Three Days in Tucson, Arizona

When I told people that I was heading to Tucson, Arizona, I got many a blank stare.  It was often followed up with a comment about how I should go to Phoenix or Scottsdale instead.  The main reason we were headed to Tucson over spring break was to visit with my grandparents.  Living in Denver has put us a little bit closer to them (though it is still a 12 hours drive) and a visit was overdue.

We spent much of our time with my grandparents but we were able to do some exploring.  This three day itinerary is a laid back version of what we would have done had the main reason for the visit not been about family.  At the end, I am going to include some more attraction ideas to get you started on your own itinerary.  We are looking forward to returning to Tucson to do some more exploring.

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Day One – Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Mineral Collecting

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is more zoo and botanical garden than it is museum.  You could easily spend all day wandering around the museum.  We spent a few hours before we were run off by the lightening and threatening skies.  Our favorite spot here was the Earth Sciences Center with the minerals gallery.  We also really enjoyed the Hummingbird Aviary.

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After the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum, be sure to stop at the Tucson Mineral and Gem World.  It is a small building that doesn’t look like much from the front but it is packed to the brim with all kinds of gems and minerals from the local area and across the oceans.  We had a lot of fun looking at the turquoise, different types of quartz and more.  My son spent much of his vacation money here.

Day Two – Saguaro National Park

On our second day, we visited Saguaro National Park.  This is another spot that you can spend all day in but you can also make a quick trip if necessary.  We entered the East section of the park, also known as the Rincon Mountain District.

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The Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a perfect way to see this part of the park.  There are pull-offs for your car and short hiking trails throughout.  It was amazing to see the gigantic Saguaro cacti popping up from the land.

Day Three – Day Trip South

While a drive into Mexico wasn’t on the agenda (though I wish it had been!), my grandparents took us on a little day trip south to show us a few of the small towns and sites near Tucson.  Our first stop was at San Xavier del Bac Mission, also known as the White Dove of the Desert.  Construction of the church was finished in 1797.  We wandered through the small museum and spoke to the gal working the counter.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t view the inside of the building because there was a service in session.

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From there, we headed to Tubac, Arizona, where we wandered in and out of the little shops.  We saw beautiful pottery, jewelry, clothing and more.  After that, we headed even farther south to Tumacacori, Arizona where we stopped at this little spice shop and picked up tasty spices and salsas.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do half of what we had researched for this trip so we are just going to have to make a trip back.  Some of the activities still on our list include the Pima Air and Space Museum and the plane boneyard, Bookman’s (a huge used bookstore), the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tombstone, and more.

What is your favorite activity in Tucson, Arizona?

Three Days in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs, Colorado was one of the first places we ventured to after settling in to our home in Denver.  We probably make the hour to an hour and a half drive to Colorado Springs once a month to do some exploring.  Though we haven’t spent three days in a row in Colorado Springs, I have created this itinerary from our numerous trips.

Although we haven’t stayed in COSprings yet, I am beyond pumped to visit the Broadmoor sometime this year.  I have read a number of posts that share all of the wonderful things that the Broadmoor can offer.

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Day One – Wander through Garden of the Gods, visit the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center 

This may seem like a lot to do in one day, but we have done it and it is doable without wearing yourself out.  All three can be visited in any order depending on where you are staying.  Be sure to check hours of each activity so that you don’t arrive to closed doors.  Hours and closures will change with the time of the year.

Head to Garden of the Gods on your first day.  These rock formations will make you think you stepped out on to another planet.  There are several ways to explore Garden of the Gods.  If you are short on time, stop by the Visitor Center first.  After the visitor’s center, head to the Perkins Central Trail.  This is a paved trail that takes you past many of the famous formations.  You can walk as little or as far as you would like.

The Air Force Academy has a great visitor’s center and is a neat way to learn more about the school and the Air Force.  There are not many other places that you can explore, as a civilian, on the campus so stop here first to find out where you can go.

At the Olympic Training Center, you can learn firsthand about how Olympic hopefuls spend their days.  Summer tours are conducted every half hour and they are conducted every hour in the winter.  When you arrive, you can wander around the Hall of Fame while you wait for your tour.  The free tour begins with a short video that is quite inspiring.  From there, you will walk through the Olympic Path and see some of the training facilities.

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Day Two – Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak is one of Colorado’s famous 14ers.  It is one on a very short list of 14ers that doesn’t need to be hiked to the top.  You can hike if you wish, but you can also drive or ride the cog train.  I highly recommend the cog railroad, which departs from Manitou Springs.  The railroad trip is a 90 minute trip up and a 90 minute trip back so it will take up much of your morning.  The trip is beautiful and the views from the top are supposed to be amazing.  I can not speak to that because, although we have made the trip up the railroad, there was so much fog that we couldn’t see our hands held out in front of us.  Despite this, we had fun trying the famous Pikes Peak donuts and exploring the shop.

Apparently, the view is absolutely beautiful but, unfortunately, this is what we saw.

Apparently, the view is absolutely beautiful but, unfortunately, this is what we saw.

After Pikes Peak, you can explore Manitou Springs.  This is also a good time to catch up and do one of the activities that you might have missed because you spent too much time at another spot.

Day Three – River Rafting and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon

Photo courtesy of Echo Canyon

There are a number of river rafting companies that you can go through but I was blown away by the service at Echo Canyon.  It is about half an hour away from Colorado Springs and is a great way to spend the morning.  I recommend going in the morning because the weather can change drastically in the afternoons.  If you have never been white water rafting, half a day is plenty.  The full day might be too long, especially with children.  After you are finished with rafting, eat lunch at the 8 Mile Bar and Grill.  We had a delicious lunch that prepared us for the rest of day.

The only place we haven’t visited on this list is the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  Every time someone finds out we have spent a few days exploring Colorado Springs, they all ask us if we have been to this mountainside zoo.  It comes highly recommended and we hope to visit sometime this year.

*Bonus Day – Day Four – Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Colorado Springs is one of the closest airports to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and it is over two hours away.  If this otherwordly landscape is something that you would want to see, try to plan a day that you can spend exploring the sand dunes.

What is your favorite thing to do in Colorado Springs, Colorado?

Three Days in Rapid City, South Dakota

Heading to Rapid City, South Dakota allowed us to check off another state from our list of states we still need to visit.  None of us had been to South Dakota and we were curious as to what we could expect.  When planning our trip, we found that Rapid City was centrally located to all of the different things that we had planned to see so it made a great base for us.

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Rapid City is about a six hour drive from Denver so we got an early start and hit the road.  We didn’t realize that we would be making several stops along the way.  We packed our three day itinerary full.

This trip included a lot of drive time so you will want to make sure that you have plenty to entertain the kids in the car.  We listened to audio books and completed junior ranger books while we drove around.  Keep in mind that I am sharing what we did on our visit day by day so it may or may not work for you.  Hopefully, this will be a good starting point for you to help you plan your own trip to Rapid City, South Dakota.  Posts on each activity or attraction will be forthcoming!

Day One – Drive from Denver to Rapid City (with stops along the way) and explore downtown Rapid City

Our drive from Denver to Rapid City was pretty uneventful.  We saw little traffic and it was smooth sailing.  We followed Google Map directions and stopped at a nice, clean rest stop in Wyoming for lunch.  While we were at the rest stop, we saw a map and realized we weren’t too far from some Oregon Trail ruts.  We made a quick stop to view the Oregon Trail ruts and then continued into South Dakota.  We took some beautiful back roads with some gorgeous views.

As we got closer to our destination, we drove through Hot Springs, South Dakota and saw signs for the Mammoth Site.  A quick glance at our guide book showed us that it might be something we wanted to check out.  Ticket prices start at $7 for children ages 4-12 and 13-59 are $9.  I kind of balked at the price but we decided to take the tour.  It was definitely worth it for us.  The Mammoth Site is not just a museum but it is a working archaeological site.  The building sits over a dig site where they have found Columbian and woolly mammoth bones…lots of them.  We took the tour, which lasts about 30m, and then wandered around for a bit on our own.

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When we arrived in Rapid City, we checked in to our hotel.  We were hosted at the MainStay Suites, one of the newest hotels in Rapid City.  Once we were settled, we got back in the car to have dinner downtown.

Downtown Rapid City was so much fun to explore.  We had dinner at the Firehouse Brewing Company, a restaurant built inside an old firehouse.  We wandered around and looked at the different statues that are part of the City of Presidents art installation.  We listened to live music in the square and then we grabbed a treat at Zoom Candy and Soda.

Day Two – Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, and Crazy Horse Memorial

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We started our first full day with a drive to Mount Rushmore.  After parking, we walked the grounds with our heads turned to the sky in awe.  Mount Rushmore looked exactly as it does in pictures but had a majestic air to it as we saw it in person.  After taking some pictures and wandering around, we got back in the car and drove to Custer State Park.

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We made a quick stop at the restrooms and began to drive the Wildlife Loop.  The Wildlife Loop takes about 45 minutes to an hour to drive and the reward for making the trip is a beautiful view, changing landscapes and lots of animal spotting.

When we finished with the Wildlife Loop, we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Now, I didn’t do my research on this and I didn’t realize that the memorial is not finished.  Don’t be disappointed by this though because the story shared through video is wonderful.  Wander the shops, grab an ice cream cone and, if you are there late enough, view a light show on the wall.  From here, we headed into Hill City to have dinner at the Alpine Inn, famous for their one item menu.  Bacon wrapped filet mignon!  It did not disappoint!

Day Three – Prairie Homestead, Badlands, Wall Drug, Geology Museum

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On the morning of day three, we prepared for another hour trip from Rapid City and headed to Badlands National Park.  Right outside of one of the entrances, we saw a sign for the Prairie Homestead.  We decided to stop and found that it is a little piece of homestead history.  The grounds can be toured where you can see a real sod dugout.  If you have a child who adores Little House on the Prairie, they would probably enjoy a visit here.

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From there, we drove through the entrance of Badlands National Park.  We hadn’t planned any major hiking during this trip and had intended to just drive through.  The guidebook had several recommendations for short hikes so we chose the Door trail, which then allowed for some extra exploring.  We stopped at the visitor’s center and picked up junior ranger books and then headed to Wall Drug.

We weren’t really impressed with Wall Drug but it was mostly because it was incredibly crowded.  We were overwhelmed by its size.  We weren’t expecting it to be so large!  We grabbed a treat from the candy shop and then hit the road again.

We headed back to Rapid City and, on a whim, stopped at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology Museum.  We had dinner in Rapid City and called it a night.  We still had to drive 7 hours home on Day 4 of our trip.

Have you been to Rapid City?  What was your favorite stop along the way?

*Thank you to Rapid City and MainStay Suites for hosting our hotel visit.  All travel and attractions were covered by my family.  All opinions are my own.

 

Three Days in Downtown Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado is one of the most fun and welcoming cities I have ever been to.  When we moved here in November it was at the beginning of the ski season.  My husband, a snowboarder, couldn’t wait to get his whole family sliding down the mountain.  We spent most of our winter weekends exploring the mountain towns and ski resorts.  When we weren’t driving back and forth on I-70, we spent our weekends unpacking boxes, getting used to a new school curriculum and finding our way around unfamiliar surroundings.  Downtown Denver was not high on the priority list yet.

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I was recently given the opportunity to stay as a guest at The Curtis Hotel, a Doubletree property, for two nights as a representative of Trekaroo.  While we made the Curtis our home for two nights, we spent three days exploring a very small bit of what the downtown area of Denver has to offer.  Three days is not enough time to hit all the highlights so we made a list of things we want to do over the summer and free weekends.  Even though we have a list of things to do on return trips, we feel like we made the most of our three day adventure.

Day One – Arrive and Wander

We arrived shortly after 5:00 in the evening on a Friday night.  After getting checked in and settled in our room, we did a little bit of hotel exploring.  Our room at the Curtis was perfect for our family of four.  I loved that there was a sofabed for the kids because we could fold it up while we were hanging out and have lots of room for them to play.  The hotel was big fun for the kids and the best part of it was the elevator announcements made at each of the themed floors.  See more of my thoughts on our stay at The Curtis.

When we could finally get to the first floor, we walked down the street to Sam’s No3 Diner.  I had eaten here with my daughter a few weeks ago while we were at Mary Poppins downtown and she was excited to show it to her dad and brother.  This restaurant was featured on Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives and has a huge menu.  You can get breakfast at any time of the day but it will be hard to choose a favorite meal!  I had the French Dip, my kids had French toast and my husband had a 2lb burrito.  That is actually the name: 2lb combo burrito!

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After dinner, we walked another block to the 16th Street Mall.  There are mostly shops and restaurants, but we had fun wandering around and adding different restaurants to our list of places to try.  Neither of my kids could walk past the pianos, a public piano art program called Your Keys to the City.  These whimsical pianos are open for anyone who wants to play.  After banging on the keys for a few minutes, we discovered two very talented young musicians playing another piano down the way.  We stood and listened for awhile as they played an impromptu concert.

On our way back to the hotel, we took a detour to visit the Big Blue Bear at the Colorado Convention Center.

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Day Two – A Self-Guided Walking Tour, Stand a Mile High and Try to Catch a Fly Ball

On Saturday morning, we actually had to race to a lacrosse game across town.  When that finished, we returned our car to the hotel and started our day.  We first walked to Larimer Square where we had lunch at Tom’s Urban 24.  I was underwhelmed by the prices of our food (ahem, EIGHT dollars for a kid’s meal?) and the crowd of young Kentucky Derby fans slinging back the drinks, but I would like to return on a date night with my husband so I could give it a second chance.  He was pleased with his meal and I liked the fun atmosphere.  Larimer Square offers a number of places to eat and every single one I saw has been recommended to us at one point or another.  From our booth at Tom’s, we saw the colorful sign for Rocket Fizz and it just called our names.  Little did we know that it is quite the soda and candy store.

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Rocket Fizz offers just about every candy you can think of.  There are hundreds of soda choices and you probably won’t recognize some of them!  We spent about thirty minutes picking out some treats to get us through a lengthy walk to the Capitol.  We wanted to see the Capitol because we wanted to see the plaque that shows where you are standing exactly one mile above sea level.

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We didn’t do a tour or go in because it was closed to the public on the weekends.  After taking some pictures and running up and down the stairs, we walked through a Cinco de Mayo festival that was happening.

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We made our way back to the hotel for a quick break before walking to the baseball stadium to see the Rockies play the Tampa Bay Rays.  We bought our tickets at the gate and were still able to get $15 seats.  I don’t recommend doing this because we had a hard time finding seats in our price point.  The game was great and I will share more about that in a later post.  After the game, we walked back to the hotel and everyone fell asleep quickly!

Day Three – Museums Galore

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Denver has a number of museums that cover all sorts of topics.  We decided to visit the History Colorado Center.  The History Colorado Center can be completed in under two hours as long as it isn’t very crowded.  Our favorite parts were the Denver A to Z exhibit and the Colorado Stories exhibit.  It was great to learn more about all of the different moments in Colorado’s history.  There is a lot that I didn’t know about our new home state.  There is a lot of reading, much like most history museums, but the displays are brightly colored and the paragraphs are short.  The museum is full of hands-on interactive exhibits that will help keep the kids busy while you read the signs.  There is a ski jump simulation, a barn to gather eggs in, and games to play.  After our visit to the museum, it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up the car.  Your day doesn’t have to stop here though.  The Denver Art Museum is just a few blocks away so you could make a full day of museum hopping.

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We can’t wait to go back to the downtown area and explore Denver some more.  Do you have any suggestions for activities we should put on our list for our next trip?

Interested in other three day itineraries?  See our itineraries about Pensacola, Myrtle Beach, Asheville, and more.

Stop by Delicious Baby and Friday DayDreamin’ for fun travel posts!

 

Three Days in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with Your Family

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina consistently ends up on top family vacation hot spot lists every year and for good reason.  The hotels and attractions are reasonably priced and there seems to be limitless activities that children of all ages can appreciate.  The one downside to a visit to Myrtle Beach is that although everything seemed reasonably priced for the most part, you will pay for everything.  Besides a visit to the beach, we didn’t find too many other free activities.  Our ticket admissions and meals added up very quickly.

I have to admit that this trip was not my finest travel moment.  I think that is why I haven’t been able to bring myself to post about any of the fun we had and we did have fun.  This trip was a week-long road trip that I took with my children by myself.  This was the first time I had traveled this long by myself with the kids when we had no extra help in the form of grandparents, my husband, or friends.  We went from Pensacola, Florida to Cashiers, North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and then back to Pensacola, totaling about 1400 miles.  I would consider the whole trip a success but by the time we made it to Myrtle Beach we just wanted to hang out in our beautiful condo unit or by the pool at the Holiday Inn Club Vacations South Beach Resort.  We did finally pull ourselves out of our beach chairs to do a little bit of exploring.  This was our three day itinerary.

Day One – A Round of Mini Golf and Lounging by the Beach and Pool

We arrived at the Holiday Inn Club Vacation South Beach Resort, got checked in, explored the property and spent the rest of the day at the pool and the beach.  There are many different types of properties to choose from in Myrtle Beach.  I highly recommend the South Beach Resort because you get both condo and hotel amenities in your room.  The only downside is that it is not directly on the beach but that wasn’t an issue since the South Beach Resort offers a shuttle service.

After living on the Gulf Coast for the past fifteen years, we are spoiled when it comes to beaches.  As my kids ran out on the sand excitedly, they were shocked at the dirty, rocky sand!  I have to admit we weren’t fans so we only played at the beach for about thirty minutes before returning to the pool.  That being said, if you are visiting from a landlocked area you might want to spend more of your vacation sitting on the beach.

Myrtle Beach has more miniature golf places than I have ever seen in one place.  Well, it sure seems like it!  We spent the late afternoon playing a round of miniature golf at Jurassic Golf, where we were surrounded by water, fog, and dinosaurs!

Day Two – Alligators, Fish and Shopping

We devoted day two to exploring some of the more touristy areas of Myrtle Beach.  Spend the morning wandering around Barefoot Landing where you will find a number of shops, attractions, and restaurants.  The kids love walking across the boardwalks and spying turtles and fish.  Alligator Adventure, one of the world’s largest reptile zoos, is located at Barefoot Landing.  Although adult tickets are $17.99 (children’s tickets are $11.99), the second day within seven days of your first visit is free.  If you love alligators, bats, komodo dragons, and more, it is probably worth a visit.

After Barefoot Landing, we headed to Broadway at the Beach to spend the rest of the day.  We started our visit at Ripley’s Aquarium.  We love aquariums and if there is one available we make sure to visit.  I have to admit that I was disappointed in the size of the aquarium (especially for the cost of the tickets).  The exhibits are wonderful and there are several hands-on interactive areas but the aquarium is very small.  We received tickets courtesy of our property stay but if we had paid for the visit ourselves, it would have cost me more than I would have been willing to spend.  It is only $3.99 for children ages 2-5 so if your children are young that could help offset the cost but adult tickets are $21.99 and children ages 5 and up are $10.99.  A pricey attraction considering we were only there for about an hour.

We spent much of our Broadway at the Beach time in Pavillion Nostalgia Park, an area made up of different rides perfect for kids!  There is also a Wonderworks, a NASCAR Speedway, a water park, a theater and so much more.  Check the schedule before you go because there are often different events like fireworks and festivals.  Though my kids loved the rides in Pavillion Nostalgia Park, they especially loved walking the boardwalks and feeding the fish (albeit scary looking ones that attacked each other for the fish food…this is probably why they loved it so much!).

Day Three – State Parks and Beautiful Gardens

On day three, we checked out a garden and two state parks.  You would think that my kids would have enjoyed the rides, fancy candy shops and aquarium the most, but this was their favorite day of the trip.  We spent the morning wandering up and down the beach at Myrtle Beach State Park.  We also walked down the pier to see if we could spy anything in the water (we didn’t).  When the kids were ready for a break, we had a picnic lunch in the car as we drove down the road to Huntington Beach State Park.

We explored, Atalaya, the home of noted sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington.  It cost us a dollar per person to see the home.  We only spent about fifteen minutes exploring the home which is just a shadow of what it used to be because the kids were ready to head to the beach for lunch and some play time.  After lunch we drove just a few minutes to Brookgreen Gardens.

When we checked into our hotel, the concierge recommended Brookgreen Gardens if we wanted to get off of the tourist path.  If you ask my kids what their favorite part of the trip to Myrtle Beach was, they would say Brookgreen Gardens.  The gardens are absolutely beautiful, full of blooming flowers and sculptures.  There is also a zoo located at the gardens where visitors can learn more about animals that are native to the Carolina area.  Begin your visit at the Visitor’s Center to pick up Activity Booklets for the children.  The booklets are full of questions that the kids can answer as you all wander the gardens.  Once the booklets are finished, take them back to the Visitor’s Center for a small prize.

Overall, our visit to Myrtle Beach was a good one.  A pricey one, but a good one.  Over the next month or so, I will post more in depth write-ups about each of the places we visited.

Our Fast Pass Route at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

We just got home from a big family vacation at Disney World.  We hit Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.  This trip just kind of snuck up on me and we didn’t do much planning.  We didn’t read the guidebooks or search the Internet before heading down there and to be honest with you, we had no plan.  I actually got teased by the family because according to them, “what good is traveling with a travel blogger if she is no help?!” 

Waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion and watching the rain!

Waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion and watching the rain!

One of our Disney days was spent at the Magic Kingdom.  We arrived around 9:30 in the morning and didn’t leave until after the fireworks that night.  We had lots of luck with our fast pass timing and standing in lines so I thought I would share our schedule.  I am by no means a Disney expert and don’t claim to be.  This was our one day route through Disney World.  It seemed to work for us, but it might have just been the time of year, the day of the week, and what we chose to do!  We were thrilled that with our Fast Pass route, somehow we managed to only wait in lines for 20-30m.

We started our day in Tomorrowland.  We went straight to the Fast Pass line for Space Mountain and then we got in line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin where we had a 20m wait.  After riding the Buzz Lightyear ride, we got in line for the Astro Orbiter rockets.  We had a 30m wait for the Astro Orbiter rockets.  While we were waiting, our Fast Pass times for Space Mountain opened up which meant we could pick up another Fast Pass.  We knew we were headed to Fantasy Land after Space Mountain, so while we waited in line for the rockets, two people in our party picked up Fast Pass tickets for Peter Pan’s Flight.  Once we finished with the Astro Orbiter, we got to Space Mountain with time to spare on our Fast Pass.  Then we got in line and rode the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway cars.

After Tomorrowland, we picked up Fast Passes for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as we walked straight to Peter Pan’s Flight to use our Fast Pass.  After Peter Pan’s Flight, we waited in line for about 30m for It’s A Small World.  Then we used our Fast Pass for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  After that, we had about a 15m wait for Cinderella’s Golden Carousel.    At this point, it was after noon and everyone was getting whiny for lunch so we ate and rested our feet!

After lunch, we went to Frontierland and picked up Fast Passes for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Luckily it was only about an hour until we could get in line for the ride so we took the kids over to Tom Sawyer’s Island to play and explore for awhile.  Once the Fast Pass time passed, we grabbed Fast Passes for Splash Mountain (and our time was hours later!).  We grabbed an early dinner to beat the crowds, rode Pirates of the Caribbean and waited about 35m for the Jungle Cruise.

This is where what little plan we had totally went out the window!  The sky opened up and it started pouring.  Big thunder crashes, lightning cracking through the sky, and buckets and buckets of rain were threatening to ruin the rest of our Disney day.  We jogged over to the Haunted Mansion where we were able to wait in line under awnings for the 30m wait.  By the time we came out of the Haunted Mansion ride, the rain had finally let up but Splash Mountain wasn’t running due to electrical difficulties.  This was going to be a problem because all my son talked about all day long was getting to ride Splash Mountain!  We passed the Country Bear Jamboree as it was getting ready to start so we decided to catch the show (so strange!) to kill some more time.  Luckily, Splash Mountain was open and ready to go when we finished and my son was thrilled! 

If you can believe it, by the time we were finished with Splash Mountain it was time to line up for the 9pm parade and fireworks show.  We missed a few rides that the kids would have liked to go on (the teacups to name one!) but I think for the most part we had a great day!

Do you have any secret tips that help to make a day at Disney World successful?  Please share in the comments!

Three Days in Asheville, NC with Kids

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Today I am joining Monday Dreaming with Mara over at Mother Of All Trips.  We just got back from a three day trip to Asheville, North Carolina.  You might be wondering why I am dreaming of returning for another three days in Asheville.  While I was at the Type  A Conference (which was an incredible conference and I have notes and notes to share with you over the next week), my husband and kids explored Asheville.  Although I was glad to be at the conference, as I look at pictures of their adventures I also wish I was able to join them.  I guess we will just have to return so I can take part in the hiking, kayaking, and wandering!

Three Days in Asheville, North Carolina

Day One – The Great Outdoors

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Day one began with breakfast in the hotel.  When we look for a hotel, we try to find one that offers breakfast because it helps with the budget!  Make the drive to Chimney Rock State Park.  Chimney Rock State Park is a place where you can spend just a few hours or all day.  My family spent practically all day here!  They hiked both the Hickory Nut Falls Trail and the Great Woodland Adventure trail.  They also explored the nature center.  After a long day of hiking, they just grabbed something quick to eat and headed back to the hotel for some pool time.

Day Two – More Outdoor Fun

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On day two, they loaded up with more sunscreen because they were going to go kayaking!  Originally, the plan was to check out Rafting with My Kids but it was about an hour away from the hotel and after their long day yesterday he decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea.  Instead, they decided to spend the day at the Asheville Outdoor Center.  They spent the morning kayaking the one hour trip.  Both kids got to paddle themselves and my husband said he didn’t really have to do much of the work! 

Know Before You Go: There are several kayaking, tubing, rafting and paddle board options.  They chose to do the one hour kayak option.  Daddy J said the kids had just started really enjoying themselves and then it was over.  He wished he had done one of the longer trips.

The Asheville Outdoor Center also offers gem mining but they decided to skip it because everyone was getting whiny for lunch.  After a picnic lunch in the car, they drove to the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  This nature center offers animal exhibits and hands on learning activities throughout that kept my family busy for several hours.  After dinner, we headed to Pritchard Park to catch a drum circle.

nature center

Day Three – Around Downtown Asheville

After a conference session in the morning, I met up with the family to explore Downtown Asheville.  We hit downtown right at lunchtime so we had a hard time getting into one of the local restaurants.  As we walked past a Jimmy John’s sandwich place, I recalled a friend talking about how great it was.  We had lunch there and for the first time in a long time my family ate their lunch without one complaint!  After lunch, we walked across the street to the Pack Place Education, Arts, and Science Center and played at the Health Adventure*.  The Health Adventure is a children’s science museum with hands on exhibits that entertained the kids for three hours while mom and dad were able to relax.  We have been to lots of children’s museums and although this was one of the smaller ones, it kept the kids entertained the longest!  When we got tired of playing, we wandered down to check out the splash pad in front of the Courthouse and then it was time to head home for dinner!

Spending that third day with my family and looking at the pictures have just made me want to return to Asheville to spend more time exploring the outdoors with them.  More in depth posts on each activity will be posted soon!

 *Disclosure: We were given free admission into the Health Adventure because I was a Type A Conference attendee.

Three Days in Pensacola with Your Family

I am going to try to share some of our favorite itineraries here.  I get asked about what our days are like when we travel so I thought that I would share them!  These itineraries are what worked (or didn’t work) for us but hopefully it might help when you are planning your trips!  What better place to start with but my hometown city!  Today I am Monday Dreaming with Mother of All Trips.  I am dreaming of visitors coming to Pensacola, a city I know and love, and falling in love with it themselves.  I am dreaming that they make their own Pensacola memories with their families!

beachball

Day One – Breakfast, the beach, pre-Civil war fort, and a walk on the pier

Begin your day with breakfast at one of our favorite local bagel shops, Bagelheads.  My favorite is a Create Your Own with a garlic bagel, plain cream cheese and pastrami and my husband always gets the Double Smoke.  Both of the kids split a huge cinnamon roll.  After you have had your fill of bagel sandwiches, it is time to head to the beach!  Drive out to Pensacola Beach to explore.  You will need a dollar to pay the toll to get on the beach.  We usually skip the place to see and be seen, Casino Beach, and head to the Gulf Islands National Seashore where you will not only find gorgeous white sandy beaches but you will always be able to mark another national park off your list!  It costs $8 to enter Gulf Islands National Seashore but the pass is good for a week.  Once you are in the Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS), pull into one of the first two parking lots on the left.  This is a great spot to be because the crowds are minimal, the sea life is plentiful and it is a great place to park it while the kids splash in the water.

Know Before You Go: THERE ARE NO LIFEGUARDS here and riptides can come in quickly.  Tragedies occur at the beaches every year because swimmers do not know what to do in a riptide and they do not heed the warning flags.  Pay attention to the warning flags as you arrive on the beach and heed the warnings.  SWIM AT YOUR OWN RISK.  Also, there are no bathrooms in this area.  If you prefer a spot with bathrooms, you can park in the parking lot right before the entrance to the GINS.  You will find relatively clean restrooms and I believe that there is a lifeguard station here.

After playing in the sand, looking for shells, and splashing in the water, drive further into the GINS and visit Ft. Pickens.  You can take a guided tour or self-guided tour.  See the canons, get a bird’s eye view of the ocean and learn more about this fort built before the Civil War to guard the Pensacola Bay.  It was completed in 1834 and was prison to Geronimo.

ft pickens

When you have finished exploring the fort, exit the Gulf Islands National Seashore and head to Peg Leg Pete’s for a late lunch or early dinner.  There may be a lengthy wait but we think it is worth it.  Grab a drink from the bar and head downstairs to let the kids play on the playground while you wait for a table.  The food from the kid’s menu comes in their signature teal sand bucket with a pirate eye patch.  The oysters, grouper sandwich and peel and eat shrimp are great but, truly, order whatever looks good because we haven’t had a bad meal there yet.

If you aren’t ready for your day at the beach to end, drive down to Casino Beach and take a walk along the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier.  You will see fishermen bringing up their catch and if you are lucky you might spy a shark or a turtle in the water.

Day Two – Airplanes, a Lighthouse, State Parks, Dinner on the Deck

If you like doughnuts, stop by Krispy Kreme if you see that Hot Doughnuts Now sign flashing.  The kids will love to see the doughnuts come out of the oven and get covered with that famous glaze.  Day two is all about helicopters, planes, and space capsules.  Drive out to the Pensacola Naval Air Station and tell the gate guard that you are going to the National Naval Aviation Museum.  They will need to see your driver’s license, give you a parking pass and can also send you in the right direction of the museum.

Know Before You Go: Check the Blue Angels practice schedule before you head out to the museum.  If they are practicing be sure to arrive early enough in the morning to catch the aerial acrobatics.  The practices are sight to see.  There are bleachers to sit on but you can bring a blanket and chairs if you wish.  Bring earplugs for the children because it gets very loud but if you can sit near one of the volunteers you might hear the pilots through the volunteers’ walkie talkies!   After the Wednesday practices, often the pilots head into the museum for an autograph signing.

blue angels

Spend a few hours wandering around the museum where you will see many restored aircrafts, uniforms, mementoes, and Blue Angels hanging from the ceiling!  Both of my children could spend an hour on the second floor climbing in and out…and in and out…of the cockpit trainers.  They can push the buttons, pull the levers, and pretend to be pilots.  If you have smaller children, stop by the USS Kiddie Hawk, a play structure set up to resemble an aircraft carrier.  There is also an IMAX, guided tours, and more at the Naval Aviation Museum!  If you are hungry, grab a snack or lunch at the Cubi Bar before you make your way back to your car.

After the museum, drive down the road to the Pensacola Lighthouse, supposedly one of the most haunted lighthouses in the United States!  The Pensacola Lighthouse offers tours, ghost hunts, and Light of the Moon tours (spooky!).

Know Before You Go: Children must be at least seven years old and at least 44 inches to tour the lighthouse.  No flip flops or spike heeled shoes are allowed in the lighthouse.

After being inside most of the morning, the kids will be itching to get outside.  Drive to Big Lagoon State Park where you can walk along a pretty boardwalk and spy birds or other wildlife.  There are guided walks and ranger programs available throughout the year.  The cost to enter the park is $6 per vehicle.

At dinner time, take the drive to the Oar House where you can eat outside overlooking Bayou Chico while you watch the sun set.  The fish sandwiches are delicious but if you would like to order a burger you can!

Day Three – A History Lesson

Pensacola is rich in history.  It claims to be America’s first settlement but unfortunately it wasn’t continuous.  Take it easy on day three and spend the day wandering around our beautiful downtown area and Historic Pensacola.  Take a guided tour of historic Pensacola and then head to the TT Wentworth Museum where you can head to the top floor and let the kids play with the interactive exhibits in the Discovery Gallery.

ttwentworth

When the children are done pretending to be colonists take a walk to the Pensacola Museum of Art where the current exhibit (until September 4, 2011) is Chagall for Children on loan from the Kohl Children’s Museum.

PMA front

Are you hungry yet?  Stop by one of the many delis (my favorite is Norma’s!) downtown to pick up lunch and head to Bayview Park to have a picnic lunch.  The children will love to climb on the playground equipment and you will enjoy the breeze coming off of the water.

We finish off our day with an early dinner at Atlas Oyster House.  The deck is beautiful and very family friendly.  The kid’s menu includes the typical items like chicken tenders but they also different choices like sushi, crab cakes and fish.  Watch the sunset over the water while you enjoy a delicious meal with your children.  If you have had your fill of seafood, head over to Five Sister Blues Café where they cook up true Southern soul food.  The fried chicken is mouth watering but be sure to save room for some bread pudding!

If you are downtown on a Thursday, head to Plaza de Luna and visit the splash pad, listen to a band play and watch the sun set at Sunsets in the Plaza.  You can go to Evenings in Olde Seville and listen to a band as well.

Pensacola, Florida is such a wonderful place to take the family.  Even though this is just a three day itinerary you could spend two weeks and not see everything Pensacola has to offer!  Have you been to Pensacola?  What is your favorite family friendly activity?

Pensacola Family Vacation on raveable