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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Crime Happens

July 21st, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Las Vegas Adventures, Travel Tips

So sorry I missed State Park Sunday this week.  I’m really sick with a cold!  Sounds like 88% of the funding is restored, but some parks will still be closed at the Governor’s discretion no less.  I don’t think that the park closures are worth preserving the governor’s “No new taxes” philosophy.  A voluntary Park Access Pass fee would have gone a long way to keeping all the parks open and reducing the amount allocated from the general fund.

Anyway, on to Travel Tip Tuesday.  I am writing this post because our family has been victims of crime  on more than one occasion during our travels this year.  Here are three scenarios we have experienced.

Stolen Cell Phone

 On a spring trip to Las Vegas my husband lost his cell phone.  It may have dropped out of his pocket or his pocket was picked.  What scares me is that we were not together, and I continued to broadcast my location until the person who found it turned it off.  We spent an hour on the phone with Sprint, but we were able to block outgoing calls and re-route incoming calls to my cell phone.  When you travel make sure that your cell phone is secure.  As soon as you find out it is lost,  take immediate action.  Don’t expect to rely on some good Samaritan to return to phone.  It did not happen in our case.

Fraud

When we were in Santa Cruz I decided to order take out from my favorite Chinese restaurant.  When I Googled it’s name the first thing that came up was a site called Menu Station.  This site contained the restaurant menu and offered online ordering.  I decided that this sounded like a good alternative to calling the restaurant and placing a phone order.  I place my order, only to discover that Menu Station had not passed on the proceeds from online orders to the restaurant management for many months!  So far, no misuse of my credit card number, but inquiries have gone unanswered and I must now pursue a reverse charge with my credit card company…Bummer.  Kudos to the restaurant for comping me the bill.  I’ll post a review of this delicious venue at another time.

Auto Break-In

It seems that crime happens in Vegas.  My husband left our cheapo GPS in the rental car at a hotel parking lot.  Someone broke the car window and grabbed it.  There was onsite security, but somehow he wasn’t passing by at the right time.  Always take in your electronics…even if you don’t think they are valuable.  According to my discussions with the security guard, even the resale of something inexpensive can fund an addict’s next fix.

Ken paid for the rental with American Express so they are cheerfully covering repairs.  We’ll have to see if there is any further financial fallout from robbery for us.  We are out a GPS though. We purchased it with Master Card a while ago and don’t have the complete receipt.  Ken suggested that we find out where they were selling all those stolen electronics and buy a new to us GPS on our way out of town.  I nixed that idea, and we will be relying on Google Maps for the forseeable future.

Hope you have a summer of crime free vacations.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Photo Friday: Train Place Deli, Capitola California

July 3rd, 2009 by bsmith | 11 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Photo Friday, Santa Cruz County Adventures

Train Place Deli, Capitola California

It was Day 8 of our Santa Cruz adventure.  Due to circumstances mostly beyond my control I needed a place to eat dinner at 6:45 pm.  The kids were cranky and exhausted.  My husband was out eating with friends.  I was desperately seeking a place that was so entertaining that the little ones would behave themselves well enough that we wouldn’t be kicked out!

I found my oasis in the town of Capitola, California.   I headed to the Train Place Deli hoping that the mesmorizing sight of model trains would calm my rowdy crew.  Well, as you can see from the pictures below, the kids were still pretty rowdy, but the gracious service and fascinating trains did put everyone in a better mood.

Tired, but Happy at the Train Place Deli

Tired, but Happy at the Train Place Deli

The hardworking owners of the Train Place Deli welcomed us fifteen minutes before closing, patiently took my children’s order,  (A five year old can be pretty undecided at 7pm), and even treated us to some extra cookies.  My Italian Special was delicious and included: a huge salami sandwich, pasta salad, and a drink.  Each kids meal came with a big cookie which made everyone happy.

Yummy Treats at the Train Place Deli
Yummy Treats at the Train Place Deli

 

Then of course there are the trains.  Half the deli is filled with elaborate model trains that run  throughout your visit. Take a look:
All Aboard at the Train Place Deli

All Aboard at the Train Place Deli

 

Thomas Steams Along at the Train Place Deli

Thomas Steams Along at the Train Place Deli

 If you are looking for more train adventures, this week we also took the beach train at Roaring Camp in Felton, Ca and visited Sonoma’s Traintown a very affordable train adventure.

Family Adventure Guidebooks participates in the Photo Friday Blog Roundup.  Check out more fun travel photos here.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Family Adventure Tip Tuesday: Lego Star Wars Weekend

June 9th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Legoland, Travel Tips
Justin is Captured by a Storm Trooper

Justin is Captured by a Storm Trooper

When you are planning a visit to a theme park, it is worth checking out special events.  Such outings can transform a theme park visit into something magical.  One of my all time favorite theme park special events is Lego Star Wars weekend which is happening this Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 5pm at Legoland, California.  Justin is definitely going with friends, and I’m hoping to make it there for a little while as well.

What make this event so special is that it turns a park that is normally geared to the younger set into a wonderland for big kids.  Elaborate Lego models constructed by kids and adults are displayed at the entrance.  You can also particpate in a  bunch of fun events including the droid scavenger hunt, costume contests and trivia contests.  The new X-Box play area is opening this weekend so I’m sure that there will be some Lego Starwars video game action as well. 

Justin and Jared Take a Break from their Droid Hunt

Justin and Jared Take a Break from Their Droid Hunt

One of the best parts of the weekend is that the whole park is teeming with  the 501st Legion of storm troopers and other costumed characters.  Impromptu battles between good and evil break out all over the park.  Kids have fun keeping an eye out for their favorite characters. Justin was on a Commander Cody hunt last year.  The storm troopers are very generous about posing for pictures so it’s easy to get some great shots or your Lego Star Wars Weekend adventures.

Captured by the Dark Side, Lego Star Wars Weekend

Captured by the Dark Side, Lego Star Wars Weekend

 May the force be with you wherever you go this weekend!  If you hit Legoland  this weekend keep an eye out for me and the boys.  (Destiny finds Storm Troopers rather scary, so she will be staying home.)

For more great Legoland special events check out my Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook .

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Theme Park Membership Has Its Privileges

May 19th, 2009 by bsmith | 2 Comments | Filed in Disneyland, Family Travel, Legoland, San Diego Day Trips, Sea World, theme parks, Travel Discounts
Jared Makes A Camel Friend, Legoland California

Jared Makes A Camel Friend, Legoland California

If you are thinking about purchasing a theme park pass, be sure to investigate the extra benefits and privileges that the theme park may offer passholders.  Although these vary from park to park, many times these extras will almost pay for your entire membership.

Since my two youngest were born less than a year apart, our family has become experts at the “staycation”.  Traveling far from home with two preschoolers seems a bit too crazy for us at this point.  Our location here in Carlsbad gives us many options for family fun.  Visiting theme parks and zoos is one of the things that we enjoy doing together as a family.  In the past three years we have held passes for the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, Legoland, and Disneyland.

Legoland

If you live in Southern California or visit frequently throughout the year, a Legoland membership offers many opportunities for family adventure.  In addition to the great special events and members only activities that Legoland holds throughout the year,  Legoland offers excellent deals and discounts to its members.  Twice a year, members receive coupons for free entrance with a passholder.  This gives your family opportunities to bring friends and grandparents along to enjoy a Legoland adventure.  Also, if there is a Dad or teenager in your family who won’t be making it to Legoland very often this can be a great way to bring them along to enjoy the fun.

Legoland pass holders also receive free entrance to The Wave in Vista and Wild Rivers in Irvine.  In addition to the regular member dining and shopping discounts, Legoland’s quarterly newsletters contain coupons for additional savings.  This month I have a $10 voucher for the Ocean Journey Cafe, a free bucket of water balloons at the Raptor Splash, and other discount coupons.

Members benefit from Legoland’s efforts to promote the new Sea Life Aquarium.  Legoland is continuing to offer special visitor rates to Legoland members and friends and family.  Come enjoy the aquarium for as little as $5 per person!  Note that a coupon is required.  The curent coupon says that it expires 5/31/09, but keep checking the site.  So far they have extended this offer several times.

The Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook  will help your choose the combination of  memberships that will save you money and work for your family.

Disneyland

When we were planning a three day trip to Disneyland, I decided to investigate the price of membership.  I knew that we wouldn’t be visiting too often, but since we live only an hour away a few return visits would be fun.  After doing my research I decided that the Southern California Select passes offered the best value four our budget.  Unlike Legoland, non premium Disney Passholders do not receive many benefits.  However, they do receive some limited dining discounts in the parks and shopping discounts at Downtown Disney.  Still, with prices that can be less than a multi-day visit, an annual Disneyland pass is worth considering.

San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park

Membership at these attractions is extremely affordable.  (Kids passes are only $2 more than the one day Best Value Ticket).  Adult members receive two free guest passes which come in handy for out of town guests.  Pass holders also receive free admission to the Journey into Africa Tour at the Wild Animal Park…this is a must see!   In addition, they receive unlimited Skyfari aerial tram rides at the zoo.  These are important since, kids have to do alot of walking at the San Diego Zoo.  Membership covers both attractions so your family has plenty to explore.

Members also receive a monthly zoo magazine that contains interesting articles about the animals and great coupons including more free admission tickets for passholder guests.   All pass members also receive discounts on Wild Animal Park parking.

Sea World San Diego

We have had the opportunities to obtain discounted entrance to Sea World with our preschool, so I haven’t gone the pass route yet.  I am dreaming of an  Unauthorized Sea World Guidebook some day, so we may be getting passes next summer. 

In the mean time, be aware that Sea World offers the Fun Card which is a great deal.  You get a pass good for admission throughout the entire calendar year for the price of a single admission.

Parking

Make sure you factor the price of parking into your membership decisions.  Sometimes it pays to buy a more premium membership for at least one member of your family in order to get free parking.  Be sure to investigate whether the person needs to be the driver or just in the car.  Premium child memberships are often cheaper and  also offer free parking.

If you don’t live in Southern California, I encourage you to research theme park memberships in your area.  You may just discover the ticket to a whole year of family fun.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

 

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Photo Friday: Shark Tank Pool (Golden Nugget, Las Vegas)

May 15th, 2009 by bsmith | 8 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Las Vegas Adventures, Road Trips
The Smith Boys Enjoy The Shark Tank Pool, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

The Smith Boys Enjoy The Shark Tank Pool, Golden Nugget, Las Vegas

Las Vegas is know for its amazing pools.  I’ve only had a chance to see and/or experience about four of them.  From what I’ve seen so far ,The Golden Nugget should definately be on your must stay list if you value a fun, kid friendly pool. 

 

Destiny Gets Splashing at the Golden Nugget Pool, Las Vegas

Destiny Gets Splashing at the Golden Nugget Pool, Las Vegas

This lovely pool is completely shallow all the away around.  It encircles a giant fish tank filled with large colorful fish and even a few sharks.  A highlight for the adults and older kids is a water slide that passes directly through the tank.  It is transparent in the part that goes through.  I found myself going so fast that it was hard to see.  My ten year old managed to slow down enough to look around and even make funny faces as he went down.  There is a height requirement for the waterslide.  Also, your little one must be a good enough swimmer to exit the pool by his or her self after they splash down.

Ken Reacts to the Golden Nugget Waterslide

Ken Reacts to the Golden Nugget Waterslide

Other great ammenities in the pool area are: pool lounge chairs to cool off on a hot Las Vegas day, lots of comfy cushioned lounge chairs to hang out on, and a hot tub that is shaped like a flower.  Your family can hunker down in one petal while the couple on their honeymoon can hide out in the other. 

One thing to be aware  of  is that this pool can get busy.  During the day it was very crowed and difficult to find a lounge chair for our stuff.   Justin got tired of waiting  in line for the water slide.  When we visited early evening it was almost deserted.   We enjoyed our “private pool”. 

 I purchased life jackets for Jared and Destiny that they wore throughout their Golden Nugget  pool adventure. The jackets gave me piece of mind and gave my preschoolers the freedom to explore  the shallow water.

Jareds Ready For a Swim at The Golden Nugget Pool, Las Vegas

Jared is Ready For a Swim at The Golden Nugget Pool, Las Vegas

Congratulations to my friend Debbie at  Delicious Baby who just had her third baby.  She is so organized that she managed to get her Photo Friday Travel Blog Roundup up the day after she gave birth.  Reward her efforts by checking out great the great travel photos from bloggers around the world.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Make Custom CD’s with Your Kids

April 27th, 2009 by bsmith | 4 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Road Trips, Travel Tips

The Smith Family makes at least two eight hour roadtrips per year.  Sometimes Dad tags along sometimes I travel solo with kids in tow.  I have even carpooled all the way from Carlsbad to Santa Cruz with my former neighbor and his 11 year old son.  Pre-tricked out SUV, we did not have much success with DVD’s.  We have a little portable DVD player, but it was too small and there was no place to mount it.  Even today, I prefer listening to music.  It’s more fun for the driver and the kids seem to get less bored.

Here are my tips for the perfect road trip CD:

  1. Keep the songs loud and lively.  I love the sweet folk ballads of Kate Wolf, but they bug my kids and make me sleepy on the long drive.  Perhaps bring the slow songs along to listen to on your ipod at the beach.
  2. Include something for everyone.  We usually make at least 3-5 CD’s they are all an eclectic mix, but each usually slants to a particular age group in our family. The more CD’s the better, it is always nice to have something fresh to listen to on the way home.
  3. Give each CD a distinctive title using  genre, family member,  trip etc.  For example, Country Music/Santa Barbara, or Justin’s CD/ Disneyland.
  4. Involve your kids in the process.  We have taught my ten year old how to select his own songs and burn his own CD’s.  I also make some mixes because his tastes tend to run toward heavy metal, but I have also really enjoyed some of his choices.  He does surprising things like include Christmas carols in the middle of a summer road trip CD.
  5. Driver has the final say in choosing the CD.  If there is a particular track that bugs you, feel free to skip it.  You can also select CD’s by mood.  Be sure to override your kids if there is something that you can’t drive to at that particular moment.

Here is a Top 10 Hit List from the Smith Family Travels:

  1. “We Will Rock You”, Queen
  2. “I Get Around” , Beach Boys
  3. “Who Let The Dogs Out”, Baja Men
  4. “Schools Out for Summer”, AC/DC
  5. “Taking Care of Business”, Bachman Turner Overdrive
  6. “Dancing Queen”, Abba
  7. “California Girls” Beach Boys
  8. “Star Wars American Pie Parody” Weird Al Yankovic
  9. “Hamster Dance”,  Hampton the Hamster?
  10. “We Are the Champions” , Queen

 

Off course for a multi hour road trip, you need more than 10 songs.  Feel free to comment with some of your road trip favorites.   I would love to add to my list!

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Family Travel Tip Tuesday: Find a Food Court

April 14th, 2009 by bsmith | No Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Road Trips, Travel Tips

Sit down restaurants are one of the hardest things to tackle when traveling with kids.  No matter how hard we work on manners, my preschoolers find it difficult to wait for the food to arrive then have good enough to eat in public manners to finish up the meal.  On our trip to Disneyland, we stayed at a The Marriot Newport Coast Villas.  After enduring a time share presentation with two tired preschoolers and a very embarrassed grade schooler, we were rewarded with a gift card to the upscale Fashion Island Mall in Newport Beach.

After a long day at Disneyland, we decided to use the gift card to buy dinner before returning to the hotel.  We weren’t ready to shell out more money for overpriced Disney food!  The kids were tired and grouchy.  Ken and I were at the end of our collective ropes. 

We considered the Cheesecake Factory and other semi kid friendly alternatives at Fashion Valley, but ended up going to the food court.  Good choice!  Everyone feasted on what they wanted to eat.  I was tickled when Justin ordered a salad with his pizza.  The kids got their food right way, then had a chance to walk around nearby while the grownups finished their meal.  The one challenge was keeping Jared away from the fun escalators!  We were able to choose a table away from the other diners, so they could watch my children’s antics from afar with amused looks on their faces rather than scowls.  The food was somewhat healthier than fast food.  We topped off our meal with delicious gelato (unfortunately we discovered that the gelato place does not take Fashion Island gift cards!) 

Even if we had paid full price for our food, it still would have been a good deal.  The food court offered affordable prices on a wide variety of foods, and there was no waste from leftover bags of french fries etc, that I find when we rely on fast food restaurants.

So next time you are traveling with tired hungry kids, find a food court.  It can be an affordable relaxing way to wrap up your day.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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Photo Friday: Mugging for the Camera at Legoland California

April 2nd, 2009 by bsmith | 6 Comments | Filed in Family Travel, Legoland, San Diego Day Trips, theme parks
Justin Makes a New Lego Buddy

Justin Makes a New Lego Buddy

In honor of my friend Delicious Baby’s trip to Legoland, I decided to publish some of my favorite Legoland pictures.  One thing that makes Legoland, California such a great themepark are the giant Lego creations that you find around every turn.  Something about them makes my usually reticient kids want to strike a pose!  Best of all, you usually don’t have to wait in line to take your picture as you do with Disneyland Characters.  (Thomas the Tank Engine, Darth Vader, and Santa’s Sleigh are the exceptions to this statement).

Having a Squealing Good Time at Legoland California

Having a Squealing Good Time at Legoland California

Check out more cool travel photos at Delicious Baby’s, Photo Friday blog roundup http://www.deliciousbaby.com/journal/2009/apr/02/photo-friday-persian-new-years-no-ruz/.  While your visiting, scroll down and read about Delicious Baby’s adventures in Carlsbad California at : Legoland,  The Sealife Aquarium, and the Four Seasons Aviara .  That woman travels in style!

For more great information about Legoland  see The Unauthorized Legoland Guidebook  which is available in paperback or affordable download.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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The Road to Seaworld: Mission Bay Park

March 11th, 2009 by bsmith | 1 Comment | Filed in Family Travel, San Diego Day Trips, Sea World, theme parks
Jared Takes a Risk at Mission Bay Park, San Diego

Jared Takes a Risk at Mission Bay Park, San Diego

This was my second adventure, solo with preschoolers to Sea World, San Diego.  Our preschool makes this fun attraction a yearly educational fieldtrip.  I needed to be at the gate by 9:30 in order to take advantage of the school rate tickets we had purchased.  For those of you who know San Diego traffic, you realize we left EARLY!  Never know what’s gonna happen on that freeway.  I hit the exit to Sea World at around 8:45 and had a moment of inspiration.  Why not check out one of those cool Mission Bay Parks that you pass by on the freeway?

Destiny, Jared and I stretched our legs at the park nearest to the Sea World turn off.  I have heard there are others still to explore.  Love this park!!! Very old school park with play structures, clearly from many different decades, but everything was so creative and fun!  There were animals to ride and trucks to drive.  Five year old Destiny loved climbing the spiderweb.  Four year old Jared was challenged by the climbing structure as you can see above.  I loved the gorgeous scenic location right on Mission Bay! I can hardly wait to bring my nine year old and watch him explore.

Spider Girl Destiny Climbs Her Web at Mission Bay Park, San Diego

Spider Girl Destiny Climbs Her Web at Mission Bay Park, San Diego

Honestly this adventure was almost as fun as the trip to Sea World and much much cheaper!  I plan to return with all the kids and a picnic or maybe make it a stop after taking Daddy to the airport.  A San Diego jewel close to Sea World.  Who could ask for more?

P.S. This park stop was much more fun than waiting for the gate to the parking area to open at Sea World :) .  Sorry I didn’t think of it last year Inga.

Happy Trails,

Bridget

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