Mesquite and Justin, Cave Explorers, Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas Nevada
Twelve years of parenting has taught me that bringing the dog along is one of the best ways to get kids hiking. My friends and neighbors thought I was crazy to bring the dog on our last vacation, but Mesquite had an awesome time and provided the kids with motivation to keep moving.
Sniff Stop, Valley of Fire State Park, Las Vegas Nevada
My sweet eight year old puppy scaled rocks and hiked to the petrified forest at Valley of Fire State Park. She reminded us to stop and rest in the shade from time to time.
Even back at the swanky Oasis RV park, she motivated us to walk several blocks to get the the Doggy Park which provided an hour of kid friendly entertainment as the kids happily through ball and bones for the Doggy Park visitors while Mequite hung out in the shade and enjoyed being petted.
The great thing about Nevada State Parks is that they let dogs on almost all the trails as long as they are on a leash. Because of this liberal policy Mesquite was able to join us for most of our adventures. Something to keep in mind when planning a dog and kid friendly trip.
One thing that the Smith Family is lacking is a big fat chunk of time for travel. We have about one week a year that we can dedicate to going wherever we want. Other vacations are either Mom and the kids traveling solo or in whatever city Daddy is teaching in. That’s why this Monday I am dreaming of a multi week roadtrip, perhaps up to the Pacific Northwest or to several National Parks. Maybe we would even head out to Montana to visit my friend Joanne, Something that would give our family a chance to explore new parts of the country and give our California born and bred kids a new perspective on what life is like in the other 49 states.
A few of my favorite travel bloggers have attempted such trips. If you are also road trip dreaming on this Monday morning stop by and visit:
Last year On The Go With Amy took a spectacular road trip along the Mississipi. It was a family adventure a la Travels With Charley or Jack Kerouac. If you didn’t catch this trip on the first run. Check out Amy’s archives of her Mississipi Road Trip.
My friend Sharlene Trekaroo Editor and blogger at Double the Adventure had an amazing road trip last year. She headed up into Canada then across the American west. Most of the trip she traveled on her own with two toddlers…amazing! I loved following her journey and suggest that you do as well. Sharlene is very focused on helping her kids explore the natural world so she has great tips for hiking with kids. Her photos are also spectacular. Here are the archives for Sharlene’s 2009 Canadian and US roadtrip.
Mara at Mother of All Trips also had some great roadtrip posts last summer. I couldn’t find a link to the archive of her trip, but here is a post that gives you an idea plus some links to great road trip tips.
I have been meaning to do this kind of tip post for a while now, but my friends at Twittermom finally gave me the excuse I needed to get it done. Here are the Family Adventure Guidebooks Top Ten Creative and Affordable Vacation Ideas:
Saving Money on Food:
1) Pack a Picnic. Whether you’re hitting a theme park or on a road trip, packing a picnic cuts down on the cost of overpriced, yucky fast food. I am always sure to include some special treats: berries, salami sandwiches, etc…something the kids don’t get to enjoy every day. Eat your picnic at a local park or rest stop. Your kids will make new friends and get their wiggles out.
2) Do it Yourself Room Service . Supermarket delis have fun, healthy take out. Everyone can eat what they want and if you get paper plates…no dishes. TV Dinners are a rare treat in our family so if there is a microwave and freezer in the room I sometimes pick some up.
3) Pick Hotels that Have Breakfast Included. Last summer our family stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Santa Cruz for two weeks. It was lovely to have a hardy breakfast (eggs or omlette, sausage, fruit,etc.) every day. Since we filled up at breakfast we were able to eat a lighter lunch!
Saving Money on Lodging:
4) Time Shares Don’t buy one…rent one…! Our latest discovery is renting time shares on a per night basis. With a family of five, we find that we all have a happier vacation if we are able to spread out. Renting a time share gives us extra space, a full kitchen, and privacy for Mom and Dad at an affordable price.
5) Join the Club. Join Hotel Chain loyalty rewards clubs and stay at only one or two chains when you can. Also keep an eye out for stay ___ nights get a night free promotions. Our summer Holiday Inn Express stay yielded a five day ski vacation in Lake Tahoe. We used our bonus nights at the Holiday Inn Express in South Lake Tahoe, and used the the money we saved to pay for ski lessons.
Saving Money on Themeparks and Attractions:
6) Do Your Research. Figure out how many days you are going to spend at a themepark, then look at all the admission possibilities including memberships. Sometimes buying a membership is the same price or even cheaper then a number of single day admissions. It may be worth buying a membership and making a return trip.
7) Keep an Eye Out for Discounts and Special Events. LEGOLAND holds a special fundraising event for the schools every year. They also invite people to a smaller section of the park at night to experience their Halloween festivities for less than the price of full admission. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk offers discounted weeknights during the summer. Our family never misses them when we go to visit. All rides are the cost of one ticket which adds up to significant savings if you want to ride the famed Giant Dipper more than once.
9) Hit the Beach. You can spend a blissful day (or two or three) with your kids entertained for hours. Just purchase a few cheap buckets and shovels, pack a picnic, slather on the sunscreen, and read a book that you brought from home or picked up at a local used book store. If you want to splurge you can rent surfboards or boogie boards from a local business like the one run by my friends at Concept Specialty Board Shop in Encinitas, California.
10) Play at the Park. Here in California playground safety laws were changed a few years ago so almost every town has had to update their playground equipment. This is a real benefit for travelers. No trip to Monterey would be complete without a visit to the famous Dennis the Menace Park. Our kids love to perch on top of the train. Even less famous parks can be lots of fun. Some other favorite California Parks are Cottonwood Creek Park in Encinitas, Louden Nelson Park in Santa Cruz, Holiday Park in Carlsbad, and Moonlight Beach Park in Encinitas.
“I wrote this blog post while participating in the Toyota Sienna and TwitterMoms blogging program for a chance to get a $30 gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”
Do Church and travel go together? Well, getting to mass with three kids is tricky when we are on the road, but I also find it very rewarding. We all get a new perspective on our faith when we visit other Catholic Churches. We have been welcomed into a neighborhood church on Christmas Eve on our drive back from Lake Tahoe and worshiped with a toddler at the historic Mission San Luis Obispo while camping.
I also find that visiting local churches outside of mass is a great way to introduce young children to their faith and prayer. When we lived back in Santa Cruz we used to sneak into the mission chapel and light a candle. We could talk about Jesus and practice our inside voices to our hearts content without bothering other worshipers.
When we attend mass away from home, we be sure to take some quiet travel toys with us. On Christmas Eve a drawing book with dry erase markers came in very handy. On a trip to mass during our Santa Cruz visit I was very grateful for the Busy Kits available from my friend Lorraine who blogs at Keeps Me Smiling. They were filled with plenty of quiet activities that kept little hands busy and little mouths quiet.
California Missions are another interesting way for kids to learn about faith. The picture above was taken at the Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside California. This summer I hope to visit some other missions with my kids such as the Mission San Diego de Acalde and the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Recently I discovered two great resources that help you to include prayer and mass in your travels. The Catholic Directory app gives you mass times on the road. Sure wish I had had that last Easter when I was trying to find a church to attend in Las Vegas. If you don’t have an ipod http://www.masstimes.org is also a convenient resource.
A website that offers a beautiful daily podcast filled with sacred music, prayer, scripture and reflection is http://www.pray-as-you-go.org . Daily reflections are offered online as well as in mp3 and podcast form. When I’m home I sneak up to my room and listen before I head to bed, but it’s also great to be able to take it on the road in my ipod. Pray-As-You-Go is a ministry of the British Jesuits. It is the perfect way to reflect and give thanks for your family’s adventures.
I would love to hear how other families take their faith on the road.
My husband may be heading to San Antonio business at the end of the month, and suggested we bring the family. Well, to be precise he suggested that I bring the family…to San Antonio by car and meet him there. He would travel by plane due to work constraints.
Being an adventurous sort of person I almost went for it. My kids love to explore new places and stay in hotel rooms. We miss Ken when he travels, and it would be fun to spend the evenings with him exploring San Antonio. Then I checked the length of the trip from San Diego, California. The journey would be 1,8304 miles and 18 hours of driving!!! This would be two days of nine-10 hours drives with minimal stops and no time to explore wherever we crashed for the night. With three kids ages 4, 5, and 10 that promised to be a driving purgatory. I don’t think that make enough DVD’s and CD’s and Starbucks Frappuccinos to help me survive such a drive.
So today, instead of planning a San Antonio roadtrip, I’m dreaming of one. The following are some of the fun family adventures that would await us.
We would be exploring the Natural Bridge Caverns by taking a cavern tour or doing some gem mining. Justin has just finished up a study of California History and my great grandfather was a gold miner so this would be a particularly exciting activity. (Photos courtesy of the Natural Bridge Caverns Media Packet)
We would pay a visit to the Alamo. (Admission is free.) Justin would love learning more about this historic battle. and the colorful characters who participated in it. It would also be fun to compare this Texas mission to the Calfornia Missions we have already explored.
The Smith family are suckers for good old fashioned amusement parks so a visit to Kiddie Park would also be on our list. Billed as “America’s Oldest Children’s Amusement Park” (Since the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was founded in 1907, I don’t know if that’s exactly accurate) this park promises plenty of vintage fun. A sucker for a good bargain, I would be sure to visit on Wednesday when the offer unlimited rides for $7.50.
The San Antonio Zoo also caught my eye. Apparently parent’s magazine thinks it’s one of the best in America.
There you have it, the roadtrip that I wish I was brave enough to take this summer. If you want to see someother dreams or share one of your own, visit my friend Mara at The Mother of All Trips . Her Mondays are for Dreaming feature is a delightful way to share your dreams of travel adventure.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Give each CD a distinctive title using genre, family member, trip etc. For example, Country Music/Santa Barbara, or Justin’s CD/ Disneyland.
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.
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:
“We Will Rock You”, Queen
“I Get Around” , Beach Boys
“Who Let The Dogs Out”, Baja Men
“Schools Out for Summer”, AC/DC
“Taking Care of Business”, Bachman Turner Overdrive
“Dancing Queen”, Abba
“California Girls” Beach Boys
“Star Wars American Pie Parody” Weird Al Yankovic
“Hamster Dance”, Hampton the Hamster?
“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!
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.
The race is on. I leave in less than 48 hours, and I can’t find my camera. Prayers to St. Anthony requested throughout the blogosphere! I can’t tell you how many cool photo ops I have missed while tooling around Carlsbad these past couple of days. Moonlight beach…the wildflowers on the trail behind my house…must find camera!!!! I have a sneaking suspicion that my four year old has hidden it, but I can’t get him to fess up.
Here’s what we have on tap for next week:
Lied Children’s museum and perhaps the Natural History Museum depending on how we are doing that day.
Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur-Hopefully Destiny can endure the Hulabaloo. She’s pretty timid.
The Adventure Dome at Circus Circus-That one is for my big boy Justin.
The Ethel M Chocolate Factory Tour-inspired by one of our friend Soultravelers3 You Tube videos of a European Chocolate Factory. Destiny loves that one. She has quite the sweet tooth.
Springs Reserve-This is a big outdoor park/museum combination to explore. I’m hoping it will get us moving and enjoying an outdoor adventure-No rain please!
The Gregory Popovich Pet Show-Four year old Jared can hardly wait to see this one. He thinks it will be just like the time Clifford joined the circus!
Fun in the pool at the Golden Nugget (Sliding Among the Sharks) and the MGM Grand (Tubing on the lazy river)
Went to Walmart and spent way too much money on stuff we “needed” but now everyone has the appropriate amount of socks and underwear as well as hats, flip flops, and their very own “adventure guidebook” to take notes for the next Smith Family Adventure e-guidebook to Las Vegas. Hope the rain stays away, I figure out how to navigate the streets of Vegas in a giant Yukon that I have only driven twice, and we generally have a good time.
Finally if you live close to San Diego and are reading this on Saturday April 4th head down to Balboa Park for the Science Festival. I’m keeping the little guys at home to rest up for the trip (and find the camera!), but Ken and Justin are going . I’m very jealous! Free admission to lots of science related museums, booths, demonstrations, entertainment. It looks like it will be an amazing day of cheap fun in San Diego. Always a good thing. Find out more at http://www.sdsciencefestival.com/. More than 500 free science activities what could be better than that!
Well dear readers, won’t be posting much next week due to the ridiculous cost of hotel internet connections (Maybe after I sell a few Legoland guidebooks, I’ll be able to afford them). Stay tuned though. I’ll have plenty of Vegas goodness to share on my return.
The Smith Family will be spending our spring break in Las Vegas. Ken is teaching a class the week before Easter so we will be packing up the Family Adventuremobile (Otherwise known as our new to us Yukon XL) and hitting the road for our first seven day all hotel stay vacation in four years.
There seems to be a great debate raging on the internet about whether or not Las Vegas is a good vacation spot for families. We took Justin when he was a preschooler and had a great time. We stayed at the Excalibur with Grandma, Great Grandma, Aunt, Uncle and Cousins. We had fun sliding down the water slides and checking out the sights. I have returned to Vegas on couples getaways since Ken travels there alot for business. I also attended a wedding with my parents, and remember reveling in a kid free experience at the Bellagio buffet (I never wanted that meal to end!). I see both sides of the issue. Vegas has great, inexpensive opportunites for family adventure. On the other hand, when I go with just Ken, I revel in the alone time, and don’t really want to be surrounded by preschool tantrums. Although I must confess that I mostly just think to myself…I don’t have to deal with that until Friday- I’m so lucky!
With this in mind I’m not booking my kids into the swankiest hotel in Vegas despite the spectacular deals right now .(The staff at the Bellagio is breathing a sigh of relief.) I will do my best to keep my little ones behaving themselves in public and make sure they have plenty of sleep and downtime to prepare for being in the public eye. At least I am not Angelina Jolie or Katie Holmes being trailed by reporters wherever I go. If my kids misbehave all I will have to endure is some dirty looks not tabloid scrutiny. (OK, did the reporter who made such a big deal about Suri Cruise not wearing a coat, ever have a preschooler who hated to cover up?…well maybe it’s just a California thing.)
Now I just have to find the right hotel… I wasn’t to fond of the Excalibur (the sheets kept coming off of the bed!). With prices being so reasonable right now, I’m looking for a good hotel, good location, and lots of ammenities. Circus Circus and Excalibur are nice places to visit, but I don’t want to live there.
In looking for that perfect hotel experience that will keep my kids busy and optimally behaved I have uncovered these options:
The Golden Nugget- We plan to stay here on the weekend since its rates are very affordable. We chose it for it’s amazing pool with shark tank and water slide. Destiny is very worried about the sharks even though I constantly assure her they are behind glass. I’m hoping there is a separate pool area where we can hang out.
The Hilton Grand Vacation Resort at the Flamingo- This is our priciest option, but our room would include a kitchenette which would be invaluable because breakfast and lunch are going to get expensive for a family of five and retaurant dining alone with three kids (Ken will be working) sounds less than appealing. The only room available has one king so we would be breaking out the air mattresses. If we were going in May and the Flamingo waterslides were open this would be a no brainer. Unfortunately they’re not so I’m still weighing my options.
Trump Hotel- Ken has ruled this one out, because it is lacking in the awesome pool. If I were making this decision on my own it would be a contender. Great rate for a suite with kitchenette. Kids package includes the ability to check out board games and popular children’s books.
MGM Grand- The price is right for a large room with two queen beds. The pool complex is supposed be fantastic with a lazy river. There are fun things to do…Rainforest Cafe, see the Lions and preview TV shows. They have an on-site child care center in case we could figure out a way to take Justin to a show. Close to Excalibur for more fun.
If you are planning to visit the Legoland theme park in Carlsbad, California, this book contains all the information you need to make the most of your family adventure. The book also includes information about other area attractions, local restaurants and hotels.
Bridget Smith, mom of three, loves to blog about everyday adventures. Her mission is to change the world; one kid, one destination, one effortless trip, one overworked mom, one frazzled dad... one day at a time! Come and join her.