Bowling Day

Today, we marked one more item off of our summer to-do list. Bowling! Many times, bowling allies are just not the most family  friendly places. Long waits for lanes. Not very clean. Lots of junk food but nothing to make a real meal. Etc. But, that’s why we like to go to Pinstripes for bowling.

At Pinstripes, they have a full dining menu with a kids menu and plenty of items for the grownups too. Be aware, the prices for food are a bit high. In the past, we’ve just done drinks and a snack. (Today we did a full lunch.) The food is all a nice quality and there is a nice menu for drinks (wine, beer, and cocktails). The entire place is nice and clean and looks a lot like a restaurant…that just happens to have bowling. (They also have bocce if that’s something that you are interested in.)

Their kids club has bowling for kids during weekday mornings. $3 for kids to bowl. $3 shoe rental. And parents bowl for free! (Be sure to check your local Pinstripes for their promotion dates and times.)

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Our summer bucket list thus far:

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Movie Time!

One of our favorite things to do as a family is see movies. And one of our favorite things to do during the summer is see movies outdoors! The movie series at Oakbrook Center began this week. You can see the entire schedule here. There are many places to see movies outdoors during the summer in Chicago and the suburbs. One of the reasons that I love this one is that you can easily pick up dinner at the food court and then find your spot on the grass (well, artificial grass) and eat your dinner and watch the movie.

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Our summer bucket list thus far:

Monday at MSI

This week, we also took advantage of the free Illinois resident admission at the Museum of Science and Industry. We knew, when we planned this day, that we were already going to pay extra for tickets to the special exhibit – Science of Pixar. However, you can really take advantage of the resident free admission by just going to the regular exhibits.

I will go ahead and say, I really really really recommend going to the Pixar exhibit. 1) It’s Disney! 2) It’s Pixar! 3) We all learned a lot! It’s astonishing to think about how much work goes into each individual second of an animated movie. Truly it’s astonishing.

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But, if you don’t do the Pixar exhibit, there is still a lot to see at this museum. It’s huge!

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Our summer list thus far:

A Day with the Fishes

This week, we took advantage of the Illinois resident free admission at the Shedd Aquarium. The Aquarium is such a fun way to spend the day! Last summer, the Shedd updated their procedure for the resident free days. It had been that the free day only included the main galleries. I would then purchase the upgrade to do the Polar Play Zone – yes, I’ll pay extra to see my kids wear penguin costumes – and the Wild Reef. Now, however, your resident free day includes everything! You can go to the main galleries, Polar Play Zone, Wild Reef, Stingray Touch (only open during certain months of the year) and see an aquatic presentation! So so fun!

My girls talked me into doing one upgrade. You have to pay extra to see one of the 4D experiences…..and one of the 4D shows was Splash and Bubbles. They (and I) really like the show on PBS…and it was pretty cute. Both girls laughed out loud. Addy was dancing in her seat. So, it was worth it. 🙂

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Our summer list thus far:

Portillo’s Playground Picnic – An Alliteration Dinner

This was our first week of summer vacation. I worked until Wednesday, Lily had school until Tuesday, but we started our summer in a big way by going to Chicago Botanic Garden on Thursday. Check out some pictures from our day at the Garden below.

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Although Chicago Botanic Garden wasn’t on our summer bucket list, it was definitely a great way to kick off our summer! Plus, my mom was able to join us and I was so glad that she was able to experience the Garden with us!

 

Today, we spent a lot of time in our jammies, went for lunch, and we were able to check off one of our summer checklist items – have a picnic – when we ate our dinner at the playground tonight. (It was definitely necessary to try to get to the playground in between the various rainy times today.) Yummmm! Portillos!

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Our summer checklist thus far:

You may notice that our list actually has one more item on it that wasn’t there when we originally made the list. Well, Lily added going to Chinatown (she has really developed a taste for some different foods)….so although we just crossed off one item from the list….we also just added another item. Definitely going to be a busy summer!

Traveling With Kids – Tips and Tricks

We’ve done a lot of traveling with our girls in 2018 – for holidays, for Disney World, and sadly, for funerals. I have some tips that we’ve learned through our travels this year and every time that we’ve traveled.

Please note, I am not an expert. Not at all. And sometimes these tips work really well. And sometimes, life happens and nothing goes the way you think that it will…….

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1) Each kid gets a backpack. Not only does this ensure that they are able to bring things to entertain them in the car, on the airplane, however you are traveling, but it also ensures that they have the things that they want. Each girl is now old enough (6 and almost 4) that they are in charge of packing things that they want. But, they can only bring what fits in the backpack. This helps to keep the backseat from becoming a toy pile.

2) Make a checklist of things that you need to bring. I love Google Notes. I start working on a checklist before we leave and then mark them off as I pack. This way, I don’t end of staring at the suitcase wondering what else I need to bring. (Although, I still do that….just not as much as I used to….) Google Notes is great because you can also share it with someone else.

3) Snacks! Snacks are great because, in our family, being hangry is a very real problem.  We still bring our diaper bag on trips but our diaper bag (a backpack) is now filled with snacks, juice boxes, water bottles that can be refilled, and a change of clothes for each girl (because you never know what might happen). If you are staying at a hotel with a complimentary breakfast, grab a couple extra things to have in the hotel room for later. Granola bars, fruit, and dry cereal all make great snacks that you can grab from the hotel breakfast bar and enjoy later in the day.

4) Plan for a rainy day. There are always days when the weather will not cooperate with your plans and you might be stuck in your room for awhile. The Target Dollar Spot is my favorite spot to hit up before a trip so that I can stock up on fun stationary sets, stamps, stickers, etc. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. They don’t take up a lot of room in your luggage. And if you don’t use them, you simply take them home to use later.

5) Buy Ziploc baggies! I use them to pack things that might leak like shampoo or lotion bottles. I throw extras in the diaper bag in case we need to pack up wet clothes. (Also good if you are still in the diaper phase and can’t dispose of a dirty diaper right away.) The bags aren’t going to leak and they really don’t take up much space.

6) Be sure that everyone knows the plan but be ready for the plan to change. Yes, it’s fun to plan and plan and plan and plan. I love planning! But, it’s important to be flexible too.  Things happen. Plans have to change. And teaching kids how to deal with disappointment or change is an important part of traveling. Be ready for the unexpected but still plan for what you want to do. And let your kids be a part of the planning! When kids know what’s going to happen, they tend to feel less stress because they know what to expect. Or at least, they know what they can plan to expect.

7) Organize ahead of time and continue organizing while you are at your destination. I like to plan outfits in advance and then roll the outfits together when packing. That way, all that you have to do is pull out an outfit and go. Plus, if you’ve rolled the outfits together fairly tightly, they are most likely fairly wrinkle free! And that’s a huge plus. Because I don’t iron. Seriously. Ask my husband. I would rather hang a pair of pants in the bathroom to steam during showers for days on end instead of simply ironing them.

8) On the night that you arrive, take an hour and unpack what needs to be unpacked. I hang up things that I know should be hung up. We set up a spot for the backpacks to be stored. We designate a place for shoes. We designate a place for dirty laundry to get piled up. If everyone knows where the new homes for things are while traveling, it makes getting ready in the morning much easier. No searching and searching for shoes if everyone knows where the shoes go.

9) Take time to slow down. This is something that I am still working on. It’s so easy to just go, go, go, go all the time when traveling with kids. However, some of our favorite times are when we are just lounging by the pool, or watching shows while all piled in the hotel bed. Also, eating cookies in bed? Definitely something I only do while traveling but it’s also one of my favorite parts of a trip.

10) Try to find ways to keep the daily schedule similar to your at-home schedule. Eat at similar times. Try to go to bed at similar times (although this one is much harder to accomplish, in my opinion).

11) Do something that you haven’t done before! Yes, routine is great but travel is fun when you get to explore and try something that you haven’t done before. Eat new food! Visit new spots! Even when traveling to places that you’ve been to many times before, there are still opportunities to expand your horizons and try something new. And I recommend doing that!

12) If you are still traveling with big essentials (strollers, pack-n-play, car seats) make life as easy as you can. In some large travel destinations and some hotels, you can rent many of these items so you don’t have to travel with them. Babies are so small but all of their things take up so much space! And if you are traveling with a car seat and are using it on a plane (each time we’ve flown, we have had at least one car seat on the flight with us), invest in one of those straps that attach to your luggage. They aren’t very expensive and they make it so much easier to run through an airport. (Just google “car seat luggage strap” and you’ll get many options).

13) If possible, do a load of laundry during your trip. This means that you don’t have to pack as much in the beginning! And then you have room in your luggage to bring home more souvenirs! Sometimes, it’s just inevitable that you’ll need to do at least one load. If there’s a diaper blow-out or a car-sick incident, and you won’t be heading home a few days, you’re probably not going to want that yuck to just sit on the clothes until you get home. But look on the bright side, a load of laundry done while on your trip means one less that you’ll have to do as soon as you get home.

14) Have fun! This is, of course, the most important tip! Your kids will feed off of your energy, especially little ones. If you’re having fun, they will have fun. If you’re stressed, well, they are going to be stressed. And that’s going to lead to arguing, tantrums and all of that kind of fun behavior……

 

Now I want to know……what are your tips and tricks for traveling with kids? What works for you? What doesn’t work?

Disney’s Art of Animation – Resort Review

So, as you may have previously read, my family recently took a trip to Disney for the RunDisney Princess Half-Marathon weekend. I did the Fairy Tale Challenge (10K and half-marathon) and the girls both participated in the kids races (100m and 200m). As we do whenever we travel to DisneyWorld, we stayed at a resort on the Disney grounds. Our hotel this time? Art of Animation.

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Upon entering the resort, you can see right away that the animation theme is in full effect. There are animation sketches on the walls of the lobby and on the chandeliers (some of my favorite chandeliers ever!)

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There are four different sections with very distinct designs – Lion King, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, and Cars. We stayed in a family suite in the Finding Nemo area. I will go ahead and say that I think that the Finding Nemo section is probably the best if you are staying with younger kids. It’s the closest to the big pool, the playground, and the quick service food option, store, and lobby. We have stayed in the Little Mermaid area before, and it’s a fun design but it’s definitely a longer walk. Long walks after a day at the park (or a day running) with small children and tired feet is always something to take into consideration when planning your stay.

Everything about the design is larger than life. The huge scale makes it feel as though you are a little fish in this big big world.

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Of course, not all of the design elements are huge…..be on the lookout for hidden Mickeys!

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Hidden Mickey – in the bubble design of the carpet

Check out the pictures of the Finding Nemo family suite here. There was plenty of room  for the four adults and two kids that were staying with us. The girls slept on the table bed – I wish I could find a video of that thing unfolding so you could see just how easy it was to turn the table into a bed. Very easy and the girls slept very well. Ryan and I slept on the sleeper sofa. It wasn’t as comfortable as a bed. Sleeper sofas rarely are. But, I was exhausted each night so was able to fall asleep (except for when the pre-race jitters would keep me awake, which honestly was a large portion of each night.)

Also, since we stayed in the family suite, there was a kitchenette. Do not plan on preparing full meals using the kitchenette. But, it’s great to store and reheat some leftovers.

There is only one restaurant option here and this quick service option is ok. Lots of family friendly options and probably something to fit every craving that you are having at any time of day. However, at least when we were there, it seemed that no matter what time you were there to eat, there was absolutely no sense of urgency among the employees working there. Everything, from placing an order to paying for your food, took way more time than it needed to. When you are trying to feed a hungry kid or someone who just ran a half-marathon…..you really don’t want to wait in line longer than you need to. The lines were crazy during peak meal time but they were also crazy during every other time of the day as well. When you can see employees just standing around and talking when there are huge lines of people, it doesn’t really reflect well on your dining experience. (There was never a time when I saw every available register was open and being used…..that definitely would have cut down on the lines.)

One of the best parts of the quick service option is that you can take your food out to the pool. One night, for dinner, I grabbed a ready-to-go large cheese pizza and some drinks. This is actually a pretty good deal for Disney food because the pizza is huge! We brought leftovers back to the room. In addition, if you have the Disney dining plan, you will find many options to choose from for each meal and snack.

For the adults, perhaps one of the best parts of the pool area, is the pool bar!  The drinks were delicious and strong (!!!!!). And best of all , the bartenders all seemed to really enjoy their jobs. 🙂 You can enjoy your beverage in the bar area, or by the pool.

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The number one reason to stay on site when traveling to Disney, in my opinion, is the ease of transportation. Yes, the Disney design is fun and each resort has it’s own unique design and different level of Disney-ness. It’s always fun to keep the Disney atmosphere with you all day, whether or not you are in a park. However, transportation is key!

The schedule for the race weekends begins very early in the morning. Yes, on the morning of the half-marathon, I was on the bus at 3:30am. 3:30am. Gross. The early mornings were, well, really early.

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It was so nice to not have to worry about parking…..or driving anywhere during this weekend. However, the Disney transportation is definitely a benefit whenever you are staying. Some of the hotels have boat or monorail transportation to get you from the parks back to your hotel. And at some resorts, you are so close that you can simply walk to the park. However, they all have buses. We used the bus to get to the Expo, to the race starts, and to get to Disney Springs for dinner, snacks, and to see Black Panther.

Would we stay at Art of Animation again? Of course! This was already our second time staying at the resort. It is one of the Value resorts (very important!!), you get the ease of Disney transportation and a fun Disney design everywhere you turn. The girls loved coming back to the hotel room and seeing the giant Crush the Turtle right outside the door!

Key Takeaways:

Fun design. Very kid friendly. Loads of large character sculptures around the buildings and the pool.

Rooms are a fun design and can easily accommodate a large family.

Design is very Disney. Many of the resorts have a subtle Disney design. This is not one of one those resorts.

Food options are plentiful but be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait. And there is only one restaurant at the resort.

Transportation is right outside the lobby. Although Art of Animation only has buses at this time, they definitely get you where you need to go and you don’t need to worry about renting a car, driving, and parking.