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Category : Travel

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Our City Gems Series travels to Baltimore…with the kids

The urban seaport of Balitmore, Maryland is one of the most colorful and interesting cities on the East Coast. Its cozy city center makes for a manageable and enjoyable adventure to explore with kids. Packed with American lore, industrial history and hubs of science, parents will find loads of exciting family friendly outings. Everyone in the family will revel in the delicious food and beautiful Chesapeake Bay views. Here are one Savvy Sassy Mom’s must-do stops in Charm City.

What to DO

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Baltimore National Aquarium

501 East Pratt Street

One of the world’s most extensive aquariums, kids can view a living collection of more than 17,000 marine-dwelling animals. The new Blacktip Reef exhibit replicates an Pacific reef and features a school of blacktip reef sharks. Kids can also visit with the aquarium’s eight Bottlenose dolphins and their expert staff. Private dolphin encounters for children age eight and up are available for an additional cost.

Where to PLAY

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Port Discovery

35 Market Place

Baltimore’s children’s museum truly lives up to its name, providing kids with a day’s worth of activities for discovery. Exploring art, science and technology become ridiculously fun thanks to the engaging exhibits. Kids will particularly love the giant KidWorks three-story urban treehouse with rope bridges, “secret” passages and slides.

What to SEE

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The Walters Art Museum

600 North Charles Street

This world-renowned (and completely free) art museum is packed with works by Monet, Manet, artifacts from ancient Egypt and Rome and more. But parents know the museum’s master stroke was the establishing of a Family Art Center that provides kids with interactive gallery materials like drawing kits and art books. Saturdays and Sundays the museum hosts ever-changing, but always free, art activities for kids.

What to EAT

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Joe Squared Pizza

133 West North Avenue

This urban joint always appears on food critics’ lists for best pizza places in the country and it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But you will not see any Italian papis or red-checkered tablecloths here. Instead you get eclectic art and celebrated sourdough coal-fired pizzas baked in the out-of-the-ordinary square shape. Kids can customize their own pizza creations or choose from the interesting cheese and topping choices. Gluten-free eaters will appreciate the wheat-free pizza and pasta options.

Where to TREAT

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Pitango Gelato

802 South Broadway

The freshest, only locally-sourced ingredients make up the finest scoops of heaven at this Fells Point gelato shop. Freshly-squeezed tangerine juice, hand-ground pistachios and an entire pint of raspberries are expertly folded into each artisan cup. The cappuccinos and affogatos are crafted by baristas trained in the Italian art (complete with perfect latte art “leaves.”) Sure, this place will cost you a little more than the ice cream shop at the mall, but you will remember it for freaking ever. Take your gelatos out to watch the boats on the harbor while you savor.

Where to SHOP

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Sassanova

805 Aliceanna Street

OK, I will admit it: This final Baltimore pick is not for the children but for the women who are raising them.

The coolest boutique in town is stocked by the savviest buyers. Shelves and racks overflow with treasures by Calypso St. Barth, Tory Burch, DVF and loads of up-and-coming designers. Handbags and jewelry choices are always totally on-point. And the shoes! Sisters, the shoes picks are exquisite. Frequent sales, trunk shoes and awesome clearance racks make finding a little something special attainable.

Are you a Baltimore fan? What is your fav thing to do in Baltimore with kids?
Photos courtesy the destination websites and Getty images.
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Toyota Highlander

When Toyota challenged me to trade in my gas-guzzling SUV for a week with their Highlander Hybrid, I was skeptical. But, little did I know how cool this car would be.

On going hybrid

Toyota Highlander Hybrid Features

My family and I took the Toyota Highlander Hybrid on a week long adventure to Seattle. We were excited to leave our SUV parked for the week — as Seattle is known for its killer, gas-consuming hills — and try out a car that was actually quite similar to what we own in both size and features, but its hybrid counterpart.

To be honest, I was skeptical. I couldn’t imagine a hybrid, of all things, being able to withstand my lead foot and my city-driving tactics. And, there was no way that it would save me that much in gas over the week, especially with all of the driving we were planning on doing during our visit.

And, of course, I was wrong. From the moment my foot hit the peddle, I could tell that everything I thought I knew about hybrids (which was next to nothing) was wrong. There was no lag. I didn’t feel like I was driving a slug. In fact, it was quite zippy, even surviving what Seattleites lovingly call the Mercer Mess, a particularly hairy bought of traffic downtown that leads to the freeways. We tackled it at rush hour, with stop-and-go traffic for nearly an hour and it was a breeze in the Highlander.

Looking for something a bit smaller? Check out A look at the savvy Kia Sorento SX.

I admit that I was pretty obsessed with watching the power gauge on the dashboard, pictured above. I didn’t realize that a hybrid actually only charges (shown in blue) when you are moving, then put on the brakes. There were also times when the car would switch from hybrid to gas power when we were sitting in traffic for a long time, giving me a fun display of what was happening as it did. It took me a couple of days to adjust to that switch — the car is so quiet when it’s in hybrid-mode that I jumped every time the engine kicked on!

Over the course of the week, which would have guzzled at least a full tank of gas in my own SUV (brand withheld to protect the environmentally unfriendly), the Toyota Highlander barely used a quarter of a tank. I kept waiting for the gas gauge to drop, but it never did, and I was so impressed… as was my wallet.

6 Things I loved about this car

Other than it’s hybrid features, here are some other things my family and I loved about the Toyota Highlander Hybrid:

1. The roomy backseat: I have to admit that the Highlander Hybrid took out my car, hands down, on space, when it came to the backseat. Both of my kids — one in a car seat and one in a booster — both had ample room, which means that I didn’t have little feet kicking my seat while I drove.

Toyota Highlander Cupholders Down

2. The easy-access third row: We put the third row into use on the Highlander Hybrid and we  loved how the center console easily folded away to allow my oldest daughter to sneak into the back.

Visiting Seattle like we did? Take note of the Best Seattle restaurants for the whole family.

Toyota Highlander Dashboard

3. The sneaky dash compartment: It sounds silly, but I really loved the long, slim, open compartment that went along the length of the dashboard in the front seat. It would be perfect for stashing papers that need to go into school with the kids or for an extra book for long school pick-ups.

Toyota Highlander Sun Roof

4. The awesome sun roof: The entire roof seems to slide back on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which the kids loved.

Toyota Highlander Trunk

5. The roomy trunk: Even with the third row up, there was a ton of space in the trunk for all of our gear and we put it to the test, multiple times, during that week!

6. The size, inside and out: While I’ve shared how much I loved the spaces inside the car and how roomy they seemed, it’s equally important to share that this car isn’t huge. They’ve maximized every spare inch on the interior, but the car itself is small-ish and sporty and very easy and smooth to drive.

Do you have a hybrid? Do you love it?
If not, would you switch your gas-guzzling SUV for one? 

 This car was provided for review. All sassy opinions are my own.

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Fall is a spectacular time of year to travel. In some ways, I enjoy fall travel more than summer travel. It’s cooler outside, the leaves are changing and there is a cozy feeling in the air. There are usually less crowds and a long weekend is often a welcome respite from the initial back to school craziness.

long weekend travel ideas

From where to go to beat the crowds to navigating school obligations, here are your long weekend travel ideas.

Deal sites for travel deals

If you’re not sure where to go on your long travel weekend, check out deal sites. Living Social and Groupon offer a travel section, and other popular travel sites (Kayak, Travelocity, Hotwire, Last Minute Travel, etc) have entire pages dedicated to long travel weekends. Go in with an open mind and flexible travel dates and you’ll be surprised at how many options there are for long weekend getaways.

Social media for travel ideas

Chances are you have friends who like the same things as you do. Reach out through social media to find out what some of your friends favorite long weekend travel ideas are. My group of mommy friends has talked about putting together a shareable document for each person to add little travel tips and tidbits to (such as awesome campsites or kid-friendly resorts). A Facebook Group and/or a group Pinterest board are additional spots to share travel ideas.

Prepping the school for your long weekend

If your family decides to travel on a designated long weekend, obviously no prepping is needed. However, some families may want to extend a weekend on a non-school-designated long weekend in which case it’s a good idea to prepare. Tell (don’t ask) the school and the teachers; find out what work your kids need to take with them in order not to fall behind and prep your children that they will need to set aside some time for school work during the long weekend.

Enjoying your time away

Of course, you want to squeeze in as much family and relaxation time as possible on your long travel weekend, so here are some tips for making the most of it: only book non-stop flights, try to pack only carry ons, stay in a hotel close to the action (or in an all-inclusive resort), pre-plan the “bigger” activities and don’t plan the rest (so you can plan TO rest) and make sure you’re prepared with your clothing… fall is an unpredictable season in most parts of the US.

Now that you have some long weekend travel ideas, it’s time to book your trip! Let me know how your trip goes.

 

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When your family consists of more than one child, life can oftentimes feel like a survival series. Once school is back in session — with the constant stream of after-school activities, homework and getting ready for the holidays — life can seem like a tornado coming at you full speed ahead. Slow down and connect with each of your children by planning a one-on-one travel date and you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about your kid and how much fun you can have.

kid travel ideas travel date

I have been lucky enough to take each of my kids on a one-on-one travel date and to some pretty cool spots, too. On these trips, I have had the MOST fun connecting with each of my boys and I hope to make this a regular event.

Planning your one-on-one kid vacation

When you’re coming up with kid travel ideas for your one-on-one travel date, it’s really important to focus on what your kid likes. If your kids are anything like my kids, they have completely different interests. My older one is more adventurous and athletic, while my younger one is inclined to take things more slowly. Needless to say, each of our trips will be completely different, and it’s important to plan accordingly.

Here are some tips:

  • Include your child in the planning process. What activities does he want to do? Where would he want to go? How does he want to spend his one-on-one time with you?
  • Coordinate with school. Your kid will survive a few days out of school – you’ll make it educational anyway, right? Ask your child’s teacher any work you can take along with you on the trip and carve out time daily to complete it.
  • Prep your other child(ren) for your special one-on-one time and simply remind them that their time will soon come, too. You may also need to prep your spouse (you can encourage him/her to enjoy their own special time with the kid who is staying).
  • In fact, you should encourage your spouse to take his own travel date with the kids. He will give them a totally different, completely memorable experience.
  • Choose a destination that will give you a variety of activities, and give you maximum flexibility. I  know in both of my one-on-one travel dates, I had all these grandiose plans for how things would go, but something inevitably happens. Must. Be. Flexible.
  • If you’re heading out of the country (and might I recommend Mexico or the Bahamas?), you should go ahead and order your child’s passport. Actually, go ahead and order their passport anyway (we should all have an up-to-date passport!)
  • Also, when traveling without the other parent, it is required by law to bring a notarized letter acknowledging the trip is ok. Read more about this on the US Border Patrol and Customs Protection website.
  • Record as much as you can; video, photos, journaling. Then, when you get home create a hard copy photo album and an online album, too.

I found that traveling one-on-one with each of my kids incredibly eye-opening. Come to find out my oldest is not nearly as aggravating when his little brother isn’t around, and my youngest is much more self-sufficient than I give him credit for. I was able to get to know my kids individually without the distractions of everyday life.

one on one travel date collage

Getting away with one of your kids is totally fun and incredibly rewarding. Look at that face!

Kid travel ideas

Plan a BIG trip for a particular birthday, such as Hawaii, Europe, or even a long road trip and plan to go on big adventures. (Your spouse may be jealous, but you and your special guy will have the trip of a lifetime!).

Can’t do a big trip? No problem, stay stateside. Our friend Tonya of Letters for Lucas, recently took her guy to Chicago, Keryn of Walking on Travels took her little guy on a boat in Seattle and I was able to spend a few days with my little one here at Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado. The point is, that there are so many options for adventure when you consider the what kind of stuff your kid is into.

So, what if you don’t have the budget to fly somewhere? Consider a stay-cation in your very own community!  I have not done this yet, but I love the idea of taking one of my boys to a local hotel (that has a pool) and staying the night. We would consider local “adventures” and I would let them run the show.

Really the possibilities are endless when thinking about kid travel ideas. They enjoy the one-on-one time as much as we do.

one on one travel date collage

A one-on-one travel date will create lasting memories. I sure do love this kid!

Your family is a precious commodity and investing in life’s moments not only adds a richness, it also creates a deeper connection when you take the time to create memorable one-on-one moments. It just goes by too quickly!

What are your favorite kid travel ideas for a one-on-one travel date?
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Issian

Photo credit: Keryn Means

Remember when you used to go out for a long meal with friends, savoring every last bite and sip of wine? Now that you are a parent you get to sit through nuggets, fries and happy meals, right? Wrong! Just because we are parents doesn’t mean we can’t eat well, and there is no better place to eat than Seattle restaurants. Fresh fish, fluffy pastries, salted caramel chocolates, pork products of every shape and size; we have it all. There are few places in Seattle that you can’t bring your kids, but here are a few of my favorites when it comes to dining out with the toddler (baby and older kid) set.

raspberries

Photo credit: Keryn Means

Breakfast

Pancakes are a staple in many children’s diets here in the USA, and you just can’t go wrong with the blueberry pancakes at the Hi-Life. Order up a platter with eggs and bacon and you will have one of the best breakfasts in town.

If you are looking for a few toppings, head to Portage Bay Cafe for their toppings bar. It comes with every order of pancakes, French toast or waffles. You can also order it on its own to dive into those bowls of berries, pears, syrup and more.

Traveling outside of the city isn’t always on everyone’s agenda, but you will want to visit Malty’s Café in Maltby, WA, about 20 minutes northeast of the city. The California scramble is what breakfast dreams are made of, with a side of raisin toast and gigantic cinnamon buns (I’m not kidding. They are bigger than my kid’s head!) to share with your table.

Salmon-Burger

Photo credit: Keryn Means

Lunch

The noon meal is all about food trucks, burgers and Farmers Markets here in Seattle. If you are visiting on a Sunday, make sure you head to the Ballard Farmers Market where you can find tamales, salmon burgers, wood fire pizza and crepes on any given Sunday throughout the year. Pick up some fresh produce and a bouquet of flowers for $5 and you will be good to go.

If tacos are what you crave, you can pop over to one of El Camion’s two taco trucks in the city, or their brick and mortar establishment in Ballard. The fish tacos are a must, and your kids will devour the carnitas burrito with black beans. My five-year old has been eating them since he started solids as a baby.

Redmill Burger has been featured on multiple food and travel shows and for good reason. That pile of bacon they show off is worth every minute you will wait in line. The Bacon Deluxe with Cheese is a family favorite, along with a side of fries, onion rings and Oreo shake.

La-Isla-Cuisine

Photo credit: Ben Lindbloom

Happy Hour

La Isla is the place for mojitos and all things pernil (slow roasted pig). Their happy hour is especially great for parents and kids because almost all of their appetizers are discounted and you can easily make a meal of the pork wings, pernil sliders, maduros (sweet plantains), sweet potato frieds and empanadillas. You don’t need to save room for dessert here, just more pernil!

For those who enjoy meat on a stick, Issian has got you covered. Their $1 Yakitori and Yakiton will have your kids begging for more. Select appetizers are also discounted, and it is worth a look at the dinner menu so you can sample a few hot stone grilled dishes.

Oto Sushi does not mess around with their happy hour menu. All of our favorite rolls are discounted, along with appetizers like gyoza, spring rolls, and hot bowls of udon. Kids are welcome in this little east side joint, and parents will love that an order of edamame comes out as soon as you sit down. This place knows that kids need to eat pronto!

Veraci-pizza

Photo credit: Keryn Means

Dinner

Veraci Pizza has been the reason people move to Seattle. OK, well maybe that is just my family. Their woodfired ovens have been carted to the farmers markets of Seattle for over 8 years, and they finally got a brick and mortar location a few years back. They aren’t afraid to play with toppings (artichokes, olives, clams, etc.), but also make one heck of a cheese pizza for the picky eaters in your family.

Head to I Love Sushi for views of Lake Union and a few tasty rolls your family will adore. We always order the Marin Roll (cream cheese, crab, scallions, avocado and cucumber topped with seared salmon and wasabi aioli) plus tempura, miso and a snow crab salad. There are loads of teriyaki dishes if your crew isn’t into raw fish, but try to slip some onto their plate to try either way.

Cupcake-Royale

Photo credit: Keryn Means

Dessert

You can’t come to Seattle without trying a cupcake. We have more than a few spots to choose from, but Trophy Cupcakes and Cupcake Royale have been in a battle for the top spot in this city’s heart for years. You will never find a group of people who can agree. Trophy has their epic s’mores cupcake and a seasonal strawberry lemonade that will have you gobbling up two in under five minutes. Cupcake Royale has a heart stopping salted caramel and a lavender vanilla cupcake that have us saying “more please!”

If you don’t like cupcakes (gasp!) Hot Cakes can give you your sugar fix in a variety of ways. Their chocolate cakes baked in mini mason jars are their signature item, especially when paired with a homemade marshmallow and graham cracker. Mom and dad can slurp up boozy shakes while the kids eat grilled nutella sandwiches (that counts as dinner, right?) or sip on drinking chocolate or caramel. Can you say sugar rush? Sure you can.

As you can see, there is no end to the dining possibilities with your kids in Seattle. I’ve only scratched the surface of the spots we love. If you don’t like the same old food at chain restaurants, Seattle is the place for you. We have more independent restaurants than chain shops in the city than you could imagine, and I can only think of a handful I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking into with my kids. So what are you waiting for? Bon appetit!

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Blue Tree Resort Orlando Florida Pool

While visiting all the Orlando theme parks this summer we stayed at The Blue Tree Resort, which is one of the best Orlando hotel and condo style resorts near Disney World. We all know that if you are heading to Orlando on a family vacation things can get pretty expensive, so finding a great Orlando hotel that doesn’t break is essential. All of the rooms at the Blue Tree Resort are condo type rooms that have a dining area and a kitchen.  These types of rooms are great for family’s with kids, if you are staying for a week or more and want to save some money by making a few of your own meals.

BlueTreeResortBedroom

Great Family Vacation Condo

We booked this hotel stay through our timeshare company that has a trade in program, but anyone can book directly through the resort or on third party sites like Hotels.com or Tripadvisor.com.  You can book either a one bedroom studio which has a pull out couch for the kids or a two bedroom suite, which has a large master bedroom and a second bedroom with two twin beds. We ended up booking the one bedroom suite because the two bedrooms were already sold out.  They go fast in the summer, so book early!

We loved having the kitchen to make our own breakfast in the morning (I got my coffee instantly)and it was nice to make easy lunches for the kids and a few light dinners. We were also able to bring any food and drinks down by the pool, which is also so convenient and you don’t have to worry about paying $15 for a lunch for your kids.

BlueTreeResortLivingRoom

BlueTreeResortKitchen

BlueTreeResort2ndBedroom

Perfect Orlando Location

The Blue tree Resort is very close to Disney World and they even have a shuttle service to Disney World.  THey are also close to so many other Orlando attractions, mini golf and the outlet malls.  It is also walking distance to a few restaurants, a Walgreens and a Winn Dixie. We shopped at the Winn Dixie to stock up on water, snacks and fruit.  Both the Walgreens and the Winn Dixie also have large Orlando souvenier sections that will cost a fraction of the price then buying things at the theme parks.

Fun places to eat in Orlando with the kids!

Blue Tree Resort Kids Activities
Kids Activities and Amenities

The property has a small mini golf course, shuffle board, an arcade and a little market for buying some snacks. They also have a variety of kids activities throughout the day to keep the kids (and parents) happy. There is sand art, chalk art, decorating sunglasses, build a friend, movies and dance parties. There is also BINGO almost every day, my kids loved playing this with their Grandmas. They can win small prizes and even gift cards to some of the local restaurants. They also had $1 snow cones by the pool everyday.  Some of the activities cost a small fee but there are some that are free. The activities coordinator was super friendly and so nice to my kids and made all the kids and parents feel welcomed.

Not only is this a great budget friendly place to stay in Orlando and a central location but it was a nice place to come back to after a long day out at the parks. There are a few pools on the property that are open late into the night and there are a few jacuzzi’s to relax in too.  Some days you will want to just skip the theme parks and stay on the property to just relax by the pool and chill out. The staff was helpful and friendly and when we needed something for our room or had an issue it was taken care of right away.  We liked staying here so much that we ended up canceling our other hotel and stayed here longer!

This was a multi-generational trip and everyone was happy, something that can be hard to accomplish. I highly recommend the Blue Tree Resort for traveling families, extended family’s or large groups.

*This was not a complimentary stay and I was not given a media rate or any other discount. I share this with you because it is a great property for families vacationing in Orlando, Florida.

 

 

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The United States has 29 National Memorials spanning 14 states. These national landmarks have been a part of our nation since the first one (Washington Monument) was designated in 1884; they range in structure from statues to buildings to natural settings. All are spectacular in their own right, but few are as breathtaking as Mount Rushmore.

celebrating america a visit to mt rushmore

I have been dreaming about a trip to Mount Rushmore for longer than I can remember. Before I had kids, I would envision the whole family road tripping to this iconic landmark. Finally, this summer, my dream became a reality. Our Mount Rushmore vacation was everything I dreamed it would be, and more!

Little did I know the Black Hills area around the monument was so packed full of wonderful family activities. If you have ever considered a Mount Rushmore vacation, plan to stay a while and check out the beauty and family-friendliness of South Dakota.

Here are my Mount Rushmore vacation travel tips.
Where to Stay

First off, if you plan a Mount Rushmore vacation, you’re going to camp, right? If there is no camping in your future, you may consider checking out this site for a long list of hotel-ish lodging options.

For a camping family like ours, I cannot recommend highly enough Custer State Park. There are more than a dozen campgrounds to choose from: from group to waterside to wooded sites, there are a variety of campsite choices for every style family. Our campground was nestled in the woods. The kids enjoyed running through the trees with other kids at the campground.

celebrating america a visit to mt rushmore

Another great campground, which is a bit further from Mount Rushmore (about 1.5 hours), is at Angostura State Recreation Area. We loved our waterfront campsite and the kids thoroughly enjoyed riding bikes on paths next to the reservoir.

You may also like: 7 Off-the-beaten-path National Parks you must visit this summer

What to Do

Learn the history of Mount Rushmore. An awe-inspiring, larger-than-life sculpture, Mount Rushmore is a sight to behold. You cannot help but to feel your national pride as you approach these four stone faces whittled into the mountainside. The history of how it came to be, why these particular presidents were chosen and the lives of the men who helped create it, helps to connect us to the rich heritage we share. Take time to enjoy the presentation offering once you are there.

Watch a guy wrestle a gator. Reptile Gardens recently won the Guinness Book of World Records as being the World’s Largest Reptile Zoo, and boy, do they have a TON of reptiles! If you’re not squeamish (and some of us in this family are), you can enjoy a sneak peak into the lives of thousands of lizards, bugs, tortoises, crocodiles, alligators…the list goes on and on. Needless to say, for two certain boys, this was the coolest thing EVER! Oh, and gator wresting shows are scheduled five times a day. Those guys are crazy.

celebrating america a visit to mt rushmore | reptile gardens

Visit the city of presidents. The bronze presidential statues in historic Rapid City are hidden gems of South Dakota. Take a stroll through downtown and challenge your kids to guess the president and era they were in office. Good educational fun!

See a live paleontological dig. The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs is an undeniably unique experience. More than 26,000 years ago a spring-fed pond claimed hundreds of mammoths and other animals of the era. The earth shifted and bones were buried. To date, more than 61 mammoths have been identified. If you think these enormous animals are the product of a movie writer’s imagination, think again! This live dig is a spectacular treat into prehistoric times.

celebrating america a visit to mt rushmore

Get your hat blown off. Wind Cave National Park, about 45 minutes from Mount Rushmore, is spelunker heaven. Tucked beneath rolling, Bison filled prairies, lie hundreds of miles of underground passageways, rooms, and geological gems – with more being discovered daily. Wind Cave gets the name from the wind pressure that comes from the caves only natural opening. Stick your head in the hole and your hat blows right off.

You may also like: Summer travel pinspiration

Make it Fun

We love, love, loved the Jr. Ranger Program offered at all National Parks, as well as Mount Rushmore. Custer State Park also had a similar program called Junior Naturalist Program. The Jr. Ranger Program is activity-based and jam-packed with fun facts and info that is easily digestible for short attention spans. Our kids loved the activity books, the trivia questions, and fact-finding on-site activities.

Our favorite activity was during the Junior Naturalist Program of Custer State Park which included an 18-mile Wildlife Loop drive with a State Park Ranger. We learned all about Bison, were able to feed wild burros and enjoy a wild-raspberry lined hike.

Celebrating america a visit to mt rushmore

A trip to Mount Rushmore is so much more than a trip to Mount Rushmore! Dive into the culture, the history, and the beauty that South Dakota has to offer.

You may also like: Family fun in Cannon Beach, Oregon

Have you ever been? What were your favorite Mount Rushmore vacation activites?
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Last week I shared my take on some of the popular Orlando theme parks and what to do with kids in Orlando, but this week is all about the food. Finding fun places to eat in Orlando that both you and the kids will enjoy can be a bit of a challenge. When on a family vacation you should always try to eat out at some restaurants that you might now have back home. There are plenty of fast food and chain restaurants so finding some healthier options is always nice too. So here are my six fun places to eat in Orlando!

Fun places to eat in Orlando with kids

Cafe Tu Tu Tango Orlando Florida

Cafe Tu Tu Tango Restaurant Orlando Florida

Fun Places to eat in Orlando Florida Cafe Tu Tu Tango Tu Tu Tango Pork Sliders Orlando Florida

Cafe Tu Tu Tango

Cafe Tu Tu Tango was hands down my favorite place we ate. It is a very unique restaurant and bar that looks like an artists studio. The vibe is funky, eclectic and creative, and has a great atmosphere. We celebrated my mother-in-laws retirement here, she was an art teacher for 32 years! So clearly this was a perfect place to celebrate the occasion. The food was really fantastic, all small plates meant for family style sharing. The Pork Sliders were by far the family favorite, we ordered another round of those!  All the food was great and even the kids got into sampling most everything that we ordered. They do make small pizzas if your kids are a little pickier.

There was even a fortune teller at a small table and both the Grandma’s went and had their fortunes told! There was also a belly dancer that was dancing around the restaurant later in the night. This restaurant gets pretty busy with large parties and people celebrating Birthdays and other special occasions, so make a reservation!

Dicks Last Resort Orlando Florida
Dicks Last Resort Orlando Florida Party Hats
Dicks Last Resort Beergarita Orlando Florida

Dicks Last Resort

Dick’s Last Resort is a riot. Do not come here unless you are in a good mood. The servers are sarcastic and a little rude, on purpose. The entire restaurant is a party so it is a bit loud and there is a lot going on. At one point they had one of the large groups that was there do a limbo challenge in the middle of the restaurant. Everyone at your table will get a bib and a silly paper hats put on their heads.  They write a funny description of you on the hat that the server randomly makes up or perhaps observes about your personality.

We had to order the Beergarita just for fun. It is a large margarita with a beer dumped inside of it I ended up drinking drank most of it and so my husband drove us all home.The food is a bit expensive for what you get, but you go here more for the obnoxious experience and to have some great laughs. Relax and your family is sure to have a good time at Dick’s Last Resort.

Sea Dog Brewing Company Orlando Florida
Sea Dog Brewing Company Beer Flights

Sea Dog Brewing Company Orlando Florida Connect For

Sea Dog Brewing Company

We stumbled upon Sea Dog Brewing Company by chance. We were ina sea of chain restaurants and then we saw this sign spinner on the corner spinning a sign for the Sea Dog Brewing Company, we turned to give it a try.  We also happened to go on Trivia night and during Happy Hour – so food was a great price and we had a lot of fun testing our knowledge.  We sat in the bar area with our kids, it was totally fine. They have a large

Salad

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Sweet Tomatoes

Sweet Tomatoes, yup a salad bar. It’s not exactly “fun” per se but traveling with kids means eating out a lot and when you find a place that has healthy food that everyone likes, you go there, maybe even twice! Farm fresh vegetables and an all you can eat salad bar was rather refreshing to us after a few days of theme park food, i literally had an ice cream cone for lunch one day, so seeing a variety of green vegetables was very exciting. My daughter loves salads so she was thrilled and happy to make her own. Of course my son not a huge fan of veggies we got him chicken noodle and some of the cold pasta salads they offer. And while you can eat very healthy here, there is still a desert station if you want to indulge a little or use that as a bargaining chip with the kids. They liked making their own sundaes.

Winter Park Farmers Market Orlando Florida

Winter Park Florida Park Avenue Shopping Dining

Head to Winter Park

We hit up the Farmers Market in Winter Park on Saturday for some off the beathen path food and local finds and did a little shopping on South Park Ave. There are also plenty of restaurants on South Park Avenue for you to choose from, everything from Panera Bread to trendy restaurants, wine bars and even a Sassafras Sweet Shop. Don’t miss the kids toy store Lighten Up! we spent a long time in there.

Abracadabra Ice Cream Factory Kissimmee Florida
Abracadabra Ice Cream Factory – Kissimmee

Abracadabra Ice Cream Factory is located right before you get into the Old Downtown of Kissimmee, which is right next to Orlando. This is a MUST SEE and EAT. I heard about this ice cream shop via Twitter, so naturally I had to check it out. When you walk in it feels a bit more like a science lab because of all the nitrogen floating around in the air.  They make your custom ice cream flavor in a bowl right in front of you by using nitrogen! If the show isn’t enough to convince you, don’t worry the ice cream will. It is A – mazing! Probably some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had and worth all the calories.  They also have a playground and a few jump houses out back for the kids to run off their sugar high!

Share your Orlando city gems – where did you eat?
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I have to be honest, I was having nightmares about visiting Orlando in the summertime. It can be very overwhelming and a bit crowded to say the least, but our epic summer road trip started in Orlando so we had to brave the heat and crowds regardless. As one of the most popular family vacation destinations in America I owed it to my kids, myself and you to see what Orlando was all about, so here are some of the best Orlando theme parks and some of the highlights for us.

Orlando Theme Parks & Attractions

Aquatica Orlando Florida Family Travel

Aquatica Orlando FloridaAquatica Raging Rapids
Aquatica

Aquatica was my absolute favorite family theme park in Orlando. This was by far the most fun we had as a family.  It is a classy water park that has so many fun water slides, splash parks rivers and thrill seeking slides too. My kids absolutely LOVED the Roa’s Rapids, not to be confused with the lazy river, which they have too, but the rapids requires no tubes, you can opt to wear a life jacket or go without, as long as you are a strong swimmer of course. The water literally pushes you around the river and there are a few sections that really take you on a little ride.  We could not get my son out of this, we must have went around 25 times, giggling and laughing all the way.

They have plenty of areas for toddlers with the splash parks, smaller water slides and two large wave pools with shallow walk in entries. They also have the Dolphin Plunge which is a water slide that goes through a large pool with swimming dolphins. We worked our kids up to even try some of the bigger water slides that our family could go on all four of us together or in tubes for two people. Aquatica is definitely a water park not to miss and truly a memorable day for us.

Fun Spot Orlando Florida
Fun Spot Orladno Florida
Fun Spot Orlando Kissimmee Florida

Fun Spot USA

Fun Spot is a fantastic place to take the kids! There are two locations, one in Orlando, which was just had a huge renovation and a smaller one in Kissimmee. We hit up the one in Kissimmee and had a blast. This park was the perfect place for some pint size fun. Our kids do not like a lot of the big rides so the classic rides and the toddler sized ones were perfect for them. We went mid-day and so our kids practically had some of the rides all to themselves. They also have a great arcade that is a perfect spot to sit and cool off.

Fun Spot is not just for the little ones, they have multi-level Go Karts, plenty of thrill rides and roller coasters. In fact, the Orlando Fun Spot has the only wooden roller coaster in all of Orlando. If you are a adrenaline junkie then you’ll want to check out the World’s Tallest SkyCoaster, which is pretty much a human pendulum swing, 300 feet in the air. Our daughter refused to let us go on this. Fun Spot is absolutely a great way to spend a day in Orlando, it’s a little bit like a classic carnival but modern and more exciting.

WonderWorks Orlando Florida

WonderWorks Bubble Room 2 Orlando Florida
WonderWorks Neon Ropes Course
Wonder Works

We kept driving past this upside down building and my kids kept saying “Can we go there!” and “When can we go there!?” WonderWorks is a really fun interactive playground for kids and adults. Its a little bit like a science museum but with a lot more things for kids to participate in. We spent the most time in the bubble room, the kids loved making bubbles and even being put inside a bubble.

My kids and husband did the neon ropes course which was high above the arcade inside WonderWorks. You need closed toed shoes to do this, so I was not able to participate, so I stayed on the ground to take pictures. It was a fun atmosphere with music and all the lights glowing. My daughter got very scared when she was up on the ropes course and the guide really helped her conquer her fear and walked with her through the course. I really appreciated him taking the time to help her. We also played laser tag and was one of my favorite things we did as a family, the kids loved running around, hiding from us and shooting us!

Most Unique McDonalds Orlando Florida

The Most Unique McDonalds in the World

McDonalds. Yes, I said it, McDonalds. We went here twice and this is under theme parks because we didn’t go there to eat – well okay, I did have a cheeseburger, coffee and an ice cream cone. BUT, my son had the most fun here and pretty much said this was his favorite thing to do in Orlando.  He’s a bit of a arcade junkie and well, the entire second level of this McDonalds has an arcade. In fact this McDonalds also has a small bowling alley, indoor playground and a variety of activities happening through out the week!  The best part, it was air conditioned, no 1/2 hour lines, coffee and my kids were happy.  WIN.

Universal Studios Orlando Florida Family Travel

Universal Studios

Universal Studios is a really great theme park and probably one of my favorites. This is a great park for families that have teenagers to toddlers, there is really something for everyone! There are plenty of thrill rides for the older kids but if you have young ones there is plenty of rides to entertain them as well. Our favorites rides were the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D, the classic E.T Adventure and Spiderman. My son did get a little scared on the Spiderman ride, but after it was over he thought it was “awesome”. My sons very first roller coaster was Woody Woodpeckers Nut house coaster, and he still talks about it!

There is also an adorable area for younger children that is all about Doctor Seuss. We rode the Seuss Trolley Train ride and loved seeing the park from up high in the sky. If you have toddlers this area is made for them. If you have Harry Potter fans of course the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a MUST see and do.

*Editors Note: We did not go to Universal this trip due to the new Harry Potter opening, but we were there a year before for the Minion Mayhem ride press opening and absolutely LOVED it.

Disney World Fellman 2014Tea Cups Disney World with The White Rabbit

Its a Small World Disney World Orlando Florida

Disney World

I do not recommend going to Disney World in the summer, it is HOT and crowded. The best time to go is January or February, but we braved the heat and had some fun anyways. My favorite is the classic Tea Cups so this was our first ride and The White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland sat with us in our tea cup!  It’s a small world is another family favorite of ours, seeing all the countries represented is so much fun, we can ride that one over and over again. It was our first time riding the Pirates of the Caribbean and what my kids actually loved the most was the Scavenger Hunt around this area of the park. They got a map and had to find hidden clues that lead them to their next clue. This was a great activity for them to do and a nice break from standing in lines waiting for rides.

Pirates Cove Adventure Golf Orlando Florida

Pirates Cove Mini Golf Orlando Florida

Pirates Cove Mini Golf Orlando Florida SSM

Pirates Cove Miniature Golf

This is not necessarily a theme park per se, but there are so many places to mini golf in Orlando Florida and it’s a great activity for all ages, we took both the Grandma’s and had a great time! The best part, it doesn’t cost a lot of money either. I do suggest going right away in the morning before it gets too hot or head there closer to sunset for cooler temperatures.  We went to Pirates Cove and the course was really nice and a lot of fun.

As you can see, we had a lot of fun at each park and they all have their unique personality. However, if you ask me which were my top two and ones I want to visit again, I’d say Aquatica and Universal Studios.

 

Disclosure: This was a self initiated trip to Orlando, however @VisitOrlando supplied me with a press pass for some local attractions and I was given media tickets to Disney World, Fun Spot and Aquatica. However, all my savvy thoughts and sassy opinions are my own.

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SSMTravelCityGems1000px

The City of Trees between the rocks of the foothills

The City of Trees between the rocks of the foothills

I’ve had the good fortune to spend some quality time exploring Boise, Idaho. As I’ve said to anyone who’ll listen, there is so much more to Idaho than potatoes (which are delicious, by the way). I’m so pleased to share some of my favorite city gems from super-friendly Boise.

Foodie Favorites
Tasty blackfish tacos and asparagus fries at The Fork

Tasty blackfish tacos and asparagus fries at The Fork

The Fork restaurant is a local favorite in the downtown, with an emphasis on locally-sourced food, craft beer and wine. Try the grilled jumbo artichoke as an appetizer, followed by a perfect steak with creamy mashed Idaho potatoes. On Tuesdays they sell out early on the fried chicken and waffles special – you’ve been warned.

Casual and still family-friendly is The Dish. It has a more eclectic fusion menu, with such items as bahn mi fries, watermelon gazpacho, and beet salad with fennel and candied apple slices. You can still order traditional burgers, fries and pastas. Iced tea is the drink of choice in summer.

Pink, green and delicious at the Westside Diner

Pink, green and delicious at the Westside Diner

The Westside Diner is a traditional drive-in diner offering an extensive burger, shake and malted shake menu. It’s also the home of Chef Lou’s famous Ice Cream Potato. The pink and lime green diner decor is an unmissable landmark.

The Basque Market in downtown Boise celebrates the Spanish heritage of early settlers to this region. The Market offers unique Spanish food items, wines, gifts to take home, and $8 Paella every Wednesday and Friday.

Family Time

Rent a bike and ride along the Boise River Greenbelt. This flat and shaded pedestrian and bike-friendly path runs 25 miles along the Boise River, just 5 minutes from downtown. It’s a gorgeous and gentle ride that is rightly beloved by Boise residents and downtown commuters. Boise State University is on its path, home of the incredibly popular Boise Broncos football team. You can stop and visit the NFL-worthy stadium and its unique blue turf field.

Bike the 25 mile Boise River Greenbelt on this sweet ride

Bike the 25 mile Boise River Greenbelt on this sweet ride

The Greenbelt lives up to its name, as it routes through many parks and greenspaces. Stop at the MK Nature Centre to see 8-foot long sturgeon and trout in the pond, and learn about beavers, birds and other wildlife.

Try your hand at Paddleboarding on Quinn’s Pond, or if you’re feeling really brave, kayak the river rapids at Boise River Park. These areas are located along the western portion of the Greenbelt, and are very popular with locals for outdoor recreation and cooling off in the hot summer.

A bridge in the Meditation Garden, Idaho Botanical Garden

A bridge in the Meditation Garden, Idaho Botanical Garden

Walk in the cool green of the Idaho Botanical Garden. The Garden is an oasis in the high desert, and includes meditation, rose, native plants, and children’s activity gardens, as well as a very interesting Lewis and Clark exhibit. From here you can pop next door for a tour of the Old Idaho Penitentiary, a 19th century decommissioned prison. The Marked Men Tattoo Exhibit is fascinating.

Beauty in the city
Artwork at the Zenergy Spa

Artwork at the Zenergy Spa

Tired from all of your biking, paddle-boarding and sight-seeing? Enjoy a soothing hot stone massage at Zenergy Spa. If you need more intensive body work, let therapists walk all over you, literally, from suspended wooden bars with an Ashiatsu massage.

Hotels
A cosy king sized bed at Hampton Inn & Suites

A cosy king sized bed at Hampton Inn & Suites

The Hampton Inn & Suites is a business and family-friendly hotel, in walking distance to downtown Boise. Free wifi, freshly-baked cookies, complimentary breakfast, and spacious suites are just some of the reasons to stay at this well-situated hotel.

For families looking for a more traditional resort-style stay, book at the Riverside Hotel in Garden City. This is large hotel on the banks of the Boise River has an outdoor pool, gym, excellent buffet breakfast, Sandbar riverside restaurant and bar, and free wifi. The property feels a little dated, but its clean and the staff is very friendly.

 

Claudia Laroye writes the travelling mom, a modern mom’s guide to travel sanity with your family. She’s passionate about the value of traveling as a family, and shares travel tips, advice, and destination guides on her site. She also writes as the Curious Travel Mama on San Diego-based TravelMamas.com. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two teenaged sons. Find Claudia also on TwitterFacebookInstagramPinterest, and Google+.

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