Family Travel – Fun Things to Do in Irvine, California #OrangeCounty

Family Fun Things To Do In Irvine, California

Are you planning a family vacation? If your travel plans include California, you don’t want to miss visiting Irvine in Orange County. During my recent 6-day trip to Southern California with my two kids, we found Irvine to be the perfect destination for family-fun as well as a great home-base for several day trips we took to the Laguna Beach, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach areas.

Many thanks to the folks at Destination Irvine who set-up travel and coordinated some of the activities during our trip. I highly recommend visiting this site to prepare for your perfect Southern California family vacation.

At the center of Orange County and just minutes from John Wayne Airport, Irvine is a beautiful community filled with shopping, bike trails, good food and fun things to do. I’ll be covering details of places to eat and our day trips in future posts, but first I want to share some tips about what to do in Irvine proper….a fabulous destination in itself!

Where to Stay:

Embassy Suites Irvine

Our home away from home for two days was the Embassy Suites Irvine – Orange County Airport. A comfortable place to rest and relax with plenty of room to spread out, the Embassy Suites, with separate living and bedroom areas great for families, also provides all guests a complimentary made-to-order breakfast each morning (hello omelets!) and snacks and beverages in the evening. We loved playing cards in the atrium before dinner while enjoying refreshments.

Embassy Suites Irvine

Plus – if you are smart enough to schedule some down-time during your vacation (I need to do a better job with this) you can swim in their indoor pool or take advantage of summer programming like a painting class we noticed they were offering on Wednesday evenings. Very cool.

Embassy Suites Irvine

We’ve stayed at Embassy Suites hotels in other states before. In fact, Annie still remembers staying at the one in Dallas when I took her to the American Girl Doll Store for her birthday when she was just five years old. Embassy Suites does a great job of providing consistently great service across their chain of hotels and the Irvine location just went through a $12 million renovation – apparent by the modern furnishings located throughout both the guest rooms and public areas.

Fun Things to Do:

Orange County Great Park and The Great Park Balloon Ride

The Great Park Balloon - Irvine, California

We made a stop here Sunday evening – the first night of our trip. Open Thursday – Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., The Great Park (once a Marine Corps Air Station) is now home to sports fields, a carousel, a farm and food lab with interactive fruits, flowers and vegetable displays (open from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.), a historical hanger with cool exhibitions including two World War II airplanes, a play area and visitor’s center, and probably the most recognizable attraction – the Great Park Balloon.

The helium balloon goes up 400 feet offering views of Irvine; however, wind prevented us from riding it while we were there. Because of this fact (we learned that it hadn’t been able to go up for several evenings the week we were there) and more activities offered earlier in the day then in the evening, I recommend going to The Great Park in the morning/early afternoon.

The Great Park Farm and Food Lab

If I was lucky enough to live in Irvine, I would be out here. A lot. They have a farmer’s market on Sunday mornings and host classes including sports and dance, yoga, photography, art, sustainable gardening, cooking and wellness throughout the year. They also offer activities like movies on the lawn and family craft and play programs. While we were there, a fencing organization was outside practicing. We heard they are building a new ice skating rink including a practice facility for the Anaheim Ducks there as well as well as fields for many different sports. My kids, who both play lacrosse, were happy to hear that lacrosse facilities were included in the plan.

The Great Park, Irvine CA

We were bummed we weren’t able to experience the 15-minute helium balloon ride, but we checked out a frisbee and soccer ball from the visitor’s center at no-charge and had a great time enjoying the sunset and beautiful evening playing together on the lawn.

We are slowly learning that when we travel, we have to be flexible and deal with the unexpected…making the most of the journey as it unfolds naturally. You can plan (and boy do I plan!) but certain things, like the weather, just can’t be helped. Getting stressed out doesn’t make things any better. We ended up having a great time doing something that wasn’t on the itinerary.

Tip: Bring a picnic and make a day at the park if time allows. Visit them online to see about free classes and activities that may be going on during your stay and take advantage of the Farmer’s and Artisan market with food trucks and live entertainment on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Irvine Spectrum Center

Great Wheel - Irvine Spectrum Center

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no lack of shopping in Orange County. The Irvine Spectrum Center is an outdoor shopping center with two department stores (Nordstrom and Target), many full service and casual restaurants, tons of popular stores, and entertainment including a movie theatre, ferris wheel, carousel, kiddie train, Dave & Busters, and a comedy club.

Great Wheel Irvine Spectrum Center

Since we didn’t get to ride the Great Park Balloon – we were very excited to get a bird’s eye view of Irvine from the Giant Wheel, a ferris wheel in the middle of the shopping area with 52,000 energy-efficient LED lights. On a clear day when at the top, look towards the Santa Monica Mountains (53 miles away) and Downtown LA (40 miles away).

For the record….I was never scared. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Honey and Butter, Irvine

Tip: Visit Honey & Butter for the best darn macarons. Our friend Rob at the fabulous Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine and Cocktails restaurant recommended this to us. (I promise I’ll fill you in about Andrei’s later!) The character macarons are even more delicious than they are adorable. Annie was thrilled to get a Pig macaron – she is nuts about pigs. Other flavors to die for: milk and honey, sea salted caramel, thai tea and matcha. We bought a bag of assorted flavors to take back to the hotel to enjoy later but they were gone before we got back to the car.

Don’t judge….we were on vacation!

Pedego Irvine Electric Bikes

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

One of the absolute, hands down, top highlights for all of us during our week in California was our tour of Irvine with Bob at Pedego Electric Bicycles. I used to want a Vespa, now I want an electric bike. Bob, the store owner, is awesome. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy who truly loves SOCAL and Irvine.

Amazing bike trails begin literally outside Bob’s store’s door. One of the reasons we all fell in love with Irvine is because it’s truly a bike friendly city. We only experienced a taste of what the area has to offer in terms of trails….it left us wanting to experience more.

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

These bikes have heavy frames compared to the road/race/triathlon bikes the kids and I are used to – but they are extremely easy to operate. Unlike Houston, Irvine is very hilly so riding up some of the inclines, especially on long rides, can be challenging. On a Pedego, you can either pedal like on a regular bike, stop pedaling and let the electric bike do all the work or do a combination of both. Pedegos can go up to 20 miles per hour and operate with a throttle. These are particularly wonderful if you are recovering from a sports injury (like my recent tendon tear in my leg).

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

Bob sells bikes as well as rents them and offers guided bike tours. We went out for about 1 1/2 hours and experienced spectacular views along Shady Canyon Trail, University Trail by Quail Hill, Woodbridge Trail, and Turtle Rock Trail. We rode by beautiful homes, water, a golf course and even saw a road runner while we were out. Bob gave us a lot of background information about Irvine during the ride. If you really want to know a city, get out of the car and get on a bike. Irvine trails and Pedego bikes make it easy.

Pedego Electric Bike Irvine

Tip: If you’re shorter than me (I’m 4’10” – about the average size of a 5th grader) then you’ll probably have trouble riding these bikes on your own. But no worries. They have tandem bikes and my 10-year-old daughter, Annie, rode one with Bob (and loved it).

ChocXO Chocolate Factory

ChocXO

I may or may not be in love with chocolate.

Wait. Yes – definitely, yes. And Irvine is home to one of the best Chocolatiers, ChocXO…the only Bean to Bar Chocolate Factory in Orange County.

ChocXO

In addition to a shop full of goodies, ChocXO on Irvine Center Dr. offers 45 minute to 1 hour tours of the factory. For just $10.00 a person you can learn about how they make their specialty chocolate and the tour includes three, free chocolates from their chocolate case as well as samples of raw cacao pulp, cocoa nibs and cocoa liquor. Sasha, our guide, walked us along the educational wall of the factory with windows where we saw the machines they use to make chocolate. She told us what happens before they get their fine flavor cacao beans from Central and South America and what they do with them to make their products.

This tour was especially interesting for us since we just returned home from the Dominican Republic with Fathom Impact Travel were we worked at Chocal, the women’s chocolate co-op in Altamira. Many of the activities we did by hand to assist production at the co-op, like discard the bad beans and separate the shells from the chocolate nibs after they were ground up, are done by sophisticated equipment at ChocXO. It was eye-opening to see how chocolate is made here versus in an undeveloped country. While there are many similarities, ChocXO certainly has the advantage of technology and the chocolate we sampled was unbelievably delicious.

I highly recommend just about any of the chocolate squares and truffles in their chocolate bar. My favorite flavors: birthday cake, lemon meringue, spicy PB&J, salted caramel and creme brulee. You can purchase them while you are there as well as order them online, but sadly – cannot find them in stores in Texas. Sigh.

ChocXO

Tip: Request tour guide, Sasha. She’s fabulous! She’ll give you a ChocXO quiz at the end of the tour and you can score two more free chocolates if you turn it in…especially fun for the kids.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Irvine and Orange County?

Be sure to visit StillLivingTheDream.com again soon for posts about fabulous places to eat and details about our day trips to Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach.

As a guest of Destination Irvine, some of our travel related expenses were covered in order for us to experience Orange County area attractions. We also happily paid for some of our own travel, food and activities during our journey. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

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Tears of Joy at Walt Disney World

family in front of castle

For the last week my family and I have been in Florida. I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference and then we extended our stay after the conference so we could play at all the Disney parks.

I have a lot to share with you including news about fun things on the horizon from Disney, tips for bloggers and social media professionals, advice about how to make the most of a fabulous Disney family vacation, restaurant and resort reviews and much more.

We got back last night…so bittersweet. There’s no place like home but the magic of Disney is so incredible you just don’t want it all to end.

But we are back to reality today and I have thousands of pictures to sort through and so many notes to organize from our trip plus work to catch up on while I was away. The kids went back to school this morning and there will be missed school work to catch up with for them as well, swim practice to attend and a meet tomorrow morning plus many other end of year activities and events.

Life is going to get crazy busy.

But before I dive in head first…I want to share this with you. The biggest take-away from our trip.

Tears of joy.

Admittedly, I’m an emotional gal. I laugh and cry openly as I experience emotions and events that touch me in my life. I laughed a lot on our trip to Disney. As a family, we shared so many special moments of pure silliness and abandoned the illusion of “cool” (matching family t-shirts rock!) and just soaked in the moments of joy and happiness as they came. Truly living life in the moment is really living the dream and it doesn’t happen a lot for me.

And I cried.

chris and ali

First during the conference when I heard Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, speak about making the choice to make your health a priority. He is helping transform so many people’s lives and is so inspirational.

Then I cried again when I met Ali Vincent, winner of the show The Biggest Loser whose mantra “Believe it. Be it.” helped her lose 112 pounds and she is now inspiring people all over the world that they can achieve their weight loss goals as well on the Live Well Network.

To attend the conference at this time of my life when health has become a focus for me and then to have Disney focus so much of the conference on good health was incredibly special and very emotional. My life has changed drastically since last July. Losing almost 60 pounds and making exercise a daily habit has allowed me to change my perspective and live my life in such a different, more positive way.

Much more about these two incredible people and my experiences with RunDisney later. I promise.

But first….

When the conference ended and my family played at Magic Kingdom, I cried again. Twice.

 jack with belle

The first time was when we experienced Enchanted Tales of Belle, the attraction at the new Fantasyland. During this experience kids are selected from the group to act out certain parts of the story with Belle herself. Annie was Maurice and she shivered with “cold” while holding on to a prop that looked like she was in the Beast’s dungeon. Jackson was the Beast himself. With a red cape he growled (a bit reluctantly) at different parts of the show and then at the end he danced with Belle.

Jackson is 11 and while he enjoyed it he is also at that age when he is starting to get self-conscience and a bit shy. But watching my little boy dance with Belle brought back memories of when he was a toddler and would dance around the room with me while we watched Sleeping Beauty. He was my prince then and he is today. I’m so proud of the young man he growing up to be. I cried with happiness at the memory but also the knowledge that I am so blessed to be his mom. I love this boy with all my heart and soul.

And Annie.

annie with cindy collage

My 7-year-old daughter who loves Cinderella more than anything in the world. When we met Cindy at the Magic Kingdom and got her autograph it was so magical.

step sisters

Then she met the evil step-sisters and step-mom as well – which was SO fun (Disney characters REALLY get into character at the parks…they do it so well!) But the Celebrate A Dream Come True parade at 3:00 p.m. when all the characters, dancers and floats go down Main Street was incredible.

Maybe it was because it was the last day of our trip and we left the park right after the parade, but I was overcome with emotion. Annie and Jackson sat on the curb, ice cream from their Mickey bars dribbling down their chins…laughing and joking around while waiting for the parade to start. All the characters were fun to see; Stitch, Mary Poppins, Ariel – we love them all.

cropped cindy parade

But half-way through I saw Annie starting to waving wildly as Cinderella’s float came in to view. The evil step-sisters and mom danced around…interacting with the crowd and then the fairy godmother, perched at the top of the float looked right at Annie and blew her a kiss. Annie “caught” it and sent it right back and then she gasped as Cindy and her Prince floated by. Annie looked up with wide eyes and smiled and then looked back at me. For just a moment, we didn’t say a word among the thousands of other park visitors screaming and jumping and waving. But a conversation was taking place in the silence between us. I could literally hear her thoughts – that she was in total disbelief at all that was taking place…and then she hugged me.

Tears are running down my face right now as I write this….as much as they were when it all happened.

It is the magic of Disney that just cannot be duplicated and really can’t be explained. But I’m so thankful that I have this feeling in my heart I know I will never forget.

walking away

My kids asked me if I was ok as we left the park hand-in-hand after the parade ended for the last time (tears were still streaming down my face and I’m not a pretty crier!) I told them I was more than ok. I was happier than I could imagine or remember being in a long time.

Thank you Belle for dancing with my son.

Thank you Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia; for making us believe we stepped right into your story.

And Thank you Walt Disney, for having a dream and sharing your world with us.

I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. I paid a fee to attend which included the opportunity to participate in conference activities, stay at a hotel and experience Disney World; however, my family and I stayed later at our own expense. I was not asked nor expected to write a post about  my experiences. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

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Hill Country Holidays at The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort – Giveaway


I love Christmas.

I actually love the entire fall/winter season. The period between Halloween and New Years Day is my absolute favorite time of the year.

But it always goes by too quickly!

And if I’m not careful, I let holiday preparations (sending out Christmas cards, shopping for gifts, meal planning and food preparation, etc.) take over and I miss out on the actual joy of the holiday season itself.

Which is why we always try to do something special together as a family each December. Ideally, we try to get away from home because of all the “stuff” that always seems to need to be done. I step away from my Christmas lists and trying to figure out the perfect gift for everyone. I leave the stack of cards to be addressed on the dining room table and we go out to spend time together as a family.

Living in Houston, we are lucky. We are just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful Hill Country and there is so much to do in San Antonio. We love to go to SeaWorld and see the park decorated for Christmas. Sometimes we go camping and enjoy the outdoors and cooler weather.

This year we are going to the beautiful Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort for their annual “Hill Country Holidays,” event – a unique holiday winter wonderland program that runs from November 22, 2012 through January 6, 2013. We can’t wait to see the resort come to life with Christmas lights and decorations and participate in a variety of activities right on the property like ice skating, arts and crafts, cookie decorating, carolers and (of course) a visit with Santa!
In addition to Frost; their synthetic outdoor skating rink, they will also have live shows by the Magik Theatre of San Antonio and The North Pole complete with an elves playland and magical snow fall!

We can’t wait!

With The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort’s special Holiday Package, it’s an affordable weekend getaway for the entire family. Rates start at $189.00 a night and the The Hill Country Holiday Package includes a $25.00 resort credit per night of stay which can be used to experience any of the Hill Country Holidays activities or  in any other resort amenity including the restaurants. To find out more, visit them online or call 800-WESTIN1 and mention ratecode “HCHPKG”.

A Giveaway!

Do you want to visit The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort this holiday season? How about for FREE! One lucky, Still Living The Dream reader will receive a prize that includes a one (1) night stay at the resort and tickets for Frost (the outdoor, synthetic ice skating rink) for a family of four (4).

All you have to do is visit  http://bit.ly/WLCholidays2012 and then come back here and leave a comment telling me what you what you like most about the Hill Country Holidays event. A winner will be selected randomly on Saturday, November 24, 2012 at 12:00 noon CST.

Want more chances to win (I always do!) Here they are. You know the drill. Leave a separate comment for each that do below.
  1. Follow me on Pinterest
  2. Follow me on Twitter
  3. Like Still Living The Dream on Facebook
  4. Like The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort on Facebook
  5. Tweet this: “I want to win a night @WestinLaCantera Resort for their Hill Country Holidays event. @jpatrickcomm http://www.stilllivingthedream.com/2012/11/hill-country-holidays-at-the-westin-la-cantera-hill-country-resort-giveaway.html”
I received a one-night stay at The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort for their HIll Country Holidays event, but received no other compensation. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 
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Remembering The Magic – Top 10 Moments During Our Disney Cruise

 

I was completely unplugged for over a week while my family and I took a cruise on The Disney Magic last week. While I thought it would be tough to be “off the grid” (and I certainly did miss connecting with my Facebook, Twitter and Still Living The Dream friends), it turned out to be one of the most magical weeks I have ever spent with my husband and children on vacation.

This was our first time on a cruise ship and we had a lot of questions before we boarded like what to pack, what excursions to sign up for while in the Caribbean and what to expect regarding activities on the ship. (These will all be topics that I will cover in future posts about the Disney Magic, by the way!)

But as soon as we stepped on the ship and a crew member announced over the loudspeaker, “Please help me welcome aboard The Patrick family,” we knew we were going to be in for a wonderful ride no matter what ended up in our suitcases or whether we selected a snorkeling or beach tour excursion in Cozumel.

My Top 10 Magical Moments on The Disney Magic (in no particular order!):

Running on Deck 4 in the morning and watching the sunrise. Runners can choose between looking over the water while on a treadmill in the ship’s exercise facility (which I also took advantage of several times during our trip) or running the entire length of deck four…three times around equals a mile.

Watching Jackson become more independent. Disney knows that as much as parents love their kids (and kids love their parents) sometimes grown-ups and little ones want to do different things. So they offer a nursery for infants and three different kid’s activity rooms for older kids (Oceaneer’s Lab and Lounge for Annie’s age group, The Edge for pre-teens like Jackson and The Vibe for teenagers.) My kid’s loved going there to play sports, take cooking classes, do arts and crafts and enjoy special parties with kids their own age. Jackson was able to go with his new friends to play dodge ball or play in the arcade on the top deck. He even explored the ship a bit with permission from us and Wave phone in hand (each stateroom comes with 2 “wavephones” to use while on the ship so that you can get in touch with your family when going in different directions). His confidence and self-esteem grew…and with that – so did my heart!

Seeing Annie meet the Disney Princesses for the first time. We had many opportunities to meet Mickey and the entire Disney character crew while on board. Character meetings were offered often (both spur of the moment and scheduled) and because there are a limited amount of people on the ship – lines weren’t ever that long. Each meeting was special, but the morning we had the chance to meet six princesses in the ship’s lobby really stood out. Seeing Annie’s face light up as Belle gushed about how pretty she was, Aurora spun her around and Cinderella embraced her made ME tear up. It was a beautiful moment.

Relaxing by one of three pools on Deck 9. The Mickey pool with water slide  is a favorite with kids (complete with splash pad for even the youngest cruisers), Goofy’s pool is deeper and you can watch movies on a giant screen while you swim and the adult-only pool is a quiet sanctuary complete with the comfiest lounge chairs. Beware – you may fall asleep! I had the chance to enjoy all three pools at different times during our week away.

Getting to know our wait staff while enjoying out of this world cuisine each night. Weird, right? I mean, why would getting to know staff members be a vacation highlight? Because Disney offers unique, rotational dining which meant that we had a reserved seat at one of three restaurants (Animator’s Palate, Lumiere’s and Parrot Cay) every night with a different theme (Captain’s Gala, Prince and Princesses, Pirates in the Caribbean) and menu every night. (Hello lobster and chocolate souffle – I love you.) Our servers, Nathan from London and Andrae from Jamaica, served us every night no matter where we dined. By the second night they knew that Annie would probably want milk while Jackson preferred Sprite and would have their drinks waiting for them. We got to know them so well, it was a teary good-bye our last night together.

Enjoying Nightly, Broadway-Style Shows. This is a separate post in itself. But let me just say – the shows were outstanding complete with elaborate costumes and set-design, special effects (fireworks on stage!) and extremely talented actors/singers. Our favorite was the Dreams – An Enchanted Classic and Villains Tonight.

Swimming with the dolphins in Grand Cayman. A excursion worth the splurge. I will never forget Annie’s face when Luna the dolphin pushed Annie’s feet with her nose and sent Annie sailing through the waters.

Towel animal creations in our room every night. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference. Coming back to our stateroom every evening after the show, tired from a full day of activities, a towel monkey or swan would greet us on our freshly turned-down bed with chocolates and the itinerary for the next day.

Getting a massage in the Vista Spa. Disney cruises aren’t just for kids. They offer different activities for people of all different ages and interests. In fact, 20 percent of those on board our cruise didn’t even come with kids! Getting a 75-minute massage in the Vista Spa was so relaxing and the spa was so beautiful.

Seeing my family dressed up on formal night. The preparation ahead of time to find and pack dress up clothes for the four of us was so worth it. I mean, Ed and I work from home most days so it’s perpetiual casual day at our “office”! We never get gussied up anymore and seeing my family looking so beautiful made my heart happy.

**Gazing at the ocean water from our stateroom veranda. Here’s a bonus to my top ten….number 11! Breathing in the fresh air (no Houston seasonal allergies at sea!) and watching the ocean water as we glided gently through it from the privacy of my room’s balcony in my jammies was beyond relaxing. Ed enjoyed reading his book out there as well. Such a special way to start and end each day.

You can experience “The Magic”, too!

The Disney Magic will be sailing out of the Port of Galveston in Texas from now until May 2013 and they are offering a special where kids under 17 years old can sail FREE on most six and eight day cruises from January 4, 2013 until March 1, 2013!

Have you ever been on a Disney Cruise? What were your magical moments on board?

My family and I  were invited as guests of Disney on a 7-Day Caribbean Cruise aboard The Disney Magic. While most of our trip expenses were covered, all thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

 

 

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Fall In New York

 

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10 Tips to Enjoy San Antonio’s New Water Park – Aquatica

We checked off two big Summer Family Bucket List items last weekend! Go to SeaWorld and Aquatica in San Antonio.

We go to SeaWorld in San Antonio every year (and I’ll be posting tips about how to enjoy this fabulous park soon as well) but this was our first time at the new Aquatica water park in San Antonio. I had a great time with several fellow Texas bloggers at AdventureCon, a mini-conference hosted by SeaWorld, learning about storytelling, photography and videos. But we also got a lot of time off to play with our families at the parks.

By now you’ve probably heard about Aquatica, an aquatic park with up-close animal experiences, high-speed thrills and relaxing, sandy beaches. Here’s what we enjoyed best about Aquatica (and some tips to make your visit great when you go!)

1. Get to the park early. We went to Aquatica on Sunday and were the first in line to get in when it opened at 10:00 a.m. I HIGHLY recommend getting there first thing so you can lay claim to one of the primo spots with shade for “home base”. We picked a spot on the beach by Big Surf Shores wave pool underneath one of the many big umbrellas. But after walking around the park I scouted out another great spot with a hammock in the shade right by the Whanau Waters pool. Next time we are going there for sure!

For $49.99, you can also rent two lounge chairs under an umbrella that also come with 4 bottles of water and sunblock. (Season pass holders get 20 percent off.)

2. Go to the Sting Ray Falls slide first. It’s a must-do four-seater family slide (riders must be 36″), but by far the longest wait we had that day (about one hour). At the end of the slide you pass under a tunnel with sting rays and tropical fish…so cool!

Sting Ray encounter at Discovery Cove in Orlando, now offered at Aquatica in San Antonio!

3. Experience the sting ray encounter at least once. For $25 a person (under 3 is free) your family can get in the water with the sting rays to feed and touch them. And a photo is included! We did this when we visit Aquatica/Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, last fall and it was a blast.

At our shady spot under the umbrella on the sand

4. Wear water shoes. We walked around in bare feet and some of the pavement was REALLY hot. We regretted it!

5. Spring for a locker. They are only $7 and we didn’t have to worry about our money and valuables being stolen while we were away from our chairs.

6. Pack Sunscreen and apply it often. I don’t care how many galloons of water you have falling on your head, Texas heat in the summer time is intense! Plus – some of the lines are directly in the sunlight and even though Loggerhead Lane (the winding river like ride) is a blast, there’s not much shade. Luckily I’m a Coppertone Water Moms Ambassador and had plenty on hand!

Good news if you have children that are several different ages/heights.

7. Walkabout Waters play area for little ones is right next to the big slides including HooRoo Run, Tassie’s Twisters and Walhalla Wave. So Ed would take Jackson (our 10-year old) down one or two slides while Annie (our 6-year-old) and I played at the Walkabout Waters….then we’d switch out.

Jackson on the way back to Houston after a full day at Aquatica!

8. Get cleaned up before you go home. They have a pretty nice restroom/changing area with showers in the front of the park by Mango Market for you to get ready for your ride home.

9. Get a waterproof camera. As is the case at almost every water type venue we go to, I never get many great photos because I’m afraid to carry my camera around. Next time we go, I’m going to bring something that can get wet so I can capture those moments when Jackson and Annie were screaming, “this is the best day EVER!”

10. Think about an evening at Aquatica. It seemed like at about 4:00 p.m. a lot of the early risers were packing up and going home and a new group were just arriving to enjoy the second half of the day. Aquatica is open until 9:00 p.m. (even as late as 10:00 p.m. on some nights). It would be great to come back and enjoy the early evening there when the sun isn’t as hot.

I received complimentary tickets to experience SeaWorld and Aquatica as part of my participation in the SeaWorld AdventureCon event. I did not receive any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Summer Afternoon

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Henry James

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Celebrate the Holidays at SeaWorld San Antonio – A Giveaway!

Debi and her family arriving at SeaWorld!

I have a friend who is nuts about SeaWorld. For the past several years she has purchased season passes for her family of five and they visit the park several times a year. You probably think they live in San Antonio, right? Nope. They are in Houston and make a road trip to see Shamu every spring and fall and several times in the summer.

In fact, Debi, her husband and three kids just got back from a visit over Thanksgiving break. While I went to SeaWorld during Halloween (which was awesome!) I wanted to hear all about her trip and what’s new and different during the Christmas holiday.

(I decided to do this post “interview style” and I’m not gonna lie….I felt all Katie Couric – ish)

Still Living The Dream (SLTD for short….that’s ME!): Debi, you’re nuts over SeaWorld. What’s up with that?!

Debi: We LOVE SeaWorld. It’s one of the few places that my 16 year-old daughter, nine-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son all enjoy.

SLTD: Even though you live in Houston, you have purchased season passes for the past several years. Is it worth it?

Debi: I’m very frugal. SeaWorld gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Since we go many times a year…it’s very affordable.

SLTD: How else do you save money when you visit the park?

Debi: We get great deals on hotels through priceline.com and a lot of hotels have shuttles to the park so you don’t have to pay for parking.

A while back we bought the refillable drink bottles and popcorn container and we bring them each time for free ice-water or $1.00 soda refills and $1.00 popcorn refills.

SLTD: Don’t you get bored after going to the park so many times?

Debi: No….there’s always a new show or attraction and the park does it up for Halloween and Christmas with special events and entertainment.

SLTD: I went to SeaWorld for Halloween and had a blast. They had trick or treating, special decorations and shows that my kids loved. Tell me about what’s different at SeaWorld for Christmas.

Debi: First of all, while we love summer time at SeaWorld, fall and spring are great times to go because the park isn’t as crowded.

SLTD: I know! My kids loved that the lines were shorter and the park was calmer when we went at Halloween.

Debi: We rode The Great White in the front seats three times in a row without waiting and only had to show up about five minutes before the Shamu show to get a good seat!

SLTD: Was the Shamu show Christmas related?

The Sea Lion Show

Debi: Yes – so cute. All of the shows were. My favorite was the sea lion and otter “countdown to Christmas” show. So stinkin’ cute! But there were a lot of other cool things there, too.

SLTD: Tell me more! (picture me with my hand on my chin as I inch up in my seat and give an inquisitve look to Debi!!)

Debi: Jenn, you’re a dork.

SLTD: Yes. Yes, I am. But go on.

Mrs. Dolphin Claus!

Debi: Well, different areas are decorated in different themes. By the park entrance there was the pathway of lights where you can stroll along and meet different characters dressed up and take free pictures.

Candy Cane Forest

By the Shamu roller coaster was the candy cane forest  and there is a little, cute cartoonish type house where you can get hot cocoa.

SLTD: Cute!

Debi: And there are a lot of strolling entertainers like people on stilts dressed up like elves and nutcrackers, carolers and Christmas marachi band.

Sheriff Snowman

SLTD: And what about the big guy? Was he there?

Debi: Yes, Santa is at SeaWorld and for just $11 for two people, you can have milk and cookies with him.

SLTD: My kids would love that!

Debi: We had a blast and stayed all day on Friday (from noon to 9:00 p.m.) then came back on Saturday. The park is SO pretty at night with all the lights.

SLTD: Anything else?

Debi: Oh, be sure to check out the 4D movie featuring Polar Express. It’s about 20 minutes long and so cool. The “ride” moves and the room gets foggy . It’s like you’re really on the train.

SLTD: Will you be getting passes again next year?

Debi: YES! Especially since Aquatica is opening in the spring. My kids are SO excited.

SLTD: I know! We checked out SeaWorld’s unique water park in Orlando a couple months ago and it’s unbelievable. I’ll be posting more about all that the water park will offer on my blog soon.

Debi: I’m jealous!

SLTD: Of my good looks or charming personality?

Debi: We’re through here!

SLTD: Love ya, Debi

Debi: Loving ya, back!

Did I miss my calling or what?! I should be on 60 minutes with my “in your face” interviewing techniques that probe for the honest answers. I swear I saw Debi cry during our talk. Tears of joy, no doubt!

This is my friend Chuck (the trainer, not the whale). If you go to SeaWorld, tell him I said hi.

A Giveaway!

So are you ready to kick the holidays into gear with a trip to SeaWorld? I have a family four-pack of tickets to offer one lucky Still Living The Dream reader. All you have to do is leave a comment about your favorite holiday tradition. Tickets are good until January 2012 for the SeaWorld San Antonio location only. One winner will be selected at random on Wednesday, December 7, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. CST.

More chances? You know it. Leave a separate comment for each item you do below.

  • Follow me on Twitter at @jpatrickcomm
  • “Like” Still Living The Dream on Facebook
  • Follow me via Google Friend Connect
  • Sign up to receive Still Living The Dream posts via email (see top of this blog)
  • Tweet this giveaway daily for another entry each day by using the following language: “I entered to win four tickets to SeaWorld San Antonio. You can, too! http://bit.ly/sYAxEq @jpatrickcomm”
I received passes to visit SeaWorld in San Antonio and Aquatica in Orlando but did not receive compensation for this post. All thoughts and opinions are mine and Debi’s. I would like to thank Debi for taking time to share her family’s visit to SeaWorld with Still Living The Dream and for knowing all about me but choosing to be my friend anyway! Love you, Debi!
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What Should I Do?

photo courtesy of flicker: SMJJP

My husband and I have gotten into a rut. We aren’t in good shape (physically) and it seems like we don’t have the chance to spend quality time together. After we give our attention to work, the bills, the kids and their activities and needs (homework, PTO, cub scouts, girl scouts, soccer….), the house, the bills, the laundry, the bills….

Well – there’s not a lot of time  for anything else and even less money  for “Mom and Dad – go have fun” outings. Can you relate?!!!!

I know, I know – make the time. I can clearly carve out wasted pockets of time to go walk, plan better for meals, get my family involved with chores that will give me more time for other things. And Ed and I can get creative with how we spend our time so that it’s fulfilling to both of us AND helps us left up our marriage.

But I need a kick in my pants. Will you kick me?

Figuritively. Not literally. Well – it can be literally, but don’t kick me too hard. Because I mean well and so do hundreds of other working women (with or without kids) who are really working hard, too.

Ed and I had a heart-to-heart the other day and we really want to find an interest we have in common that we can do together. I mean, the occasional night out alone for dinner and a movie is all fine and good BUT dinner usually results in setting us back financially (and bad choices AT dinner – physically) and a movie doesn’t really leave much of a chance for us to connect.

When we find some spare time Ed wants to work in the garage at his parents building stuff out of wood and I want to work on crafts. I have no interest in wood-working and Ed has little interest in paper crafting. We thought -wouldn’t it be cool if we had a hobby that we both enjoyed and we could have fun together?

We brainstormed. Rock climbing, ball room dancing, kayacking, all of them got the thumbs down for one reason or the other BUT all of them had one thing in common. Physical fitness.

Then I thought back to 1999. I spent that year, a beginning a new century training for a marathon in Hawaii. Eight months before I started I was in horrible shape, not happy with circumstances surrounding my career and in a lot of transition. I dedicated myself to training, getting in shape – and something that I found the most rewarding of all – raising money for cancer research.

Then I thought – why couldn’t Ed and I do this together? Exercising would give us time to talk and connect, makes us healthier and allow us to feel better about ourselves. And if we picked a cool sp0t to run it in, we could travel together. There’s a marathon in Spain in April 2012.

Three life lists items accomplished with one decision. #44 Get healthy, #45 do good things for others, #17 go to spain.

BUT – what if we can’t do it? I mean, what if the training is too hard? What if we can’t raise enough through the Leukemia Society’s marathon program to attend? What if we fail – again. We’re in the same spot only feeling worse about ourselves because we didn’t achieve success.

The program through the Leukemia Society, Team in Training, is a good one. I did it before and not only was I trained well physically, they helped me be successful in raising money for cancer research which in turn allowed me to enter the marathon.

Over the summer I ran into an old friend. She was 12 when she was under-going treatment for cancer and I feel in love with her family – their strength, their humor, their love for one another. When I saw her 20 years later in Greune, Texas, with her husband, two kids and parents I felt a raw emotion I couldn’t explain. She beat cancer and grew up to be a lovely lady with her own family.

I ran my marathon in 1999 in her honor. Did the money I raise help her beat cancer? Did the race I ran help give her hope?

I was young when I ran that race. I had energy and connections to train and raise money that I just don’t have at (gulp) almost 41 years of age. But I want to make a change – and I want to do it with the man I love. I want to get out of  a rut and I want to make my life better. And maybe someone else’s (like Kasey) too.

So readers….I’m asking you – what should I do?

 

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Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show Comes to Houston

Me and the Houston Blogging Chicks with Event-Planner Extraordinaire Tara Wilson and Hints from Heloise

Inspired by the  Metro cooking show at Reliant Center yesterday, I’m simmering cinnamon sticks on the stovetop after our brief, but welcome, rainstorm this morning….while planning my 10-year-old’s birthday party.

I attended the show yesterday but it’s also going on today, Sunday, September 18, 2011 – so if you’re ready this post this morning…get out there ya’ll!

Hundreds of vendors and several presentations are included in the general admission ticket but headliner Paula Deen takes the stage at 1:00 p.m. today (her 11:00 a.m. luncheon and photo op today is sold out).

Checking in with some of my Houston Blogger friends....already tweeting about the event!

I saw Paula’s presentation yesterday and it was very entertaining. On the stage with her was her husband and while he sorta put together a chicken and mac and cheese dish (they didn’t really talk much about it or tell us what was going into it) Paula told us about her family (she has two new grandchildren) and her new book (it’s coming out soon and she’s going to be hitting the road to promote it next month.

Paula Deen's sold out crowd

So far Tyler, Austin and Dallas are on her Texas tour calendar). She literally pulled out her hair (she has extensions, ya’ll!) and sympathized with our record-breaking heat in Houston by telling us that fat girls don’t look cute sweatin’. The back of the bleachers butted up against the expo floor so it was hard to hear at times – but I laughed the entire time. She really is so funny and down-to-earth and boy do the ladies in Texas love them their Paula. Three friends sported “We Love Paula” shirts and even little girls tried to get in a hug from the side of the stage. I was disappointed that we didn’t walk away with a recipe card because I was dying to know what they marinated that bacon wrapped chicken in, but I’m sure she covers a hundred good chicken recipes in her book. The chance to see her in-person was a great experience.

Tara showing us how to make an inspiration board for a party. LOVE THIS!

The real highlight of the Metro Show for me was the opportunity to meet and hear Dallas-based entertaining guru, Tara Wilson @savvysoutherner. This gal is fantabulous and has oodles of great ideas to put on your next party from a kids birthday in the backyard to a intimate gathering of your closest friends, family and local politicians and celebrities (because we all have stars and politicos over for dinner, right?!)

Tara's showing me how to dress up an ordinary envelope. Look how hard I'm working!

Seriously though – Tara is the cutest thing and I can tell why she’s considered a go-to expert for party planning of all kinds. She loves finding things around the house, yard and garage sales to make parties unique (think fall foliage in an ol’ school plaid thermos for a centerpiece).

Hello?

Brilliant.

I seriously want to be her when I grow up. Look at me up on stage with her! She asked for a volunteer and my hand shot up like a bullet. I made an customized envelope liner with her. How cute is that?!!!

Since Jackson turns 10 in two weeks and I’VE DONE NOTHING to get ready for his big day. I’m sitting here with a pad of paper in hand all Tara-like (sans the big ol’ beautiful turquoise bead necklace that she on yesterday BUT I’m going to find out where she got it – you know you want to know, too!) trying to think of a cute but inexpensive way to pull off the party of the year.

I think I’m going to have a nerf-gun party at the park and put the invites INSIDE nerf gun darts with a message that says something like “you’ve been targeted to attend Jackson’s party” or something like that. Cute?!

I also met Heloise, you know – the Hints from Heloise, Heloise?! She’s actually the first Heloise’s daughter and she speaks today at 11:00 a.m. so get out of your jammies and go up to Reliant Center. You can hear her speak for free with your admission ticket and she’s always got something funny to say (and it rarely has anything to do with getting stains out!)

I’m not gonna lie, sisters. The expo floor was PACKED and almost too close for comfort crowds around tables for free tastes of fudge and tortilla chips made the experience a little heated. When the show comes back to town next year, September 16 and 17, 2012, I hope they’ll open up the space to allow for more walking room.

But I’ll be there no matter what. The show is great and besides by then Tara and I will be Besties and she’ll call me up and be all like, “Jenn, I’m coming to Houston for the Metro Show this weekend, can we get together and can you help me with my presentation?”

And I’ll be all like, “Of course, Tara!” Because I’m a super-cool friend like that!

Still Living the Dream, ya’ll!

 

 

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