We are flying home on the Fourth of July. Exhausted from a week of non-stop fun in Florida. Here are a few travel tips to share if a Florida adventure is in your summer plans.
1) Sunscreen from head to toe. Rash guards are a must. Funny how much more powerful that Florida sun is, even for this California girl!
2) Bug Repellent from day one…especially in the Florida Keys! We are still scratching the bites on the airplane ride home.
3) Plan for rain, thunder, and lightening. In some situations you can just ignore the rain, but more than once our aquatic adventures were cut short due to the threat of lightening. Have a back up plan (We found a local bowling alley to while away a rainy afternoon)
4) Expect to do a lot of driving, especially in the Florida Keys. It took us two and half hours to drive from Key West to Key Largo after dark. (The speed limit goes down after dark.)
5) Pick a family friendly home base with a great pool We enjoyed our stays at the Marriott Key Largo Bay Resort in Key Largo and the Islander Resort in Islamorada. Both resorts had beach access, so we could wake up and go snorkeling and also swim in thehotel pool until bed time.
I am an expert at getting lost in parking lots. I have been late to get Justin’s friend home because I couldn’t find my van among the ocean of cars at a local water park. I spent 45 minutes wandering around in the dark with two kids at Magic Mountain until we finally made it to our vehicle.
Saturday, while searching for my car in the busy parking lot of the San Diego Zoo it came to me… take a picture of the nearest handy dandy parking lot sign. In a pinch you can find it on your camera, and you’ll know where to go. Still, to be on the safe side, next time I head for a theme park I’m packing my compass.
P.S. If you want to know the best place to park at Legoland pick up my guidebook. I never get lost in that parking lot .
Our family moved to San Diego in 2006. We have spent the past three years enjoying all that the region has to offer including local attractions such as the San Diego Zoo, Disneyland, Seaworld, The San Diego Wild Animal Park and of course Legoland! In the early days of our adventures we did not travel light. A trip to a theme park included a double stroller, diaper bag, plenty of drinks and snacks to keep everyone happy, swimsuits and towels, and a sweatshirt for each family member.
Last Sunday we celebrated a milestone on our visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain. With my youngest potty trained we did not bring a diaper bag or a stroller with us into the park. It was very liberating. I was able to go on all the rides without finding a place to park a stroller or stow our stuff. I discovered that I have lot to learn about packing light for a theme park visit. Here are some of my revelations:
A fanny pack is made for theme park visits. Now that I am traveling lighter, I have started using the fanny pack that my first boyfriend gave me for my fifteenth birthday (romantic gesture…huh? ) . I must admit it is one of the only items that I am still using after 21 years, so David if you’re out there…thank you . The separate compartments are very practical. I put my camera in the top one, and larger items in the bottom one.
Fanny packs are great for carrying hats and water bottles, but you need to plan accordingly. Water bottles that have hooks can hang off of the fanny pack strap. Unfortunately, it’s a bit ackward to carry a bunch, so you may need a hydration pack or more fanny packs. All caps worn to the themepark should have a hole in the back like a traditional baseball cap. You can thread the fanny pack strap through the hat if your kid decides to go on a ride that prohibits hats. Justin brought one of those military caps without a hole in the back. I stuffed it behind the fanny pack, but it must have fallen out sometime during the day.
If you are trying to sneak in snacks, think small and non crushable. Nuts or fruit leather are good choices.
Tubes of sunscreen or sunscreen sticks are small, light and good for touch ups. Apply the spray stuff before entering the park.
Dry socks are very precious. I had left these in the car and really regreted this. My son’s feet got blisters from walking around in wet socks. Sandals or Crocs might have been a better choice, although Magic Mountain is so huge, I prefer shoes with better soles. Next time I plan to include a socks in a ziploc bag in my fanny pack.
After my visit I have concluded that I would like to try to bring a hydration pack like the one we take camping. I think it would pass theme park security, keep everyone hydrated, and provide a little more room for stowing socks and snacks.
If you decide you need swimsuits, towels, drinks, sweatshirts, or heftier snacks, pack the lightest items you can find. This is the time to break out those super thin beach towels that they sell in the drug stores. Juice pouches are lighter then cans or bottles. Thin light sweatshirts that the kids can tie around their waists are preferable to heavier jackets. Bring plastic bags for the wet stuff.
For a kid who has just finished potty training, an extra set of clothes might be worth carrying. We had one accident at the end of the day and left a little earlier than expected so we could change into dry clothes in the car.
I’m looking forward to a Disneyland adventure or two before summer is over. Where are you off to?
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
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
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.)
A few years ago, we took a fabulous Florida Vacation while my husband attended a conference. We had the opportunity to stay at the Tampa Mariott Waterside Marina and Luxury Hotel. We had so much fun staying at this Mariott , Ken joined their rewards program. (By the way, if you ever stay there, the Cafe Waterside had a delicious oatmeal creme brulee with fresh berries. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It was one of the least expensive items on the menu, and I had it for breakfast every day during my stay.)
Whenever Ken travels on business he tries to stay at a Marriott. This works out well, because although Mariott has beautiful luxury hotels like the one in Tampa, it also offers more affordable options for the budget business traveler. When traveling with the family we prefer properties that offer suites like The Fairfield Inn, The Residence Inn, Towne Place Suites, and Springhill Suites. The small kitchens, continental breakfast, and other ammenities really come in handy when traveling with the kids. Since we are rewards members we also earn free hotel stays. If you pick an out of the way location those points can really go a long way. On our recent visit to Seattle, my husband and I stayed at the Towne Place Suites in the picturesque town of Mukilteo, Washington. It was a drive into the city, but the property was very close to the water. It had an extensive continental breakfast, a basketball court, umbrellas in case of rain, as well as the usual pool and workout room. You could even rent a fish to keep you company during your stay! Ken and I used reward points to stay all three nights! Without the free room our Seattle adventure would have been much shorter.
Sign up for the Mariott Rewards Program or choose the hotel chain that your family uses the most and sign up for their loyalty program. With any luck you can enjoy a few extra affordable family adventures with your free hotel stay.
Our Seattle trip also showed us how important it is to be enrolled in those car rental preferred member rewards clubs, and to keep your info updated. Ken thought he had a membership with Dollar Rental Car, but his membership was so outdated they had changed the name of the club and he was no longer in the computer! We waited about 20 minutes to get to the front desk, just to do the paperwork for our rental. Then it was off to an off-site building to wait again to pick up the car. If the kids had been with us it would have been torture! Dollar Rental Car had rock bottom prices, but the service was slow. Here’s the link to sign up for their Dollar Express program. Do it now and save yourself some rental car hassle.
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.
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.