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July 1, 2014

Compelling History and Science in St Augustine

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 5:15 am
Rich in heritage and nature, St. Augustine holds the perfect balance of education & entertainment. My homeschooling family revitalized our love of learning with visits to well-preserved historical monuments, pristine natural environments & off-beat attractions.
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Historical Powerhouses

Castillo De San Marcos National Monument

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History comes alive at Castillo De San Marcos, the last remaining 17th century fort in North America. The unique architecture and original coquina walls provide an intense backdrop for re-enactors who give presentations in period dress. As an added bonus, explore the archaeological site of the rock quarry used in construction of Castillo De San Marcos, located nearby, at Anastasia State Park. Curriculum Materials Available
Impressions: My son, 12, has visited quite a few forts in the southeastern region. He was impressed by the stark differences in design & construction. Of course, he enjoyed walking the gundeck to view the historical weapons.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum

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The pinnacle of our visit to this classic lighthouse was climbing to the top to experience what the keepers went through to provide an invaluable service. Although we began our self-guided tour with the climb, I suggest first visiting the museum. The museum provides a wealth of information about the history of the lighthouse and its keepers that will instill a greater appreciation for the climb to the top!
Impressions: My sons, 10 & 12, both paid much of their attention to the architecture of the lighthouse. They also enjoyed the exhibits that allowed visitors to experience the weight keeper’s usually hauled to the top.

Pirate & Treasure Museum

The interactive treasure hunt through this museum took us on a journey discovering the truth behind the myths of pirate lore. Who were these infamous bearded sailors who still capture our imagination to this day and what were their lives really like? Try your hand at sailing skills as you find clues scattered among a curious atmosphere that connects you to the days of flying the skull & crossbones. Curriculum Materials Available
Impressions: A well-blended mix of entertainment and history, the museum’s interactive exhibits & treasure hunt fueled the boys’ curiosity throughout our visit.

Other Historical Sites worth visiting: 

Fort Matanzas National MonumentCurriculum materials available 
Fountain of Youth Park Archaeological Park - Curriculum materials available soon

Exploring Nature

Anastasia State Park

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With over 4 miles of beautiful beach to explore and a full service campground, we found this clean park to be the perfect location to set up Homeschool Headquarters. The campground even offers a bedtime book-lending program for young campers.  Before beginning your expeditions, view the sunrise from the beach or boardwalk and return to enjoy a swim and a bite to eat from the cafe. Explore the park by foot, on the nature trails or by renting fun watersports equipment from the on-site outfitter. Educational Events
Impressions: A pleasant camping experience with well-respected cleanliness and quiet time observations. Water & electric, picnic table & fire ring available at all sites. Restrooms include locking shower stalls.

Ripple Effect Eco Tours 

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Guided kayaking tours of the one-of-a-kind GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve. We were fortunate to witness dolphins in the wild, after our up-close-and-personal visit to Marineland Dolphin Adventure. Kayaking, with our guide, strengthened our spirit of conservation with hands-on learning experiences. Find more educational experiences and resources for teaching about GTMNERR here: http://gtmnerr.org/
Impressions: My son, 12, described this as, “becoming one with nature.” He felt a close connection with planet earth, gliding along the water as the guide rattled off information that my son soaked up like a sponge.

Alligator Farm Zoological Park

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A unique look at some of earth’s most misrepresented creatures, this zoo helps us better appreciate the lives of alligators, crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles. Fascinating wildlife demonstrations, feedings and exhibits shine a new light on these eerie animals. The park showcases the relationship between alligators and a variety of bird species along a boardwalk path. Visitors can experience the birds-eye view by opting to complete the Crocodile Crossing aerial obstacle course. The thrilling course zips and zooms through the treetops above the animal enclosures. Read more about the educational and teacher resources available here:
Impressions: My sons were completely enthralled by this zoo. The alligator feeding, boardwalk path and fossil hunting tent really captured their attention. Have some coins available to purchase some tidbits for feeding the birds & alligators. Educational Resources

Getting Around with Ripley’s Red Train

Located at Ripley’s Odditorium, the Red Train offers sightseeing tours with over 20 stops throughout St. Augustine. Parking our car at Ripley’s and taking the Red Train saved us the time and aggravation of navigating an unfamiliar town. We also toured Ripley’s Odditorium, while we were there. It’s a great place to wander and wonder at the bizarre nature of own species!
Disclosure: Thanks to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau for the complimentary experience for my family and me.  While I appreciate their generosity, the opinions here are my own.
About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook andTwitter.

June 25, 2014

A Marineland Dolphin Adventure Homeschool Fieldtrip

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 11:27 am

With its roots in conservation, Marineland Dolphin Adventure near St Augustine, Florida is on call to provide aide to injured sea animals in the area. The staff of Marineland do everything they can to save and support injured sea life and return it to the waters, if possible. They also offer dolphin encounters of many types as a means of encouraging and inspiring visitors to respect marine mammals and their environment.  Educational programs include Touch and Feed opportunities, summer camps, immersion encounters, observation stations, and more.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

Our visit to Marineland Dolphin Adventure began with a tour of the complex to gain some insight into Marineland operations and to meet some of the creatures who call this place home. We first met a pair of sea turtles who came to Marineland after becoming injured and unable to support themselves in the wild.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

We learned of Marineland’s history, which originally began as a movie studio and window to the sea. We then moved onto the aquarium room, which contained a variety of sea life from living octopi to horseshoe crabs and fish. Our timing was perfect because one of the staff was there, ready to feed some of the animals. Feeding time was truly a treat. My son was even able to spot a sea star that had been hiding, unseen, for quite a while. The staff member was very excited that he could now report that he’d seen it!

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

We watched a week-old dolphin calf, swimming with its mother. It’s always special to witness mothers with their children in the animal kingdom. It was interesting to learn that none of the animals here were removed from their wild habitats. That practice has ended, but the dolphins here continued to mate and produce future generations of animals that we enjoy today.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

The staff interactions, as well as my own experience with the dolphins, struck me as a relationship we, as humans, have with our dogs, horses and other animal companions. As we anticipated this experience, I expected to meet a wild animal, which was not at all the case.  Just a note, though, that it is important to heed the trainers’ instructions on how to properly interact with the dolphins.

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Above all, my favorite portion of our dolphin encounter was learning about the anatomy of these powerful creatures. Our family was assigned a dolphin named, “Lily,” for our encounter. The trainer had Lily come near us so we could get an up close look at her muscular, streamlined body. We were able to feel her thick, smooth skin as we rubbed her belly like a friendly pooch. Lily gave us a look inside her mouth to see her conical teeth and we learned how to tell the difference between male and female dolphins. She surprised us with a blast of air from her blowhole, and showed us the power behind her tail with a big splash.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

We spent the rest of our encounter in wonder at this intelligent being and her abilities to interact with other species. The encounter gave my family a better appreciation for the intelligence and power of these animals.  We learned about the challenges they face in the wild. It was truly an unforgettable experience.

Marineland Dolphin Adventure

Once our immersion experience was over, we took the Ripple Effect Eco Tour for an opportunity to view some of these magnificent beings in the wild. I highly recommend a Dolphin Encounter and Ripple Effect Eco Tour as part of your homeschooling experience.

 

 

Disclosure: Thank you to Marineland Dolphin Encounter for the complimentary experience for my family and me.  While I appreciate their generosity, the opinions here are my own. I also appreciate their assistance in taking many of the photos shown here.

 

About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook andTwitter.

 

May 23, 2014

Places You Won’t Want To Miss in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 5:27 am

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is the perfect place to enjoy the beach, explore, learn and have fun with family and friends. As a homeschool mom of two active boys I am always looking for places we can visit that will be both fun and educational. The Brunswick Islands deliver on both accounts. Here are a few places you and your children are sure to enjoy!

 

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Historic Site

This site is host to several special events so it would be the perfect field trip to follow a study on the Civil War.  If you would like to do a study with your kids around Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson but don’t know where to gather your information I would encourage you to visit their website as it offers some great historical materials, including books, that you can use during your history lesson.  This is THE perfect place to take a step back in time.

When visiting this Pre-Revolutionary port on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River you may bump into an archaeologist as this is one of the sites in the United States where artifacts are still being discovered. You will have the opportunity to learn about and walk through the town of Brunswick, Fort Anderson and St. Philip’s Anglican Church.  Then, you won’t want to miss the indoor museum and historical video that is shown in the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Visitors Center.

 

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North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport

This one room museum is full of fascinating facts, rich history and fun. Keep your curious little ones busy with a scavenger hunt that will reap a great reward when completed or enjoy one of the many educational programs that they offer.  North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport  provides several program topics for groups that include Pirates, Civil War Blockade Runners, People and the Sea, Water and Weather and many more.  They also offer Historic Costumed Guided  Tours, lectures and Hands on activities specifically for Homeschool Groups.

 

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Ingram Planetarium

This is a fabulous place to visit for all of those little, and big, star gazers out there.  The Planetarium offers several shows including Undiscovered Worlds, Astronaut, Dynamic Earth, Seven Wonders, Led Zeppelin and more.  The Astronaut show is amazing! After watching it your children will want to head to the beach to gaze at the stars and find all those constellations they learned about in the movie.

The Paul Dennis Science Hall is located in the same building as the Planetarium.  It is small with some fun hands on exhibits.  Be prepared to experience Category 1 hurricane force winds in their Hurricane Simulator.  The Science Hall is free to visit and the Simulator costs $2 to enjoy.

The Ingram Planetarium hosts several educational seminars so be sure to check out their website before visiting as you may want to plan your field trip or vacation around their special events.

 

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Museum of Coastal Carolina

Great museum for those who are curious and love the ocean.  This museum contains a lot of educational, hands on and informative exhibits and galleries.  Their Ocean Reef Gallery is amazing.  If you want to experience walking on the ocean floor without actually walking on the ocean floor then you have to visit the Museum of Coastal Carolina’s Ocean Reef Gallery.  It is one of the most informative and unique exhibits that I have experienced.  My family and I could have spent all day figuring out which sea creatures were “swimming’ around us.

The museum also has a very large touch tank that kids and adults will love, a fun area with a boat for the little kids to play in, and a fossil dig for everyone. This museum is a great learning experience that you will not want to miss out on!

The museum hosts several community and family events.  So check out their website before visiting so you can plan accordingly.  You may want to try to schedule your visit around the Touch Tank Feeding!

 

There is so much to do in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.  Whether you are planning a family vacation, field trip for your homeschool group or a day trip make sure you set aside some time to relax at one of their beautiful beaches!

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About the Author

Jennifer is a homeschooling mom who loves to get out and explore with her husband and two very active boys. Visit her at her at Jennventures.com, then share your adventures with her on twitter at @JennParkerson . She’s also on Google+

March 30, 2014

Tuscana Resort Orlando is a “suite” deal for families

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 6:22 am

Dreaming of Disney? Longing for LEGOLAND?  Orlando is the place to be this year, with plenty to do inside and outside the major theme parks.  Did you know the average daytime winter temperature in Orlando is around 70 degrees? My family and I made our way south this winter and had a wonderful time! It was our respite from the snow! While there, we stayed at Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston, and we loved it! Here are five reasons you should consider a stay there, as well.

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  • Location, Location, Location. Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and LEGOLAND are all just minutes away from Tuscana Resort Orlando. Thrilling rides, the wonders of the ocean’s depths, interactive experiences, and miniature cities made of LEGOs are perfect for families and kids at heart.
  • More room than a hotel. Tuscana Resort Orlando offers two- and three-bedroom suites, ideal for families.  It felt more like a home than a hotel.  We stayed in a two-bedroom, with queen beds and a full bath in each room.  Separate living and dining spaces, and a fully equipped kitchen were perfect for our family.  My favorite part of the stay was eating dinner on the screened-in patio. Multiple TVs, DVD players, a washer and dryer, and internet access were the icing on the cake.
  • Save on meals. The kitchen was fitting for making healthy and affordable meals for our family.  It was filled with dishes, glasses, silver, and plenty of utensils for making anything from lasagna to tacos to soup. Publix Supermarket was less than a five-minute drive from the Resort, so it was easy to stock-up.
  • Plenty to do onsite. While the nearby theme parks are world class, there is also a myriad of activities at Tuscana Resort Orlando.  We enjoyed the zero-entry pool, with a kid’s area, jet spa, and fitness center. Need to get out of the sun? The 30-seat movie theater is available for watching a flick – free! Also available: a bar, restaurant, and picnic area.
  • Discounts. Throughout 2014, Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston is offering a LEGOLAND® package that includes two adult LEGOLAND Florida park tickets with second day free admission.

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Disclosure: Thank you to Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston for their complementary contributions to our Orlando adventure.   While we appreciate their kindness, it never deters us from reporting our honest opinion. Find Lesli on Google+.

March 19, 2014

Jekyll Island: A budget-friendly educational family vacation

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 2:33 pm

Jekyll Island, Georgia offers a variety of inexpensive and highly educational options to help you create a fantastic family vacation. It has been my go-to budget beach vacation for years. The first visit was centered around visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to satisfy my son’s desire to learn about turtles. Since that time, we have made several more trips to Jekyll and the surrounding area. But, Jekyll’s family atmosphere and budget-friendly options hold a special place in my heart.

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There are several important points to consider before deciding on Jekyll as your destination.

  • Jekyll Island requires that a parking pass be purchased for the duration of your stay. It’s important to note that Jekyll Island is not covered by your Georgia State ParkPass. It is covered, instead, by GORP (Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass). The cost is $6 per 24hrs or $28 for a seven-day pass.
  • Fill your gas tank before heading onto the island. The first time we stayed there, there was either no gas station or it was currently unavailable. We made this mistake and almost ran out of gas trying to get back to mainland to fill up! The last time I visited, there was one gas station and it’s prices did not compare well with the mainland.
  • Purchase food, for your stay, before you enter Jekyll Island. Jekyll has been growing up since the first time I visited several years ago. But, the first time was my lesson to pack in our food. Once your at Jekyll, you’re at the mercy of the very limited selection of places to purchase your everyday snack and meal food.

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Staying the night:

Lodging options, on Jekyll Island, vary according to your level of comfort and budget. There happens to be a campground near Driftwood Beach for tent campers or those with an RV. While this isn’t my ideal camp and doesn’t offer much in the way of seclusion for campers, it can greatly reduce your costs. For a measly $28 a night, tent campers will have electricity, water, and possibly even wi-fi! That’s a tremendous discount from the usual hotel/motel rates on Jekyll.

Our hotel of choice, on Jekyll, is always the Days Inn. While the rates may be a bit higher than some of the other more budget-friendly options, it was worth the splurge for me. First, being semi-secluded from the other hotels on Jekyll, it offers prime beach access with little traffic other than the hotel’s own guests. I prefer this as it makes it easier to relax, enjoy and keep an eye on the kids playing near or in the ocean. It also offers a complimentary breakfast with a view that can’t be beat – watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. For someone like me, who is usually forced to camp for vacation due to budget-restrictions, this is luxury. TIP: Choose an island-side room for a lower cost than an oceanview room. There is really no benefit to choosing an oceanview room. The hotel also provides two swimming pools for your enjoyment.

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Educational itinerary:

Jekyll Island is a treasure trove of educational entertainment that is fun for the whole family. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the crown gem of Jekyll Island, offering fun & informative exhibits and programs. Take a walk through the center, engaging in interactive exhibits before heading to the, “Sea Turtle Hospital,” where you can get a close-up look at how they care for their rescued sea turtles. You can stay for one of the educational talks, RSVP to go on an evening “turtle walk,” and find souvenirs. I highly recommend taking the kids on one of the turtle walks. Admission is a cool $7/adult, $5/child, and free for 3 & under. *Turtle walks are additional cost

Tidelands Nature Center is another great opportunity for inexpensive and interesting edutainment. For $4 admission, you have access to a touch tank and many other native animals such as turtles, alligators, crabs, snakes, and more. If you are adventurous, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat for $15/hour and explore the waters. Guided Nature Walks ($3-$5) will pair you with an expert to explore the beach and ecology. There are many programs held by this 4-H center, including many homeschool specific programs. Check out their website while planning your vacation to include the dates you really want!

Be sure to visit Driftwood Beach for an interesting stroll. Many people refer to it as, The Tree Graveyard. It more closely resembles a natural sculpure art exhibit, to me. The beach is covered in large driftwood trees and branches. This is due to erosion of the north end of Jekyll Island. There is a pier, some picnic places, and a nice stroll underneath some massive oaks. You will want to be aware that much of Driftwood Beach is not accessible during high tide. Tide information can be found online, or at the visitor info center.

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Five other must-have experiences on Jekyll Island:

Nature Trails – Jekyll Island is teeming with nature trails to hike and explore. These are perfect opportunities to take a closer look at beach & barrier island environment. Do some research on salt marshes before you visit, as the majority of Jekyll Island is salt marsh. Make sure you find a map at the visitor center before you set off.

Birdwatching – There are many overlooks to stop and peacefully observe the birds. Bring a few pair of binoculars and see how many you can identify during your bird watching session.

Seafood – If it’s in your budget, you should definitely choose a Seafood restaurant to serve up some fresh caught seafood for at least one evening of your stay.

Beach Time – Of course, you’ll want to hit the beach for play, exploration and maybe shell hunting. Depending on the time of year, keep your eyes open for cordoned-off sea turtle nests. I recommend using the hottest times of the day to make visits to the indoor activities on your itinerary to avoid sunburn.

The Sky – Please get up early, at least once, during your vacation to hit the beach and witness the glorious sun rise over the Atlantic. Also, don’t forget about the sky at night. The stars over Jekyll offer an opportunity to search out the constellations – and, do a quick search to find out if there will be any meteor showers during your vacation time.

One more suggestion. Use the map to find the Jekyll Island post office and send your relatives a postcard from your vacation. You can also send one to yourself and see if it arrives at your home before or after you!

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About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

February 9, 2014

Kids travel contest: WIN A PRIVATE ISLAND FAMILY VACATION

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 6:47 pm

If you are looking for a way to get your kids excited about a writing project, this just might be the trick! Eagle Island, Georgia is giving one lucky family the chance of a lifetime.

“Why I Want to Win a Vacation on a Private Island With my Family”

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 Eagle Lodge

 

Eagle Island, Georgia (February 2014)  Eagle Island, Georgia is a private island that is perfect for families to spend time together without interruption that even children recognize as memorable. With children online helping their families choose vacation destinations more than ever before, Eagle Island owner Cap’t. Andy Hill is inviting children (ages 9-16) to enter a contest and win a 3-night vacation getaway for up to eight family members.

 

THE CONTEST IS EASY: Write up to 150 words about “Why I want to vacation on a private island with my Family”.

 

WHY FAMILIES ARE VACATIONING TOGETHER: The moments families spend together on vacation– parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins – are among the most cherished memories they remember and document. And when the whole clan gathers for a shared adventure, those times become forever engraved in the albums and archives of the family story to be retold over and over with smiles & laughter.

 

Geographically, families live farther away from each other than at any time in history so they are planning ‘Milestone Vacations’ such as a birthday, family reunion or anniversary. The essence of multi-generational travel is to share new experiences together that will grow in meaning and significance with time. The children recognize this equally with their family and often get involved in planning the family activities and meals.

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Private Eagle Island with Boat Dock

 

OFFICIAL RULES

 

How to Enter Contest:

Children 9-16 years of age submit 150 words via email about “Why I want to vacation  on a private island with my Family” to: leighcort@bellsouth.net . It is optional for the entry to include a photo of the child or the family. All submitted entries become the property of Private Islands of Georgia and will not be returned.

 

WHO CAN ENTER:  Children 9 – 16 years of age. There are no substitutions or transfer of prizes. Prizes are not redeemable for cash. By acceptance of prizes, winners consent to use of their names and/or photographs for publicity purposes without further compensation.

 

GRAND PRIZE:

Grand Prize must be redeemed for vacation in August 2014 ~ weekdays only (based on availability of Eagle Lodge).

 

The prize includes:

  • Three weekday nights on Eagle Island, Georgia for family up to 8 people
  • Roundtrip boat transportation from the mainland of Darien, Georgia to Eagle Island provided by www.PrivateIslandsofGeorgia.com
  • Private Islands of Georgia Cooler Tote and Koozie
  • Eagle Island Cap
  • Five-Moon BBQ Sauce

 

Winner will be notified by June 1, 2014.

 

DEADLINE:

Contest entry deadline is May 15, 2014.

 

JUDGING:

Entries will be judged on originality, reviewed by Cap’t. Andy Hill.

On Eagle Island, families watch for beautiful birds and coastal Georgia wildlife. Catch fish and blue crabs off the Eagle Island dock. Go kayaking…Enjoy evenings at the bonfire telling stories, making S’mores and watching constellations overhead. Cook and eat together on this 10-acre private island where kids find fun and wholesome adventures, read a book or simply relax and enjoy the natural environment!

December 17, 2013

Stay and Play in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Filed under: Travel — Rebecca Kochenderfer @ 6:47 am

San Miguel de Allende is a quaint village in middle Mexico, only about 170 miles from Mexico City.  Cobblestone streets and brightly painted facades beckon visitors from around the globe.  11,000 expatriates call San Miguel home, hailing from Canada, Europe, and America.  In fact, San Miguel has one of the largest American communities in Mexico – large enough to warrant a US consulate. Why San Miguel de Allende? The food. The architecture. The history.  Be forewarned: You might not want to leave!

Stay and Play in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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Below are two of my favorite activities from my most recent visit to San Miguel de Allende.

Take a Cooking Class. Nothing epitomizes an exotic culture more than its food.  I took a class from Petit Four Bakery with Chef Paco, and relished every moment.  We began with a trip to the local market where Paco pointed out the freshest fruits and vegetables, and introduced us to the vendors who haul their wares from the local countryside.  From there we donned an apron at Paco’s home. He walked us through a hands-on lesson in preparing a few seasonal favorites, including cactus salad, squash blossom soup, and aqua fresca. Delicioso!

Walk the StreetsEach Monday, Wednesday and Friday you can tour the town of San Miguel de Allende with a local guide.  Be sure to do this at the beginning of your trip; it is a fun way to acclimate yourself to the colonial town. Saunter the narrow streets, lined with colorful walls and ornate doors.  You’ll receive lively and informative insight about the best places to enjoy local eats, and the local history. I also enjoyed the Sunday Home Tour as another way to meet other English-speaking visitors.

STAY

Here are two accommodation options for your stay in San Miguel de Allende.

Affordable. Casa Mia are spacious apartment-like suites, ideal for larger families or extended stays.  Enjoy a fully-equipped kitchen (perfect, since you now know how to navigate the local markets,) private baths, internet access, and more.  Budget $80 – 100 per night.

Indulgence.  Casa Misha offers you luxury and pampering. Relax in handsomely furnished rooms, each uniquely designed with French and Mexican antiques.  The spa-like baths, and supple pillows and sheets invite you to stay, but the distinctive views from each private terrace remind you of the avant-garde town that awaits. Budget (a well spent) $300 per night.

 

 

November 25, 2013

Christmas Spectacular with The Rockettes

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:16 pm

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Bright and bold tinsel deck the mall.  The annual showing of Rudolph has been announced on prime-time. The empty street corners are laden with evergreen trees, wreaths, and boughs.  Yet, nothing quite says, “Christmas is here!” like THE Christmas Spectacular, especially the high-kicking, jaw-dropping stars of the show, The Rockettes!

When they announced a visit to Atlanta for the second year in a row, I was ecstatic. I was also determined to bring my (eighty-something year-young) Mother-in-Law who remembers them from her days as a child growing up in New Jersey. Imagine my elation when we were given the opportunity to not only see the show, but dance with a real Rockette beforehand!

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Melinda Farrell, who has been dancing with this precision team for several years, graciously spent an hour with a small group of us (age 5 to 85.)  After a long muscle stretch we learned a fun step-routine. There were pops and pivets, turns and twirls! She showed us two types of kicks and the magical step of the Toy Soldier dance. That was special, since every Rockette since 1932 has performed Toy Soldier for audiences across the country.

The Rockettes have left Atlanta, but they are still traveling and possibly on their way to your city!

West Palm, FL (11/29 – 12/8)

Tampa, FL (12/12 – 12/29)

New York, NY (11/1 – 12/31)

Nashville, TN (11/16 – 12/24)

Use the code GOGO (in New York it’s GOGOSZ) for a special discount: 4 tickets for the price of 3 (or 25% off up to four tickets) on select performances.

I really appreciate the team at GoGosqueeZ who made this night possible.  The opinions here are honest and completely my own. But really, who doesn’t love watching (and dancing with) the Rockettes? The Rockettes and GoGosqueeZ make it fun to #GoGoPlayfully with your whole family.

Want to join us in a dance class? Here are a few of our moves!

I was also lucky enough to be joined by my friend and fellow blogger of Stress-Free, Baby, who shot these Super Secrets of the Rockettes!

 

 

 

November 13, 2013

RIU Palace Peninsula: Family-friendly & all-inclusive in Cancun, Mexico

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 4:36 am

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While in Cancun for our 100% fun and 100% educational vacation we called Riu Palace Peninsula our home base.  RIU Palace Peninsula is an all-inclusive resort in Cancun; our family of four visited at the end of summer. We enjoyed the clean and inviting pools, each with their own personality. Even with five incredible pools, we spent plenty of time on the beach. We loved the diverse beach topography with both rocky edges and soft sand. The best part? It was easy for our family to go back and forth between the pools and beaches, and in and out of this luxurious all-inclusive.  RIU Palace Peninsula is definitely a place we recommend to our friends!

About Our Room

The suite worked well for our family of four.  There were two queen sized beds with ample space for our luggage and pack-n-play (provided by the hotel.)  It also included a sofa (which could be used for sleeping) and a small table for having a snack. There is a bathtub in the middle of the room between the beds and bathroom area.  While this isn’t a problem with younger children, families will be happy to know there is a privacy curtain that can be pulled across the room.

The room was exceptionally clean. They are decorated with a modern flare, with crisp white furniture and splashes of deep purple.  The floors were tiled with no carpeting.  Honestly, this gave me pause at first (My youngest lives up to the name “toddler.”) but the necessity of this type of flooring became apparent on our first trip back from the beach.  Even though we used the outside sprayers to clean off residual sand, we still managed to bring a large amount back upstairs with us.  I can’t imagine having carpet in that situation; I was thankful for the tile!

One of the highlights of our room was the balcony. We were at the far end of the building, so we had an incredible view of both the lagoon and the ocean. In this strategic location we could see both the sunrise and the sunset, and we indulged in a balcony space much larger than the others. I highly recommend requesting a room at the end.

Even with a standard balcony, there is much to enjoy.  Comfy lounge chairs allow you to sit and take in views of all the pools as well as the ocean.  The railing of the balcony houses a full sheet of glass, which made me feel safe about sharing the view with the kids, and it allowed for an unobstructed view of the gorgeous Gulf.

The elevator is easy to get to, and large hallways make luggage and strollers easy to use. There were always ample towels and blankets. You will find water and sodas in the fridge in the room, with plenty of space for adding juice or bottles. For parents who drink, there is alcohol in a unit on the wall of the room (all-inclusive comprises alcoholic beverages as well.) It is out of the way, and mounted high enough to be out of reach to curious hands.

 

Facilities and Amenities – Resort

There are five pools on the property.  Two pools are for adults only – one in the adult-only villa area and one bar-pool.  The other three were plenty for our family.  There is a zero-entry pool, which my youngest delighted in.  It was long and narrow, and works well as a lap pool.  The second pool we played in was the infinity pool, which overlooked the ocean.  This pool was consistently about 4 feet deep, and my oldest enjoyed diving for colorful rings at the bottom.  The third pool we played in was perfect for cannonballs, as it was also used by the adults for water volleyball and other “sports.”  The size ensured we did not get in the way of others, but the activity in the pool made it acceptable for more kid-like activities (like a game of splash.)

beaches

Right off the pool, guests can access the beach and waters of the Gulf.  The beach on the right is a little rocky.  There is plenty of sand for burying dad or building a castle, and the boulders are fun for climbing.  The beach area in front of the pools is more traditional beach sand with no rocks. We enjoyed both areas equally, and appreciated the diverse landscape.  Be sure to take advantage of the shower areas for washing off sand before heading back into the pool area.

Non-motorized water sports are part of the all-inclusive package.  We checked out a Boogie board and snorkeling gear. Also included is a Scuba lesson in the pool. Older kids might enjoy participating in the water or sand volleyball games, or other fun activities set up by the entertainment staff.

Also, don’t overlook the Mayan ruins right on site! They are a beautiful addition to the hotel grounds.

Food Options

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are offered as buffet.  There is a large variety of food and several kid-friendly options such as fries, cereal, juice and the like.  Buffets include local fare as well as comfortable “American” food that they will easily recognize. The staff was also always ready to help us get seated and situated, and brought a high-chair for us right away.

There are several specialty restaurants on the property.  You will need to make reservations two days in advance so plan this as soon as you arrive.  We brought the kids with us to the restaurant without incident, but you can also arrange babysitting if you want to make it a special date.  We ate at Krystal; the food was delicious! While my picky eater would not venture into the new territory of haute cuisine, the staff was happy to bring him a bowl of fries and plenty of ketchup.

I cannot say enough about the staff here.  They were always willing to help.  They treated the kids with special attention and kindness. I never felt that the kids were “in the way,” even at the specialty restaurant.  It is the staff at RIU Palace Peninsula that won my heart and increased my desire to share the hotel with friends and family.

24-hour room service is available; there is a special menu for sandwiches and snacks.  We did not use room service, as we preferred to be on the beach or in the pool, but it is available and included.

Finally, there is a small shop on the main level that offers additional snacks for purchase.  We bought a bag of pretzels for a daytrip we took off the property.

beaches2

 

Location

RIU Palace Peninsula is right in the Hotel Zone of Cancun.  We rode about 20 minutes to get there from the Cancun airport.  We were within 2 -3 miles of the shopping district and downtown Cancun.

Right across the street from the hotel is one of many bus stops.  The bus is the best way to travel around Cancun.  It is safe and affordable.  A bus comes about every 3- 4 minutes to stops strategically placed along the Hotel Zone, and they run 24 hours a day.  The bus is $1 US per person; they accept American dollars or local currency.  We took the bus several times while visiting and the kids enjoyed it.

There are a number of fun activities off the resort (if you can pull yourself away.)  Visit the Mayan Museum or Crococun, take a ride in a speedboat to a snokling or diving location, visit Isla Mujeres or Riviera Maya, or venture out for shopping and local cuisine.

 

Kids Programs

RIU Palace Peninsula offers an opportunity for the kids to take a break from you, with RIULand.  There are supervised activities for kids ages 4-7 and 8-12.  Activities vary daily and include games in the private RIULand pool, pirate contests and scavenger hunts, activities to encourage learning about the local ecosystems, and introducing the local culture.

riu3

Riu Art is tucked away on the lower level. Here, a local artist guides you through the process of creating your own painting.  This is a nice place for older kids to take a break from the sun and bring home a souvenir.

Babysitting is available through the staff at $15 per kid, per hour.  We took advantage of this one night.  We waited until both kids were asleep before we left.  One of the friendly staff members came up and sat with them in the dark – she read on her phone while we were gone.  Overall, I was happy with the babysitting experience and would do it again.

 

Here’s the bottom line.  The rooms are clean and work for families; the balcony is amazing.  The all-inclusive options gave us opportunities to eat when we wanted, try new foods, and explore snorkeling for the first time.  We adored the beach and pools; each of them were stunning but together they raised the bar for this hotel.  The staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome and special.  The location was ideal, and the kids programs worked for our family.  I recommend this place to anyone visiting the area!

 Disclosure: Thank you to the Cancun CVB and Riu Hotels for accommodating my family and me on our educational and fun adventure in Cancun, Mexico.  While we sincerely appreciate their hospitality, it in no way influenced my opinions about this kid-tastic hotel.  Opinions here are honest and completely my own.

November 12, 2013

5 ways to enjoy outdoor play this winter

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 10:01 am
A treasure we discovered on a cold fall hike in Greenville, SC

A treasure we discovered on a cold fall hike in Greenville, SC

Winter hit the eastern US today with force! This got me thinking about my kids and staying fit as the seasons change from summer into fall and winter. As homeschoolers, it is easy to stay in our jammies, locked away in the house while winter passes by. Don’t let this happen!

Here are 5 ways to enjoy the outdoors this fall and winter with your kids.  So bundle up, and head outside!

1. Fly a kite.  Just a peak out the window to see the leaves bustling about lets you know this is perfect flying weather. Pick up a few from the dollar store and get flying!

2. Build a campfire.  Shove over the snow, pile stones in a circle, and build a small fire. You can huddle around for warmth, enjoying the flames together.  Why not bring out the hotdogs and make it a lunch date?

3. Scavenger hunt. Take a hike and enjoy how Mother Nature changes with the seasons.  Put together a list of must-finds; include things like red leaves, acorns, or dog tracks.  Your only limited by your imagination.

4. Ride bikes. Bikes, trikes, roller skates, skateboards….it doesn’t matter.  Take that equipment to the park (which is often deserted this time of year.)  More adventurous parents can establish a winding obstacle course with rocks, cones, and sticks that children can weave in and out of on their ride.

5. Raise the roof.  OK, maybe not the roof.  However, opening the garage door and pulling out the car can encourage play while avoiding the wind.  In the garage kids can play in a band, have a picnic, or set up a fort for reading books.  Everyone still gets fresh air, without the moisture or wind from the yard.

I began thinking of these ideas when I learned from GoGo squeeZ natural applesauce that almost 75% of children have a problem with playfulness and getting outside.  Winter can be even more challenging. I hope these tips help you overcome that statistic.

GoGo squeeZ is also working with the Rockettes to encourage more play, and they are offering 4 tickets for the price of 3 (basically 25% off tickets) to shows around the country, including Atlanta, West Palm, Tampa, New York, and Nashville.  I am excited to share this discount with our readers. Use the code GOGO to secure this offering. Hope to see you there!

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