Many museum days

When the girls added “go to the museums” to our summer list, I know that they had planned on hitting up the Chicago museums on the free days. We do those days every summer. However, many of the free days happened while we were on our epic road trip (more on that in a later post). So, although we did go to many museums, we didn’t hit up all of the Chicago museums. And, honestly, that’s ok with me.

Where did we go?

Adler Planetarium

This was the only free day that we went to. It just so happened to be the week before we started our road trip to Florida. The free days are always busy and it can be stressful if you don’t plan out your day. You can read my tips about visiting on free days by clicking here.

62306427_10218314129225475_927892229345771520_n

Elmhurst Art Museum

This is a small local museum that we love. It’s small enough that you don’t leave the museum feeling exhausted but there is enough to see that it can be a great afternoon activity. Keep an eye on their website to see what new exhibits are coming in and when they’re coming.

66760540_10218581942640643_7443488360477229056_n

The Art Institute of Chicago

Yes, this one was it’s own item on the list. And I already crossed it off. But, I’m listing it again because we just love this museum. 🙂

67134795_10218637209262274_1021518083992322048_n

 

 

 

  • Go to Disney World.
  • Pick blueberries.
  • Go bowling.
  • Bake some treats.
  • See outdoor movies.
  • Go to the museums.
  • Go to LEGO Discovery Center.
  • Visit Brookfield Zoo.
  • Go to Morton Arboretum to see the Lego sculptures.
  • Visit the Art Institute.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Play on the playground.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Go to the library.
  • Go to a festival.
  • Have a slumber party.
  • Have a pajama day.
  • Watch movies at home.
  • Visit Granny and Pa.
  • Visit Mimi and Pa.
  • Have a beach day.
  • Pick dandelions out of the yard.
  • See fireworks.
  • Go to the splash pads.
  • Visit Chinatown.
  • Play outside.
  • Have tea at American Girl.
  • Play in our house.

Go Take a Hike

Even when it’s super hot (it was really hot today), you can usually find us outside at some point each day during the summer. It’s very important to me that we get outside as much as possible when the weather is good (not storming). And even though this week has been quite warm, the girls and I have gone on several walks in the woods.

The Forest Preserves of Dupage County are an excellent resource for us. There are frequently activities at the many education centers/farms/forests. And there are many opportunities to just get outside.

This week, we went to two of our favorites: Fullersburg Woods Nature Education Center and Willowbrook Wildlife Center.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking out these locations. At Fullersburg, you can borrow a backpack of exploration tools to help in your nature exploration. We borrowed magnifying glasses, binoculars, and plant identification cards.

D4NV8K4WRKGrRV6EePT6fw

At Willowbrook, you can witness their work first hand. They take in sick and injured wild animals, they treat those animals, and then release them back into a forest preserve. If an injury or illness can not be fixed, that animal may become a permanent resident of Willowbrook. You can see many of their residents indoors and outdoors.

vOHgGlHFSu2cB8Iu%TCZZQ

Our summer list thus far:

  • Go to Disney World.
  • Pick blueberries.
  • Go bowling.
  • Bake some treats.
  • See outdoor movies.
  • Go to the museums.
  • Go to LEGO Discovery Center.
  • Visit Brookfield Zoo.
  • Go to Morton Arboretum to see the Lego sculptures.
  • Visit the Art Institute.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Play on the playground.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Go to the library.
  • Go to a festival.
  • Have a slumber party.
  • Have a pajama day.
  • Watch movies at home.
  • Visit Granny and Pa.
  • Visit Mimi and Pa.
  • Have a beach day.
  • Pick dandelions out of the yard.
  • See fireworks.
  • Go to the splash pads.
  • Visit Chinatown.
  • Play outside.
  • Have tea at American Girl.
  • Play in our house.

A Tale of Two Beaches

So, on our list for the summer is to have a beach day. Well, we may not have had a beach day yet this summer, we did have two separate beach nights!

During our recent road trip (more on that in upcoming posts), we drove home and stopped at two different beachy locations. Our first beach stop was Cocoa Beach after a day at the Kennedy Space Center (look for an upcoming post about that day as well).

Until this trip, my only memory of the Atlantic Ocean was from a trip when I was in high school. I remember the beach being gross and the water being smelly. And that memory has forever stuck with me and was my sole memory of the Atlantic. Until this trip. We went to the beach after stopping for dinner at a restaurant right on the beach.

The beach was lovely. The water was beautiful.  This is now what I will think of when I think of the Atlantic!

Following our night in Cocoa Beach, we drove to Pensacola Bay. We lucked out because our hotel was right on the beach. Right. On. The. Beach. So, of course, once we got checked into our room, we headed down to the beach.

So, although we didn’t have a beach day, I am definitely checking this one off of the summer list. We may still have a beach day this summer….but if not…..I think it’s ok. 🙂

Our list thus far:

  • Go to Disney World.
  • Pick blueberries.
  • Go bowling. Bake some treats.
  • See outdoor movies.
  • Go to the museums.
  • Go to LEGO Discovery Center.
  • Visit Brookfield Zoo.
  • Go to Morton Arboretum to see the Lego sculptures.
  • Visit the Art Institute.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Play on the playground.
  • Go on a hike.
  • Go to the library.
  • Go to a festival.
  • Have a slumber party.
  • Have a pajama day.
  • Watch movies at home.
  • Visit Granny and Pa.
  • Visit Mimi and Pa.
  • Have a beach day.
  • Pick dandelions out of the yard.
  • See fireworks.
  • Go to the splash pads.
  • Visit Chinatown.
  • Play outside.
  • Have tea at American Girl.
  • Play in our house.

48 Hours in Minnesota – What we did….

We recently were in the Minneapolis area for a wedding. We arrived late in the afternoon on a  Friday, the wedding was going to be late Saturday afternoon/early evening, and we were driving back home on Sunday. We needed a plan to fill in that open time. Here’s what we did….

The first thing that I like to do when we arrive at a hotel is just get situated. Figure out where the suitcases will go on the room. Get the sleeping arrangements figured out. Find out where the pool is. (Yea….we realized too late that this hotel did not have an indoor pool – just an outdoor one. So, even though we brought out swimming stuff, there was not going to be any swimming done, in Minneapolis, in March.)

Find a local spot to get dinner.

A quick yelp search gave us several options and the hotel had some recommendations, too. A quick search can usually give you several options of places to catch a quick dinner. And if not, always ask the hotel staff. Where do they recommend? Where are their favorite spots?

We were staying in the downtown area and much of it is very walkable. I definitely recommend hitting up somewhere local for dinner!

7bi+EXyZQ7a12Cb5alAcCg

Find a way to work off some excess energy!

Our original plan had been to let the girls spend several hours in the pool Saturday morning. Well, that didn’t happen. Once again, yelp gave us some great ideas of things to do with kids. (Remember, it was March in Minnesota – so spending several hours outside wasn’t really going to happen.)

Our solution? A quick drive to the Minnesota Children’s Museum. If you’ve been following the blog for awhile you know that we are big fans of hanging out in children’s museums and this one is a lot of fun! There’s currently a Wild Kratts exhibit so that made it even more fun. (And a great way to get rid of some of the excess energy!)

The wedding was Saturday evening. Sunday morning, we went to a brunch with several guests from the wedding. Before we got back in the car to begin the drive back home, I thought that it would be a good idea to do something to get some fresh air. (Keep in mind, the temperatures were still chilly but definitely above freezing.)

Get some fresh air!

We went on a walk through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. I can definitely imagine that this spot would be absolutely beautiful in the spring, summer, and fall. It’s beautiful in the winter, too…but it’s a different kind of beautiful. A cold beautiful. lol.

 

We definitely need to get back to Minneapolis for a longer trip….and a longer trip when there isn’t snow on the ground! And in a hotel that has an indoor pool.

Where are your favorite spots for a Minnesota weekend?

A Scarecrow Filled Staycation

I am a big fan of using Groupon to find deals on places to eat, things to do, places to stay – essentially everything. We’ve lucked out that there has been a Groupon two years in a row during a staycation weekend for us. Every year, St. Charles hosts a Scarecrow Fest. We’ve gone every year since we moved into our house but last year we changed it up a bit by staying overnight and we returned to that same resort this year as well.

That resort? Pheasant Run Resort.

After we checked out of the hotel, both Ryan and I recognized that we just didn’t have a lot of time to really explore the resort itself. We spent a lot of time in downtown St. Charles at Scarecrow Fest, which honestly is the point of this staycation weekend, however we both acknowledged that there were enough activities in the resort itself that you could stay busy for a weekend. Perhaps this is something that we will look into during another weekend?

The Room

This year, we had an accessible room. That meant more space in the aisles and a much more spacious bathroom. I’m guessing that this won’t happen again but last year’s room was just fine. The beds are cozy and the bathroom is nice.

Side note: I’m guessing that the reason that we were given one of the accessible rooms is because the resort was packed during this weekend! There were several wedding groups throughout the hotel. And, members of the Doberman Club of America were also staying at the resort. There were so many dogs. !!!!!!

The Pools

There are two pools. One is an indoor/outdoor combination pool. We did not venture into that one this year. Last year, I got out of the pool because the indoor pool is just too cold (because it is actually attached to the outdoor pool, you can swim from one to the other). So, this year, we only went to the indoor-only pool. It was a bit funny to hear from other families as they joined us in the pool as they commented about how much warmer the indoor pool was.

When you check in, each member of your party gets a bracelet that gives you access to the pools. I’m guessing that the indoor/outdoor pool may be in high demand during the summer….but at not time were our wristbands checked by anyone at the pool.

There is a hot tub in the same area as the indoor pool which I was looking forward to using on the day that we checked out. However, that morning, the hot tub was filled with bubbles. Absolutely filled with bubbles. The woman that replenished the pool towels saw the water and quickly called for service. Yep. Those bubbles are not supposed to be there. Did someone add something? No idea. But, yea…no hot tub for me.

The Gym Facility

IMG_5518

The workout facility is really nice for a hotel gym. There are multiples of each machine. When I went down to the gym, there were four other people working on and no one had to wait for the machine that they wanted. Treadmills, ellipticals, steppers, stationery bikes, and several weight machines and some free weights. Lots of options and, when I was there, enough machines so there was absolutely no wait.

The Food

This time, since we were not in the resort itself for very long, we did not eat in any of the food options. However, there are restaurants, bars, and room service is also available. We ate most of our meals downtown St. Charles.

And, of course, we had my favorite snack: “Chewy Chips Ahoy in a hotel bed while watching Food Network.”

IMG_5515

The main reason to go, of course, is Scarecrow Festival.

The Festival

This is one of our favorite fall activities. The scarecrows are very cool to see, there’s a craft fair (which we did not get to at all this year but has been lots of fun in the past), you can make your own scarecrow, there is lots of food in the festival and, of course, lots of restaurants in St. Charles. There are lots of carnival rides, which the girls love. All in all, it’s a great weekend and a great way to kick start fall.

Great Wolf Lodge – A Great Family Lodge!

OK. It’s been several, several weeks since we had our trip to Great Wolf Lodge but I keep seeing Groupon deals for stays at the Wisconsin Dells location and the newer Gurnee, IL location.

So, I figured I might as well finally write up that blog post that I’ve been delaying.


The Decor

The decor, at least at the Wisconsin Dells location, has a very strong log cabin feel. The exterior looks like a giant log cabin. The lobby has antler lighting and animals throughout. Lots of antlers. Lots of animals.

IMG_2634

IMG_2635


The Room

Our room was really nice and was able to hold a lot of people. The room had a lofted space with a second bedroom which is really great if you have a large group staying with you. Remember, everyone staying in the room has access to the hotel’s amenities (water parks!!). Downside, the loft had a sink but no true bathroom so if you have a lot of people staying with you, there will probably be a line for the bathroom at some point. Other downside, the loft was significantly warmer than the downstairs space but the entire room was controlled with one thermostat. So, the downstairs space was usually fairly cold so that the upstairs was an ok temp.

There was a fireplace in the downstairs space. We didn’t use it but would be super fun and cozy during the fall or winter. The couch also folds out into a bed. Again, you can fit a lot of people in this room.


The Food

We actually ate most of our meals out and about in the Wisconsin Dells area. However, we began each morning with breakfast at the hotel. We had an option to do a family style breakfast each morning. It was delicious and all-you-can-eat. The options for the menu didn’t change (there is a different menu that you can order from if you don’t do the family style all-you-can-eat option), but it was all very family friendly. And whatever you wanted more of, well, they would bring for you. We ate so many cinnamon rolls…..

We did eat dinner in the restaurant one night while we were there. There was also an ice cream shop with some snacks. And there are snack shops in the water park section. You can also order a pizza and have it delivered to you in the water park.


Stuff to Do – Outside of the Water Park

The water park sections are, of course, the main attraction at the hotel. But there are a lot of other activities to do throughout the day. There are lots of craft activities throughout the day. Be sure to check the board in the lobby for times.

IMG_2742

We did the “Jammie Jamboree” which was pretty fun. We also did a “Storytime” with a meet-and-greet with a character. It was funny to see how excited the kids were to see the character from the “Great Wolf Lodge Story”.

IMG_2637 (1)

We also did the “Great Clocktower Show” which, well, I thought was pretty weird but the kids loved. Warning: The song from this show will get stuck in your head. Seriously.

The activities in the lobby area might be different from day to day so be sure to check the schedule. There were also craft activities in the lobby (these cost a fee.) One of our favorite hotel activities is to hit up the arcade. We did that on our last day at the hotel.

IMG_2815


The Water Park – The Main Attraction

There are several different sections with something for everyone (well, everyone who likes water parks.) There are big slides, small slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, and several splash pad sections. We spent most of our time in the splash pad areas. And, over the course of our trip, big girl got more and more brave and went on more and more water slides.

For your peace of mind, life jackets are available to borrow for free. You can also bring one, if you like.

Every person staying in the hotel room has access to the water park each day of your stay. So, plan on getting a locker and leaving most of your luggage in the car while you start your day in the water park while waiting for your hotel room to be ready for check-in. And do the same on your last day! Load up the car, bring a backpack with the necessities and spend some more time in the water after you check out of your room.


The Dells

If you stay at the Wisconsin Dells location, there are lots of activities away from the hotel that you can try. The Dells is packed with super-touristy and not-so-super-touristy activities.

We went on a beautiful hike.

IMG_2654

We explored some of the riverwalk area.

IMG_2686

We also checked out one of the most touristy activities: Tommy Bartlett Show! We had the option to purchase tickets to many of the most classic Dells activities by visiting the concierge in the hotel lobby.

IMG_2690


Honestly, we had a blast. As soon as we left, the girls were already planning our next trip. And since the water park section is indoors (there is a section outdoors, as well) this can be a great family trip year-round.

We will be back!

How to do the Free Admission Museum Days – And Still Have Fun

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile now, you know that our family are big fans of the museums in Chicago. These amazing institutions are some of the biggest perks of living in or near the city! But this is not new information. Lots of people know that already and are ready to take advantage of all that they have to offer. The museums are not cheap, though. A family of four could easily drop close to $100 just to get in to the museum. That’s why the free admission days are such a big deal!

On the free admission days (for Illinois residents) you get free general admission at the museum. Each museum is different and the free days are different for each one (be sure to look up that information on each museum’s website!). And, although we generally take advantage of the ones during the summer months, there are days offered throughout the entire year so, if you are an Illinois resident, definitely check these out!

Since so many people want to, and should, take advantage of this money-saving perk, it can get a bit crazy. We’ve done it many, many times and in that time I’ve picked up some tips.

  1. Try to arrive as close to the museum opening as you can. If there are exhibits that you know that you want to check out, head there first. The crowds definitely build after 11:00am. Most museums open at either 9:00am or 9:30am. Generally, if you arrive at 10:00am, you won’t have to wait in much of a line and can walk right in.
  2. If possible, take public transportation. But, if you have to drive, as long as you arrive close to opening you can probably get street parking. This is usually cheaper than parking in the museum parking lots or the lot at Soldier Field. Plus, you can pay for what you will use. Just planning on being in the museum for a couple hours? Just pay for a couple hours of parking!
  3. Bring snacks! But, pay attention to where you can actually eat your snacks in the museum.
  4. Food is pricey at the museums, especially if you are buying for a family of four. I usually buy a lunch for myself at the museum, brings snacks for the girls, and will purchase a cheese plate or fruit cup for the girls to share. Many of the museums do not want you to bring in your own food to eat in their restaurants, but since I’ve also purchased something each time no one has said anything. But, most museums also have an area for use by those who brought lunches. If you are not purchasing anything, I recommend scouting out one of those spots. If you can’t find a spot to eat, ask an employee for assistance.
  5. If you can, eat a late or early lunch. The lunch areas are usually less busy after 1:30pm or right at 11:00am (or whenever they start serving lunch). There are usually many schools, camps, and daycare groups at the museums, but they tend to eat their lunch before 1:30pm since they need to return to their camp, daycare, or school.
  6. Some of the Illinois resident day admissions include almost everything (the Shedd Aquarium is great for this – you get general admission, Stingray Touch, and can get into Wild Reef and Polar Playzone – this all had at one time been an extra add on on the Illinois resident days. So glad that that’s changed!!!) but most of the admissions only include the basic admission. So, if there is a special or traveling exhibit that you want to see be sure to calculate the price of that into your visit.
  7. Do you have younger kids and will plan on spending some time in the areas designated for kids? (Like Polar Play Zone at Shedd, Play Lab at Field Museum, Idea Factory at Museum of Science and Industry, and Planet Explorers at Adler) These tend to be less busy during peak lunch time hours. So, again, if you can, try to do a later or early lunch.
  8. Do your research! Some exhibits, although free and included in your admission, still require a timed ticket. Idea Factory at MSI is one of those. Get your ticket as soon as you arrive because you might not be able to get in to the exhibit for several hours. Some exhibits are not open every day. The Play Lab at Field is only open Thursday – Monday.
  9. After 12:00noon, the museums tend to get really packed. Keep this in mind when trying to plan bathroom breaks. It’s no fun for anyone when a bathroom break is necessary and the bathroom has a line out the door.
  10. Remember – have fun! It can get chaotic and when you start to feel the chaos, take a break. Have a snack. Step outside. (Many of the museums have an outdoor spot where you can eat, and take in a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and/or the skyline.)