August 22, 2011
In September of 2010, my husband and I took our son on his first vacation to Orlando, Florida. My husband was sent to a conference at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, and our 3 year old son and I tagged along for the trip.
It was my son’s first time on an airplane, and I packed a lot of little toys and snacks for the ride, but he was mostly content staring out the window. He loves airplanes and was so excited to fly on one. When we arrived at the hotel, I was thrilled with how beautiful it was; it has an Italian theme, so there are Vespa scooters all around that Jack liked to climb on, a water taxi to drive you to a shopping and theme park area, great Italian food and treats at the many restaurants, and a beautiful, lush beach pool area, complete with water slides. My son and I spent the days my husband had to work at a beautiful beach pool, playing in the sand, going down the slide, and enjoying the water. A kids’ pool coordinator was there during the day, and Jack got to join in on games like “Red Light, Green Light” and “Simon Says,” which he really enjoyed.
The Portofino Bay is a Universal Studios resort, and the water taxi takes you right from the hotel to the gates of the amusement park. We spent a day there, and we all had a great time. There was plenty for a 3-year-old to do: they have a huge Dr. Suess area, with lots of fun colorful kid rides, a Marvel comic area, where Jack got to meet his hero, Spiderman, and other caped crusaders, but Jack’s favorite part was the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster in the Harry Potter section. It was my son’s first roller coaster, and I wasn’t sure how he’d do, but he LOVED it. We rode it 16 times, which was possible because one of the perks of staying at a Universal resort is it gives you Express access at the park, putting you at the front of the line on most major rides. It was a huge benefit, and it enabled my husband and I to take turns trying some of the big roller coasters, since the other one didn’t have to wait long with our son.
Universal Studios is by an area called CityWalk, which is filled with fun restaurants like Hard Rock and Margaritaville, as well as lots of shops, games, and fun things to see and do. The water taxi stops there as well, so we took several trips to CityWalk, trying out different restaurants and exploring.
We spent five nights in Orlando, and it was a great trip. We really enjoyed the Loews Portofino Bay and would love to stay there again in the future. Jack is already asking to return to Orlando, and hopefully we will soon!
August 15, 2011
A few weeks ago, our family attempted our first vacation with both children. My kids are 2 and almost 4, so we decided on a road trip from our home outside of Dallas to San Antonio. We stayed for 3 nights at the Hyatt Wild Oak Resort and spent our trip enjoying the hotel’s amenities, enjoying two days at Sea World, and going to the Riverwalk one evening. It was a fabulous trip!
I found the Hyatt Wild Oak while looking for a place to stay that caters to families and young children –the Wild Oak fit the bill! It more than exceeded my expectations. With a beach, lazy river, water slides, playground, fire pits for s’mores, and much more, there was a variety of stuff to do. I really think we could have stayed on the premises the whole trip and had a blast. My kids loved the beach area and lazy river the most. My son was disappointed that he was not tall enough for either water slide, but hopefully when we return, he will meet the height requirement.
When I booked our room, I reserved just the studio, since it had a bed and pull-out couch. When our trip approached, my husband and I regretted not getting the one bedroom condo, since that way, we could shut the bedroom door once the kids were asleep, and have the living room to spend time in before our bedtime. I called, and we were able to get the condo for our first night there, but it was booked for the rest of the trip, so we had to switch to a studio for the last two nights. While the studio was plenty nice, we will definitely get the one bedroom condo on all future trips: it has a full kitchen (opposed to just a kitchenette), a gorgeous bathroom with jetted tub (which the kids loved as much as I did!), a washer & dryer, and a nice size living room. I felt it was definitely worth the extra cost.
Our days at Sea World were fantastic. I had wondered if my 2-year-old was too young to enjoy it, but both kids had a blast. We had a 2 day ticket, which worked out great: the first day we did the animal shows and rides, and the second day we did the waterpark and Sesame Street splash area. Both days were really fun, and having the chance to go back the second day kept me from stressing out and trying to get everything done in one day, which would have been too hard on such little kids.
Our visit to the Riverwalk was alright. We pushed our daughter in a stroller, which is difficult to do down on the water level. It was also very hot, and the kids were cranky after a day at Sea World. We did get some good Mexican food at Rita’s on the River, and that cheered them up, as did the boat ride along the river.
All in all, it was a wonderful first trip. The kids were troopers, even with a lot less sleep than normal, and we all made some lasting memories.
July 25, 2011
Hayden took his first trip overseas, to London, at the ripe old age of 15 months! However, getting him a passport was a HUGE ordeal. They did not finish it on time to mail it (despite many urgent phone calls and admittedly some tears), so my dad was super generous and drove down to Houston with me to try to get it in person from the Houston Passport Agency, only ONE day before our scheduled departure. So we drove about 4 1/2 hours each way and got extremely lucky because they had JUST completed his passport about 10 minutes before we arrived and they were able to hand it right over. Talk about relief. So it was a long day, but worth it to be able to depart on time with no worries.
Despite being only 15 months old, he was just a dream child on the plane on the way over – it was like traveling with another fun adult. We did manage to get him his own seat, and they even had extra meals that they gave him. So he sat like a little adult all strapped in, and ate his grown-up airplane meal, played a little bit, ran the aisles for awhile, then fell asleep stretched out between my mom and I for about 6 hours! We didn’t sleep much because we were worried he’d roll of the seat, and we had legs and arms pushing on us, but the important thing was that he got sound sleep, and he woke up in time to have breakfast and look out the windows at landing. Unfortunately the ride home wasn’t so smooth…..but I’ll save that for later!
London suited Hayden – let me tell you. The sights, the sounds, the bright lights, the traffic, the taxis, trains, buses and boats – everything seemed to be custom made for his viewing pleasure! I cannot tell you how many “oohs” and “ahhs” were uttered by this child before we even got to our lodging! He was in toddler Heaven! He adjusted very well to the time difference, and managed to get good naps and night sleeps the whole trip, which was a huge blessing, and made the experience more fun for him. We did so much that first weekend there. My brother, Jeff, rented a car for all of us and we cruised out of London for a day of sightseeing in Kent and along the southern coast of England along the English Channel. Our first stop was Leeds Castle, which was beautiful and had really pretty grounds to wander through (and ducks for Hayden!), then we pushed on to do some hiking at Seven Sisters Country Park on the coast, which showcased spectacular chalk cliffs, rough seas, and a pebble beach. We finished out the day with dinner in Brighton, a sort of famous English seaside resort town, and a walk out onto the pier.
On Sunday, Jeff and Rebecca took us via double decker bus to Camden Market which was really crazy and fun. They had vendors selling everything you could imagine, and tons of yummy, ethnic street food. The most enjoyable part was probably the people watching; just people from all walks of life speaking every language you can imagine. It was a cool experience, especially for Hayden who was pretty mesmerized. We rode a canal boat home through some of the more posh parts of London, and got to see some pretty ridiculous city homes – even Madonna’s house in Regent’s Park. Hayden loved the boat, although not quite as much as the bus!
The rest of the week was filled with me working, and grammy taking Hayden on double decker bus tours of the city. He liked the bus so much that it was really easy for her to fill their time that way. They would ride it down to my office and meet me for lunch, and hop on and off at the various sights around town. Then at night we’d meet up with Jeff and Rebecca for dinner at various restaurants around town. London is not very baby friendly when it comes to dining, so our choices were limited, but Hayden did get to experience Indian food and Asian food, as well as a night at the Rainforest Cafe in Picadilly Circus, which was probably his favorite (scary but fun). Jeff also was able to take a day off of work and they explored the Tate Modern museum, walked the south embankment along the Thames and saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, and all those famous landmarks.
After a week of adventures, we packed up for our trip home. While the trip to London is overnight, the trip home is a very long day trip, and with Hayden in our laps, and the person in front of us reclined completely the entire 11 hour flight, it was pretty miserable. He had no seat of his own this time, and I felt sorry for him (and us), being so cramped up. We were able to get him to sleep for about 45 minutes at a stretch a few times, but really he was quite cranky and unhappy for the vast majority of the time. Let’s just say the lady in front of us probably didn’t get much sleep with him kicking and flailing in an effort to escape the seat. Yikes. By the time we hit customs in Dallas, he was just DONE, and the gigantic photos of travelers of all ethnicities and ages just scared him to death, and he just spent the half hour in line crying on my shoulder. Never were we so happy to grab our bags and see Daddy and poppy waiting to take us home.
Despite the minor drama of the ride home, all in all it was a wonderful trip!
July 11, 2011
Our annual trip to Colorado got off on the wrong foot this year, when both boys came down with bad ear infections and were in no condition for air travel. We literally were told by the doctor the afternoon before our flight that they could not fly! Instead, we booked a last minute car rental, and set out on a ROAD TRIP at 7 pm that night. Fast planning, but we were desperate for this trip and all the fun that it brings our family yearly. We could not miss it over an ear infection!
Let me just say, I don’t think I have EVER stayed up all night before. Not fun. Also, we had conveniently blocked out the fact that there was a major winter storm and ice storm that had just hit Oklahoma, and 2 hours into our trip we were down to 20 mph and driving on a complete sheet of ice. Terrifying. Luckily the weather moderately improved in Kansas, and after a disastrous breakfast stop at a Burger King in eastern Colorado (Pierce spilling a giant mug of coffee on the floor, and Hayden eating French toast sticks until he threw up), we finally pulled up to Denver International Airport to pick up my parents (who took the flight we were supposed to be on!). We actually beat them, so Hayden was able to watch airplanes take-off and land for about an hour, which was a total bonus. Then off we went to the mountains. As usual, pulling up to Grand Timber Lodge was thrilling, knowing that our week ahead would be full of great family memories and fun snowy experiences, and the unit we got this year was the best ever, with a great view of snow-capped peaks and trees. Nate and I kept thinking of how wonderful it would be to wake up to that view out your bedroom window each morning!
For me the absolute highlight of the trip was seeing Hayden ski for the first time, and be as passionate about the sport as I am at such an early age. It thrilled me and gave me a glimpse into the future and all the fun we will have as a family on the mountain. It also gave me a glimpse into my past, LOL, in that I never had any idea how hard my parents worked to get us on the slopes! As you can imagine, a child is fairly incapable of literally walking in ski boots, let alone carrying gear! It was exhausting, but totally worth it.
We first set him up in a snow bank next to our condo in his gear, and he demonstrated a pretty keen ability to balance in the skis. Later that afternoon, we took him to practice on a gentle sloping run near our condo. We were all hooked up with one of those “wee-ones” child harness systems, and off we went! “Faster daddy faster” was all we heard the whole first time down the hill….while I trudged along with a camera and Pierce on my back in the baby-backpack. Well, we got to the bottom of the hill and he was just buzzing with excitement, telling us “let’s ski again mommy!”. Thus began our arduous journey back to our condo (via shuttle since I was scared to put him on the lift so soon). Obviously, because why not, Hayden needed to go potty before our next run, so the clothes ALL had to come off, and back on again, while Pierce tried to patiently wait in his hot snowsuit in the backpack. Ugh. But we eventually made it back out for a second run where I skied this time and Nate lugged the big babykins along on his back. Tons of work. Super fun!!
In fact, it was so successful that we hesitantly decided to take him on the real slopes on our last day in Breckenridge. I was super scared about the lift, but we found the beginner section of the mountain, and although it was a high-speed 6 person lift, it boarded so slowly that it would have been impossible to mess it up. Thus we were off, all the while with Hayden exclaiming that we were flying, and his daddy and I clinging to him for dear life! But he didn’t wiggle at all, and seemed to understand that it was important to sit still on the lift. It was actually smooth sailing on and off! We did the whole route twice around, with his cruising down the hill like a pro and constantly telling me to go faster, LOL. He continued to balance well on the skis, although he clearly had no concept of turning or stopping – those skills he will hopefully learn next year when he is old enough to attend ski school. But let me tell you, Nate and I were both beyond proud of that little man, who braved the cold and wind, and uncomfortable ski boots and googles and helmets, all with a complete smile and sense of adventure.
In addition to skiing for the first time, Hayden and Pierce both loved the free gondola that “flew” from town up to peaks 7 and 8 on the mountain. My mom generously offered to watch the kids so I could ski, and this was their daily activity – brave woman to do it alone!! We also did a ton of delicious cooking, some hot-tubbing and swimming, and had a few nights on the town (although these were few and far between given the fact that I do have a 10 month old and 2 1/2 year old LOL). A great adventure as usual and we are looking forward to next year!
June 20, 2011
We had our much anticipated Gomer family trip to Durango in mid-August. It was AH-mazing. Loved every minute of it, and we are so thankful to my in-laws for making it possible for us. Every year they give all of us kids the gift of a weekend getaway (for our birthday and Christmas presents), and this year they have outdone themselves. In the past we have done winter weekends at cute and cozy B&Bs in the mountains, and we spent one great week at a cabin in Yellowstone, and this year, they rented two beautiful cabins on the shores of Vallecito Lake, outside of Durango, CO, and we were all able to share a weekend of fun and family, making great memories together.
Our trip started with a VERY early morning flight from Dallas to Denver, and then a quick (and beautiful) jaunt to Durango. Of course, Hayden was beside himself with excitement and was just the cutest person ever on the plane, and Pierce really surprised me with his good behavior (within reason)! Mr. Independent really wanted his own seat, and he spent quite a bit of time trying to forcibly remove Hayden from his seat by the window, but we managed to work it out. He was also obsessed with the stickers I brought, and we all de-boarded in Colorado covered head to toe in smiley face stickers. What fun.
We were on the ground with our rental car packed up by about 10 am MST. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you looked at it), the cabin wasn’t available until late afternoon, and the rest of the family (who were driving from various places farther north) weren’t going to be arriving until dinner. So Nate and I just decided, what the heck, we may not be back to SW Colorado for a long time, so we might as well take advantage. So with the boys sound asleep in the back seat, we hit the road bound for Mesa Verde National Park. Having done a bit of research before the trip, we knew this wasn’t necessarily a kid-friendly place, but we also knew that we don’t shy from a challenge, and we figured we’d just see as much as we could. With two semi-rested boys, we embarked on some short hikes, and stopped at some cool scenic overlooks, and managed to take in the best that Mesa Verde has to offer, and it was spectacular! I’m not sure how much the boys actually grasped of what they were seeing, but they certainly enjoyed the great outdoors, and being in a place where you could actually stand in the sun and soak it up with pleasure, instead of diving for the closest place with AC.
I wish I could tell you more about the history and culture of Mesa Verde, but unfortunately we were kind of rushed through because our boys were tired, and a lot of things were off limits for the kids. For instance, we couldn’t tour any of the cliff dwellings because they required ladder climbing and things like that. So we kind of just looked from afar and admired the beauty of the place. Nate and I agreed that we’ll definitely have to go back and learn more at some point when the boys can participate and appreciate. It’s really magnificent that people built structures like this, and lived in such a remote place so successfully.
We finally arrived at our cabin that evening, and it was so beautiful! There were a big front porch that overlooked Lake Vallecito, and the boys were thrilled to find a porch swing, which they promptly climbed on with their cousin Brylin. Hayden remembered Brylin from a few months ago when she and her mama came to take care of my boys while we were in Italy. He was absolutely thrilled to be reunited, and I could tell he just adores her. In fact they were good buddies the whole trip. The rest of the family trickled in through-out the evening and Hayden couldn’t wait to give his cousin Cameron a big hug (he too visited earlier this year), and then we got to meet our new nephew, Luke, who is only 5 months old and simply adorable! His big brother Liam has grown up so much since we saw him last, and at almost 2, he looks like he could be brothers with my boys with his blue eyes and blond hair. Hayden was rendered completely speechless when Mammaw finally arrived, and instead was reduced to little squeals of delight and a lot of hopping up and down lol. They share a very special bond.
So all 6 cousins were together, and additionally, three of us daughter-in-laws are pregnant! Allison is due with her first, a baby boy, in December. Britt is due with her second, also a baby boy, in October, and of course I am due with mystery baby #3 in February. This family is growing and it’s so fun that we can share this experience together.
The whole weekend was awesome, and the kids had so much fun bonding with their cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and spending time outdoors. The boys played on the shores of Lake Vallecito, and found some sticks to dig with, ending up covered head to toe in mud! Hayden learned how to play baseball with a t-ball set his Mammaw bought for him. Uncle Dan was an excellent coach, and after a few successful swings with the tee, they decided he didn’t need it anymore, and just played baseball instead. Pretty cute! Little sports guy on my hands.
It was just such a much needed escape, and really Nate and I feel so blessed to have so much love in our lives. This family is very special and unique, and we are lucky (to say the least) to be part of it.
June 03, 2011
Last week I took my boys home to Wisconsin for a much needed visit with my extended family, and an introduction to all things Midwestern. Oh my gosh it was FABULOUS to be home with the cool fall breezes, the open spaces, the beautiful farmlands, red barns and white farmhouses. Quintessential Wisconsin at its best, and I LOVED it. So did the boys.
My mom traveled with us, and we departed on a Tuesday morning, flying on American Eagle (Hayden was elated by this turn of events having never flown this airline before) up to Milwaukee. It’s funny because when you land in Milwaukee on certain days, they’ll fly out over Lake Michigan first, then double back to land at the airport, which is right on the shoreline. It does almost feel like you are going to land in the water, and Hayden was convinced that the Milwaukee airport was indeed ON the water. I’m pretty sure this scared him more than excited him, since he clearly knew we weren’t on a water plane, as he stated many times in those last 15 minutes. But alas, we made it safely on the ground, and my Uncle Mike picked us up to take us to my grandparent’s cabin.
Now let me just say that Uncle Mike has two boys himself that are grown and in college. So he has paid his dues with little ones, but I think it’s safe to say that he is VERY happy those days are behind him, after helping us struggle with about 10 “essential” pieces of child-related luggage, all while taking trips to the bathroom with a 3 year old, and trying to keep a 1 year old confined to a stroller after 3 hours confined to an airplane seat. NOT FUN! And he was so patient as I sweated bullets trying to install the dang carseats in the mini-van. Whew, but we made it!
After a nice long car ride out into the country, we finally arrived at my grandparent’s home, which is a beautiful log cabin that they built on a hill overlooking fields and woods. We had prepped Hayden to expect a log house, but he still looked up in awe and told me, “Mommy, it really IS made of logs! It’s bigger than I thought!”. Too cute.
So we quickly settled in, and baby-proofed. My grandma and aunt Kathy had been so generous to gather a bunch of baby toys and items to make our stay easier, and it really helped out. We had everything we needed and the boys were totally happy. And, “GG” really took care of us, just like I always remember. We had every kind of yummy food you could ever imagine at our fingertips, all home cooked and delicious. After dessert one evening Hayden looked up at my mom and said, “GG has the BEST food!”. And he’s right! Sadly, the first morning we were there, I told Hayden it was time to get dressed so we could go outside to play. He looked at me confusedly, and said, “But mommy, it’s too hot!”. Poor kiddo, he’s so used to me telling him we can’t go in the backyard at our own house because it’s 100 degrees by 9 am. I explained that the temperatures in Wisconsin are a lot nicer, so we spent our time exploring their huge yard and gardens, swinging on the wooden swing out back (Pierce loved that), and picking and hauling pumpkins from their pumpkin patch. I even taught Hayden how to roll down the hill. I was definitely taking a trip down memory lane, and it was fun to have the boys with me.
One of the highlights of our stay in Wisconsin was a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo with one of my best friends from high school, Nicole, and her two little boys, who are roughly the same age as mine. Besides just being happy to be back at the zoo, which held so many fun memories from my own childhood, I had a great time watching my boys make new friends with Nicole’s boys. Henry was about the cutest, chattiest, happiest child I’ve ever met, and he and Hayden immediately clicked and were best buds the rest of the day. They rode ponies together, and Henry saved the seat next to him at lunch for Hayden. Adorable does not even come close to describing how cute they were together. Ben and Pierce tried to keep up too, and chased after the big boys, and had a great time entertaining each other in adjacent high chairs at dinner out. Too funny.
The trip ended with a really icky plane ride home, but not because the boys were naughty, rather because all the people we came in contact with were so unpleasant. As soon as we sat down on the plane, the lady next to my mom buzzed the flight attendant and made a big fuss about being moved because she needed to study and my kids were a distraction. Well, the flight was full, so unfortunately for all of us, she stayed put, but of course I felt tension the whole flight trying to keep my kids from bugging her. It was stressful, but the boys were good.
It was a wonderful trip, but I was never so happy to get us all into our own beds that night!
December 01, 2010
Today, we took a great trip to Glen Rose, Texas’s very own Dinosaur World with our 18 month old twins, and Keagan, our 3 ½ year old. Dinosaur World is located inside the Dinosaur Valley State Park, an approximate 2 hour drive from Dallas. After the drive to our exciting destination, we rendezvoused with a group of friends who also hail from Dallas. The main attraction is a long walking trail with large life size replicas of over 100 dinosaurs made out of fiberglass. They are strikingly real and very impressively detailed, the kids loved it! The excited three year olds teamed in packs, screaming out different dinosaur names. “Look, Triceratops! Let’s go see the T-rex!” As a bonus, they had a wonderful playground, and a great picnic area to accommodate our group.
Even as an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the park. It sparked my imagination and reminded me of my childhood; I don’t think I’ve ever seen these dinosaurs at such incredible sizes! The life-size Brachiosaurs were incredibly tall, seeing them in person is quite breathtaking.
The twins especially loved the tour of the park, they kept us busy chasing them back and forth across the trail. Keeping up with 18 month old twin boys is not always consistent, but it sure is a ball of fun!
Next time you’re looking for a great travel idea you don’t have to seek excitement across continents, you can look in your very own backyard!
October 26, 2010
We stayed at the Hyatt Wild Oak Ranch in San Antonio. Our unit was spacious with a granite countertop kitchen and stainless steel appliances. The couch pulled out into a bed and the master bedroom and bathrooms were large as well. They had nice tubs and a separate stand up shower, which was huge! We requested two pack-in-play (cribs) and two highchairs. They were clean and helped make our stay comfortable with two babies. They even provided us with Johnson & Johnson baby travel gift sets filled with shampoo, lotion, and other baby bath necessities.
The Wild Oak Ranch has something for every child and is a place our family can enjoy year after year; there is something for everyone to enjoy at every age. They have an amazing heated indoor/outdoor pool- they have extensive waterslides all over and neat water spraying cacti that our 3 year old loved running through. There is also a lazy river (that we suspect must be heated) with a swim up sand beach. We floated along the lazy river and the entire family had fun. My parents came along and we each held a baby as we floated in our inner tubes. There are several family friendly restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating- we chose outdoor as our babies throw food like monsters at this stage. This property even has a rainy day activity center with planned activities for rainy days. We did not need to check it out during this visit, but it was nice to know. The grounds at this place are lush and Texas-style rustic with cacti, rosemary, and tons of rocks and flowers. They have fire pits that can be lit on request where you can roast marshmallows or sip some wine and wind down after a day of excitement. Their general store sells s’more kits, or you can bring your own.
While we were in San Antonio, we went to the Zoo. The zoo is well maintained and had quite a bit to see. It is hilly and has lots of rock incorporated into the landscape. The highlight of our zoo trip was the floating hippopotamus in the water. We got a great shot of him and get to see him up close and in person.
On the way back to Dallas we stopped at the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch “drive through zoo” in San Antonio. We bought 4 bags of feed and Eric and I each held one baby; Eric also held our oldest, Keegan. All three kids loved feeding the animals. Some of the ostriches seemed a little aggressive so we would just roll up our windows. They had a nice large restaurant and petting zoo. We had already eaten beforehand, but we did go to the cute little petting zoo and Keegan enjoyed petting the goats.
Another must-see attraction in San Antonio is Sea World- there is something for everyone to enjoy! In the Fall their hours change to weekends only, so plan ahead.