Friday Favorite- Crayola Travel Pack

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Crayola Dry Erase Travel Pack

As my kids get older, some aspects of travel are getting easier. For example, I no longer have to pack diapers. In addition to that, they understand how to behave in most settings (not that they always do!) However, keeping them entertained during road trips and air travel remains the same. In fact, in some ways it’s more difficult now because they no longer nap to fill the time.

With that in mind, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to keep them busy. We try to do at least a 50/50 ratio with technology time when we travel. So when they aren’t watching a movie or playing a game on their iPad, I need other things to occupy their time.

I recently ran into the Crayola Dry Erase Travel Pack and instantly knew I’d found a gem of a product. For starters, it’s specifically designed for travel. The mat is “fold and go” style with little storage hoops for the markers. The convenient, all-in-one design helps save space. It also eliminates the hassle of loosing markers!

Simple, yet perfect all-in-1 design!

The Crayola Dry Erase Travel Pack comes with 4 mini dry-erase markers, and a dry-erase cloth. The Travel Pack is ultra lightweight and about the size of a book. The markers erase easily with the cloth without water. And the board is ready for it’s next use.

Kids can create over and over again.

You can order the set by clicking on this link: Crayola Dry-Erase Travel Pack

*I’ve mentioned this before so in case you’re wondering- I still do not allow markers in my car. I’m crazy, but it’s one of my pet peeves. IF I were the type of person who allowed markers in my car, this would be absolutely perfect! That said, I will use this product exclusively for air travel.*

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Make Travel Great (Again?)

You might love him. You might hate him. Or you could feel something in between those two feelings. Of course I have my own thoughts, but I’ll sidestep the political conversation. Regardless, the fact is that Donald Trump will become our 45th president tomorrow. I would be remiss as a travel blogger if I didn’t at least mention the influence he has on the travel industry.

It’s no secret, President-elect Trump owns some real estate. In fact, a good portion of his properties are in the hospitality industry. From hotels, to golf courses, to casinos, his footprint in travel is unmistakable. Like most things associated with his name, the properties are larger than life. They are luxurious, iconic, and unparalleled in their respective categories.

In addition to owning hotels, The Trump Organization also licenses the name to properties around the world. For a complete list, click here. The hotels all boast impressive awards and exceptional service. Additionally, most consider the prestigious Trump owned golf courses among the best in the world.

In looking at all of his hotels, there are two that stand out as ones I’d really love to visit. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not like I’d turn down an opportunity at any of them! But these two are going on my bucket list. The Trump International Hotel, Washington D.C. is the newest in the hotel portfolio. Converted from an Old Post Office and located just down the street from The White House,  the hotel is already gaining international attention as being one of the most exclusive and luxurious in the world.

Trump International Hotel, Washington D.C.

In addition to the Washington D.C. property, I will add Trump Vancouver to my bucket list too. Scheduled to be completed in Spring 2017, the hotel will transform the Canadian skyline. It will stand as the second tallest building in the city, and contain extravagant guest rooms.

Despite his shift in focus to our country, I sincerely hope the Trump Organization (under new leadership) continues to thrive in the travel industry.

Have you ever visited a Trump hotel, golf course or casino? Will you?

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5 Perfect Valentine’s Get-Away Ideas

As of a few days ago, the last of my Christmas decorations secured their place in storage. I would celebrate this accomplishment; however,  I’m well aware that some manage to have theirs packed away by New Year’s Day. With that victory aside, I’m ready to look toward the next major holiday- Valentine’s Day.

Not being the overly sentimental type, my expectations for the day are always pretty low. In fact, I’ve always discouraged flowers, jewelry and candy (I truly hate receiving them!) Lest you think I’m a total Valentine’s scrooge, I will say receiving a gift card for a house cleaner was, undoubtedly, the best gift EVER. My husband knows me well.

All that to say, I ran into a little hiccup last year. I realized I’m raising a daughter who has no regard for the sweet, wonderful spirit of Valentine’s Day. When asked to independently decorate a shoebox for a card exchange with her classmates, I assumed she’d use pretty colors and heart stickers. I even set out supplies. The result was anything but love inspiring. Classically her, but certainly NOT Valentine-ish.

If this doesn’t scream “be my Valentine,” I don’t know what does!?!?

So I resolved after the “situation” last year that I would make an attempt over the next few years to act more excited about the girly aspect of the holiday. Naturally, I’ve decided a Valentine’s get-away is the perfect way to start!

Here are 5 great ideas if you’re looking for a little trip to take this Valentine’s Day:

Staycation: Perhaps the most obvious, and certainly the easiest- spend a night out IN your town. Go to a new-to-you restaurant, check out a new-to-you activity and find a cool hotel.

Big City: Choose a big city- either close or far- and spend the weekend exploring.

River Cruise: This is one of the hottest new trends in travel. It’s a great way to see a couple of destinations without changing hotels every night.

Hobby Destination: Go somewhere that you can do a favorite hobby. Golf, ride horses, camp, or explore an art museum. Pick one of your favorite pastimes that you don’t find time to do often enough!

Event Destination: Similar to a hobby destination, pick something special you can do or see in a city other than yours. Find out where your favorite singer will be performing, and go to the concert. Or travel to a show or favorite sporting event.

February 14, 2017

 Also worth noting- February 14th falls on a Tuesday this year. Therefore, 2 weekends technically “count” as Valentine’s Day weekend.

Are you planning a Valentine’s get-away this year? If so, where are you going?

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Can You Really Find Dory?

Between Christmas break and some recent snow days, my kids have been at home A LOT. Now don’t get me wrong, I love it. Honestly, having them around makes me happy. However, cold weather makes me crazy. Hanging out inside for days on end pushes me to the limit. We’ve done science experiments, crafts and fort building. And in addition to countless books read, I’ve resorted to TV.

We’re not huge movie watchers. Not only are my kids too active to sit still that long, but we rarely agree on one to watch. But, as I mentioned, we found ourselves with hours to fill lately and we got a new movie for Christmas. So basically Finding Dory has been playing on repeat.

As I sat listening to the words for the millionth time last week, I began to wonder “Is The Marine Life Institute a real place?” For anyone not familiar with Finding Dory, the main setting for the movie is an aquarium. The characters travel throughout the open air aquarium in search of…you guessed it, Dory. And though a cartoon, I have to admit that the place looks pretty cool!

The Marine Life Institute from Finding Dory.

So, the million dollar question, is it real? The answer, “sort of.” According to Pixar creators, The Marine Life Institute is based loosely on The Monterey Bay Aquarium. Many agree that if you visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium after seeing the movie you will find it familiar, though not identical.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Similarities include A Giant Pacific Octopus Exhibit and a Kelp Forest. Unfortunately, two of the most beloved animal exhibits from the film- beluga whales and whale sharks- can’t be found at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

One of the main themes of the movie is the idea of rescue, rehabilitate and release. (Though perhaps this is more for the adult viewer. I tried asking my kids if they saw that theme and my question was met with blank stares.) In other words, the movie doesn’t necessarily promote aquariums as tourist attractions. I won’t spoil the end of the movie, but let’s just say captivity doesn’t last.

Likewise, The Monterey Bay Aquarium focuses on education and conservation. They support rescue efforts and rehabilitation of Pacific marine life.

Despite not being the EXACT real life replica of the aquarium in Finding Dory, I can’t wait to visit!

Have you been to The Monterey Bay Aquarium?

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Friday Favorite- Snow Boots

Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Snow Boots

Often I write my “Friday Favorite” posts in advance. As I stumble on (or seek out) products, I typically go ahead and review them. Ironically today’s post was originally going to feature  some amazing new summer shoes I just purchased for my kids. While the idea of reviewing summer shoes in the dead of winter might seem odd, my reasoning was sound. You see, I purchased the shoes on clearance for 75% off due to the season. (And I thought others might be interested in doing the same!)

However, in light of some recent developments at our house I’ve decided to hold the summer shoe post and replace it with winter boots! Last week most of the South panicked about a snowstorm heading our way. Unlike my neighbors, I sat back and relaxed in the days leading up to the great southern blizzard. With my pantry, fridge and deep freeze stocked, I knew we wouldn’t starve. Additionally, because of our travels I knew my southern children’s closets contained all the cold weather gear they’d need.

Except, somehow, they didn’t. Being the uber organized person that I am (TOTALLY KIDDING), I decided to lay my children’s snow clothes out the day before. And in laying them out I discovered that not 1, but 2 of the kids didn’t have snow boots that fit. After laughing at the rest of the city scrambling, I found myself on a wild-goose chase for boots. Thankfully by that point the rest of the southern world was at home making french toast with their milk, bread and eggs.

By the grace of God we found snow boots in the correct shoe size at the 4th store. At that point style, color and brand were irrelevant. We needed boots for the massive amount of snow heading our way. The somewhat spontaneous purchase didn’t bother me because, as I mentioned, we always need winter boots for travel. I know my children will get a lot of wear out of weather appropriate shoes- if not at home, when we travel.

We love finding snow when we travel!

3 quick reasons I find proper shoes imperative for travel:

  1. Safety: Not having on appropriate shoes can lead to falls. I spend far less on shoes than I would on medical bills if one of my children were to slip on ice!
  2. Health: There is nothing worse than cold, wet feet. Undoubtedly, it’s the quickest way to catch a cold and ruin a vacation.
  3. Preservation of Shoe Collection: I’m serious. Have you ever worn shoes not designed for a specific activity? They were likely ruined. It’s not worth it to me to ruin other good shoes for a few hours of fun in the snow.
Pure joy!

Over the years we’ve been through several brands of snow boots. I try to pick them up in the off season for a discount; however, clearly I don’t always succeed. Here are a few of my favorite brands we’ve had in the past and loved:

Croc, Northface and Circo Brand snow boots.

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Passport To Fly Domestically, Coming Soon

Currently boarding a domestic flight is as simple as showing your state issued driver’s license. In fact, these days it’s about the only time I ever need to show my driver’s license. (And yes, that was both bragging that I never get pulled over while driving, and mourning the fact that I never get ID-ed when I buy alcohol.) However, next year the laws will be changing.

The US Department of Homeland Security recently confirmed plans to require passports for domestic travel from some states. More specifically, starting January 22, 2018 anyone with a driver’s license issued by a state that does not meet requirements will be required to show an acceptable alternative ID.

Though DHS has not released an official list of non-compliant states, many sources currently point to 8. Unless changes are made, residence of Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Washington will need to use an Alternative form of ID.

TSA will accept Passports, Passport Cards, Global Entry Cards, and US Military IDs. Additionally, travelers can use airport issued IDs or tribal-issued photo cards. Thankfully, children under 18 traveling with a companion will still not need to show any ID.

So what does this mean for you today? Likely nothing. However, in my opinion obtaining a Passport should be on your priority list. The Real ID Act was written in 2005. For years DHS has been working with local state officials to get IDs in compliance. Extensions have been granted and dates continue to be pushed back.

But soon TSA will enforce these rules. As everyone scrambles to obtain Passports, the wait will likely grow. Currently routine processing time is 6 weeks. Why wait until you can’t travel to apply for one?

For more information, visit the official DHS website. Also, visit TSA’s FAQ page for more details regarding Real IDs.

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A Visit To The Lost Sea

When my husband was in fourth grade he went on the most memorable field trip of his life. For years I’ve listened to him talk about The Lost Sea. His fond, and somewhat larger-than-life recollection of the destination came up often in conversation. Despite the best of intentions to visit, we’d never made it happen.

Amazingly my children retained their knowledge of stalactites and stalagmites!

Last year we visited Luray Caverns during a trip to Virginia. My kids, literally, have not stopped talking about how much they love exploring caves. In listening to them talk, you would definitely think they’d done it more than once. In fact, on a questionnaire my daughter actually listed “cave explorer” as one of her hobbies. Between my husband and my kids, I knew I needed to add The Lost Sea to our travel priority list for our next trip.

Sweetwater, Tennessee (1 hour north of Chattanooga, 45 minutes south of Knoxville) boasts America’s largest underground lake. Guests to The Lost Sea take a guided tour through one of the best caves in the country.

300 feet underground!

The tour takes roughly one hour and fifteen minutes and you will walk about 3/4 of a mile round trip. Descending to the bottom of the cave is not bad; however, the walk back up feels twice as long! The tour guides are knowledgable, and do a wonderful job making the tour entertaining. Our tour guide interacted with all the children and made sure they were learning  throughout the experience.

America’s largest underground lake.

The cavern remains a consistent 58 degrees year round. Ironically, it was much colder outside and we were a bit overdressed in our heavy coats! According to our tour guide, the cave temperature attracted many early settlers. They remained warm in the winter, and cool in the summer. We also got to take a boat ride on the 4.5 acre lake.

I think this makes us official “cavers.” We can’t wait to find our next one!

In addition to daily tours, The Lost Sea also offers overnight “Wild Cave Tours.” I can confidently say I’m not ready for THAT, but my kids are on board!

To find out more about The Lost Sea and to plan your trip, visit their website.

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Reasons To Use A Disney Planner

There is no doubt, a Disney vacation is magical and memorable. I would argue it’s the best trip a family can take. However, planning a Disney vacation can be memorable for the wrong reasons. Not only are the choices overwhelming, but the amount of work that goes into the planning will rival your day job.

There’s nothing better than making family memories at Disney!

For those reasons, I’m a huge fan of using a Disney Planner when booking our Disney travel. Having an expert plan the details of your trip not only makes for a smoother experience, but it also allows you to get the most out of your vacation. Disney Planners are knowledgeable, organized and work hard to customize the perfect trip for your family.

My good friend, Laurence Brown, is our Disney Planner. He put together a helpful list of reasons why using a Disney Planner is a win-win for you as you book your next Disney vacation.

Laurence and his sweet girl enjoying the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel at Disney World.

Service: You work with me and only me. I provide knowledgeable tips and advice personalized for your family. I want to help you and your family experience the most magical vacation possible.

Expertise: As an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, I exclusively plan Disney travel. I am passionate about Disney, and have firsthand knowledge of Disney destinations.  I know Disney inside and out (we are actually tested on it!)

Time Savings: I do the planning for you! I can help you with advanced dining reservations and provide strategies to make the best FastPass+ selections. Additionally, I constantly monitor new discount offers to see if I can reduce the cost of your trip. Finally, it’s my job to help you with any and all details of your trip.

Awesome view of Mickey’s Fun Wheel at the Disney California Adventure Park.

Cost: Best of all, my services are absolutely FREE to you. You will not pay extra for the time I spend customizing the perfect vacation. You are able to make the most of the money you’re spending on the trip by not missing out on any deals, opportunities or dining experiences.

Laurence is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. His goal is to help you get the most magical vacation possible. As Disney becomes increasingly more complex, using a travel agent that specializes in Disney is very important. His services are FREE which makes it well worth it to have the stress that often comes with planning these vacations taken away.

Laurence and his girls trying to pull King Arthur’s sword (Excalibur) from the stone.

For a FREE quote on a Disney vacation (Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney’s Aulani Resort, or Adventures by Disney) contact him today!

email: L.brown@magicalvacationplanner.com

text or call: 865-300-6464

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