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

Oh The Places We (Can) Go …

Piazza Navona

Since I was a child, I knew it was possible for me to go anywhere in the world. My grandparents travelled abroad quite often, staying for 3 or more weeks on each trip. And despite my mom not being about to fund trips for our little family, knowing that one day I, too, could save up enough money to travel drove me to be fiscally conservative.

Then I became old enough to travel and the world was changing. I went to Israel in the early 1980s, to live on a kibbutz. My first several days were spent in a bomb shelter. That leaves quite an impression. But then I also went to Lebanon and had pizza and shopped and met Lebanese teens who were a lot more like me than I thought they’d be. Conflict in the Middle East is the norm, still, as it has been for thousands of years.

College came along and the money went to pay tuition and books. Maybe a few movies and dinners out. But travel was limited to places I could go with friends who had a car. And it was fun, but it wasn’t what I had imagined. I wanted to travel. Go places. As in places far away and filled with people who didn’t speak my same language.

Today, despite the conflicts that exist all over the world, travel is so much easier. And cheaper. Sure, trips can be expensive but there are so many opportunities to go places both near and far.

Spanish Steps in Rome

I love seeing my friends post check-ins and photos of all the places they go. Some go to the same place year after year (Guilty!, but BabyGirl loves Disney!). Others are constantly checking out new cities, visiting friends, discovering gems and sharing them. With social networks it’s easy to be an armchair traveller.

Recently, I was talking with a few friends online and the subject turned to summer travel. Some had big plans to take their kids abroad while others were planning on a road trip to see family. There was excitement about what they’ll see and do and the fun their kids will have. Even my friends who are grandparents and travelled with their grandkids focused on if the kids would enjoy the trip.

Forum in Rome

I have to admit that BabyGirl has a big say in where we go, which is why Disney is often our destination. But that doesn’t mean we don’t go other place or consider them for future trips. BabyGirl actually has a list of places she wants to go.The list is quite diverse and very global, and that is fine by me.  And though Italy wasn’t on her list, our trip to Italy is definitely one of the highlights of her young life.

Vatican Museum

So while I joke with CycleGuy about going to Iceland to see the Northern Lights in October, he knows there is a seriousness to my suggestion. And when I talk about going to China he no longer looks at me like I’m nuts. Well, at least not about travel anyway.

The list of places we can go is only limited by our desire to make those trips happen. We may need to make sacrifices or make different choices. But we’re less constrained by options and possibilities than we are by other choices we make. I know we all don’t have a pot of gold we found at the end of the last rainbow we saw. But I know that if you want something bad enough you’ll figure out a way to do it.

Were do you want to go?

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

Visit Italy With Me

Even though BabyGirl and I have been home from Italy for several months, we often take time to look through the thousands of photos we took. I see the photos and think about how amazing it is that I saw these historical sights, and was able to share the experience with my daughter so early in her life.

Come with me on a little trip … to Italy!

Roman Colosseum

This is inside the Roman Colosseum, which was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater. It took 8 years to construct and was completed in 80 AD (or as I usually refer to it, ACE). To think, I stood there. In the same place people stood over 1,900 years ago. It truly is spectacular. From where I stood to the fence at the far end of the photo is approximately 350 feet. The walls in the inner oval (part of the hypogeum) area were actually underground. They were the holding areas for both the gladiators and animals that would fight. It is truly a sight to behold. It is enormous and despite being exposed to the elements all these years it has stood to tell the story of modern civilization. Sure, it’s a tourist spot. But due to it’s delicate state the number of visitors allowed inside is limited. That makes it even more special.

Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius

Pompeii, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, was buried under nearly 20-feet of ash when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD (ACE). While Vesuvius pretty much destroyed both Pompeii and Hurculaneum, the ruins of Pompeii remained buried for nearly 1700, until they were intentionally excavated after the accidental discovery of Hurculaneum in 1738. Over the last 250 years there have been major excavations, providing so much detail about the lives of people in Pompeii. They had running water, although all the pipes were lead. There was an open-air fresh market and a bakery, fish market, public bath and even a brothel. It was interesting to see how small people were based on the size of the buildings. The one thing that struck me was how well planned and organized the city was given the time it was developed. The ornate mosaic floors and vibrant frescoes are a testament to the artistry of the time. If you even have the opportunity to visit, do not hesitate to say yes!

Original Pompeii Road

This is probably one of my favorite photos. Not because it’s artistic or beautiful. But because of what it captures. This is a road in Pompeii. You can see the curb on each side, which are about 18-inches high. The curbs were so high to accommodate the flooding that was common from the rains. And at one time this hodgepodge of stones were actually perfectly fitting stones which created a very flat road. These were for chariots. And you’ll notice that there are grooves that were created by the wheels of the chariots. The deep groove at approximately the middle of the photo is much more prominent. But you’ll see the other wheel-made groove near the right edge. You can’t help but hear and feel the energy of those who used these roads over 1,900 years ago.

Venice Italy

Strada Nuova in Venice, Italy is one of the main walkways (roads) parallel to the Grand Canal. We were on our way back from spending a few hours exploring the Jewish Ghetto. Strada Nuova is lined with shops and, despite how barren it looks, is pretty busy. It’s an easy way to get from the South part of the island to the North if you need to be on the West side of the Grand Canal. The building are gorgeous and the little foot bridges break up the tunnel feel of the tall buildings. In this photo BabyGirl sports her new scarf she picked out at one of the many boutiques that line Strada Nuova. There was just so much to see and not nearly enough time.

From North to South, Italy is home to so much history, much of it we read about in school. Before going I had an appreciation for what the Romans did to advance civilization (even though they plundered and pillaged a great number of my Jewish ancestors and confiscated their holy relics). Seeing it first hand makes me wish I had actually cared more in my youth. And having been there once, I know now that I will figure out a way to go again and share it with CycleGuy.

Have you ever been to Italy? What are some of your favorite places and memories?

Sara

6 Tips To Enjoy Vacationing With Your Kids

Tips To Enjoy Going On Vacation With Kids

First there’s the panic of getting everything ready for vacation. There just isn’t enough time in the day to get it all done and still do everything else. So, we rush to pack and inevitably a favorite something doesn’t make it in the suitcase. Or, you’re super-organized and are packed and ready to go a few days ahead. And still, something gets forgotten.

Vacationing with the kids is something we look forward to, on many different levels. I know people who are excited to go on a family vacation, but send their kids to day camp while on vacation. I have friends whose idea of a vacation is packing up the car and just heading out, with no particular destination in mind. Both of these would not make for a good vacation for me.

As a kid, I didn’t go on family vacations. It just wasn’t something we were able to do. So when I became a parent it was a completely new experience for me. Sure, I went on a few trips with my family. But nothing that would make me claim to be “in the know” about traveling and vacationing with kids. I have to say, though, that CycleGuy and I have been extraordinarily lucky with out vacations with BabyGirl. She’s a great traveler!

And while there isn’t much time left for summer travel, I offer these 6 Tips to Enjoy Vacationing With Your Kids because they work no matter the time of year.

1. Involve the kids in packing – In my case, it’s just one child. Even if you’re trying to surprise them, most kids are able to contribute something so they feel invested in trip. Younger kids can help gather up some of their clothes or specific toys, maybe even talk about some of the things they might see along the way. Older kids can create a packing list before packing so mom or dad can check to make sure the right things are taken. The kids are less likely to complain constantly if they had a hand in choosing what they wear. And anything to keep the complaining to a minimum leads to enjoying the time together.

2. Prep the unfamiliar – I don’t know about you, but when I am in unfamiliar territory I don’t function the same. Kids are no different. When the kids are uneasy, it makes for challenging times for the parents. Recently we were at Disneyland and a family from New Zealand was sitting next to us while we were eating lunch. From the sound of the conversation they’d been in the US for at least a week, yet the two young boys were having problems with the food. It was unfamiliar to them and they just didn’t like it. I could tell the parents were frustrated, as they pleaded with the boys to just eat something.

3. Let the kids decide sometimes – If they’re old enough, even 2 or 3 year olds can make simple decisions, let the kids have some control over what happens on vacation. It could be something as simple as rotating who gets to choose what kind of food you have for lunch or what activity is first when you get to the beach. As parents we make a lot of decisions for our kids. Giving them some control over decisions helps them to feel invested and part of the vacation. They’re also less likely to complain about everything if they get to make decisions.

4. Establish a norm or routine – One of the challenges of vacation is the lack of routine. I know this sounds counter-intuitive to what a vacation is supposed to be. But, when we have our kids in a routine at home it’s hard for them to adjust to a 180 turn. When we travel with BabyGirl, we try to keep her bedtime routine similar to what she’s used to at home. The time is flexible to some degree, but even if it’s late we always make sure there is something familiar and comforting to help her get to sleep. Agitated and anxious kids do not make for cooperative and pleasant travelers.

5. Plan ahead to avoid tummy troubles – Even if we’re not too far from home, the different food, desserts that aren’t normally part of every evening at home, extra treats, restaurant meals and different levels of activity can cause digestion or intestinal changes in kids. Sometimes it’s just the excitement or anxiety of vacationing that causes the trouble. Having a product like Culturelle Kids! to keep the digestive tract in balance is often all that’s needed to ward off these troubles. When we travel we usually get BabyGirl started on the chewables about a week before we go. This way we’re less likely to encounter digestive problems when we’re on vacation. A sick kid while on vacation is definitely nothing to write home about. And having had friends spend their vacations in the ER with a child with gastro-intestinal problems, I know it not only is expensive in terms of money but it’s also costly in terms of making great family memories.

6. Let the kids take pictures – I know this doesn’t seem to go with the other tips, but one of the best ways to make sure kids are engaged is to give them a camera. With digital cameras so inexpensive these days, the investment is often very manageable. Even little kids have safe and durable cameras available to them. And while the photos may end up being deleted, there will almost always be one or two that can go in the vacation photo album giving the kids a sense of pride knowing they contributed to the memories made on vacation.

Family vacations can create memories that last a lifetime. Many of my friends, and I’m sure your friends too, have amazing stories of trips from their youth. But there’s always one person whose story is more like a tale of woe, often involving a trip to the ER or some equivalent in the middle of nowhere. Those are the types of experiences we’re trying to avoid now that we’re parents!

How do you get your kids involved when you travel so it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone?

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I was provided compensation for my time to write about my vacation tips. This post reflects my views and opinions and 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.”

Sara

$25 American Express Gift Card FREE with Purchase

Back to School is right around the corner. Prepaid gift cards are great for so many purposes besides just gifts. It helps to control your spending if you’re out shopping, it’s a great way for kids to have money without giving them cash, and can keep your family members from hitting the ATM on a whim.

Through August 31st, if you purchase an AMEX prepaid gift card and load $200 or more (at the time of purchase) AMEX will send you a $25 gift card complimentary. There does not appear to be a limit to the number of separate cards you can order so if you’ll be hitting a theme park soon this is a great way to add a few extra dollars to your snack and souvenir budget. Kids heading off to college may appreciate theseas well. And of course it’s a good option if you’re sending your kids to the mall for back to school shopping with their friends.

When your order an American Express PrePaid Gift Card you will need to provide your method of payment (checking or savings) as well as other identifying information to validate who you are (i.e., social security number). You will be providing this information to American Express over a secure server so make sure the URL has https at the beginning and you’re not on a public wi-fi connection.

The American Express Prepaid Card. Get exclusive American Express benefits- with no credit check. Get your card now!

ORDER AN AMERICAN EXPRESS® PREPAID CARD, LOAD $200 OR MORE AT THE TIME OF ORDER, AND RECEIVE A COMPLIMENTARY $25 GIFT CARD. Offer Ends August 31, 2012. Limit one (1) offer per Card. After qualifying for this offer, please allow 6 weeks for the $25 Gift Card to be mailed to the Card purchaser.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Your purchase helps support this site. 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

Disney World Park Planning – All Four Parks In One Day

Disney Parks

When planning a trip to Walt Disney World Parks, one of the many things you have to take into consideration is which park to go to on which day. If you’re going to be there for more than 4 or 5 days, it’s usually not a big issue because there’s plenty of time to hit each park. And if you have park hopper tickets it’s easier to change up your schedule.

But if you’ve got a coaster nut on your hands like we do, sometimes crazy thoughts enter their mind. Several years ago, on our last day at Disney World we got to Magic Kingdom at rope drop and by 10am had hit every major ride. Some of them 2 or 3 times.

Our Magical Express pick-up wasn’t until 4pm so we had all day. What do you do when you’ve done “all the rides” at one park and it’s still pretty early? So when BabyGirl asked if we could go over to Animal Kingdom so she can ride Expedition Everest (her favorite ride!) we figured why not. We could definitely get that done before the bus came to pick us up.

Evidently the sun had already gotten to me and I suggested that it would be fun to ride all the major rides at all four parks. In one day! Then get on a plane for 5 hours. What was I thinking? Am I insane?

We’re not talking about a ride here and there. No, I’m suggesting we do ALL the major attractions at ALL. FOUR. PARKS. That’s Magic Kingdom, which we’d already done. Then there would 2 rides at Animal Kingdom, which is not next to Magic Kingdom. And there would be 3 at Hollywood Studios and at least 2 at Epcot. That’s 7 more rides! At 3 more parks. In 5 hours! Seriously, it was hot and humid and I’m sure that led to my suggesting such a whirlwind day.

And so we set out to do it. And WE DID IT! Not just once, but we’ve done it 3 times now. I tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. If planning is not your strong suit then this won’t work. There’s no room for dilly-dallying, character meet-n-greets or shiny things. This is about focus! And Uncle Walt would be so proud.

So how did we do it? It’s easy! OK, not really, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Start at Magic Kingdom. You’ve got to be there for rope drop. We get FastPasses at each ride that has ’em, just incase. We go on Space Mountain 2 or 3 times then head over to Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road for a few rides then hit Splash Mountain. We skip Pirates of the Caribbean because the one at Disneyland Resort is much better (per BabyGirl). And because The Haunted Mansion isn’t usually too busy we’ll grab a DoomBuggie for a quick spin and a few songs to get stuck in our head.

On the way out of the park we’ll grab a Dole Whip. This last time we took a detour through Pixie Hollow to see Tinker Bell and Rosetta. Our last stop, is with a Photopass Photographer. Gotta remember that last day!

Disney World with Tinker Bell

Then we were off to Disney’s Animal Kingdom by catching the bus from the Transportation and Ticket Center. Once at Animal Kingdom it’s straight back to Expedition Everest. Really, for BabyGirl, this is the only reason she goes to Animal Kingdom. We get a FastPass then get in line. Depending on the time, we’ll ride it 2 or 3 times. Then it’s a stop at the Photopass Photographer who’ll take our photo with Expedition Everest in the background before heading to Flame Tree BBQ for lunch. After, we head back in time on Dinosaur.

Family at Animal Kingdom

At this point I’m usually out of the game. I’m the bag-watcher, FastPass getter. CycleGuy is designated chaperone. And so off they are to pre-historic times and I wait in the shaded area getting my sweat on.

With the new transportation that will take you from park to park, it’s easy to get to stop #3 on the Crazy Town Express, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This one’s a little trickier because the 3 major rides are all very popular. And Star Tours is on the other side of the park from Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. Since Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster is her favorite, that’s first. So they head there and I do my duty as FastPass getter. Several times on Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster and by now CycleGuy is standing in line with BabyGirl and letting her go by herself and picking her up at the end.

Did I mention she’s crazy?

And despite the fact that the first time BabyGirl went on Tower of Terror she said it broke her neck (don’t you love how 5 year old kids describe things?), this is now a must do. Although if she could bypass the movie she would. That’s the part that scares her. I don’t blame her. Twilight Zone was a freaky show. After Tower of Terror it’s off to Star Tours then a stop for a frozen Coke, one last Photopass photo then off to our final destination … Epcot.

Luckily, it’s just a boat ride over to Epcot. But if there are long lines, we’ve been known to take the bus to the front of the park instead of entering through the International Gateway and having to trek across the park.

For us, Epcot has our final 2 rides – Soarin’ and Test Track. By time we enter Epcot, our ticket has been scanned at 3 prior parks. Disney is well aware of this, so it makes for some fun conversations. We head to TestTrack and I grab FastPasses and we get on the ride. A few times! Then over to Soarin’ and if it’s 30 minutes or less we’re golden!

On the way out our last stop is at Club Station Cool for a quick refreshment before our final Photopass Photo Op.

I guarantee you, this is not for the faint of heart. It’s a very intense day. But, oh, it is SO. MUCH. FUN!

Four Disney Parks One Day

Now it’s your turn. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done at Disney World?

Sara

Why Disney Is Our Go To Vacation … For Now

Disney World Main Street USA

Growing up, I dreamed of Disney vacations. I went to Disneyland for the first time when I was 7. My grandparents took me and my brother on a road tip to Southern California to visit family. My Grandmother’s sister and brother, and a few nieces and nephews, lived in the Los Angeles area so it was an opportunity for us to finally meet our extended family.

I didn’t know I would be going to Disneyland, and I dared not ask. I remember getting up, knowing we were going on an outing. I was so hopeful, but I kept my excitement to myself. I had dreamed of going to Disneyland and watching the Wonderful World of Disney with Tinker Bell flying over the castle and that big splash of pixie dust were etched in my memory. I imagined it would be that magical.

As we walked through the gates and saw Main Street, USA I just looked at my Grandpa with a big smile and said “Thank You!” I didn’t need to say anything, he just knew. And he smiled back with that special smile he had when he wanted me to know he understood.

Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland over 500 times. Crazy, I know! Living in southern cal will do that for you. And when you’re 12 or 13 and you’ve mastered the bus route from your house to Disney, it’s easy to go several times a week.

Fast forward to being a parent. Cycle Guy and I knew we’d take BabyGirl to Disneyland one day. But we both wanted her to have that “WOW” experience I had walking down Main Street, U.S.A. in 1976. Her first trip would set the stage for what we hoped would be a lifelong love of Disney parks.

Our first trip was when BabyGirl was 4 and a half. It was an very unplanned trip, but something we needed to do to bring the magic and pixie dust back. We had been thinking about a trip to Disney, but sometimes things in life happen that make you throw caution to the wind and plan a week-long vacation to Disney World in less than a month. And that’s just what we did!

That was 2007. And since that first week we’ve since spent 40 days at Disney World with BabyGirl. We’ve gone back each year for 10 days.

Why? Why not go somewhere else? There are plenty of other places to travel. Like Italy? We know this. And throughout the year we do go other places. But for now, our vacation destination of choice is Disney World. Because one day BabyGirl may outgrow the desire to hang out with us at Disney, riding rides, ooohing and ahhhing over things we’ve ooh’d and ahhhh’d over hundreds of times. One day she’ll be grown up and want to take grown up trips that don’t involve getting up at the crack of dawn to hear the Welcome song at Magic Kingdom’s rope drop.

Honestly, I hope that day never comes. But interests change, demands on our time shortens our planned trips and instead of riding all the major roller coasters in one day she’ll want to take it easy and hang out at the beach, visit national monuments, or see more of the world.

I don’t think the magic and pixie dust will ever leave her. But for now, it’s all about being a kid. As much for me as it is for her. One day my baby will grow up and she’ll graduate to bigger and faster roller coasters (she already gets a subscription to American Coaster Enthusiasts thanks to Grandpa Tommy!). But I’ll always remember that her love of Disney was etched in her memory when we stepped onto Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom in September, 2007. Because moms remember that kind of stuff!

Do you have a favorite place to vacation? Growing up, did your family have a “go to” vacation spot?

Sara

What Is a MOMcation and How Do I Book One?

Remember those vacations you used to take when you were single? You know, the ones that were all about YOU. Where there were no low-blood-sugar-having spouse, the whiny kids belonged to someone else and if you wanted to sleep until noon no one would wake you because they were starving? I’ll give you a moment to reminisce.

As the featured blogger on Enough Time Moms I bring to light the wonders of the MOMcation – the very real mom getaway wihout kids or spouse. I recently had a discussion with some friends about wanting to book a room at a local resort just to finish up work that keeps getting put off, work on Inbox Zero, and just be. I hope you will join me at Enough Time Moms and share with me your thoughts and experiences on MOMcations.

Disclosure: I am a compensated blogger for Enough Time Moms. This post reflects my views and opinions and 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.”


Sara

Italy: 2 People, 10 Days, Carry-On Luggage Only

When I was in the final stage of planning the trip to Italy for me and BabyGirl, one of my big concerns was luggage. Traveling with a 9 year old girl presents a variety of luggage issues. It’s one thing to be dropped off at the airport and picked up on the other end. It’s something altogether different when you’ll potentially be dragging said luggage through an airport or two in Italy, on and off a motor coach and up and down narrow stairs in hotels that do not have an elevator. And let’s not mention the possibility of all the steps over bridges in Venice.

Of course, add to that having to convince a tired little girl that mommy can’t manage two giant pieces of luggage, her day bag, a Hello Kitty Bag and whatever has managed to escape said Hello Kitty bag. I really wasn’t looking forward to that part. Oh, and did I mention that many of the areas in Rome, Florence and Venice aren’t paved smooth but instead have cobblestones?

But I wasn’t ready to just yet commit to carry-on only. For months I’d been trying to convince myself that it really wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining it would be with our luggage. I kept trying to convince myself that I could do a 10-day trip to Italy with a tween with carry on only. All the while trying to glean tips from travel bloggers I follow on twitter.

For well over a year I’ve been following Robin, who blogs at My Melange. She’s a travel blogger who specializes in travel consulting and itinerary planning for Italy and France. And while I did not use her services since my trip was arranged with a group, I did spend quite a bit of time on her blog learning about Italy and how to manage my way around.

Robin has 3 terrific articles about traveling with carry-on luggage only which I bookmarked and probably read about 20 times each. See, it’s pretty easy to do carry-on when you’re on a few day business trip. But 10 days in a foreign country with your 9-year old daughter is a bit different. While I could think of 20 reasons why I shouldn’t just do carry-on, these 7 reasons why you should go carry on kept drawing me in. I agreed with every one of them!

I knew if I was going to do carry on only, I’d have to cut out a lot of ‘must haves’. But how? Again, Robin to the rescue! She offers do-able tips for getting over the stumbling blocks of carry on only travel as well as what beauty products you can do without when traveling to Italy. She speaks from experience, which I needed.

But still, I wasn’t ready to commit. It was going to a wedding a few weeks before our departure to Italy that convinced me. I packed up the new luggage I purchased and quickly realized how inefficient it was. The rounded corners, the molded inside to account for the sleek retractable handle. All wasting precious space.

After some research I bought the Rick Steves Convertible Carry On in red. Compared to my full-size spinner suitcase it had more square inches of packing space but is a fraction of the size. It is both a suitcase style with a handle and also has straps to make it into a backpack.

It took a lot of planning about what exactly to pack, but Robin’s tips were so helpful. Also, I tweeted with her and she was constantly encouraging and shared with me how she’s traveled to Europe numerous time with just carry-on luggage.

In the end it was so nice not to worry about whether my luggage will arrive when I do. I avoided schlepping multiple pieces of heavy luggage up and down stairs or maneuvering into small elevators. And despite having ‘deluxe’ rooms, they were very small and unlike others on the trip we never had a problem finding a place for our luggage in the hotel room.

Traveling with carry-on only isn’t for everyone. You have to be willing to sacrifice taking different shoes and multiple changes of clothing for each day, as well as your entire bath and cosmetics collection. I did have to do some hand washing. And I did have to work with BabyGirl to create easy mix and match outfits. But in my fun red carry on I had everything I needed for 10 day, and it only weighed 22 pounds!

If it weren’t for Robin’s constant cheerleading I may not have taken the plunge to go carry-on only. But I’m glad I did. It was one less thing to worry about. And because I used packing cubes, everything was organized and contained for easy unpacking and dressing. Having carry-on only was great on the return flight. After being up for over 24-hours it was nice not to wait at baggage claim before heading home.

If you’re planning a trip to Italy or France, check out My Melange. Robin is also on Twitter and Facebook and I know you’ll appreciate all the travel tips and information she shares. Feel free to tell her I said hello!

Sara