take a long walk through history and marvel about how much times have changed. Do your homework ahead of time and bring the suggested necessities and you will thoroughly enjoy your time in the quaint New England town of Brimfield, Massachusetts.

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10 Tips for Visiting Water Country, Portsmouth NH

Water Country Portsmouth NHYesterday we spent a gloriously sunny summer day at Water Country. Located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Water Country is a popular summertime destination for New Englanders who are looking for some family fun and a way to cool off during the hot summer months.

We have visited Water Country many times over the years and today I’m going to share some tips on making the most of your visit to the park.

1. Choose a slower day to visit. During the height of the season Water Country gets packed. Waiting in long lines for rides is never fun. Try to visit on slower days which we’ve found to typically be a Monday, Tuesday or a Wednesday. Of course there are exceptions to this as the week of 4th of July will most likely be packed whatever day you visit that week. Another thing to note is that the lines become much lighter towards the end of the day. Typically group buses leave the park an hour or two before the park closes. This is a great time to get on the more popular attractions. Within one hour of closing yesterday we were able to ride our favorite slide a dozen times.

2. Make a packing list and check it twice. Come to Water Country prepared for a long day in the sun. Essentials like sunscreen are rather expensive when purchased in the park. But if you do forget something, Target is an easy drive from the park entrance.

3. Don’t bother with preferred parking. Preferred parking is $15 while standard is only $5. Unless you are visiting at the absolute height of the season, standard parking is a very easy walk to the main entrance.

4. Pack a Cooler. Water Country allows guests to bring their own food and drink. This one thing will save you a ton of money during your visit. There are no stated size limits on coolers, so our family brought our largest Coleman cooler which was filled with plenty of foods and drinks for a long day at the park. Not once were we tempted by the park offerings because I was sure to pack treats that the kids would enjoy which made skipping those funnel cakes that much easier. When packing your cooler, do remember not to pack anything in glass as it’s not allowed in the park. Here’s the one that our family of six uses on all day trips such as this:

Coleman 62-Quart Xtreme Wheeled Cooler (Blue)

5. Seagull proof your food. This cannot be overstated. Do not bring your snacks in plastic grocery bags. There are tons of seagulls at the park and they know that the good stuff is in the plastic bags. We witnessed seagulls expertly poking holes in bags left on picnic tables to access the goods. We also saw seagulls swoop down and take entire bags of food away for a picnic elsewhere. Skip the plastic bags and bring a cooler. Trust me on this one. Seagulls are a determined bunch.

6. Bring a waterproof case for your phone. There are way too many photo opps that you are not going to want to miss at the park. I had my phone on me at all times because I didn’t want to have to trek it back to our lounge chairs to retrieve it. The park is pretty large. I recommend buying a waterproof case to hold your phone. There are way too many opportunities for it to fall into the water. And as we all know, that isn’t covered by insurance! Something like this will do the trick nicely:


DRY PAK DP-46 Cell Phone, GPS, MP3 Waterproof Case, Blue

 7. Decide ahead of time if you need a cabana. Cabanas which are suited with lounge chairs and sometimes tables (depending on the size), can add a lot of comfort to your day. They range in size and price (from $45 to $249), but all provide much needed shade. We opted for the standard size cabana which we reserved online for $88 which guaranteed that there would be one available for us when we arrived. Now, do you really need one? Maybe not. If you get to the park early enough (like within an hour of opening) you can snag a picnic table which is located under shady trees on the perimeter of the park. I was very impressed with how many tables were available. If you grab a table and a couple of lounge chairs, you’ve got yourself a natural free cabana. The only perk you will miss is having your own personal waiter, but you are brining a cooler with you anyway, right? Say yes.

8. Talk to your children about where/when to meet when separated. This is another point that I cannot stress enough. Most likely parents and kids will be separated at some point during the visit as not all parents ride the attractions with their kids. And when you have multiple children it makes it even harder. The park is much larger than it appears. Trying to find a child here is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Be sure to establish a meeting point on an hourly basis or at an agreeable time. Otherwise you will be playing a game of Where’s Waldo for much of your time in the park.

9. Wear water shoes. As I said earlier, this park is much larger than it looks. Walking for hours on end with bare feet is not advised. And you’ll thank me for this tip when you walk into the restrooms. Any pair of water shoes will do the trick, but I’m partial to Keen because they are sturdier and provide support. You will be walking a ton during your visit.


KEEN Women’s Venice H2 Sandal

 10. Be mindful of swimming abilities when you visit the wave pool. The wave pool is one of my kids’ favorite attractions at the park. And even though they are strong swimmers, I keep a hawk’s eye on them as the waves can be rather strong. If you have any doubt whatsoever on your ability to swim or your child’s ability to swim, grab one of the freely available life jackets at the entrance to the wave pool. You can never ever be too safe. But even with a life jacket on your child, it’s a good idea to be with them or at least watch them at all times when they are in the wave pool.

Overall, I find Water Country to be an excellent way to spend a fun summer day with your family. The staff is cheerful and courteous. And for the most part the park is very clean except my one caveat which is that the bathrooms need some help throughout the day.

As far as ride variety goes, there’s enough of a variety of rides to keep the littles in your bunch happily splashing away while your adventure seekers get their adrenaline going on the more adventurous rides.

A water park that is sure to please the entire family! For more info including rates, you can check out the Water Country website.

Here are some picture of our day including a view of the standard size cabana:

Water County New Hamshire Cooler

Water Country Standard Size Cabana

Water Country Food Brought from Home

Water Country Attraction

Water Country Little Kid Rides

Water Country Slide

Tips for Water Country

This is not a sponsored post. I paid for our tickets and the cabana. All opinions are my own. There are affiliate Amazon links in this post which link to products that I think will benefit you during your visit.

California Central Coast Tour

Rte 1 CaliforniaLast week I trekked out to California for the annual BlogHer conference which was held in San Jose. I’ve never visited that part of California before, so I flew in a little early to get in some touring. Six and a half hours of flight time warrants staying a bit to see the sights.

Rte 1 CaliforniaI took the earliest flight out of Boston which got me into San Francisco early enough to have a full day of exploring that first day. Route 1 was the obvious road trip of choice because it’s so scenic. Something that I will certainly convince you of after you see the following pictures.

Route 1 winds all the way down the coast, straight through towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel which are all bucket list towns to visit on my list. To see them all in one fell swoop was pretty awesome. Even if I did it at a breakneck pace.

Besides wonderful vistas of the ocean crashing on rocks beneath jagged cliffs, there were other special things to find on route 1. Let me show you…

Roadside Produce Stand Rte 1 CaliforniaI’ve always heard my California friends go on and on about their easy access to good produce. Once I started driving on route 1, I saw how lucky they are! Roadside stands of gorgeous produce were dotted up and down the coastal route. And in between the stands were miles of farmland.

Oh the meals I could make with the produce I saw. Just the peppers alone were enough to make me look at real estate while I was there. But when I saw how much real estate costs out there, I quickly realized I could buy the same size house out here and shop at Whole Foods for the rest of my life and still save money.

The real estate out there is rather spendy.

California Avocados Rte 1 Produce StandOne roadside produce sign had me begging my girlfriend to pull the car over. Seven avocados for a buck. That’s something to pull over for. Until I saw the size of the avocados. You’d have to buy at least four to equal one normal size avocado I buy here in Massachusetts. They were still adorable though!

California Artichokes Rte 1 Produce Stand CaliforniaBut the artichokes that were seven for a dollar? That is an incredible bargain. That was one thing that stuck out to me while we passed the farmland. The fields of artichokes were very interesting to see. You couldn’t help but recognize them because the artichokes stuck straight out into the sky like poles. Super fascinating to see!

Larvets SnackThe roadside stands had all kinds of fantastical offerings. Large bags of local almonds for only $5.99/lb. All kinds of dehydrated fruits and veggies. And snacks like larvets which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I am curious as to what they taste like but I’ll leave that to someone more adventurous to describe.

Boardwalk Santa Cruz CaliforniaThe first town on our agenda was Santa Cruz. And I have to tell you, I was rather smitten with it. The boardwalk is absolutely charming and full of rides I’d actually let my kids enjoy. I know that sounds odd, but I have to tell you that there are few boardwalks that I deem safe for my kids to ride the rides. I find most to be too carnival like. As in rickety.

That was not the case for the Santa Cruz boardwalk. All of the rides looked to be very well cared for and had a great mix of big kid and little kid rides. I could bring all of my kids here and there would be plenty for them to do. From the twenty year old (I can’t believe I just typed that) down to the ten year old, the Santa Cruz boardwalk would have captivated them all.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk TreatsBesides an abundance of rides, the boardwalk offered up lots of delicious foods. All the fried things that you could possibly imagine and also an array of fresh fruits which was rather nice to see. And if carnival food isn’t your type of thing (what’s wrong with you?), there were tons of restaurants offering up local seafood that looked downright delectable. You won’t go hungry in Santa Cruz.

Another highlight of my stop in Santa Cruz was the sighting of a pod of Orcas. I have to tell you, my entire life I’ve waited to see this. And while they were off in the distance a bit, there was no mistaking the black whales with the white markings. To see them breaching and spouting water into the air is something I won’t soon forget.

And it’s also worth mentioning that the seals that hang out along all of the rocks that jut out along the California coast are quite the spectacle. I never realized how large or how loud they are. They are a mouthy bunch.

Monterey CaliforniaThe next stop on our coastal adventure was Monterey. Another charming coastal town with breathtaking views. Monterey is the kind of town that you need to dedicate a day towards visiting. There are so many specialty shops and restaurants to visit. I highly suggest having a glass of wine in one establishment, an appetizer at the next, some shopping in the middle and then rinse and repeat that schedule for your entire day. And bring a designated driver with you.

Besides eclectic shopping and indulgent eating, there are many activities for those who are interested in getting physical. Kayaks, bikes and paddle board rentals were available and there were also trails for walking. With the sunny skies and cool ocean breezes, this would be the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of California.

And if seeing whales and seals up close appeals to you, this is the place to rent a kayak. I saw so many people getting up close views of the whales and seals. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my bathing suit!

Candy Shop MontereyWhenever I travel, I buy a little something for my kids like most parents do. My girls especially loved the Taffy Town taffy I bought in Monterey. Salt water taffy is available just about everywhere you look up and down the coast, but Taffy Town is our favorite. Yummy.

The Sardine FactoryOne of my favorite meals while visiting Monterey was at the Sardine Factory. A not to be missed restaurant located in historic Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is one of those restaurants that you visit for special occasions. While not the kind of place I’d bring all four of my kids because my bill would be equal to my car payment (entrees range in price from $26 to $58), it is well worth every penny for a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday.

Calamari and The Sardine Factory

Calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and the Sardine Factory’s calamari did not disappoint. Local calamari fried up tender and crisp, it was arguably the best calamari I’ve ever had. And it was hard to settle on the calamari as my choice of appetizer because everything on the appetizer menu looked appealing. Local seafood is a highlight of this restaurant. Next time I go I will definitely try the crab filled oysters Rockefeller. I had a hard time deciding between those two!

The Sardine Factory MontereyFor my entree, I chose the salmon with lump meat crab and a beurre blanc sauce. A stellar choice that was. Once again, one of the best salmon dishes of my life. Well worth every calorie in the beurre blanc. I’m pretty sure the asparagus was just on the plate to make me feel a little better about the sauce and the calamari calorie carnage.

17 Mile DriveFrom Monterey my journey took me further south to Carmel By The Sea via 17 Mile Drive. Now, let me tell you something about 17 Mile Drive. You have to pay a $10 toll to explore it. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pay it. I know that a $10 toll sounds like a lot for 17 miles, but I promise you that you will NOT regret it.

I’ve taken some scenic drives in my lifetime, but really, this was like nothing I’ve seen before. A long and winding route, 17 Mile Drive has an unforgettable and unique view seemingly around every bend in the road. Dotted with mansions and to-die-for beaches, 17 Mile Drive is another experience that you could budget an entire day towards. Pack a picnic lunch, a beach blanket and your binoculars because there is just so much to see and experience during this drive.

Once again, the marine life is not to be missed. Seals, otters, birds and even whales can be seen from shore. Definitely budget some time here. And don’t forget the binoculars.

Check out the views…

17 Mile Drive Pebble Beach

17 mile drive pebble beach

Lone Cypress 17 Mile Drive

Alexander Smith VineyardMy last stop on my adventure was Carmel By The Sea. Certainly the most spendy town of the towns I toured, Carmel is full of enchanting high end shops that reminded me of what you’d find in Aspen or Vail. Art galleries, jewelers, handcraft merchants and countless fine restaurants lined the picturesque streets of Carmel.

Paraiso Winery Tasting Room Carmel

And while I didn’t do any shopping in this town, I did stop at the most precious wine tasting at the Paraiso Vineyards tasting room where I sampled and completely enjoyed a glass of Alexander-Smith Pinot Noir which was heavenly with notes of apple, black cherry and a hint of floral. I’m not sure if it was the Alice in Wonderlandesque setting or if it was purely the wine, regardless, it was unforgettable.

Dametra in Carmel CaliforniaWhile there are countless very pricey restaurants in Carmel, I did happen upon a relatively affordable gem. Dametra Cafe is a restaurant that I highly recommend. An exquisitely charming restaurant serving up Mediterranean cuisine, Dametra not only offers authentic Mediterranean dishes, it also delivers a complete experience with live music and dancing. While many places that offer this kind of combo come off as touristy tacky, Dametra’s spontaneous musical outbursts felt like a true celebration.

Dametra Carmel CaliforniaI was trying to keep it light when I placed my order of a roasted vegetable salad with grilled shrimp, but I never expected my salad to be so grand. A salad is usually sort of ho-hum, but not this time. If all salads looked like this, the world would be a better place.

Dametra has all kinds of enticing menu items. If I ever get back, I will not leave without trying the hummus or the lamb shank. I saw other patrons enjoying those dishes which made me want to skip the conference and come back the next day. Which I did not.

Sunset Monterey

And here is a view of the sun setting on the California coast. A natural way to end this post if there ever was one.

While this trip was incredible, it would’ve been so much better with my kids. Someday I plan to bring them to see the same sights. Certainly this kind of trip has all kinds of special experiences for adults, but at the same time there’s just so much that’s family friendly. From whale watching to kayaking and boardwalk rides to mountain hiking, with countless other activities in between, the California coast offers something for every member of the family!

Traveling Smart with Bridgestone Tires

Melanie and Kids in CarYou know, as a mom of four, I have to come up with some pretty creative ways to keep the kids entertained over the summertime. During the early weeks of summer it was easy enough. All of the kids were thankful for those first days home from school once summer vacation started.But after the novelty wore off, the “I’m bored” complaints set in. That’s when I started to make plans that included day trips to area attractions that would captivate the kids’ minds and silence the “I’m bored” comments that were driving me mad.

Luckily for me, my family is rather portable. The kids love an adventure and I’m happy to give them one. But even though I was more than ready for a summer adventure, my car was not. I blush to admit it, but car care is not my strong suit. I know precious little about tire pressure or tire maintenance which is rather crucial for safe summer travel.

So when Bridgestone asked if I would be an ambassador at this year’s BlogHer conference, it was a no brainer. Of course I want to learn more about keeping my family safe while on the road. Isn’t that what I’m here for?

And when I heard that they wanted me to take part in their DriveGuard No Pressure Zone that they are hosting at BlogHer this year, I was excited to learn more about the fuss-free care tips from the team at Firestone Complete Auto Care.

Not to mention that they invited me to take part in a drive and learn opportunity that will have me driving around a cones course in a car with a flat tire to learn how the DriveGuard tire line from Bridgestone can protect my family. Did you know that DriveGuard tires allow you to travel up to 50 miles at up to 50 mph if a puncture or loss a pressure were to occur*? I didn’t either. I’m going to learn all about that at BlogHer this week!

Cape CodWith all of the travel that I write about here on this blog, it makes sense that I learn more about tire safety. So I’m pretty excited that I will have the opportunity next week to learn more about tire care and safety which of course I will share with all of you!

Shannon on BeachEven though I still have a lot to learn, I have learned a few things over the years. Here are some tips that have helped me make traveling with kids safe and less stressful:

  • Snacks! Be sure to pack foods and drinks that will not destroy the interior of your vehicle. Trail mix, real fruit leathers, granola and clear juices/water are a few examples of foods I pack for road trips that almost guarantee that I won’t spend too much of my time cleaning my car after the fact. Have you ever given your kids yogurt in the backseat? I wouldn’t advise it.
  • Pack a first aid kit. I can’t tell you how many times my kids have gotten blisters while traveling. A first aid kit goes a long way in making a day trip more enjoyable. A fresh stock of bandages and antiseptic sure beats stuffing tissues into your kid’s shoes. Been there. Done that. It doesn’t work.
  • Have baby wipes on hand. Even if your kids are teens or tweens, baby wipes in the back of your car can be a lifesaver. I always keep a tub handy because you never can tell when you might have a llama or goat licking kibble off of your kid’s hands. No joke. We’ve left a farm only to search for the nearest restroom to wash off llama spit. I wish I was kidding.
  • Keep a bag of change handy. I can’t tell you how many tickets I’ve gotten nailed for not paying parking meters when I should’ve. Now I always keep a baggie of change in my vehicle. Sure beats paying a $25 fine.
  • Toilet paper. Keep a roll in the trunk. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes kids just have to go. And when kids have got to go, they mean they had to go ten minutes ago. Keeping a roll handy means that you are prepared no matter when nature calls. Just keep it legal.

Traveling with littles is never dull. The most important part is keeping it safe. I’ll be reporting more about my experiences at BlogHer with Bridgestone, but until then you can feel free to follow them on Twitter @BridgestoneTires and @FirestoneAuto. And you can visit them on their Facebook page for more info and tips!

* Repairability of DriveGuard tires depends on the tire damage, amount of pressure loss and vehicle operating conditions. Contact a Bridgestone retailer for details.

This is a sponsored post on behalf of Bridgestone DriveGuard tires. All opinions are my own.

Ireland, The Last Days

A Walk In The WoodsI am finally home. What a journey that was to get back. I had planned on posting last night, but after I hugged and kissed my family, I crawled into bed and crashed hard.

After twelves hours of sleep, I’m feeling much more human and ready to share the last of my images from Ireland with you. I’ll be posting some food pictures from Ireland over on A Beautiful Bite in the coming days, but these pictures make more sense over here on MITM.

To start, the image above and below show you how dark it was over in Ireland during my stay. The weather was quite vexing and it really started to get to me after awhile. Constant rain and shadows affected my mood which you can see in my self portrait below.

In total there was one day of partial sun and I found myself racing around like a lunatic trying to get some decent shots while there was enough light to do so. And I still don’t really feel that I caught the true beauty of Ireland this visit.

Melanie In The Shadows

Knowth IrelandMy favorite sights in Ireland were the churches, cemeteries and ruins. Everywhere I turned there was something ancient and fantastic to see. One of my favorite day trips was to Knowth and Newgrange, two burial passage sights which are 5,000 years old and in near original condition.

The following pictures are from that day trip…

Newgrange Ireland

Knowth Irealnd

Knowth, IrelandLooks like a Teletubby should pop up somewhere in the background. Don’t you think? The only thing missing from this photo is Tinky Winky and a bunny.

Cliffs of MoherAnother favorite day trip was to the Cliffs of Moher. I was really lucky this day because the sun came out just a bit during my visit and the rain held off just long enough for me to walk the cliffs and snap some photos. And just as I took one last picture, the clouds said enough of that and rained down again.
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Tower

Irish CastleThe following pictures are just some random shots that I thought were worth sharing…

Melanie At Castle

Thatched Irish Roof

Irish Cow

Irish Cows

Melanie Ireland

Cliffs of Moher SunsetAs I was standing on the Cliffs of Moher during sunset on my last day in Ireland, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs, Possession.

There’s something about Sarah’s voice that speaks to the mood of Ireland. A haunting melody that resonated with me this visit. And there are some things that greatly affect my mood. Light and sound are two and this song really speaks to how I was feeling at that moment as I was standing on the cliffs as it started to rain and the winds picked up…

Listen as the wind blows, across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?

End of Summer Road Trip ~ Philadelphia Zoo & Omni Independence Park

Philadelphia ZooWith only a small window of time before summer poofs out of existence, I decided to take my kids on a last hurrah summer road trip. Three of my kids anyway. Aidan is getting ready for college and will be missing from blog posts for the next four years, I think. Sniff.

Not that it’s a crazy long distance road trip. Just a four day journey with stops in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore. You see, my friend Joey is hosting a Blogger Beach Bash which I’ll tell you more about tomorrow, but en route we decided to stay overnight in Philly so that we could visit one of my favorite zoos in the country. The Philadelphia Zoo.

Shan and the Polar BearNow, I wasn’t too bright before I left. I should’ve purchased my tickets online. That would’ve eliminated the very long wait at the ticket booth. In the sweltering sun. For what seemed like an eternity.

But it’s ok because we got to the counter before we became human raisins. And when it was finally our turn, I learned about their membership program which allows you to visit not only their zoo for a calendar year, but also many zoos across the country.

So, I could’ve spent $91 for admission and parking or I could’ve spent $99 and get admission for the year at not only the Philadelphia Zoo, but countless others including a bunch in New England. Oh, and the membership gives you free parking. Sold.

Philadelphia ZooUpon entering the park, my kids were completely entranced. Heck, I was completely entranced. I have been to this zoo many many times with my Mom and Dad, but when I was a kid it didn’t look anything like it does today.

The amount of expansion and development that has gone into this zoo is impressive. So many new exhibits and beautifications. There was something new to see around every bend.

One of the improvements that I liked best was the interactive exhibits where kids can use computers to learn about the animals and their habitats in realistic field settings. Lots of hands on stuff that immersed the kids in learning. They had so much fun without realizing that it was educational. I’m all for sneaky education.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo Red PandaAnd of course there were the animals. Each kid had their favorite. Michael loves red pandas. Leela is into cheetahs. And Shannon was smitten with the lemurs. My favorite was the primate exhibit. Apes have always fascinated me and I could spend hours watching them. Actually, my kids had to drag me out of the exhibit.

We spent four hours at the zoo, but I felt like we rushed through it and missed some of the exhibits. Of course this means that we will have to come back again. Especially to take advantage of our new membership status!

Omni Independence ParkAfter our fun at the zoo, we ventured over to the Omni Independence Park which overlooks Independence National Historic Park in the heart of Society Hill. A truly elegant hotel with very posh accommodations.

When we first checked in, the kids were thrilled to receive little backpacks to help them explore the city. A very nice touch for the wee tykes.

But mom was more impressed with the actual room. Super luxe with lots of space and gorgeous furnishings. Oh and the beds & linens. Don’t even get me started. I wanted to take the sheets home with me. So very comfy. Especially after a six hour drive and four hours at the zoo. Mom needed that comfy bed.

Omni Independence ParkAnd the view was killer too. The girls each grabbed a book and perched themselves on the sill to read while I took care of, well you know, EVERYTHING as us moms have a habit of doing.

Omni Independence ParkAbout ten minutes after we arrived, there was a knock on the door. It was for the kids. A tray of milk and cookies which the Omni delivers to every kid who stays at their hotel. Yeah, my kids were impressed.

After an afternoon snack of milk and cookies, I took the kids to the hotel pool for a dip. As far as pools go, this one is sort of spa like with relaxing music piped in which I enjoyed but I doubt the kids even noticed. My kids don’t relax until their head hits the pillow.

All in all, it was the perfect hotel stay and I would highly recommend staying at an Omni property if you get the chance to.

I wish we had more time to spend in Philly because there’s just so much to see in the city. I should know because I was born here and my entire family is from the area. If you haven’t been, you must. It’s a great city to visit not only for the obvious historical contributions, but also for the museums, restaurants and theater. Oh, and the cheesesteaks. It’s worth it to visit Philly for the cheesesteaks alone.

We left Philly this morning and are now on the Jersey Shore. We only have a few days to work with, so we are cramming in as much fun as we can before we go back home and back to school.

Much more tomorrow…

Disclosure:

I was an invited guest of the Omni Independence Park and stayed free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

An Overnight At Jay Peak, Vermont

jay peak vermontRecently the girls and I had the opportunity to visit Jay Peak Resort, a four season resort in northern Vermont. Just miles from the Canadian border, Jay Peak Resort is situated on some seriously picturesque real estate.

The mountain itself has a summit elevation of 3,968 feet and receives the most snow in eastern North America. With 76 trails on 385 acres, this is the kind of resort that skiers dream about. But Jay Peak is so much more than a great place to ski. It’s a great place for just about any recreational interest…

jay peakBefore we arrived at Jay Peak, the girls and I poked around on their website to get a feel for what they had to offer. When the girls saw the pictures for The Pump House indoor water park, their eyes just about popped out of their sockets. It looked huge! With lots of thrilling slides, lazy river and hot tubs, the girls were packing their luggage without my having to say boo.

jay peakShannon was particularly interested in trying out the Double Barrel Flowrider. How much fun does that look like? All the joys of surfing on a simulated wave pool. Awesome!

The first thing we did when we arrived at Jay Peak was to check out The Pump House to see if it was as awesome in real life as it was depicted on the website. The best way I can describe it is immense.

Immense and clean. The one thing I get hung up on with indoor waterparks is how clean they are. And I have to say that Jay Peak does an excellent job keeping their water park in tip top shape.

Lots of dry towels. Spacious locker rooms. Clean shower and bathroom facilities. Stuff that parents can appreciate.

There’s also a convenient snack bar with all kinds of kid pleasing foods plus options for healthier eating like salad and fruit. Parents will be happy to know that there is a poolside bar where they can enjoy an adult drink while watching the little ones frolic.

jay peak hotelBut it wouldn’t be a true visit to a mountain without some outdoor fun, right? After all, we did happen to be there during one of the biggest snow storms of the season. And the girls were itching to go romp around in the white fluffy stuff which hasn’t fallen much in our neck of the woods this winter.

IMG_7440We happened to be there just in time for the grand debut of the new Jay Peak Burton Riglet Park opening. Located at the Mountain Kid Adventure Center, kids can learn the basics of snowboarding in a fun and interactive Disney-Pixar Toy Story themed setting.

snowboarding jay peakKids are first taught the basics of how to snowboard by first learning balance and weight centering. One they learn the basics, they get to head out to the very exciting Toy Story themed Riglet Park to bust out their newly learned skills!

burton riglet park jay peakFor little snowboarding enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than this. Besides snowboarding, skiing and the amazing Pump House, Jay Peak also has a new Ice Haus indoor skating arena. There’s something for every member of the family at Jay Peak.

Jay Peak has recently invested over a quarter of a billion dollars into property and recreation improvements, but still strives to offer families value and affordable pricing. A lift ticket for Jay Peak is $69 per day and they offer some wonderful package deals that include lift tickets, lodging and water park access.

jay peak riglet parkThe girls and I give six thumbs up for Jay Peak Resort. So much fun and so many different things to do. Our only regret was that we stayed only one night. I guess that means we just have to go back!

For more information on Jay Peak, be sure to visit their website.

This is not a sponsored post. Jay Peak did offer us a discount for our overnight stay. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Review of the Disney Fantasy

When we started planning our family vacation, we spent a lot of time analyzing our options. Traveling with two teens and two elementary schoolers poses some issues. How do you entertain everyone? Not an easy feat.

The boys wanted warm weather and tropical seas. The girls wanted Disney. They always want Disney. I guess that’s par for the course for eight and nine year old girls.

What happens when you mix sun, sand and Disney? A Disney Cruise, of course. The perfect way to make everyone happy.

But as you know, a Disney Cruise is a premium cruise that calls for big bucks. So, in an effort to make it more affordable, we chose to cruise off season which is a little risky. Can you say hurricane season?

Usually cruising during hurricane season does not cause any serious disruptions. This time it did. We were due to fly in on a late night flight last Friday, but once we saw the hurricane’s path, we flew down earlier in the afternoon to Tampa.

The flight was bumpy, but after two glasses of wine (for me, not the kids), we arrived safely and made it to Port Canaveral as scheduled. The ship was delayed due to Sandy, and little did we know how rough those last cruisers had it.

High seas and high wind conditions put a serious damper on their vacation. Not to mention all of the damage to the ship. Lots of broken glass and other furnishings had to be replaced before we could board.

But board we did, and away we went…

It didn’t take long for the boys to slip into vacation mode. They are teenage boys after all and the two things they like to do are loaf around and…..

Eat. From slurping down coconut milk, to munching on peel and eat shrimp, the boys quickly got used to an existence they knew nothing about prior to boarding the ship.

Of course the girls were most excited about meeting the Disney characters. This is where the Disney cruise expense is justified….

From the moment you board the ship and right up to your departure, you are interacting with the characters.

There’s no waiting in long lines with sweaty tired children waiting to meet their favorite characters. Nope, the characters are constantly milling around the decks and you just never know who you are going to bump into.

Every where we went there was a character to hug. Straight up til midnight the characters were part of the action.

You could find them getting their groove on at the nightly dance parties, hanging out at the ever so popular kid’s clubs, or just strolling around the decks.

You just don’t get that opportunity to spend so much one on one time with the characters in the parks. This is a unique selling point of a Disney cruise.

Halloween fell during our trip. Instead of trick-or-treating, we took the girls to get glammed up at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Afterwards we took advantage of the professional photographers that were located all over the lobby. It was an excellent opportunity to catch the girls in all of their Bibbidi Bobbidi glory.

As awesome as the ship is, the ports were an adventure as well.

The boys were more jazzed about the ports than the girls because they were very excited to snorkel for the first time. None of the kids have been out of the country before, so they were filled with wonder over the sea life and all of the sights in Mexico.

Watching them experience something they’ve only dreamed about brought me to tears more than a few times on this cruise.

The one port adventure we scheduled for the girls was a dolphin experience in Cozumel. Both girls were wildly excited with the idea of seeing a dolphin up close….

Shannon embraced the experience and was nothing but smiles.

Leela? Let’s just say that she was convinced the dolphin was going to eat her. That’s why there are no pictures of her playing with the dolphin. She was terrified.

So, how about the food on the Fantasy? We were pretty pleased. My only goal was to not gain a bunch of weight, so I was delighted with all of the fish and fresh produce.

All four kids always found something that they liked and the restaurants themselves were fantastical and made you feel like you were dining in a Disney movie.

Did I mention the all you can eat smoked salmon? I think I ate the equivalent value of my cruise in smoked salmon.

And if you didn’t eat enough during your scheduled dining times, there were plenty of options to grab a quick snack. The self serve ice cream station was a ginormous hit with my little ones and big kids alike.

There were plenty of opportunities to make new friends and we did just that. Lots of silliness and giggles all around.

But there were quiet moments too. Time to reflect and appreciate what was given. Also time to reflect on what was not taken away.

Each one of us greatly appreciated that we had this chance to spend time together. We didn’t have to explain to the kids how special and rare this opportunity was. They just knew.

Pixie dust has a way of making things shine that much brighter. Don’t you think?

A Disney Cruise is a once in a lifetime experience. It isn’t inexpensive, but if you travel off season, you will save some serious cash.

Keep in mind that traveling during off season does have some risk to it if you go during the hurricane months. I would highly suggest buying trip insurance.

You will also need an attitude of flexibility because your ports of call can be changed due to sea conditions. That was the only negative of our trip. Our Grand Cayman port was cancelled which was a huge disappointment for my sons who very much wanted to swim with the sting rays.

If Disney happens to read this, I would urge them to add another port for situations such as this. Spending an additional day at sea is not an acceptable option when you are investing that type of money in your once of a lifetime family vacation. Ahem.

Other than that, I can’t say enough good about my time on the ship. The shows were spectacular, the ship beautifully crafted, tons of stuff to do for the entire family.

A wish upon a star dream come true.

My Visit To San Francisco!

I’m back home after an exciting week at the Food Buzz Festival which was held in San Francisco. I experienced way too much to write just one post. So, this post I’ll share some of the highlights of my trip and tomorrow I’ll write specifically about the festival….

One of my must do activities was ride a cable car. It’s sort of a mandatory activity when visiting San Francisco.

And while it’s great fun to ride one, getting on one that isn’t already packed with people is pretty challenging. So, if you visit and would like to ride one, try to do it on a weekday. It’s very very difficult to get a ride on one on the weekend.

It’s a pretty affordable way to see the sights and you get to experience a bit of transportation history too!

Fisherman’s Wharf is another must see attraction. With lots of shops and restaurants situated on the picturesque San Francisco waterfront, you could spend a whole day just taking in the sights. The people watching is pretty excellent too…

One of my planned stops on the wharf was Boudin Bakery. Known for their classic sourdough bread and other incredible baked goods (try their killer chocolate chip cookies), I didn’t want to leave San Francisco without grabbing a bite at their delicious restaurant.

Actually, I had my first raw oyster ever at Boudin’s. I had a brave moment and tossed back one of their champagne soaked oysters. And while I can’t say I’d eat a tray of raw oysters, I didn’t mind them. It went down much smoother than I expected. Interesting.

But what they are really famous for are their breads. Not just sourdough, but fanciful loaves in all kinds of fun shapes like this alligator. It was like a baker’s Disney Land.

And no trip to San Francisco would be complete without a stop at Ghiradelli! I was desperately trying to look and not buy, but when I was given a free sample at the door, I was a goner.

If you get a chance to try the Ghiradelli Sea Salt Soiree Chocolate Squares, do. They are killer good.

Now that I think about it, I can’t think of anything Ghiradelli that isn’t killer good. And speaking of killer…

I visited the very infamous Alcatraz. Another must see attraction in San Francisco, Alcatraz is quite the site to behold.

Just a short ferry ride over to the island, Alcatraz does not dissapoint. I took an audio tour of the prison that explained the interesting history, the inhabitants and the people that lived on the island.

It was quite chilling, but completely interesting to learn about its history and to see with my own eyes a little of what the prisoners experienced. The words I would use to describe it are cold and isolated. A great place to visit, but not somewhere I’d like to stay for any length of time.

I wish I had more time to explore San Francisco. There was so much that I missed. I didn’t have the time to visit Lombard Street or see the Painted Ladies. So, that just means I have to go back.

Not to mention the museums, the countless restaurants that I would’ve liked to have dined at and I sure would’ve liked to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge. Next time!

It was a fantastic experience. Certainly worth flying from one coast to another to visit. Come back tomorrow to see my recap of the Food Buzz Festival!