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

SeaWorld San Antonio 50th Celebration - Sea of Surprises

After a fun (albeit wet!) weekend at the Woodlands Resort, my family and I decided to venture a little further from home for a second adventure during Spring Break…to San Antonio! We stayed at the very cool Hyatt Hill Country Resort and enjoyed a day at SeaWorld.

Seaworld logo

As a SeaWorld Ambassador, I was given a season pass so I can help kick-off celebrations like this. Let me just say, this is going to be a great year for SeaWorld San Antonio! For 18-months, SeaWorld is going to be celebrating with a new Shamu show, animal encounters, entertainment and special giveaways and prizes.

seaworld flamingos

We loved the Bubble Blowout mobile lab that greeted us when we arrived for the celebration and can now be found throughout the park. We also enjoyed seeing the beautiful Flamingos (check out Flamingo Cove as soon as you enter the park) and are excited about the other special animal encounters they have planned.

Seaworld surprise squad

Surprise Squad

When you visit the park, be on the look out for the Surprise Squad. These teams started wandering around SeaWorld on March 21st, giving away all sorts of prizes. I don’t know exactly what all the great giveaways will be, but I will say that when we were there, we saw them go up to a family taking a break on a bench and they gave them all-day dining passes! I hear that prizes will range from special gifts to even trips!

seaworld trash sculptures

Recycled Sculptures

We LOVED a new addition to the park, four sculptures all made out of recycled debris collected from beaches. A SeaWorld staff member told us that SeaWorld has collected 30 tons of debris over the last four years and used 98 percent of it to make 30 sculptures! Four of them reside at SeaWorld San Antonio including a penguin, jellyfish, shark and starfish. These sea-themed sculptures, many of which weigh more than half a ton, were so impressive and a great way to discuss ways we all can reduce, reuse and recycle. We also had fun playing “I spy” as we found bottles, bags, and other recognizable items that made up each sculpture.

You can learn more about projects like these at  SeaWorldCares.com.

A Great Deal

If you want to visit SeaWorld this year (we are going back in the summer and again in the fall for their special holiday celebrations!) now is a great time to get your passes. For a limited time, when you buy one SeaWorld San Antonio Fun Card, you get one free! Click here to find out more about this deal for unlimited admission through 12/31/14. The normal cost for a fun card is $65 for adults and $55 for kids (kids ages 3 and under are free).

As a SeaWorld ambassador, my family and I were given annual passes in order to visit the park for review purposes. No compensation was received and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own! 

Share

Getting Ready for Disney Social Media Moms with Magic At Play Clothing from Kohl’s (Giveaway!)

DisneySMMoms2014

I’m so excited to be attending the Disney Social Media Moms Conference again this year! It’s an unbelievable opportunity to learn from industry experts while having fun at the happiest place on earth! This year the conference is at Disneyland and there have been hints that some of the speakers will include Maxine Clark; Build A Bear, Doug Bowman; Twitter and Donald Driver; Super Bowl Champion. An awesome speaker line-up, the opportunity to network with incredibly talented bloggers and social media experts AND the chance to play at the park with my family? Dream. Come. True.

Needless to say, my family and I can’t wait to go next week…but we need to start packing. Preparing for a family vacation to Disney combined with a conference can be tricky. We don’t want to forget any park essentials (water bottles, back pack, sunscreen) along with conference must-haves (laptop, camera, mobile chargers). Check out some preparation and packing tips I posted about our Disney World trip last year.

And then there’s the most important part…what to wear!

We like to show our #DisneySide at home with Disney-themed clothes featuring Princesses, our favorite movie characters and (of course) classic Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Wearing Disney-inspired clothes at Disneyland is a must, so we were thrilled to learn about Magic at Play, a clothing collaboration between Disney and Kohl’s that came out April 3, 2014. I was given a gift card to Kohl’s so I could check out the apparel line by Jumping Beans for infants, toddlers, boys sizes 4-7 and girls sizes 4-6x and share what I thought with you.

kohls disney clothes

Annie had so much fun, but admittedly had a hard time deciding which pieces to choose from because there were so many options available at Kohl’s in stores and online. In the end she selected three tops, a pair of shorts, leggings and a dress. We loved the blinged out Mickey shirt and the subtle hints of Minnie on the sundress. A major plus….many of the pieces go together, giving you more outfit options. Also, Kohl’s often offers many sales and coupons so you can maximize your dollars. When we went, the entire Magic at Play Jumping Beans clothing line was 30 percent off. We also had an addition 20 percent off coupon AND a $10.00 off coupon that you can use if you spend $30 in apparel for children. Saving money on cute clothes makes me so happy.

kohls annie

What do you think…pretty cool, right? Want to make your dollar stretch even further so you can get more from the collection? How about a giveaway for a $50.00 Kohl’s giftcard?!

A GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you Kohl’s for giving us a gift card to purchase Disney Jumping Bean apparel in order to review. No other compensation was received and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Share

How to Make the Best of a Rainy Vacation (Review of The Woodlands Resort)

The Woodlands community is just a short drive from where we live in Houston, but with the beautiful scenery…. it feels like a million miles away. When my family and I were recently invited by The Woodlands Resort for a visit over Spring Break, we were thrilled. We all really needed a break and we were curious to check out what new things will be unveiled at the resort this summer.  We were especially excited about the chance to play on the water slides and relax pool side with good food, live music and other entertainment they had planned for Spring Breakers of all ages.

 umbrella

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Mother nature - you can be cruel sometimes. It was cold and rainy during our entire two-day, one-night stay. Not ideal for outdoor fun…but we still got to enjoy the resort, find out about their renovations and we learned a couple of tricks about how to make the best of dreary weekend weather.

The Woodlands Resort is in the middle of a $60 million dollar expansion including the addition of a new building with 184 guest rooms …plus they are renovating their existing rooms. Check out the new look coming soon!

 woodlands resort rooms

They are adding a 900-foot lazy river that will wind around the property’s existing Waterscape pools and play area. We can’t wait for this new addition which will be ready in time for summer fun!

In addition to many other renovations and additions, a new steak house is being built to overlook the 18th green of Panther Trail Golf Course as well.

Even with all the new and exciting changes on the horizon, The Woodlands Resort is already a great place to relax with your family and friends. One of the things we enjoyed the most was the excellent customer service and even with the less then ideal weather conditions, we still had fun.

Tips for Making The Best of a Rainy Vacation

1. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em 

Swimming in rain

It’s hard for kids to be so close to beautiful pools and water slides and not dive in. While it was a chilly 60 degrees (that’s cold for Houston!) the  Woodlands Resort heated their smaller pool in the back. When the heavy rain slowed down (and there was no sign of thunder or lightening) we let the kids enjoy some time in the water. The nice staff members even let our kids go down the water slide in the front pool (which wasn’t heated - brrr!) once or twice so they could experience it!

2. Enjoy the Rhythm of the Rain

Our room had a balcony overlooking the Forest Oaks Waterscape. While we couldn’t enjoy lounging by the pool, we loved sitting on the balcony with a good book. Protected from the raindrops, we were able to enjoy the outdoors without getting wet.

3. Fun Indoors

photo 1-9

The Woodlands Resort moved some of the Spring Break activities they had planned by the pool inside one of their ballrooms including clowns, balloons, live music, games and a movie in the evening. We also played a family game of pool and shuffle board and enjoyed some live jazz music in the lobby. For moms and dads, there’s also a fitness facility and spa. (I definitely intend to take advantage of a massage the next time we visit the resort!) When we had enough of the indoors, the Woodlands Resort shuttle took us to nearby Market Street to enjoy some shopping and dinner at Tommy Bahamas restaurant.

4. Good Food and Conversation

 lunch

We had a late and lazy lunch in the resort’s dining room. With great views of the property…we enjoyed yummy chicken lettuce wraps. We laughed, acted silly and took our time enjoying our meal. This is a rare treat in our world of rushing from band practice to cheer leading and lacrosse in the evenings. It was really relaxing. Next time we might not even leave our room…we might just put on a good movie and order room service!

What are your tips for making the best of bad weather on vacation?

Many thanks to the Woodlands Resort for treating us to a nice stay at their resort. While some of our expenses were covered in order for us to review the property, all of the thoughts and opinions (and lazy Saturday afternoon) are all my own!

 

Share