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A few more things to bring along on a family vacation

Third in a Mom’s Toolbox series on family travel

 

We’ve covered the carry-ons and how to fly through the airport. Today we’ll talk about your big bags. What else do you need… and how do you pack it all?

A few things we always bring:

Carseats/ Boosters— Depending on the age of the child and how many parents are flying, we typically bring a carseat and use it on the plane. This means we already have it for our destination. I have rented carseats and booster seats from the car rental company before which made packing easier, but I typically just pack our own. Carseats and boosters typically do not count in your baggage allowance, but check with your airline to be sure. The policies seem to be changing quickly these days.

Masking Tape-For minor childproofing in a pinch or labeling bottles and sip cups if your child will be in any type of kids club.

Sharpie marker-For labeling almost anything on the go. I label all clothes and anything else that might go with my kids to a kids club setting. I also use the pen to label toys along the way so there isn’t any question  who owns which new car (or whatever else).

Small Plastic Toys– We have found that little plastic toys go a L-O-N-G way for entertainment. Legos, Little People, Fisher Price Snap & Style babies and other small plastic toys are easy to pack and easy to carry to almost anywhere you might be going to entertain at restaurants, in cars or while waiting almost anywhere. Plus, you can use them as bath toys, as well. Throw in a one of the plastic cups the hotel provides and you’ll really be in business at bathtime!

Zipper top plastic bags-For snacking on the go, to carry small toys (and limit what your child is allowed to take with him), to house new collections of rocks, leaves, coins, bottle caps… whatever! I usually grab a handful of the quart size and of the gallon size to take along for whatever. They almost always get used. And don’t forget to keep one quart-sized for liquids at airport security.

Medicines,  dosages and a few first aid items-Save yourself a frantic shopping trip and throw in a few medicines and their dosing cups just in case. We bring fever reducer, pain killer, cough syrup and allergy medicine. I write the appropriate dose on each of the bottles. I also pack antibacterial cream and a few bandages.

A little liquid dishsoap— For cleaning sip cups, bottles and the like.

Flashlight-Find what you need in the dark without waking everyone.

Nightlight-New places can be disorienting. Just don’t forget to pack it when you are coming home, too.

Music-Do your kids listen to music before bed? We travel with an ipod and mini-speakers to soothe away new hotel sounds and help everyone drift off to dreamland.

Books and magazines-If you read to your child at night before bed, continue the trend away, too. The more things you can keep routine, the easier it will be to help your child sleep in a strange place. If you can find a new book or two that covers something you will experience on vacation, even better.

Baby bath soap-Unless I’m staying with a family or know the hotel will provide baby toiletries, I typically throw in a small bottle.

Small travel umbrella-Better to be safe than sorry.

A few toys for the hotel-I almost always go overboard on this one, throwing in too many contingency toys. So this is a reminder for me, too: Toss a few simple toys in for the times you will be just hanging out in the hotel room: winding down before bed, waiting for room service or just waiting while everyone is getting ready. Try to keep it simple here. You won’t be in your room long, but a few toys are always a good idea. That being said, remember that your plans may not always go as you wish. Things can happen beyond your control , causing activities to be cancelled.  A few games might be good to have along in case of rain, sickness or other changes in plans.

Charging cords for anything electronic-and don’t forget to bring them home, too!

One thing we sometimes bring:

Portable crib-Our portable crib rarely travels with us. We usually use the hotel crib or, if visiting friends, we usually use theirs (or a friend of theirs’!). When renting a house, though, check to see if you will need to bring your own. On one beach trip I brought an extra portable crib to use on the beach. I set it up under a canopy so the baby could still nap in the shade while we played with the bigger kids outside.

On the portable crib note, our kids typically sleep in a crib on vacation for few months after they have made the transition to a big bed at home. I find that it helps them sleep better and makes me feel safer, knowing they won’t wake and wander around the hotel room unsupervised.

A few thoughts on packing in general:

Airline baggage allowances are getting pretty strict. Be sure to check your airline’s policies regarding the size, weight and number of bags you will be allowed to check. Then, as you are packing, weigh your suitcases so there won’t be any surprises at the airport. Compare your suitcases empty, too and pack the lighter ones. I have found rolling duffles to be the best for our family because of their weight.

Pack an extra zipper-top bag or duffle for anything extra you might buy so you aren’t stuck paying fines for an overweight bag at the airport.

When deciding what clothes to bring, consider that you can do laundry on the trip. You don’t need to pack clothes for every day.

Depending upon what new treasures you might have acquired on your trip, consider shipping dirty clothes and new purchases home near the end of a trip. The price to ship might be less than the price for checking an extra bag. Check into it.

I put all liquids, even those that are unopened and in shrink wrap, in sealed plastic bags. On our last flight an unopened can of sunscreen somehow sprayed in my bag. I will no longer trust the shrink wrap when all it takes is an extra zip bag.

Remember the flight home. Throw in a few secret goodies to remain hidden until then.

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Second in a Mom’s Toolbox series on traveling with the kids.

With a little preparation, you summer vacation fun CAN begin as soon as you reach the airport.

If you were here Wednesday, your mind is already churning with ideas of what to pack in those carry on bags. Now it’s time to take care of all those other details to make the travel day as great as it can be.

Planning your trip:

When booking your flights, be sure to allow more than enough time for layovers if changing planes will be necessary. This might sound like an obvious one, but really give your flight times some thought. What happens if you miss a connection? Will there be another flight that day? Spending some extra time keeping your kids entertained at the terminal could be much better than missing a flight altogether, so research your options and don’t cut it too short.

In selecting seats, would you rather be near the front of the plane so you don’t have to lug everything as far down the aisle or would it be more important to you to be near the bathroom so you can get there quickly? Or so that you can send a child by himself and still be nearby?

 Some families love the bulkhead seats. These are the seats just behind a wall and do not have seats directly in front of them. These are great for playing on the floor and for extra legroom, but in those seats you must stow everything overhead for takeoff and landing.

 Are you buying everyone a ticket or will your children under 2 sit on your lap? We travel with a carseat for anyone who is under the age of 2 and has his or her own ticket. Lugging that thing down the row is not pleasant, but it keeps the baby safer and more comfortable (and comfort often leads to sleep 🙂 ).

 Typically you do not have to buy a ticket for a child under the age of 2 years if you will be holding him or her on your lap the entire time… but how long is the flight? Do you really want to hold your child that long? If there are empty seats, often the airline will put that seat next to you for your child, but this is never a guarantee.

If you decide not to buy a ticket and hope there is an empty seat, ask at check-in and then again at the gate. If there is a chance for an empty seat, keep your carseat until you are at the gate… you can always gate check it if a seat does not open up next to you. You do need to let the airline know you are traveling with an infant, even if you don’t buy him a ticket.

 If a meal will be served, contact your airline in advance and request a child’s meal so you have a better shot at kid-approved food.  If a meal will not be served, be prepared with snacks or a meal to carry on. You cannot bring drinks (or other liquids) from outside of the airport with you.

 Dress all kids in comfortable clothes with shoes that come off and on easily so you can get through the security line faster. Tying all those shoes can take awhile when people are behind you waiting to get by! The security checkpoint can be a little intimidating, especially when there are lots of travelers waiting in line while you get the kids ready to go through. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines and be prepared to fold your stroller. http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/prohibited/permitted-prohibited-items.shtm

 If only one adult is flying, consider calling your airline to see if whoever is taking you to the airport can walk you to your gate and/ or meet you at the gate upon arrival. (Usually they can by leaving their driver license at the ticket counter.)

 Time to fly:

Just before boarding, make it a requirement for everyone to go to the bathroom and/ or change diapers. You can never be sure when you’ll be able to get to the bathroom on the plane.

 Take advantage of the opportunity to pre-board so you can get settled. Some parents prefer to board last, so their kids aren’t on the plane as long, but I have found that boarding early makes it easier to get down the aisle to the seats and it gives me more time to get everyone settled.

 If you are traveling with an infant, consider delaying his or her feeding until take-off. If you can make your child suck during take-off and landing, you can relieve the pressure in her ears. Often I would keep the baby in a sling, nursing until we reached or cruising altitude, then I would make the transfer to seat or bassinet.

 If your seats are not together, be as polite as possible with the agents at check in and at the gate. They will understand your situation and help you as they can. If it is not possible for them to put you together, board during pre-boarding and ask the flight attendants on board to help you ask other travelers to relocate.

 Prepare your kids for the trip. Let them know what to expect in terms of the flight and let them know what you expect from them in terms of their behavior.  If it is their first time, read books about airplanes and get them excited for that part of the adventure. As you board and walk by the cockpit, point it out to them.

 And remember, your kids’ attitude often is a reflection (and magnification) of your own. Try to get your “game face” on and look for the fun in flying… Potentially frustrating things WILL happen. Your reaction to them is what will determine the tone of your trip. Be ready to go with the flow.

 And remember, no matter what happens on the plane or in the airport, you will most likely never see all those people again. So manage your family as best you can and stop worrying about what everyone else thinks. (But do try to be friendly to those around you. That way, if your child does do something crazy or offensive, it won’t be received as poorly.)

Special notes for long-haul flights:

Larger planes have bassinets for babies 20 pounds or less. If you are traveling internationally with a baby, ask about a bassinet when you book your flight. Ask again when you check in at the airport.

 I typically pack a small rolling suitcase with extra clothes, diapers and snacks beyond what I would normally bring as a back up. This suitcase goes in the overhead bin and typically stays there the whole flight. By packing all my extras separately, they don’t take up valuable space in the regular carry-on, yet I still have what I might need, say, in the event of an extra 4 hours on the runway before take-off. Check with your airline so you know how much you can carry on. And if you will be changing airlines, check all of their policies.

 If you intend to give your child any type of sleep aid, talk you your pediatrician first.

 Consider where you are going when trying to determine how to manage jet lag. I try to get everyone on the new schedule as quickly as possible. When flying east, I try to get the kids to sleep on the plane so they will be as ready as possible for a full day upon arrival. When returning to the States flying west, I try to only let them nap so they will go to bed at nighttime when we arrive home.

 Like I said, I hope this helps! If you have any suggestions for what has worked for you, please leave a comment. I’m always looking for good advice!

 So now you know what to carry on the plane and how to survive the flight.  Check back Monday for tips on what else to bring (or leave at home).

 

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First in a Mom’s Toolbox series on traveling with the kids
Packing to travel by yourself is a snap. Packing to travel with your children is a whole new experience. Hopefully my experiences in traveling with kids can help make your trip even better. Here are a few things I tend to pack for carry-on to make travel more fun:
And on that note of packing, don’t carry it all yourself. From the time each of my children could walk, each carried his or her own backpack filled with all the fun stuff. I just carry the essentials, backups and a few extra entertainment options. And, of course, be sure your bags fall within the allowance of your airline. Check your airline’s website for details.
So what’s in those magic backpacks?
Stickers.These are great for sticking on paper, cups, seats, Mom… whatever. (Just be sure to clean them up at the end of the flight.) You could tell stories with the stickers, place them in books, or just give your child a sheet and let him go crazy. One of my kids likes the repositionable sticker books, but the others never took to them. To that end, a friend of mine swears by Colorforms to stick on the window or tray, but we’ve never tried them… we’ve had too much fun with the stickers.

Blank notebook or inexpensive scrapbook.You can use this for those stickers or for coloring, drawing, journaling or creating your own scrapbook as you go. (Plus, if you need scratch paper in a pinch you can always snag a piece.) We often go the scrapbook route and develop pictures along the way. We have pictures and drawings from friends met all over the world. And decorating the pages took lots of beautiful time.

Glue stick. Great for lots of on-the-go crafting. But remember, you cannot fly with scissors, so only bring this if you have shapes or scraps to adhere. You could cut a bunch of shapes before the flight and stash them in a zip bag. (Don’t worry about getting too creative here. I just punch a lot of the same shapes from my scrapbooking punches on scrap paper and we’re good to go. It’s the process you are working towards here, not a masterpiece finished product.) You could also bring magazines or use the inflight magazine to go on a scavenger hunt through the magazine and rip out specific pictures and stick them in the notebook. (Look for babies, happy grownups, interesting buildings, flowers, things that start with a particular letter…)

Markers, pencils or crayons. This goes with that notebook and any other activity books you may bring. Consider Crayola’s new triangle crayons which won’t roll off the tray for the younger kiddos. I usually slip the crayons and other art supplies inside a plastic zipper pencil bag. This makes them easier to find and more difficult to lose.

New magazines or activity books.Or download activity pages off the internet and put them in a bradded folder to make your own activity book. I like the magazines like Highlights and Ranger Rick that have stories and activities. Activity books with ‘magic’ markers that reveal hidden ink are a lot of fun.

Lightweight books. You don’t want to weigh down those backpacks, but reading is always a good idea, so go with the paperbacks if you can.

Small pad of sticky notes. Almost as good as stickers. My kids love to stick them everywhere.

Small toys.My boys have been entertained by Legos and small cars for hours at a time. (Yes, HOURS.) Don’t underestimate the power of simple, classic toys. You might consider packing tray or box to hold the Legos to keep them from dropping.  Likewise, my daughter is well-entertained by a little bag filled with bracelets and necklaces or her baby, its clothes and a bottle.

Empty sip or straw cup or water bottle. To use during the drink service and lower the chances of spilling during turbulence. Just be sure it is empty when you go through security for obvious reasons.

A few snacks to be eaten whenever your child wants… oh the freedom! Pack something fun and an old standby.

And the really magic item… a lollipop. This is for takeoff and landing (I pack the second in my bag.) so your child will be sucking and consequently alleviate the potential for ear pressure and pain. If your child is too young for a lollipop, consider nursing/feeding, a pacifier or a sip cup (fill it with something after security so you’ll be ready for takeoff.)You can usually find safety pops at a dollar store for the younger ones. My children know they may not eat the lollipop until we are cruising down the runway and about to takeoff. Don’t let them begin licking when you first push away… you might sit there a long time. I don’t worry as much about landing for the older kids, but I do try to get the younger one to snack on some crackers or drink on the way back down for the same reason.

What about movies and video games? Bring them, but try to hold off as long as possible, unless you are nearing a melt-down. We try to have them as tools (bring earphones and extra batteries) but not rely on them too much. This means when we REALLY need them, they always do the trick. On one flight it was not possible for all of us to sit together. So, on a three-hour flight, our two boys, then almost 3 and almost 5 years, had to sit a few rows away from us. And we knew the movie would keep them happy for the bulk of the flight.

Depending on the age, your child might pack a few of the items himself. But don’t let him pack the whole thing… that would spoil the mystery and excitement. And beware of packing all brand-new to you items… you might want to give new toys a test-run a few weeks in advance to avoid packing any duds. Just stash them away once you know they are winners so the newness doesn’t wear off. (This is a great time for toy-swapping with friends. And cleaning out the depths of your own kids’ toy stashes a few weeks before the trip might yield some old long-lost favorites, perfect for resurrection on the flight.)

And what’s in my bag? It depends on the length of the flight, but I typically pack extra clothes as required by each child’s age, extra snacks, the laptop for movie-watching and the movies, extra batteries, my digital camera (this can be entertaining for them, as well), my ipod with my music, kid music, a few narrated children’s books and children’s tv shows, tissues, wipes, water bottle (filled in the airport), gum, a magazine or book and my journal. I also bring extra zip bags for whatever may come up and extra return address labels to stick on anything that needs my address.

Bring a plastic bag to collect it all the trash you will accumulate through the flight (A plastic grocery bag or a bag from buying something at the newsstand will work.) and just give it all to the flight attendant at the end of the flight. Otherwise, who knows what you’ll be holding while trying to cut food/ read stories/ start the movie/ explain how much longer the flight will be. My flight attendant friend pointed out that bringing your own trash bag might also help out in the airsickness department… aiming for the tiny bag the airlines provide may not always be successsful with a little one. (Yuck! Better safer than sorry!)

You might consider bringing a few things for airport entertainment, as well. Here are a few things that have worked for us:  a gallon zip bag of Legos and other small toys, a beach ball to inflate and play toss, a small bottle of bubbles (like the ones given as party favors. You’ll need to put it in your zip bag of liquids and declare it at security.) The bubbles are great for all sorts of waiting times: waiting to check in, waiting to board, waiting for luggage, waiting for the rental car…

Okay, now that you know what to pack for the plane, you are probably wondering what else you can you do to make your travel days go smoothly…

Check back here Friday when I share more travel tips on breezing through the airport, flying with ease and arriving at your destination with a smile on everyone’s face. (Okay, so it might not be THAT good. But I’ll share some tips to make it more likely.)

In the meantime, if you’d like to check out all sorts of real-life solutions to all sorts of other things, check out Works for Me Wednesday at Rocks in my Dryer.

 

 

 

 

 

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My husband and I like to travel with our kids. A lot.

This week my to-do list is telling me to get a new passport for our six-year old. His first one has expired. And before we use that passport for an end-of-the-summer trip, I’ll be packing suitcases and backpacks for another week-long excursion to visit family and friends. (My husband will accompany us for only part of that trip. I’ll drive with the kiddos to our second destination and then fly home with the three of them solo.)

Six years of flying, driving, and traveling with kids in general has yielded a lot of lessons and a lot of great memories.  And now that I’m blogging, I thought this would be the perfect spot to share some of the things I’ve learned through those experiences. Hope my tips help your trip to be even better… or inspire you to pack that suitcase and just go for it for the first or second time. By the third you’re sure to be hooked, too.

So get ready to pack those bags. And, to prepare to for take-off, check out Mom’s Toolbox tomorrow to see what I pack to carry on for a plane trip. Then, on Friday, I’ll share my tips on what you can do to make your airport experience even better. Monday I’ll share ideas for what else to bring (or leave at home) and suggestions on how you can make your vacation a vacation for everyone.

Fasten your seatbelts, check back tomorrow, and prepare for some more summer fun! It’s not ever yet… even if you are getting back-to-school ads in your mailbox!

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Hope you enjoy my review of a recent trip.  I thought you might be interested in more than just my spiritual journey…

 We invited some neighbors and took the kiddos to the Hyatt Lost Pines in Bastrop, Texas (near Austin) to celebrate the 4th of July this year and had a fantastic time.

 This was certainly an ideal family spot… as we checked in with the masses, I cannot tell you how many strollers, scooters, boppy’s, diaper bags and bags of toys I saw being rolled through the halls. And the lobby was welcoming with face-painters, hair-braiders, strolling musicians and apples for snacks. We were in for a seriously family-oriented good time and this place knew how to do it up right.

 Our rooms opened up to a small patio which overlooked a large hummingbird meadow. The kids loved opening up the doors and exploring the gardens, looking for hummingbirds, butterflies, tadpoles and the like throughout our stay. And the patio also proved a great spot for relaxing and chatting with the grownups while kiddos slept in the room behind us, or for waking in the early morning and reading and writing, without waking anyone else.

 I think the kids’ favorite part of the resort, though, was the pool area and crooked river, a long flowing pool designed to be like a river that you float through in inner tubes, being pushed along by the current.

 In the crooked river, the older boys liked to just swim and float along, but I sure liked relaxing in my tube! After balancing my 2 year-old on my lap for the first lap, my friend came to the rescue with a mini tube that had an x in the bottom for the toddler’s feet to dangle while supporting her bottom. For that lap and the many after it, I was in relaxing, floating heaven. The kids had a blast and the grown-ups did, too. And it was great to be so relaxed with all the kiddos… even when my husband was elsewhere!

 The pool area also had a waterslide for kids (old and young) 42″ and taller, a hot tub, a randomly squirting water fountain area, and a sizeable baby pool that varied from 12″ to 1’6″ deep. The actual pool (which connected to the crooked river, waterslide area and hot tub) had a spot for water volleyball and a beach entry, complete with sand. The sand area above the pool was perfect for sand castle-building and the hotel even hosted a friendly competition while we were there. There is also an adults-only pool, but I never checked that out.

 All around the pool area are tons of chairs, tables, umbrellas and roving waiters and waitresses to bring lunch, snacks, ice cream and cold drinks. There is also a full bar and a shop selling anything you might “need” that you’ve left at home. And at lunch they also offered a buffet.

 Aside from the incredible pool area, the resort hosted a horseshoes tournament and all sorts of other activities throughout all the days we were there. They had lots of silly games for the kids and grownups… Our 5 year-old enjoyed one “game” where he and a bunch of other kids used their mouths to search for a maraschino cherry in his own plate filled with whipped cream. They also offered more traditional activities like tennis, golf, horseback riding, stargazing, a complete workout room, yoga and mat pilates classes, a great playground area, and s’mores every evening around a fire with plenty of rocking chairs everywhere.

 The resort is situated near Bastrop State Park which is nestled in a very hilly part of Texas and is host to quite a challenging road bike path. (I’d say it is the most harrowing part of the MS 150, a ride that rolls from Houston to Austin every spring to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis.) My husband was able to escape to take that ride while I had a leisurely breakfast with the kids and then floated along the crooked river. If you’re a cyclist, try to arrange it so you can make the same escape!

 On the 4th, they put on a fantastic fireworks display with patriotic music mixed in with American favorites. (My kids were especially excited to recognize the Star Wars and Indiana Jones themes.) The fireworks display was perfect… just enough “wow” and just the perfect length. We watched from the pool area, some of us stretched out on pool lounges. We never felt crowded and rather than fight traffic on the way home, we just took a quick walk back to the rooms for bed time. Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. That was nice.

 The rooms were spacious, the staff was accommodating, the food was great and the resort offered a lot of fun things to keep grown-up and kids happy. I hope to be back.

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My devotional time had been lacking. For several weeks I was doing the reading, praying a little, but not really offering much of me and consequently not really listening. I was TIRED and I had to finish the reading before the kids woke. So I glossed over most of it, not really searching, but asking God to spoon-feed me.

Today marks the beginning of a new attitude.

As I read through it today, here’s what God hit me over the head with:

Scripture: Philemon 1:6

“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”

Observation:  Being “active in sharing” leads to “full understanding?” I always thought it would be the other way around. Do we learn by sharing?

Application: (On this one I began writing and then realized it was my Prayer part, too. So I’ve decided to just combine it.) Help me to gain confidence to share so that my understanding will grow. Please guide me in my understanding. Guide me in my sharing.

Should I be blogging about my REAL journey through faith? The real questions? And in sharing I will gain understanding…

At that point I had to run, leaping through the hallway, to find my husband and share my revelation. THIS is IT! This is my story! This is what I should write about! Halleluiah!

Recently I had been struggling not only with my prayer time, but I had also been praying about my writing.  I have been struggling with my writing for years. I enjoy writing, but I’ve had a writer’s block for many many years. When I left the working world to become a mom I thought I would become a writer. I would have tons of free time (hahahaha) to pursue writing.

Well, motherhood kept me busy and I couldn’t find my voice. Would I write about the real story in being a mom? To me it seemed there was already enough material out there and mine wouldn’t be any better. (I don’t think I’m a witty writer. Never have been.) Should I write travel stories? Our family enjoys lots of travel and I do have a journalism degree so I should be able to write. But that wasn’t happening. I just couldn’t get the words down and a story complete.

I prayed about it. “Lord, I know you gave me this gift, why can’t I use it? What are you saving me for? There must be something…  isn’t there?”

Well, I think this morning He revealed it to me. And now I am going to begin revealing my true heart, my true thoughts with you.

I am a real mom, sister, daughter, friend, neighbor and Christian. And I’m far from perfect. And I have lots of questions. I’m afraid to share my faith because I don’t want to be wrong. And I don’t want my mistakes to lead others away from Christ. But I’ve read that He will equip me. I need to lean on Him.

 So (yikes) here I go. I don’t have a set plan. But I’m going to listen as best as I can. And I’m going to share my story with you. This will be like an ultimate travel story…   a journey into my heart as I grow in my faith. I promise it won’t all be about butterflies and sunshine. And it won’t be perfect… the writing or all of my observations. It will be about whatever is truly on my heart. Won’t you join me?

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We’ve just finished up a quick trip to Lake George, NY, where we stayed at The Great Escape Lodge, the hotel (and indoor waterpark) adjacent to the Six Flags theme park, The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we decided that sleeping in the same building as a waterpark with an amusement park across the street could only spell F-U-N! And we were right!

http://www.sixflagsgreatescapelodge.com

We checked into the hotel and were pleased to find our room to be quite spacious. Two queen-size beds, a bathroom and dressing area were in one room separated by a door to the main room which had a kitchenette (complete with microwave, mini ‘fridge and granite counter for eating), bathroom, dressing area, pull-out sofa and queen-size bed. There was plenty of room… we rolled the crib into one of the dressing areas for the youngest and each of the boys also had his own bed. Plus, we had a lot of space for our luggage and the minor groceries we bought. (Not only can it be cheaper, but we have found it easier to eat breakfast in the room with a few groceries.)

After getting settled and eating dinner, we headed downstairs for a character storytime. Each night a Looney Toons character accompanies a staff member  to the library for an 8 o’clock story and song time. Many of the kids there were in PJs and all seemed to enjoy it… except our youngest who was terrified of Daffy Duck, as she is of all characters. She and I watched from a distance.

The next morning we went to The Great Escape for some theme park fun.

http://www.sixflags.com/greatEscape/index.aspx

School here is still in session, so we almost had the park to ourselves! There were only 2 rides that had lines more than one ride long. And those lines were still incredibly short. There are two sections of the park just for the younger set, Looney Tunes National Park and the all-new Wiggles World. We enjoyed riding those rides (mini roller coaster, mini boat ride, train ride, huge circle swings and in Wiggles World a world tour in the Big Red Car and ‘flying’ in the Big Red Airplane, among many other rides), although my children have no idea who the Looney Tunes characters or The Wiggles are. (Am I depriving my children?) Our youngest got a little brave watching the costumed characters during The Wiggles show. But not brave enough to leave my arms. The cafe in Wiggles World even served fruit salad, for all you fans. I’m sure it was “yummy, yummy.”

After that, I took the boys on the cable car ride over the park, where they got to ride in their own car and I floated along behind them. They loved yelling their observations of the park back to me. “Mom, look– Cinderella!”  Wow! Our hotel… and a water slide goes outside of the building!” “Look at that shoe on the pole!”

Gary took our youngest to have her face painted and missed all the high flying action.

Another favorite ride was a mini car ride where the kids could ‘drive’ vintage cars along Route 66 and other famous highways. My 6 year-old was most impressed with the ‘50s music playing in his car. All three seemed to love it… even the two year-old who finally had got the chance to be ‘in charge’ and drive Daddy around (or at least she thought she did).

After all that miniature fun, my 6’2″ husband decided he was ready for something a little more grown up so he took off for the Boomerang Coast to Coaster, a roller coaster that shoots you through a few loop de loops and then sends you skyward, just to roll back down and do it all again… in reverse. He experienced the longest wait of our day (maybe 4-5 ride cycles) so I took the kiddos on a train ride through another part of the park. (No wait at all!! I love this time of year!!)

The Great Escape is certainly a family park. On all the trashcans and even the staff shirts (which are a bright neon green for easy spotting) are reminders to keep the park clean because “My family comes here, too.” All staff members were exceptionally polite and paid great attention to detail and safety. I was politely asked to leave my backpack off the rides as it would be unsecured. (No, I didn’t ride anything where my backpack posed much of a risk to hurting anyone, but I had to respect the rules. And I could understand the ‘no exceptions’ policy.)

At every ride the height requirements were clearly spelled out and the ride operators carried custom-made measuring poles to end any disputes before they could begin.

 After many rides, face painting, cotton candy and the like, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel to try out the indoor water park.

Again, the staff was extremely polite and lifeguards plentiful. We floated along a river, slid down many water slides and even tried boogie boarding. There were two areas clearly designed for little ones: One with swings over the water, splashing fountains and tiny slides. The other had bigger slides, yet still designed for the kids, several wheels to control water flow, a flow fountain for kids to change the water flow or build a dam, splashing fountains and a massive bucket of water which sporadically would dump over the section, drenching anyone its path.

The next morning we explored the area, deciding on lunch and a little wandering in nearby Bolton Landing. Before deciding on our lunch spot, we found another interesting hotel and thought we might eat there. It was picturesque, but clearly not for children. A sign on at one area said that “Well-behaved children were welcome until 8 p.m.” Our children could tell they were not really welcome, and whispered that they didn’t like that place much. We attempted to stroll our way to their casual dining restaurant, but were unable to find it and the staff didn’t seem too interested in helping. Hmmph. Back to the car.

We decided on  a quaint garden-looking restaurant in town called Cate’s. The restaurant served Italian food and had plenty of interesting things for the children (and grownups) to look at and talk about while we waited for our food. The tables were covered in butcher paper, which allowed for lots of coloring, tracing and tic tac toe playing. Cate’s was certainly not ‘marketed’ as a family oriented place– there wasn’t a kids menu and it seemed elegant and relaxing, yet it was extremely family-friendly with lots of dining options and friendly staff. What really impressed me was a large decorative and functional trunk in the ladies room. The trunk was positioned near the sink, serving as a great boost for little ones to wash hands in my case, but I couldn’t help notice it was also large enough to serve as a perfect diaper changing spot. 

After Cate’s, we wandered to a whimsical children’s clothing and toy store called Happy Jacks and then to Mrs. Whizzy- Fizz Pop’s, a candy store owned by the same person.

We returned to the hotel for naptime for the youngest and Gary took the kids to one of the MANY mini golf locations. (They chose Pirate’s Cove and had a blast finding chocolate booty, among other things.) 

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