Family Friendly Activities in Asheville, North Carolina

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Last year, I went to Asheville, North Carolina for the Type A Parent Conference.  Besides learning a lot about my blog and the direction I wanted to take with it, I also loved meeting bloggers I follow and love and wandering around Downtown Asheville.  I brought my daughter with me last year and she went to KidCon, the babysitting service provided for an additional cost by the conference (which I highly recommend!).  This year, I am bringing my whole family.  My husband hasn’t had a day off of work since Christmas Day and he is looking forward to spending some solid daddy/kid time exploring Asheville.  In preparation for our trip, I put together a list of things for my family to do while I am attending conference sessions and rubbing elbows with other bloggers.  I am not sure what they will decide to do but I will keep you updated with reviews from my kids!

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Chimney Rock Park – I think my husband is most excited about taking the kids to visit Chimney Rock Park.  The kids will love wandering the Great Woodland Adventure hike and my husband will enjoy the Hickory Nut Falls trail, both of which are family friendly and doable with two kids under the age of seven!

“Splashville” – Located in front of the courthouse, this splash pad water feature will keep my kids occupied.  If it is turned on, that is!  I found Splashville listed in the comments of my pal Amy’s blog.  I did a search for it but didn’t really find much info. 

Colburn Earth Science Museum– My rock loving son will be in heaven in the Colburn Earth Science Museum.  Big S has to pick up a rock everywhere we go.  He will love looking at the gemstones and minerals.

Asheville Outdoor Center – Speaking of rocks and gems, the Asheville Outdoor Center has gem mining.  Pay for a bucket, take it to the water and use a sluice to find some gems!  There is also tubing and canoeing available.

Western North Carolina Nature Center – This is something I might make them wait to visit when I get out of conference sessions!  There are animal exhibits like otters, red wolves, black bears and other animals that are native to the Appalachian area. 

Health Adventure– This science museum has lots of interactive hands-on exhibits.  Check the schedule before you go because there are lots of activities throughout the week.

Drum Circles – I heard all about the Drum Circle last year and was so disappointed I missed it.  We definitely won’t miss it this time!  On Friday nights throughout the summer, impromptu drum circles occur in Pritchard Park.

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Asheville Tourists – This baseball lovin’ family is definitely going to try to make it to an Asheville Tourists game.  The Asheville Tourists are a Double AA club that feeds into the Colorado Rockies.  They are playing home games the whole time we are there and tickets are super cheap! 

The North Carolina Arboretum – Take a hike or a guided trail walk here or see one of the most unique Bonsai collections of the United States.

Go geocaching – We have been geocaching a few times and the kids love the treasure hunts!  Asheville has some great geocaches both in the downtown area and on the hiking trails. 

Go hiking – Asheville has so many hiking trails for levels of all kinds!  My children love to hike.  I have mentioned before how it amazes me how they will hike a mountain for hours but complain about walking across a parking lot to get to the store!

Lake Lure– Our hotel has a pool, but if my husband wants to get the kids out of the hotel and into the water he might make the drive to Lake Lure where there is the Water Works park and beach area.

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Carl Sandburg Home – Little S and I stopped here at this National Historic Site on our way home last year but it was raining.  I would love to go back and visit when the sun is shining.  We could take a walk and then tour the home of this famous author.   

These are just a few of the activities available!  There is so much more…a trip to the Biltmore, hiking to waterfalls.  I don’t think my husband and the kids will get to do everything they hope to!

Special thanks to Amy, at the Q Family Adventures, and her post 13 Things to Do in Asheville with Kids, TravelingMom’s 10 Free Things to do in Asheville, Kelby Carr of the Type A Parent Conference, the Explore Asheville, and Visit North Carolina who helped with my research.

Wikki Stix – Fun for less than $10!

In preparation for the 1400 mile road trip that I took with my kids all by myself (and lived to tell about it!), the Easter Bunny brought several new travel items for the kids.  One of those travel items was a package of Wikki Stix.

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Let me start by saying that I was not going to purchase Wikki Stix when all of the blogs that I read started raving about them awhile back.  Not because I didn’t think they were effective, I just didn’t see the point of spending the money on them when we had plenty of other things to keep the kids occupied.  Boy, was I wrong!!!

While at a Traveling Mom retreat, we received a little mini Wikki Stix sample that I shoved in my purse and forgot about it.  Well, fast forward a few weeks and picture us at a restaurant with poor service, waiting almost an hour for our food and at wit’s end as I furiously dug through my purse for something to do because, really, there is only so much Angry Birds an irritable mom can take.  I found the Wikki Stix sample pack and ripped in to it!  The kids LOVED them!  By loved them, I mean they did not even put them down when the food came even though they were hungry.

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As soon as I got home, I took a look at the Wikki Stix website and realized that they were very inexpensive.  I decided to go with the Original Package that comes with 48 eight inch Wikki Stix (Neon for Little S and primary for Big S).  They only cost $6.25 each plus shipping (and they arrived in less than 5 days!).

Out of all the travel gifts that I purchased, this was the fan favorite!  They held up even after my 4yo took all 48 Wikki Stix and put them in a gigantic ball resembling 48 pieces of already chewed gum stuck together.  I did have to help pull them apart, but after we pulled each stick off and stretched out they were good as new! 

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There are all sorts of different Wikki Stix products to choose from ranging from simple packs to activity packs and favors great for parties!

Disclosure: I…er…the Easter Bunny purchased the Wikki Stix and I am writing this review because my children adored them.  They have been Two Kids and a Map tested and given the seal of approval!

Dreaming of Road Trips

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This month, we are going to be on two separate road trips.  When I say we, I mean me and the kids.  Daddy J’s work schedule is preventing him from joining us.  We are still trying to work some things out, but I am going into these trips with the mindset that I will be doing them both on my own (we are meeting up with grandma for one of them though!).

We are headed to New Orleans for a few days where I hope to enjoy some of our favorite activities as well as visit some family friendly spots we have missed on our past visits.  Don’t worry…we will be eating copious amounts of beignets while we are there!  Barring a flat tire or any other number of things that could go wrong, I am expecting this road trip to be smooth.  We try to travel to New Orleans at least twice a year for the past eleven years.  I am familiar with the city and I know my way around town.

The second road trip kind of scares me a little.  We are going to two cities that I am not really familiar with (one of which I have never visited) but I am still excited!  We are heading to Cashiers, North Carolina and then we are heading to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

To help these road trips go smoothly, I am doing a little bit of prep work.  The Easter Bunny has gotten the word that they would like a few travel items in their basket.  They will be finding these adorable magnet play sets, WikkiStix, some new books and some snacks.  I will review each of the gifts once we have been able to try them out on the road!

What are you dreaming about today?  Visit Mother of All Trips to see what other people are dreaming about today!

Check Engine Light Blazing on a Road Trip? Head to Auto Zone.

check engine lightWe road trip a lot…short trips only an hour or two away to 15 hour days.  I love the picnics on the road, the forced family fun in the car, and the children’s excitement when they spot something they have never seen before.  We don’t love car problems though.  Unfortunately, they are inevitable.  We have changed tires on the side of the road and in various parking lots.  We have been at the mercy of small town mechanics who have thankfully always been helpful and honest.  We have had to leave the car in the capable hands of tow truck drivers when we were only 20 minutes away from home after a five hour drive.  When I look back at events that seemed so traumatic, we have actually been very lucky.

Now, let me give you a little background on my car.  When it was just over three years old (less than a year ago), we had to rebuild the entire transmission.  My car and I are not always friends.  As I pulled into my driveway after the seven hour drive from Orlando, the check engine light came on.  I wanted to scream.  To make matters worse, my husband’s check engine light came on this week too.  We decided to get his car fixed first (ouch!) since we knew there was a real problem. 

I mentioned to a friend that the check engine light was on but that the car seemed to be running fine.  I didn’t want to take it in and shell out the money it will cost.  She told me that Auto Zone stores will check your engine for free and will give you a print out of what might be wrong with the car.  You may already know this, but I didn’t so I wanted to share!  Yesterday afternoon, I headed to our local Auto Zone and had the car checked.  They were very informative and let me know that I didn’t need to race right over to the mechanic for this particular problem.  It still needs to be fixed but it can at least wait until we get my husband’s car out of the shop!

If you are ever on a road trip and your check engine light turns on, try to locate an Auto Zone nearby.  There are Auto Zones throughout most of the South and East Coast as well as the West Coast.  They will check the light, you will know if you can continue on, and it is all free!

Photo Courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker.

Dreaming of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The sun is trying to peak out from behind the clouds but that pesky wind and rain has been persistent.  Mr. Sun is not having much luck.  The temperatures have warmed up a little bit but are showing no signs of creeping any higher.  I know I have no room to complain about temperatures that range from the 20s to the 40s but we live on the Gulf Coast.  We just are not accustomed to temperatures like that for more than a few weeks at a time.  Our houses aren’t insulated for that freezing weather, our coats are not heavy enough, and we can’t find the darn mittens and scarves in the closet.  Don’t even get me started on my shoes.  My poor flip flops are aquiring a very tall layer of dust as I constantly rotate the only two pairs of closed toed shoes I own.

This is why I am dreaming of my spring break trip already even though it is still two months away (and may still very well be cold where we are going!).  We will be packing up the car and making the eleven hour drive to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Not only will I be able to check off #3 (putting our toes back in the Atlantic Ocean) on my 33 Things to Do the Year I Turn 33 list, but I am excited to explore a part of the South that I have not been able to explore yet.

Courtesy of alan2onion at Flickr.com

Courtesy of alan2onion at Flickr.com

South Carolina makes me think of sprawling porches, rocking chairs and all the sweet tea you can drink.  It makes me think of BBQ sandwiches, boardwalks with carnival rides and ice cream shops, and collecting seashells on the beach as the sun rises.

We will be visiting Holiday Inn Vacation Club’s South Beach Resort courtesy of the Holiday Inn Vacation Club.  I am looking forward to taking advantage of what the resort as to offer including their pools and that beautiful boardwalk out to the beach.  I can’t wait to see my children’s reaction when they walk out on the that sand and see how different it is from our powdery white beach.  I am excited for the car ride because much of the ride will be a route we have never taken before. 

But most importantly?  I am looking forward to the three days of family time…you know…that Forced Family Fun?!

Have you been to Myrtle Beach?  Do you have any suggestions for us?  We want to hear about your favorite restaurants and activities!

Stop by Mother of all Trips to see what everyone else is dreaming about today!

Circle Around the Island of Oahu on a Self-Guided Tour

We just returned to Pensacola from the beautiful island of Oahu.  I have so many blog posts running through my head and tons of pictures that I want to share with you.  I am going to give you a sneak peek of some of the things we did throughout the week with our Around the Island of Oahu self-guided tour itinerary.  I will be writing more detailed posts about the places we visited over the next few weeks.

When we were planning our trip to Oahu, several people told us that we should spend a day driving around the island.  It only takes about 4-6 hours, give or take, with your stops included.  We completed this tour on the second day of our trip and we thought that it was a good way to see things that we probably would have skipped.  It was also a good way to find out what we wanted to revisit.  It was a geat way to tick off some of the tourist hot spots we wanted to see as well.

You have several options for a guided tour if that is what you enjoy but my husband and I preferred to take a self-guided tour in our rental car.  While we were driving around, we saw lots of tour buses stopping at different stops.  We found that the advantage to doing the tour ourselves allowed us to take as much time as we wanted at each stop, skip things that we decided we didn’t want to see on this drive, and eat anytime and anywhere! 

We started our tour with a stop at the Halona Blowhole.  Be sure to watch for the lookout signs because it will come up quickly around a corner.  If it isn’t very active, wait a few minutes and it just might put on a show for you. 

Holana Blowhole

After the blowhole, continue to drive north to the Makapu’u Lighthouse lookouts.  The first lookout you will see has a beautiful view but we didn’t spot the lighthouse!  We did see it behind us further down the road! 

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At this point we were ready for breakfast.  We veered a little off course to eat at a recommended restaurant called the Kalapawai Cafe.  It was worth the little detour!   

After breakfast, we headed to the Valley of the Temples to see the Byodo-In Temple.  The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of the 950 year old temple in Uji, Japan.  It is a beautiful temple in bright red and yellow at the foot of the Kualoa Mountains.

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We made a quick stop at the Kualoa Ranch to get information about their tours.  If you are planning a trip to Kualoa Ranch, be sure to research the tours and options available.  The tour we wanted to take was booked and we didn’t want to wait around until the next one so we headed north again!

At this point, we were hungry again so we stopped at Ted’s Bakery for lunch.  Then we decided that we were ready for some beach time.  We stopped at both Sunset Beach and the Bonzai Pipeline.  The surf wasn’t really up so the beaches were not as crowded as they were later on in the week when we returned.

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The next stop was one of my favorites!  Laniakea Beach, also known as Turtle Beach, is the perfect place to stop if you are looking to see…you guessed it…turtles!  We lucked out and as we were sitting on the beach one turtle decided to come up for a little sunbathing.  Of course, that meant the tourists came up on the beach too!

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After watching the turtle sunbathe, we were ready to get out of the sun ourselves and headed to Matsumoto Shave Ice.  There was only one more stop that I wanted to make.  Since we had driven so far up the island, I had to see YMCA Camp Erdman which is home to the little yellow cabins that the Others lived in on the television show Lost.   

At this point, you are almost at the end of the road.  The road ends and turns into a dirt service road that you are not allowed to use.  When I was planning our Around the Island trip I didn’t realize this.  We were exhausted anyway so we decided to call it a day.  We plugged in our hotel to our GPS and headed back to Waikiki.  Even though we spent almost an entire day driving up and around the island, it only took us about an hour to get to the hotel by cutting through the middle of the island on I H1!

My husband and I did this trip without our children.  By the time the trip was over, we were tired of being in the car and were ready for a long walk on the beach.  I do think that my kids, ages 4 and 6, could have handled the trip.  I might have changed the itinerary a little bit to add some extra time at one of the beaches.  I would also skip the stop at Kuoloa Ranch.  It isn’t that far from Waikiki and if you are going to visit the ranch, you will want to spend at least an hour or two.  Unless you are a diehard Lost fan, you could skip YMCA Camp Erdman and call it a day after Matsumoto Shave Ice.

Stop by Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday!

Oahu Things To Do on raveable

Water Park Fun at the CoCo Key Orlando Hotel and Water Park

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Screams of children on water slides and splashing in pools and the roar of the International Drive traffic are just a few sounds you will hear when you wander around the Coco Key Hotel and Water Park in Orlando, Florida.  The hotel and water park opened just a few months ago and we were very lucky to be guests of CoCo Key on our last trip to Orlando, Florida.  Orlando’s hot, humid weather makes it the perfect home to water parks.  And a water park in which you can stay the night?  My kids thought that they had hit the jackpot!

The CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park are located in the heart of the touristy area of International Drive.  I had actually never been to this part of International Drive before and was fascinated by how much it resembled the Panama City strip or Gatlinburg’s main tourist drag.  Within walking distance of the hotel, you will find many restaurants and activities; however, there is plenty to do on the hotel grounds so you might not want to leave!

When we arrived and got checked in, I was disappointed to find that our room was located on the outside of the hotel near the main road.  It turns out that this was a great location because we could have thrown a football at the Dunkin’ Donuts that we got our breakfast from and it was much quieter than being next to the pools and splash areas.  The hotel room was large compared to other typical two double bed rooms we have stayed in and had plenty of room for my family of four.  It was clean and brightly decorated.  I believe I spied furniture from my favorite store!  When we realized that our room only had hand towels in the bathroom (surely they can’t expect us to dry off after a shower with these?!), I called the front desk for towels and they were delivered about ½ an hour later. 

We decided to skip the water play the first evening we arrived because everyone was exhausted from the drive.  The kids popped out of bed bright and early the next day ready to hit the water.  We were surprised to find the water park incredibly crowded later in the day.  We visited over Labor Day weekend after my kids had already started school.  I forgot that lots of people hadn’t started school yet!  There was plenty to do and I never felt like my kids weren’t able to play, but it was a crowded Sunday afternoon at the park.  We kept Little S in a life jacket the whole time and I was thrilled to see that after a few months of constant use by lots of children they were not showing any wear or tear.  We started our day in the Minnow Lagoon and Slides which is under the canopy. 

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The kids spent an hour splashing around, shooting water cannons and sliding down the little slides.  After they tired of that, we went to the area that I was dreading…the Parrot’s Perch. 

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As a slightly nutty mom, I openly admit that I think the worst of things and this was no exception.  How would I find my child?  Can they escape the area without me noticing?  What if they slip and fall?  I was happily surprised that none of this happened.  Both kids spent almost an hour and a half going up and down the stairs, sliding down the slides and waiting for the bucket to dump its 400 gallons of water on them.  To make this more fun for me, Daddy J and I stationed ourselves near the exit gate so we could see the kids at (almost) all times so we didn’t have to worry as much.  It helped that parents are welcome to play too so Daddy J and I were able to walk up with the kids for the first few times.  Little S and Big S both had strict instructions to wave at us every time they went down a slide and were ready to run back up to the top of Parrot’s Perch. 

There are also three very large slides.  Little S was too small to check them out and Big S didn’t want her to feel bad (which was sweet but I think he was secretly a little frightened!).  We saw many tweens and teens getting off of the slide and heading straight back up again.

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The water park is not just limited to guests.  You can purchase day tickets or even have your birthday party at the water park. 

Besides the water park, there is also a large pool that is open late into the night (one of the reasons I was glad our room was on the street side).  We hung out there after dinner for awhile before going back to the hotel and collapsing from water logged exhaustion. 

The hotel has a restaurant that offers kids eat free and there is a Pizza Hut Express.  There is also an arcade available full of state-of-the-art interactive video games.  The hotel has free wifi available but we could never get it working in the room.  We were traveling with two laptops and neither one would pick up the wireless in the hotel room.  Luckily this doesn’t happen often when we travel, but when it does it is incredibly annoying.  We had to spend time working in the lobby because it was the only place our computers would pick up the wifi.  The lobby is huge with plenty of comfortable seating.  There is even a children’s play area with a TV turned to children’s shows.

The room prices are reasonable and for a fee of only 19 dollars more, you add the cost of water park admission for four.  I think that we would stay at the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park again because of its proximity to the theme parks, the price, the clean hotel rooms, and the friendly staff. 

Disclosure: We were guests of the CoCo Key Hotel and Water Park resort for two nights.  Our water park admission was included.  We paid for everything else including food and gas to get there.

Today we are linking up to Trekaroo’s Spotlight Thursday.

Orlando Hotel Review on raveable

NCDOT Wildflower Program

When we were on our big road trip this summer, we were surprised at all of the beautiful flowers we saw all over the interstates in North Carolina.  The flowers are everywhere and are an amazing array of colors against your typical green surroundings.  Every corner we turned, my daughter would shout out which color flower she could see!  I noticed a sign at one of the rest stops with some information about the wildflowers so I did a little bit more research at home and found that there is an actual Wildflower Program through the North Carolina Department of Transportation that began in 1985.  The flowerbeds are installed and maintained by Roadside Environmental personnel and make for a beautiful drive through the state.  At the NCDOT, you can download a booklet that helps you identify the flowers you will see.

These pictures were taken on the side of the road at a rest area.

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And of course, Little S ha to have a picture in front of the flowers!

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Do You Know What This Is?

On our 3,000 miles of road trip this summer we saw lots of cool stuff.  We also saw lots of strange stuff.  Like this…

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Do you have any idea what this is? 

Stop by Delicious Baby photos from around the world.

Goodbye, Summer!

In summer, the song sings itself.

~William Carlos Williams

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Today marks the last day of summer.  Big S is back in school bright and early Monday morning (we aren’t counting the weekend because, well, weekends don’t count!).  He is so very excited.  We met his teacher and saw his new classroom this morning and he can’t wait for school to start.  Sending him to first grade is much easier than sending him to Kindergarten last year.  He is such a big guy and seems ready to navigate his little world.  It is time to get back into a daily routine, plan weekend adventures and start deciding where we will go for Fall break!

So today we say goodbye to summer.  Summer–you have been very good to us and we can’t wait to see you again next year!

The following pictures were taken on our road trip to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  The kids were so excited to put their toes in the Atlantic and weren’t the least bit discouraged when they discovered the Atlantic Ocean is many degrees colder than our cozy, warm, bathwater-esque Gulf Coast.  I just love these pictures of them playing at the beach on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

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Of all the pictures taken of my husband and I this summer, this my favorite:

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