Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

I'm Going! - The Geekly Retreat 2019

Whether we have heard that "a dream is wish your heart makes" or "dream big princess," I've always believed that anything is possible.  And this past week, I had some very exciting news land in my inbox!  Proving that dreams really do come true, I'm happy to share that I've been invited to attend the first ever Geekly Retreat.

So, what's the Geekly Retreat?  This is an incredible opportunity that was organized by the talented ladies over at The Geekly Show.  These women have joined forces to become a powerhouse group of bloggers and influencers when it comes to entertainment news.  They have put together a retreat that is allowing several lucky bloggers to join them on an adventure in California that will include networking, writing workshops, and some pretty incredible entertainment opportunities!

My blogging journey began almost 6 years ago (can that possibly be right?!?) and I never thought it would take me this far.  I began sharing as Adventures of a Disney Loving Mom in 2014 where I really created this space as purely a spot to share Disney vacation planning information and reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions at Disney Parks locations.  The first big boost for my blog was in 2015 when I was invited to a Disney Social Media Moms On-The-Road Celebration in New York City.  It was here that I heard from social media experts and met with a number of likeminded men and women who helped me see a bigger future for myself.  I decided to re-brand my blog as Running on Pixie Dust as my content began expanding to more than just Disney vacations which has brought me to where I am today - sharing all of my favorite details related to family, travel, fitness, and Disney!  Of course, entertainment content is a part of what I share and I look forward to learning more at this retreat to grow that area of my coverage even more!

And, now, here we are!  I am so humbled and honored to have been invited to this retreat and still find that I'm pinching myself waiting to wake up from this dream.  Just as incredible as the itinerary is the list of bloggers attending.  I've had the pleasure of meeting several of them in person, and have been excitedly following many others for years.  In fact, one of my fellow founders of the Mid-Atlantic Moms-On-The-Go Community is also attending!  Take a minute to meet Rachel over at Pretty in Baby Food!

I started blogging around 3 years ago. As a new mom, I needed a creative outlet, and I also wanted to help other parents who were just like me. It may surprise you but I started out writing about cloth diapers. Haha! As my blog grew, and I grew as a blogger, I branched out into more topics such as lifestyle, travel, and entertainment. Through the years my blog has expanded and now I am apart of the Mid-Atlantic Mom's and also an entertainment writer for Geek For E. My goal as a writer is still to help parents whether that be through travel and movie reviews or just talking about life. One day I hope to be invited to a Disney Social Media Moms On-The-Road Celebration as Kristi has and to continue to work with amazing brands as I have been. I am so humbled and excited about this Geekly Retreat opportunity, and I hope you will follow along with me over on my Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

I hope that you are as excited to follow our adventures as we are to grow, learn, and network with other amazing entertainment bloggers in California this November! Make sure you are following @thegeeklyshow and #thegeeklyretreat for all of the latest buzz!
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A Day at Margaritaville on Grand Turk

On our most recent Carnival Cruise vacation, we traveled from Baltimore to the Bahamas on the Carnival Pride with stops in Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay, and Freeport.  While planning our cruise excursions we were torn on what to do in Grand Turk.  Traveling with a three and six year old meant that we needed a kid friendly activity to enjoy the beautiful island.  We had read prior to the trip that there was a free beach right at the cruise terminal, but then were drawn to Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville.  We decided to rent a cabana for the day and give it a go.  Without a doubt, this was a perfect day for us and I definitely recommend giving Maragaritaville a try!

Maragaritaville is a free, yes you read that right, FREE pool complex located right at the cruise terminal.  While it doesn't cost anything to use the pool there, you can "upgrade" your experience by renting VIP seating or a cabana for the day.  The cabana was advertised as an excursion on Carnival's website and we decided to go for it as this was the only port that we were booking anything so the cost wasn't prohibitive to us on this trip (I believe it cost $240 for the day for our whole party).  The cabanas feature indoor seating which includes a comfy couch, a refrigerator, and the ability to lock the door so you can feel safe leaving any belongings in there.  There are also lounge chairs on the covered front porch that you can use if you just want to get out of the sun for a bit, but still enjoy the warm outdoor air.  The cabanas also include wait staff that will take care of your eating and drinking needs throughout the day!  We loved having this option to go and cool off at during the day, but it's also a "luxury" at Margaritaville and I'm sure you can have a wonderful time without one too.  If you are looking for a less expensive option, they do offer free seating by the pool as well as some VIP seating.  This VIP seating option wasn't advertised on Carnival's website so we didn't know about it ahead of time and may consider this in the future.  With this option, you have chairs closer to the pool, a locked safe, an umbrella, and waitstaff.  Of course, there are free chairs around the pool area and on the nearby beach if you want to use them as well.
Inside of our poolside cabana

Margaritaville is also a restaurant and bar which offers restaurant seating and pool service.  With our cabana, we ordered food through out waitress and she delivered it directly to our cabana so it was waiting for us when we were ready to take a break from swimming and playing.  There was also a swim up bar so you could get your drinks without ever needing to leave the pool!  Drinks and food are expensive, but servings are HUGE - definitely consider sharing with others.  We ordered several appetizers off the menu and split them instead of ordering our own meals.  They also offer drink specials where you can save money by purchasing souvenir glasses that offer cheaper refills throughout the day and buckets of beer that can save some money.
Wasting away again in Margaritaville!

With our Faster to the Fun option, we were among the first ones off the ship in Grand Turk and were among the last to board in the evening.  Margaritaville was a perfect place for our kids to play, featuring a huge pool, zero entry option, and fun music as well as offering a relaxing place for the adults in your group as well.  If you have older kids, they may enjoy taking a turn on Flow Rider at this location too.  I would definitely plan to visit Margaritaville again on a future trip to Grand Turk or in one of their other destinations.  If you need me, I'll be looking for my lost shaker of salt!
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All Aboard for FUN at Strasburg Railroad

"All aboard!" Can't you just hear the train whistle?!?  When you travel to Ronks, Pennsylvania in tranquil Lancaster County, you won't have to use your imagination because trains are all the rage in this small town.  Ronks is home to the Strasburg Railroad, America's oldest railroad still operating under it's original charter - dating all the way back to 1832!  Still an active rail yard, Strasburg is a popular destination for families throughout the Mid-Atlantic to learn a little bit about trains while having a whole lot of fun!

My family and I were provided complimentary tickets for the train ride and fun extras pass to share with you all the fun at Strasburg Railroad! 

The main attraction at the Strasburg Railroad is a 45-minute roundtrip train ride through the farmlands of Lancaster County.  Guests can select from a variety of options including coach, dining, and luxury choices to travel the rails.  Tickets are purchased at the station and passengers board the train from their assigned platforms.

Train Tip: Seats on the train can be flipped so that you can always be riding "forward" if you are someone who doesn't handle riding backwards well.  This is especially helpful on busy days so you don't have to worry about changing seats!

During the ride, guests will learn a bit about the history of the railroad and the Amish farm community that surrounds the area.  If you chose to purchase tickets on the dining car, you can enjoy a meal during your ride.  More into packing your own food?  Not a problem at all! The train actually stops at a picnic destination where guests can hop off and enjoy a picnic lunch and play time on some playground equipment.  When you're ready to return back to the station, your family can just pick up the next train.  My boys loved riding the rails and especially loved the ghost story that was shared when we passed a certain spot on the ride. . .don't worry, it's not too scary!! There are also themed train rides and special events throughout the year including a Day Out with Thomas, holiday train rides, and much, much more!  To learn more, visit Strasburg's Events page of their website here.

History of the Strasburg Railroad
Train Tip: Purchasing your tickets ahead is a great timesaver for a visit any day of the year, but is very important for those busy special event trains!

But the fun at Strasburg Railroad isn't limited to the train ride itself!  Guests can purchase a "fun extras" pass which gives access to three attractions in the yard.  First up is the Pint-Sized Pufferbelly.  This "junior" train ride takes you on a brief journey on a small train.  Next, you'll want to head on over to the Cranky Cars for a chance to power your own little engine around a small track.  This was the favorite of my boys as they worked hard to see just how fast they can go!  Finally, the fun extras pass includes a turn powering your own pump car.  My kids were too short to participate in this activity, but look forward to trying it in the future! These three attractions certainly add to the excitement of the day for little ones!

Don't miss fun events like the Day Out with Thomas!
Train Tip: There's a special play space that's a bit of a "hidden gem" if you have extra time before or after your train.  Check out the playground which features slides, swings, and it's own train to climb and play on!  It's tucked back behind the bathrooms and the pump car - don't miss it!

While you're waiting for your train and enjoying the fun extras, there are also gift shops and a small diner option.  The restaurant is small on the inside, but also includes outdoor seating.  Here, you'll find some classics like hot dogs, chicken tenders, and grilled cheese along with smoothies and ice cream to cool off on a hot day!  Train enthusiasts young and old can also find plenty of toys and model trains to purchase as well in the gift shop.  During your visit, you can also purchase a picture from the train ride with your family or pose for an "old time" photo before or after your ride in a studio.

All in all, we spent about 3 hours at Strasburg Railroad and had plenty of time to see and enjoy everything.  Special events, like the Day Out with Thomas, can bring larger crowds and may impact the amount of time it takes to be able to do it all at the tracks.  We have loved visiting the Strasburg Railroad for several generations now in our family and look forward to continuing to make memories there for years to come!  



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Know Before You Go: Camp Ocean on Carnival Cruise Line

The cruise industry has adapted and continues to make changes to meet the needs of families as more adults are choosing cruise vacations that include little ones.  Let's face it - a cruise is a great family vacation.  There is so much to do on the ship, lots of food, and incredible ports of call.  Cruising is even more family friendly thanks to the kids clubs that most cruise lines offer now.  Our two most recent cruises have been on Carnival Cruise Line - the Carnival Paradise out of Tampa and the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore.  On each of these trips we had kids under 6 and I'm here to answer some questions you may have about Camp Ocean on Carnival!

What ages are able to go to Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is open to young cruisers from 2 through 11.  This is great news for parents!  Most cruise lines don't accept children until age 3 in kids clubs and several require that children are potty trained.  The fact that Carnival accepts 2 year olds and there was no potty training requirement was a big part of our decision to sail with Carnival in 2017.  Camp Ocean is divided into different age groups to make sure that activities are age appropriate and little ones don't have to worry about being with 11 year olds all day long.

Is there a cost for Camp Ocean?

Camp Ocean is included with your cruise fare so no extra fees.  Well, maybe a few for some extra activities if you choose.  Camp Ocean closes in the evening at 10PM, but if mom and dad want to stay out and party later, you can enroll your child in Night Owls for a small fee and they will keep care of them until 1AM.  The counselors have a variety of activities and also offer quiet space for kids who are ready to sleep.

Sample Schedule from Carnival Paradise - 2017
Speaking of hours, what hours is Camp Ocean open for use?

This will definitely vary day-by-day.  During embarkation, Camp Ocean is open for an "open house." You can't drop kids off during this time, but it's a great opportunity to see the space with your children and meet the camp staff.  They are super friendly and can answer any specific questions you have.  On at-sea days, the camp is typically open in the AM for some time, closes mid-day and then re-opens in the evening.  Throughout the mid-day, there tends to be some family-friendly entertainment planned on ship including the Seuss At Sea activities, Build-A-Bear, and much more!  The kids staff tends to lead these events for younger cruisers so it makes sense why they are close during this time.  For more information on kid-friendly activities on board a Carnival Cruise, check out my older post about Seuss At Sea.  During port days, you can usually find Camp Carnival open the duration of the time in port.

Wait. . .I can leave my kids in Camp Ocean while off the ship?  Is that a good idea?

Yes, you can check your kids into camp then disembark and enjoy some more grown-up excursions.  Some excursions do have age requirements so if you are traveling with toddlers and preschoolers, this may be an option for you.  As far as if it's a good idea, that's up to you.  Personally, I have never opted to do this and don't see myself doing so in the future.  There's so much to consider here in my opinion that the risk (while admittedly slight) of something going wrong far outweighs the benefits.  I would be a nervous wreck that something terrible would happen and I wouldn't make it back to ship - then my kids are on board and I'm not.  I also really believe in family travel.  While we love Camp Ocean and enjoy using it for mom and dad to take a nap on the Serenity Deck or grab an upscale dinner one night, I don't want to have my kids spend our entire vacation away from us.  We have never had a problem finding excursions that our whole family will enjoy!

You mentioned dinner.  Will Camp Ocean feed my kids?

Yes and no.  You cannot send food with your kid into camp.  On at-sea days, camp will always be closed for lunch so you'll be feeding your own children.  If your child is in camp on a port day, lunch will be provided.  A great option offered nightly though, especially for parents looking to enjoy some of the more upscale dining options on board, is a Kids Only Dinner.  You can drop your child off at the Lido Deck buffet with camp staff and they will feed them dinner before taking them up to camp for the evening.  The only downside to the meal is that it is pre-selected and can't be changed for picky eaters.  We took advantage of this on two nights and it worked well.  One of the nights was a chance for us to do the Chef's Table which was incredible!
Inside Camp Ocean on Carnival Pride 2018

What about safety?  How do I know others won't have access to my kids?

Great minds think alike as this is always one of the top priorities I look at when talking childcare anywhere for my kids!  And you can rest assured that we felt Carnival took great care of keeping our kids safe.  When you register your child for Camp Ocean, you designate who can check your child or children in and out.  These authorized adults must present sail and sign cards which will be scanned and reviewed at check-in and check-out.  You can even give adults permission to access your children who are in other staterooms which is perfect if you're traveling with extended family or friends.  If you kids fall in the 9-11 age group, you can choose whether or not to give them the ability to check themselves in and out of camp.  I'm still a few years away from that decision yet, but I find myself leaning towards keeping control of their time in camp.

Last, but not least - will my kids have fun??

While I certainly can't guarantee this for every child, I will say that my boys have LOVED their time in Camp Ocean.  Both of them were a little nervous the first time at drop off, but after that couldn't wait to return each day for some play time with their new Camp Ocean friends.  They even enjoyed seeing their friends throughout the ship when they weren't in camp and playing in the pool together.  The activities are well organized and they bring home lots of goodies - crafts, prizes, etc.  The staff has always been amazing and we felt our boys were well cared for.

As with any program that is offered across a large company, there will be variations from ship-to-ship.  You can always find out more information at www.carnival.com and look for specific details about your ship.  If you have questions that relate to the Carnival Paradise or Carnival Pride, feel free to drop them in the comments below and I'll do my best to give you my experiences! Happy sailing!
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Is a Paw Pass Worth it at Great Wolf Lodge?

Our family headed to Great Wolf Lodge in Niagara Falls, Canada for our first visit to this popular family resort.  Great Wolf Lodge has locations across North America, and we decided to pair our visit to GWL with a family trip to see Niagara Falls as well.  After several days exploring the natural beauty of the area, we checked into Great Wolf Lodge for 2 nights and 3 days of family fun.  Many people think of a fabulous indoor water park when they think of Great Wolf Lodge, but did you know there is so much more for your family to enjoy?!?  Enter the Paw Pass!  With activities around the lodge including bowling, a stuffing station to build your own stuffed friend, MagiQuest game, an arcade and so much more, the Paw Pass provides an opportunity to purchase access to many of the popular activities at a discounted price.  Let's take a look at what's included and the break down when this is a good choice for your family.

My boys were provided complimentary Paw Passes from Great Wolf Lodge - Niagara Falls so that we could share our experiences with you!  As always, thoughts and opinions are honest feedback from our real experiences!

Before we begin, it's important to note that each Great Wolf Lodge location has a slightly different Paw Pass deal.  Pricing and activities will vary from location to location as what each lodge offers also varies.  The Paw Pass at Great Wolf Lodge - Niagara Falls runs each wolf $69.99 and includes the following:

  • One MagiQuest game and classic wand or topper
  • Two games of bowling at Ten Paw Alley or one game at Wacky Wilderness Mini-Golf
  • One animal at Great Wolf Stuffing Station (outfit not included)
  • One 5x7 Paw Prints Water Slide Photo
  • One gift at Scoops Kid Spa
  • 1/4 lb of fudge at Bear Claw Cafe
  • One Great Wolf Kids Color-Your-Own item in Cub Club
  • One pair of wolf ears from the Trading Post Gift Shop
  • 30 Paw Points and game card for Northern Lights Arcade
Caleb and Wolf-Wolf
So is it worth it?  My boys would absolutely say yes!  While you can certainly go to Great Wolf Lodge and have a wonderful family vacation enjoying your room and the water park which are all included in your rate, these activities really enhance your experience.  Both of our boys couldn't wait to get to the Trading Post not long after we arrived and get their wolf ears and new stuffed animal.  They made sure to have their new friend made the first evening we were there so they could sleep with him in bed that night.  We decided to space out our other activities and used them as some breaks from the water park.  The stuffed animal was Caleb's favorite part of the Paw Pass.  He loves his new Wolf-Wolf and carries him everywhere!

Brody's favorite activity hands down on the Paw Pass was the MagiQuest game.  For this game, young wizards use a wand to visit interactive objects, pictures, etc. around the lodge and complete various quests.  It sounded confusing at first, but with the help of the friendly staff at the Quest Cottage and our handy guide book, it became pretty intuitive very quickly.  It's important to note that this game is probably best enjoyed by 1st graders and up.  Since Caleb had a Paw Pass, we had him get a wand and tried to have him play along with Brody, but his attention span at 4 years old as well as his ability to comprehend what the quests were, just didn't lend itself to this activity.  At 7 though, we couldn't pull Brody away from this!  I saw many older elementary kids running around completing quests as well.  The older the child, the more they are going to be able to do independent from adult help.
Brody on one of his many MagiQuest adventures!

The boys also really enjoyed their evening in the arcade.  Dan decided to rest in the room after a busy first day so I had both boys in the arcade by myself.  We took turns picking games and the 30 Paw Points per kid lasted our family about 45 minutes or so.  You can purchase more arcade points if you'd like as well.  The Northern Lights arcade was also where you could claim your game of mini golf or have the two games of bowling loaded onto your arcade card.  We opted to bowl and this was the final activity our boys completed before leaving the lodge to return home.

At the end of the trip, I would say that we would definitely buy a Paw Pass again.  While the boys claimed the fudge, free slide photo, gift from Scoops spa, and the color-your-own activity at Cub Club, those are not items we probably would have purchased without the pass.  When you add up the cost of the other items, the Paw Pass definitely is a cost savings for families who plan to enjoy the extra activities at Great Wolf Lodge.  For another look at our family trip, check out the video below and keep your eyes open for another post on the blog that will recap the entire experience at Great Wolf Lodge including the waterpark, room, food, and free activities around the property.  Until then, have a Great Wolf Day!




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New Exhibits Setting Sail at Port Discovery

Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore's Inner Harbor has been delighting families for years with entertaining exhibits that foster creativity and learning.  Whether you are visiting for the day, taking a field trip, or planning a birthday party, there is a lot to see and enjoy at this Charm City destination.  It has long been a favorite of our boys and I was delighted to join the fun opening weekend of two new exhibits that have provided a dramatic facelift to the museum.

My family and I received complimentary admission into the museum to share the excitement of these new exhibits!  As always, opinions are honest and my own.

What's New - The two big updates to Port Discovery are Sky Climber and The Port.  You can't miss either exhibit as you enter the museum on the first floor.  Past visitors of the children's museum will remember the large KidWorks climbing and sliding structure that spanned all three floors.  While my oldest always loved playing in KidWorks, it made this mom a little nervous as it was hard to keep track of little ones in the maze of cargo nets, slides, and tunnels.  Parents will be happy to hear that Sky Climber is much easier to keep an eye on little explorers as there is one way up on each side and then everyone comes down the slide.  Kids will be happy to hear that this is a challenging and fun climb that goes up four stories before taking the super fast twisty slide all the way back down to the first floor.  Grown-ups can join the fun too in this exhibit - although I will warn from personal experience that there are some tight squeezes, especially earlier on, and the climb may leave you feeling every bit of your age!  Guests may only wear socks on Sky Climber so come prepared!  They also have socks you can use at the base of Sky Climber, but even though they have a spot for clean and dirty socks, I still have a weird thing about sharing socks with someone else.

Learning about navigating a ship!

The other new exhibit is The Port which is again a multi-level experience for children.  Little minds can learn about the various operations that take place in a busy port - just like Baltimore!  Here they load and unload cargo, navigate a ship, and go through port security. . .and that's just the start.  The boys loved loading cargo and watching it climb up the lift.  On the lower level of the exhibit, young guests can explore the engine room.  There were several Port Discovery staff members around this exhibit to help guests navigate the new area and make sure kids were able to see and enjoy all there was to offer.

Old Favorites - If you've been to Port Discovery before, you'll be happy to know that many of your favorite exhibits are back and feature some fresh updates.  Our boys have always enjoyed Tiny's Diner where they can cook food and serve it to us in a restaurant.  The jukebox is working and the kitchen has received some new items.  The Adventure Expeditions exhibit has also gone through a quick makeover - not changing the contents of the exhibit, but getting everything working again.  The other favorite place for the kids to play was in the Water Works area where they could have fun, practice some engineering, and, of course, get a little wet!  My kids have outgrown the Tot Trails area which is designed specifically for children 3 and under, but this used to be a regular hangout for Caleb and I while Brody and Dan would be off playing elsewhere.  This large room features several sensory friendly environment for children and recently was updated with a private nursing areas for mothers.  I think one of my favorite things about visiting Port Discovery is that each time we go, the kids find new things to enjoy!

Will these objects sink or float? Let's make a hypothesis!
Thinking About Visiting? - Here's what you should know!
  • Admission is $17.95 for guests 1 and over.  I know parents with young children might be used to children under 3 getting into places for free, but believe me when I tell you that your littlest family members will have just as much fun here as older explorers.  
  • Parking is available throughout downtown Baltimore, but I recommend parking at the Harbor Park garage which is located right next to Port Discovery.  You can also have your parking validated for a reduced rate inside the museum so bring your parking ticket!
  • There is no dining option inside the museum, but there is a designated area to eat snacks or food that you bring with you and vending machines are located onsite.  Within a block radius of the museum there are ample restaurant choices from sit down locales to quick service options.  We like visiting Blaze Pizza and then grabbing an ice cream from Lucky's located in the old Power Plant on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, right next to Phillip's Seafood.
  • Lockers are available at Port Discovery and are FREE to use - parents with diaper bags rejoice!  You can set a combination to lock your bags up for the day and enter / lock as much as you need throughout the day.  I will say the code locks were a bit fickle, but after a few attempts we were able to get them working just fine.  
  • Port Discovery takes family safety very seriously.  When you enter, your entire family will receive wristbands with a unique code for each member.  Upon leaving the museum, staff will check wristbands at the exit to make sure that no kid is leaving with an adult they didn't come with - love this!
  • I would plan on your visit taking at least two hours.  Anything less than that and I think you'll be missing out on some exhibits your family may really enjoy.  I would say at a maximum you're looking at 4 hours roughly here.  Beyond that, I believe your children would be running out of steam despite the many rooms to explore.  The more that your family wants to participate in story times, music classes, and such, the longer you'll want to plan for your visit.


I hope that you enjoy planning a visit to Port Discovery Children's Museum with your family!  It's a perfect destination for early elementary and younger to play, learn, and explore for hours of fun.  For more information on planning your visit, be sure to visit www.portdiscovery.org.    I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!  
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Why I Believe in Traveling with Kids. . .And You Should Too!

I have to admit, I tend to get one of two reactions from people when it comes to our family travel plans.  "Oh, you're going somewhere again? Don't you ever get tired of being on the go?" or "Oh, you're going somewhere again! How exciting!" There seems to be 2 definitive camps when it comes to family travel - either people get it or they don't.  I've often had to answer critics who like to say that the kids are too little to remember this or those that feel they'd have just as much fun relaxing on a beach somewhere, but I take a different view.  I 100%, wholeheartedly believe in family travel for so many reasons and this just seemed like a good time to share them.  While I don't use this as a space to get political, I will say that the new ban on travel to Cuba stirred up some strong emotions for me over the past week.  Our family cruised to Cuba on a 5 night Carnival Cruise out of Tampa in 2017 and it was a fabulous trip.  Hearing news of this travel ban really hit home for me and reminded me of why I'm so passionate about family travel.

Before we get too far into this conversation, I'd like to point out an important distinction - I'm calling this family "travel," not family "vacation."  I think there is a difference in the two.  Vacation is something we do to relax, unwind, and forget about the worries of the world.  This is really important and there are plenty of places to do this.  Vacation and travel can intersect and you can travel to new and exotic places while also experiencing a true "vacation." However, the family travel plans that we tend to make don't often resemble "vacations" by most definitions.  We are usually busy going from place to place, exploring all there is to see and do.  Family travel isn't always easy - especially with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in tow - but there are certainly some undeniable perks that make it all worth it.

As a former social studies teacher, current school administrator, and a lifelong educator, I believe very passionately in developing citizens of the world.  Kids need to be exposed more than just their local community and understand that they fit into a much bigger picture of global society.  So far our family has traveled to Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, and we're heading to Canada in just a few short weeks.  With young kids, we often don't spend our time in museums, but instead exploring the beauty of nature and interacting with the culture that surrounds us.  One of their favorite memories in Cuba was spending the day hanging out with our tour guide.  As the youngest guests on the 11 hour bus tour - and by youngest I mean youngest by at least a decade - we were nervous about how the day was going to go.  But she welcomed the boys, made them feel a part of the group, and even gave them handmade toys from one of the local artisans.  Our oldest talked frequently to the farmers and others that we met on our tour as he explored their culture.  It was actually a very ironic moment for me this past weekend when Brody asked me when we could go back to Cuba.  I found myself at a loss of how to explain a travel ban to a country that had such an impact on him seems fair or makes sense.

As we prepare for our upcoming trip to Canada, we once again find ourselves planning an itinerary that will be entertaining as well as enriching to our children.  We've decided to mix in a healthy dose of natural wonder and beauty with several tours planned of Niagara Falls - including boat tours, behind the scene tours, and hiking trails to take it all in.  In addition, we'll be visiting Great Wolf Lodge for 2 days while there.  The boys are so excited to check another country off their world traveller list and we've been mapping our road trip on US maps at least weekly to study geography so they can learn the states we'll be traveling through while on the road.


via GIPHY

There are so many ways to turn family travel into learning experiences.  Even simple getaways to relaxing destinations can become enriched with a visit to a museum, aquarium, or cultural heritage site.  Remember that travel with little ones doesn't have to be over the top - in fact, it's often true the less is more.  Take the trip rather than buying the stuff when it comes to spending money on your family and enjoy all the world around you has to offer!  I am a strong believer that we have a duty to create citizens of the world who feel a need to take care of each other.  Expanding the mind with travel and exposing kids to new cultures is a great way to introduce them to people and places around the world - all while making family memories that will last a lifetime!
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Is Faster to the Fun Worth it on your next Carnival Cruise Vacation?

When you are on vacation, waiting in lines can be a big pet peeve.  And on cruise vacations, lines seem to be everywhere - checking in, boarding tenders, at the buffet, etc. So when Carnival Cruise Line offers a "Faster to the Fun" option for guests, it seems pretty appealing.  But is it worth it?  I've been on two Carnival Cruise vacations with our family - one where we purchased Faster to the Fun and one where we didn't.  Let's first talk about what is included in this optional add-on to cruise and then compare my experiences to determine if it's right for you and your vacation.

What is Faster to the Fun? - Carnival Cruise Line offers guests essentially a "FastPass," to borrow from my Disney knowledge, that you can use throughout your cruise vacation.  The cost of Faster to the Fun varies based on your departure port and cruise length and the option must be booked for all guests in the stateroom.  Faster to the Fun jumps you to first in line for a number of opportunities on the ship.  First of all, you have priority boarding for the ship and are among the first to begin your vacation fun as well as having early access to your stateroom and priority delivery of your bags.  During your cruise, Faster to the Fun gives you priority tender and debarkation options when in port as well as access to priority lines - both in person and on the phone - to guest services.  And when you return, you can also take advantage of Faster to the Fun to have priority debarkation by selecting your preferred time to leave the ship.  There is certainly a lot to consider when choosing whether or not Faster to the Fun is right for you.


via GIPHY

5 Night Cruise to Key West and Cuba from Tampa w/o Faster to the Fun - Our cruise on the Carnival Paradise left on a Monday and we stayed in the Tampa area the weekend before.  On the day of embarkation, we arrived at the port by a car service around 1:30.  Boarding began several hours earlier.  We waited in line to check-in for about 15 minutes and then, once through the process of going over documents and getting our ship cards, we were able to walk right on the ship - no wait at all.  Each of our two ports did not require a tender and guests exited the ship fairly quickly.  Things were a bit slower in Cuba with several extra steps needed to disembark and enter the country.  We were also granted one of the earlier disembarkation times in Cuba as our tour was scheduled for 11 hours that day.  There was no point during this cruise that I regretted not having Faster to the Fun.  Actually, that's a small lie.  Faster to the Fun guests do also get priority lines at guest services on the ship and I did make a stop by that counter one time during the ship.  I was slightly jealous of the non-existent line next to me while I was waiting about 20 minutes to speak to someone.

7 Night Cruise to the Bahamas from Baltimore w/ Faster to the Fun - When it came time to book our next Carnival Cruise Line vacation for the following summer, we initially decided not to add Faster to the Fun due to our experience on our other cruise.  We were cruising with another family and, when Faster to the Fun became available again closer to the cruise (it was showing sold out and then more opportunities appeared), they encouraged us to book it as they use it regularly out of Baltimore.  We figured it was worth a try and added it to our cruise vacation.  With Faster to the Fun, we were granted first access to board the ship.  We arrived at the port along with lots of others and were greeted with long lines to check in.  Once we were through security and checked in, we waited in a crowded waiting area for about an hour.  The ship was slightly delayed arriving back in port that morning and so we were slower to begin boarding.  When we got on the ship, it was nice to have first access to the pools and lunch.  We also had early access to our staterooms and our bags were first to arrive.  After the long wait in port, the perks on the ship were welcome.  The next time we noticed a perk to Faster to the Fun was during our day at Half Moon Cay.  At this private island oasis, guests tender from the ship to the island.  Faster to the Fun also provides priority tender.  We were told to gather in one of the theaters and were quickly escorted to the first tender.  We were able to grab a perfect spot on the beach and had a drink in our hands while other guests spent the next few hours tendering ashore - best perk of the trip in my opinion!  The final time we really utilized Faster to the Fun was on disembarkation day.  We had to wait for the ship to clear and then those without checked bags to exit before we were allowed to go.  It was hours of waiting - didn't really feel "faster" to me, but I guess there were lots of people behind me.

So would I do it again?? - Maybe.  If I was taking a cruise with a number of options to tender I would definitely recommend it.  If I had the extra money in the budget to pay for it, it may be beneficial on embarkation.  However, I didn't feel like there was any benefit to the disembarkation process.  I think I would have enjoyed a more leisurely morning and being last of the ship then to hurry up and wait.  This may be a good option for your family if you can grab it to avoid long lines tendering and to have first access to ship amenities on embarkation day, but I wouldn't recommend skipping another experience on the ship or during your vacation just to pay for this option.  I think this is an add-on that's true value varies greatly from cruise to cruise and family to family so it's a very individualized decision.

Have you used Faster to the Fun on your previous Carnival Cruise Line vacations?  What's been your experience?  I'd love to hear other thoughts to compare with my own experiences!
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Great Deals for Star Wars Fans at Disneyland Resort

The whole Star Wars fan universe has been waiting (with every ounce of patience we have!) for the exciting opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts this year.  While those of us on the East Coast still have a few more months to wait before experiencing the out-of-this-world excitement at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Southern California gets to enjoy what Black Spire Outpost has to offer beginning May 31.  Here's what you need to know in order to travel to a galaxy far, far away! Fuel up your Millennium Falcon, grab a Wookie, and let's go!

This post contains affiliate links. You save money and I earn a small commission - everyone wins!

From May 31 to June 23, guests wishing to enjoy Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at the Disneyland Resort will need a reservation at one of Disney's hotels to gain access.  My travel partner, Get Away Today, has a few reservations they can hook you up with if you're looking for a last minute opportunity to travel for the opening weeks:
If you can hold on to your lightsabers until June 24, more opportunities will open for locals and guests both on and off Disneyland Resort property to enter Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.  Disney is trying something out that is a great timesaver for guests, by allowing visitors to log into a virtual "queue" to wait to gain entrance for this popular land.  Once you enter Disneyland Park, you will be able to "get in line" while still enjoying all of the other great attractions at the park.  Get Away Today also has great deals going on throughout the summer months which you can learn more about by following the links below:
The Force is so strong with these deals, even the Dark Side can't resist joining in the fun! So what are you most excited about in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge?  Whether it's the rides, the food, the theming, or the character interactions, there will certainly be a lot to love!  I love the way that Disney immerses you in a story the moment you set foot in their parks and I'm sure Galaxy's Edge will not disappoint.  Don't miss out on your chance to experience it all!! Don't forget to use promo code PIXIEDUST when you visit Get Away Today to save even more money on your vacation package!


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Cruising with Kids - Tips for Sailing with Toddlers and Preschoolers

There was a time that cruise vacations were thought of as an escape for adults and families often shied away from them, but times have changed.  In recent years, cruise lines have been catering to the needs of young families and attracting them in droves.  And, why not?  As a mom with 2 young boys, cruise vacations are some of my favorite.  You have a floating city with seemingly endless amounts of delicious food, entertainment, pools - all while sailing to beautiful and exotic destinations - a new port each day! Sounds perfect, right? But we all know that traveling with toddlers and preschoolers isn't always as easy as the Instagram stories you see would make it seem.  Here are a few tips and tricks I've picked up over the years that may just make your family cruise even more enjoyable!

Research the Kids Clubs - Regardless of which cruise line you're sailing, most have space just for kids on board. . .and this is fabulous news for moms and dads everywhere! Kids will actually want to go and hang out in these amazing spaces which means that there is built in fun in store for your whole family.  Depending on which cruise line you choose, there are different age limits on these kids clubs.  Many of them start at age 3, but Carnival Cruise Line starts admitting kids as early as 2.  Some cruise lines even have nursery spaces, often for an additional cost, which can give parents a chance to sneak in some grown-up time on vacation.  We used the nursery on Disney Cruise Line when Brody was a toddler each at sea day for nap time.  It gave us guilt-free time to enjoy the Quiet Cove pool and relax on the deck.
Oceaneer's Club on Disney Fantasy

Pack for Success - Let's be honest.  You're in the middle of the ocean, floating on a boat, with a tiny human being that demands lots of things.  Part of the packing trick for cruises is not too much, but definitely enough.  While cruise lines have become more kid friendly, you won't find all the comforts of your neighborhood Target on board.  Pack more diapers then you'll think you need - they'll cost you an arm and a leg on board.  Bring some baby ibuprofen and such to help with teething or ear aches or whatever comes your way.  Definitely think about kid friendly snacks and baby food that you may want to bring along - a pack of goldfish can go a long way in holding off a meltdown while you're in port! I also highly recommend grabbing a few packs of disposable sippy cups.  Not all cruise ships have kid friendly cups available for use! On each of our cruises with the kids, I've brought an over-the-door shoe organizer and used those pockets to organize all of the kid essentials.

Oceanview Stateroom on Carnival Paradise
But Don't Pack Too Much! - Cruise staterooms are tiny, even on Disney Cruise Line which tends to boast more space for families.  Think about what you need - not what you want.  A special blanket or favorite stuffed animal is important to bring, but packing a suitcase full of toys will only clutter up your room and won't really serve much of a purpose.  Most likely, you also won't need a stroller on the cruise.  And most ships offer Pack 'n' Plays if needed for younger toddlers.  Older toddlers and preschoolers should be just fine in the beds provided.  Each cruise line has different options available so definitely do your homework!

Take a Look at Excursions - One of the best parts of cruising is exploring all that your destinations have to offer.  When looking at excursions, keep your little ones in mind.  Some excursions have age restrictions that will play into your decision making.  For example, snorkeling cruises and ATV adventures probably won't welcome your toddler and preschooler.  We tend to stick with beach or water park fun with our young ones, but we did venture out on an 11 hour bus tour of Cuba a few cruises back which actually turned out to be pretty fun - even with a 2 and 5 year old! And if you're cruising on a budget, don't forget to look at pricing on excursions.  Some may be free for young children! Many of the cruise lines have private beaches and islands on their Bahamian and Caribbean destinations which have great options for families.  Disney Cruise Line features a kids club on the island with supervision so parents can sneak over to Serenity Bay while Carnival Cruise Line hosts a pirate-themed water playground on Half Moon Cay.

Kid Friendly Fun at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
What About Travel Documents? - Currently closed loop cruises that depart and return to American ports don't require a passport, only your birth certificate.  However, travel document guidelines are always changing.  We always cruise with a passport for our children though as you never know what emergency might strike while traveling abroad.  Remember that you will need several weeks to process a passport application and both parents need to be present when submitting the application for a minor's passport.  Passports for children under 16 are good for 5 years so, depending on your vacation habits, you may be able to get several trips out of them!

Cruising has certainly become a family friendly travel option, allowing time for relaxation and excitement all packed into one vacation! With so much to see and do on the ships from exclusive kid spaces to family entertainment and the opportunity to explore new destinations, you can discover a whole new world!  Where will your next cruise vacation take you?
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Meet the Carnival Pride!

When it comes to cruise ships, bigger doesn't always mean better.  In 2017, my family and I sailed on the Carnival Paradise from Tampa to Key West and Havana and were very impressed with the Carnival experience and the small ship atmosphere.  For 2018, we decided to stay closer to home and sail on the Carnival Pride from our home port of Baltimore.  There was obviously a lot to love about sailing from just 45 minutes from your house, but it wasn't just the ease we enjoyed about our recent Carnival cruise.  While the Carnival Pride isn't the newest or largest ship in the fleet, it certainly has a lot to offer families and guests while on board.

From the moment we stepped on board, we felt right at home.  We purchased Faster to the Fun and were among the first to board.  A towel animal character greeted our children and helped build their excitement for all of the activities that were waiting.  When you have Faster to the Fun, your stateroom is ready earlier than others so we were able to head that way right away to drop off carry on items and check out our room.  Friends of ours had surprised us with the Bon Voyage package which added decorations and a few presents to our room.  We had a stateroom on Deck 6 which featured an extended balcony.  There was plenty of room for our family of 4 to spread out throughout the length of the cruise.

The pool areas on board were our next stop as we were anxious to "jump" right into the fun!  There were two pools on Lido deck for the whole family to enjoy and another small pool in the Serenity "adult only" area.  If you're a fan of waterpark fun, don't miss the slides and play area above the pools.  Little cruisers will love the small slides and spray ground, while older children and adults will certainly enjoy the two water slides - yellow for milder fun and green for more extreme adventurers!  

Cruising on the Carnival Pride certainly features fun for all ages!  My littles were 3 and 6 on our most recent cruise vacation and had a blast playing in Camp Ocean.  Carnival Cruise Line kids club activities start at age 2 - the youngest in the industry!  Children our separated into appropriate camps by age and there is plenty of security while checking kids in and out of camp that you can feel safe having your kids play there.  It's great to have this option while cruising as our kids often were begging to go to the fun and games that awaited in Camp Ocean so mom and dad got to enjoy some adult time on the ship!  When the whole family is ready to play together, the Dr. Seuss at Sea activities like story times, parades, and the Green Eggs and Ham breakfast as well as Build-A-Bear at Sea will create many family memories.

One of the best parts of cruising though is the food!  In addition to the main dining room and Lido Deck Buffet, Mermaid's Grille, you won't want to miss Guy's Burger Joint and Blue Iguana Cantina.  All of these are included in your cruise fare ensuring that you won't go hungry while on vacation!  If you're looking for even more flavors, you can also visit Bonsai Sushi, David's Steakhouse, and The Chef's Table for fine dining options at an additional cost.  Want to try some of these premium options without paying premium pricing?  Check out one of the cooking demonstrations!  I went to the cooking demonstrations for both Bonsai Sushi and David's Steakhouse during our first day at sea.  While I enjoyed learning about how they prepared some of their signature dishes, I enjoyed tasting all the items even more!  These cooking demonstrations are free, but fill up fast.  Check out your Fun Times on board the ship to find out when they take place.  And speaking of the the Fun Times, did you know that you can access all of these activities and much more for free on the Carnival Hub app??  Download the app prior to boarding the ship and then connect to the WiFi once on board.  You'll be able to access your Fun Times for free on the app without purchasing an Internet package!

The Carnival Pride is a great ship and the itineraries from Baltimore are wonderful options for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic area.  I can't wait to see what updates occur during the scheduled refurb in February 2019, because I'm sure this ship will only get better with time!  

What Carnival Cruise Line ships have you sailed?  Which are your favorites?  We can't wait to try more as a cruise loving family!  To check out more of the fun waiting for you on the Carnival Pride, see our You Tube video below!


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Planning a "Mom-Only" Trip to Walt Disney World

Everyone knows that my two passions besides my family are Disney and my career as an Assistant Principal.  When two worlds collide, I simply can't resist and I found myself planning a trip to Orlando this October for the 2018 Association for Middle Level Education Annual Conference.  With the timing of this trip, my family couldn't attend and none of my colleagues in my school district expressed an interest in attending so this will be my very first SOLO trip to Walt Disney World.  Sprinkling in some pixie dusted activities in the evenings following my work at the conference during the day is a must for me and, as always, I'm looking to try new restaurants and new experiences while there.  Here's a quick look at what is "new" on my trip this year:

Experiencing Walt Disney World while working - I've always only vacationed in Orlando, never actually had to work during my time there.  The conference is Thursday through Saturday with registration taking place on Wednesday evening.  I'll only be in Orlando Wednesday through Saturday and my first priority is work, which doesn't leave much time for play but with the discounted, partial day conference tickets that Walt Disney World offers for large events like this, it makes evenings in the park a real plan!  I'll be using the "after 5PM" ticket to head to Epcot on Friday night for the International Food and Wine Festival - a must do on any fall Disney visit!

All-Star Movies Resort - I'll be back on Disney property for this trip.  For those of you that regularly follow me, you know that we go back and forth between stays on and off property.  I was trying to stick to a pretty tight budget for this trip, so this value resort made the most sense.  At an average of only $133 per night, it was much cheaper than many other options in the Orlando area that were off property and who can forget the complimentary Magical Express airport transfer which was another cost saver for me!  In sticking with my goal to never stay at the same resort twice, All-Star Movies is another new resort for me and the first time I've stayed at a value since 2003.  I'm excited to check it out!

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party - The last time we visited Walt Disney World around Halloween we opted not to spend the money on these tickets as the cost for a family of four is high and our two young goblins would not have turned into pumpkins very early in the evening.  This time though, I'm ready to party!  I can't wait to check out this event that I've read and heard so much about over the years!  My conference events end at 4:00 that day so my plan is to head right to Magic Kingdom and take advantage of the early entry that comes with you MNSSHP ticket to squeeze in a few more magical hours of fun.  

Toy Story Land - Toy Story Land opened this summer to huge crowds and rave reviews.  This will be my first trip back to the House of Mouse since opening this new land within Disney's Hollywood Studios and I'm pumped to ride Slinky Dog Dash and Alien Swirling Saucers.  I'm sure I'll have to grab a bite at Woody's Lunchbox and who knows, maybe my new ears this trip will have a bit of Toy Story magic to them?!?  This will be my first stop when I arrive on Wednesday and I'm sure my social media accounts will be blowing up with pictures and excitement that day!

New Restaurants - Currently I have dining reservations at three new restaurants around Walt Disney World during my stay.  Breakfast will be at the resort each morning and lunch at the conference, but I will be trying out some new dinner locales to broaden my taste buds!  So far I have reservations at Ale and Compass, The Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, and The Edison, but those might shift just a bit depending on other availability that opens up.

So that's it!  I'm counting down the days as I tweak dining reservations, secure FastPasses and wait for my MagicBands to arrive in the mail.  I've also been busy reading up on the absolutely amazing conference sessions that I'm lucky enough to attend while there at AMLE.  I can't wait to share everything with you along the way.  If you're not already following me on social media, be sure to join the fun @dsnyrunrgrl on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/runonpixiedust.  See ya real soon!
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Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Philadelphia Zoo

The Philadelphia Zoo was a fabulous road trip destination for our family!  We have often talked about wanting to go up to Pennsylvania to check it out, but had not made it up there prior to this summer.  This year, my husband's work brought him up to that area and we decided to bring the boys along and make a family weekend out of it by including a trip to the zoo.  If you're like me, I do a lot of research when visiting somewhere for the first time.  After our wonderful day, here are some of my tips and tricks to offer to families venturing to the Philadelphia Zoo for the first time.

Visiting in the Summer?  Visit Early! - We arrived as the zoo opened which proved to work well in the July heat and humidity.  With our early arrival, we were able to grab parking in the garage located right next to the zoo, cutting down on our walking time when we were hot and tired in the afternoon.  The zoo is large and does have several exhibits to visit that are located indoors which does offer a bit of reprieve.  We spent about 5 hours at the zoo and were leaving before 3:00 which left plenty of time to head back to our hotel and cool off in the pool.

Slow Down - There are so many great spots to check out within the zoo that are easy to pass by.  In the KidZooU area, there is a playground, petting zoo, and an education center.  My boys loved learning that day - which was incredible to watch.  The zoo staff was also some of the most friendly and knowledgeable that I've met.  I was surprised by the number of exhibits that had staff talking to guests about the animals.  That day we were excited to hear about tortoises, snakes, hippos, and even the baby giraffe that was just over a month old!

Look Up! - The Philadelphia Zoo is home to Zoo360 which is designed to surround you with animals.  How cool is it that you can look up and watch a few lions lounging above you or a tiger pacing back and forth?? Throughout the zoo you can find a variety of Zoo360 trails that each house unique animals so be sure to look all around during your visit to make sure you don't miss a thing!  With so much to see and do, your family will certainly be entertained the whole day.

Bring Water - Staying hydrated is key to keeping everyone in your family in a good mood so be sure to bring some water with you into the zoo.  Not only will this keep you happy and hydrated, but will also save some money so you don't have to buy as many bottles once inside.  There are plenty of great spaces to eat and drink while visiting so no one should go hungry!  We enjoyed lunch at Tiger Terrace which featured a few different food line options.  Each "station" had a kids menu that even included Uncrustables - a go to favorite for our youngest!  The food was typical of what you would expect in a zoo or theme park and prices matched the tourist location too.  Bringing snacks and water is certainly a time saving, and money saving, idea!

Shop the Best Price - Admission into the zoo is steep for a family of four.  It may be worth talking about a membership if you are close by the zoo and plan to visit at least twice a year.  Another potential money saving option for families is the Philadelphia CityPass.  The zoo is one of a number of attractions in the city that participates.  Visitors to Philadelphia can select the number of days and/or the number of attractions they wish to see and CityPass bundles and discounts them.  If you're staying for a weekend or longer, this is definitely worth checking out!

We had a great time visiting the Philadelphia Zoo and I'm sure we'll return in the future!


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Family Fun in Roanoke, VA

We recently spent a week visiting Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia and hit up nearby Roanoke on several occasions during the week.  While we have visited Smith Mountain Lake many times before, we spent more of our vacation in the city of Roanoke on this particular trip and enjoyed some new-to-us places.  The few attractions below are perfect for any family friendly adventures and a great reason to visit the Roanoke area!


Mill Mountain Zoo - This is the one place that we visited that was actually not new to us on this particular trip.  Mill Mountain Zoo has been a favorite of ours on each trip we have taken with the kids.  Nestled in the mountains, this zoo provides a picturesque view of the city of Roanoke and a secluded, natural feeling to your animal encounters.  The zoo itself is small, but with small children that's not a bad thing.  The small town feel of the zoo allowed for a lot of great interaction between the kids and the zookeepers at the chats and feedings.  Admission to the zoo also includes a small "choo-choo" ride around the perimeter which my boys really enjoyed.  There are no dining options inside the zoo, but you are welcome to bring in a packed lunch or snacks.  We typically spend between 1 1/2 to 3 hours here.


Splash Valley Water Park- We've had our eye on this water park during previous trips, but hadn't found the time in our schedule to visit until this summer. . .and we are so glad we did this time around!  The water park is part of a recreational center in Roanoke, so the size is not something that will wow you when you arrive, but believe me when I share that there is more than enough fun to fill the day.  We arrived when the park opened at 10 and stayed until about 5. There are two waterslides for older kids and adults to enjoy, a smaller slide perfect for the elementary school set, and a water playground with fountains and geysers.  There is plenty of space to swim in shallow water and a small current based loop that can serve as a lazy river.  We had to practically peel Brody off the smaller waterslide and Caleb loved the zero entry splash area.  My hubby and I even felt like kids again taking turns on the big waterslides.  The water park was busy with summer camps and families, but never felt overcrowded.  There was also a nice assortment of food - pizza, chicken tenders, hot dogs, fries, ice cream, chips, etc. - at the snack bar.  I saw kids of all ages enjoying themselves and I know we'll definitely be back in the future.


Kid's Square Children's Museum - We had several rainy days on our vacation which left us searching for some indoor fun.  On the way through town, we had picked up a brochure about Kid's Square and decided to give it a try.  The museum is located inside Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke which is home to four museums, a theatre, and a pretty cool aquarium display on the lower level.  You can purchase a combo ticket to visit all four museums or purchase admission separately.  With our boys being so young, we decided to stick to the children's museum.  It is located on the third floor of the building and at first glance looks like it might be something to occupy children for 2 hours or so.  However, once you begin exploring it is easy to get lost in all it has to offer.  Among the favorite attractions for our boys was the play bank, the TV studio, and the "sand" pit.  Plus, there is a roadway through the museum where kids can ride cars.  We spent the morning playing, went out to a restaurant across the street for lunch, and then came back for several more hours.  This was a great rainy day find and is perfect for kids 8 and under in my opinion. 


Spring Valley Farm - Located near Smith Mountain Lake, Spring Valley Farm in Moneta was another gem we discovered this trip.  On another cloudy, questionable day weather wise, we called up and booked pony rides for the boys.  The farm is absolutely beautiful and the staff couldn't have been nicer to meet that day.  Brody hopped right on the pony for his ride around the barn area.  Caleb was a little more shy, but the staff was patient and worked with him to get comfortable with riding.  After they were done the rides, the boys got the meet a few animals in the petting zoo area and were even introduced to a "zorse."  Yes - that's right - a zebra horse!  It was pretty awesome.  The morning was thoroughly enjoyable and we can't wait until the boys are a little older to visit again and take one of their trail rides!

Links are included above for each of these!  I received no compensation for visiting these places, just happy to share some great finds with those of you that might be traveling in the Roanoke area with kids.  Enjoy!!


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