Sunday, May 4, 2014

Virginia Beach

I don't know about you, but after this horrific winter here in the North East, I am dreaming of a beach getaway! Virginia Beach is a great getaway for families. The whole town seems to be set up for families with kids. There are plenty of reasonable places to stay, great places to eat and tons of fun activities. Here are some of our favorites:

Where to Stay:

This depends on what you are looking for. There are plenty of beachfront hotels for the choosing. Or you could rent a condo for a week. Or if you are the adventurous type, there is camping available right on the Chesapeake Bay at First Landing State Park or check out the local KOA Campground for more amenities.


What to Do:

Virginia Beach is FULL of family friendly activities. First and foremost - THE BEACH! Their beaches are huge and clean. In the resort area, there is a boardwalk that runs for 3 miles along the beach. It also has a separate bike path, so definitely bring or rent bikes while you are there. There are playgrounds on the beach located at 2nd St., 10th St., and 31st. The playground on 2nd is a handicapped accessible playground called Grommet Island and is awesome!

If you're looking for some nature, check out First Landing State park for hiking trails, picnic areas and wildlife. There is also Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Got yourself a rainy day? Then check out the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.

Wanting some more action? Well there's plenty of that around too! Besides surfing, boogie boarding or skim boarding on the ocean, you could check out Ocean Breeze Waterpark and get your adrenaline running on one of their waterslides. You could get surfing, kayaking or paddleboarding lessons with Beach Eco Tours. Or if you're just looking for some mellow fun, there is plenty of mini golf, the Boardwalk Amusement Park on 15th street, or the infamous Nightmare Mansion - not recommended for small children or the faint of heart! 

Where to Eat:

To start, take a little drive away from the oceanfront and visit Whitner's Barbecue. Featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive Ins and Dives, this is THE BEST barbecue that we have ever had!!! Looking for oceanfront dining? Well check out the many restaurants along the boardwalk. Looking for a sweet treat? Then check out The Skinny Dip. With multiple locations and an endless array of frozen yogurts, toppings and sauces, you are sure to be pleased!

Finally, for all things Virginia Beach, check out Visit Virginia Beach

If you go, let us know and send some pics!!! 

Monday, March 31, 2014

AC BABY!!!!!

So as much as I LOVE to travel with my kidz, and this blog is really dedicated to that, sometimes as parents we need to get away WITHOUT the kidz to have some fun. And let me tell you, Atlantic City is where it's at!!!!!!!!!!!!  We recently went to AC for the first time, and being Vegas vets, we had high expectations....and they were MET!

First of all, for a cheap get away, you cannot beat AC. Because of the gambling, they practically give away rooms. And with those rooms, you can usually get great deals on dining and entertainment too! Check the casino websites. That is where we found our deals. But also on expedia.com. We got a King room with coffee maker and fridge for $80 a night. I know this doesn't sound great but this INCLUDED a $40 voucher each night to be used anywhere in the hotel AND $10 of free slot play each night to be used in the casino! The hotel had an indoor pool, workout room and hot tub too!

OK so you may say that you don't like to gamble. We actually don't gamble much either. There is plenty to do that does not involve gambling. Inside The Tropicana there is an area called The Quarter. Here you will find shops, restaurants, bars, IMAX, Comedy, and much more. At Caesars they have the Pier shops. First & second level are really just an upscale mall but the third level is all glass, looking out at the ocean with sand and beach chairs. Surrounding you are restaurants and bars. And at the end of the pier shops is a fountain with regular water shows - kinda like a mini Bellagio!



Looking for something outdoors? Well they've got that covered too. First of all, you are right on the beach and boardwalk. But just a few minutes drive away is the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. This is an area you can walk, bike, or drive to see hundreds of animals. So many sea birds, turtles and foxes. There are viewing towers and hiking trails. You could easily spend the day here. A nice way to get off the beaten path and relax in nature.

Looking for good food? That is EVERYWHERE! At Fin you will get amazing steaks, seafood and ocean views. As well as some of the best sushi on the planet! Looking for less formal? Check out Broadway Burger Bar. They have an amazing selection of beers, along with great food. We recommend the sliders and calamari. Wanting more of a pub feel? Then check out Ri Ra with their live music and authentic Irish pub food. There is also Margaritaville, with a great beach bar open year round, Bobby Flay Steak for those who love celebrity chefs and Dynasty for those looking for Asian cuisine.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more things to do in AC. Maybe I will do an AC part 2 because we will definitely go again. Check it out!!!!



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Boston - Not Just A History Buff's Paradise

Boston is such a kid friendly city! There is so much to see and do! The city is relatively small, so walking much of it is easy - which is a plus! We just returned from our second trip in 2 years and we are already planning on going back! Here are some of the highlights from those trips.

Where to Stay:
There are so many options when it comes to staying in Boston. However, their public transportation is so user friendly, staying a bit outside the city and taking the train in helps cut down costs. Check out Mass BTA for more info.


Budget Tip:  Get a hotel that offers free breakfast and has rooms with mini fridges and microwaves. This way breakfast is covered and you can bring food from home for lunch and/or dinner to save some money. This last trip I made meatballs in sauce, froze them & then at the hotel I microwaved them, put them on rolls with mozzarella cheese - BAM meatball parm heroes for dinner.
What To Do:

This list is HUGE but here are some of our favorites with Kidz!


The Boston Children's Museum - this place is AMAZING! 3 floors of interactive fun & NOT just for little ones! Check out the 3 story climbing structure, the music room, woodworking and more! You could easily spend the day here. They've got lockers for your things, a cafe, shows.....definitely worth checking out if you are in town!
          


Visitor Tip: Go to the 3rd floor and work your way down. Everyone starts and the bottom and works their way up. This way you will avoid the crowds. However this place is so huge, the crowds never really seem to be a problem.

To get a table for eating, plan lunch at an off time, like 11am or 2pm. The cafe is small and they run out of tables quick!

Budget Tip: If you have a local children's museum, purchase a reciprocal membership. It offers you entry to over 400 children's and science museums around the country - most of the time for FREE and it costs just a little more than a basic membership. Check out ASTC to see who participates in your area.
The New England Aquarium - located right on the water - it is full of amazing aquatic animals. Pet a sting ray, see giant sea turtles, penguins & more! Check out an IMAX movie, touch a sea star or attend one of their educational programs. Again you could spend a whole day here!

Visitor Tip: Get there EARLY! The line to get in gets long FAST! And the earlier you arrive, the less crowded it is, and you can be done by the time the crowds fill in! Also go to the hands on exhibits first, so you can spend plenty of time getting to know your new sea creature friends!

Or spend the day following The Freedom Trail - this 2 1/2 mile trail takes you through the heart of Boston and back in time! You can go on a guided tour, which includes your own colonial guide! Or follow the brick path yourself and take your time in each area of the city.

The trail starts at Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. You can buy an app on the Freedom trail website or download the National Park Service app for free!
If you have little ones, may I suggest doing only a portion of the trail. Start at the Old South Meeting House and End at the Paul Revere House. In the middle take a break at Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Get a snack, watch a street performer, rest your legs.

There are also trolley tours available if walking isn't feasible or just isn't your thing. Check out Old Town Trolley or City View Trolleys for more information. We have not done this yet, so if you do, let us know how it is!!! 

Like I said, there is so much to see and do, I barely have scratched the surface. The next time we go I would like to go to the Boston Tea Party Museum where visitors re-enact the Boston Tea Party and actually throw tea off the ship! And the Boston Museum of Science. There is also Fenway Park, Boston Common, Harvard and the Swan Boats.

Boston is kid friendly and fun for the whole family! Take the time to check it out with your Kidz!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Camping - A How To Guide

So to take a different spin on travel, give camping a try. I have been camping my whole life, and my kidz have too. It's not as daunting as it seems! There are many places that cater to the camping newbie. But I promise, once you try it, you'll never go back. Camping is a great way to get away, on a budget and the kids LOVE it! So take a deep breath, keep an open mind, and I promise you will have a good time!

What You Need:
Depending on where you go & how 'rugged' you want to get, there are a ton of camping options. You could camp in a tent, a pop up camper, a self contained camper, a large mobile home, a van or many campgrounds offer cabin rentals. The cabin rentals are a good way to go for the camping newbie. At KOA campgrounds, they offer many different rental opportunities - from small cabins for a real camping experience, to full house cabins with kitchens and bathrooms. KOA have campgrounds all over the country. Our favorites have been Lake Placid and Bar Harbor Maine.

 You will also need things like bedding, food, utensils, a cooler, folding chairs, lanterns or flashlights, and a way to cook your food. You can keep it simple and make ahead meals that can be eaten cold or warmed up. Even though I am an experienced camper, I like to do this for the ease. Camping is a vacation for me and I don't want to spend all my time cooking and cleaning. So I make meals ahead and I bring paper goods for easy clean up. Ideas for make ahead meals:
          grilled chicken                         pasta salad                            fruit salad       
          sausage & peppers                 soup                                      chili
          beef stew                                potato salad                          fajitas           

Many of these can be eaten cold, or it's as easy as putting into a dollar store tin foil pan and re-heating over a grill or fire. Many campgrounds offer community grills. You only need to bring charcoal. But you can pick up a small camping grill at a sporting goods store for $25-30. Worth every penny if you plan to go camping more than once. Or that same grill is perfect for tailgating or family picnics at a park!  

As far as what to do - the question is - what NOT to do! The beauty of camping is that the kids are entertained just running around in the woods near your site! But most campgrounds offer playgrounds, pools, beaches, hiking trails, bike paths, fishing, boating and more!


 Here is a good starter list to follow when packing for your first trip:
Tent/camper                                                                 folding camping chairs
Bedding/pillows/air mattress or pad                               flashlights
small grill & propane                                                    plastic tablecloth
tin foil trays to cook in                                                  BABY WIPES (trust me)
serving/cooking utensils                                                paper & lighter for campfire
paper goods                                                                marshmallows
cooler                                                                          bug spray, sun screen, aloe
food & drinks                                                              first aid kit (cuts & bug bites happen)
toiletries                                                                       towels
playing cards                                                                camera

Other Tips:
~Pack warm clothes & hats - even in the summer. It can get chilly at night.
~Research the area for indoor activities - you don't want to be stuck in a tent on a rainy day.
~Make sure you arrive with plenty of daylight - setting up in the dark is hard even for seasoned campers.
~First timers go local - so if disaster strikes, you are close to home. (and you can run home for all the things   you forget)

So go ahead and give camping a try this summer. There are thousands of campgrounds everywhere. From mountains to lakes to the ocean. Check your local state parks, national parks, and private campgrounds like KOA. Some are rugged with little amenities and others have scheduled activities like arts & crafts and hayrides! Once you get over your fear and go, you'll never look back. Go out, unplug and enjoy nature with your kidz!

Other Resources:
Reserve America - great for booking campgrounds both state & private
Camp Jellystone  - great for little kids and families that want a lot of activities
 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Long Trips with Kidz - A Survival Guide

When I grew up, we drove EVERYWHERE. My mom was terrified of flying. So we quickly got used to long car rides. Now that I have kidz of my own, I'd prefer to fly but it's cheaper to drive. And sometimes we go places that are not near an airport. People think I'm crazy to get in the car for 19 hours with my kidz. But I have to say, they are pretty good about it. They, like me, have been dragged up and down the eastern seaboard several times. So here are my tips to a successful long trip (this can apply to long airplanes trips as well).

1. If your kids will sleep in the car (mine won't) leave in the middle of the night! If you can scoop them out of bed & drive, that is a good bunch of uninterrupted hours! I've tried this but by the time I am out of the shower, they are up, dressed, with suitcases in hand!

2. Hide some car friendly toys about a month before you go. Then pack a car bag for each child with those toys and some new ones. I usually load up at the dollar store & buy silly things. You'd be surprised how entertaining a birthday blower is! (Just get the ones that DON'T make noise!) Ideas for what to put in that bag:
  • paper, pencils, crayons etc
  • MP3 player & earbuds
  • books, magazines
  • electronics (Kindle, iPad etc)
  • magnet dolls, puzzle games, matchbox cars, legos, a soft pillow for naps
3.  Timing is EVERYTHING! I try to think of the trip in hour long blocks of time. Since my kids are relatively small (9 & 7), we usually need to pit stop every 3 hours. So NO DRINKS for at least the first hour. No electronics for the first hour. We play games like I Spy, 20 questions, licence plate game. The second hour can be food and drinks - but small sips - trying to reduce pit stops is key! Third hour is electronics, but no movie just yet. PIT STOP. Again first hour no food or electronics. hour 2-3 movie. PIT STOP. You've just completed 6 hours successfully! Now rotate these for the next 6.

4. Effective Pit Stops: Make sure you can get gas, use the restroom & get supplies ALL IN ONE STOP. In NY and NJ there are roadside pit stops that have this, everywhere else on I-95 does NOT. The rest areas on 95 or 81 are bathrooms & vending machines only. So if you have food & gas, then use these. I usually bring a ball, jump ropes and/or Frisbee for these types of stops. 15 minutes of running around will save your sanity later on!

5. IF you are driving far enough that you need 2 days, we try to do as much as we can the first day. By the second day, the kids are SHOT! So haul it on the first day & try to stay at a hotel with an indoor pool that is open LATE. That way, you can roll in at 10pm, let the kids swim for an hour, and still get to sleep at a relatively decent time. I try to leave less than 6 hours for the second day.

6. Finally, be flexible! Especially if this is your first or second major car trip with the kidz. Have several plans as for where to stop, because your intended goal may not happen. Have a change of clothes available because one of your kidz may get car sick (yes that happened to us). Have plenty of snacks & food items because you don't always get hungry near a McDonalds. And remember, the journey should be part of the whole adventure. So take a deep breath and embrace the sillies at hour 12!

I hope this helps!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ocean City Maryland - a Beach Goers Paradise!

So if you live on the East Coast and love to go to the beach, this is the place for you. I know there are die hard Jersey Shore lovers out there, but this is not much farther and is SO MUCH BETTER! (I might lose some readers over that statement). The OC MD as it's called, has everything to offer - HUGE, clean beaches (that you do not have to pay to go on and can bring coolers etc), tons of activities, restaurants for every palate and budget, watersports, shopping....you name it! So let's dive in!

Where to stay?

 There are a LOT of options in Ocean City. Many of which include condos. Personally this is my favorite way to go. Condos usually have a balcony, kitchen & the all important washer/dryer! You can get ocean front, ocean side, bay front, bayside or anything in between. Condo rentals usually go through realtors, so you can contact Coldwell Banker, Long & Foster , or Holiday Real estate to find something that suits your family and your budget. We prefer to stay around 100th street - the beach isn't quite as wide (but totally wide enough), lots of families with kids up that way, easier access to nearby Bethany and Rehoboth.

Not into a condo? well there are hunderds of hotels to choose from. Too many to list here. They all have different amenities from beachfront tiki bars to indoor pools, happy hours to kids club. Whatever you are looking for can be accomodated. Some have kitchenettes too!

My only advice for staying in Ocean City is to stay further north of the boardwalk during peak summer season. Most of the rentals on or near the boardwalk are dominated by the college kids that come to live and work for the summer. Not very kid friendly.

What to do?

Honestly it might be easier to write about what NOT to do. Of course there is the gorgeous beach. And at many of the access walkways are the beach rentals. You will see them set up as you hit the beach. They rent chairs, umbrellas, etc. daily or weekly. What is nice is they will set up your umbrella first thing in the morning, so you can meander out whenever you choose!

Watersports - OC MD is a mecca for watersports! From fishing, to jet skis, to boat rentals to parasailing. They've got it all! Check out OC Watersports. Action Watersports, or 48th street Watersports for more info. Or check out The Rocket if you really want a thrill. We've never done this but have always wanted to!

Entertainment - you can find just about anything in OC for you and the kidz. There's tons of mini golf, rides, water parks, and more! So much to do both on and off the boardwalk! Check out Old Pro Golf, Jolly Roger, and OC MD Boardwalk.



 The Carousel at 118th street oceanfront has an indoor ice skating rink!! My kids had a blast ice skating at the beach! Don't forget to check out nearby Assateague Island. It is a National Park so there are fees for some parts. Go and walk around, bring a bike, go swimming at their gorgeous beaches and see all of the widlife, including wild ponies!! Or stay and camp right on the beach!

Where to Eat?

Again, this is really based on personal preference and budget, but there is something for everyone in OC MD!  I will only recommend places we have been. But check out OC Restaurants for more comprehensive info.

Budget:
  • Our favorite boardwalk snack is Thrasher Fries It's really more a meal than a snack. No visit to OC can miss these delicious and famous spuds!
  • Brass Balls Saloon between 11th & 12th street on the boardwalk has the best breakfast on the beach! Get the biscuit & you won't need lunch! YUM!  Sit outside & don't let the name scare you!
  • Lombardi's at 94th street Bayside is hands down the BEST pizza in OC! They've got a great menu but the pizza here is not to be missed!
  • MR Ducks on Talbot street right on the bay has an affordable menu and beautiful views. KID TIP - it can get a rowdy bar crowd so go early or get a sitter & go later!
Moderate:
  • BJ's on the water is our favorite moderately priced restaurant in OC MD! It is bayfront, great food, and excellent service. Enjoy sunset sitting indoors or out - they've got a wall of windows.
  • If you are into the All-You-Can-Eat buffet, there are plenty in OC to satisfy that craving! But our favorite is Embers - TIP wear elastic waist pants!
  • Looking for a little Luck O' the Irish? Look no further than Shenanigans. This falls between Budget and Moderate. They've got a great sandwich menu and more moderately priced entrees. Live music some nights. Outdoor dining oceanfront.
Pricey (but worth it):
  • Harpoon Hannah's is technically just over the border in Fenwick, DE. They've got an incredible menu, bayfront dining and great service. If you pick 1 night to go out for a nice dinner, this is the place. Laid back atmosphere, beautiful sunsets and kid friendly.
  • Jordan's in the Fenwick Inn on 138th street has AMAZING views of all of OC and Fenwick. 
Date Night:
  • The Hobbit at 81st and the bay is the perfect date night. Make a reservation for sunset and be prepared for yummy food and lots of romance!
  • Looking for something more upbeat? Check out Seacrets at 49th street on the bay. Be transported to a tropical island getaway on college spring break!
  • Again, just over the border but worth the extra travel is the Nantucket Great food, beautiful decor and excellent service.  
Farther Away but Worth The Trip:
  •  About 15 minutes north on RT 1 is The Cottage Cafe in Bethany Beach. Totally kid friendly, great happy hour specials, excellent food and service!
  • about 30-40 minutes north is Rehoboth Beach. A must eat (and more importantly drink) stop is the Dogfish Brew Pub. If you are into craft beers, you CANNOT come to the area and miss this. Besides the great brews, they've got a great menu and restaurant that is totally kid friendly!

BUDGET TIP: Go in the off season for great deals! We've been known to go on a warm weekend in February - but we're kinda obsessed. May is gorgeous, but some things on the boardwalk may not be open yet and the water may be too cold to swim. Our favorite is early September. If you homeschool (like us), the first 2 weeks after the kids go back to school is the BEST time to go! Everything is still in full swing, half the crowds, warm ocean water & GREAT DEALS!!!


Like I said, it would be easier to list what NOT to see/eat/do in OC MD! And the surrounding areas are just as great. Check out slower paced Bethany Beach and shoppers paradise Rehoboth for the outlet stores. OC MD gets the WIN for family friendly beach getaway on ANY budget!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

New York City

There is so much to do and see in NYC that it is hard to narrow down. It totally depends on your budget, how much time you have and what your interests are. There is literally something for everyone! We are lucky enough to live where we can go in and out on day trips via Metro North. So here are some of our favorites!

The Museum of Natural History is one of the best places for kids. But be aware that it is HUGE and might be hard to do all in one day. There are multiple floors, Hayden Planetarium, and special exhibits going on all the time. If you want to do it all, it can be expensive. However if you are content to walk through just the museum - guess what? It's a SUGGESTED DONATION so you can pay whatever you  feel is appropriate!!!!


Not much needs to be said about The Bronx Zoo This place is amazing and has hundreds (if not thousands) of outdoor and indoor exhibits. From seals, to bats, to butterflies, there is something for everyone. We recommend getting a membership if you live close enough. 2-3 visits and it's paid for! Plus it includes the Central Park Zoo, The NY Aquarium, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo. If not, definitely get the Total Experience Tickets - this allows unlimited entry to all of the special exhibits not included in your general ticket price - the bug carousel, the butterfly house, the Congo, the children's zoo, the 4D movie, wild Asia monorail, zoo shuttle. If you pay a la carte for these things, it will cost a lot more. Sometimes if you go in the off season (early spring, late fall, winter) you can get into Congo for free. For the tight budget, go on Wednesdays - it's free (donations are requested) but does not include exhibits mentioned above.  However this is the most crowded day of the week! Parking is $15 regardless of ticket price. If you are lucky, you can find street parking.




Times Square is in the heart of midtown Manhattan. A visit to NYC cannot miss this! Technically around the area of Broadway and 42nd street, here you will find all the lights, sights and sounds you would expect in NYC. For kids, check out M&M World on Broadway between 49th & 48th streets (FREE). Even if you buy nothing (which will be tough) it's worth it to see the hundreds of varieties of M&M's you never knew existed! Go on the M&M simulator to find out what M&M personality you are. BUDGET HINT: Buy a pack of M&M's for your kids BEFORE you go in and promise it to them after you leave to avoid the expensive candy inside. Then try Toys R Us on Broadway between 44th and 45th streets (FREE). It has an ice cream shop and indoor carousel for a fee. A giant robotic dinosaur and a life size Barbie house! Definitely catch a show on or off Broadway. If you aren't picky, try the TKTS discount booth for last minute deals. And for an awesome view of the city with virtually no lines and for the cost of a drink, go to The View restaurant in the Marriott Marquis located at Broadway and 46th street. The restaurant is at the top of the hotel, it rotates slowly and offers amazing views of the city all while sitting and relaxing and having a cocktail. Reservations for lunch or dinner are suggested but if you go up before 5 (especially weekdays), you shouldn't have a problem getting a great seat. It costs less than the observation decks at the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. And you can bring the KIDS! However, if your children are of the loud, high energy brood, I would skip this.

Rockefeller Center is another must see - especially around Christmas time! The tree, the skaters, the holiday windows are sure to put you in a festive mood. We recommend going early, as it gets more and more crowded as the day goes on. You could go to the Top of the Rock for incredible views of the city (FEE). Within Rockefeller center is Lego store. See a Lego rendition of Rockefeller Center and a giant snake! 5th Avenue is world famous for it's shopping. Right around the corner is St. Patrick's Cathedral located at 5th Avenue between 50th & 51st streets. It is stunning. Be aware that it is currently being restored and has scaffolding inside and out. This is scheduled to be there until at least the end of 2014. Nearby is Radio City Music Hall - home to the famous Rockettes. If you can, catch a show! Located on the Avenue of the Americas between 50th & 51st streets. Finally for the little (and big) girls in your group, The American Girl store is located at 5th avenue on 49th street.


If you head south of Midtown, there is more to see! The High Line is a gorgeous elevated walkway that runs along 10th avenue from Gansevoort Street to 30th (FREE). Check out South Street Seaport - it now has an ice skating rink! Take The Circle Line for cruises around Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty (FEE).  Of course there is the iconic Empire State Building where you can go up to the observation deck for a fee. And last but not least is the World Trade Center Memorial located at Liberty Street. While you are downtown, check out Chinatown and Little Italy for amazing eats!

So I know we have just scratched the surface and we have left out a TON of other things. But I hope this will help you plan a successful, stress free visit to NYC with your KIDS!