Travel – Frugal Novice
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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!

Our Trip to Legoland at Grapevine Mills

If you didn’t already know it, our family is, um, kind of a LEGO family. Brian grew up playing with them (and still has all of his bricks from childhood) and now the boys love them too. I love the creativity they instill, even if I’m not that great at building things! Anyway, a couple of years ago we had the chance to visit Legoland in Schaumburg and had a lot of fun. C was only a few months old, so he missed out on the fun. Now there’s one in Grapevine, so we decided we needed to go sometime soon.

It ended up working out that we were able to surprise the boys with a visit to Legoland on Easter – they loved it! Our timing probably wasn’t the best, because it was really crowded and we had to do a LOT of waiting around (not so fun with a 2 & 3-year-old). Regardless, it was still a great time overall.

There was this giant minifig (giantfig?) out in the waiting area, and since we were out there about 15 minutes waiting to get in the boys entertained themselves with riding his bike.

We got to see LEGO DFW, including the Stockyards, airport and more. The boys’ favorite part by far was the train. They thought it was cool seeing Great Wolf Lodge, too (they still talk about that trip)!

Brian snapped this next photo of C playing, and it’s my favorite one from the trip:

Giant stack of LEGOs! We wish we could have some like this at our house but apparently they’re hard to come by:

J & I went on a ride where we “flew” – here he is pre-flight (don’t worry, I buckled him in!):

He loved it!

Afterward we had to make a stop in the LEGO store, of course. C was in love with the pick-a-brick wall and kept pacing back and forth along it, looking at all of the colors.

We did some damage in the store, but I left with three very happy guys so I guess it was worth it. :)

Great Wolf Lodge Review

If you’re not familiar with Great Wolf Lodge, it’s a company with indoor water parks located around the country. Right now they have eleven locations:

We recently got the opportunity to visit and review the Grapevine location. When we drove up to the lodge I could tell that this wasn’t going to be a typical hotel stay – this place is HUGE!

The entrance is really grand with wolf sculptures around it, and when I walk in to the lobby it felt almost like I’d been transported to somewhere else (certainly somewhere other than Texas!).

Continue Reading…

Omni Hotel Bayfront Tower Review

I’ve never been to Corpus Christi before – despite having lived in Texas my entire life – so I was really excited to get the opportunity to travel there and review the Omni Hotel Bayfront Tower. I did a little reading before we left for our trip and discovered their loyalty program, which I promptly joined. This free program allows you to accumulate points toward free nights’ stays or airline miles, and it provides other immediate benefits, including:

  • complimentary wi-fi
  • complimentary morning beverages & newspaper delivered to your guest room
  • complimentary shoe shine & pressing of two items
  • evening housekeeping service, including turndown

Upon arriving at the hotel, we discovered there were two options for parking – valet service, or the attached parking garage. We opted for the garage the whole weekend and it worked just fine for us. The hotel is literally right across the street from the bay, stretching up 20 stories.

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Hotel Valencia – Review & Giveaway

Hotel Valencia

Brian and I have date nights on a pretty regular basis… if sitting at home, cuddled up on the couch counts as a date. But a real date night out? It’s been a while. Getting to review the Hotel Valencia provided us with the opportunity for just that.

The hotel is located along the San Antonio Riverwalk, which, if you haven’t been, is a great getaway location with a lot to do.

The attention to service is apparent from the moment you walk in the door – or really, as you walk up. Bob rushed over to grab the door for us, greeting us with a smile. At check in, Lisa was pleasant and efficient, pointing out features of the hotel and where they were located. Within an hour of check in, I received an email from Robert, the Director of Operations, thanking us for choosing their hotel and letting me know I could email him or call the front desk if I had any problems. This level of service is not something I’ve encountered often at a hotel, and it made an impression. Continue Reading…