Birthdays are always a hot topic at my house. It doesn’t matter if your birthday is 364 days away, we’re planning for it. Ironically, it’s not me (anymore)- it’s my children who’ve taken over the topic. They love discussing their pick for birthday meal. There’s always running conversation about Continue reading Best Small Town Theme Parks To Visit This SummerShare This Post
Have you ever noticed how much water costs when you purchase it randomly? I mean, seriously, for what it costs to hydrate my family for a day on vacation I could water my entire lawn every day for a month! You could really add a line item to the vacation budget just for “bottled water” for our family of 4. Consequently, we’ve become more conscious of ways to save money on water when we travel.
By taking a few steps ahead of time, we save hundreds on our bottled water budget! Here are a few things we consider prior to our travel:
Know The Rules: By simply researching the location ahead of time, you will know if it’s okay to bring water. Some theme parks actually welcome you to bring your own. Likewise, it’s good to know that airport security will not allow liquids past the screening point. Additionally, some venues have become extremely strict on what they allow while others have not. Check websites and look for sections titled “Frequently Asked Questions.” Often that is where you can located the beverage policies.
BYOW: By all means, if you’re allowed BRING YOUR OWN WATER! Paying astronomical prices for something so inexpensive is inexcusable when you have the option.
Water Bottles: If you are going to a place that doesn’t allow you to bring water, attempt to bring your own water bottle. It is easy to fill your water bottles at a water fountain inside the park or venue. Water bottles also allow you the convenience of not having to stop to refill often. If space is going to be an issue, consider purchasing a few collapsable cups. We’ve found that our kids think it’s a huge adventure to use these special cups, and it prevents arguments at the water fountain.
Sharpie: If bringing your own water or water bottles is completely out of the question, bring a sharpie. Yes, you will still have to spend money purchasing 1 round of drinks for everyone. However, instead of getting them mixed up and subsequently wasted, writing names allows you to use the same bottle all day. Again, see the paragraph above about filling water bottles at a water fountain.
Grocery Store Water: If we are going on a road trip we make room for a pack somewhere in our car. It’s amazing, for the same price we would pay for 1 or 2 waters at a gas station, we purchase a whole pack of 24!
Buy Smart: If you decide you need to purchase a bottled water somewhere, you pay anywhere from $2 to $5. Now, some places will give you a water (tap) without a purchase. However, those places are few and far between these days. But consider taking the same money you would have spent on water and put it towards a food purchase. Often times, with a food purchase, places are willing to give you a water.
At the end of the day, water is SO important. It’s not worth making your family sick in order to save a few dollars when traveling. On the other hand, when you can put in a little planning effort to save money it’s always helpful!
Have you found any additional tricks to avoid overspending on bottled water when traveling?Share This Post
I have to preface this post by acknowledging that many of my readers will scratch their heads and wonder how this is even a post. I get it. You rummage through your children’s closets prior to a vacation and throw in whatever happens to be clean. I think that’s normal.
However, there are some of us that are crazy. And by crazy, I mean that planning our kids’ clothing is almost as important as planning the trip itself. I fall somewhere in the middle. There are certain trips- namely Disney- that I enjoy planning my kids’ clothing to match the theme of the vacation. In all honesty, Disney theme has to be the easiest because it is so broad. The brand is everywhere from Target, to high end boutiques. Also, many children already own some sort of Disney-themed clothing.
Recently a friend came to me and asked for help planning her children’s Disney outfits. Of course, my first instinct was to be insanely jealous about her upcoming surprise family trip. Once I got past that, I spent an unmentionable amount of time thinking about outfits for their 5-day trip. It’s safe to say that you’re crazy when you spend long amounts of time planning your own family vacation wardrobe. And you’ve officially hit another level when you spend time planning these details for someone else!
So in rounding up some ideas for her, I realized this might be a helpful post for anyone looking for some clothing inspiration.
- Applique: While not the least expensive option, this might be my go-to favorite. The reason being- time is money. While you can run around everywhere (or spend time online) looking for the perfect shirts, by doing an appliqué you are able to order exactly what you want. I typically splurge on one set of appliqué shirts for my children per Disney trip. If you don’t already have a favorite “appliqué-r” (is that a word?), check out thousands of designs on Etsy.
- Be Creative: A few years ago we planned a Disney trip less than a week out. It was a last minute phenomenal deal for our family. My one reservation, how was I going to plan outfits on such short notice? With no time for special orders and no time to order anything online, I resorted to “one stop shopping.” I hit up a massive consignment shop and found TONS of things perfect for each child. Example- the dress my daughter is wearing in the top picture. Also, I was able to re-purpose a Christmas outfit I picked up by adding mouse ears (see below picture.)
- Accessorize: An inexpensive way to create Disney outfits is to add accessories to the right color clothes. My children already had black and red clothes in their closet, and by adding the right mouse accessories- we looked like we put TONS of thought into their outfits.
- Theme: You don’t always have to do Disney specific clothing to be part of the theme. Looking for great outfits to wear to the Animal Kingdom? Put your kids in anything with an animal print or with animals on it. Likewise, we chose to do a nautical theme several days on our Disney Cruise.
- Pajamas: Although my kids rarely need new clothes, I’m guilty of not always buying pajamas. However, my kids love new pjs and they always get a lot of wear out of them. Over the years I’ve really enjoyed buying them a new set of Disney themed pajamas for our trips. They love them, and it makes for awesome pictures. Plus, you can literally find Disney PJ’s in EVERY store- it will be the easiest purchase you make!
- Holiday: Around the holidays, you can get away with anything theme-wise for vacation clothing. Disney does a huge Halloween celebration and many children wear their costumes. Likewise, around Christmas parents will dress their children up in their Christmas outfits. Again, no specific Disney theme necessary!
- Dress-Up: When my daughter was younger I would just raid our dress-up bin for additional Disney outfits. She loved her princess dresses so much, and really loved the fact that I would let her wear them in public when it wasn’t Halloween.
- Outerwear: There’s nothing more disappointing than planning perfect Disney outfits, only to have them covered up. Keep in mind, the weather is always questionable. We’ve gone in April and froze, and we’ve gone in December and been sweaty. You just never know. I like to try to layer under short sleeve things so you can remove the bottom layer it if you get warm, yet still see the design in both cases. If you are going at a time where you are pretty certain it will be cold, it may be best to theme the outerwear (like a Disney sweatshirt.)
Regardless of what you wear to Disney (or on any trip, for that matter), you will have a wonderful time. As crazy as this sounds, sometimes theming my children’s clothes actually makes packing easier.
Do you have any tips for planning Disney-themed clothing?Share This Post
Yesterday I posted some of the highlights of our day at Dollywood. As I mentioned, the park has so much to offer, you’ll want to maximize your visit. If you missed it, go back and check out yesterday’s post (part 1) that included 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood.
Here are 5 more things you’ll want to check out:
- Country Fair: This section of Dollywood is designed to be reminiscent of a country fair with bumper cars, swings, and all sorts of carnival games. This area also contains a variety of rides for toddlers. Additionally there are a few rides in the Country Fair section for families to enjoy together and a few that are for the thrill-seeking family members. The Country Fair section has the largest variety of rides in a very contained space which makes it an ideal place for families of various ages to spend time!
2. Seasons: Dollywood does seasons…we’re talking ALL.OUT. The whole park gets decked out for all the various holidays and seasons. Our visit fell during fall and we were blown away by the attention to detail (although the weather still very much resembled summer!) From what we’ve heard, Christmas at Dollywood is something you shouldn’t miss!
3. Dolly’s Home On Wheels: At one point we’d stopped to look at our park map. The kids were anxious to go on (yet another) water ride. Suddenly a man stepped out of an RV next to us (that I honestly hadn’t even noticed until the door almost hit me.) He assumed we were waiting our turn to tour Dolly’s Home on Wheels. Seeing an excuse to stall the water ride, I agreed to climb aboard. And we were so thankful we took the accidental opportunity. It was very cool to tour Dolly’s old RV and hear stories about her time on the road. We genuinely enjoyed the history lesson and seeing a glimpse into Dolly’s world!
4. Grist Mill Cinnamon Bread: There’s really nothing to say about this except for “yummy.” It’s so delicious. If I lived in Pigeon Forge I’d be at the park gate every morning for a loaf (or 5) of this bread. We got a hot loaf to share almost immediately after arriving at the park and we also purchased 2 more to take home with us (taking advantage of the complimentary package pickup service that I mentioned yesterday.)
5. Photo Card: Although a slightly extravagant souvenir, Dollywood makes purchasing a photo card well worth it. For $39.99 guests can purchase a photo card to be loaded throughout the day with photos of your fun. All of your roller coaster photos, plus any additional pictures snapped during your day can be added to the card. Additionally, with purchase you receive one 5×7 print of your choice. Dollywood allows you to select this picture at the end of your day. If you are in inclined to purchase one or two prints, this photo card is well worth the price!
What are your “can’t miss” things at Dollywood?
A few weeks ago our family had the opportunity to visit Dollywood Theme Park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Less than an hour into our visit, I decided I would buy a season pass if we lived closer. It’s the kind of place you could visit over and over without it getting old.
Dollywood combines the feel of a quaint mountain town, with thrilling rides and captivating shows. Between the shows, shopping and food, I could easily spend a whole day there without going on a single ride (not that my kids wanted to try!)
Here are 5 things to be sure not to miss at Dollywood:
- Measuring Station: As with all other theme parks, most of the rides at Dollywood have height restrictions. Just inside the gate kids can get measured and tagged with a color coded bracelet. This will prevent employees from measuring your children at every attraction and allow you to plan height appropriate rides.
- Eagles: Dollywood boasts the largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles in the country. Their 30,000 square foot home delights guests with close encounters with the beautiful bird. Through demonstrations, staff members, and signs, you can learn all about the bird that is our country’s mascot.
- Southern Food: It is worth going to Dollywood for the food alone. EVERYTHING we tried during our visit tasted amazing. There is no shortage of southern staples and dessert in the park. We highly recommend eating at least one meal at a sit-down restaurant.
- Roller Coasters: Dolllywood’s roller coasters are known throughout the country for being some of the most unique and exciting. Although the biggest roller coasters have height restrictions, several of them were designed for smaller children (42 inches and taller.) Another fantastic feature of the theme park- many of the big roller coasters have playgrounds nearby for smaller family members to enjoy while others in their party ride.
- Shopping: Again, like the food, you could come to Dollywood JUST to shop. The Dollywood stores contain a variety of touristy, local and trendy items. Truly you can find something for everyone. Also, be sure to take advantage of their awesome (and complimentary) package pick-up offer. Rather than carry your purchases around the park, have them sent directly to the front entrance for easy pick-up on your way out!
There are so many great things to do and see at Dollywood! Later this week I will post 6 more things not to miss during your visit.
LEGOLAND attracts thousands of guests each year. To make the most out of your experiences, here are 5 things you should know before your trip:
- Distance from Orlando/Tampa: LEGOLAND is not located with all of the other Central Florida theme parks. In fact, its a full 45 minute drive from that area. If you are coming from Downtown Orlando it will be even further (and more than likely you will experience traffic.) The park is also a 45 minute drive from Tampa. I am not necessarily recommending that you stay in Winter Haven, but knowing your travel time may help you plan your day. Winter Haven does offer a few hotels in addition to the LEGOLAND Hotel on property.
- Height Requirements: As with most major theme parks, LEGOLAND established height requirements for most of the rides. Many of the rides require an adult to accompany small children. Spending some time looking over the height requirements may help your family enjoy their day a bit more. A couple times my 4-year old son ended up disappointed when he could not ride. Likewise, I had 2 children at the park by myself. If my daughter had been 1 inch shorter, I would have really struggled to balance the need to ride with both kids on several of the rides (as a single-parent for the day.)
- Food Policy: LEGOLAND is extremely liberal with their food policy. They allow guests to bring snacks, drinks and even small soft coolers into the park. Bringing your own food will save you lots of money. Not only that, but your children are guaranteed to have food they will enjoy. You will also be able to cater to certain food restrictions or allergies. Be sure to review the policy rules before your trip.
- Age Recommendations: Unlike many of the other theme parks, LEGOLAND is specifically geared towards children between 2 – 12. There are even several small play areas for toddlers (children under 2) and many rides that very small children will enjoy. Most of the rides at the park are very basic. They are really fun, but not necessarily designed for thrill seeking teenagers or adults. My 4-year old son was tall enough to go on all but 2 of the rides. None of the roller coasters go upside down or do any crazy spins/turns. That being said, LEGOLAND is the perfect theme park for a very specific age range.
- Ticket Pricing: LEGOLAND offers a significant discount for people purchasing their tickets in advance. If you buy online at least 2 days prior to your visit, you save at least $20 depending on your ticket choice. You should also search the internet for ‘buy one get one free’ ticket coupons.
What are your LEGOLAND Tips?
*LEGOLAND hosted our family during our visit*Share This Post
Earlier this summer our family visited SeaWorld. Although we were all looking forward to our day, my 8-year old daughter counted down for weeks before our visit. SeaWorld combines her two loves- marine life and roller coasters.
As I planned for our day I anticipated a little bit of conflict. Mary Grace is tall and quite a daredevil. She’s always been adventurous and pushes the limits on everything. Even as a young child she went on every roller coaster with her hands up in the air. Her thrill seeking attitude could not wait to ride everything.
On the other hand, our 4-year old came to SeaWorld with us too. He likes to do everything big sister does. Although he’s much more cautious, I knew he’d be bummed about not getting to ride the big roller coasters. Because of this family dynamic, conflict was inevitable during our day at SeaWorld. I planned ahead…but I made one teeny, tiny miscalculation.
I’ve found that knowing what to expect always helps our travel days go smoother. In that spirit, I did a little research about SeaWorld prior to our trip. I learned the height requirement for the 4 major roller coasters was 54 inches. Making a tiny mark on the wall, I used a tape measure to verify my daughter was in fact tall enough. At the time, I remember thinking it was close, but clearly enough.
I also found a smaller roller coaster- The Shamu Express (dubbed as the “just-thrilling-enough first roller coaster for kids) for our 4-year old. Having mentally planned our day, I reminded the kids that they would be able to ride different rides. However, we would spend a lot of our day watching the shows together as a family. Foolproof, right?
Well, no. It turned out that my somewhat whimsical measurement “ruined” my daughter’s day. She wasn’t tall enough to ride any of the big roller coasters. The first time she got measured that day I was somewhat annoyed at the SeaWorld employee (in hindsight, I was TOTALLY wrong!) I thought they did the measurement too quickly and didn’t let my daughter get in prime, height-maximizing position before dismissing her.
Like any truly awesome parent would, I walked away and coached her on how to stand up straight enough to make the height requirement. Looking back, I’m truly ashamed at myself for thinking this way, let alone vocalizing it to my child. In my own defense, I truly thought she was over 54 inches.
It turns out, she wasn’t. She was less than 1/4 an inch away from the 54 inch mark, but she definitely wasn’t quite 54 inches. A VERY kind SeaWorld employee saw my daughter’s tears and spent several minutes making sure we were getting an accurate measurement- even giving her a chance to reposition her feet and hold her head straight. Unfortunately, no amount of will-power could make her taller.
Oh, the drama and the tears that followed the second measurement were enough to break my heart. Obviously, her height that day..or lack there of…wasn’t my fault (well, technically it probably was, but that’s another story.) But I did feel responsible for setting her up for disappointment by getting her excited about the awesome roller coasters she would ride at SeaWorld.
A few times she uttered the words “my day is ruined.” I can assure you, it wasn’t. Not even close! We had an AMAZING day at SeaWorld! I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about this minor blip in an otherwise perfect day, except for the recent tragedies at a couple of other theme parks. Most notable, the 10-year old boy who died on a water park roller coaster/slide.
The news stories hit close to home. I kept thinking about how my daughter- for a few brief minutes- said that not being able to ride the roller coasters ruined her day. Yes, perhaps, but it didn’t ruin our lives. I know at the time I felt disappointment and possibly a tiny bit of annoyance that the SeaWorld employees stuck unapologetically to the height requirements. The distance between my daughter’s head and the 54 inch mark was almost microscopic.
Now, I feel gratitude. This summer’s tragedies served as reminders to why theme parks have such strict guidelines. Rules are in place and enforced to keep us safe. Bottom line. So HUGE public thank you to the SeaWorld employees that measured my daughter that day. I know I smiled and thanked you, but deep down I disagreed with your decision. I was wrong.
*I do not know the circumstances leading to the death of the child, or any of the other details surrounding the other theme park accidents this summer. In no way am I assuming or implying that the incidents were related to any height requirement infractions.*Share This Post
SeaWorld has always been and will always be a phenomenal theme park. Dedicated to research, education and rescue, the park gives visitors a glimpse into the ocean world. Not to mention, it provides the opportunity to laugh and enjoy a fun filled day.
Recently our family got the opportunity to visit SeaWorld (Orlando.) Prior to our trip I understood very little of the background and future of the Killer Whales at SeaWorld. Through various media reports my awareness boiled down to knowing the organization announced plans to end the Orca breeding program.
If you are unfamiliar with the story line, let me provide a brief explanation. Once upon a time, the owners of SeaWorld rescued killer whales in the wild and brought them to live at the various theme parks to be trained and enjoyed by audiences. Although it has been over 40 years since a captured whale relocated to a SeaWorld tank, the orca program thrives from their breeding efforts.
Earlier this year SeaWorld announced plans to end their breeding program. What exactly does this mean? It means that the current Orcas living at SeaWorld are the last generation. The last generation of Orcas at SeaWorld means that we are the last generation to have the opportunity to see them up close.
I didn’t fully understand the impact of that statement until my family sat in Shamu Stadium. As we prepared to watch the show, SeaWorld ran a short video announcing the upcoming changes to their Orca program. Within the next year, the show will be cancelled and a new habitat constructed. Until the last Orca passes away, they will continue to live in a more natural looking tank for visitors to observe. And after that, the opportunity to see an Orca up close will be gone forever.
The video was a great reminder that in a lifetime most people will never get the opportunity to see an Orca in the wild. But because of the Orca program at SeaWorld, over 400 million people have gotten the chance to learn, observe and fall in love with the beautiful creature.
Sitting in Shamu Stadium with my two kids I realized, this is a once in a lifetime moment. Opportunities are easy to take for granted. It would have been easy to get caught up in the excitement of the day.
But in that moment I urged my children to soak it all in (literally!) I pointed out that an opportunity to get splashed (or, in our case- soaked!) by an Orca was never coming around again.
It doesn’t really matter which side of the debate you stand on. The debate is over. As this generation dies, they will not be replaced. Soon the opportunity to see an Orca will be gone. Before it’s too late, go to SeaWorld. The rides at all the other theme parks will always be there. In fact, they’ll be bigger and better in a few years. But, this, this chance to see one of the most magnificent animals in the world, will be gone.
In a statement from their CEO and President, SeaWorld said ““We’ve helped make orcas among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet. As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will experience these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”
*Mom With A Map will forever be grateful to SeaWorld for hosting us and allowing us this once in a lifetime opportunity.*Share This Post
In a region where theme parks and tourist attractions dominate the landscape, standing out presents a challenge. Yet, the creativity behind LEGOLAND helps it emerge as a top family destination.
LEGOLAND Florida opened its doors in 2011. However, the small town of Winter Haven (just a 30-40 minute car ride south of Orlando) has strong ties to the amusement park industry. Cypress Gardens, Florida’s first theme park, called Winter Haven home for many years. After purchasing the property, LEGOLAND completed several renovations and additions, while maintaining much of the charm and beauty of the former park.
Because of its rich history, the grounds of LEGOLAND hold a high level of energy and brilliance. Additionally, the owners preserved the botanical garden. Located on the shores of Lake Eloise, the park offers spectacular views in addition to a phenomenal line-up of rides, games, and shows.
Visitors to LEGOLAND can even experience one of the rides from Cypress Gardens- The Island In The Sky.
LEGOLAND is divided into several LEGO-themed sections. Young children, especially, will enjoy “Duplo Valley.”
Young children drive tractors, ride trains, and play on small playground equipment. You will also find several splash areas to cool down. The Duplo Valley area contains clearly marked signs and appropriate play structures for even the smallest guests.
Possibly the most impressive portion of the park includes over 32 million LEGO bricks. In Miniland USA, guests can visit California, Las Vegas, New York, Washington D.C. and Florida- all in 1 day!
The detail on each of these locations is beyond impressive! We thoroughly enjoyed studying all of these structures. You are also able to read many facts about Miniland U.S.A. throughout the area.
Other awesome parts of the park include: Fun Town, Land of Adventure, LEGO City, The World of Chima, and Heartlake City.
Throughout the park you find amazing LEGO statues, and figurines of your favorite characters.
Also, you will find several playgrounds throughout LEGOLAND, as well as LEGO play stations in all of the lines.
The park offers a wide variety of food options. I highly recommend ordering from the kid’s menu at The Market Restaurant. The meals included a drink, chips (or pretzels) and a squeeze fruit. The Apple Fries were also DELICIOUS!
LEGOLAND is a theme park designed for younger children. The suggested age range is between 2-12; However, I certainly feel it would be appropriate (and enjoyed) for children under 2. Any thrill seeking child will be slightly disappointed at the lack of “adult” roller coasters. There was only 1 roller coaster that my 4-year old was too short to ride.
Speaking of that, be sure to check out the hight requirements prior to your visit! Also, consult the website for up to date information on hours of operation.
**LEGOLAND hosted Mom With A Map during our visit**Share This Post
Today’s Favorite Travel Product: Emergency Rain Poncho
Last week our family spent a few days in Central Florida. Anyone familiar with Central Florida in the summer will know that huge rainstorms can roll in at a moment’s notice. It will pour for a solid 10 minutes, and then the sun will come out like nothing happened.
As we planned a few days at theme parks we knew the likely possibility of an afternoon rain shower. There is nothing worse than spending the day wet after a sudden rain! And I also didn’t want to lug around big raincoats in my bag. Not to mention, with the temperature in July in Florida- no one would want to wear a raincoat!
I purchased a surplus of disposable emergency rain ponchos to carry in my backpack through the parks. My children remembered these from past trips and were genuinely excited to wear them in the event of rain.
As luck would have it, I was prepared so, of course, it never rained. Not once. The whole trip.
But here’s what it would have looked like- had we needed to wear the emergency rain poncho:
As you can see, the length is too long for children. When we have used these in the past, I run into a gift shop (theme parks have them on every corner!) and ask to borrow scissors. Cutting several inches off the bottom helps keep my children more comfortable. Also, they are safer when they aren’t tripping over all the excess material.
I highly recommend ordering a pack of these Emergency Rain Ponchos before you travel. Especially if you are planning outdoor activities, these truly save the day in the event of rain!
Keep in mind, the ponchos are disposable. Saving them does not prove to be worth the effort, especially given the cost. I guarantee you’ll never be able to fold them back up without creating tons of air pockets. However, at just over $1 apiece, they are SO worth investing in for your travels!
Visit this link to order a 10 pack: