Life under COVID, changing perspectives…

So I’ve been super quiet the last few months because it seems wierd to write about travel with everything that’s been going on. As most of you know the name for this page comes from the fact that my usual travel party consists of some combination of myself, my husband, our 3 year old and my mom. Due to who we live with and travel with all plans came to a halt.

Trips canceled: trip to MN for my nieces 4th birthday, cruise to Alaska/trip to Oregon to see a new state, trip to Banff, Calgary and Glacier National Park. Random other ideas thrown around…

Now I realize these a totally first world problems. Safety of my friends and family are my top priority. My sister and her daughters drove down a couple of weeks ago to visit with minimal stops as they had not seen my mom since January. I think part of what made it such a treat was the normalcy of the visit. For 3.5 months we haven’t been anywhere and haven’t really seen anyone. While it’s been lovely not commuting and I’ve enjoyed all the family time, especially everyone being home for dinner, it was so nice for my son to play with his cousins.

This morning as I looked at my planner I noticed for today I had a big sticker on top that said “vacation”, ironically I did take a vacation day today, but the reason is because I’m sitting down at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago because my 3 year old had his tonsils out. It seemed so strange, and yet so normal to drive into the city. The strangest part is how many places are still boarded up, and in some cases they may never reopen. Once at the hospital, after multiple COVID questions, getting our temperatures taken, and told that my son’s test did indeed come back negative, we sent to where we needed to go. While I totally understand the need for caution, it’s also a wonderful reminder that things are definitely “not normal”.

Does this mean I’ve given up all hope of travel, of course not, I would love to make plans, and have even tentatively booked a few things, but I also know that nothing is definite until a cure and/or vaccine is found. In fact, right now is a wonderful time to plan travel given some of the deals out there. United is offering flights with no cancellation fees if booked by the end of June and there are some great deals! You just need to look at your situation and decide what works for you. In the meantime our inability to do much over the past 3.5 months makes me realize how much I’ve started to take our ability to travel for granted. I think if nothing else I have gained a new appreciation for both the people in my life and for what we’ve been able to do! Has your point of view changed at all?

Disney Parks to remain closed Indefinitely and Covid19

Given the latest news out of Disney is that the US parks will remain closed indefinitely (with the earliest they could open being April 19th) due to countywide “shelter in place” regulations, writing lots of posts on planning Disney travel doesn’t seem right.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve been debating how to handle a travel blog when the last thing we are doing right now is traveling. I’ve also been adjusting to working from home with a 3 year old and other challenges. That being said, I have a few new ideas that I will start working on for next week. In the meantime, stay safe and let me know if there are any topics that you would like to read about!

Disney Travel Planning – how to decide where to go!

This is a topic I could go on about for hours. So instead I will devote a month (at least) of post to the topic instead. Let me start by saying I come from a Disney family. My son’s first and second trips were to Walt Disney World and in his 3.5 years of experiences he has been to Walt Disney World 4 times, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort twice, Disneyland once and on one Disney Cruise. I also have savings building up on the side for the someday trip when we take him to Disneyland Paris (but he needs to be older as that’s far and expensive). This might be more info then wanted but I’m using it to illustrate that we really love Disney. Also, the same child goes by a motto of “On Friday’s we wear Mickey”.

Deciding where to go…

There are a few factors at play here. Ask yourself the following questions to help with your decision:

  • How long do you have to travel?
  • Ages in your group?
  • Where are you coming from?
  • Are you amusement park people?
  • General Budget?

Breaking this out a bit lets look at each question…

  • How long do you have to travel?
    • To really cover Walt Disney World, especially for a first timer you need a minimum of 3-5 days. If you include the water parks then 4-6 days. If you have more time then that, awesome, anything less you will be running and you will have to miss some stuff.
    • The shortest Disney Cruises are 3 nights. There are 3 and 4 night Bahamas Cruises. 5-7 night Caribbean Cruises. 7 night Alaska Cruises. European Cruises tend to run 7-11 days. Transatlantic and Panama Canal Cruises are usually 11-14 days and then there always a few other options.
    • You can cover Disneyland or Disneyland Paris in 2 days. Both only have 2 parks. At Disneyland there is the Disneyland Park and California Adventure. In Paris the is the Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Both have a shopping district as well and are both conveniently located by a major city with lots of other attractions.
    • Disney’s Vero Beach Resort – I would give at least a couple days to visit the area buts it’s a perfect place for a quick relaxing getaway and one of the closest things you will find to Cast – A – Way Cay without taking a cruise.
  • Ages in your group?
    • All of Disney is great for all ages but Disneyland has more of a Fantasyland then WDW or DLP which is perfect for younger guests.
    • Cruises are wonderful for all ages but with little ones you need to come super prepared or be ready to pay extra. Also children under 3 can only do the Small World Nursery so they miss out on a lot of the kids programs. Cruises are awesome for multigenerational travel as there are truly options for everyone!
    • Vero Beach is perfect for all ages as they have lots of daily activities or you can relax at the beach or pool or visit the area.
  • Where are you coming from?
    • Depending on how much time you have, geography can be a key factor. Also if you live in California or Florida there are discounts for residents.
    • If you are in Europe, then DLP is your most accessible park and a wonderful place to visit, especially if you don’t have a lot of time.
  • Are you amusement park people?
    • If yes, then Disneyland, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris are all great options.
    • If no, there are things besides rides but it may not be worth the cost.
    • If no, the a cruise or a resort like Vero Beach might be right for you!
  • General Budget…
    • Disney is expensive, however with some planning you can make it work for many budgets. I will do a whole post on that soon.
    • While there are some deals, especially on the shorter cruises, Disney Cruise Line is typically more expensive then a parks trip.

Hopefully these questions will at least help you narrow things down a bit! The most important thing is to plan something that everyone in your party will enjoy! Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions…

Why do we travel? (and a few other ramblings…)

There are numerous articles and sources out there which state that children do not benefit from travel until they are almost double digits. They claim that babies and toddlers need routine in order to thrive. While there is some element in truth in the routine aspect, children can also benefit from travel and seeing the world. I will never forget the joy on my son’s face the first time he saw Mickey at Disneyland. He was 2 and 1/2 and he was so excited to see one of his favorite characters brought to life. Daisy was even more exciting… but he also loved the rides, (Small World and the carousel were his favorites).

My son took his first trip when he was 2 months old. The trip was planned before we knew he was going to exist so we decided we would “made it work” and go anyhow. He was amazing. We used a carrier and our car seat clicked into our stroller for easy transitions. If he fell asleep in the car-seat we could easily bring it inside wherever we were. By the time he took his 3rd trip he seemed to recognize the airport (O’hare has the tunnel with the lights which he found fascinating) so now we when get to the airport he knows we are about to go on a new adventure and he gets excited about it! I’ve had friends who waited until their kids were 4 or 5 to go anywhere and then they complained about what a nightmare it was. I think by starting him young it just seems more normal to him. Don’t get me wrong, he’s often excited to get home as well but he’s still excited to try new things.

So back to the question at hand, “Why do we travel?” I think the answer varies by the person but typically it falls into a few categories:

  • We are visiting someone we know (friends, family etc)
  • We are visiting a place we love (Disney, Vegas, the beach, etc)
  • We are visiting somewhere we’ve always dreamed of (Bora Bora, Australia, Alaska etc)
  • We are trying to achieve a goal (visit all 50 states, visit 100 countries, visit every continent, etc)
  • We are volunteering somewhere
  • Our friends &/or family want to do one of the above
  • We have to for work…

Whatever you reason is, and sometimes its more then one of the above, you should try to make the most of it. Maybe you plan a dream trip and as part of it you volunteer for a day. Maybe instead of visiting your sister and family, you meet them somewhere and you all get to experience something. My son is happiest when he surrounded by the people he loves. He loves traveling with his cousins (on both sides).

Oh and as a note to those who say “kids will never remember their travel so what’s the point?” – I will remember it, I can show lots of pictures, and some of my first memories are of travel so perhaps he will be the same way!

Dreams of beaches and sun…

I don’t know about you, but when I get to this time of year, where it starts to get warmer, and the days are visibly longer, if I don’t have any trips planned I start to get stir crazy. And when I say “trips” I mean vacation. (We have plans to visit family for a birthday but that’s just a weekend so that doesn’t count 😊 )

How do you handle that time when you are dreaming of where you’ve been or where you’d like to be instead of where you really are?

In a perfect world I could take off for a long weekend with a bit of Florida sun before it gets too hot. In my real world, I have to worry about vacation time, doctors appointments, work and then of course the cost of travel…

I’ve come to really enjoy looking at my pictures from “today in previous years” as a way of reflecting where I’ve been and where I want to go. I feel that travel should be a mix of visiting new places and revisiting old favorites. I’m one of those people who never gets tired of Disney to the point that some people are shocked when I say I’m going anywhere else. That being said I really enjoyed our 4 presidential library visits of 2019 and our National Parks in 2016 and 2018.

How do you decide where to go next? Do you have certain places you always go or do you have your wish list that you chose from? I have a friend who picks dates and goes to Google Flights and sees what fits in her budget and goes from there.

Hopefully I can get back to travel planning soon, in the meantime I’ll be searching through my photo history and dreaming of that fun in the sun!

Ice Castles – Lake Geneva, WI

Last weekend as an early birthday to my husband, my husband, son and I took a day trip to Lake Geneva, WI and visited Ice Castles. For those of you unfamiliar with Ice Castles, they have 6 locations across North America where they build impressive ice structures. We went right after a warm stretch so we were told it was a little shorter then planned but it was still quite impressive. I also understand its amazing to see it lite up at night but with a three year old during the day seemed better. They have ice slides and tunnels and places to climb.

My son spent a decent amount of time looking for Elsa which was pretty cute. He also definitely loved the slides. Just note the lines can be pretty long for the “big slide”. When we were there it was over an hour! Its definitely something I would recommend. Just make sure to dress warm and wear boots! Also buy your tickets in advance! They just added more dates so it goes through at least February 22nd now.

We didn’t just visit Ice Castles, we went first and looked at the lake (which is frozen) and had lunch. Also Lake Geneva had various snow sculptures as well that were left over from their “Winter Fest” so that was fun to see.

We did have to discuss the fact that sometimes there are places and events that don’t work for all three generations to attend. My mom is of an age that she gets cold easily enough that an afternoon walking through and playing in ice had no appeal. She loves Lake Geneva and if we go in the summer is happy to go and enjoy some #lakelife but in the winter there is definitely less that appeals to her. What are your favorite winter activities?

Arizona Favorites – outside of Phoenix area

In my last post I covered our favorite places in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, this time I’m looking at our favorites outside the valley.

Sedona – known for its picturesque Red Rocks, Sedona did not disappoint. We chose to take a day trip from Phoenix. It was an easy drive with good roads. You start in the Sonoran Desert and its interesting to see how the terrain changes as you approach Sedona. As you enter Sedona itself and head into the town it does get congested and on top of that there was road work so parking can be a challenge. We decided to take a tour from Sedona Trolley to learn more about the area and the highlights. We took the “B” tour of the town and Boynton Canyon as we had seen the exit for the chapel on the way in. The tour was a great way to learn more of the history and we were given a chance to exit the trolley and take pictures at one of the Canyon Stops. I would recommend the trolley as a great way to see the area, especially if like us, you didn’t have a lot of time in Sedona. If you do nothing else in Sedona however, I highly recommend visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It’s setting is amazing. The views are incredible, and it was just awe inspiring. It is a trek to get to, but they have amazing volunteers helping the visitors. If you do take the Trolley up there, they have a prime spot closer to the entrance, so you don’t have to walk as far. My picture gives a little context of location but doesn’t do it justice!

Williams, Arizona – gateway to the Grand Canyon and the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed. It is a cute stop with fantastic pie at the Pine Country Restaurant (we had the Cherry and Pumpkin). Its also where you can ride a bit of history and catch the train to the Grand Canyon. They have cute shops, lots of Route 66 signs and a bit of kitsch.

The Grand Canyon – Some places probably don’t need a lot of explanation. The Grand Canyon is one of them. It was impressive and yet what I expected at the same time. To visit the Grand Canyon, we booked a day trip from our hotel through Detours of the American West.  Their customer service was terrific. They offer an option to purchase a boxed lunch through them to maximize your time at the Canyon. Keep in mind it is a 12-13 hour day with about 3-4 hours at the Canyon. What made our trip stand out to me was that we added on a helicopter tour through Maverick Helicopters. After our driver had picked up everyone on the way to the Canyon, he mentioned that it was an option and that there were 5 seats available, if you were interested to talk to him at the first stop. My sister and I took my seven year old niece, who loves geology, on her first helicopter ride and she loved it. Seeing her joy along with the experience of seeing the magnitude of the canyon from above is what really made it for me. After the helicopter we stopped at the Geology Museum at the South rim and then had a little over an hour to wander and join the rest of our group. Being as it was January and there was snow it was a bit icy so it was good that we had boots. Definitely check the conditions before you go!

While I know there is a lot more to Arizona, these were our highlights on our journey to visiting all 50 states!

A few of our favorite things… from our time in Phoenix, Arizona

We went to Arizona over the holidays with a total 8 people. 3 kids 7 and under (my son and my nieces). 5 adults (My sister and I and our husbands and our mom) so truly a 3 generation trip! Overall we have a fantastic time. Its always good to get together and to see new places and things.

Depending on how much time you have here a few things I would consider “must do” attractions in the Phoenix/Scottsdale Area

If you like history – the Arizona State Capitol Museum is a great place to start. You have a wonderful opportunity to learn the history of the state and how it became a state. They also have some amazing memorials including for the USS Arizona and the code talkers from WWII. They also have special exhibits that change throughout the year.

If you like architectureTaliesin West which was built by Frank Lloyd Wright as his architecture school in the West is an amazing place to visit. The school is apparently closing in June but the site and buildings will still be open for tours and they will still have some classes on the site. It is truly amazing how the buildings fit into the beauty of the Sonoran Desert. Its also a wonderful place to see cactus in their natural environment. We even saw a road runner when we first arrived!

If you like trains, carousels or are looking for family funMcCormick-Stillman Railroad Park is fantastic. They have a restored 1950 carousel. A 5/8th’s scale train ride. A large play ground. A cute gift shop. An impressive model railroad museum and more! They even have one of the restored cars from the Merci or Gratitude train from after WWII. (Check out my Instagram below for pictures) This was a wonderful find for the kids really enjoyed it and the tickets for the attractions were very reasonable and the grounds are free to enter. They also do a holiday lights festival and other events throughout the year.

If you want to learn about the original people who lived in the areaPueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is a great place to visit and explore and learn the true history of the area. The museum has a range of indoor and outdoor exhibits that give kids plenty to do to stay interested while learning about the Hohokam people who lived in the area for 1000 years from 450 to 1450 AD. They have a fun outdoor gallery as well as area dedicated for children indoors so it’s a great place to visit regardless of the weather! Definitely a great place to take a deep dive into the history of the area!

There are also a variety of beautiful park and playgrounds which are always a great place to stop and let the little ones run around a bit! One of the most impressive parks we found was Papago Park which is also the home of the Desert Botanical Garden which we did not make on this trip (my grandpa always said to save something for next time!)

Next week I’m going to go over our favorite things in Arizona outside of the Phoenix Scottsdale area!

Thanks and looking for feedback

First off thank you to my followers and readers. I’m excited to say that my blog has been reviewed and ranked among the top 200 family travel blogs according to Feedspot.com. You can check out the complete list here: https://blog.feedspot.com/family_travel_blogs/. Thank you for that and I will keep writing and aim for too 100!

Now for the feedback part… if you follow me on Instagram (see below for my last few posts) then you know we were just in Arizona and I’m working on a few posts from that trip. I’m just curious what sort of posts people would like to see, trip reviews, highlights, lessons learned, etc… And also outside our our trip just wondering if there are any specific topics that would be helpful?

Anyhow, happy Friday! I look forward to your feedback and thanks for reading!

Choosing our “home away from home”

When booking vacations these days there are so many options to choose from. With our family, when possible I prefer booking vacation club villas. We are fortunate as between my mom and my husband and I we own at both Disney Vacation Club and Marriott Vacation club. This is not a commercial for either as if those types of accommodations appeal to you there are multiple ways to book them without owning there and I will include some of those below.

Part of why we love the vacation club villas is space. With having a 3 year old who goes to bed before the rest of us it is nice to be able to put him to bed and still have other rooms to be in if we want to watch a movie, read, hang out, etc. I also love having a kitchen as, not only is it more convenient to not have to eat out every meal but with things like breakfast its so much simpler. On our last vacation we went to the grocery store and spent about $250 on food for the week. We still ate out about 6 meals but it was much easier and saved us a lot of money. With most vacation clubs if you rent at least a 1 bedroom then you get a full kitchen and often a washer and dryer. Also with having a bigger unit it gives everyone their own space so my mom gets her privacy but is still in the same unit as us which is great for everyone.

With Disney Vacation Club you get all of those perks and you are right on property at either Disney World or Disneyland or you can choose one of Disney’s 3 beach front resorts. The beach front resorts are in Vero Beach, Florida (about 90 min southeast of Disney World), Hilton Head Island, or on the Island of Oahu. You can book at those accommodations directly through Disney or there are sites where owners who are unable to use their points are able to rent them and its a significant discount from booking through Disney. The one I’m familiar with is https://dvcrequest.com/ I know there are others out there. Do your research!

With Marriott there are more locations from the beach to the mountains, near theme parks, golf course, cities etc. Marriott also runs packages where you sit down with them for a presentation and you get a very discounted vacation. We did a couple of those before we bought and I definitely recommend. You do get guaranteed Marriott status with owning and your vacation club stays count toward your status for the year. You can also book stays at the vacation club properties through www.marriott.com based on availability. You can also rent points from owners through Redweek.

I know that there are a lot of options when it comes to accommodations. What are your favorite types of places to stay at when choosing your home away from home?