Ignore Those Who Say Differently And Take Your Kids On Vacation

Family Travel

At the end of January I saw an article on Facebook about travel destinations you shouldn’t take kids. I didn’t think much of it because I agree that there are just some places you shouldn’t travel with kids. I would never think of taking my daughter to a popular spring break destination during spring break. Not because I’m opposed to spring breakers, but because it won’t be fun for her. Or us. And that charming B&B? Not for kids. Not because they’re hooligans or wild beasts, but because there likely isn’t anything there for them and their boredom is not good for them, their parents, the other guests, or the B&B staff.

Evidently, though, the article garnered a great deal of feedback. Many of the comments seemed to miss the point. Or so I thought. I didn’t see the article as telling me I should never vacation with a child. And even if it did, I would greatly disagree. See, BabyGirl has been traveling with us since she was a baby. What I never did, though, was assume that travel with her would be just like it had been when I was single or married without children. That’s the key. Kids change everything, we’ve heard it before. And, for the most part that change is pretty awesome.

However, when you travel with your kids (or in my case, just one child) you have to think very differently. You can’t expect to smoothly push a stroller around ancient cities with cobblestone streets, narrow passageways, and pre-historic sights. I wasn’t a stroller user, but when we travelled while BabyGirl was still in a car seat we have a car seat/stroller combo. It wasn’t always easy or convenient. But I knew this going in and I didn’t expect others to accommodate me when this was not their choice. Parents with kids, even tiny babies, know that there is a level of unpredictability that ranges from ‘I can handle that!’ to ‘Mary Poppins would quit on the spot’. If you expect to find world-class medical care within a mile of your second-world accommodations you’re delusional.

Travel with kids, like pretty much anything with kids, requires thoughtful consideration. Whether it’s a staycation or a trip across the globe, kids should be able to go and everyone still have a great time. It’s wrong to think parents of small kids should only have the option of not traveling or leaving their kids with someone else. Parents know their kids best. And while I do question the parenting choices of people who are pushing a stroller with a sleeping kid, or better yet a screaming kid, at 1am down the Las Vegas strip or from attraction to attraction at Disney, I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t vacation with their child. Make different choices, yes. Hunker down until their child is “old enough”?  No.

Every family is different, and I think if you’re able to navigate the complexities of traveling with a child you should. What I don’t agree with when it comes to vacationing with children is that my vacation should suffer because of another family’s choice not to manage their children or expectations. Parents can’t take your new double-wide stroller on vacation during peak time and expect for others to be patient while they figure out how to get the over-size contraption onto a bus without taking out the kids because “they’re tired”. Parent’s can’t travel to a foreign country and expect to find their child’s favorite food and when they can’t expect others in the restaurant to be understanding of their screaming child.

Vacations should be fun for everyone. The people who work at our destinations should want to help us create a great experience. Others who meet up and interact with us shouldn’t feel like we’re ruining their vacation. Yes, things happen and plans go awry. Luggage isn’t delivered, hotel descriptions are not accurate, travel guides aren’t forthcoming. But things go wrong all time. I’ve changed hotels with my daughter because the walls were paper-thin and just because babies get hungry and cry and I have to be up at 2am to feed her doesn’t mean everyone else in the hotel does too. For me, waking up several times at night to feed an infant is normal. My normal, though, may not be your normal.

Now that BabyGirl is almost a teen (my how time flies!), there seems to be a consensus that there are no limits to traveling with her. That’s not the case either. There are plenty of places I don’t think are appropriate for her to visit. Traveling with kids provide them with wonderful and amazing opportunities. But, becoming a parent is not a prison sentence requiring to stay within the confines of your home until your kids are “old enough”.

What are your thoughts on traveling with kids?

Sara

Create The WOW – Parenting On A New Level

Create the WOW

As summer was coming to a close for most, my family and I headed out to Florida for our pilgrimage to theme park central. As someone who has strong memories from childhood, it’s important for me to help create opportunities for BabyGirl to make her own memories.  As an only child, BabyGirl is often required to be more grown up. It’s one of the reasons why theme parks are a “got to” vacation spot for us – because it’s a place where everyone gets to be a kid!

Part of our trip this year included the Family Forward retreat because I thought it would be great to learn how to better communicate as a family. At the kick-off, Jyl Johnson Pattee, founder of the Family Forward retreats, mentioned a phrase that really stuck with me throughout the entire weekend – Create the Wow! When I heard it I wondered who has time to “create the wow” except on special occasion or when you really want to make an impression. But soon I realized there was more to it.

Making Barilla Pasta Salad Family ForwardFirst, “create the wow” means different things to each of us. Just ask your kids! Sitting at lunch, which was sponsored by Barilla, it was fun to hear what kids from various families though could be done to make meals at home more special. I think most parents were surprised that it didn’t involve fancy food, elaborate meals, or over-the-top desserts. I heard things like have a picnic in front of the TV, use a table cloth, have a taco bar, and eat dessert first. Really? These are so easy! We can all easily “create the wow” at mealtime at least once a week!

Second, “create the wow” can easily become a family mantra or way of doing things. Kids need to be involved in creating the family dynamic and, unfortunately, they’re often left out. I know for me it’s easier to do things myself or make plans while BabyGirl is at school or one of her classes. Plus, I like doing “surprise” things for her. But at the retreat I realized that while my surprises are fun they may not be her idea of fun.

Give Kids the WorldThird, sometimes “wow” moments come from doing things for other people. As part of the retreat we were given the privilege of learning first hand about Give Kids the World, a family oriented village with a single goal – to give kids with life-threatening illness an opportunity to be a “normal” kid. Even if it was just for one week. The vision of one man, Give Kids the World gave me, CycleGuy, and BabyGirl the opportunity to see that doing for others – even in a small way – gives you a sense of “wow” and appreciation for what you have. It brings perspective that can get overlooked.

Adopt A Pilot SWAFinally, while not the motto of Southwest Airlines, a sponsor of the retreat, it was clear from the presentation by the two pilots in their Adopt a Pilot program that it’s part of why the program exists. Reaching out to the local community is important to many companies. But with Southwest it’s not just a company philosophy backed by money. It’s backed by employees who take their time to go to schools to get kids excited about science and math, staying in school, and studying. Yes, it’s fun and the kids love learning how airplanes work and what it’s like to be a pilot. But it’s a “wow” moment for many of the kids. And for the pilots too. Learning new things is a great way to bring WOW into your life!

I imagined I’d learn a lot and have fun at the Family Forward retreat. I didn’t realize it would have such an impact on my parenting. Being a mom to an only child has its own challenges. One of my biggest challenges is to make sure BabyGirl gets to be a kid and not a mini-adult. So this idea of “create the wow” really works to get me thinking about making sure she still gets to be a kid.

Have you ever thought about this concept of “create the wow”? How would you “create the wow” in your family?

Adopt A Pilot image courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Sara

5 Vacation Memory Lessons From A Tween Traveler

Vacation Memory Lessons

I remember one vacation from my childhood, a trip to California with my grandparents. That family vacation was everything to me, not just when I was 7, but for many years to come. Even today it takes me back to 1977. vacation memories

So when I became a mom I wanted BabyGirl to have more than just one vacation to shape her childhood memories. About a year ago, as I talked to her about memories from our recent vacations I learned a big lesson. My desire to make memories for her, no matter how big or amazing or magical or fantastical were just that. My vacation memories. She needed to make her own vacation memories and instead of trying so hard I needed to let go.

5 vacation memory lessons from a tween

  • Kids will remember things differently than parents but it’s supposed to be that way.
  • A child’s idea of fun may not be the same as mom and dad.
  • Memories are personal and can come from experiences both big and small.
  • Parents’ joy and excitement, as well as my other emotions and feelings, shape the memories others make.
  • Kids aren’t thinking about making memories, they’re just trying to have fun in that moment.

Tween Vacation Collage

Out of the mouth of babes, yes? These kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. Shared experiences can turn in to memories. But as a parent my job is to provide opportunities to create memories, not to force my ideas of what should become her lifelong childhood memory.

Tween Statue of Liberty Selfie

Here’s to superhero families and childhood memories to last a lifetime!

Sara

The Statue of Liberty Up Close

Visiting Statue of Liberty

I’ve been to New York City a lot. CycleGuy used to live there. I’ve traveled there for work. And vacation. I’d been there many times before September 11, 2001. And every time I just figured there would be a “next time” to go see the Statue of Liberty.

It’s hard to miss “seeing” her. The beautiful and majestic lady stands at one of the gateways to America to welcome all. Lady Liberty’s been greeting people since 1886. And here I am, in 2014, decades after first seeing her, just now going to visit. I shouldn’t feel bad considering how many friends I have from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut who’ve never visited her. They see her all the time, what more could there be?

I think we take for granted many of the things we have. In Paris, there are Parisians who’ve never gone to the top of the Eiffel Tower! To me, that’s just crazy. Then again, I know quite a few people in Arizona who’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. We figure these will all be around forever and we’ll get there “someday”. Ah, the proverbial someday.

We decided to take BabyGirl to New York for Spring Break and asked her what things she really wanted to see. On her list were a few things her BFF had seen last year – Central Park Boathouse, FAO Schwartz, and Dylan’s Candy Bar. But, BabyGirl also wanted to go to the Statue of Liberty. So, I set out to make that happen.

Going to the Statue of Liberty (which, if you didn’t know, was constructed with help from Gustav Eiffel) isn’t as easy as just hopping on a ferry. There’s quite a bit of planning involved since the tickets are timed for a specific date. None of this last minute decision-making, especially if you want to include a visit to the Crown or Pedestal. The only way the public can access Liberty Island is by buying a ticket through Statue Cruises (a contractor for the US Government since the island is maintained and managed by the US National Park Service). The ticket includes both Ellis Island and Liberty Island.

I bought what are known as “Reserve + Pedestal” because “Reserve + Crown” had sold out by time I went to buy ours. That was about 90-days out and they were sold out in a very short time. Reserve tickets are the base-level tickets and gets you the audio-tour and access to grounds (and the various free tours by Park Rangers) only at Liberty Island. All tickets include Ellis Island. The pedestal tickets get you access into the pedestal the Statue stands on, whether it’s by elevator or the 231 steps. It’s in the pedestal where you get to see the original flame and gain information from the museum-like displays. We’d wanted to get Crown tickets but with only about 100 sold each day you have to be on top of it when planning your visit. And since we wanted to go a specific date, the lack of flexibility meant we couldn’t go.

Statue of Liberty Tour Pictures

Although we were staying in New York, we took a ferry over to Liberty State Park in New Jersey to begin our visit to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. There are only two locations you can board Statue Cruises, from Battery Park in lower Manhattan or Liberty State Park in New Jersey. Both are small boarding areas, but with timed tickets and having to go through airport-style security (yes, take off coats, remove everything from your pocket, send your things through the scanner, you go through the scanner) we decided the smaller crowds would be better since waiting outside in the 20-ish degree weather for the shortest amount of time would be best. Waits at Battery Park, especially during peak season, can exceed two hours so you have to plan accordingly. When we went, the wait to get through security at Battery Park was over an hour while our wait at Liberty State Park was about 20 minutes.

From New Jersey, the first stop is Ellis Island. Most people don’t get off the ferry but it’s their loss. Ellis Island is magnificent. Due to superstorm Sandy, most of the building is off-limits. Ellis Island and the buildings on it were badly damaged by the storm. Much of the historical information stored in the buildings was damaged and it’s taking quite a bit of time to clean and restore them. However, having the opportunity to walk into the giant, open building is something that has to be experienced at least once.

Statue of Liberty

We spent most of the day touring both islands. It was a very cold and windy day, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our visit. Seeing Lady Liberty and the  is one thing, but being able to visit and stand upon their soil is one of those thing you have to experience to understand. It’s cool to see them, which you can from many places along the river in New York or New Jersey. But both are places you have to stand upon to truly get a sense of how it must have felt to the millions of immigrants, some of whom are people we know and love.

Statue of Liberty Selfie

For many people, going once is enough. For us, though, I think we’ll be going again when BabyGirl is older. She learned a lot, and, like visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s not just a check-off on the bucket list. I want her to get meaning and experience it so she remembers it, but I don’t really have control over that. It’s up to her. But I can give her these experiences, so that one day she’ll look back on them with fond memories.

Note: all photos were taken with our cell phones. BabyGirl had her own so she could create her own travel memories.

Sara

Take Time To See The Roses and Enter To Win A Trip To The 125th Rose Parade

 

 

Last year I mentioned that I’ve been to The Rose Parade once when I was a kid. All these years later, I still watch the parade and think of that experience camping out to get a good spot. And while I don’t think I’ll ever camp out for a spot again, it’s something I’m glad I did. It was that experience that has taken time to see the roses every year at The Rose Parade.

Recently, my friend’s mom passed away and as I drove to the funeral I went a bit out of my way to drive to Pasadena. It was my friend’s mom, Eileen, who took me along. And as I drove through Pasadena I could hear her laughter and sense the joy she had taking “her girls” to see a parade she’d been watching for decades.

Every New Year’s Day I join the millions of families across the globe who tune in to watch The Rose Parade. I love watching the back stories about how the floats are made with all the flowers and seeds and grasses. I’m amazed at how one person’s idea can be transformed into a three-dimensional float.

Then there are the marching bands, dance teams, drill teams, and other organizations with youth from all over who’ve saved and begged and raised money to be there for this parade. I love watching these kids perform and knowing how hard they’ve worked to get there. I know it’s not easy being in a parade but the memories.  Oh, the memories!

This year, DOLE is once again vying for the prize of being the best float among the over 40 floats. And to celebrate their involvement with the 125th Rose Parade they’re giving away a trip to the parade and football game. If you’re on Facebook, you can enter directly through the DOLE Facebook page. You can also enter other ways by going directly to the DOLE sweepstakes page.

The grand prize winner will receive a four night trip to Los Angeles – from December 30, 2013 to January 2, 2014 – for themselves and three guests to see the DOLE float in the 2014 Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in beautiful Pasadena, California. The winner will also receive four tickets to the 2014 Rose Bowl to watch two of the best college football teams fight to become the 2014 Rose Bowl Champion.

The sweepstakes runs through December 5, 2013. In addition, DOLE will also give sweepstakes entrants the opportunity to win prizes daily in the “Instant Win Trivia Promotion” to those who enter the “Cheer in the New Year” sweepstakes and correctly answer five trivia questions.

So, go enter and if you’re the winner make a big sign for me!

Sara

Goodbye, Brace Face

 

This is a sponsored conversation on behalf of Invisalign and their Straight Talk program. When I was invited to participate in this program it was easy to say yes. I may be busy but I’m not foolish enough to turn down the opportunity to get all my questions answered by an Orthodontist who was willing to spend as much time as needed. If you or someone in your family may need braces, I hope you find this information helpful. I know there are many opinions out there, mine is just one.

What a difference a few decades make, especially when it comes to advances in dental care. For most of us, having braces in high school meant a mouth full of metal for a few years. It’s what it was, your friends had them, you had them, and no one really cared. And, yes, I did have them. Thanks to those giant glasses you’re distracted from noticing I’m wearing braces, aren’t you. Or maybe it’s the totally 80s hair that cause you not to see that glare in my mouth.

Sure, there were the taunts of “brace face” and “metal mouth”. Then there were the days after the adjustments when your mouth would hurt like you were punched in the face. But there was always a friend who was going through this braces thing at the same time, so it wasn’t too much of a big deal.

Thirty years after getting braces, I still remember my orthodontist’s name. I loved Dr. Black and his staff. I hated getting the impressions taken, and to this day I can still remember the feel of those metal forms and the squishy material as it mushed down onto my teeth. I remember the times my lip would get caught on a bracket. And who can forget the sudden jab of a wire into the jaw. Good times!

Over the past several years I’ve heard about Invisalign. I don’t need braces again, but it’s something CycleGuy has considered. And as BabyGirl gets further into her tween years, it’s possible she will need braces. I’ve done some research, have spoken to a few people, and yet still had more questions about how clear braces compare to traditional braces.

At a recent Invisalign event, a local orthodontist shared his perspective and gave insight about pros and cons the profession has about both traditional braces and the clear Invisalign product. As someone who took great pains to constantly floss and have my wires taken on and off for my 6-month dental cleanings, I was surprised to learn that one of the biggest drawbacks of metal braces today is their impact on long term dental health. It makes sense that with Invisalign, there is no interference with daily flossing or regular dental checkups. However, I didn’t realize what a big deal this was since I had this freakish need to have clean teeth.

Since the Invisalign event was close to the end of the school year, a few people mentioned graduation, yearbook, and prom photos. It wasn’t easy to find these photos. Besides the general lack of photos from the 80s, I had a hard time finding a photo of me smiling with my braces on. I can imagine how different it is today with cell phone cameras everywhere and the ease of photo-sharing.

See that photo to the left? Yes, that’s me. Still had the big totally 80s hair, requisite blue eyeshadow, but this time I have pearly, straight teeth! And since you likely can’t read the shirt, I will out myself and confess that, yes, I was a finalist for Miss Texas US Teen. And I gladly smiled for every pageant I was in.

So much of what Dr. Shipley was saying made me understand why Invisalign is so popular. But popular is one thing, how it works is something different. The group of moms at the event didn’t hold back on the questions about efficacy. Braces, whether traditional or Invisalign, are a huge expense in both money and time. And while I don’t want BabyGirl or CycleGuy to deal with the societal stereotypes that go along with braces, I also don’t want to spend money on something that’s not as good just because it’s a better fashion statement.

Boy was I surprised. With Invisalign, there is no goopy tooth impression. In its place is a digital scan that more accurately maps the mouth and tooth alignment. Instead of relying on an assistant’s expertise, or a few minutes with a doctor, each of the incremental changes are built into the Invisalign trays with mathematical and technical precision. And there is the smooth plastic tray instead of brackets and wires that can irritate the inside of the mouth.

I think, like many people, I had an idea about much of this before attending the Invisalign event. But it really clicked after hearing other moms ask questions I hadn’t thought of, and hearing Dr. Shipley speak very candidly about both types of orthodontia treatment. It was nice hearing from a doctor who believes in the benefits of orthodontia and not just in one type of solution.

Before the event I was very skeptical. Now, though, I would definitely have CycleGuy consider an Invisalign assessment. And when time comes, if BabyGirl needs braces, I would consider Invisalign for her. Based on the out of pocket cost for us, it’s not much more than traditional braces. And with the added benefit of continuing her good dental hygiene I’d prefer to have an option that allows her to keep up those good habits.

One question I did ask, was how Invisalign works with kids (and adults) who have cleft lip and palette concerns. While this isn’t a concern for everyone, I wanted to know because I know a few people who would be interested. Dr. Shipley said that Invisalign may be an option but before you rule it out talk with your surgical team and have an Invisalign professional who has additional training and experience with similar patients. I know for many who have cleft issues, clear braces would be one less thing to worry about.

His answer to that question really sealed it for me. He could have easily just said it would be fine. And maybe some would. But when a doctor is willing to tell you that his services may not be the best for you, that level of honesty is a good foundation for everything he says.

Don’t just take my word on this. Check out the Invisalign website, like Invisalign on Facebook or follow Invisalign on Twitter, or make an appointment with an Invisalign trained specialist in your area.

I hope this information has been helpful to you. If you have any questions for me, please ask. I learned a lot and am happy to share with you so you can make the best decision for you or your family.

Disclosure: I have been provided compensation for the Invisalign Straight Talk program to share my thoughts and (embarrassing) photos about my experience with braces and how it compares to the new alternative of Invisalign. All thoughts and opinions are mine, and may not reflect the views of any organizations listed. My thoughts and opinions were not influenced by this compensation. This article was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. Why do I put these disclosures in my posts? Besides being a lawyer and writing about this stuff, they’re required by consumer protection laws and you deserve to know. Invisalign is a medical device and should only be provided by a licensed dental professional. This information is not being offered as medical advice.

 

Sara

Tea for Two … or Four

Phoenician Resort Scottsdale, AZ

You’ve been to afternoon tea, right? Or maybe you call it high tea. Either way, it’s one of the little indulgences every girl should experience. And if you ask CycleGuy, it’s cool for guys too!

I was 12 when I first experienced high tea. My Auntie Emma (my Grandma’s sister) invited me as part of my Bat Mitzvah prep. We went to the country club and it was quite a fancy affair. It was just the two of us and it made quite an impression. There were no men, as this was a “women members only” experience. I remember the piano player and all the nicely dressed women and young girls. And that first experience taught me so many things. It was very formal but there was a lot of laughing and talking. My Auntie was relaxed and funny and shared quite openly, which wasn’t something she normally did when we visited.

It wasn’t until I was out of college when I decided afternoon tea shouldn’t only be for “life events”. Periodically I’d gather a few friends and we’d spend a Saturday afternoon sipping tea and eating the most adorable and delicious little sandwiches and pastries. Sometimes I’d convince CycleGuy to come along, but usually he’d be the only guy and would rather it be a girls’ afternoon for me.

That was until we went to London when I was 8-months pregnant and I mentioned going to Afternoon Tea at The Ritz. So in all my pregnant-ness I squeezed into a lovely dress and CycleGuy donned a coat and tie and we sat among locals and tourists alike for what was probably 4 hours. The interesting thing about tea at The Ritz was how many men were there. No matter how many times we’d had tea before, there were rarely men. Not here, though. There seemed to be an expectation that men would attend, or maybe it was that these men didn’t think women should be the only one to enjoy such a delicious and relaxing time.

Fast forward a few years and my friend Zoni and I were hired to write reviews of the several locations for afternoon tea in Phoenix and Scottsdale. That was a no brainer! Afternoon tea at the finest locations, with BabyGirl and CycleGuy? Absolutely! It was an amazing experience and we definitely had favorites.

When I was asked if I’d like to experience Scottsdale and write about it from a local’s perspective, of course I said yes. And I knew exactly what I’d do, Afternoon Tea at The Phoenician. Known the world over as a top resort destination in Scottsdale, The Phoenician opened 25 years ago and was once owned by a royal family.

The Lobby Tea Court is a spectacular setting and has been home to the Afternoon Tea tradition since it opened. It’s definitely an experience, not an afterthought. From the moment you’re welcomed into the intimate, but open, lounge your cares and stresses start to melt away. For the next two or so hours your biggest decisions will be what type of tea you would like and if you want another chicken salad sandwich (or two).

Tea at Scottsdale Phoenician

While it’s not common to see children at Afternoon Tea, they are welcomed and offered the same tea service. For some this may be a deterrent, but BabyGirl was 4 the first time she had tea at The Phoenician (actually, she was 3 months old but being there isn’t quite the same as actually having tea) so she’s fairly familiar with the options. And oh, the options! This time there were almost 20 teas to choose from, all described so deliciously it was difficult to choose.

Tea is as much about the relaxing and visiting as it is the food. And The Phoenician doesn’t disappoint with either. Fine silver, Wedgewood China, beautiful piano music, amazing views and delicious food all create an experience you’ll want to have again and again.

We’re very fortunate here in Scottsdale to have more than one place to have afternoon tea. But The Phoenician is definitely my top choice. It hold so many memories for me, having been here numerous times. It was the first place CycleGuy and I had tea with BabyGirl, introducing to a tradition we hope stays with her.

Every time I have tea I’m taken back to that first time, at the country club with my Auntie Emma and the laughing and sisterhood. Afternoon tea may have started as a way for royals to have a little bite to eat and get them through until dinner. Today, it’s less about that and more about slowing down, relaxing, letting go of stress and technology and the fast-paced world and just being with friends having some tea and talking about life.

The Phoenician’s Afternoon tea isn’t a showcase of culinary excess or musical interludes. It’s traditional and relaxing. There are big windows with views that are truly breathtaking, fine linens and comfortable chairs. You look around and imagine the celebrities and royalty that has been there before you.

Every time I’ve been to the Phoenician it’s been nothing less than perfect. And for a few hours, perfect is gladly welcome!

 

Disclosure: This post is part of a compensated project by the Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. I was asked to share some of my favorite places, from the perspective of a local. This post was not reviewed by a 3rd party. All opinions are mine and may not reflect those of the company. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. All photos are mine and subject to copyright.

Sara

They Call It Whale Watching

A few days after whale watching season kicked off, CycleGuy, BabyGirl and I embarked on our first whale watching experience. I chose to go with Flagship Cruises based on their relationship with the Birch Aquarium. If I’m going to look at whales, I want to do it with pros. And who’s more professional than a naturalist whose job is studying these giant creatures?

On the last Friday of 2012, we boarded a boat in the San Diego harbor for what would be a 3-hour trip. Notice I didn’t say tour! (hehe) It was a crisp, sunny morning when we took off, and our naturalist assured us we would see plenty of sealife. We settled in on the top deck, enjoying our 45-minute trip to get it of the bay and to the ocean.

It was such a clear morning we could see all the way to Coronado Island and the crimson top of the Hotel Del. Along the way out to the ocean, it was so clear we could see all of Point Loma and the lighthouse that sits at the tip of the bay.

As we cruised out to the ocean we saw a few dolphins frolicking alongside the boat. It was very fun to watch them jumping out of the water, seemingly along for the ride. It was about this time this crazy woman decided to sit down next to us.

The three of us were doing just fine on our little bench. BabyGirl got up and was standing at the railing looking down at the dolphins when this mother and her young daughter sat down next to me. This would have been just fine had this woman and her daughter not decided to (1) talk about how bumpy the ride was becoming and (2) sing random pop songs completely out of key. So, we ended up moving downstairs which was a great move because few people were down there and we ended up having a more comfortable ride. Also, when we did see whales we didn’t have to fight for rail space to see them.

Whale Watching Along California Coast

But if you’ve never gone “whale watching” you might think it’s like in the movies or videos where you boat out to the wide open expanse and these cute creatures come up to your boat and wave and splash and jump out of the water and put on a show for you. Nothing could be farther from the truth than that. Whale watching is more like whale glimpsing. It’s not that you don’t get to see these amazing giants, but you can’t get all that close to them.

Federal laws prohibit getting within 100 yards of a whale so an experienced captain is a must. You want someone who knows the waters and migration paths so when a whale is spotted you’re not zipping to and fro trying to see it. Of course, whales can get within 100 yards of you, and many do. However, this will depend on where you are and what time of the season it is because some whales are just more social than others. Also, a lot depends on the type of whales you’re spotting.

Along the California coastline you’ll mainly see Grey whales, although orcas, humpbacks, fin and blue whales have been spotted too. These Grey whales are beautiful cetaceans are the most prevalent along the California coast because this is their migration path from the North Sea down to Mexico. Grey whales do breach, but as with any whale you just never know when. Instead of looking for them to jump out of the water, when you go watching for them, you’re looking more for seeing part of them as they dive. And since they’re bottom-feeders, when they take their big sounding dive they’ll dive down about 100-feet for 3-5 minutes.

Before heading out to go whale watching I didn’t know a lot about what to expect. I knew we’d be quite a ways away from them unless they just happend to be swimming along or around us. But once we got a glimpse of the stream of water from the blowhole it was truly magical. You’re willing to stand and stare off into the horizon waiting to see what’s next.

Whale Watching in California

We saw 6 Grey whales on our trip. Even though we were at least 100 yards away (think, a full football field) you could easily see them. None of them breached or did anything like in the movies, but seeing the water-puff and watching them arch slightly out of the water was spectacular! When they come to the surface, even though you can’t see their entire body they leave what’s known as a footprint in the water. The water becomes very flat and calm where they are and you get a sense of how huge they are even though you only are seeing the front of their body as they exhale.

Whale Watching

In the above photo, CycleGuy was able to capture the fluke of the whale as it took its sounding dive. The sounding dive is the third of three dives the Grey whale takes. It’s in this dive that the back end of the whale will come out of the water. Seeing that huge fluke was jaw-dropping. Sure you know it’s coming because you see a big portion of the whale as it arches just before this big dive. But when you see that fluke above water you’re left speech-less. About all we could say was “WOW!”.

If you have the opportunity to go whale watching it’s something you should do at least once. We went on a calm day but the waves were still choppy and bumpy. I’d love to go again to see more and different whales. And it would be cool to see a whale breach. Until then, I’m so glad to have had this experience.

I’d love to hear from others who’ve gone whale watching. What did you see and what was your experience like?

CycleGuy and I purchased our own tickets to go whale watching. This is not a sponsored post and even though I don’t have to mention it, I am because I think you should know that not everything I do is paid for by someone else. I am not required to disclose this to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sara

Cavalia’s Odysseo: Breathtaking, Mesmerizing and Must See!

 Cavalia Odysseo

Throughout the year, there are many different shows and attractions that come to our cities. It’s difficult to figure out which ones to add to the calendar and which ones can be over looked. However, certain shows always rise to the top as “must see”. Cavalia is one of those “must see” if it’s in your town!

A few years ago, Cavalia came to Phoenix and it was so popular I wasn’t quick enough to get tickets and couldn’t see it. I have friends who went and loved the show. When I saw the billboards go up around town, I knew I wanted to catch the newest Cavalia, Odysseo, when it was in town.  When I was invited to opening night as a VIT (Very Important Tweeter), there was no question I’d be there.

As guests of Cavalia, BabyGirl and I attended the Odysseo premier and were treated to a tour of the stables after the show, as well as a very special meet and greet. Shown in two acts under an exceptional white “Big Top”, Odysseo is a showcase of both equine and human talent as well as feast for the senses. The show isn’t just “Cirque du Soleil with horses”, despite being created by Normand Latourelle, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil and the artistic director having spent nearly two decades creating for Cirque.

Cavalia Odysseo is a theatrical experience, an ode to horse and man that marries the equestrian arts, awe inspiring acrobatics and high-tech theatrical effects. Set under a 38-meter tall White Big Top, audiences will be transported around the world as more than 50 horses and an international cast play and demonstrate their intimate bond. The 1,393 square meter stage features a real carousel and a magically appearing 302,000-litre lake in front of a stunning video backdrop the size of three IMAX screens. Odysseo is a two-hour dream that will move the heart and touch the soul. It is an evening that the audience will never forget.

From the moment the lights go down, you’re on the edge of your seat as you’re so close to the extraordinary horses and exceptionally talented artists. Both BabyGirl and I sat there, wide-eyed, watching the show unfold. I was fortunate to have permission to photograph, video and tweet during the performance. Although, I have to say, it was very difficult to divert my attention away from the show. Watching it through a camera lens is not how anyone should see Odysseo!

 

One thing BabyGirl recognized very early was that in addition to the live singers, all the music was played live as well. Situated on either side of the stage in specially designed “bird’s nests” areas, the musical performers are made to be a part of the show that you hear and feel rather than see. However, BabyGirl homed in on the violin and was excited to hear live violin music being integrated into a very modern show. The music is so important to the show that hearing the different instruments helps create the different experiences.

At intermission, there is an audible buzz as everyone was amazed by the show. With 56 horses and almost the same number of acrobats, each segment is a showcase of talent. The African drumming, singing and acrobatics are not only fun to watch but they get you moving in your seat, too. The horse riders are showing not only exciting tricks but also great strength and athleticism. And the aerial acrobatics will leave you slack-jawed as your eyes widen to take it all in.

After the show, BabyGirl and I were taken on a tour of the stables. This tour is part of the VIP experience that can be purchased as a seating package. The stable is housed in a separate tent and is quite pristeen. After each show, the horses are washed and brushed and settled in for the night. Many of the longer-haired horses will have their mane and tail braided to keep their hair from being damaged. Their care and management is very serious business. These aren’t your average horses. They’re celebrity athletes, really.

As an extra special treat, BabyGirl was able to meet and talk with the show’s violinist. David was exceptionally gracious, and Sarah (our PR liaison) was so kind to arrange this for us. As a student of violin, BabyGirl spends a lot of time playing classical violin. Having the opportunity to meet David and ask questions about playing in such a modern show was so nice. David was encouraging and shared some of his background, including his experience as a Suzuki student, a teacher, and the many hours of practice he still does each day. The Cavalia team really did go above and beyond to arrange this meeting after what was surely a very long and intense day preparing for the opening show.

It’s no wonder Cavalia’s Odysseo has been so well received in Phoenix that the show has been extended until January 20th. If you’re in Phoenix, hurry and get tickets now! If you’ll be in Phoenix, consider adding this to your “must do” while here. This is a very intimate venue and all the seats are close enough to the stage to experience the show as it is intended. There is also plenty of accessible seating for those with mobility concerns.

I was a guest of Cavalia for the Odysseo premier in Scottsdale. I was not required to write this post. This post reflects my views and opinions and was not reviewed or edited by a third party. BabyGirl and I were provided “VIT” tickets to the show, although I had already considered buying tickets before I was invited. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sara