Our Dixie Chicks Staycation at The Embassy Suites The Woodlands

StillLivingTheDream.com

We love staycations.

Taking a one or two night stay somewhere not too far from home has become our solution when we start climbing the walls and need a change of scenery. We love to travel, but time and money prevents us from taking a full week trip somewhere far away more than we’d like. And with a soon-to-be high school freshman who is in band and plays sports, our time and …. gulp, money are going to become even harder to come by.

We’ve taken several staycations at The Woodlands. It’s only 30 minutes from our house in Northwest Houston, but if feels like we have truly gotten out of town. When I heard that The Dixie Chicks were coming to the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on August 6th, I knew I had to get tickets and make it a last summer vacation outing for our family.

We were very excited to be invited as guests to stay at the Embassy Suites by Hilton The Woodlands at Hughes Landing for an evening so we could see the new property (they opened last December 2015). It was perfect to combine our stay with our concert plans so we could relax and not have to make a late night drive home after the show.

We’ve stayed at several different Embassy Suites hotels over the years…most recently at The Embassy Suites Irvine when we took an Orange County vacation earlier this summer. We love that all the Embassy Suites hotels offer large, comfortable 2-room suites, complimentary drinks at a reception in the evenings and free made-to-order breakfast in the morning.

The Embassy Suites in The Woodlands is just minutes from the The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and within walking distance of Restaurant Row. After we checked-in at 4:00 p.m., we walked down the street and had appetizers at Del Frisco’s Grill and macarons at Macaron by Patisse. Other restaurants right by the hotel include California Pizza Kitchen, Escalante’s, Starbuck’s, Blue Fish, Local Pour and Fogo de Chao. While we were there we noticed they have free evening movies overlooking the lake. A fun family activity within walking distance of the hotel – but we already had plans!

StillLivingTheDream.com

Back at the hotel, the kids wanted to take a quick swim – Because – hello infinity pool!

Located on the third floor, the pool is small but elegant and it wasn’t crowded. A glass wall over looks the lake and restaurant row and they had several lounge recliners that we hung over the side of the pool so we could relax in the water. The kids didn’t want to leave, but we had to head to the room to get ready.

StillLivingTheDream.com

While many of the Embassy Suites hotels (and all the ones we’ve previously stayed at) have a large atrium in the middle of the hotel in which all the rooms overlook, The Woodlands location is designed like a traditional hotel. Our room on the 9th floor was on the corner and had a living room and bedroom with large, beautiful windows and a balcony.

Seriously.

Look at this view.

StillLivingTheDream.com

While standing on our balcony, we saw some people kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Woodlands  (wait – what? We LOVE to SUP!). You can rent them at the near-by Riva Row Boat House and we will definitely be back to do this when it cools off in the fall.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Before going to the Pavilion, we stopped by the lobby for free drinks (a glass of wine for mom and soft drinks for the kids!) and snacks…we weren’t the only Chicks fans there. While the Pavilion isn’t far, it’s a bit long for a late night walk. Many people took a cab or called Uber, but you can also drive. We were “Dixie Chicks Serious” about getting to the show on time!

StillLivingtheDream.com

photo courtesy of Ken O’Quinn, Storyteller Communications

The concert was so crazy, fun. This stop on the DCX MMXVI World Tour is the first time they’ve been back to Houston in nearly a decade.

They’ve been a long time gone.

StillLivingTheDream.com

photo courtesy of Ken O’Quinn, Storyteller Communications

Annie plays the violin so she loved watching Martie fiddle. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I used to sing Godspeed to the kids when they were babies to help them drift off to sleep at night. The crowd went crazy when they played a tribute to Prince (Nothing Compares 2 U), Wide Open Spaces and Cowboy Take Me Away – but we lost our collective minds with Goodbye Earl and their first encore, Not Ready to Make Nice.

We had a great time, but were hot and tired and so thankful we only had to travel 2 minutes to get to our comfy beds at the Embassy Suites. The next morning we had our complimentary breakfast in the lobby. Scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, french toast, bacon, sausage and biscuits with gravy. They also offered made to order eggs and omelets and had fresh juice and coffee.

StillLivingTheDream.com

In addition to the water fall in the lobby in the picture above, check out this fountain in the courtyard by the restaurant. I love water features like these. So calming.

StillLivingTheDream.com

We talked to several people in concert t-shirts about the show before heading to the pool for another swim. While we hated to leave, work and Jackson’s all day band practices that started the next day were calling us back to reality. But we’ll be back to The Embassy Suites to SUP on the lake or when another band comes to town we want to see.

Or when we just want to live life on the edge…. relaxing in the pool.

StillLivingTheDream.com

We were guests at The Embassy Suites and received a free night stay in order to review the property. No other compensation was received and all thoughts, opinions and sore throat from singing too loud at the concert are my own!

 

 

 

Share

Surf City USA Day Trip – 7 Family Friendly Things To Do in Huntington Beach

StillLivingTheDream.com

While you can definitely fill a full week relaxing in Huntington Beach, California, if you only have a limited amount of time to play in Surf City USA, no worries. We have the perfect itinerary for a full day of family-friendly fun in this casual and cool Pacific Coast community.

My family and I stayed in the beautiful Irvine and Costa Mesa areas while visiting Southern California this summer, the perfect home base for a vacation in Orange County. The Costa Mesa Marriott is 10 minutes from Huntington Beach, so we had just a short, 20-minute drive back to the hotel after a full day of fun. For information about things to do in the Irvine and Costa Mesa areas, be sure to visit my post: Family Travel – Fun Things to Do in Irvine, California #OrangeCounty.

Our friends at Visit Huntington Beach hosted our visit for the day and helped us coordinate a schedule that included a combination of water sports, good food and relaxation that was perfect for me, my 10-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. If you are planning a girl’s getaway, romantic weekend or vacation with younger kids, they have a lot of other ideas about things to do in the area – so be sure to check them out for ideas before you arrive.

A DAY IN HUNTINGTON BEACH

stilllivingthedream.com

1. Learn to Surf – When in Surf City USA, you gotta surf! After all, Huntington Beach has the most consistent waves on the West Coast. If you don’t know how to hang 10, surf lessons from Toes On The Noes is the perfect thing to do in Huntington Beach.

Located at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in the Retail Courtyard, Toes On The Nose offers lessons for those of ages 6 and up with any level of experience. As first timers – we were so excited about the opportunity to hit the waves with a little help from the pros. 

StillLivingTheDream.com

After putting on wetsuits (provided by Toes On The Nose), we walked across the street from the hotel to the beach with our two instructors, Brock and Paul. Our 2-hour morning lesson started with a brief explanation about technique and we practiced going from the paddling position to standing on our surf boards while we were still on the sand.

stilllivingthedream.com

stilllivingthedream.com

StillLivingTheDream.com

Then we hit the water. Jackson went up immediately and Annie was soon to follow. It took a few more tries for me – but it turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. I wasn’t going to win an award for style, but I had a blast riding a wave all the way in to the beach.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Brock and Paul were so patient and nice. They’ve both been surfing for a long time, especially Brock who started surfing when he was just a little one in preschool. It’s clear they are in their happy place when in the ocean. Even though they are clearly very experienced, they seemed to really enjoy surfing with us rookies and were excited for us when we got up on our boards. We all enjoyed getting to know them…it’s always awesome to meet people who are living their dream.

StillLivingTheDream.com

After a while, it was clear that Jackson was really progressing quickly. Brock took him out to work one-on-one with him so he could experience as much as possible before the end of our lesson. It was so fun to watch Jackson feel the thrill of catching waves on his own. While Paul and I watched him from the beach, Paul told me that he could tell he had the bug. Paul got it when he was 13 years old and has been hooked on surfing ever since. He could tell Jackson was heading there.

Jackson stood a little taller when Brock and Paul asked him to come see them next time we visited Huntington Beach so they could go surfing together again.

StillLivingTheDream.com

While surf lessons are a bit of a splurge – it’s totally worth it if you’ve never done it before. I also felt so much more comfortable knowing the kids had experienced surfers with them who knew about rip currents and how to be safe while having fun. Our instructors really maximized our time in the water, giving us the chance to catch waves immediately by telling us when to pop up…timing is everything.

stilllivingthedream.com

StillLivingTheDream.com

Many thanks to Brock and Paul and Toes On The Noes for an epic morning.

Jackson said it was lit.

StillLivingTheDream.com

2. Ride Bikes Down the Boardwalk – After your surf lessons, rent bikes at Toes On The Noes (they also offer hourly and daily bike rentals) and cruise down the Boardwalk. There’s an 8.5 mile paved beach path perfect for pedaling around. It’s a great way to soak in the sun, the views and the relaxing vibe of Huntington Beach and the Pacific Ocean. We worked up an appetite after hitting the waves, so we rode our bikes from the Hyatt to Sandy’s Beach Grill for lunch. Bike rentals come with locks and you’ll find bike racks all along the paved path, so you can stop to shop or eat or just relax on the sand.

StillLivingTheDream.com

3. Have Lunch at Sandy’s Beach Grill – While on your bike ride down the boardwalk – stop in Sandy’s for a bite to eat. This casual restaurant serves authentic California cuisine and is right by the iconic Huntington Pier. We had delicious scallops and mushroom flatbread at a table with a great view of the ocean. It was so yummy and relaxing and we were able to lock our bikes up on a bike rack right outside the restaurant. Check out my full review of Sandy’s Beach Grill in the post, 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

StillLivingTheDream.com

4. Stand Up Paddleboarding at Huntington Harbor with OEX Sunset Beach. We fell in love with Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) last year in Florida. So much so, that we bought our own paddleboard before we left Sandestine! We don’t get the chance to go out as often as we’d like in Houston, so whenever we are by the water – we always try to squeeze in some time to SUP. OEX Sunset Beach, a kayak and SUP rental shop only a short drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from Sandy’s Grill, is a great place to grab a board and get on the water.

StillLivingtheDream.com

Since we’ve been stand up paddleboarding before, we each got our own paddleboard – but two people can easily fit on one board if you are new to the sport and have younger kids. OEX Sunset Beach also offers lessons if you want to learn before you head out on your own, but SUP is really easy…you just have to find your balance. While it’s a lot of fun, relaxing and a great way to explore – it’s also a great workout. We went out around 3:30 p.m. so we had two hours to play. OEX Sunset Beach closes at 5:30, so all kayakers and paddleboarders have to be in by then.

The harbor is beautiful and there were a lot of kayakers and paddleboarders out on the water. We had fun exploring the area and looking at the boats and homes along the way. Paddleboarding is very calming to me. I love falling into the rhythm of paddling as I glide across the water. The kids love it, too. It’s a great way to see the water from a different perspective and while we didn’t talk a lot – it’s fun to experience SUP together with your family.

We went pretty far out, around several bends in the Harbor and before we knew it, it was time to head back. It was a little windier then we anticipated and because we were going against the wind on the way back, we made it back with only about 10 minutes to spare! With tired arms, tighter abs and full hearts – we turned in our equipment.

Tip: Parking is limited in their parking lot but you can park for free along the highway. You can also store your valuables in the shop (car keys, etc.) so you don’t have to worry about taking things on the paddleboard.

5. Shop at Pacific City If you have time and want to do some shopping, Pacific City is a fun place to visit. Right on the Pacific Coast Highway – they have big stores like Free People and LUSH (our favorite bath products!) as well as smaller specialty shops. We went after we finished SUP and before dinner and really enjoyed CherryHills Market. They also have restaurants and live entertainment. While we just visited for an hour, we could have been here much longer.

StillLIvingTheDream.com

6. Eat Dinner at Cucina Alessa – Just a short drive from the Boardwalk to Main Street is a delicious Italian restaurant, perfect for dinner. While you don’t want to wear a bathing suit or cut offs, it’s not too fancy. We were very comfortable. Jackson got lasagna, I ordered lobster ravioli and Annie had pasta with grilled shrimp and everything was delicious. We heard that all their handmade pastas are yummy – especially the Butternut Squash Ravioli. For a full review about Cucina Alessa, see my post: 8 Great Restaurants in Orange County.

StillLivingTheDream.com

7. Bonfire on the Beach – While there are several public fire pits available for use on a first come, first serve basis on the beach each evening, there’s a special area across the street from and between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels where you can reserve a private bonfire. Waterfront Adventures, part of the The Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort, allows you to enjoy watching the sunset on the beach and making s’mores by the fire without any of the fuss. They provide the beach chairs, fire pit, wood, soft drinks and water, and all the fixin’s for s’mores.

StillLivingTheDream.com

This was an amazing way to end the day. We just showed up on the beach and checked in with the attendant at about 8:30 p.m. Our private fire pit was already set up. During the evening he continually checked on us and kept the fire going so all we had to do was get comfortable and curl up by the fire. We loved visiting together about our Huntington Beach adventures in such beautiful surroundings.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Tip: Be aware that the beach closes for everyone at 10:00 p.m. Starting at about 9:45 p.m. police vehicles begin to patrol the beach – so be prepared to pack up or pay a fine!

The kids happily dozed off during our ride back to Costa Mesa after the Bonfire. Before they were out like a light, both of them smiled and said…”Today was the best day. Ever.”

So, yeah. This mom’s kinda loving Huntington Beach.

What is your favorite thing to do in Orange County?

As guests of  Visit Huntington Beach our meals and activities were provided in order for us to experience Surf City USA area attractions. No other compensation was received and, as always, all opinions expressed are my own or taken from input received from my kids.

Share

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.

Share

Planting Trees In The Dominican Republic – #traveldeep (Part 2)

Still Living The Dream - waterslide

My family and I went to the Dominican Republic this summer. Typical tourist-type activities like relaxing by the pool on the cruise ship, racing down water slides in Amber Cove, riding the Teleferico Puerto Plata cable cars to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres, jumping off the side of waterfalls at 27 Charcos (Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua) were all on our to do list. But we were really going to Puerto Plata to accomplish something much more meaningful. 

We flew to Miami and boarded the Fathom Adonia, a small, 700-passenger cruise ship, to begin our journey. You can read more about Fathom Impact Travel and how to #traveldeep in my previous post.

Travelers with Fathom can pick up to three of the following impact activities. Because my daughter is 10 years old (you must be at least eight years old to go on this cruise) and there are age requirements for some of the more intense and physical activities like putting concrete floors in community homes, we selected Reforestation, Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative, and Community English.

Fathom reforestation

Newly planted Mangroves along a man-made canal by a natural lake in Cabarete – Puerto Plata.

Here’s what we experienced as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity.

 

Still Living The Dream

We left the ship at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning and boarded buses in Amber Cove. After about a 45 minute bus ride with Carlos from the NGO IDDI, and Becca, our Fathom Impact Guide, we arrived at our work site in Cabarete (Fathom takes travelers to different sites including those in the mountains and near the beach.)  After a short debriefing from IDDI staff, we planted Mangrove trees along the water that bordered a village.

Fathom impact travel - reforestation

As we planted the trees and marked them with sticks, those who live in the community walked over to watch us and some kids started to help.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Annie and Jackson were very focused on doing as much work at they could. Annie seemed to sense the impact immediately. After planting one small tree, she paused and told me…

“This will be here forever and will give air and shade to the people who live here.”

Nailed it.

We later learned from Fathom that our efforts help create more nutrient-rich soil, a reduction in soil loss, improved localized air and local water, an increase in localized biodiversity and higher agricultural yields.

StillLivingTheDream.com

As the morning carried on, we continued to make our way along the water bank that backed up to the village with what seemed like an endless supply of trees to be planted. It was hot and we were sweaty and for some reason, we got a lot dirtier then the rest of our group of about 40 travelers, but we felt great.

StillLivingTheDream.com reforestation with IDDI

We visited with IDDI team members as we worked and got to know one beautiful lady who at one point, sweetly stopped to tie Annie’s sneaker. She’s a mom with a two-year old daughter. I love that not only does IDDI help the community through partnering with Fathom with projects like this, they provide jobs for those who live there.

StillLivingTheDream.com

So how did we do? Our group planted 320 trees, but together along with those from the first five Fathom sailings – we planted a combined total of 8,656 seedlings and trees.

Not too shabby.

What did it mean to us as a family?

Fathom Impact Travel

There’s something to be said for working hard outside under the sun. Getting our hands dirty – touching the soil while enjoying breathtaking views. Well – I’m sorry to sound all touchy-feely, but it makes you feel alive. As I got caught up in my own experience and the work at hand, I’d occasionally steal a glance of one of my kids and watch them work. Jackson and Annie both took their job seriously. They wanted to do well and make a difference.

I had been looking forward to taking this trip with both my kids – but especially with Jackson. He is starting high school in the fall and it’s bittersweet. He is growing up at a rate I’m not comfortable with and I know that sooner than I will like – he will move away from our home to start his own life. I remember at one point saying to myself…

“Soak this moment in, Jennifer. It doesn’t really get any better than this.”

Fathom Impact Travel

Working together as a family to help someone else is so important. You don’t have to travel far to do this. We have participated in many worthwhile volunteer activities close to home. But going to another country and working together made us really feel like we were a part of the community there. For many hours I worked side-by-side with my family, new friends from the ship and those that lived in the Dominican Republic. We didn’t all speak the same language, but we communicated in a way that was meaningful and real.

On the bus ride home, we all sat quietly looking out the window….each lost within our own thoughts. Jackson caught me staring at him.

“Mom, you’re staring at me. What’s up?”

“Oh – nothing,” I said…(trying to be cool).

I’m a big, fat liar.

Because the most opposite of “nothing” had happened. For a few hours that morning, I spent quality time with my teenager…away from schedules, drivers ed, friends, sports, homework. I had found a way to pause time…if only for a little while.

I know he’ll never understand, but for a mom – it was so not “nothing”. It was something huge.

Still Living The Dream - Dominican Republic

Tips:

  1. Currently Fathom takes travelers to the nursery to plant seedlings on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings. If you want to plant trees in the mountains or along the beaches – be sure to select this activity on a Wednesday or Thursday. We were so happy to be able to plant the trees and spend time in Cabarete, an area of the country we might not have gotten to see. I highly recommend this option.
  2. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and use Deet to protect yourself from mosquitoes, the sun and plants or obstacles along the route. I recommend a hat and/or sunglasses as well. They provide work gloves. This was a great impact activity to do in the morning. While it was hot, the afternoon sun is a lot hotter.
  3. Drink a lot of water! IDDI and Fathom provide bottled water for you on the bus ride and during the activity. Stop and rehydrate during the day.

Fathom Impact Travel

Do you have any questions about the Fathom impact travel/travel deep experience? Be sure to let me know by commenting below and check back in at StillLivingTheDream.com to hear about what it was like to teach Community English in the Dominican Republic soon.

Fathom Impact Travel

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

 

 

Share

What is Fathom Impact Travel and #TravelDeep? (Part 1)

family sunset aboard Fathom Adonia

Beautiful sunset at sea aboard the Fathom Adonia.

I just got home from a vacation unlike any other I’ve taken. My family and I travel as much as we can and we’ve been on a lot of adventures over the last several years. But last week we flew to Miami and boarded a ship that took us on a journey we won’t soon forget.

Fathom Impact Travel invited several travel writers to join the other passengers and crew aboard the Adonia, a 700-passenger ship that sails every other week to the Dominican Republic. My husband, daughter and son joined me to experience a family vacation with a twist. While we would definitely see a beautiful country and do some typical tourist-type activities on our own, the main reason we were going to the Dominican Republic was to make a positive difference for those who live there.

child in Puerto Plata

There’s a lot I want to share with you and I’m going to break it down into a series of posts, but just to let you know (spoiler alert) we had an extraordinary time. I’m still trying to process everything. It was fun, rewarding, hard work, exhausting, uplifting, sobering, emotional and beautiful. We grew together as family, we changed a bit individually and we experienced the country in a way we never would have on any other vacation. We were able to relax and be tourists, too…so really – it was a combination of a regular vacation (hello – we were on a cruise ship!) and cultural immersion/mission work.

Before I dive in with some of the nuts and bolts of what this trip is all about and what it includes, I’d like to thank Fathom for the experience. While we paid for our air travel to Miami and many activities on the ground and extras on the ship, Fathom covered our stateroom, food and impact activities so that we could see first-hand what the new Fathom #traveldeep experience was like.

Fathom, the newest brand under the Carnival Corporation and plc umbrellais a new kind of cruise that combines the love of travel with the desire to make a difference. We were on the sixth sailing to the Dominican Republic (the also sail to Cuba every other week) so the concept and experience are still quite new for staff and travelers alike.

reforestation with IDDI

Planting trees as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity with Fathom. Made a new friend with IDDI.

Fathom calls the concept travel with a purpose – the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Dominican culture while working alongside its people to create enduring social impact. To achieve that, they have set up several impact activities, led by impact guides that you meet on the ship as well as community partners from NGO’s including IDDI and Entrena on the ground. You select three you want to experience while the ship is docked at Puerto Plata’s port for two full days and 2 half days including:

  • Reforestation
  • Community English
  • Repapel – Recycled paper and crafts entrepeneurship
  • Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Water filters
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • CAMS – Creative Art, Music and Sports (offered during the summer), Student English (offered during the school year)
Fathom Spanish phrases class

Taking a Spanish Phrases class on board to prepare for teaching Community English in the Dominican Republic.

Impact guides offer training through classes offered on the ship while you sail to the Dominican Republic. We took hour-long sessions on topics such as Spanish Phrases, Empowering English Tutoring, Visual Storytelling, Getting to Know the Dominican Republic, and Raising the Next Generation of Changemakers so we could prepare for our on-ground experiences.

Fathom Adonia pool

While sailing to Amber Cove, the port in Puerto Plata, we also enjoyed the Adonia’s many amenities including a swimming pool, fitness center, spa (that offered massages, hair, nails, facials and even acupuncture), multiple lounges and a wine bar, gift shops and dining areas. She also has a full library that was always a buzz with activity. Lots of games, puzzles, computers, comfortable chairs and couches were available as well as great books for all ages including many copies of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind – the ship’s book club pick that many travelers read and discussed in groups during the cruise! We checked out a set of dominoes (a popular Dominican past time) to play many times on the ship until we purchased a set of our while sight seeing in Puerto Plata.

Fathom Adonia scavenger hunt

Late night scavenger hunt aboard the Adonia. Our team won!

They also offered fun, fitness activities like yoga, meditation and dance classes (we learned the Merengue and Bachata). You could take a wine and paint class, cocktail class, watch late night movies on the top deck and listen to the Adonia’s band – The Craze, as well as several Dominican Republic bands who came aboard while we were at port. Scheduled activities like scavenger hunts (not to brag or anything – but our team won the first one!), fitness seminars and bandioke (karioke with a live band) were also popular.

fuseball on Fathom Adonia

Annie playing Fuseball with new friends aboard The Adonia.

Because of the requirements of the work experienced on-ground, you have to be eight years old or older to go on this cruise. Some of the impact activities require you to be even older because of the type of work being performed. On our sailing we had a lot of kids, pre-teens and teenagers on board, which I think is great. There isn’t a kids game room or any children’s programming per say, but my kids participated in many of the age-appropriate activities offered and had a great time. I do feel like there could be more offered for the younger cruisers, though. This may be something they look at adding on future sailings.

What do you think about Fathom Impact Travel so far? Do you have any questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments section…I’d love to feature answers to them in an upcoming post. Visit Still Living The Dream to learn more about our Fathom experience coming soon!

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

Share

21 Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We just got home from a first-time visit to Universal Orlando and had a great time. We’ve been wanting to go on this #FamilyForward adventure organized by Mom It Forward for several years and we finally made it happen! Every year Mom It Forward offers a vacation package for purchase to social media savvy families. In addition to a great stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort and a visit to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, we were able to meet other families from across the country to learn more about how we can become superhero families by spending quality time together learning and playing and giving back to others in need.

I’ll be posting more about this unique #FamilyForward trip later, but first – I couldn’t wait to share with you some tips to how you can take advantage of the time you spend at both parks in Orlando as well as some insider information about cool things about the parks!

universal dragon

1. Avoid the extreme heat and huge lines by skipping the summer months and planning your vacation in the fall. I know school’s back in session, but we took the kids out over Labor Day weekend for an additional couple of days off and found the parks to be a lot less crowded so lines weren’t bad. On Labor Day itself, most rides were only 20-30 minutes long in the main lines. But because we stayed on property…we were able to ride in the Express Pass lines which cut our wait time down to almost nothing! This benefit, in my mind, makes staying at one of the Universal Orlando resorts a no-brainer.

2. They touch up the paint in Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island every night in Universal’s Islands of Adventure! There’s a lot of cool super hero art on the walls lining the street of Marvel Super Hero Island. Word on the “street” is the artist wasn’t allowed to claim his work, so he hid his signature in each painting. Look for the “Adam” signature hidden somewhere on each one…a fun game to play while you walk to the next ride or show!

IMG_6388

2. Get the big as yo’ face donut in Lard Lad in Springfield for $5.99. You can cut it up and share it for a sweet snack for the entire family. Come on, they are “World Famous” how can you pass them up?!

IMG_6477

3.Check out the phone booth at Universal Studios by King’s Crossing Station in London…right outside of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Dial MAGIC (it’s an old fashioned dial phone without letters on the numbers so that’s 62442 – we had to look on our cell phones to figure that out!) You’ll reach the Ministry of Magic. So cool!

IMG_6469

4. If you buy a Pygmy Puff like Ginny’s at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shop in Diagon Alley, they’ll ring a big bell and announce to the whole store that you are adopting one and you get to tell everyone his/her name. Very cute! (Annie got a pink one!)

IMG_6501

5. Buy a postcard. We got ours at Scribbles in Diagon Alley along with a sheet of Harry Potter postage stamps. (They told us  they only sell the Harry Potter stamps at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!) Address it to yourself and list all your favorite trip memories then take it to the Owl Post in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. They’ll give it an owl post postmark and an owl will “fly” it into the mailbox. Very cool – especially for the younger kids. Then we you get home, you’ll have something fun in the mail to remember your trip.

IMG_6435

6. Visit Gringott’s bank in Diagon Alley. You can exchange your muggle money for a bank note in $10 and $20 amounts while you talk to the animatronics goblin who will actually answer your questions! You can spend the bank note anywhere at the park (or return it for cash later). The bank note is so cute, we almost didn’t want to spend it!

IMG_6487

7. You’ve got to try the Butterbeer (available cold, frozen or warm) and the Pumpkin Juice while at one of the Harry Potter areas. Just do it. Also pictured: chocolate milk, Dragon’s Skin beer and cider beer from The Leaky Cauldron.

IMG_6510

8. And while you’re at it…enjoy the same sweets that Harry did in the movie. We stopped to get chocolate frogs at Honeydukes in Hogsmeade to take on the train just like Harry and Ron did during their first Hogswart Express train ride! You can also get Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, exploding bonbons and treacle fudge. Good times.

IMG_6539

9. The mirror at Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley will give you fashion advice if you stand in front of it. Sometimes it’s nice, “you look brilliant”! other times, not so much “that color doesn’t look good on you.” Ouch.

10. The vanishing cabinet is at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. You can hear a bird chirping inside!

IMG_6264

11. If you are staying at a Universal Orlando Resort property (we stayed at Loews Royal Pacific – Aloha!) you also get in to Islands of Adventure one hour earlier then everyone else to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. Bonus! Go straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride as this is one of the only rides that doesn’t have an Express Pass. If you have time, you can enjoy some of the other rides at Hogsmeade, but 15 minutes before the park officially opens…take Hogswart Express to Universal Studio’s Diagon Alley. Then you’ll be first in line for the other cool Harry Potter ride that doesn’t have a Express Pass either – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. These two rides have the longest queues all day, so you’ll be happy to get them both in first thing in the morning!

IMG_6497

12. If you want to get a wand, go to Ollivanders (they have one in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) and attend the short show first – it’s cool. They pick someone from the group to find the perfect wand (much like when Harry got his). Even if you’re not picked, it’s fun to watch. Then you can get your own. Remember, the wand chooses you – so try different ones in your hand to see which “speaks” to you! If you get it at the beginning of your stay, you’ll have more time to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!

IMG_6451

13. The Leaky Cauldron. Period. We loved eating lunch one day and breakfast another at this Diagon Alley restaurant. Lines can be long, but the move quickly…or wait for a time later in the day to go. We had the best Fish and Chips and Fisherman’s Pie in addition to a sticky toffee pudding that was magical! When you leave the restaurant, look up to your right. You’ll see balconies to the rooms for “rent” at The Leaky Cauldron. Word on the street is one of them is room 11 where Harry stayed while he was there.

IMG_6401

14. When you take the train FROM Diagon Alley TO Hogsmeade, you can jump through the wall at platform 9 3/4. Awesome! Be sure to get your video camera ready!

15. We were one of the last people to get to see the Disaster show. They officially shut it down after Labor Day as well as The BeetleJuice Show. Plans are to put the highly anticipated new Fast and Furious ride there.  A good reason for us to come back in the near future!

11952725_10207523765683372_7154910279154149326_o

16. The Hulk is taking a smash break. We were also one of the last ones to ride The Incredible Hulk roller coaster. They closed this ride for renovations on Labor Day as well, but will reopen it next spring. (photo courtesy of Jeff Bogle)

17. ET Adventure is one of the last remaining original park rides, but it never gets old. It has the same “It’s a Small World” ride feeling and my kid’s were amazed to see photos of Drew Berrymoore as a kid at the ride’s entrance. I must remember rent ET to watch with the kids! A fun fact about another long-time ride that is no longer there: Remember the Jaws attraction that was once were Diagon Alley is? They have many nods to this ride in the area including shark teeth in some of the Diagon Alley shop windows!

18. You’ll need at least one person to wear a lanyard to keep your Express Passes handy. They scan them at each ride so keeping them in your purse or backpack is a pain-plus they could get wet. You can get cool lanyards in the Universal gift store at CityWalk outside of the park entrance for only $8.95.

19. Outside of most of the rides with Express Pass they have lockers for your backpacks/purses. They are free to rent for the duration of the ride use a thumb print scan system to check them out and to check back in. This means 1. the same person who checks the locker out has to go to claim your stuff. 2. you are assigned a locker number that you have to enter to get back in – so if you think you might forget it….write it down!

20. A lot of the rides are multi-dimensional, like Transformers and Spider-Man, so it’s worth it to wait for a spot in the first row. You’ll be able to see without anyone’s head in the way and feel more a part of the experience. Plus – they use heat and water in many of them….so you’ll get to experience that better in the front row!

IMG_6544

21. Florida weather can change on a dime and it rained every day we were there. But don’t worry….it doesn’t typically last long. Most of the time we would enjoy an inside ride like The Mummy roller coaster and when we got out, the rain had stopped. Bring rain ponchos (we’re wearing our Universal ponchos – we liked to call them our “Invisibility Cloaks!”). If it does rain, take time to refuel at CityWalk’s Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. This place is great…try the Filet and Lobster rolls or the High Class Hillbilly. You won’t regret it.

Do you have any Universal Orlando Tips?

I attended the FamilyForward Universal Orlando trip with my family. While we had some fantastic trip perks as part of this group, the trip was paid for by my family and all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

Share

Five Ways Traveling Helps Connect My Family #TravelforReal #FamilyForward

I love to travel.

Over the couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to visit several different destinations …but the best experiences I’ve had by far have been the adventures I’ve taken with my family.

It’s funny because I’ve noticed recently that the further we get from home, the closer my family tends to get.

At home we all stay so busy and so focused with whatever is consuming us at the moment….school, work, scouts, soccer, running events, musical performances, housework. While we make it a point to  sit down together for dinner as frequently as possible and spend time as a family together on the weekends…it’s hard to coordinate schedules as the kids get older.

When we travel – it’s like we’re all in on the same page. We get closer on vacation by:

1. Navigating different roads – Whether we’re taking a full-on, Griswold family road trip across several states in the mini-van or we’re just trying to get our rental car from the airport to the hotel….finding our way together has a way of bringing us closer. Sometimes we give each other a hard time, but there’s a sense of adventure even in getting to your destination.

5 ways traveling helps connect

 

2. Experiencing something new  – Whether it’s paddle boarding or visiting the world’s largest ball of string …when we all try or see something that is new to all of us for the first time – we bond. I especially love it when do something different spur of the moment and all end up loving the experience….thrilled with conquering something new….together.

3. Trying different food – I don’t know what it is, but my kids will try new food/dishes when on a vacation that they’d never try at home. And I love to eat out…no dishes, no grocery shopping! When we are by the ocean, I crave seafood. When in New Orleans, I had to have a beignet from Cafe Du Monde…Paris – macarons! One of the things I always do before I leave on a trip is to ask friends and family where there favorite restaurant is.

4. Meeting new people  – It’s always fun to meet people while traveling. Some of the coolest conversations I’ve had have been with locals in a non-touristy spot. But we also love to talk to people who, like us, are vacationing. When in Destin, we bonded with some SUP enthusiasts when we rented paddle boards and ventured far from the shore. Others doing the same thing would give us tips on paddle boarding or a good spot to dive for sand dollars. There’s something about being on a similar adventure that brings you closer to those you’ve never met!

5. Staying at a nice hotel – Call us crazy – but we love staying in a nice hotel room all together. At home, we scatter after dinner for homework, chores and practice. Even when we sit down to watch a movie together – I get up frequently to put in a load of laundry, answer the phone or do something else “I just remembered I didn’t do but really need to”. When we are in a hotel room – there aren’t any distractions. I have no desire to clean. When we watch a movie – I pay attention. We even like to bring cards or small games to play before going to sleep.

loews royal pacific

We are so excited about our next adventure! In less than two weeks, we’ll be joining families from across the country as part of the #FamilyForward Universal Orlando Adventure hosted by Mom It Forward along with Universal Orlando Resort, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, DohVinci, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

This trip is unique because in addition to going to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, watching the Blue Man Group, visiting Universal’s Wet n Wild Waterpark and staying at the beautiful Loews Royal Pacific Resort,  Mom It Forward has organized other activities and projects that are designed to bring families closer together. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

We’ve been counting down the days and have loved getting a first-hand look about what it will be like to stay at Loews by seeing photos other families who are staying there are posting on Instagram on the #TravelforReal hashtag. We are so thankful they are doing this because it allows us to get a REAL look at what it’s like to stay and play there from the perspective of families like us. From what we’ve seen, we are in for a real treat! From the hotel room, to the pools and restaurants – the hotel looks amazing and we are so excited to get there.

We can’t wait to share our experience with you – so be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter .

 

Share

Weekend Getaways Close to Home – Our #Staycation at Woodlands Resort

Sometimes you just need to get away!

Taking a break from the worries of work, schedules and your normal routine can be such a great way to gain a new perspective and relax, but it can also be hard to carve out time to go on a long vacation. Plus, organizing and financing a trip far from home can be time consuming and pricey when you take into consideration flights, activities, hotels and meals.

We’ve taken several “staycation” mini breaks at home over the years, both over  the summer but also when school is in session when I find that schedules are beginning to run our life. Blocking out a weekend or even one day to spend together as a family can help us get reconnected and we’ve gone on picnics and museum trips and even just stayed home for games or movie marathons.

But it’s hard to really “get away” and be present with your family when you are at home looking at the loads of laundry, dishes and bills that need to be dealt with. Then there’s the lawn that needs to be mowed and wait…what? Is that the roof leaking?!!!

The Woodlands Resort seemed to sense we were in panic mode recently and called to see if we would check out their new lazy river and be their guest for an overnight retreat. We were thrilled to be offered this opportunity. Just about 45 minutes away, The Woodlands Resort is close enough to make it an easy trip, but far enough so that we put some distance between us and the work that was at home.

We actually stayed at the Woodland Resort in the spring, but that was before the lazy river was built and it happened to rain the entire time we were there (check out my post “How To Make the Best of a Rainy Vacation“). We still had a great time, but we really missed being in the water.

This time we arrived early Saturday morning to take advantage of all the poolside activities. Even though check-in isn’t officially until 3:00 p.m., The Woodlands Resort allows their guests to come earlier on the day of arrival to enjoy the property. Just stop by the desk and they’ll give you your bracelets. You can start sipping cold lemon-aid and racing down the water slides and they’ll call you when your room is ready!

IMG_2851_2014-08-09-11_45_

We picked a seat by the back pool and water fall, so relaxing! But all the kid’s activities were happening at the front pool by the Cool Water Cafe.

IMG_2875_2014-08-09-12_15_

Annie was excited about the line-up of activities scheduled for the day. She definitely wanted to get her face painted, get a balloon creation and take part in the hula hoop contest.

Woodlands Resort

We had a great meal by the pool from The Cool Water Cafe. Then at 3:00 p.m., we got a call that our room was ready! Our door was right by the pool and the back patio overlooked the lazy river. What a perfect view! The kids took a small break while I got ready to head over to The Spa at the main building.

spa

The Spa is very quaint, quiet and relaxing. The therapist I had was wonderful. She asked me if it was ok if she worked out some of the kinks in my shoulders during my Swedish Massage. Yes, please! The hour flew by and I left feeling more relaxed for sure, but also more alert and energized!

cool water cafe

We were going to take advantage of the kids eat free deal in the Woodlands Dining room, but we were having so much fun by the pool, we decided to eat dinner poolside at the Cool Water Cafe again. They have a nice menu, so we were all able to get something different then we had for lunch.

lazy river

After dinner, we made S’Mores at the Fire Pit and circled around the lazy river a couple times before the movie. Their new, 1,000 foot lazy river wraps around the Forest Oasis Pool and guest rooms. With music playing along the way, we relaxed as we floated (the current isn’t too strong, very easy going) and then had a blast sliding down the new two-story water slide.

cookies and milk

When we returned to our room after the movie later that night, we had a surprise waiting for us…a cookie cake and carafe of milk. The kids felt so fancy! What a perfect way to end the day.

After a great night’s rest, I got up early to run. The fitness center is open 24/7, but I wanted to check out the property and run outside. They have a bike and run trail that surrounds the resort, but I just ran throughout the property and saw the golf course and tennis courts.

IMG_2948_2014-08-09-17_36_

There is a lot of construction going on at the resort right now, but once you are back by the pool area – you hardly notice anything is going on. The $60-million expansion and renovation began last year and includes a new 184 guest room wing, the new (and now open!) lazy river and a new steakhouse along with an update to the resort’s conference center. We stayed in one of the 200+ renovated guest rooms at Fairway Pines, and they are really nice! The beds were comfortable and the furnishings were pretty with a modern Texas vibe. (Just be sure to ask for a room with a refrigerator if you think you’ll need one during your stay. Not all rooms have one right now.)

We will definitely go back to the Woodlands Resort again soon. It was one of the most relaxing overnight stays I’ve ever had and because it was so close to home, getting there was stress-free! The Woodlands is such a great area and there are plenty of stores and restaurants located close by, but they have everything you need right at the resort so there’s really no need to ever leave the property once you arrive. We didn’t…and we can’t wait to do it again!

IMG_2942_2014-08-09-17_27_

I was invited to stay at the Woodlands Resort with my family in order to review the property and resort amenities. I did not receive any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

Share

Blogger Bash Coffee Talk #BBYNC

Blogger

In a few days I’ll be headed to New York City for Blogger Bash! I’m very excited about all the fantastic brands and bloggers who are attending. It’s going to be an unbelievable couple of days and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

I love New York. I was born and raised upstate, but have been living in Houston since the 80’s. I love visiting the East Coast and I’m so excited to be traveling with Tanya this time. We only have three weeks until our triathlon, so we’ve planned a couple of Central Park runs while we are there. Since our trip is going to be pretty short, I promised her I wouldn’t go after my Life List item #18 , Audition for a Broadway Show. Instead, we are going to just see one!

Stephanie Glover, one of the fabulous folks helping to plan this event, has set up a blog link so participants can get to know each other before we arrive. So here goes….

1. Name
Jennifer Patrick

2. Where are you from?
Houston, Texas

3. How long have you been blogging?
About 4 years

4. What is the meaning behind your blog name?
I always say “I’m living the dream!” Sometimes I say it with sarcasm (when I’m cleaning up dog poop from the carpet) and sometimes I’m totally sincere (Disney with the family, 11 days in Paris and just playing at the pool with my kids!). When I turned 40 someone asked me how I felt. I said, “I’m STILL Living the Dream!”

5. What are you most looking forward to at Blogger Bash?
Meeting people! I love to visit with people and I can’t wait to see friends, meet fabulous bloggers and connect with awesome brands. And then there’s wine. I love wine.

6. What three words describe you the best?
Short (not tempered…literally short – I’m 4’10”!) , funny, energetic

7. Got kids? How many?
Yup – two of them! My son is 12 and my daughter is 8.

8. We all have a pet peeve. What is your #1?
I have a couple, but recently I watched someone clip her nails in the doctor’s waiting room. I’m going to go with that one. EWWWW!

9. If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
There are so many people I’d like to visit with, but I’ve wanted to meet Meryl Streep since I was in high school theatre (#26 on my Life List!) She’s pretty awesome.

10. Show me your face!

(That’s me on the left and Tanya on the right!)

Scan

 

Share

2014 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration – #DisneySMMoms

DisneySMMoms2014

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed a tremendous increase in tweets April 10-13.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 5th Annual Disney Social Media Moms Celebration and I couldn’t stop sharing about all I was learning and the fun I was having during the event. My family and I went last year to the celebration at Disney World and it was an incredible experience. This year it was held in California at Disneyland and it was just as amazing.

It’s an honor to be invited and there were so many wonderful opportunities this year. Some of the highlights for me included the chance to:

 photo 3-11

Network with incredibly talented bloggers –This year I was thrilled to spend time with old friends and colleagues like Sara, Courtney, Debra, Amy, Jessica, Mitch, and meet new friends like Sami, Joey and TerriAnn. Being surrounded by the talent and enthusiasm of these (and many other) extraordinary bloggers/social media experts inspires me. The support I get from them is such a gift. Their friendship…priceless.

photo 2-16

Experience Disney Magic with my family – Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are not to be missed. We loved some of our favorite attractions we first experienced at Disney World like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror as well as fun things unique to the parks in California like CarsLand and the California Screamin roller coaster. I’m putting the final touches on a separate post about life changing experiences at these two parks including delicious treats to eat – so be sure to check back soon to get the scoop!

Find out about what’s on the horizon from Disney – Speakers including Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Leanne Jakubowski, Director of Social Media/Public Relations, and Kathy Mangum, Executive Producer and Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering were awesome and gave us insight into what’s new and exciting at Disney including new cruise line itineraries and park attractions. Gary Buchanan, Social Media Manager of Disney Parks is an absolute hoot and along with keeping the event running at an exciting pace and taking care of “mousekeeping” issues he shared many insights about how to grow creatively by challenging yourself and the way you do things.

Learn from the Pros – I was completely in awe after hearing Doug Bowman, Creative Director at Twitter. He had a lot of great insight into the power of social media and I left the session inspired and empowered. Donald Driver, Former NFL player and author gave a truly motivational presentation and Maxine Clark, Founder of Build A Bear Workshop, impressed me with her message. I loved when she said “if you live your imagination , your ‘like’ will be a dream come true”. Did you know she started Build A Bear in her late 40’s? It’s never too to build something fabulous!

photo 1-17

Get to know more about exceptional brands – I enjoyed the chance to learn more about some of the event sponsors including American Tourister, Hanes, Taylor Morrison, Alamo, H20+ and Kohl’s as well as Disney programs, products and services; especially their Wild About Safety DVD series and The Magic of Healthy Living.

 photo 1-18

A Run in The Park

Thanks to RunDisney and New Balance, I also had the incredible experience to run through the parks before they opened Sunday morning during the 2-mile fun run. Starting in Downtown Disney, we ran through Disneyland Park (and hello – through the castle!) then Disney California Adventure…with the finish line on Route 66 in CarsLand. More about this thrilling experience later!

photo 3-12

We also were treated to some special surprises including visits from Maleficent (I can’t wait for the movie to open May 30) and Elsa and Anna from Frozen. This was really cool because the line to see these two in the park runs more than  about 2 hours long!

 photo 3-13

A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps

My friend, Sara Wellensiek with Mom Endeavors, won a Walk in Walt’s Footsteps VIP tour for 10 people and she invited me to join the group. What an unbelievable treat and experience. In addition to hearing more about Disney’s history and Walt’s vision – I was able to actually go in his apartment above the fire station on Main Street! Did you know that when Walt was in his apartment, he would light the lamp in the window so cast members would know he was there? After he passed away, they decided to keep the light on 24/7 in his memory. I was moved to tears being that close to where the magic started and hearing about the details of how Walt made his dream a reality. I’m so grateful to Sara for giving me this once in a lifetime experience. They offer this tour at Disneyland Park for an additional fee and if you have the time and money, I HIGHLY recommend it.

Winner!

1556293_10101405839204015_3172194590604465989_o

Bonus: I won a Nikon camera! I was so excited and then Gary Buchanan almost didn’t let it go when I RAN up to the stage to claim it. Gary, I promise I’m taking good care of it!

Be watching for more posts to follow with more Disney details soon!

I paid a con­fer­ence fee  to attend the 2014 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. My family and I received some complimentary and discounted items, but I did not receive compensation to attend and  was not required to write about my experience. As always, all opin­ions and expe­ri­ences are my own

Share