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

Great Wolf Lodge Niagara Falls - 5 Things Your Family Will Love


Our last family vacation found us visiting Niagara Falls, Canada for the first time.  After a few days exploring the local area and seeing the natural wonder that is Niagara Falls, we headed over to the nearby Great Wolf Lodge for our first stay at this popular family destination.  We had an amazing 2 night, 3 day stay!  There was so much for our family to enjoy, it was hard to fit it all in!  Check out why Great Wolf Lodge was a fabulous vacation spot for our family - and it may just be a great fit for your family too!

I was gifted a Paw Pass for each of kids and some free meal vouchers to enjoy during our stay!  Thank you Great Wolf Lodge for your partnership!

Chipmunk's Cove at Great Wolf Lodge - Niagara Falls
1. The Waterpark - Let's start at the most prominent feature of any stay at Great Wolf Lodge. . .Bear Track Landing! This waterpark is perfect for EVERY member of your family.  Our 4 year old felt confident and comfortable in Chipmunk Cove where the water depth was only 18 inches and he had slides sized just for him as well as spray features.  For our more adventurous 7 year old, he spent more time in the deeper pool, playing basketball with new friends, and riding water slides throughout the indoor water play area.  At 49 inches, he was able to ride just about everything - except the Wolf Tail slide which he was perfectly content not to try!  His favorite - Niagara Rapids Run which is a water coaster featuring up AND down parts of the slide.  There was also an outdoor pool area, but we honestly had so much fun playing inside that we barely stepped outside.
Wolf Den Suite at Great Wolf Lodge

2. The Rooms - Great Wolf Lodge features some amazing rooms for families to enjoy.  With a variety of options for families large and small, there is something for every family at a variety of budget points.  We ended up staying in a Wolf Den Suite because we thought the kids would enjoy the extra special theming and the bunk beds in the room.  The room was spacious for our family of four and even had a balcony for added space.  The bathroom was on the small side, but for our purposes it worked out just fine.  I'd rather have the extra living and play space than a big bathroom for a family vacation.
Breakfast at Antler Shanty

3. The Food - Being totally honest, I had heard mixed reviews on the food at Great Wolf Lodge and wasn't too excited about this part of the trip.  However, I was pleasantly surprised!  There are several different spots within Great Wolf Lodge - Niagara Falls, and we tried many of them.  One of our favorite spots was the buffet, Antler Shanty.  We had breakfast there each morning and dinner there as well.  The variety of food offered something for everyone in the family with a lot of kid friendly choices.  Around the waterpark, there were several options for quick bites from burgers to hot dogs, fries to chicken fingers, and everything in between!  There were even some great spots around the hotel to find some sweet treats.  The gluten free chocolate cake was one of my favorites!  If you're looking for gourmet dining, it's not here.  But for a family friendly vacation venue, the food is good, fresh, and well varied.

Great Wolf Lodge? There's an app
for that!
4. The Free Extras - Around the hotel, there are many activities for kids and families to enjoy that are included with your stay.  Young ones can enjoy a morning yoga session, meet Great Wolf friends at character greetings during the afternoon, and even end the day with story time featuring a talking display.  Don't be surprised to also find dance parties and other fun popping up all over the lobby throughout the day.  There's even an app that you can download to use during your stay to keep track of all of the events happening around the hotel that day!

5. The Extras with a Price Tag - Beyond the waterpark and the free activities, there are also many paid activities and extras that can be added to your resort stay.  My 7 year old absolutely loved MagiQuest and sometimes preferred that over time in the water!  You can create stuffed animal, bowl, play arcade games, participate in mini-golf, enjoy a spa treatment, and much, much more!  If you're looking to bundle experiences together and save some money, definitely check out the Paw Pass - it has a little bit of ALL of the fun at one low price!

When we booked our Great Wolf Lodge stay, I really thought we were going to simply get a waterpark experience, but we found a lot more fun.  Our 2 night stay could have easily lasted another night or two to make time to squeeze in everything this property has to offer.  We hope to visit more Great Wolf Lodge locations in the years ahead and my boys are anxiously awaiting our next opportunity to catch some waves and ride the slides!

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!

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!

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!