travel-section

Category : Travel

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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Hudson McKenna Mar Vista Pool Costa Rica 2013
Since our family moved to Costa Rica two years ago, I get asked a lot of questions about traveling to Costa Rica with kids. I recently shared the five best things to do in Costa Rica with kids on Flights.com, but I wanted to get a little more specific about why Costa Rica is a great place to travel with kids and share some helpful tips for planning your family vacation to Costa Rica.

1. Costa Rica is bigger than it looks

I live in Guanacaste, on the Northern Pacific-side of Costa Rica, which is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. The closest airport in the Northern region of Costa Rica is the Liberia Airport. Flights into Liberia are usually a little more expensive than flying into San Jose, but worth it if you are visiting this part of the country (more on this below…).

You should know that when searching for the distance between the different areas of Costa Rica, you cannot always trust Google Maps, from a travel time perspective. I would add almost an hour to anything Google Maps says! The main roads in Costa Rica are paved, but many of them are simple, two-lane highways, and traffic moves a little slower here. You can get stuck behind slow moving trucks, cattle, or just about anything else you can imagine. Plus, some of the roads in the mountains can get very windy and so it’s not like you’ll be driving at a full 60-MPH either.
Playa Flamingo Guanacaste Costa Rica

2. Fly into the Liberia Airport

Like I mentioned above, if you are visiting the Guanacaste area, fly into the Liberia Airport. It is only an hour drive from most of the beaches — Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Playa Grande, Tamarindo — and the Papagayo Peninsula. The Four Seasons and the brand new Andaz Hotel is located at the Papagayo Peninsula. The Westin Conchal and the Flamingo Beach Resort are a little further south, and then you’ll reach Tamarindo, which is another popular tourist destination.

If you fly into San Jose you will be in for a four hour shuttle ride to reach the Northern Pacific side. Don’t forget to factor in the shuttle price to and from San Jose to see if it really saves you that much verses simply flying into Liberia in the first place. A shuttle for a family of four from San Jose is about $250 each way, just to give you an idea. The Liberia Airport is also a little bit closer to the Lake Arenal area and should take you about three hours to get to.

3. A bit about driving in Costa Rica

You can certainly rent a car and drive yourself around Costa Rica. Driving in Costa Rica is not dangerous and there nothing to be afraid of. Most of the roads you will be driving on are paved and pretty easy to navigate. And, you do not necessarily need a car with four wheel drive, depending on where you are going to be exploring. If you are still uncomfortable with the thought of driving in a foreign country, there are plenty of shuttle services to take you everywhere you want to go and your hotel can help book them for you. For the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, we usually use Eco Trans. Another great transportation resource for your visit is the Liberia Costa Rica website.

The Springs Resort Arenal Costa Rica

4. Pura Vida!

The people of Costa Rica are happy, helpful and friendly. This country is built on tourism, so they are very professional and most of the people working at the hotels, restaurants and on your excursions speak English. They help tourist all year round and understand the importance of good service. However, do not misunderstand good service for speedy service — things do move a little slower in Costa Rica, so relax! The common phrase in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida.” You will hear this phrase a lot while you are in Costa Rica and it simply means, “everything is good” or “life is good,” which it really is here. Costa Ricans are known as “Ticos” and “Ticas,” they will always be polite and very kind to you, so be kind back.

Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

5.  Visit Lake Arenal and Monteverde

To really see the authentic Costa Rica, you’ll want to head to Lake Arenal or Monteverde. Yes, there are beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and many people come just for the sand and surf, but you can see beautiful beaches anywhere, quite honestly. If you want this vacation to be different from your typical  beach resort vacation, then go inland to the rain forest. This is the real heart of the country in my opinion.

You’ll want to  stay for at least two nights, as this is not a day trip — it takes too long to get there and there is too much to see and do to turn around and head back the same day. Lake Arenal is known for its lake, massive volcano and the incredible hot springs. Monteverde is called the Cloud Forest for a reason — you are literally in the clouds and It feels a bit more like a quaint European mountain town than a tropical rain forest. Beware that the weather can be cooler inland and this is where it does rain quite a bit, much more than the beaches, so be sure to pack an extra layer.

Favorite Hotels: Tabacon Hot Springs, Lost Iguana Resort, and Monteverde Lodge and Gardens

Arenal Hanging Bridges
6.  Must-try: Zip lines and hanging bridges

Zip lining is probably one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica and you should definitely try it, as well as walk the hanging bridges of Costa Rica. I recommend doing this while visiting Lake Arenal or Monteverde. SkyTrek is one of the most popular zip lining companies — they are very safe and professional and they operate in both Lake Arenal and Monteverde. There are other zip line options all around Costa Rica and I have been on a few of them, but they’re not as impressive as Sky Trek. The Arenal Hanging Bridges are also a fantastic way to spend a day as a family and from here, you will see one of the best views of the Arenal Volcano.

Casado from Monteverde Costa Rica

7.  What to eat in Costa Rica

You’ll find a variety of food options in Costa Rica. The food is good, but simple. The traditional Costa Rican dish is the casado, which consists of rice, beans, chicken or beef and a small salad. Every restaurants’ version of this dish can be a little different, but I’ve never had a bad one. Another popular dish is arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), which is a little like having fried rice. It is mixed with vegetables and chicken and kids love this dish! The fish in Costa Rica is always fresh and you should definitely have the ceviche. Even if you have kids that are picky eaters, there is plenty of chips and guacamole, fresh fruit and smoothies to keep them fed while you visit. And yes, you can drink the water in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica with Kids

8. Costa Rica is totally connected

There is wi-fi everywhere in Costa Rica, so you will never feel helpless, out of touch or unavailable. Costa Rica is still on 3G, but I can get service out on a catamaran boat without any problems and update my Facebook and Instagram as we are on adventures. Having wi-fi will also help you navigate driving directions and maps. If you want to be able to make phone calls while you’re visiting, you should contact your service provider and work the international plan details before you come. My husband and I work online everyday and we rarely have any internet issues. If our internet does go out, we blame the monkeys in the trees.

9. Mark your calendars: The best time to visit Costa Rica

It’s always a good time of year to come to Costa Rica! Okay, well, to be honest the two months that are dry, dusty and dirty are March and April. They’re my two least favorite months here because everything is brown and dead. It’s dry season and there are even brush fires near us. I would avoid coming during those two months, even though they are usually during spring break time for kids.

September and October are the rainiest months, but my favorite time of year because the rain makes everything so beautiful in Costa Rica. Typically, at the beach, the rain hits in the afternoon, cools things down and then opens up for a fabulous sunset. The rain is a little less predictable when you head inland, but if you are visiting the hot springs you want it to rain… trust me!

Traveling to Costa Rica with Kids

10. Costa Rica is kid-friendly

There is so much to do here with kids, which is why it shocks me that people go to the same old theme park every year on vacation. If you are nervous about taking your kids out of the country, then Costa Rica is the perfect place to get their first passport stamp! It’s a very civilized country that caters so much to tourism that you’ll never feel unwanted or nervous about traveling here. Kids can learn to surf, stand-up paddle board, boogie board, go scuba diving, go out fishing, zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, explore waterfalls and hot springs, go kayaking and whitewater rafting, and see hundreds of animals! What more could you ask for on a family vacation?

Costa Rica is really the ideal travel experience for families who are looking for a little adventure, but still want some modern amenities and luxuries. Depending on what type of family travel you’re up for, Costa Rica has something for everyone!

Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Flights.com head over to their blog to read the 5 Best Things to do in Costa Rica with Kids

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San Diego has so much to offer for a family vacation — Legoland, SeaWorld, San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium and more. But, let’s be honest, it can also have a lot of traffic and driving and general busyness that might be overwhelming after a long day exploring one of the city’s many attractions. So, I want to introduce you to the Lakehouse Hotel and Resort — a serene, lakeside getaway that is close to all that San Diego has to offer without the hustle-and-bustle of the big city.

Lakehouse Hotel & Resort

The Lakehouse Hotel and Resort is located on beautiful Lake San Marcos, a 30-minute drive in-land from Encinitas, and was named one of TripAdvisor’s 25 Top Hotels in the United States in 2014. The recently remodeled hotel offers 142 gorgeous rooms, half of which are right on the lake (most of the rest have a view of it). The rooms were large with plenty of room for our family of five. They boast features like Serenity memory foam beds, complimentary wireless internet, a soothing spa-like color scheme, and balconies that are just begging you to take a load off and watch the sun set.

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They also have a collection of larger one and two-bedroom waterfront cottages that provide more space and amenities like a living area, personal fire pits and refrigerators.

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I’m sure this was lost on my children, but I really liked their bathrooms. A mix of modern and rustic, I admit that once during our stay, I did leave my kids and husband at the pool to go take a “nap”  —AKA a luxurious shower alone complete with Pandora, herbal body wash and a robe. Shhhh

Lakehouse Bathrooms

The grounds are small, but lovely and include two pools and hot tubs, hammocks, fire pits and a waterfront promenade. The kids had a blast at the pools and had fun checking out all the watercraft docked on the lake. It wasn’t quite warm enough during out visit to want to venture out on Lake San Marcos, but the Lakehouse offers kayak, water bikes and stand-up paddleboard rentals just steps from your room.

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The hotel also has a great lobby area with a fireplace, library, and board games you can check out. (Even LEGOS!)

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There is no on-site restaurant which is a bit strange, but guests of the resort can visit the St. Mark Golf Country Club (a one-minute complimentary golf cart ride away) which offers a fitness center, driving range, two golf courses and the Grill restaurant open for breakfast, Sunday brunch, lunch and dinner. It’s typical country club fare, so while it might be worth a dinner or brunch, families are likely better off seeking out some of the great restaurants in Encinitas (we LOVE this breakfast spot!) or closer to your San Diego attractions.

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All in all, the Lakehouse provides relaxing, family-friendly accommodations for your Southern California adventures. And amazing morning coffee views.

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 Visit lakehousehotelandresort.com to learn more and book your stay!

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Spring Break Travel Tech Gear

Spring break is upon us. If you are lucky enough, you will be getting out of town. Traveling to some place amazing, that hopefully is warm and relaxing. When traveling with the family a majority of the things being brought are for the kids. But, it is important to save a small space, for things just for yourself. Most of the things I bring for myself are tech related, accessories that go along with my tech items, or travel comfort items. So, being the travel savvy mom that I am, I put together this spring break tech travel round-up. That will get you travel ready, with some great new tech and travel must-have items.

Spring break travel essentials for the travel-savvy mom

Must-have tech travel accessories for moms

Braven Portable Speaker

Braven 705 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker ($100)

This colorful speaker might be small, but it full of sound. The Braven 705 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker fits into the palm of my hand and is very lightweight. It measures about 6-inches long, so the perfect size to throw into your carry-on travel bag. It has 10+ hours of wireless playtime and a built-in power bank to charge up your phone or any USB device. The speaker is water-resistant, but not waterproof, so if anything from the kids leak onto it, it should be OK, just don’t let the baby throw the device into the pool. The price point is around $100 and I feel you are getting your monies worth with this sturdy, colorful, wireless speaker.

Custom-Fit 3D-Printed Earphones by Normal ($199)

Using the communal headphones on an airplane is not OK with me… hello, germs! And every other pair of earbuds I’ve purchased in the past either hurts my ears or falls out. All ears are not the same universal size and I am not a fan of big bulky headphones when traveling either. Once I learned about Normal and their custom-fit 3D-printed earphones that fit perfectly to your ear, I was sold on the idea. After I tested them out and realized the sound quality was better than anything I had heard before, because no sound was leaking out, it made me never want to go back to those painful earbuds or bulky headphones ever again.

Must-have travel accessories for moms

OGIO Women’s Tablet Purse Brooklyn ($40)

I am the bag lady when I travel with my kids, I tote around a diaper bag, a small backpack full of activities and a separate bag for my things. Once I started traveling with my own tablet, my old tote bag with one big pocket was not cutting it anymore. This OGIO Tablet Purse is now my travel must-have purse for all my tech and personal travel items. The Brooklyn style purse is small in size, but holds tons of things. It has lots of pockets to help organize all of it, with a special internal zip section for my tablet to keep it protected from all the other things I throw into my bag. Plus, the light color interior makes it easy to find my stuff in a rush. The purse is also well made and lightweight, even when it is full.

Ultra-Thin Justin Slim Power Bank

Believe it or not, this thing is the size of a credit card! It comes with a Synthetic Leather Carry Case and easily fits into any pocket, briefcase or purse. The Justin Slim Power Bank charges any device and perfect for long travel trips. Many times, when traveling door-to-door, I can be away from a power outlet for 12+ hours, so this power bank gives my devices that extra boost to get me through the trip… and then some.

Brian James Footwear Angelique Ballet Flat ($79)

So these are not “tech,” but they are certainly a necessity when traveling. Brian James Footwear shoes are all about comfort, quality and style. When going through airport security, I need a shoe that goes off and on easily, but I am able to still walk miles comfortably in. Comfort always comes first when traveling, so when I found a shoe that was also stylish, and worked well with everything in my wardrobe, I knew they would be my go-to travel shoe.

What are your go to tech travel items?

 

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The spring break countdown is ON!

Who’s counting the days until spring break? We are! If you’re headed somewhere warm for spring break, or if you’re lucky enough to already live in paradise, these spring break essentials from One Step Ahead are must-haves when you’re making plans. Not only will they make your time in the sun much easier to manage with little ones, but these spring break essentials are all travel-friendly, making them easy to pack, to stash in your suitcase or to ship ahead of time to wherever you’re spring break bound.

8 Spring break essentials from One Step Ahead

8 Spring break essentials from One Step Ahead

1. Sand-Away Beach Sheet, $28
No more reminding the kids to keep their sandy feet off of the beach blanket! This innovative beach sheet allows the sand to sift right through, keeping your snacks and gear sand-free while you’re taking breaks from playing in the water.

2. Sand-Off! Sand Removal Mitt, $10
You’ve probably pinned a million different ways to remove the sand from your little ones, because the last thing you need in your car at the end of a long day at the beach is sand! Just slip on the mitt, wipe down your kiddos and you’re good to go.

3. Sun Care Travel Kit, $10
Grab one of these kits for every car, every beach bag and every purse you’re bringing on spring break this year. It will save your life when you’ve forgotten the sunscreen at the hotel… not that would ever happen, right?

4. Waterproof Case for iPhone, $20
You’ve protected your kids, but what about your devices? One Step Ahead has an entire line of waterproof cases to make sure your tech is safe at the beach or the pool and down to 33-feet undewater! Also available for smartphones and iPads.

5. Family Beach Bag, $25
Leave your beloved purse at home when you’re traveling to the beach and pool over spring break and trade it in for one of these beach bags. Not only does it have pockets for days, but it has mesh along the bottom and sides so that you can shake out the sand before you unpack. And, we can’t resist that monogram!

6. Sun Smarties Infant Cabana, $50
Having a baby at the beach can be tricky because as much as they look adorable in that cute little bathing suit you bought them, sun and babies just don’t mix. Keep her protected in the One Step Ahead Infant Cabana which offers UPF 50+, keeping 98 percent of harmful UV rays off of her precious skin.

7. Collapse a Pail Sand Bucket, $13
Okay, now let’s talk about how to have fun on spring break! Sure, you could just buy a cheapie sand bucket when you get to your destination, but we thing that this collapsible pail is a better option that will last much longer and build much bigger sand castles!

8. Kids Swim Goggles, $13
You’ve probably realized by now that just like bathing suits and flip-flops, goggles are a spring break essential that needs to be refreshed every season. These from One Step Ahead are famous for actually staying on and for being easy to adjust.

One Step Ahead giveaway

One winner will win a spring break essentials gift pack from One Step Ahead.
Includes: Sun Smarties Family Beach Cabana Tent, Sand-Away Beach Bag, Sand-Away Beach Sheet, Family Beach Bag. Total value of over $150.
U.S residents only. Must be 18 or older to enter and win.
Please enter using the Rafflecopter form below.
Giveaway ends 3/24/2015 at 11:59 p.m.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Poolside margaritas. Hot carne asada tacos with fresh cilantro. Warm ocean waters. Whether you are still buried in snow or are just tired of having to don a sweater with your sandals as I am here in Southern California, we’re all dreaming of warmer weather and a getaway. It’s time, isn’t it?

A few weeks ago, my family and I headed south to explore the Hotel Coral in Ensenada, Mexico. Here are four reasons why you should put it on your family’s visit list.

Every room with a view

Though it looks larger, the Hotel Coral only has 147 rooms, but every single one of those rooms faces the beautiful Pacific Ocean and the hotel’s marina. In other words, there’s not a bad room in the hotel.

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Even the rooms on the ground floor offer a patio and view of the pool, garden and marina. Families can choose from a variety of room options, which include features such as a king bed or double full beds, a minibar, kitchen, separate living room and dining area. We stayed in Junior Deluxe Suite that had two beds (our three boys opted to all sleep together, however we could have gotten a roll-away, too), a monstrous bathroom (the pictures don’t do it justice — you could fit 20 people in there!), and a separately living room which was great for when the kids got up early and wanted to watch cartoons.

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

I also had the chance to tour the one of the Presidential Suites (marina-view soaking tub!) and Honeymoon Suites (in-room massage table!) in case you’re looking to splurge.

On-site family fun

The Hotel Coral is about five-minutes outside of Ensenada (they offer a shuttle that can take you in to town to explore), but we loved that the hotel had so much to offer on-site. The property has a hot tub and two gorgeous pools with a third pool indoors and workout facility which is currently being renovated for the upcoming busy season. Kids will love the mini waterfalls between pools and the cool tile recliner chairs built-in to the shallow end. Parents will love the plentiful lounge chairs, marina views and poolside bar. If you want even more relaxation, head to the C Spa for massages, facials, beauty services or their signature spa treatment — Vinotherapy — which includes a full body exfoliation, mask, body wrap and moisturizing massage with local products all made from wine-making byproducts.

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

A bit past the pool, you’ll find an impressive play structure — a unique feature I haven’t seen at a hotel before — along with tennis courts and a sand volleyball court. If your family wants more water fun, the marina offers rentals of stand-up paddleboards, waterbikes and kayaks — a great way to cool off and get a little closer to the amazingly gorgeous yachts parked in the hotel’s marina (I heard Nick Cage has a multi-million dollar yacht there!).

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Beyond the hotel, the local area offers lots to explore from markets and cultural centers to wineries, ziplining, golfing and La Bufadora, one of the largest natural marine geysers in North America.

Tacos, margaritas and more

Yes, the tacos and margaritas are good, but the hotel restaurants offer a lot more to satisfy your appetite. Hotel Coral has two main on-site restaurants — the BC Bistro & Cava and the Marina Grill. If the weather is warm, grab a marina-view seat around a fire pit at the Marina Grill and enjoy family-friendly fare like tacos, wings, burgers, seafood and creative cocktails, all while catching the sunset.

Hotel Coral in Baja

For more formal dining, make a reservation at the BC Bistro & Cava to enjoy fresh seafood specialties, Baja trademarks like caramelized grilled quail or slow-baked lamb, and a wide selection of local wines. Despite the white linens and more sophisticated ambiance, the BC Bistro & Cava is still suitable for kids who can enjoy pizza, tacos or burgers.

Here, be sure to order a glass of wine. The BC wine cellar is the largest regional cellar in Baja, with more than 100 local varietals, predominantly from the nearby Valle de Guadalupe. You can also buy bottles of your favorites at tasting room prices. You also won’t want to miss their morning brunch which offers an array of omelets, pancakes, cereals, fruit, pastries and local favorites like chile relleno, pork mole, and empanadas. And coffee. Really, really good coffee.

BC Coffee at Hotel Coral, Baja

It’s driveable from Southern California

“You’re driving over the border?!” was the number one response I got when I told friends and family we were driving from Southern California to Ensenada. The fears were unwarranted though. The toll roads you take are well-maintained and safe (they take dollars or pesos, but you will need to have money handy) and we didn’t have any sketchy encounters during the border crossing or drive to the hotel.

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Family-friendly Hotel Coral in Baja

Plus it’s a beautiful drive. A study in contrasts to be sure. From mansions and shopping sprawl in San Diego to cardboard shacks and burning trash in Tijuana to new developments along the Baja coast, but it allowed for some good conversations with my boys about wealth and poverty, development, opportunity and gratitude.

Before you leave, be sure to ask at the front desk for a FastPass which will let you avoid the majority of the line to cross back into the U.S. Be sure to read the included directions carefully — the FastPass lane is not well marked and is often blocked at the booth with a cone (when you stop at the cone, a border agent comes out to check your FastPass and lets you through). It’s a huge time-saver though and worth picking up.

Disclosure: This was a media stay and parts of this trip were comped for the purpose of reviewing the hotel. All thoughts are my own. Thanks to Hotel Coral and Allison+Partners!

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MckEnna Hudson Ready Paint Fire Keystone Art Camp
Art Camp at Keystone Resort

While we were visiting Keystone Resort over the holidays last year we did a lot more than just snowboard. This is exactly why I loved Keystone so much — you don’t have to feel bad about not being on the mountain when there are so many other fun activities. When our kids saw the sign for Art Camp they both stopped in their tracks and begged us to sign them up!

Let the kids work their creative muscle at Ready, Paint, Fire!‘s two locations: one at Keystone and the original location at Breckenridge. Our kids went to the Art Camp from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on a Saturday morning, which was perfect timing for us to drop them off, allowing my husband and me to get some more snowboarding time in!

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Ready, Paint, Fire!

When we entered the Ready, Paint, Fire! art studio I think my kids thought they had died and gone to heaven. Since we live out of the country, it is hard to take any sort of art classes and both my kids love arts and crafts. They also have an art teacher for a grandma, so they have been lucky to learn a love of art from her.

The first room at Ready, Paint, Fire! was set up with wall-to-wall canvas with drawings and the kids got to choose which one they wanted to paint. They also molded Christmas ornaments (for Grandma, of course), a panda pinch pot and a monster out of clay and painted them. After camp was over they put the pottery in the kiln to be fired and you can return the next day to pick them up.

ready paint fire Art Studio Ketystone Colorado

Hudson LEGO painting at Ready Paint Fire Keystone
Hudson picked out a LEGO canvas to paint (obviously).

McKenna Ready Paint Fire Keystone Resort Colorado

McKenna choose this cute bear fishing in a boat.

Keystone Art Camp Ready Paint Fire
Classes and Special Events

If you are lucky enough to live in Summit County, or if you are visiting Keystone or Breckenridge, you can check the website for even more classes and special events. They also have studio drop-in sessions where you can pay an hourly fee, plus the cost of your pottery or canvas. Check the Ready, Paint Fire! website for more details.

Find them on Facebook

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Findery Travel App Destinations and Notemaps

It’s no secret that I love to travel, and sharing my travel stories, tips and tricks is a major part of the fun for me. So, when I started playing around with the travel app, Findery, I was giddy with excitement! Warning: It can be very addicting.

Findery
is a social network for travel content that let’s you create “notemaps” for places you have been all around the world, from your favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant to the beaches of Brazil. Under each main notemap you create — which are usually cities or countries — you can create individual notes about things to do, where to go and what to see in that area. You simply upload a photo, write a description, add tags and mark its location. It’s like posting a digital postcard and sharing it within the Findery travel community.

Documenting your travels with Findery

One of the best things I have realized about this app, as a travel writer, is that it can literally function as my own travel notebook when I’m on-the-go. Say you are visiting Chicago and eating at a very unique wine and tapas bar, you can literally snap a photo of the restaurant, upload it to the app and leave a note about your experience, your favorite tapas or the brand of wine from Spain you loved. This can help when you get home and start writing about your trip because you already have some of the main pieces of the story written down in your Findery notes.

While you can think of Findery as a digital and social scrapbook of your travels and as keepsakes from your trips, one of the other key features is that people are engaging with your content. Similar to other social networks, you follow other Findery travelers and, of course, you want people to follow you. You can like their notes, follow an entire notemap for a destination or leave comments and questions underneath the notes.

Follow me on FIndery

Findery Notemap Guatemala

Travel notemaps on Findery

My very first notemap is Taking the Kids to Guatemala and I have created 12 notes about our trip to Antigua and Lake Atitlán. This is not only a great place for me to write about key components of our trip, but can be a great resource for anyone planning a trip to Guatemala. Plus, other travelers can get the inside scoop on where to go and what not to miss!

Since my family and friends know that I travel a lot, I get emailed questions all the time about certain places I have been. Now I can simply share my notemaps with them and all the important places of interest are organized in one place easy for them to search themselves.

Travel planning search tool

Not only does Findery let you create travel content to share, but you can also use Findery as a travel planning search tool. You can search the Findery app by destination and find notemaps about that specific destination. If you are planning a family vacation to Italy this summer, you can search the app for Italy and begin to read about interesting places to visit or a great hotel someone recommends. You can follow someone’s entire notemap about Italy, save certain notes to your own Italy notemap or save them in the “Places I want to go” notemap.

Travel Locally with Findery

When you are using the app out in the world and from your phone, the homepage will show Near or Far. If you select near then the app will populate notes that are near you, so when you are visiting a new city, you can instantly find notes and points of interest that are literally right around you. This is also great for finding new things to explore in your hometown. You might discover something you never knew was even there before or it might encourage you to try a new restaurant based on someones note.

The Findery app has so many of the features I like about other social networks and pulls them all together in one gorgeous app. It allows me to share my travels, write about my personal experience, share travel tips and engage with other travelers. I can also collect travel content that I want to use in the future or instantly find information about a place that I am visiting right at that moment. I am a huge fan of post it notes and I think of Findery as leaving leaving post-its all over the world. Whether those post-it notes are mine or someone else’s, it’s a fun and exciting new way to explore the world.

Findery Travel App


Download the Findery App
 from the iTunes store and be sure to follow me!  @WanderlustLiving

 

Disclosure: I am working as a content ambassador for the Findery app. I share this with you because travel is my passion and it’s a awesome app that I am seriously obsessed with! 

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The Springs at River Run Keystone Colorado Family Travel Vacation Lodging

The Springs Keystone Colorado

Keystone Resort Lodging

Keystone makes for one exceptional family ski vacation there is not doubt about that. The mountain itself will impress you and the kid friendly amenities and all the activities will keep your family very busy on and off the mountain. Keystone is also only about a two hour drive from Denver and very easy to get to which is another reason it’s a perfect choice.

When choosing your Keystone Resort lodging you have many options available, however the Mountain House neighborhood is a great option for families because of it’s proximity to the Ski & Ride school. We stayed at The Springs, which is a part of the Keystone Resort managed properties and one of the biggest benefits of staying within the Keystone Resort properties is when you book at least two nights, your kids ski free!

Kids Ski Free at Keystone

The Springs Keystone Resort Waterslide and Pool

The Springs at Keyatone Resort Condo Vacation Rentals The Springs Keystone Colorado Lodging

The Springs at Keystone Resort Colorado Hotels
The Springs, Keystone Colorado

The Springs at Keystone is located near the base of the Keystone Gondola and right next to the Keystone Ski & Ride school, which makes it very convenient for parents getting their kids to and from ski school. Keystone also has little red wagons to haul kids ski equipment back to the condos and there are storage lockers assigned for each condo in the garage, so you do not need to bring all that gear into the condo.

Another reason why the The Springs is so popular with families is the outdoor jacuzzi’s and the only outdoor pool with a waterslide! The pool is lukewarm but when it is -10 degrees outside it feels a bit colder. My kids loved sliding down the slide, swimming across the pool and then jumping into the hot tub. I didn’t want to do it, but they finally convinced me and so even I took the waterslide plunge!

The Springs is also just a short walk across a bridge that takes you right to the center of the main village. The Village is where you will find plenty of dining options, coffee shops, shopping, and a mini market. There is also a free Keystone shuttle that will pick you up and take you anywhere within the Keystone Resort as well so getting to the Village and the slopes is never a problem no matter where you stay!

The Springs Condo Kitchen Keystone Colorado Vacation Rental

The Springs Living Room Keystone Colorado

The Springs Condo Bedroom One Keystone Colorado The Springs two bedroom condo Keystone Colorado Vacation Rental

Inside the Condos at The Springs, Keystone Colorado

We stayed in a two bedroom condo and it was very nicely furnished, just as you would expect a Colorado mountain ski condo to be furnished and decorated. It was cozy and felt very comfortable, as if it was our own families condo. The kitchen was large and had plenty of seating for everyone, either around the huge countertop bar or at the kitchen table that had chairs and a long bench to sit at. The living room area had a large leather sofa that had a pull out bed, which is great if you have more than two children or are traveling with grandparents.

The Springs as a very nice lobby area for lounging around with a large fireplace, couches and even a pool table. They have separate playroom for smaller children and toddlers with a fun house, toys, books and games. There is a private theatre room too!  We stumbled upon this by accident and made the most of our discovery and immediately put in the move Elf and settled in for a lazy afternoon in the big leather chairs.  This might have been one of my favorite moments just because it was unexpected and such a sweet surprise.

The Springs is a luxury priced property but with all the amenities and conveniences it may be worth it to you and your family. The Keystone Resort itself has done an incredible job making Keystone very family friendly and staying at The Springs was really the icing on the cake!

Keystone The Springs at River Run Frozen RiverKeystone Colorado Top of Mountain Snow Fort
Disclosure:  A portion of my stay at The Springs was a part of a Media Stay with Keystone Resort for the purpose of a review. My opinions are always my own. I share this with you so it may help you decide on your next family adventure!

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