Vacation Reads for the Whole Family

InterContinental Hotels Group invited my family to the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach for a complimentary breakfast with Clifford the Big Red Dog and pool passes. I was not asked to write this article and opinions are my own.

One of the most important decisions I make when going to the beach is what book to toss in my beach bag. I love a good, juicy beach read.

In fact, we’re all avid readers at my house. My youngest daughter learned to read this year, and the rest of us frequently have our nose in a book. As a working mom, it can be challenging to find time to read, but I do enjoy it when I can (often that’s on vacation), and I love that my children like reading. My husband and I read aloud to them throughout their preschool years, which can be so beneficial for a child’s learning and development.

Clifford

When I heard about Holiday Inn and Scholastic teaming up to encourage kids to read while they’re on vacation, I was immediately interested because it’s the intersection of two things we enjoy: books and family travel. Through the Summer of Smiles program, Scholastic book characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Geronimo Stilton (He’s an adventurous mouse journalist, I learned) are greeting guests at select Holiday Inn hotels during breakfast events.

GeronimoStilton

In addition to photo opportunities, there are book character-themed coloring and craft activities for the kids. At the event we attended, children were offered a free book. Afterwards a small lending library was set up in the hotel lobby so that young guests can borrow books to read, or parents traveling on business can borrow a book to read a virtual bedtime story to their children back home. It’s a neat concept and my daughters enjoyed the experience.

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I’m all for anything that encourages reading and gets kids and parents to unplug from their electronic devices, especially on vacation. At the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach, the breakfast with Clifford and friends was one of many perks offered for kids.

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We were able to explore the pool area, which includes a lazy river. I hadn’t floated along a lazy river in years and this was a first for my girls. We had so much fun doing this together, and I lost count of how many times we went around.

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I enjoyed lounging by the pool, too, while the girls met and swam with a mermaid, who makes daily appearances at the pool. Pirates also visited the pool on the day we were there, and a “dive-in” movie was scheduled for the evening. And what kid doesn’t like a snow cone bar?

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We left the hotel with snapshots from the meet and greet with Clifford, and I took several photos around the pool. I only regret not being in any of the photos myself. (We have to make a point to get out from behind the camera, moms!) Regardless, it was a memorable day spending time with my daughters. Happy travels and happy reading to all this summer!

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What are you and your family reading this summer? Leave us a comment.

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Our Sunday in Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale signIf you followed our kid-free weekend adventures in Arizona earlier on the blog, you may have seen photos from our visit to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Seeing the desert plants was part of a relaxing Sunday that was much needed after our trek to the Grand Canyon.

We’d planned to hike the mountain trails behind our Scottsdale resort on this day and then relax by the pool, but I was still recovering from altitude sickness and feeling pretty wiped out. We decided to drive around Scottsdale to take in some of the sights.

Old Town Scottsdale is a must-see if you are in the area. It has a number of restaurant options and art galleries mixed in with old western shops and modern boutiques. We passed a couple of outdoor brunch spots that looked to be popular with locals and tourists alike. There is an Old Adobe Mission, which is open for tours throughout the week.

Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale, AZA ballpark, Scottsdale Stadium, is nearby. It is the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants, and I just read that Tim Tebow, who recently became part of the New York Mets organization, could end up playing in a fall league here.

You can pretty much park your car and walk to any type of dining, shopping or entertainment experience in Old Town Scottsdale.

Scottsdale, AZA little further down the road in Tempe, we found the main campus of Arizona State University. We always think it’s fun to explore college towns when we’re traveling and this was no exception. The buildings are very different from the stately southern palaces we’re accustomed to seeing on SEC campuses. There were not many folks around when we strolled through campus, but I’m sure that is the exception and not the rule.

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Sun Devil Stadium was under construction, presumably to add more seating. According to Google, famous ASU alumni have included Pat Tillman, Phil Mickelson, David Spade, and my personal favorite late night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel.

ASU_stadium

After our sightseeing, we went back to our hotel, the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale. We tend to stay at Marriott properties whenever possible because of the points program that allows us to earn points toward future travel with every stay. They have not compensated me to tell you this (or to write about them at all, for that matter). It’s just what we do unless we have a compelling reason to stay somewhere else.

Interestingly, I learned that throughout its history the Camelback Inn has hosted the likes of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis, and it became Marriott’s first resort in the late 60s. It has undergone renovations and expansion through the years and modern era guests have included Oprah Winfrey and President George H.W. Bush.

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The Camelback Inn did not disappoint. We’d requested a mountain view room, and the sight of Camelback Mountain from our balcony each day was stunning. The entire resort was landscaped beautifully, and there was something new to admire at every turn. I was constantly admiring the desert vistas. We watched jackrabbits hopping from cactus to cactus.

Mountain_View_Villa

For a girl from the Southeastern United States, it was like being on another planet. The diversity of the geography really had us thinking about the history and settlement of this area of our country, and I wish we’d had time to visit the Museum of the West while we were in Scottsdale (It’s in Old Town, too.).

Our one-bedroom casita at the Camelback Inn was comfortable with a spacious bathroom. The resort staff were friendly and helpful. As we roamed around the resort, they met us several times on golf carts offering bottled waters and fresh pineapple.

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While we didn’t play golf, the resort has beautiful greens for those so inclined. I kind of expected Scottsdale to be full of retired tourists who are there for the golf. It may be that way at other times of the year, but during our visit the crowd looked a lot more like us – Gen X couples and young families. The musician that played during one of the outdoor dinners we enjoyed on the resort’s restaurant patios had a distinctively 90s set list (as in 1990s). It made for a nice evening.

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We did make it to the pool to relax and enjoy our last afternoon in the desert. A poolside wait staff is one of my favorite luxuries on a vacation. We took advantage of the hospitality as well as the lounge chairs and umbrellas, and we enjoyed a tasty frozen beverage and snack – again with an incredible view of Camelback Mountain.

Cheers to Phoenix and Scottsdale! You are beautiful and I hope I get to visit again some day.

Have you traveled to Phoenix or Scottsdale? What other places / attractions would you recommend visiting in the area? Leave a comment to share your thoughts. 

 

A Visit to Washington, D.C. with Kids – Day 1

Washington, D.C., had been on the short list of places I want to visit in the United States for a long time. Neither my husband nor I had been before and we knew we wanted to take our kids because, well, let’s see…history, government, museums. There is so much to see and learn for all ages. We also wanted to take a good long road trip and, with family and friends we wanted to visit along the way in North Carolina, our plans quickly took shape for a spring break adventure from Florida to our nation’s capital.

After the first leg of the trip and a couple of days spent staying with family in Charlotte, NC, we headed north on Monday morning. We made brief stops in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina to see the campuses of UNC and Duke University.

UNC Well

Well at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Our kids are still a decade away from going to college so this wasn’t a college scouting trip, but they are both good schools. And for us as sports fans, seeing the campuses of two basketball powerhouses was appealing, especially in the middle of March Madness. We snapped the requisite pictures of campus landmarks and got back in the car.

Duke Chapel

Duke University Chapel

After that, passing through Richmond, Virginia, where we crossed the James River is the only thing I remember before we eventually ran into afternoon traffic in the D.C. area.

Richmond sign

We made it to our hotel in Arlington, Va., the Residence Inn – Ballston. We’d considered choosing a hotel in D.C., but we had accumulated enough Marriott points to cover the entire stay in Arlington, which is a short Metro or cab ride away from D.C.

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Washington, DC Metro

We also are big fans of the Residence Inn concept because of their two-bedroom, two-bath suites. It is perfect for family travel. Even though we didn’t plan to spend much time in the hotel room, we didn’t want our family of five to be on top of each other in one room for four nights.

The suite gave us a lot of extra space with a living area and a kitchenette where we were able to make some sandwiches and store groceries to save on our food costs for the week. Residence Inn offered free hot breakfast every morning, and free food and happy hour drinks on some of the nights, as well. What’s not to love? The kids enjoyed the indoor pool, too. Somehow they still had energy to burn after our day-long escapades through the city!

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Indoor pool at Residence Inn, Arlington, Va. – Ballston

Arlington, like D.C. itself, is a very walkable city. On the night we arrived, we found a Chipotle a couple of blocks from the hotel (there are many different restaurant options in this area). We had a quick dinner and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our first day navigating Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Arlington National Cemetery, which I cover in my next post.

Have you taken a long road trip with kids? Are there hotel chains or restaurants you love for family travel? Please share your favorites by leaving a comment.

 

 

 

We got slimed!

I remember distinctly the day our local cable company expanded its 13-channel line up to a whopping 30+ channels. It had to have been 1987 or 1988. My sixth-grade self could not have been more excited when that clunky cable box arrived, so I could push a few buttons and finally watch the likes of Nickelodeon and MTV. I’d gotten a glimpse of these networks at the homes of friends and family across town, where modern media had taken root some months earlier. The show I could not wait to watch was, “You Can’t Do That on Television,” a Nickelodeon staple in the 80s. You may remember it as Alanis Morissette’s claim to fame before she became a jagged little pill.

The show originated in Canada and offered a series of comedy sketches for kids by kids. Its legacy today is the green slime that was dumped on at least one cast member’s head in every episode. Whoever said the words, “I don’t know,” was the lucky recipient of the green, gooey mess.

The slime still shows up on Nickelodeon from time to time. I know this because — three children and (almost) three decades later — Nickelodeon has once again become relevant in my life. Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, and Bella and the Bulldogs may as well be on a constant loop at our house (and those are just the shows I’m willing to admit my children watch!). Note to self: Reevaluate our progress on limiting screen time.

Recently, when faced with booking a hotel near Disney World for a couple of nights, I learned there is in fact a Nickelodeon hotel, where – you guessed it – the slime is still flowing! Complete with character experiences a la Disney and water slides, the Nickelodeon Suites Resort is just a few minutes’ drive from Magic Kingdom and Epcot. It offers shuttles to most, if not all, of the Orlando theme parks, too. It all sounded great on the hotel website, so we made our reservations.

This trip was a surprise for our girls, and when they learned about the hotel they were excited. Unfortunately I only later started reading reviews of the hotel, many of which would have scared me away from the place if I had I read them before booking. There were positive reviews, too, though so we decided to stick with our plans to stay there and hoped for the best.

For the most part, we were happy with our two-night stay at the Nick hotel. Although the carpet and decor were dated, the two-bedroom suite was clean and provided ample space for our stay. At check-in, we received a daily schedule of events and activities, including a daily mass sliming at one of the hotel’s two pools. We made the pool our first stop after we arrived. The older kids loved the water slides, and my preschooler enjoyed splashing around in the large shallow end of the pool. Then came the sliming. People began to gather underneath the giant bucket-o-slime as upbeat music played and an announcer worked to get the crowd excited. A countdown began and the rest is history.

 

I was videoing the sliming, so can’t speak from personal experience but my daughters said it was fun. They were a little disappointed that the slime was not, well, slimier. It looked to be water with some green food coloring, and it washed right off in the pool. If you want to experience the real deal green slime, you apparently have to pay extra during a special sliming activity in another part of the resort. Or, you can take part in the resort’s daily Double Dare competition. Yes, this is the same Double Dare you watched as a kid, too — another Nickelodeon show that featured frequent slimings. We happened to catch the live stage show the night we arrived. Two families competed, answering trivia questions and daring each other to take a physical challenge.

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If a trip to Orlando and the Nick hotel was’t enough, I sure hope this kid appreciated his dad donning a giant hot dog bun and having mustard dumped on his head during the Double Dare game!

 

The live Double Dare show was actually pretty good. Admission to the show was included in a daily resort fee that also allowed us to meet a couple of Nickelodeon characters who had scheduled appearances during our stay. For those willing to pay extra, an arcade, laser tag and character dining experiences are offered on the property, as well. Because we were spending a day at Magic Kingdom during our stay, we chose not to do the activities requiring an additional charge at the Nick hotel. Our four-year-old was happy calling Dora (a recorded message) from the phone in our room, after all.

For a two-night family trip, the Nick hotel was fine. Considering it is in Disney’s backyard, where everything is magical, the hotel could use some updating (Do you even know who Blues Clues or Rugrats are? My kids don’t, yet these characters are featured prominently on the hotel building while current favorites like Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig are nowhere to be seen. Maybe the dated characters are still popular internationally? Not sure.)  The accommodations were not the most comfortable or luxurious option by adult standards, but they were adequate and comparable to other similarly priced hotels we’ve visited off the Disney property. The bottom line: The Nickelodeon hotel provided a fun setting for our stay and the kids loved it. Isn’t that what most trips to Disney World are about anyway?