Quintana Roo (Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico) with the kids

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Playing on the beach after lunch at El Pescador Marisqueria & Bar in Cozumel

Late last night, I returned from a much needed spring break with my husband (O) and four kids.  My husband and I, along with my three step-children teenagers (13-, 14-, and 15- year olds) and four-year old son, spent seven days (3/22/19-3/29/19) along the Caribbean sea in the towns/islands of:

• Playa del Carmen

• Cozumel

• Akumal

• Cancun

 

Mexico spring break quintina roo with the kids

 

We traveled by air, bus, sea, and car, and discovered along the way that my four-year old is prone to sea sickness.  😃

 

AIR TRAVEL: O set up price alerts on Google flight and Kayak to notify him of cheap flights to Mexico City (CDMX).  We found $360 flights into Mexico City and then took another flight to Cancun ($100).  (We usually aim to pay $270 for flights from Chicago to CDMX).  All flights were through Aeromexico.  My in-laws joined us later in the trip, however, they took a direct flight from Chicago’s O’Hare into the Cozumel airport on American Airlines.  Aeromexico provided lunch/supper on the longer flight and snacks on the shorter flight, which we appreciated with insatiably hungry teenagers.  In addition, each seat had their own individual movie screen with a wide choice of movies/TV.  We arrived in Mexico City Friday night and stayed nearby in the airport’s Marriot hotel.  Free breakfast was included (always a must for us).  Saturday morning we woke up early for the breakfast and our morning flight to Cancun, and we were pleasantly surprised when Aeromexico offered us $1500 to take the earlier 9 am flight due to the 11 am plane being overbooked.  It was fortunate that we stayed close to the airport because we quickly took the complimentary Marriot shuttle to the airport and paid for our next spring break trip in advance.  😀

GROUND TRAVEL:  After we took the earlier flight and landed in Cancun, we walked briefly to the bus depot at Terminal 2 in Cancun airport to take the Ado bus for $10/person to Playa del Carmen.  O bought Ado tickets on-line.  Since we arrived early, he asked if we could take the earlier bus, and they had no problem with it.  The buses seem to drive the 45-minutes out to Playa del Carmen every 30 minutes or every hour.  Very comfortable spacious buses made for happy kids.  Saving money with two flights made for happy parents.

SEA TRAVEL:  The Ado bus dropped us a few blocks from the Playa del Carmen ferry stop.  We had an hour before our 4 pm ferry ride so we spent time at the little park near the beach.  There were two ferry choices; Ultrajet and Winjet.  We bought roundtrip tickets through Winjet and rode on the top deck (however on our return trip, discovered the bottom deck to be more comfortable).

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Playa del Carmen downtown
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The bottom deck of the Winjet ferry

TAXI / RENTAL CAR TRAVEL:  We arrived in Cozumel after the 45-minute ferry ride.  While it was a bumpy ride and we had a few complaints of sea sickness, no one needed the aid of dramamine.  Our condo for the three nights on the island was slightly past the cruise ship port, but in the 80 degree weather and with all of our luggage, we chose to pay for an overpriced $7 five-minute taxi ride to El Cantil Condos.  This helped us decide to rent a car for the day that we would be exploring since taxis were a little pricey.  The next day we paid $100 for the day for an eight-passenger minivan.  We had to put in $10 in gas, but drove half-way around the island (past Punta Sur to El Pescador restaurant).

 

ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at COZUMEL:

• The Money Bar: great food, live music, snorkeling at their beach while you wait for your food to arrive and during sunset.  Best time I have had with my step-children.

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Our table at the Money Bar
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Listening to the live music
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Sunset after snorkeling

 

• La Pescadora restaurant and beach: isolated restaurant (we ordered fried fish to be on the safe side) with a beautiful beach for swimming and snorkeling. We chose this free activity over paying $16/adult and $8/child for entrance to Punta Sur.  We brought our own swim shoes and snorkel gear.  My daughter was tired, so instead of swimming, she took a nap on the beach chair outside the restaurant.  Perfect place for swimming or napping.

 

ACTIVITIES NOT RECOMMENDED at COZUMEL:

• Chankanaab: nothing special.  When we paid for our entrance fee, we were told it included dolphins for the kids, but found out it was an additional $99/person to swim with dolphins.  While our teens enjoyed the snorkeling, it was similar to the free snorkeling we did at the Money Bar.  I saw no reason to pay an entrance fee as nothing was exceptionally different.  We made an amateur mistake by paying for an exclusive beach when there are many free beaches on the island to dive into, or better yet, get lunch at a beach-side restaurant and use their beach to snorkel.  We brought our own snorkel gear and swim shoes with us.

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Excited when we first arrived

SEA TRAVEL to CAR RENTAL:  The guy who rented us the minivan offered to give us a ride to the ferry, so we saved on another taxi and tipped him instead.  We sat at the bottom of the Winjet ferry and arrived in Playa del Carmen.  We took lunch at one of the many restaurants and then walked the small pedestrian streets to the car rental company, America.  We rented a Surburban and were pleasantly surprised with the low cost of the car rental insurance ($80 for three days).  We drove to our next reservation at Bahia Principe residences in Akumal.  All of our drives were about 30 minutes apart.  When we arrived at the four-bedroom house we rented in Bahia, we were given a three-bedroom by mistake due to technical problems with the air conditioning.  When they offered a credit, we asked if they would consider offering the day pass at the Bahia Akumal resort instead.  They gave us eight free day-passes ($60/person), which included three meals and access to the resort’s two of three locations (Bahia Coba and Bahia Tulum).  They also offered 10% off our total booking price.  It was fortunate that the air conditioning broke because we were able to access all of the resort perks while also enjoying the larger house we reserved and its private pool.  Because we booked through hotels.com, we also received two free hotel nights from this vacation.

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Car rental in Playa del Carmen
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Arrived at the Bahia Principe house to this beauty

Our three-bedroom house at Bahia Principe in Akumal

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Using the Bahia day pass at the Bahia Tulum & Coba resorts

 

ACTIVITIES WE ARE RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:

• Dos Ojos Cenote: $15/person (but our four-year old was free) and worth every peso.  It’s an incredible value.  We brought our snorkel gear and while this was our first time cave snorkeling, we saw incredible things, especially in the second eye.  Although it is intimidating, you must swim past the rock in the back of the second eye and dive to see the underwater cavern.  It helped that the scuba diving tour was happening as we were in the water and their lights shed more clarity on the submerged underworld.  Incredible beyond words.  Highly recommended for teens and adults.  Grandma and grandpa watched our four-year old as the water was too cold for him.   There were many cenotes to choose from, but we recommend Dos Ojos.

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Dos Ojos
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The dry cave
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The first eye
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Snorkeling in the first eye
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Don’t miss the tiny sign on the tree pointing to the “Second Eye”.  We nearly missed it. The second eye is the best eye, so it would have been a shame.

 

ACTIVITIES WE ARE NOT RECOMMENDING at AKUMAL:

• Playa del Akumal: O and I snorkeled at this once public beach seven years ago, and we were fortunate to see many sea turtles feeding on the sea grass.  It was the best snorkeling I had ever done.  We took the kids with this expectation in mind and found out the beach had been privatized.  Turtle snorkeling tours were being offered at $35/person in addition to the $5/person entrance fee to the beach.  I understand how it can conserve and protect the turtles, but we had not budgeted to spend an additional $175 for turtle tours, so we had to pass this one up.  It took forever to park and walk to the beach.  People were constantly trying to sell us life jackets and tours.  In hindsight, we wished we had skipped Playa del Akumal all together.

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Initially excited to see turtles at Playa del Akumal

———

CAR RENTAL to BUS RIDE to FINAL STAY:  We drove our Surburban rental back to America car rental in Playa del Carmen, but stopped for gas along the way first.  The gas lines are long in Playa del Carmen.  We then dropped off the grandparents at their ferry going to Cozumel.  We drove to America car rental and the guy was so kind and offered us a ride back to the bus depot.  Highly recommend this car rental place.  We then rode the comfortable Ado bus back to the Cancun airport at $10/person (bought on-line).  Our hotel in Cancun did not have a free shuttle, so O booked through a shuttle company, who was there 20 minutes after we arrived by bus.  No bathrooms in the bus depot area of Cancun airport, so make sure your toddler uses the Ado bus bathroom.  The shuttle took us to our Cancun hotel, The Royal Carribean, which was were we spent our last night of the trip swimming and playing at the beach.

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The Royal Caribbean hotel
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Dancing and racing on the beach
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Late night swims at the pool
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Leaving 😦

 

 

 

Our trip to Taiwan and the Philippines!

March 2018

 

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Travelers:

Orlando, Emily and a married couple.

How did we pay for this trip:

We bought tickets 6 months prior to the trip. We looked up locations on Google Flights that were less than $650 per ticket for the Month of March. We found tickets for under $650 on EVA airlines. We recommend using Google Flights when you are on a budget and have no set location.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on EVA Arlines. So far, it has been one of the best airlines that we have ever flown on. We decided to give EVA Airlines the following ratings:

Comfort: 8/10 – Pretty spacious seats for basic economy. Emily is 5’7 and petite and Orlando is 5’7 and weighs about 165 lbs.

Food: 9/10 – Tasty food, plenty of snacks and drinks.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 8/10 – Although we didn’t take any of the kids on this trip, we saw plenty of young kids with their parents.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Plenty of movies to make the time pass by. Wi-Fi is available for $20 dollars, although we didn’t try it.

We flew economy on Cebu Pacific from Manila to Boracay. Cebu Pacific is your standard low budget airline. You have to pay for a seat assignment, luggage, food, water, etc. Tickets were reasonably priced at $150 round trip.

Comfort: 5/10 – Not bad for a 1 to 2 hour flight, pretty comparable to United Airlines.

Food: N/A – We did not try the food since you have to pay for it.

Service: 9/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 5/10 – Not being able to choose a seat unless you pay is a pretty big problem.

Entertainment: 5/10 – No entertainment available, but the flight attendants conduct a guessing game during the flight (in English).

Where did we stay:

Monaco Resort in Boracay, 5 star hotel. Overall, one of the best hotel stays. The staff goes out of their way to make sure you are taken care of. Gym, restaurant, outdoor pool, a private beach and ocean views from your balcony.

Price: $300 per night for a 2 bedroom suite using a time share discount provided by our family friend.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

The Fullerton hotel in Taiwan, 4 star hotel. Overall, the location is great and the free breakfast is reasonable. The hotel claims that your stay includes a free minibar. Don’t be fooled by this, you get water, 2 soda cans and fruit. No alcohol.

Price: $130 per night on hotels.com.

Family friendly rating: 7/10

Recommendations:

Taipei Airport:

Don’t be afraid of long layovers at the Taipei Airport. Taipei airport has a free gym facility, free showers, souvenir shops and plenty of restaurants. The free gym is right next to the Adidas Shop in Terminal 1 and the showers are right next to the gym. You do need to buy a towel from the pharmacy nearby as the airport does not provide towels. Towels are $2 dollars though. You can walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal walk in about 30 to 40 minutes.

Taipei:

Book a flight with a 24 hour layover in Taiwan and leave the Airport. Taipei is an amazing city and although 24 hours may not be enough time, it gives you a chance to see the night markets and the city. Make sure to pack some clothes in a carry-on as your baggage will not be available to you until your last destination (unless you asked for it to be available for your layover). Rent a bike with a credit card! make sure you have a Visa or Master Card for each renter as the machine will not allow to swipe the same credit card for 2 different bikes. Visit the Memorial palace, elephant mountain and Taipei 101. If you are planning on visiting the secret Starbucks on the 35th floor, call ahead to make reservations (Google Taipei 101 Starbucks how to make reservations).

Boracay:

Stick to Filipino food, otherwise you will be disappointed. There are tons of foreign restaurants that promise to be good at (insert food type here), but really, it’s not the same. Stick to Filipino cuisine and try an Ice Mango from the Mango place (you will know what place we are talking about once you see it… and the line), or Halo-Halo from a local Coffee Shop.

Avoid the typical tourist activities, kite surfing, kayaking, parasailing, etc. you can do that anywhere else in the world, why do it in such a pretty place? Do go on the island hopping tour. Crystal Cove is amazing and a must see!

Lessons learned:

We were a little bit afraid about taking a 3 year old on a 16 hour plane ride with multiple connections. However, we think he would have been OK. Next time, we won’t hesitate to take the 4 kids on such a cool adventure!

P.S. take lots of sunscreen and water shoes, you will thank us later.

Washington State: one week, three kids, and four National Parks

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Hi!  We spent our 2019 spring break exploring and hiking an enormous amount across Washington state.  We would now like to move there immediately.  We explored North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, and Olympic National Park.  We brought our 14-year old daughter, 13-year old son, and 3-year old son, but only paid for the three kids’ tickets because O and I both had vouchers to use.

We flew into Seattle, picked up the rental car, and immediately drove the three hours to North Cascades National Park.  Right away, we bought the National Parks pass at $80/year for all the entrance fees (usually $30/per park).  We had limited time (four more GIANT parks to go), so we chose to stop at the visitor center, an overpass of the Skagit River, hike at Thunder Knob trail, take photos at Diablo Lake Overlook, and hike/photograph at Washington Pass Overlook.  Of the hundreds of pictures I took, a few are below in that order:

Next, I drove a beautiful route (about five hours) through gorgeous orchards and hilly landscapes around rivers (reminded me of Iceland) towards Mount Rainier National Park.  We made it to our next hotel, a Great Wolf Lodge, by 2 a.m., and spent the next morning letting the kids play in the water park.  We spent the afternoon at Mount Rainier.  We stopped at the Grove of Patriarchs, Reflection Lake, and hiked part of the summit of Mount Rainier.

The next day we spent time at Mount St Helen’s Volcanic Monument, aka The Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We brought sunscreen, sunglasses, and lots of water for the Boundary Trail that leads to the blown crater of Mt Helens.  We are avid hikers, but in the heat, we barely made it to Devil’s Point (2.2 miles one way).  Pictures below!

We drove up to the northeast side of Olympic National Park the next day.  The plan was to end in Hurricane Ridge that evening.  We made plans to see Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and Hoh Forest across three days.  It was too rainy that evening to spend in Hurricane Ridge (HR), so we packed HR and Lake Crescent together in one day.  We stayed mid trip at the Kalaloch Lodge.  My favorite part of the trip was Ruby Beach (hence a hundred pictures from Ruby Beach- see below).

It was pouring on the last day of the trip.  We left Kalaloch Lodge (no wi-fi and wood-burning stoves made for an awesome night for teens!) and attempted to see Hoh Rainforest for the morning.  It continued to pour, so the kids were miserable in their ponchos and we left early.  I didn’t take any pictures for fear of dropping my phone in the puddles, and instead I attached are a few pictures from when O and I visited on our anniversary trip in 2018 instead:

That afternoon we drove the couple of hours to Seattle to check-in to the hotel for our last night.  I made reservations the next morning at 10 am at Neko, a coffee and cat cafe.  The kids have always wanted a cat, but O is “allergic”.  It was a cute experience:

We barely had time to return the rental and catch our flight home.  The kids and I jumped on the airport shuttle from the rental car area while O stayed back and sorted through the rental papers.  We were terrified we would miss our flight.  We ended up making it alright.  But it does take a long time to get from the rental place to the Seattle airport.

We still need to go back to see parts of Olympic National Forest with my mom, plus all the millions (billions?) or acres of forest to explore.  We also need to go back to live there. It’ll happen eventually.

Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

Weekend in Arizona

0D948B75-FDC5-4F01-BB49-7B267696DBCAMy four-year old and I followed O to Phoenix, Arizona in late August for a short weekend trip.  My husband was there Monday through Friday for work, and we joined Thursday night.   Tickets were through AA at about $300/roundtrip.  After a morning swim in the 100 degree Friday weather (glorious) and visiting a train-themed playground in Scottsdale, we left Phoenix and headed to northern Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.  O extended the rental and booked a hotel in Tusayan.  The drive was neat.  The immeasurable amount of “cacti!!” near Phoenix suddenly change to lush pine forests in northern Arizona with the higher elevation.

Oh, before leaving Scottsdale, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then grabbed Alien Donuts and Coffee Cartel coffee for the drive north.  Big hit with the four-year old.

On Saturday morning, we spent some time in the Grand Canyon Village, which was 15 minutes from the hotel in Tusayan.  Pictures from the edge:


We then decided (spontaneously) to drive the four hours from Tusayan to make it to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the western side of the park.  We stopped by the Visitor Center and retrieved maps.  We also asked about stopping by Supai to see the blue waterfalls (the havasupai falls), but sadly were told they required reservations and were booking a month in advance.  Highly recommend looking into these reservations.  We wish we did.

We drove the four hours through the desert after forgetting our car chargers and barely made it to the Skywalk on time.  It was extremely expensive at $80/adult and $65/kid to walk the bridge and sight see, but it was a great experience and beautiful views on this particular reservation.  No regrets!


We hiked a little, too, which was a little terrifying with a four-year old near a canyon.  We were not allowed to take any pictures on the Skywalk bridge.  But the hike ended up being nice.

It was late when we drove back to Tusayan, but we took the extra 20 minutes to drive along Route 66.  We so enjoyed the route- highly recommend.  We stopped the car and viewed the starlit sky.  Just incredible.

On our way back to Phoenix airport on Sunday, we tried to stop in Sedona to eat lunch at a restaurant with views of the red rocks.  After sleeping in a bit, we ended up in Flagstaff at a diner called “The Place” off of Route 66, which was still pretty cool.

Lessons learned:

1) book closer to Grand Canyon National Park

2) book reservations at havasupai falls in advance

3) Take route 66 at all times anytime you can

4) Make time to stop by Sedona and eat lunch at one of the restaurants with stunning views of red rocks

Happy travels!

 

Anniversary in Chile!

 

My husband O and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary this past August 2019 by doing something new.  We went to South America when we could, which meant a five-day trip from Chicago to Santiago to San Pedro, Chile.  It might sound like a hot minute, but it felt like a full week’s vacation!

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Seeing Flamingoes at the salt flats in Lagoon Chaxa

We both loved this trip.

Our travel time mostly consisted of sleeping on overnight American Airlines flights.  We started Friday night with a small layover in Miami, followed by an overnight flight (two meals included) and then arriving 4 am in Santiago.  We found showers in the VIP lounge ($45/person, included showers and food) and left via a $100 Sky airline flight to San Pedro, where the Atacama Desert is located.  We regret not paying the extra $100 to bypass the Saturday morning layover in Santiago and arrive sooner to the desert.  We arrived by 5 pm.

 

 

We then quickly got our rental (Econocar) and spent Saturday evening by checking into the beautiful Hotel Poblado Kimal, dining at their delicious restaurant, and exploring the desert around the town for sunset and star gazing.  The hotel and quaint town of San Pedro was close to everything.  We loved this little town.  Good night life, too.  Never have I ever seen so many people dancing and drinking in beanies and sweaters in a bar.

 

 

We then spent the next two days checking out:

  1. Moon Valley
  2. Lagoon chaxa (south- in Salar Atacama)
  3. Lagoon Cejar (south- nearby San Pedro)
  4. Salar de Tara (east)

 

 

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Driving to Salar de Tara
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Moon Valley

We had a 7 am flight back to Santiago on Monday, and then a 1/2 day layover in the city.  During our layover in Santiago, we checked out:

1) Plaza del Armas

2) Saint Lucia

3) gelato!

 

 

 

 

Lessons learned:

1) pack more pants and sweaters for Chile when visiting in early September

2) American Airline flight attendants might be incorrect when they say the overnight flight only gives snacks, so don’t bring additional food on the plane

3) order the rica rica, but stay away from the governor

4) watch out for nausea as a result of higher elevations in Salar de Tara 🤢

5) enjoy your partner for as long as you can. everything can change in an instant.

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Em & O forever

Family Reunion in The Ozarks

July 13 – 16, 2017

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Travelers:

Our immediate family (Orlando, the four kids, and myself), my mom, and four of my siblings and their families, which added up to a grand total of 23.  It was 11 adults and 12 children ranging in age from 17 years old to nine months old…!

How did we pay for this trip:

Sharing the house rental, boat rental, and costs of food by cooking breakfasts and packing lunches significantly reduced the overall cost.  The biggest expense was the day pass to the White Water water park, which seemed to be the most reasonable water park near us at about $40 per person.  Our drive to Branson from northern Illinois was cut in half by a hotel stay mid-way in Collinsville, Illinois.

How did we get there:

2017 Toyota Sienna SE.  We bought the extended warranty for this beautiful creature because we would like it to be with us forever.  Our extraordinary developing teenage children have the space they need, the wide screen movie player is very visible for everyone in the middle and back row without craning necks, the van has this option of playing audio for the driver while the kids use the headphones for the movie, the third row seats recline for goodness’ sake— It is a van that suits every age and makes you feel like you could make a road trip of any distance possible.

 

Where did we stay:

Branson Cedar Resort.  My brother took charge of booking the house for this trip.  We split the cost of the log cabin among my siblings and I.   Since we were such a large group, we had to book nine months prior (November 2016).

Recommendations:

Talking Rocks Cavern:

All of the cousins enjoyed this small cave.  It was a nice, cool activity in the summer heat.  I did stay behind due to the steep steps and my two-year old toddler.  We made the mistake before of taking our two-year old on a two-hour cave tour in Mammoth Kentucky Caves, and while a fun memory, not something we wanted to try again.

Renting a Boat on Table Rock Lake:

This was everyone’s favorite activity.  We rented two Pontoon boats that my two brothers drove.  We drove the boats to a cliff diving spot, to a beach, and with the tube my brother brought for the cousins to use, which they loved.  It was a great day for most everyone, minus my sister who was nauseated on the boat.

Skip the Water Park:

There’s a time and place for everything, and Branson was not the place for a water park.  We have Wisconsin Dells in our backyard, and knowing day passes to water parks there are as low as $20/day with food included, it was difficult to pay $45 for one person just to enter and THEN pay for locker costs and over-priced food.

Silver Dollar City:

Most of my immediate family are afraid of heights and roller coasters, minus my 14-year old, so there was no appeal for us to get tickets to Silver Dollar City.  Since we didn’t go through it, we have nothing to report on it.

Lessons learned:

We had a great time overall, but we are taking lessons learned and applying it to our second annual reunion this coming summer, 2018, in Wisconsin!  We booked through Air B&B instead and found an incredible-looking tree house cabin with more space that is settled next to a hiking trail and private beach.  We are really looking forward to this one!

P.S. Sunscreen, water shoes, and boat snacks (BOAT SNACK)

 

 

 

 

From Iceland to Ireland: Our trip with our parents, in-laws and children.

June 2018

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A group of 9 travelers

Travelers:

Orlando, Emily, Orlando’s parents, Emily’s mom and the children drove around Iceland and the ring of Kerry in Ireland.

How did we pay for this trip:

Miles, miles, miles. Emily and I had about 120,000 miles each through Delta. Emily also had the equivalent to $600 dollars worth of points through Chase. We started looking up destinations in Europe where we could use 60,000 to 70,000 miles. Our options were Rome, Iceland or Paris. We ended up paying for 2 tickets (kids). We also used WOW airlines from Iceland to Dublin, tickets were about$170 round trip.

What Airline(s) did we fly on:

We flew economy on Delta Arlines to Iceland, and WOW airlines from Iceland to Dublin. We usually like Delta the best out of the three major airlines, but from our last experience we can no longer recommend the airline.

Comfort: 7/10 – For basic economy, seats were fine for everyone.

Food: 7/10 – Food and drinks were reasonable.

Service: 4/10 – Worst customer service from ORD to JFK as they didn’t allow us to board with all the kiddos when they called for passengers with small children.

Kid Friendly: 1/10 – I have to give them a 1 because they didn’t let all the kids board at the same time.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Plenty of movies to make the time pass by.

We flew economy on WOW Airlines from Iceland to Dublin. 

Comfort: 7/10 – Decent space for a low budget airline.

Food: 7/10 – Food was OK, but you have to pay for it.

Service: 10/10 – Friendly faces everywhere.

Kid Friendly: 8/10 – No complaints.

Entertainment: 0/10 – No entertainment available.

Where did we stay:

There is one thing you have to know about Iceland… well maybe two. #1, hotels are really expensive! #2 you get what you pay for.

Hotel Grásteinn

The area looks kind of sketchy at first, but the hotel is nice, quiet and staff is really friendly.  This hotel is a great value if you are staying the night close to the airport. Kids loved the breakfast and the uniqueness of the hotel.

Acco Luxury Apartments

We really loved the Akureyri area and this condo was in a prime area of town. We really enjoyed the good selection of coffee houses, restaurants, the port and the parking options. The price is a bit higher than what we normally pay for hotels, but for the amount of people and the location, this condo is worth every single penny.

Stracta Hotel

We absolutely loved this hotel! When you think of Iceland, this is exactly the type of hotel you think of. The entire family was fascinated by the rooms, the sauna, hot tubs and the surroundings.

BB Hotel Keflavik Airport

This was the first hotel we stayed in Iceland and we had an instant shock as to how small the rooms are in Iceland! Rooms were clean and would recommend anyone staying there.

The Wild Atlantic Lodge

We highly recommend staying at this hotel. The hotel is really charming, the staff is really nice and attentive and the area is really pretty. It is close to the cliffs of Moher.

Hotel Isaacs Cork

If you have little kids this hotel is not for you. The hotel itself is clean, unique and the staff is really friendly. However, the hotel is in the middle of the pub area. We would recommend this hotel and the area to couples, but stay in a different area if you have children.

Lessons learned:

We loved Iceland and Ireland. The children complained that we drove for most of the vacation and they may be right. We recommend spending at least 7 days in Iceland or 10 days if you are planning on driving around the country. We recommend the same amount of time for Ireland. Both beautiful countries with lots to see.

 

Four day trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto!

May 2017

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Travelers:

The entire crew (four kids, Orlando and Emily) plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago to Canada. We paid for food, gas and an overnight hotel stay on the way to Niagara Falls.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

Our first stop was Toronto. We stayed at the The Westin Prince, Toronto. Overall, it was a beautiful hotel with a good breakfast and good amenities. However, the restaurant staff was limited and it took a while to get an omelet and even a cup of coffee.

Price: $150 per night.

Family friendly rating: 8/10

In Niagara Falls we stayed at the Sheraton on the Falls. The stay came with free passes to a nearby water park. The water park is connected next to the hotel so you never have to go outside to go to the water park. The hotel is a bit outdated, but it’s perfect for the kids. The location is perfect (a few blocks from the falls) and near the tourist area.

Price: $200 per night.

Family friendly rating: 10/10

Recommendations:

The falls during the day and at night:

The falls are beautiful day and night. During the day you get to see the beautiful nature of the falls. At night you get to see the falls illuminated by different colors.  Since we were so many, we did not buy tickets to see the falls up close, but instead walked the boardwalk, which was still plenty misty from above.  Bonus: Go during the winter for an amazing icicle experience.

The tourist area in Niagara Falls:

You will know where this is once you see it. Although it’s full of touristy stuff, it’s worth walking around and watching people.  Our teenagers really enjoyed walking around.  Go to the Hershey store for the ultimate dessert deal ($6 for a shake and a cupcake), but don’t drink it before walking the falls (yikes!).

Downtown Toronto:

Downtown Toronto is easy to walk, but finding parking is difficult and traffic is heavy. St. Lawrence market is nearby and highly recommend you visit the market. Go to the marina and enjoy the outdoor sellers and the music that is randomly played near the food sellers.

Fallsview Indoor Waterpark:

The children had a lot of fun, especially the toddler. The waterpark is smaller than your typical waterpark in the US, but it had enough activities to keep the kids busy for half of the day.

Lessons learned:

We wish we would have stayed a day longer in Niagara Falls. The kids really loved the tourist area and the waterpark. We also wish we had enough time to cross to the US side. Toronto had some attractions that were closed due to the weather and other reasons, so we should have checked ahead of time.