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5 Reasons to Vacation with a HomeAway House Rental

My family loves to travel. This summer we spent the entire month of July on the road exploring everywhere from the peaks of Switzerland to France’s most famous city, from the mountains of Steamboat, Colorado to a few nights river rafting the Green River in Utah. While our trips often combine a variety of hotels and camping, on this trip, we tried a new way a stay: renting three different homes around the world from HomeAway. Today I’m highlighting one of our favorite HomeAway stays in Paris’ Latin Quarter and five reasons you should consider renting a home on your family’s next vacation. (Seriously, folks. These were the views out of our two apartment windows. #heaven)

Why You Should Use a Paris House Rentals

Reason #1: Enough room for all

Raise your hand if you love cramming in a hotel room with your kids? Me neither. Traveling as a family of five can make it tricky staying in a hotel… especially as my boys get bigger. Many of the hotels in Europe wouldn’t allow five people to stay in one hotel room and those that do in the states, often end up with us feeling cramped with a combination of too much luggage piled around folded out hide-a-beds or rolled-in roll-aways. At our flat in Paris, there was a large bedroom that gave my husband and I plenty of room and a separate living area with a convertible couch for my boys. We not only had the space we needed, but we didn’t need to tiptoe around in the dark when our boys went to bed. Plus, there was a spacious bathroom, a full kitchen, and a dining table that could seat all of us for meals.

Travel Breakfasts for Families

Reason #2: Save money by eating in

I love eating my way through a new country, but with three growing boys in toys (who are always hungry), this can be an expensive activity. By renting a home instead of staying in a hotel, my family was able save a ton of money by having many of our meals in. We picked up cereals and fruit and the nearby market to make breakfasts quick and cheap, pre-made sandwiches to take with us when we went out to explore and even made dinner at “home” a few nights. Besides the money we saved, I loved being able to explore the shops and farmer’s markets of a new country. A Paris sunset, an open bottle of wine, my kids occupied with UNO? I was in heaven.

HomeAway dinner in Paris

Reason #3: Experience the city as a local

Don’t want to feel like a tourist? Many hotels are located in busy areas that are filled with souvenir shops and American-ized menus. In contrast? Our HomeAway rental was located on the 6th floor of an apartment building in the Latin Quarter. The street was filled with local markets and little cafes with waiters who didn’t speak much English. Instead of a hotel shuttle, we took buses and the metro to get around and spent the afternoon walking through the nearby Jardin des Plantes where locals sat, read and let their kids play.

Jardin de Plantes

Reason #4: Insider tips from your host

HomeAway rentals are owned by real people who get in touch via email or in person to give you the inside scoop on the area. Our Paris apartment host not only helped provide directions to get us from the local train station to the apartment, but met us on arrival to give us tips on the best place to get a fresh croissant for breakfast (just three doors down), how to walk to the Seine River (just a block away) and the DIY rentable bike station (the first 30 minutes are free and there are drop-off stations all over town!) hidden around the corner from the local market, something we never would have found on our own.

seine

Reason #5: The amenities you really appreciate

Sure mini soaps and robes are nice at a hotel (really, I do love me some robes). But you know what kind of amenities I really appreciate when we travel as a family? Free laundry. Because, well, kids. And kid games in the drawers. And a wine opener and real glasses. True there is no one hanging up your towels and remaking your bed each day at a HomeAway, but renting a home or apartment when you travel gives you access to all sorts of other amenities that are a whole lot more useful than someone making your bed.

washer

For your next family vacation, check out HomeAway or their collection of other home rental partners (VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com) to find an apartment, condo, cabin, house or even a boat (Yes, boat! We looked at a few options when we stayed in Amsterdam!) for your next getaway.

We were reimbursed for our stay in Paris. Opinions expressed are our own.

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10 Summer Travel Must-Haves for Toddlers

With summer right around the corner, many of us are thinking about family vacations. Traveling with young kiddos — especially active toddlers — can be daunting, to say the least, but the time together and the memories made on the other end usually make it all worth it. When traveling with toddlers, you have to go into it with a good attitude, lots of snacks, and fully equipped with the right gear. Here are some of our favorites to travel with:

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Trunki
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Versitile Diaper Bag
Baby Jogger City Mini
Toddler Travel Must-Haves- Beco Toddler Carrier
Toddler Travel Must-Haves- lil gadgets Headphones
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Portable Toddler Bed
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Mess-Free Activities
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Hand Sanitizers That Smell Amazing
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Wheels for the Airport
Must-Haves for Summer Travel with Toddlers- Yummy Face Wipes
1. Trunki

I think I’m late to the party, but we just discovered Trunki and my boys love them. They have lots of fun packing them for a trip, they feel independent pulling them through the airport, and have a blast going for a ride during a layover.  (Trunki, $50)

2. Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F. Bag

When traveling with young kiddos, a versatile bag that can be worn as a backpack is a necessity. While this is technically a diaper bag, I consider it an everything bag, with a perfect design and easy to wipe fabric for traveling. (Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F., $180)

3. Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller and Glider Board

There are a number of great travel strollers out there, but my go-to still remains the Baby Jogger City Mini. With a truly simple one-hand fold, a lightweight design, and its ability to accommodate any of my kiddos, it has been on many trips with our family. With multiple kiddos in town, especially non-stroller riders, attaching the Baby Jogger Glider Board is a lifesaver. (Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller, $250 & Glider Board, $85)

4. Beco Baby Toddler Carrier

I never leave home without a carrier — I find babywearing both convenient and calming for my little ones, especially when we’re traveling. For toddlers, Beco makes a great carrier that’s comfortable, well designed, supportive, easy to adjust between parents, and available in some great patterns. (Beco Baby Toddler Carrier, $180)

5.  lil gadgets Connect+ Kid’s Headphones

I’m not going to lie, technology can be a lifesaver during traveling situations with my little guys. I’ve learned the hard way that headphones are a must for plugging into our own devices or to TVs on the plane. These headphones from lil gadgets are great — they’re sized for little ears, volume limiting, come in cute colors, and use Shareport, which allows you to connect multiple pairs to one device without a splitter. (lil gadgets Connect+, $20)

6. Shrunks Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed

I love this bed and it has been on countless trips with our family. It’s perfect for kiddos who are out of a crib, but do too much rolling or wiggling for a hotel bed. It’s surprisingly lightweight and easy to tuck in a suitcase. (Shrunks Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed, $79)

7. Melissa and Doug Water Wow

I always stock up on fun new activities for our trips, hiding them until the day we leave to keep their novelty alive! I love Water Wow pads because they allow the kids to color and feel creative without the mess of markers or the hassle of loose crayons.  (Melissa and Doug Water Wow, $5)

8. The Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray

Germs are pretty much unavoidable when traveling. I try not to stress out about it, but I do keep hand sanitizer handy and distribute it liberally. The Honest Company spray is my go-to for keeping germ-free when we travel. It isn’t filled with harsh chemicals and I love the scents.  (The Honest Co. Hand Sanitizer Spray 2-pack, $6)

9. Go-Go Babyz Travelmate

With a young toddler, I find bringing a car seat onto the plane the easiest and safest way to ride out the flight, and a travel cart is definitely the easiest way to get schlep the seat around airport.  (Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, $90)

10. Neat Cheeks

Messy faces are inevitable when you’re eating out and in the car during your trip! These wipes are beyond handy, as well as being a natural and easy was to keep your favorite little faces and fingers clean.  (Neat Cheeks Peach Wipes, $5)

What are your must haves when traveling with your little ones?

 

This post was contributed by Rebecca Spear as part of Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts. You can find more from Rebecca on her blog, Mainely Mama.

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New Great Wolf Lodge in Southern California

Already planning your summer travels? Or just looking for a fun family getaway this spring? Then pack a swimsuit and prepare to earn some major parenting points with a stay at the new Great Wolf Lodge in Southern California!

In February, Great Wolf Lodge resort opened their 13th location in Garden Grove, the brand’s first in California. Here are three reasons you’ll want to check it out with your family.Great Wolf Lodge in Southern California

Reason No. 1: The water slides

Let’s start with the obvious — there are water slides in the hotel! Exclusive for resort guests, the indoor water park boasts 105,000-square feet of watery fun. There are five pools, 12 different water slides, a lazy river, a kiddie play area, a wave pool, an obstacle course, basketball hoops, a watery jungle gym, and a surf-able continuous wave. My kids were fans of the Mountain Edge Raceway where four people can race head-to-head on the water track for victory, and River Canyon Run, a nearly 500-foot long family raft ride.

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The Wolf Rider Wipeout was also a hit! You can boogie board, knee board or even attempt to surf the continuous wave.

Whether you want to get doused by hundreds of gallons of water by the Fort Mackenzie bucket, conquer your fears on the 360° Wolf Tail (complete with a vertical plunge through a trapdoor!), or relax in a tube on the Crooked Creek lazy river, there is something for everyone to enjoy. wolf-den-suite-1-img7935-1200x500

 Reason No. 2: The rooms

As a family of five, one of the things I appreciate most about the Great Wolf Lodge is the number of sleeping arrangements they have for large families or groups. While the Queen and King Suites only sleep up to four, all the other rooms sleep six or more people, with some rooms sleeping up to eight! You can also get adjoining suites to sleep more than that. Whether you’re bringing all the cousins, your brother’s family with you, or you’ve splurged on an overnight birthday party for your tween, the Great Wolf Lodge has rooms that can accommodate you.

Which Room Should You Choose at Great Wolf Lodge?

We stayed in one of the themed KidCabin Suites that has a queen bed, a sofa sleeper and a special nook with a bunk bed and a twin bed for my little cubs to hibernate for the night. The themed suites offer fun, kid-friendly decor featuring the GWL Animal Friends and interactive elements that can be activated with a MagiQuest wand or Clubhouse Crew Animal (more on those below!).Bear

Reason No. 3: MagiQuest and Clubhouse Crew

One of the other fun features of the Great Wolf Lodge are two interactive scavenger hunt games. MagiQuest is designed for older kids who can read (or who can get help from a parent) while the Clubhouse Crew is perfect for younger kids. To play, you’ll need to buy either a wand or a Clubhouse Crew friend. You register the wand or plush animal with your name and then you’re off! Throughout the resort, you’ll be on the hunt for these stations to interact with.

MagiQuest

For MagiQuest, there are three different challenges you can choose from, each with their own missions. Depending on which one you choose, the game can take from 30 minutes up to 3 hours , making it a great option if you are staying for multiple days. Parents be warned: The wands activate things everywhere throughout the resort — in the lobby, in the halls, in the Loose Moose restaurant — there are kids everywhere waving their wands and making things talk, jingle, chime, and move. In other words, this is not the place to go if you want a quiet getaway.

Creation Station

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For the Clubhouse Crew, you start by building your own animal friend (think Build-A-Bear). You can choose from a handful of different forest creatures and an outfit of your choice. One your plush animal is stuffed, dressed, and activated, you’re off to follow the clues to solve your mystery. The kids really do get involved with the scavenger hunt activity and get to take home their wand or animal. Plus, both will remember what you’ve already accomplished so the next time you return to the GWL, you can pick up where you left off.

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There are also tons of non-water related activities at Great Wolf Lodge from bowling and mini golf, to an arcade and a mini spa — so many more reasons to love the Great Wolf Lodge… you’ll just have to visit and explore on your own!

Visit the Great Wolf Lodge website to book your stay at the new California location or any of their other locations around the U.S.

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Where to Stay in Costa Rica #FindingCostaRica
Finding Costa Rica

Perhaps you’ve already heard, but I live in Costa Rica. Yup, I’m “the girl from Costa Rica” as several people have told me recently. I’m not telling you this to boast or brag, I’m just telling you so that you get why I talk about Costa Rica a lot on Savvy Sassy Moms and, more importantly, why I am writing this post. To help you plan your own trip here.

Since moving to Costa Rica, I’ve started Wanderlust Living, a blog dedicated to our travels as a family, as well as working closely with the travel app Findery, which I love for sharing and capturing in-the-moment notes as we explore Costa Rica and rest of the world. Over the next two weeks, Findery is #FindingCostaRica, sharing my content about living in and traveling to Costa Rica, as well as the content of other Findery users, the Findery travel community and the Findery influencers. If you’re looking to travel to Costa Rica any time soon, #FindingCostaRica will be all that you need.

Findery asked me to create a 10 Days in Costa Rica travel itinerary and it wasn’t as easy as it might sound! I tried to highlight my favorite places as well as put together a plan that lets you get well rounded sample of Costa Rica. I should also mention that this itinerary is for the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, since this is the area I know the best. There plenty of other amazing places to visit in Costa Rica, of course, and some that I still hope to get to, but for now this is how I would spend 10 days in Costa Rica.

And as for where to stay in Costa Rica….keep reading!
10 Day Itinierary in Guanacaste Costa Rica Wanderlust Living Findery Andea Fellman

Where to stay in Costa Rica

As far as where to stay in Costa Rica, it all depends on your budget and your sense of adventure! Costa Rica offers everything from totally off-the-grid lodges (with no wi-fi) to tree houses to luxury hotels to all-inclusive resorts to small boutique hotels to luxury condos for rent. Where you stay also depends on what is on your to-do list, who you are traveling with and the ages of those traveling with you.

Here are some of the places I have stayed in Costa Rica (some more than once) and I would recommend any of these for a variety of reasons:

Westin Playa Conchal Guanacaste Costa Rica Wanderlust Living Andrea Fellman

1. For an all-inclusive resort vacation:
Westin Playa Conchal

 

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica All Inclusive Hotels2. For a fun stay with kids:
Dreams La Mareas Resort in Costa Rica

Lost Iguana Resort McKenna Grandma3.  For being tucked away in the rain forest:
The Lost Iguana Resort

Buena Vista Lodge Waterslide Gigantic Tree4. For a sweet rain forest water slide adventure:
Buena Vista Lodge

 

La Carolina Loadge Natural Jacuzzi and River Wanderlust Living5. For the best of rustic beauty:
La Carolina Lodge

 

Tabacon Hot Springs Costa Rica Travel6. For true Costa Rican hot springs:
Tabacon Hot Springs

 

Hotel El Rodeo San Jose Costa Rica Grounds

7. For a great hotel near the San Jose Airport:
El Hotel Rodeo

 

Monteverde Lodge and Gardens Costa Rica - 1948. For a charming cloud forest retreat:
The Montevere Lodge and Gardens

 

A few other hotels to consider are the Flamingo Beach Resort, JW Marriott, Four Seasons, Andaz and The Diria in Tamarindo. There are luxury homes and condos at Las Catalinas that I highly recommend as well.

Hotels are not the only option, of course. You can also rent some pretty fabulous houses! If you want to rent a house in the popular surf town of Tamarindo, visit Tamarindo Vacation Rentals by RPM Vacation Rentals. Tell them I sent you!

 

Leave me a comment if I can help answer any questions about Costa Rica! I would be happy to help.
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Why you need to make Maine your fall travel destination

You’ve probably heard about our summers — Maine isn’t called Vacationland for nothing. Fall, in my opinion, has just as much to offer and is actually my favorite season. Having been born, raised and come back to the great state of Maine to start my own family, I may be a little biased, but I am not exaggerating when I say Maine is a special place. A Maine fall is something everyone should experience at least once. Here are 10 of the many reasons why you’ll want to consider planning a fall trip to Maine. Fair warning: you may never want to leave!

10 Reason to Visit Maine in the Fall

1. Beautiful weather… without the summer crowds

Let me tell you a little secret, fall in Maine, especially September, has some of our best weather of the year. You can still sneak in a mail-boat cruise on Casco Bay, a whale watch or a walk on the beach without worrying about hoards of summer tourists.

2. Cheaper rates

Generally speaking, Labor Day is considered the end of peak season in Maine, which means rates go down in the fall and some top-notch spots become much more affordable. For traveling families the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth is a great place to stay in the Greater Portland area.

3. Leaf peeping

If you time it right, the fall colors are out of this world. Simply taking a drive through the back country or up in to the mountains will make your day. This foliage guide from the State of Maine will give you an idea of average timing for trip planning.

4. Acadia National Park

A visit to Acadia National Park, alone, will make your trip to Maine worth it and is guaranteed to take your breathe away. Acadia National Park is 49,000+ acres in Mount Desert Island marked by woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks like Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the east coast, and stunning views of the ocean. Nearby Bar Harbor is a great spot, full of yummy restaurants, top notch accommodations and so many fun opportunities for adventure. Fall is a perfect time to check out the area.

5. Lighthouses

Maine has over 60 lighthouses, including the iconic Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, all offering picturesque backdrops and a serious slice of history all along state’s rocky coast.

6. Lobster all year round

You can’t leave Maine without sampling locally caught lobster.  My husband is a commercial lobsterman, and I assure you that lobster is available all-year-round in Maine. Fall is actually his busiest season. A fun activity, especially if you’re traveling with the kiddos, is to experience lobstering first hand aboard Lucky Catch.

7. Apple picking

If you visit Maine in September or October, apple picking is a can’t-miss experience. Most orchards are welcoming and very quant with donuts and fresh cider, hayrides, picturesque backdrops and — of course — crunchy and delicious apples. Check out a directory of Maine apple orchards here.

8. Hiking without the heat

On a trip to Maine, you will not lack hiking and exploring opportunities. Whether it be oceanside trails, wooded state parks, the Maine section of the Appalachian Trail or scenic mountains like Katahdin, Cadillac, or Mount Battie, the options are endless. Fall hikes are perfect in my opinion. You’re not competing with the heat or the crowds, and the colors might just be out of a magazine.

9. Canoeing and kayaking the Quiet Lakes

The inland lakes regions tend to be a little bit warmer and sheltered, ideal for a fall paddle. In the summer, many lakes are bursting with boaters and visitors, but the serenity that comes over the lakes in the fall is pretty magical.

10. Good old-fashioned fairs and festivals

Maine has close to 30 agricultural fairs and many other fun, fall festivities that embrace local artisans, foods and traditions and offer a small town feel. You can find a list of Agricultural Fairs here.

acadia

photo credit: newmar

There is a lot of ground to cover in Maine, between the hiking and Acadia/Downeast, the dining and scenes of the waterfront in the Greater Portland, the serenity of the lakes and mountains, and the amazing beaches in the Southern region. There is so much to see and do; the hard part is cramming it all in to one trip. Visit Maine is a great resource to help you get a lay of the land.

Do I have you convinced and ready to plan your next trip?

This post was contributed by Rebecca Spear as part of Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts. You can find more from Rebecca on her blog, Mainely Mama.

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5 Fall Camping Gear Favorites for Families

I love me some fall camping with the family! It’s cool and crisp and uncrowded, making it the perfect time to pack up your family for a weekend camp trip. Did you know that all 4th graders in the U.S. get FREE entrance into National Parks this school year? Plus their families? Such a cool program and completely free. Just visit here to get your pass.

While getting out into the great outdoors is all about kissing some gear goodbye (we’re looking at you, iPhones and computers…), there definitely is some other gear that can make camping with your kids a whole lot easier. After spending a month on the road this summer with my family of five, I’ve rounded up a few of my recent fall camping gear favorites for families.

How to Pick the Right Camping Stove

1. A family-sized stove

Camping often seems to center around when the next meal is. Without the distractions of the modern world, it’s amazing how much you can think about food! Plus, if your family is like mine, they like to eat. A traditional two-burner, only-fit-one-big-pan-at-a-time stove just wasn’t cutting it for us anymore, so we upgraded to a supped-up, four-burner stove from Partner Steel. And, I’m in love.

We opted for the 18-inch four-burner stove with breakaway hinges, which means we can fit four big pans or pots on the stove at the same time. The breakaway hinges allow us to only use one set of burners if I’m just camping with my husband or separate the four burners if we have exceptionally large pots or pans. I also love that the burners have precision heating control (unlike our last camp stove that had two settings: off and full scorch), so I can adjust each burner to just the right temperature I need.

When we’re done, the stainless steel stove is quick to wipe clean, folds in half, locks shut, and stores easily until our next stop. If you don’t need something quite this big, Partner Steel also has lots of other stove sizes and layouts.

Must-Haves for Fall Camping with Kids2. Do-all dishware

Packing for camping can quickly get out of hand, so we do our best to travel light and pack multitasking gear. This year, we added a few multi-function pieces from Stanley that helped us save space without sacrificing feature, function or style.

The first change we made was swapping out our coffee mugs, juice cups and wine glasses (though I do love these camp-friendly ones from Lifefactory) for the do-all Stanley Classic Vacuum Pint. This single cup kept our coffee hot, our beer cold and worked just fine for water and wine. My husband and I got different colors to tell our cups apart and loved how easy they were to clean and how well they worked for whatever we were drinking. We have this four-pack of Adventure Stacking Steel Tumblers for our to-buy list for our kids, which includes four different colored cups to cut down on the “that’s my cup!” fights.

Another space-saving family favorite from Stanley was the Adventure eCycle Infinite Mug/Bowl. From oatmeal, soup and coffee to a salsa bowl and a pancake pourer, we used these mug/bowl/cups for just about everything on our trip.

Cutting Down on Road Trip Fast Foods

3. Fast food avoider

We don’t often eat fast food, but when we do, it’s often when we are traveling since the combination of quick and convenient often makes it an easy choice. But this summer, before our month-long road trip, my kids made a goal to completely avoid fast food (especially after we watched this as a family). I’m happy to say we manage to do it thanks to these two huge helps: Yelp and Planetbox.

We are huge fans of Planetbox’s lunchboxes for school (seriously, best ever), but they are also great to take on the road. The stainless steel design makes them easy to clean and let’s them chill if I stick the whole thing in the cooler. As we were packing up from one campground, I’d fill the Planetboxes with crackers and hummus, cut up fruit and veggies and leftovers we had from camping so the kids could snack while we drove without needing to succumb to fast food. We have both the Rover and Launch, but the Shuttle would be great for easy snacks-on-the go too.

When our food supplies were running low, we’d roll into the nearest town and rely on the Yelp app to help us find tasty, affordable, family-friendly cafes and diners to eat at, often just one or two streets off the main road where the fast food chains like to lay claim. You can see a few of the favorite eats we found on my Yelp profile!

The Best Kid-Friendly Camping Backpacks

4. Kid-friendly supply packs

When we are camping, my kids are a non-stop blur of movement. From climbing rocks to hiking, wading in the river to riding bikes around the campground, they are always on-the-go. In order to keep them ready for whatever adventures the day offers, I love them having their own gear with them so they can keep their water, snacks, extra layers and walkie talkie close at hand when they are off on their own and equally importantly, out of my bag when we are doing an activity together.

Recently we’ve been trying out some of the new kid packs from Osprey. The Moki Hydration Pack is perfectly kid-sized for biking or hiking and includes a 1.5-liter water reservoir, a zippered pocket for snacks and headlamps, and a quick-stash storage area to hold a long sleeve shirt. It’s so much easier to keep my kids hydrated with a pack like this than bugging them to get drinks of water.

For older kids who are ready for their first overnight backpacking trip, the Jet 18 backpack is lightweight and kid-friendly, but designed with many of the same features as Osprey’s adult backpacks like their AirScape™ back panel for comfortable support, an external water reservoir pocket, and lots of zippered compartments and mesh pockets to keep everything organized.

Tips for Easy Camping Clean-Up with Kids5. Cleaning essentials

I’ll be honest — camping and cleanliness don’t often go hand-in-hand. I’ve learned to be okay with this. The kids may be dusty and scrapped from climbing and exploring, my coffee mug may have the markings of yesterday’s joe and my fingernails… don’t get me started (though I’ve recently started traveling with one of these, which matched with some warm water and soap can be heavenly.) When the smiles are big and the adventures are memorable, I can let cleanliness take a backseat.

But, there is one cleaning product I recently started bringing with us every time we camp: Lysol Disinfecting Wipes. It all started the one time I brought them on a whim and one of my boys got the stomach flu. I can’t tell you how glad I was to have those Lysol wipes! We camp in this VW camper van so our sleeping arrangements are, well, cozy, and I disinfected like crazy to keep anyone else from getting sick. Since then, I always pack a bottle when we go camping and use them for disinfecting cutting board when we are away from water, cleaning syrup off our tablecloth, sprucing up the van and keeping sickness at bay.

What are some of your family camping favorites?

SSM was not paid for this post. Some samples were provided.

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EXPLORING Long Beach
Tips for family travel in Long Beach, California

Isn’t it amazing how often we forget to explore the places right in our own backyard? Long Beach is a short 2-hour drive from my home in Southern California and yet this was my first time visiting! I was impressed. Whether you are visiting with the family or looking for a weekend getaway with your special someone, Long Beach has lots to explore.

Westin roomsWhere to STAY

When you’re traveling with the family, you want to spend your time doing, not driving. That’s why the Long Beach Westin is a great choice. It’s easy to get to from the freeway, provides great views of the harbor and is within walking distance of lots of great eats and activities. We opted for two adjoining rooms which helped give my family of five plenty of space — and meant that my husband and I didn’t have to go to sleep at 8 p.m., either! The central location made walking to a yummy breakfast at The Breakfast Bar or delicious deli sandwiches at Modica’s Deli easy.

belmont

Where to EAT

We found the 2nd Street/Belmont Shores area on a whim and wish we would have saved more time to be able to enjoy the many shops, restaurants and street musicians. Thanks to a quick Yelp search, we settled on Super Mex, an affordable Mexican food joint that looks questionable from the front, but has a festive back patio, excellent food and a family-friendly vibe.

Whatever style of restaurant (casual or fancy), location (indoor or outside dinning) or type of food (Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern, Japanese, etc.) your family wants, you’ll find a place on 2nd Street. We also saw tons of great boutiques, book shops and local stores to explore and interesting musicians on every corner.

Queen Mary

Where to DATE

If you’re looking to plan a special night out with a special someone, you can enjoy amazing five-star dining at the Sir Winston aboard the Queen Mary. The old-world decor makes you feel like you are cruising across the Atlantic, enjoying classics like French Onion soup, a table-side Caesar salad and Beef Wellington.

Guess who’s excited for a kid-less dinner?

It’s not a great place for toddlers or babies, but the food, service and views are impeccable. Since it was chosen as one of OpenTable’s Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America for 2015, Sir Winston’s is the perfect dining spot for a romantic dinner for two.

aquarium

Where to PLAY

I’d heard about the Aquarium of the Pacific for years and had even considered making the day trip down from Ventura for it in the past. It would have been worth the drive. This aquarium is the perfect size to explore for a day in Long Beach. It’s located in a great area called the Pier at Rainbow Harbor which has a combination of shops — the outlets were under major remodel when we were there, but should be awesome — restaurants and activities like the aquarium, a Ferris wheel, and harbor boat cruises.

jelly fish

The aquarium itself offers fun for the whole family. In addition to the special jelly fish exhibit, there are interactive exhibits, tons of tanks, informative movies and expert-led shows and animal feedings. There were also lots of opportunities for kids to touch aquatic life including rays, hammerhead sharks and jelly fish.

touch

Gondola ride
Where to visit KID-FREE

If you’re traveling to Long Beach kid-less, kick off your romantic evening with a private gondola ride through the Naples Island canals by The Gondola Getaway. The boats are cozily decked out with pillows and blankets, and you can bring your own bottle of wine and snacks to enjoy on your cruise. Gondola Getaway will provide complimentary cups, ice-filled buckets and music. Dress warmly if you opt for a sunset ride, since the winds can come up in the late afternoon — or snuggle close to your date. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with one of the company’s singing gondoliers to truly transport you to the canals of Venice.

Catalina Island

Where to DAY TRIP

If you’re spending a few days in Long Beach, you’ll want to save at least one day to head out to sea and explore Catalina Island. The hour-long boat ride offers smooth seas, indoor or deck-side seating and gorgeous views of the Pacific. Once you’re out to Catalina, grab some lunch at Mi Casita Mexican restaurant — head upstairs for great views — stroll the oceanfront shops and rent a golf cart from one of the many rental companies to tour the island on your own. Tip: rent it before you go at the Catalina Express terminal in Long Beach — the companies do occasionally run out of available carts. We rented a cart for about an hour, which gives you plenty of time to drive around and explore this island getaway. Be sure to save time for dipping your toes in the ocean waters and a scoop of ice cream from Big Olaf’s.

catalina2

Have you been to Long Beach before? What are you favorite finds for families or couples?

SSM was not paid for this post. Our travel expenses were covered by the Long Beach Visitors Bureau. Opinions expressed are our own.

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Summer at Squaw: What to do with KidsWhile you may only think of Tahoe in California as a wintertime destination, many ski resorts offer amazing family fun opportunities all year long. I recently had the chance with my family to visit the Resort at Squaw Creek, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and was blown away by the beauty of the mountain in the summertime and the wide range of activities — both on and off the mountain — for family fun. Here are some of our family favorites from our visit.

Where to STAY: Resort at Squaw Creek

Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe with Kids: Resort at Squaw Creek

We were truly impressed with the rooms at the Resort at Squaw Creek… talk about family friendly! We opted for the Fireplace Suite, which sounds fancy and romantic, but is actually super practical for families. The kids slept on the hide-a-bed in the living room while my husband and I got a king-size bed and a closed door (hallelujah!). The room has a spacious bathroom with a shower and a separate large tub, which meant there was plenty of room for this family of five to get ready.Visiting Squaw Creek Resort at Lake Tahoe

Best of all was the kitchenette, though we might as well just call it a kitchen. It had a mini fridge, of course, and coffee pot, but also came with a stove top, dishwasher and all the cookware and dishware a family could need. I really appreciated being able to just have cereal and oatmeal in the room one morning and if we had been staying for longer, we definitely would have considered whipping up a quick dinner in our room after a long day of adventures.

The room also had an amazing bay window overlooking the mountain — a perfect view for my morning cup of coffee.

Where to PLAY: High Camp at Squaw Valley

Family Travel: High Camp at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe

The Resort at Squaw Creek offers a free shuttle over to the Village where you can find the gondola up to High Camp. Up at 8200-feet, you’ll be able to enjoy amazing views of Lake Tahoe, a museum commemorating the 1960 Winter Olympics, a pool and jacuzzi as well as a outdoor skating/ice skating rink (season depending). There are separate fees for the tram, swimming and skating, but I like that you can buy tickets for just what each family member will use. Plus, there are separate rates for adults, young adults and children and kids under 4 are free (though they’ll still need a ticket). (Tip: Go on Tuesdays for an automatic $10 discount per ticket.) Be sure to pack layers for the top… as you can tell from Exhibit A below, it can be a bit windy up there.

Family Travel: Exploring Lake Tahoe with KidsFamily Travel: Exploring Lake Tahoe with Kids

If you’re look for budget-friendly fun, the Resort at Squaw Creek offers lots of fun free options for the whole family to enjoy. There’s a fabulous pool complete with a water slide, beach, multiple hot tubs and a separate shallow kiddie pool. My boys also loved the inviting turf “lawn,” complete with giant chess and checkers, shuffleboard and pick-up soccer games with other resort guests.

Kid-Friendly Outdoor Fun at the Resort at Squaw Crreek

The resort also has a handful of shops to browse on their promenade, including lots of good finds for the kids at the Little Dumplings Toy Store.

Where to EAT: Sandy’s Pub

Sandy's Pub at Squaw in Lake Tahoe

There are a number of great places to eat at the Resort at Squaw Creek, and one of our favorites was the family-friendly Sandy’s Pub, named after one of the original founders of the area. You can sit inside and enjoy sports on one of the big-screen TVs or get a table outside and enjoy the view of the pools and waterfall. Sandy’s Pub has a great kid’s menu with lots of entree options, as well as a creative cocktail menu (ahem) and delicious entrees for the adults.

The Sweet Potato Deli is also another great option for families and offers lots of quick grab-n-go items as well as Starbucks coffee drinks, made-to-order pizzas and ice cream, which my boys insisted on sampling (Tip: Ice cream portions are very generous so consider sharing if you have young kids or just want a taste.)

If you’re out exploring Squaw Village after time up at High Camp, we also enjoyed dinner one night at the Fireside Pizza Company, which has live music, a wonderful outdoor patio, and room for the kids to run around.

Where to RELAX: The Spa at Squaw Creek

The Spa at Squaw Creek

After being on the road with my family for a month this summer, I couldn’t leave the Resort without checking out the spa! I needed to get the road trip kinks worked out and a few minutes without anyone asking me for a snack. The Spa at Squaw Creek provides just the kind of bliss this mama needed — serene decor, an endless array of treatments and over an hour of complete quiet. I always feel a bit ridiculous in these oversized robes, but that, right there, is the smile of a steamed, sauna-ed, massaged, very happy mom.

What to Try at the Spa at Squaw Creek, Lake Tahoe

Summer, winter, spring or fall, you’ll find lots of reasons to enjoy a family visit to the Resort at Squaw Creek. Be sure to check out their website for all the special deals and events going on to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Savvy Sassy Moms was not paid for this post. Our travel was hosted, but all opinions expressed are our own.

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St Louis Arch

I’ve lived in St. Louis nearly 15 years and never have I loved this city more now that I have children.  St. Louis has so many amazing attractions and events for kids, most of which are completely free! This affordable, drivable, small city is packed with fun activities, beautiful parks, amazing museums and some of the best food in the Midwest. We are more than just a baseball and brewery town (although we really like those, too). Welcome to my city!

Where to PLAY

City Gems: Exploring St. Louis with Kids: Grant's Farm

Grant’s Farm: This unique St. Louis attraction combines the appeal of a zoo with the local history of the Anheuser-Busch legacy. Free to the public, admission includes a tram ride through an animal preserve, animal shows and even free beer (for adults only). This is also where you can meet all the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Mom tip: Buy the $5 pass so your kids can feed the goats, take a carousel ride and get a snow cone. If you don’t do all three, the card can be redeemed on your next trip.

CityGems: Exploring St. Louis with KidsEckert’s Country Store & Farms (Belleville): Eckert’s is a great place to take kids and fill your grocery cart at the same time. Located about 25 minutes from downtown, it’s open year-round, but go during “Pick Your Own” season, which begins with strawberries in May and continues through fall with vegetables, apples, blackberries, peaches and pumpkins. Picking is easy for kids of all ages and they love the tractor ride to the fields.

City Gems: St. Louis Forest Park Forest Park: I don’t think anyone can do a St. Louis feature without mentioning Forest Park. One of the 100 largest parks in the country (over 1,300 acres), it houses our world-class St. Louis Zoo, the History Museum, Art Museum, Muny Amphitheater and Science Center… all of which are free to the public.  And if that wasn’t enough, it has an ice skating rink, a tennis complex, an 18-hole golf course, a boathouse (with paddle boats), multiple playgrounds, lakes, streams, running trails and wooded areas (perfect for family photos).

City Gems: St. Louis Magic House

Magic House: The St. Louis Magic House is truly one of the gems of our city. It’s packed full of fun and interesting science and problem-solving exhibits, which create a hands-on learning environment for kids of all ages. Some of our favorite exhibits are the imaginary shops, art center, outdoor construction area, 3-story beanstalk, bubble room and the giant electromagnet ball that will make your hair stand on end! Mom tip: Leave for lunch and come back to play for the rest of the day — try Dewey’s Pizza in downtown Kirkwood.

Yucandu Art Studio: This is a unique retail store and interactive art studio in Webster Groves, which is interesting for both children and adults. They provide the materials (paint, beads, paper, ribbon, tiles, etc.) and teach you the steps so that “yucandu” the projects yourself. They offer mosaic, collage and/or paint projects for a small hourly studio fee, which includes staff guidance, use of tools and brushes and complete clean-up!

Creation Station at the Museum of Transportation: The Creation Station is a hands-on learning environment dedicated to introducing children (ages 5 and under) to all modes of transportation while focusing on play, imagination and interaction. This large brightly-lit room is filled with train tables, play houses, books, costumes, cars and racetracks. Mom tip: There’s almost always a Groupon available for discounted entry.

Citygarden: Located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, Citygarden is two square city blocks long, filled with sculptures, gardens and trails, as well as fountains, waterfalls, spray parks and wading pools perfect for splashing in on a hot summer day. Within walking distance of Busch Stadium, Ballpark Village, the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse, Peabody Opera House, Scottrade Center and a variety of shops and restaurants.

City Gems: Ices Plain & Fancy in St. Louis

Where to TREAT

Ices Plain and Fancy: This is St. Louis’s first (and only) made-to-order, liquid nitrogen ice cream parlor. The process is totally amazing — an ice cream base and your add-ins go into a mixer, followed by liquid nitrogen and they’re quickly blended while clouds of cold smoke pour out. The mixture gets so cold it has to be blow-torched from the bowl!  Mom tip: Make dad drive and get one of their boozy drinks if you’re having one of those days.

Jilly’s Cupcake Bar: Jilly’s has won Food Network’s Cupcake Wars two times and is hands-down the best cupcake shop in the Midwest. Flavors change monthly, but some of my favorites include Key Lime Gooey Butter, Chocolate Thunder and 24-Karat Carrot Cake.

This post was contributed by Sara McCarty as part of the Savvy Sassy Moms Product Scouts program. You can find more about Sara on her blog Running from the Law

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Dreams Las Mareas Resort in Costa Rica
Family-friendly resort in Costa Rica

I am a huge fan of Costa Rica — hence the reason I live here — so you can believe me when I say that it is an excellent family vacation destination. Traveling with kids to Costa Rica from the United States is fairly quick and easy, which makes it even more appealing, especially if this is your first time traveling with internationally with your kids.

Since I do live here full-time, I’m able to easily explore different areas of the country and stay at a variety of hotels and resorts. A few weeks ago, my daughter McKenna and I took a little mommy and me trip up to check out the new Dreams Resort Las Mareas. It is located in the northern Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, which is about a 90-minute drive from the Liberia airport and very close to the Nicaraguan border.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica All Inclusive Hotels

Dream Las Mareas Costa Rica

Dreams Las Mareas is an all-inclusive Costa Rican resort with over 400 rooms on the property. The resort comes with all the family-friendly amenities you would expect at an all-inclusive resort — plenty of dining options, on-site daily activities, excursions and a kids’ club. There are several different buildings throughout the property and there are several room options so be careful when you are making your reservation to make sure you’re getting the location on the resort you want. The more impressive rooms are in the smaller buildings and either have private Jacuzzis on the balconies or the semi-private dipping pools right off the patios.

Dreams Resort Costa Rica Building and Room
Our building happened to be the building with the most privacy, nestled on the hillside and a little further away from the pools. It was also a bit more of a walk to our room (which I actually appreciated to get in a little exercise between meals!), but there are plenty of golf carts buzzing around and you can get a ride to your room quite easily, which might come in handy when traveling with older family members or your little ones. These rooms are also great for those couples spending their honeymoon at the resort. Beware: Your patio is right next to your neighbor’s patio, so if people are talking loud, you’ll definitely be able to hear them… and vice versa!

Dreams Las Mareas Dipping Pools offthe Rooms Hotels in Costa Rica
We had one of the rooms with a dipping pool and this was, by far, our favorite feature! From our room we even had a small view of the ocean and I can only assume that the rooms above us had even a better views. One thing to mention, if you are traveling with children that cannot swim, this is probably not the best room option for you because it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep them out of the pool 24/7. I absolutely loved this room and would have a hard time staying here again without the dipping pool right outside my door!

Dreams Las Mareas Waterslide Family Hotels in Costa RicaDreams las Mareas Pool Costa Rica Hotels

Pools, pools, pools

If pools are your thing then you will be very happy here. They have two distinct pool areas, each with two very large pools. The pools start at the top of the resort and work their way down to the beach. The top pool area is all about the kids — it has a water slide, basketball hoop, a large poolside chess game and an additional shallow pool for toddlers.

The other pool area is one large continuous pool that begins with an adult only pool that leads to the swim-up bar and a large infinity pool that looks out to the beach, which kids can visit. This pool also has a volleyball net and a bridge that kids like to swim under. There is also a small poolside cafe that offers a few snack options, cocktails and endless amounts of smoothies for the kids.

Dreams Las Mareas Resort Pools in Costa Rica
For those that are not traveling with kids, you’ll appreciate the adult only pool. Or, if you are traveling with kids, drop them off at the kids’ club and head here to take advantage of some peace and quiet.

Dream las Mareas Oceana Bar with Swings Costa Rica

Food and dining options

Since this is an all-inclusive the resort, they feature the typical buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner. The line can get long in the morning so if you just need a caffeine fix in a hurry, they do have the CoCo Cafe to grab your latte or to pick up a small pastry for the kids. There are four restaurants on the property — two of them are only open for dinner and the Italian restaurant, Portofino, does not allow children.

Our dinner at Oceana was very good and probably my favorite meal. We ate the buffet lunch at this restaurant as well and it was pretty basic with your standard hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, some grilled vegetables and salads. Oceana sits right next to the pool and has the bar with the swings that my daughter and I loved swinging in.

Dreams Resorts Costa Rica Beaches Play el Jobo Dreams Las Mareas Beach Boogie Boarding Playa El Jobo in Costa Rica

The beach at Playa el Jobo

The beach here is in a cove, so the water is very calm and the waves are small, which is great for young children. My daughter did catch a few small waves with her boogie board, but these waves may not be that exciting for older children. There are better beaches in Costa Rica and if you are looking to surf, you definitely cannot do that here. if you are expecting soft white sand you won’t find it here — the sand is a bit more compact, brown and rustic like many beaches in Costa Rica, compared to beaches that you might find in the Caribbean or Mexico.

You can check out stand-up paddle boards and boogie boards from the resort and you can also rent kayaks and jet skis for an additional fee if you want to head out further into the water. Fishing and snorkeling tours are available for you to book and you can get a massage right on the beach if you’d rather relax. The kids’ club also brings the kids down to the beach for their special camping nights that include a variety of activities and beach games.

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica SpaDream Las Mareas Spa Costa Rica
The Dreams Spa

If I am going to be honest, the spa was the highlight for me. They have the usual spa treatment options, of course, but they also have a five-step hydro-therapy spa, which includes a sauna, steam room, cold-plunge pool, pool with water massage chairs and pressure waterfall, and hot tub. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to do a spa cycle like this, so it was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. They also had what I am calling “relaxation pods,” which I almost fell asleep in. This indoor-outdoor spa experience was really fantastic, giving you a true Costa Rican experience. They also have a full salon for hair services, as well as manicures and pedicures.

Additional activities

This resort is a bit secluded, but they do offer a few day trips such as zip lining at the Spider Monkey Canopy Tour and the Buena Vista Lodge day trip, which has even more activities. They will arrange to take you to the Arenal Volcano area, but this is a very long trip and, in my opinion, visiting the Arenal area is not a day trip. You will likely feel rushed and it will be a very long day, especially for children. It’s best to stay for at least one night in that area to really experience all it has to offer.

Every night they deliver a resort newsletter, The Sundial, which has a full list of activities for the following day. You can also participate in yoga classes, dance lessons, beach soccer and volleyball, among other activities at the resort. They have have nightly shows and entertainment and movie nights for the kids, which are a fun way to relax after a day in the sun.

Plan your visit to Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica

Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica is a great option for both families with young children and those looking for a relaxing family vacation. It is a resort-style vacation that comes with the typical family-friendly amenities right on the property, but with the option to explore outside of the resort for some more exciting Costa Rican excursions and adventures via the resort, if you choose.

Website: Dreams Resort Las Mareas Costa Rica


Disclosure: This was a press trip and all accommodations and meals were included. All my thoughts and opinions are my own. I am a family travel professional and share this with you to help families decide on places to stay for their vacations.

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