Road Trip 2011 – Frugal Novice
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Road Trip 2011

Adventures in Legoland (Florida)

I think I’ve mentioned before what a huge Lego fan my husband is.Now that we have the boys, Legos are even more prominent in our house! We have a Lego table in our living room, if that tells you anything! We’ve been to the Legoland Discovery Centers in Schaumburg, IL and in Grapevine, TX but were really excited to finally get the chance to visit Legoland in Winter Haven while we were on our trip to Florida.

Legoland is the perfect theme park to visit with small children, whether you’re big Lego fans or not. For one thing, the size isn’t overwhelming. We arrived around 10:30 and they closed at 5:00 that day, and it was plenty of time to do everything we wanted and ride some rides twice. J rode his first rollercoaster EVER and absolutely loved it! What I loved was that there were plenty of rides C could be a part of, too, so it truly was a place for the whole family.

There are also play areas all around, providing parents with a chance to sit and watch the kids run around (and burn off energy). The food offerings were all high quality (albeit a little pricy). Our pizza at lunch was great, and we really enjoyed a snack of apple fries complete with a side of fresh whipped cream.

Of course, one of our favorite parts walking around was noticing all of the amazing Lego sculptures. The detail to these is insane, and they’re so well done!

Here’s Brian with J next to a dinosaur (notice J’s face paint? He got a dragon, and was SO proud) – look at all of the shading done with various Lego colors… so amazing, right?

J with the pizza man outside the restaurant where we ate lunch:

We really got a kick out of the life-sized Ford Explorer, since that’s what we got to drive for our trip. I can’t believe what a good job they did of replicating the vehicle!

There’s a whole section of Legoland where they create mini-versions of famous buildings and landmarks. We spent a lot of time wandering around this area, and Brian said he could’ve stayed a lot longer!

New York City:

Statue of Liberty:

Capitol Building:

Hollywood Bowl:

The “Legowood” sign:

I totally got the theme song to Full House in my head while looking at these Victorians:

There were fun details all over, too – like this girl tripping and her soda shooting out of the bottle:

Besides all the Legos to look at, we rode a ton of rides – several rollercoasters (including the one I mentioned before), train rides, boats, racetracks, horses, fire trucks, and more. We had a blast!

I’d highly recommend making the trip over to Winter Haven if you’re in Florida. It’s a 45-minute drive from the Orlando area, which is an easy trip to make especially since the park has shorter hours of operation (during fall/winter season, anyway).

Note: We received free tickets to Legoland to facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and are our own. We were not compensated monetarily for this post.

Ford Explorer Extras Provide Luxury & Safety in a Family-Friendly Vehicle

You know how you attach fond memories to objects? Well, my 1995 black Ford Explorer is one of those things for me. I had it all through college and at the beginning of my marriage, and I loved that car. So, you can imagine that I was just a little excited to have the chance to drive the 2011 Ford Explorer LTD on our trip to Florida!

I’ve got to say right off the bat that this is not the Ford Explorer I remember… it’s so much more. I’m continually impressed with how technology is incorporated into vehicles, and our experience with the Explorer taught us just how far technology has come. Several features stood out to me, but one was my absolute favorite and has been something I’ve gushed about to friends and family, so I’ll tell you about it first, and then move on to others.

Adaptive Cruise Control: I loved the cruise control on the Explorer to begin with because of the simple fact that it’s digital. I want to go 70? Easy – and it’s easy to adjust it up or down a couple of miles. But my absolute favorite part is that it adapts to the vehicle’s surroundings. See the little car graphic & the white bar? That’s the gap between you and the car in front of you. Let’s say we are driving 65 miles per hour, and we come up behind a car going 55. Normally I’d have to cancel cruise control, but not in the Explorer – it senses the car in front of us, and slows down accordingly. Once we’re able to change lanes, the cruise goes back up to 65 MPH. It’s absolutely amazing, and is such a valuable safety feature for families. It also makes caravaning much more pleasant – everyone knows it’s difficult to sync two cars up at the exact same speed, but with this feature it’s not an issue.

Blind Spot Alert Lights: So ingenious! Whenever a car passes on either side of the Explorer an orange light appears in the sideview mirror. I loved this feature too – I think we can all remember a situation in which we’ve thought it’s all clear to change lanes, only to realize suddenly (hopefully prior to hitting someone) that there is indeed a car there after all. That’s not an issue with this feature, because it’s easy to glance up, take a look at the light, and realize there’s a car there even if I can’t see it.

Heated and Cooled Seats: A lot of cars have heated seats, but the Explorer takes it a step further; there are three levels of heating available, and there was a noticeable difference in the level of heat between each of the options. I also liked that the heat traveled up the back and wasn’t just contained in the seat. We tried the cooling just for the experience of it – it’s a strange sensation, but I can imagine that in the heat of summer (especially Texas summers) it’s a really useful tool.

Control Panel: I’m not sure what the official term for this would be, but the touch screen truly is a central hub for information. It’s well-organized and easy to find different elements. Yet again, Ford takes it one step beyond and also incorporates two smaller screens behind the steering wheel that allow the driver to easily access important information, answer calls or change the radio. There are controls on each side of the steering wheel that make it easy to navigate through to the element you want to access.

Folding Rear Seats: Yet another area that Ford takes what’s expected and bumps it to the next level. There’s a third row of seating in the Explorer, which is fairly standard in many SUV’s now. However, there’s no awkward folding or tugging to get the seats in the position you want – it happens with the touch of a button:

That’s the “stow” arrangement, but you can also fold the seats up or down individually or together, making the back of the vehicle truly versatile for families. Additionally, I feel the need to mention that the back row of seats is actually a comfortable space with a reasonable amount of room, unlike many vehicles. I rode in the back several times with J in his car seat, and we both had plenty of space.

Ambient Lighting: This is totally just something for fun, but you’re able to select a color scheme for all of the ambient lighting in the vehicle. I had fun playing with it while Brian drove one night, and the kids thought it was cool to pick a color and watch the lighting change.

Navigation System: Since we were on a road trip we used this feature quite a bit. I have a mostly positive opinion of the navigation, but there are two areas with room for improvement. First, there was a little bit of a lag between starting up the car and the navigation beginning. It was only a matter of 2-3 minutes, but it did mean that we needed to sit and wait before getting started on our next leg of the trip. That’s not generally a big issue, and wouldn’t even bother me at all, except for the other aspect I think could be improved – you’re not able to type in an address while the vehicle is in motion. I completely understand that being an important safety feature to prevent drivers from being distracted, but it’s still not allowed even when there’s a passenger in the car. The Explorer senses whether there’s a passenger for the air bags, so it seems like it’d be a natural step for navigation to sense this too, and allow text input when passengers are present. There is the option to speak commands, and it works quite well… unless you have a vehicle with two screaming/singing/whining/giggling preschoolers. Overall we were content with the system. We liked the split screens, the voice directions that could be muted, and the ability to pick between multiple suggested routes.

Back-Up Camera: Loved having this, especially when the car was full and heads were blocking the view a bit. It was also nice that guides popped up as you turn to show you the projected path of your vehicle. I SO miss this feature and actually looked at my console for a screen out of habit when we first got back.

Space: The Explorer had plenty of interior space. If you follow me on Twitter you saw me mention that we were able to fit six people, including two in car seats – plus luggage and souvenirs – comfortably. We noticed the amount of space right off the bat, when transferring our luggage from our car to the Explorer:

There was plenty of room for the boys – they loved having the cup holders fold down in between their seats, too.

 

We logged over 2,300 miles in the Explorer so we really got a feel for how it handles (excellent, even in rain) and its features. I was really sad to return it! It’s a great family vehicle that has the space, safety, reliability, and luxury to suit every member of the family, and it reminded me yet again – in a whole new way – why I love the Ford Explorer.

Note: Ford loaned us the 2011 Ford Explorer LTD to drive on our trip, for the purpose of facilitating our review. All opinions are honest and are our own. We were not compensated monetarily for this post.

Family-Friendly Lodging at Global Resort Homes

The majority of us have stayed at hotels before. We know the drill and what to expect, and it might even be our first thought when deciding on a place to stay for vacation. I’d always been that way, so I was really curious to see what it would be like staying at a vacation home. We got the chance recently on our trip down to Orlando, and we absolutely loved it. It’s the perfect option for family or large groups:

  • Common areas and dining areas
  • Large, full kitchens
  • Separate bedrooms & bathrooms
  • Private pools & spas
  • Covered porches, perfect for outdoor dining & socializing
  • Game rooms in many houses
  • Key code for front door so everyone can have access without having to dole out keys
  • Gated communities with amenities like big pools, theaters, and clubhouses

The house we stayed in was a 5-bedroom, 5-bath home with a dining area, breakfast nook and spacious kitchen open to the living area. It had a great covered porch with fans that looked out onto a gate, private pool & hot tub. The garage was converted into a game room and we even had laundry setup. I can tell you all about the great features, but you’ve got to see this house for yourself.

Another perk – parking right outside your door. No schlepping luggage across a huge parking lot with luggage in tow.

Idyllic, gated neighborhood – this is a view down the street of the house we stayed at.

The common area was great – plenty of space to move around and hang out in – and it extended out into the back yard:

And it gets better… the back porch looked out onto our private, screened-in pool and hot tub. As a parent of two small children, I also really appreciated that the pool area was gated – we could leave the sliding doors wide open and let the breeze blow in.

It was mild but slightly cool during part of our stay, but the pool was heated so we could still enjoy it. Brian and I swam once, and J loved splashing around. Oh, and of course, there’s more…

Lighting! It was really pretty at night, and since it was cooler out you could even see a little bit of steam coming off the water.

Let’s talk about the bedrooms a little bit – we had six people in our group, so we only occupied the three downstairs bedrooms. Our bedroom was large and had a view out on to the pool. Each bedroom had its own bathroom and its own television, so it was nice that everyone could retreat to their own space. Check out our digs:

The boys thought the stairs were fun, so we did go explore the upstairs area a little.

So, the house could sleep 12 comfortably, and rents for as little as $340/night, which is really reasonable. If you don’t need that much space, though, Global Resort Homes also has a selection of condos available, like this one that rents for as little as $143/night and sleeps 6 people.

Now, there are a couple of things I thought of that might be concerns for staying in a home:

  • Housekeeping – in a hotel, your room is cleaned for you. We were at our vacation home for 4 days/3 nights so cleaning didn’t become an issue for us, but I wondered what it would be like if you stay in a home for a week or more. Tara from Global Resort Homes let me know that there’s a cleaning service you can have come in and clean for a small additional fee.
  • Parking at Disney – you’ve got to deal with this if you’re staying off-site, but to me it’s not a big issue. For one thing, the value you get from the home compared to the cost of a Disney resort more than makes up for parking costs… but I’ve also heard from some sites about saving money at Disney, there are places you can park and avoid paying for parking.

I can’t say enough good things about our experience at Global Resort Homes. The staff was professional and quick to respond to any questions we had, and they have a huge variety of homes in different communities, all close to Disney and other fun things in the Orlando/Kissimmee area. We’ll definitely stay with them again, and I’d confidently recommend them to anyone looking for a place to stay on an Orlando vacation!

Note: We received a stay at the vacation home from Global Resort Homes. We were not compensated monetarily for this post. All opinions are honest and are our own.

Road Trip Update

Well, we’ve made it to Orlando! We’ve now clocked over 20 hours in the car, and we’ve survived remarkably well! We’re getting to test out the 2011 Ford Explorer on the trip, and it has definitely made the trip much more enjoyable. We’ve loved the space for passengers and cargo, the navigation system, and many other features I’ll wait and share with you in my review post. There’s one in particular that I am seriously in love with, and it’s transformed the road trip experience for me!

We arrived at our vacation home from Global Resort Homes today – it’s amazing! It’s in a gated community with a community pool, park, and theater; each home has its own screened-in pool and hot tub. Our house is huge and could easily sleep 12 people. Even having only been here a few hours I can already see the benefits of staying in a home vs. a hotel. The space, the common area, the full kitchen, the private pool… it’s just a much more family-friendly setup! I’ll take you on a tour of the place soon, but for now here’s a glimpse of the view out our back windows:

Tomorrow we’re off to Legoland! If you know us at all, you know we’re HUGE Lego fans, so this should be a really fun day. There’s a big chance for rain, so hopefully it’ll still all work out!

I’ll be back soon to talk about our Legoland experience, and to share more about our awesome vacation home!In the meantime, I’d love to hear – what’s your favorite road trip experience?

Note: We’re borrowing the Ford Explorer to review, have been provided with a vacation home to stay in while in Orlando, and received tickets to Legoland to review the park. We were not compensated monetarily for any of these reviews, and all opinions in this post are honest and our own.

Ten Tips for Road Trip Survival

We’re leaving on a road trip next week. But not just any road trip. An 18-hour road trip. With a two-year-old and four-year-old in tow. In honor of this trip, I decided to create a list of things that might help us survive – and maybe even really enjoy – the drive.

  1. Three words: Portable. DVD. Player. Every parent who’s ever gone on a long trip with kids will extoll the virtues of this device. I don’t typically advocate using videos as a babysitter, but in the car I think it’s valuable tool for breaking up long spurts of essentially just sitting around, especially when kids are too young to read. Here’s another idea – take advantage of Redbox and pick up new movies at various stops along your trip. You can return the DVDs to any machine, so you can always just have one or two out at a time and your kids will get a new variety of entertainment.
  2. Pack plenty of blankets and pillows. I’m a nester… I want any space I’m spending time in to be comfortable and feel homey, and I’ve always been that way. It’s a lot more pleasant to be stuck in the car for a long time if you’re snuggled up with a blanket and pillow!
  3. Offer prizes. Yep, I resort to bribery on long road trips. We usually go buy up some cool-looking Hot Wheels cars for $1 each, and some other items from the Target dollar section. In the past I would just periodically pull one out for each of the boys, but now that they’re older I want to incorporate some fun into it – the small toys can serve as prizes for correctly guessing an I Spy, coloring a great picture, or for winning a round of the quiet game.
  4. If possible, travel when the kids are sleeping. I really hate driving (or, ahem, traveling… Brian does most of the driving on our road trips) at night, so we very rarely abide by this one. It can really make things easier, though! Our boys typically go to sleep around 8:00, so if we drive until midnight that gives us four hours of quiet drive time.
  5. Listen to audiobooks and FUN music. Growing up, we always listened to music on road trips, but now with how easy it is to load up audiobooks on your MP3 player, these are a great option for listening material in the car. Chick Fil A and Taco Bueno are both offering great audiobooks in their kids’ meals right now, by the way! We’ve amassed a collection of VeggieTales stories from CFA, and two Scholastic books from Bueno. Another idea: After you listen to a story, ask the kids questions to see what they remember, or what they thought about certain things that occurred. It’s a great conversation starter! As far as music goes, it’ll vary with the ages of your children. With small kids like ours, though, sacrifice your musical integrity and listen to some Old MacDonald. A family sing-along can be a lot of fun for everyone.
  6. Play games. I referred to it earlier, but games definitely make trips go by faster! Brian and I play “My Father Owns a Grocery Store” where you take turns thinking of an item from the supermarket that begin with a certain letter of the alphabet, and the other people have to guess. It’s surprisingly fun and helps make the time go by more quickly. If you’re looking for other game ideas besides the standard I Spy, here’s a list of 101 ideas you can choose from. I’m also a huge fan of MadLibs, and so are the boys. I like to come up with my own basic stories for them because then I can center the subject around something the boys really like.
  7. Drive a vehicle with plenty of space. I know it’s not always possible, but the more space you have, the happier everyone will be. We get to try the 2011 Ford Explorer on our road trip, and are excited about having a lot of space for both luggage and our family.
  8. Provide a variety of snacks. If you have a cooler along with you, I’m a big fan of string cheese. The boys take forever to eat it, and it’s a healthy option. Grapes (I cut mine in half because I’m paranoid about the boys choking) are another good choice. Crackers and chips can crumble all over the place, so think about the mess potential when you’re picking food to bring. Oh, and always have lollipops on hand. Those can buy us a good 10 minutes of happy silence!
  9. Art time! Instead of pulling out coloring books, bring cardstock along and let your kids create masterpieces to mail to family and friends. Another idea is to work together as a family to create a storybook – draw all the pictures first, have the kids place them in the order they want, and then write the story to go around the images.
  10. If you’re stopping overnight on your trip, pack one “hotel” bag. Nothing’s more annoying than getting to your hotel late at night and then having to dig through luggage to find everyone’s suitcases and toiletry bag. Instead, pack PJ’s and the next day’s outfit for everyone in one duffel bag with toiletries. If you have small children, pack some outlet protectors in the bag too for a little childproofing.

I’ll be writing a series of posts starting next week that chronicle our trip, so I hope you’ll tune in and follow along. In the meantime, you have any tips for traveling with small kids, I’d love to hear them!