travel-section

Category : Travel

Los Angeles is a pretty magical place. I was born and raised in this fine city, and now I’m raising a family of my own here. So, it’s been great visiting places that I went as a kid, now with two of my own. Of course we’ve found some new favorites along the way, so narrowing this list down to just 10 places to take kids in Los Angeles was quite the chore. Whether you live here already or are thinking of visiting, here are my top picks on where to take the kids in Los Angeles.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Descanso Gardens1. Descano Gardens

We found Descanso Gardens  by accident after visiting some college friends in Montrose. It’s literally an oasis in the middle of the city where kids are allowed to run free and smell the roses — literally and figuratively. The park is divided into different types of California native foliage: Walk under the shade of the Redwood Grove, stroll amongst the roses in the Rose Garden and visit the bonsai in the Japanese Tea Garden. Don’t forget to visit the turtles and the gigantic koi fish in the main pond. If you’re lucky you see dragonflies too.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Farmer's Market
2. Original Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax

Every time we go out to dinner with the boys, we’re kind of sorry that we just didn’t head to the Farmer’s Market instead. The Farmer’s Market is like an oasis of food — all the foods from every region of this great wide world. And truthfully, it’s very representative of the city’s vast heritage. And it’s that cultural diversity that I love so much. You can literally get a bowl of gumbo, a plate of sushi, a shwarma sandwich and wash it all down with a Belgian beer, all in one stop. The kids can be as loud and as messy as they want because you’re outside. We like bringing board games. Friday nights bring live music and you can stay as long as you want. Be sure to hit Bennett’s ice cream after dinner, or else you’ll really be missing out.

10 Places to take kids in LA: Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor
4. Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor

Two of my favorite things combined into one at Churro Borough Ice Cream Parlor – churros and ice cream. The line is usually out the door at this place, so be sure to go at off hours. Round, crunchy, sugar coated churro disks sandwich artisan ice cream for the best treat ever. We can’t get enough. Seriously, it’s kind of becoming a problem. My favorite flavor ice cream is the spicy Mexican hot chocolate and the kids love the creamy vanilla. They’re purists, what can I say.

10 Places to take kids in LA: The Last Bookstore
5. The Last Bookstore Downtown Los Angeles

Stepping into the Last Bookstore in downtown LA is kind of like walking onto a movie set. There are books as far as they eyes can see, and art everywhere. Plus the people watching is fantastic. You can literally get lost in there for hours. There’s dollar book section, a color coordinate book wall, a tunnel made completely of books, and an upstairs artisan gallery. We’ve picked up a few good art prints there, some of which are currently hanging in our living room. And it’s great to show our kids, that books are still relevant, that there’s nothing quite like holding a book as apposed to reading it on a kindle. How old school right? Tip: One of the best taco joints in town is right around the corner – Guisados. Check them out. You won’t be disappointed.

10 Places to take kids in LA: The Hollywood Bowl
6. The Hollywood Bowl

Okay, here’s a super well kept secret. Ready? During the summer months, you can go and watch the Hollywood Bowl orchestra practice for FREE on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Practices run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Settle in and get ready for a treat. It’s a truly unique experience as is going to an actual show where you can pack a picnic dinner complete with wine (for you) and juice boxes (for the kids).

7. LACMA Concert Series

Nothing says summer more than chilling out at a Latin Jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s a great way to expose the kids to music, and you can let them run and be crazy, and they crash before you even get home from the outing meaning that you have the rest of the night free! If you’re not into the concert scene, you can always visit the museum. Kids 18 and under, plus one adult can get in for free if you sign up for the LACMA NexGen program. Now, that’s a good deal.

8. Olvera Street

Olvera Street is one of Los Angeles’ oldest historic locations, and is often referred to as the birthplace of the city. Walk up and down the storefronts, and grab some Mexican candy or a hand-stitched purse and maracas for the kids. There are a handful of sit down restaurants but grabbing tacos or taquitos from one of the take out joints is where it’s at. You really can’t beat the price – or the taste. You’ll be back for more. Check the event’s calendar for a chance to watch traditional Spanish dancers. Halloween brings the famous Day of the Dead parade, which is a unique experience in and of itself.

9. Chinatown

Have a craving for dim sum? Thinking of taking the family out for a fun night of karaoke? Chinatown is the place to visit. And if you have a karate fan in the house, paying homage to the Bruce Lee statue is a must. If you’ve never seen a Chinese Dragon Dance, then add that of your list of things to do – now! The self-guided walking tours are also great for first timers. The kids can partake in a scavenger hunt!

10. Griffith Park Merry Go Round

We’ve been to the Griffith Park Merry Go Round more times than we can count. It gives off a pretty nostalgic vibe, of what Los Angeles used to be many years ago. It runs every weekend and during the weekdays as well during the summer. We even had a friend have a circus themed birthday party at the park, with free rides for the kids, but that’s the kind of over the top birthday party you’d come to expect from living in Los Angeles.
10 Places to take kids in LA: The Los Angeles Zoo
11. LA Zoo

Okay we could not leave this one off the list – so there is actually 11.

Are your little monkeys driving you batty? You see where I’m going here? Yeah, the LA Zoo has all the animals. Every one that your little one wants to see. Plus there’s a new reptile exhibit (that gives me the creeps but keeps the kids coming back for more). There’s also a petting zoo and a pretty expansive play ground with misters for hot days – and there are plenty of them in Los Angeles. I recommend grabbing a frozen lemonade at the stand near the giraffe exhibit and watching them for while because those guys are awesome.

 

Moms, where are your favorite Los Angeles places to take your kids?
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Exploring Cannery Row Monterey California
Weekend in Cannery Row

If you aren’t already familiar with the area, Cannery Row is a street that runs parallel to the coastline of Monterey Bay in the middle of California, made famous by American author John Steinbeck, who captured the lives of workers and residents who worked in the fish canneries that gave the area its name. Once the area was fished out, the bay was made into a marine sanctuary, but the canneries remained.

Following a period of revitalization, this little section of Monterey now boasts beautiful hotels, restaurants, shopping and other activities, as well as opportunities to explore the water and coastline. Some of the original canneries are still standing, and you can see and even walk in the iconic “crossover” bridges that joined the canneries to the old shipping houses across the street.

Just an hour and a half drive from San Jose airport, Monterey is also home to Monterey Bay Aquarium, the famous scenic 17-Mile Drive, and a marine sanctuary for sea otters, elephant seals, sea lions, and many species of birds. The area enjoys a temperate climate, so it’s a perfect place to bring your family during the summer for a road trip stop or a final destination.

Visiting Monterey Bay in CaliforniaWhere to STAY

The Victorian Inn is located just blocks up the hill from Cannery Row itself, and the higher floors offer views above the rooftops to Monterey Bay. Centered around a large Victorian home built in 1907, the decor of the inn reflects the style of the period. Rooms are spacious and comfortable and each one has a gas fireplace which is nice when it gets chilly at night. There’s free continental breakfast and daily wine receptions in the lobby, complimentary in-room internet, and in-room massages if you need one. There’s no pool at this hotel, so your kids will have to get their swimming fix in the ocean.

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Monterey Bay Inn

A little bit more upscale for adult travelers, the boutique Monterey Bay Inn is perched above the ocean at the southeast end of Cannery Row, adjacent to San Carlos park and beach. Rooms have sleek updated decor and each has a small balcony overlooking the coast – binoculars are provided, too. The bathrooms have double sinks, private toilets, and large showers. With two hot tubs on site, the hotel also provides comfy spa robes ready for you in the closet when you arrive. In-room breakfast is complimentary, as long as you hang your order on the door by midnight.

What to-do in Monterey, CaliforniaWhere to PLAY

When at Cannery Row you’ll definitely want to visit the oceanside. A great way for an active family to see the sights and get some exercise is to rent some equipment from Adventures by the Sea and either paddle around the bay or ride around town. I rented an adult-sized cruiser for maximum comfort (braking by pedaling backwards, which I haven’t done in decades, took some re-learning) and there are also two-person surreys available to rent in three locations along the coast.

The recreational trail that runs 18-miles along the Monterey Bay coast was once a rail line, and you will even see old railroad crossing signs still standing as monuments to an earlier era. In fact, there is an old train car that is now parked right on the trail that is now a bookstore.
lovers point beach

There are many spots to stop and run around and take in the natural beauty, and Lover’s Point Park is a perfect one: a calm beach for young children with crystal blue waters, a spacious green park, a large rocky outcropping perfect for climbing, and a restaurant for dinner at the end of your day.

What to do with kids in Monterey Bay, CaliforniaBecause of the temperate seaside climate, mornings can be foggy or even drizzly in the area, so some indoor activities might be good to have in your back pocket. The aquarium is an obvious choice but if you want to avoid summer crowds, check these out. Monterey Mirror Maze, Lazer Challenge, and Highway 1 Black Light Mini Golf are all within feet of each other right on Cannery Row. Set up like a small Chuck E. Cheese minus the animatronic cartoon characters, these attractions let kids run amok while providing entertainment, as long as they have the tokens! The mirror maze feels like an extended creep inside a fun house, and the lazer challenge can be tough for the awkward adult (okay, me) but still fun.

On the way into the Cannery Row area as you approach from the airport, you’ll pass by El Estero Lake and a colorful children’s play area named after Dennis the Menace – his creator donated much of the money that built this park. Dennis the Menace park is no ordinary park. It has a hedge maze, a climbing wall, an old steam engine, a zip line, and a giant wiggly slide. In the surrounding complex you can rent a paddle boat to cruise around the lake.

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Where to EAT

Almost every restaurant at Cannery Row has a spectacular view of the water so I’ll just go in order of where I ate! Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen & Bar is a full-service restaurant located in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, a spacious throwback in the classic grand hotel style. Local food is the star of the “farm to fork, sea to table” menu, and the locally grown artichokes make a great appetizer.

Servers will kindly suggest a perfect local wine to go with your meal: my grilled scallops, served over etouffee and brown rice risotto, went perfectly with the crisp and fruity Carmel Road “unoaked” Chardonnay. Our party tried several desserts and the standout was the unusual butterscotch banana pudding with housemade “Nilla” wafers. Every table looks out over the water. Before or after your dinner, stroll the patio or enjoy a cocktail by the modern fire pit. Schooner’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Fish Hopper Monterey
The Fish Hopper


The Fish Hopper
, open for lunch or dinner, is perched on the far end of Steinbeck Plaza, where a monument to the historical figures that made Cannery Row famous claims center stage. You can stand outside in line to just grab a cup of their rich and creamy clam chowder to go, or enjoy a glass of white peach sangria in the bar before going out to the deck to enjoy a meal. Given where you are dining, right above the waters that supplied fish to the entire world at one time, you’ll probably want to try some seafood, but there are plenty of meat and vegetarian options too.

For lunch, I had a poached pear salad with seared scallops, a perfect light dish with just enough protein to keep me fueled for more walking around this colorful town. Paired with another local wine, a Blackstone Sauvignon Blanc, it was perfect. The kids’ menu includes some nice choices like grilled chicken and fish & chips along with the usual suspects of burgers and fries.

Where to eat with kids in Monterey: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Great for families with kids who don’t like to be quiet or necessarily sit still at the table, the well-known Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is full of things to see and touch, all in homage to the award-winning movie “Forrest Gump.” Naturally, one orders the shrimp. To keep it real I had Mama Blue’s Southern Charmed Fried Shrimp with French fries (and stole my dining companion’s remoulade dip), and I paired it with a signature cocktail, Tennessee tea (iced tea with Jack Daniels served in a pedestal Mason jar glass). Mama’s Bread Pudding was the favorite dessert, and the kids’ menu has popcorn shrimp on it. The servers make it fun by grilling you with Forrest Gump-related trivia. Our table was tough to stump.

Taking one for the team

Taking one for the team

This isn’t just another tourist trap – it was the very first location of this restaurant, so it’s worth checking out the water’s edge view, the gift shop, and the kitschy photo op – put yourself in Gump’s shoes.

Where to eat in Monterey: Cannery Row Brewing Company
Cannery Row Brewing Company

My favorite of the restaurants we tried was Cannery Row Brewing Company, which is one block up the hill from the main drag. Once a popular barbecue joint, CRBC has preserved its original smoking oven and still serves smoked barbecue wings – which are pretty spicy and delicious. The restaurant has an extensive beer list, although none are brewed on site, and a tasting flight includes a surprisingly ordinary choice of Sam Adams’ cider. Still, the Seadog Blueberry wheat ale and the Youngs & Co. Double Chocolate stout made it eclectic enough. But this is a post about family travel, so for the kids in the house, CRBC has an open, chill vibe that makes it great for dining with your children.

Outdoor seating includes a large round fire pit if your kids are old enough to be trusted not to throw themselves into the flames, and room to move and spread out. There is a children’s menu but it’s not on the website – it has a long list of choices including PB&J and chicken noodle soup. Overall, the food is satisfying and unique. In fact, the restaurant’s tasty giant pretzel has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives (although I wouldn’t characterize CRBC as any of the three). The cheddar bacon biscuits with chipotle-maple butter are a must-try, and the burgers are juicy and delicious, and customizable.

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For a splurge – come on, you’re on vacation – you must visit The Chart House at the southeast end of Cannery Row for a luxurious dinner. This location of the small chain of fine dining restaurants is true to its waterside nature here in Monterey Bay – a seat at the best table in the house feels like you are suspended over the ocean itself, and affords a prime view of the stunning sunsets here. The service is impeccable and the food lives up to the Chart House tradition. A trio of flavored hummus comes with plaintain chips and pita bread.

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One dining companion declared the coconut shrimp the best she’d had in the area – and she had sampled it almost everywhere we ate. The salad bar was a popular option for this party. You can choose it as your entree or as an addition to a main meal. If you’ve had enough seafood during your seaside stay, the Chart House filet mignon will be a nice counterpoint. Served with mashed potatoes or steamed fresh vegetables, it’s decadent and delicious. Desserts include the signature lava cake, which at our meal came out overcooked (but still chocolatey).

Where to shop on Cannery Row in MontereyWhere to TREAT

Shopping and sightseeing up and down Cannery Row can take a long time because there is so much to see and do and buy. The olive oils and balsamic vinegars at Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar are sourced from all over the world and you can taste them before you purchase. Gifts and body care items at La Dolce Vita in Steinbeck Plaza make great souvenirs for the adults in your life. And candy stores abound – inside the Monterey Canning Company building, The Candy Factory makes their chocolate covered bacon right there in-house! (Only one sample of fudge per person, be warned.)

ghirardelli chocolate ice cream shop monterey

To take a load off, enjoy the endlessly beautiful water view, and indulge in an old-timey treat, visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate & Ice Cream Shop. Resistance is futile, really, since the aroma of baking waffle cones pulls you in as you pass by the entrance. The ice cream itself is delicious but the combination sundaes, like the sea salt and caramel sundae topped with a truly remarkable fresh whipped cream, will make you battle for the last bite, if you’re sharing at all.


Have you been to Monterey or Cannery Row? DO you have a favorite I missed?

 


Disclosure: I enjoyed most of the above attractions and restaurants as a guest of the Cannery Row Company. All opinions (and full tummy) are my own.

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Creating Photos Books with My Publisher

One of the biggest items on my summer to-do list is to create a few family photo books of our travels. This is long overdue and I have been putting it off for quite some time because creating photo books can be very time consuming, especially if you’re like me and want them to be put together perfectly or if you have hundreds of photos to go through and are overwhelmed on where to even begin!

Start with getting organized

I recently started using This Life for photo organization and absolutely love it. MyPublisher is a sister company to This Life, as well as to Shutterfly, so clearly they know a thing or two about preserving memories and photos!

Before you begin making your photo book with MyPublisher, you will want to put all the photos you want to use in one folder on your desktop and title it — this will make your life so much easier when you start your book because you will know exactly how many photos you want to use, which will help determine the size of your book and number of pages. When you get to the step to upload your photos you only have to drag one folder into the MyPublisher BookMaker from your desktop making it so simple and easy.

Deciding between a Photo Book or Photo Album

When you start to create a photo book with MyPublisher you need to decide if you want a Photo Book or a Photo Album. Depending on what the event is, how many photos you have and your budget that will determine which one to choose — their Photo Books are typically smaller and more affordable, perfect for memories of a specific trip, whereas Photo Albums are larger and more of an investment, a good choice for an entire year of photos. Both have an endless amount of custom options to choose from, including a variety of sizes, colors and cover options.

Style options for photo books

When you’re designing your first Photo Book on MyPublisher, you’ll want to think ahead to whether you’ll be making more of these books and if you want to plan some consistency in their design. Perhaps you want them to all be the same size so they all fit evenly on a bookshelf or maybe you want a variety of sizes so they can look inviting stacked on a coffee table? You might also want to make them all the same color or choose different colors for different books depending on the contents of the books.

My Publisher Getting Started

Installing MyPublisher BookMaker

If you decide to make a Photo Book, getting started with My Publisher is easy and as simple as installing the MyPublisher BookMaker to your desktop.

Photo Book Travel Pmy Publisher
Designing your photo book

Once you choose your book style — I chose travel — your book will appear. To begin your book, you will need to add the photos you want to use into the photo BookMaker — this is where having them all ready in one folder on your desktop to drag and drop is very helpful! Once the photos are uploaded, you can begin to drag each individual photo into the album and put them in place onto the pages. If you do not like a certain pre-set layout on a page, you can simply click “Page Layout” and they will give you more options, allowing you to truly customize your book.

Photo Book Sizes for My Publisher
The Classic Hardcover Photo Book starts at just $29.99 for 20 pages and it is $0.99 per page to add additional pages. They also have these very cute Pocket Books and Mini Books that you can create as well. These make great gifts for the grandparents, teachers and even for your kids. A photo book of their birthday party or a year in review is a great keepsake your kids will appreciate later in life.

As moms, we have no problem capturing every moment of our family vacations or life events, but getting them off our phones and the computer is a little more challenging. Luckily, MyPublisher is making it easier for you to create quality photo books and photo albums that your family will cherish for years to come.

My photo book is ordered! What are you waiting for?

 

Disclosure: MyPublisher is a sponsor of the #AwayWeGo Summer Travel event and they have discounted my photo album for me to authentically use their website and experience the quality of the photo albums.

 

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Can you believe it’s been 60 years since the Happiest Place on Earth first opened its magical gates? We were recently invited to share in Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration, including a special sneak peek at three all-new nighttime spectaculars. Come celebrate!

What's new at Disneyland's 60th birthday celebration

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland is all decked out for their 60th celebration. Mickey and Minnie have new sparkly outfits and there are special decorations and souvenirs throughout the park. But the real party starts when the sun sets! At our sneak preview, Disneyland debuted three newly updated nighttime shows: World of Color – Celebrate! Water and Light Show, Paint the Night Electric Parade and Disneyland Forever Fireworks Show. Check them out with us!

Disneyland Diamond Celebration: What's new

World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Disney

In California Adventure, you can see the new World of Color show — Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney —  which takes place once, or sometimes twice, a night at Paradise Pier. The show combines music, lights, water, fog, fire and lasers in a breathtaking display that both you and your kids will love.

NEW! World of Color Show at Disneyland

(Scott Brinegar/Disneyland Resort)

The show takes place on a football field-sized submersible platform at the base of Mickey’s Fun Wheel that includes nearly 1,200 fountains and 20,000 lights to create a colorful water display. They even magically create a 19,000 square-foot water projection screen!

World of Color lights

Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and the one-and-only Mickey Mouse, the World of Color show features a look back at Walt Disney’s journey to create Disneyland, as well as dozens of musical numbers from your favorite Disney and Pixar shows. My kids loved the Star Wars song, but I think this Frozen number was pretty spectacular too:

Though you may feel a few misty sprinkles depending on where you watch the show from, you won’t get wet. If you get a front row seat by the fence overlooking the water, do note that there are fog jets that shoot straight up and may frighten small kids. Same-day FASTPASS tickets that reserve a preferred viewing spot for World of Color shows are available at the Grizzly River Run Disney FASTPASS service machines or you can also book World of Color Dining Package at Ariel’s Grotto, Wine Country Trattoria or Carthay Circle Restaurant, which includes a three-course, prix fixe menu dinner and a reserved spot in the World of Color preferred viewing area.

Paint the Night Electric Parade

The new nighttime parade — Paint the Night — is another one of the Diamond Celebration must-see shows. Tinkerbell starts off the procession that includes nearly a dozen floats decorated with over 1.5 million individually controlled LED lights. The parade literally lights up the night!

Disneyland's new Paint the Night Electrical Parade

(Paul HIffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Along with the illuminated floats featuring favorites like Ariel, Cinderella, Buzz and Woody, Mike and Sulley, Lightening McQueen,and a 54-foot Mack, among others, you’ll love the high-energy music, special effects and the creatively-costumed performers dancing down the street.

Disneyland's new Light the Night Electric Parade

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland's new Light the Night Electric Parade

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland's New 50th Birthday Celebration Electrical Parade

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

Of course the show wouldn’t be complete with a finale by your favorite Disney classics like Goofy, Donald and Mickey and Minnie! The show runs twice a night at 8:50 p.m. and 11 p.m. and can be viewed at It’s a Small World, by Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, along Main Street and around the Town Square.

Disneyland Forever Fireworks

After the parade is done, you’ll want to stay for the new Diamond Days Celebration Disneyland Forever Fireworks, which start at 9:30 p.m. every night.

Must-See: Disneyland Forever Fireworks

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

This is so much more than just a fireworks display! While the fireworks are truly breathtaking, this show features a dazzling display of lights, music and special effects to transform the storefronts of Main Street, the front of It’s a Small World, the Matterhorn and along Rivers of America, for an immersive experience. Each location provides a unique viewing experience you’ll want to check out.

We watched the show between the castle and Main Street and with the help of digital projection, lights, lasers, inflatables and even rooftop snow machines, the store fronts of Main Street came alive! One minute, the stores are seemingly bouncing and stretching with color and the next they are underwater as you travel with Ariel, then covered in heffalumps with Winnie the Pooh, then showering you with snow for Queen Elsa! It truly is magical every direction you look and with 360-degrees of action, there isn’t a bad seat.

What's new for Disneyland's 60th Celebration

(Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

For the first time ever, in addition to Tinkerbell flying over the castle, Nemo joins her as well. There are also two new original songs — the Disneyland Forever theme song, “Live the Magic,” and the closing song “A Kiss Goodnight,” written by Richard M. Sherman and sung by Ashley Brown, star of the Broadway production of “Mary Poppins.”

Visiting Disneyland's 60th Celebration with Kids

Whether you’re a Disney regular or a first-timer like my kids, you’ll want to make a date to visit the park in 2015 to catch these three new shows and all of the other special touches for Disneyland’s 60th birthday. Visit Disney’s Diamond Celebration page to see more about all the new events, souvenirs and treats to celebrate 60 years of Disneyland magic!

Disneyland's Diamond Celebration: What's new for kids

Happy 60th anniversary, Disneyland!

 SSM was not paid for this post. We were provided with complimentary accommodations and access to the park. Opinions are our own.

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City Gems Family Travel USA Savvy Sassy Moms

City Gems: The local places moms love

This is a special time of year for families. Yes, it’s a busy time of year, but summer vacation is what childhood memories are made of! It’s definitely one of the things your children will remember most about their childhood. Summer is all about those classic road trips, picnics and BBQs with family, and heading to the beach or the lake on a whim. Taking a summer family vacation does not have to mean jetting off to some luxury resort in Mexico or taking a fancy European tour. In fact, most family vacations are just a few short hours drive from home and just as special as trips that take them countries away from home.Findery Travel App

Since so many families hit the road in the summer, visiting cities right here in the USA, I just created a City Gems Notemap on Findery with some of the best family-friendly City Gems for each city. I love getting to know cities through the eyes of other moms — who better to tell you where to go out for breakfast, which parks to got to, and where to fill up on coffee and cupcakes!?

After I rounded up some of my favorite moms from around the country for this assignment, we created a bit of a USA Love List, which was featured over on the Huffington Post Travel section. Find them here:

Local Places Moms Love: Featuring Nashville, Austin, St. Louis, Chicago, Raleigh

Five Great Local Summer Adventures:  Featuring Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Indianapolis and Seattle

Follow these moms on Findery

Be sure to follow the moms who contributed to our Summer City Gems posts on Findery for even more family-friendly summer adventures from coast-to-coast:

Jo-Lynne Shane in Philadelphia
The Magnolia Mamas in Atlanta
Lani Derrick in Austin
Amy Gene O’Leary in Indianapolis
Lindsey McPherson in Nashville
Sara McCarty in St. Louis
Angela Amman in Detroit
Erin Lane in Raleigh
Katie Kavulla in Seattle
Alison Ray in Chicago

Document your summer travels with Findery

You can create your own City Gems Notemap on Findery to share your favorite local spots or the places you discover this summer, too. It’s a great way to document your travel so you don’t forget the details of a special place. And, you’ll be helping other families that are traveling this summer by sharing your Notemaps and pictures along the way.

We’ll be sharing more City Gems right here on Savvy Sassy Moms this summer, so stay tuned!

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When my kids were little, we used to pack suitcases, food bags and backpacks of books in the footwells of the backseat. But lately, I’ve noticed that both my kids — and their stuff — is getting bigger. Going on long trips with lots of gear is getting trickier. Where exactly do we store all this stuff??

Here are a few family travel storage solutions for getting your family’s gear out of the car to free up more space for, you know, your family.

Take your stroller out of the trunk

Must-have: Scout Stroller Carrier

I loved my BOB jogging stroller when my kids were little. We took it to the park, the beach, dirt trails and more. But while I loved the all-terrain performance of the stroller, I was less enthused about putting those grimy tires in my trunk after our activities — not to mention that it took up a good portion of my trunk! It may be too late for me, but you don’t have to suffer through this anymore with the new SCOUT. This innovative stroller carrier not only keeps your trunk clean and available to store groceries, but it also saves your back from having to heft your stroller up into your car. You simply tilt the stroller back and insert the front wheel into the carrier. Then, pull the cable release to lift your stroller and lock it into place. Simple, secure and stored! Though SCOUT was designed for BOB strollers, it will work with any single or double stroller that has a single-front-wheel design. Pre-order now for $50 off the retail price!

Bring ALL the bikes

yakima

Oh, I remember the days of slipping my boys’ bikes into the back of my SUV if we headed to the park or a playdate. Now their 20″ frames require a different storage solution. Since we have a family of five, we need a bike rack that can accommodate a small army of wheels. Lately we’ve been trying out the new Yakima FullTilt 5 bike rack that makes it easy to load up bikes and to access the trunk without removing them all with the tilt feature. The ZipStrips hold bikes of various sizes securely to the rack and the anti-sway cradle ensures your bikes aren’t banging against each other during the ride. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it comes fully assembled. Just attach to your hitch, load up your bikes and you’re ready to hit the road!

Free-up some foot room

Since my kids insist on getting bigger and needing the backseat for their actual bodies, we’ve been forced to find new storage options for our gear. We’ve opted for a hard-sided roof box like this one from Thule. You can also opt for a roof rack to strap suitcases on the top of your car, or a soft-sided cargo bag which has the added benefit of being more easily removable when not in use. For our family, a hard-sided cargo pod has been the best option since it stories a lot of gear, it keeps it protected from the elements when we travel in the rain or snow, and it’s lockable, ensuring that our camp chairs and fresh-baked cookies don’t go missing.

Keep everything within reach (and off the floor!)

High Road Organizer for the Car

Like most families, we travel with all sorts of little stuff — books, snacks, journals and headphones. Oftentimes, all this stuff ends up on the floor within the first 20-minutes of the trip. Enter the car seat organizer. I love this one from High Road because it can be swung around the front of the headrest to keep your items close at hand when you’re not on a trip, or attached to the back of the seat to keep your kids’ stuff organized. It offers eight total compartments with larger ones for iPads or tablets, mesh drink/bottle holders and smaller pockets for pens, books, or my road trip bane — loose socks! For an even cheaper solution, check out this $10 seat organizer option from Munchkin.

SSM was not paid for this post. We did receive some samples for review purposes. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Summer is just around the corner, which is the perfect time to get out into the great outdoors! I love to camp with my family, but having the right gear does make the trip easier and the campers happier.

Must Have Camping Gear for Kids

Your gear will undoubtedly vary a bit based on the type of camping you’re doing (car, tent, van, open air), the age of your children and the conditions you tend to camp in (summer sun, spring winds, fall chill, winter snow), but here are a few of my family’s must-have camping gear for kids.

Sleep tight

Must-have camping gear for kids: The best sleeping bags

No one likes being cold at night and if you have young kids, it can keep parents up wondering if their little one is warm enough. Ensure your kids are as snug as a bug in the Kelty Big Dipper 30 Sleeping Bag for Boys and the Kelty Big Dinner 30 Sleeping Bag for Girls ($80 each). This sleeping bag packs-down small, weighs just 3 lbs., and is rated down to 30-degrees Fahrenheit. But, here’s why it’s one of my favorites — this sleeping bag grows with your child! As your child gets taller, you can unzip the bottom of the sleeping bag to reveal an additional 12-inches of foot space! So smart! The price is an investment, but my son has used this sleeping bag since he was 3-years-old and he’s now 8-years-old with still more space to grow into it.

Keep it light

For Kids: Black Diamond Headlamp

The best light is campfire light, but that doesn’t always extend all the way to the path to the bath(room). To keep your kids safe (and easy to see at night), outfit them with a kid-sized headlamp like the new Gizmo Headlamp ($20) from Black Diamond. This headlamp has an impressive 60-Lumens and three functions (full strength, dimmed and strobe), is reasonably priced, and best of all, powers-off after two-hours if it’s accidentally been left on,  which if your kids are using it, most likely will happen at some point.

 Kid-friendly carries

Dueter Backpacks

It’s never too early to train your kids to carry their own stuff. We’ve become big fans of the Deuter backpacks. My kids all started out the Deuter Junior ($39), a lightweight 1,100-in³ pack that my kids carried from the age of 4+ (also a great backpack for preschool and kindy!). If you want something even smaller, Deuter offers both the Schmusebär ($39) and the Kikki ($45). Once kids are ready for bigger explorations and maybe some overnight backpacking trips, they can move up to the Climber, Fox 30 or Fox 40, which are kid-sized while still providing the support, features and durability you’ll find on Deuter’s adult packs, like back adjustments, compression straps, sternum straps and hydration compartments.

Stay hydrated

Camelbaks for Kids

Speaking of hydration, kids expend a lot of energy — my kids seemingly do all the time, but even more so when they’re rock-hopping, squirrel-chasing and stick-finding out in nature. Fortunately, we can keep our kids hydrated — even on the go — with Camelbak hydration packs. Choose the lightweight Skeeter ($40) for hydration only or the upgraded Trailblazer 15 ($75) which is designed to fit kids ages 9 to 13 and comes with both a 1.5-L hydration bladder and backpack storage for long-sleeves and snacks. Camelbak also has other packs designed for different activities and conditions.

Fun food tools

Camping Food Tools for Kids

For my kids, camping allows for lots of special opportunities — past-bedtime star-gazing and knife-carving on found sticks to name a couple — but many of these special moments also seems to center around food. When camping with kids, I love having a few special kid-suitable cooking and eating tools that help create those special moments. First up is a good cup that is suitable for hot chocolate on a crisp morning, milk and cookies after dinner, or even a rare ice cream float. Before you buy the first fancy cup you see at REI, keep in mind these important rules: The cup must be stackable and easy to wash, as well as ideally insulated and multi-function.

I love these Stanley eCycle Infinite Mug/Bowl Set ($10), which are stackable, lidded and can be used for hot chocolate, juice, soup or as a measuring cup. I also like these GSI Outdoors Glacier Pint Set ($30/set of four), which are color-coded so everyone know whose cup is whose and can be doubled-up if a beverage is too cold or hot.

We also like to include some hot dog/s’mores skewers ($15) or, in the summer, a fun gadget like this ice cream ball ($27) — activity and treat in one! Plus we’re also sure to bring at least one of these (cheaper at your local grocery store).


What are your favorite must-haves for camping with your kids?
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The Grand Canyon gets all the attention from visitors to Arizona, but once you’re in the area, like I was with my family on our recent spring break travels, it’s worth heading east a bit farther to explore Canyon de Chelly.

Family Travel: Canyon De Chelly in Arizona

Pronounced “d’ shay”, Canyon de Chelly is based on the Navajo word tseyi meaning “place within the rock.” It holds the unique honor of being the only national monument within the Navajo Nation. Also, it’s gorgeous.

Where to stay

Where to stay near Canyon de Chelly in Arizona

Despite the beauty of the area, there is also a fair amount of poverty, similar to the kind you might find in parts of Mexico. Driving through the town of Chinle may have you a bit concerned, but once you make it over a few hills you’ll arrive at the lovely Sacred Canyon Lodge, formally the Thunderbird Lodge. This is an ideal place to stay with kids to explore the area.

Family Travel: Sacred Canyon Lodge in Arizona

The single-story hotel has 70 lodge-style rooms that come with either two queen or two double beds, a bathroom and a sitting area. The rooms feature Navajo-inspired decor, as well as some modern amenities like flat screen TVs, cable and WiFi (sporadic WiFi, I should note). The rooms are on the smaller side, but there is a large grassy area for games of Frisbee or midday picnics, as well as a collection of tables. You can also check out other amenities, like hair dryers and mini fridges, from the front desk.

Family travel in Arizona

Kid-friendly hotels in Arizona

There is a fun gift shop on the premises with arrowheads, rocks and toys for the kids, as well as beautiful jewelry, weavings and artwork for the adults. There’s also a cafeteria-style dining room that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. At least once during your stay, you must try a Navajo taco — a kind of marriage between an open-face taco and a bowl of chili on a piece of fry bread. It’s delicious and filling and definitely big enough to share!

To try in Arizona: Najavo Taco

The staff is friendly and helpful, but it is important to note that they are limited in their ability to recommend specific excursions, tour guides or activities over others — I’m not sure if it is an actual law or just a code of ethics, but they couldn’t (and adamantly wouldn’t) recommend one tour provider over another. So, if you like to make decisions on the recommendations of others, it’s worth visiting Yelp, TripAdvisor and the like to find out some fan favorites.

Must-do excursion

The only way to explore the canyon is via a guided tour, which are offered via Jeeps (2-3 people, some take 4), Suburbans (3+ people), horseback or hiking. Yes, it’s a little strange driving right through the river of this sacred canyon in a 4-wheel drive Suburban! There are a handful of approved tour guide companies (we used AZ Canyon Jeep Tours) and you can find customer feedback if you look on travel sites like TripAdvisor.com.

Jeep tours through Canyon de Chelly in Arizona

The canyon offers a wealth of history of the Anasazi, Hopi and Navajo people dating back to roughly 700 A.D. In addition to the history and legends a good guide will talk about during the tour, you’ll also get to see the ruins (many still intact) of ancient cliff dwellings and an amazing collection of pictographs and petroglyphs.

Check these out….

Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Must-visit with kids: Hotel de Chelley in Arizona

It’s one thing to read about the history of a people. It’s another thing to see a picture, a hand print that a person left on a wall almost 2,000 years ago!

And then there are the cliff dwellings…

Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Must-visit with kids: Canyon de Chelly in Arizona

Built directly in the sandstone cliff, these dwellings provided rooms for shelter, storage and ceremonies for the Anasazi.

A standard guide takes about three-hours, is filled with lots of history and stories, has a handful of get-out-and-walk-around stops, and is a pretty good length for families. If you have older children, you can sign up for longer half- or full-day tours. We took the first tour of the day (usually around 10 a.m.) and our guide mentioned that this is an ideal time of day to see many of the pictographs and cave dwellings.

Be sure to note: We read online and talked to other hotel guest who had experience with tour guide no-shows in this area, so be sure to call and confirm your pick-up time and location.

Other kid-friendly activities

Before or after your canyon tour, you’ll want to leave time to check out the Canyon de Chelly Visitor Center, which is just a short drive from the Sacred Canyon Lodge, as well as time to explore the canyon from above with the North and South Rim self-guided tours. There are a number of lookouts and vistas and some also have hiking trails. And, if you’re lucky, you can even grab a gorgeous DIY sunset dinner with canyon views!

Canyon de Chelly in Arizona Family-friendly travel to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona

 

For more information on the area visit National Park Service website and the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation website.

We were not paid for this post. We did received a complimentary stay at the Sacred Canyon Lodge to help facilitate this post. All opinions expressed are my own.

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I love to travel with my family and while exotic new destinations are fun, it’s also good to remember that any new town can be full of adventure, experiences and opportunities. On our recent spring break travels to the Grand Canyon, my family stopped by to explore some family fun in Flagstaff, Arizona and found some hidden gems in the city you’ll definitely want to try.

Family-friendly accommodations

Courtyard Marriott in Flagstaff, Arizona

When I’m traveling with my family, I’m looking less for outlandish luxury and more for family-friendly features. And the Courtyard Marriott delivers. Families will enjoy the large dual-queen bedrooms or a king suite that includes a sofa bed in a separate living room. Our balcony room gave us a chance to check out the city from above and the in-room mini-fridge ensured our dinner leftovers lasted until morning. My kids immediately hit the pool and jacuzzi to burn off some of their roadtrip energy while I checked out the gorgeous outdoor patio with couches and fire pits.

Family-Friendly Courtyard Marriott in Flagstaff, Arizona

In addition to an evening bar and morning buffet breakfast, the large lobby has plenty of couches and tables which are perfect for planning your day, Uno tournaments or a pre-dinner drink. The lobby also has an over-sized touchscreen with details about the hotel, weather, and local restaurants and attractions.

Eat (& be entertained!)

Black Bart's Steakhouse  in Flagstaff

First, a warning: The exterior of Black Bart’s Steakhouse place is not easy on the eyes. The property includes both an RV park and an overnight parking for 18-wheelers next door that will have you reconsidering pulling into the driveway. This is literally what you see from the street:

Black Bart's Steak House in Flagstaff

This is not the kind of place you would drive by and decide to try out. Nearly everyone I talked to in the restaurant had heard about Black Bart’s from a friend, family member or travel blog. But believe me… inside the run-down facade, you’ll find an eye-catching, stomach-pleasing, smile-producing steakhouse that features delicious entrees and — wait for it — singing servers.

Black Bart's Steak House in Flagstaff, Arizona

The first thing you’ll notice is the decor. Layers upon layers of antiques, animal heads and vintage finds cover the walls. You can spend the whole evening just taking in the sights….until you get to the singing waitstaff.

Black Bart's Steak House in Flagstaff, Arizona That’s right — from group numbers with props to solos on stage, the evening is dotted with musical performances as varied as Broadway show tunes, Disney favorites, hits from the ’60s, ’70s and more. We heard everything from Aladdin to Elton John, Frozen to Hello Dolly. The staff is hired first on their ability to sing so the talent was good. Many are drama or theater students at the nearby Northern Arizona University.

Black Bart's Steak House in Flagstaff, Arizona

Finally, and really, most importantly… the food. It’s basic steakhouse fare, but it’s goooood. Juicy ribs, bacon-wrapped tenderloin, salmon and burgers with plenty of sides to round out the meal. Adult meals range from $25-$35, but most kid plates are just $6-9. And, it’s a lot of food for the money. In hindsight, our kids probably could have split a kid’s plate and we certainly didn’t need the apps we ordered which left us with no room for dessert (the horror!). It really is dinner and a show, so we found it quite reasonable and definitely worth the stop. While the Black Bart’s doesn’t require reservations, it was packed on a Monday night so it wouldn’t hurt to make them — especially if you’re coming with a large family or group.

Must-do day trip

Bearizona in Flagstaff, Arizona

About half an hour outside of Flagstaff (and on the way to the Grand Canyon if you’re continuing on), you’ll find Bearizona Wildlife Park, a drive-thru wildlife park. Bearizona has the goal of connecting visitors to animals and the land they inhabit. The design of the park allows you to see the natural behaviors of pack and herd animals. Depending on when you visit, you may even get to see courting rituals, mating or births!

Bearizona Wildlife Park

You can either drive your own car through the park or hop on the open-air bus. After a few reminders about keeping your windows closed and driving away if the animals get too close to the car, you’re off! The two-mile drive takes you past big horn sheep and deer, arctic wolves and brown and white bison among other animals. At the end are the much-anticipated bears! I presumed the place would have a couple of bears which would probably be hard to see or find, but I was impressed that we saw six or seven different bears, some of which were eating, resting or playing and many of which were just a few feet away from our car!

Bearizona Wildlife Park

There are fences that separate the different animals, but you drive your car right into the fenced areas, giving you an up close and personal view of the animals as they eat, sleep, play and cross the road right in front of you!

After the driving tour, you park your car and can continue to explore the walk-through portion of the park which includes smaller and baby animals, the Bearizona Barnyard petting zoo and a cool Birds of Prey show. Here you can find bobcats, foxes, otters, baby bears and more!

Bearizona Wildlife Park in Arizona

Check out Bearizona’s Instagram page for even more adorable animal pics. A worthwhile outing if your kids are animal lovers!

Heading to Arizona? Visit the Flagstaff Visitor Bureau for even more to see, do, and eat in Flagstaff!

Savvy Sassy Moms was not paid for this post. All opinions expressed are my own. Thanks to the Flagstaff Visitors Bureau for helping to coordinate our visit.

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Last summer when we took our seven city road trip around the South our fourth stop along the way was Myrtle Beach. After a whirlwind in Orlando, soaking up the southern charm in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston – I wasn’t sure what to expect from Myrtle Beach, other than – the beach.

As we headed into Myrtle Beach the traffic started to build up and I could see that it had a lot going on. It reminded me a little like the old Las Vegas strip, there were a lot of neon signs and large red signs advertising seafood buffets. We made our way to our hotel which was a very tall building along a stretch of other hotel towers known as the “Grand Strand”.

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Where we stayed

We stayed at the Crown Reef Resort, which is an oceanfront hotel that just had a 7.5 million dollar renovation which included a brand new waterpark. We were there just a week after this water park opened, they were literally still laying down some of the carpet on the stairs going up to the waterslides and paint was still drying.

The hotel already had two pools and a lazy river but the new water park consists of two large waterslides and a splash park with two smaller slides for younger children. For the new large slides you grabbed your tube at the bottom and then walked up three flights of stairs to the entrance of the slides. I was happy to know that there were lifeguards at the top controlling when the kids went down. You could go down on a solo tube or a tandem double tube or the other slide without a tube at all. This feature of the hotel was a big hit with our kids!

Crown Reef Resort Waterslide

The pool deck area gets very crowded and it is very hard to find chairs, you have to get down there pretty early to grab one. Smoking is allowed around the pool deck, which really shocked me. I was not used to this and neither were my children. Standing in line for a snow cone with your kids and having smoke blown in your face was not exactly ideal.

The parking garage is right next to the pool and lazy river area which I found to be distracting and sometimes very loud. The pool deck area is not a relaxing place that you might hope to find when on vacation and the view from most angles is a lot of stone colored concrete and now giant waterslides overhead.

The new restaurant on the property is the Loco Gecko and the food and service here was good. There is also a brand new arcade, but the games are pretty expensive. Through the arcade you’ll also find a small cafe where you can grab some coffee or pastries in the morning.
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Our room was an ocean view suite with two queen size beds, a kitchenette and a living room area that had a murphy bed in the wall. This was the highlight for the kids, pulling down the murphy bed! It was clean but very basic. Our view of the ocean was nice and it was only a short walk to get to the beach but it was packed with people. Summer in Myrtle Beach, I guess I shouldn’t have been so shocked.

We had very slow internet in our room, which actually made me get up really early and go to the Starbucks in the Piggly Wiggly at The Market Common so I could get some work done in the morning. Usually when we travel my husband and I are always working a bit too and so we like to hang out in a lobby outside of the room, but there was no real lobby area or comfortable working space for me here.

Sweet Frog Yogurt Myrtle Beach

Sweet Frog Yogurt

Chances are you’ll want to cool off and get some ice cream while in Myrtle Beach. You’ll want to head to Sweet Frog Yogurt, maybe even twice! Grab your cup and fill it up with a variety of yogurt flavors and an endless buffet of toppings. This is located on the main street of North Ocean Drive in a small strip mall.

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Nacho Hippo

Hands down the best thing I ate in Myrtle Beach was this buffalo shrimp fish taco at Nacho Hippo. This is a fun restaurant and the food is excellent. The Nacho Hippo located in The Market Common, which I mentioned before. This is a great area if you need to do some shopping or want to have a nice dinner.

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Myrtle Beach Sky Wheel

The one thing I was looking forward to riding as a family was the Sky Wheel but unfortunately it was stuck by lightening and was not working the day we went to ride it. Not their fault of course, but a bummer for us. Even though we didn’t get to ride, I am sure I would have liked the view from the top. I would have enjoyed seeing  my kids’ nervous faces as we got higher and higher too.

If you need to grab some lunch, Landshark Bar & Grill sits right next to the Sky Wheel and has a nice patio and view of the ocean. The food was good and the beer tasted even better!;)

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Arcades & Mini Golf

My son LOVES arcades and playing games. So we spent a lot of time in the arcade, winning tickets and picking out prizes.  Arcades definitely make for some old school fun and I can never resist a few games of Ski Ball. Another plus for the arcades is that they are air conditioned!

Myrtle beach has more mini golf courses per mile than any other city. So if you are a mini golf fan, you won’t have any problem spotting a course, they’re everywhere! This is a great activity once the sun starts to go down and it’s not so hot outside.

Skip it: The Myrtle Beach Helicopter ride was a a waste of time and money. We waited to go on the helicopter ride for 45 minutes and then the ride was about 8 minutes long and we paid almost $300 for the four of us. Sure, it was cool to be up in a helicopter, but not worth the cost or the wait for a view of hotels on a beach. I’ve honestly seen better views out my airplane window that lasted longer.

Myrtle Beach no doubt has a lot to offer families and is a great alternative to those other expensive theme parks  but it is not for everyone. As someone who travels a lot and with budgets big and small I can see how Myrtle Beach appeals to families looking to get a lot of bang for their buck. Myrtle Beach is a giant playground for kids, however when I go on vacation I am a little selfish and want just as much for me to do as there is for the kids. If I ever went back I would do some more research and try to find more hidden gems and a place to stay away from the crowds.

Have you been to Myrtle Beach? Did you love it? What did I miss?

 

Disclosure: I was hosted for three nights at the Crown Reef Resort. All my savvy thoughts and sassy opinions are my own. 

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