Category Archives: Travel

Quick weekend trip to Chicago

Just a quick check-in with some pictures from last weekend in Chicago. I presented at a P-12 Engineering Education conference in Chicago during the last half of the week at the Museum of Science and Industry. What a great location! I love this museum but hadn’t been in probably 5 years, since the ‘Bodies’ exhibit was there.

(Can’t beat a run by the lake pre-conference!)IMG_2179

Matt brought the kids up on Saturday and we spent the rest of the weekend exploring. We stayed just south of the river and rented this beauty. Jack and Audrey love side-by-side doubles, and Jack begged us to keep it at the end of the trip. We had originally planned on traveling on bike but the forecast for rain was a bit iffy. Next time (and for a longer weekend) we will have to bring the Orange Krusher (cargo bike) along.IMG_20160814_100103411_TOP

After checking into our hotel we spent a good bit of time playing in Maggie Daley Park just outside Millenium Park steps away from the lakeshore. I saw the huge climbing structures and play garden on a run earlier in the week and knew it would be a hit with the kids. There are lots of separate play areas with signs suggesting which age groups are most appropriate in each area. There is a huge ship, tri-level climbing tower, big slides built into the side of a hill, and so much more. Kids were everywhere! It will be a “must” next time we’re back

Then we took a walk to meet Aunt Tina and Uncle Brandon for dinner. They were on their way back from a wedding and on their way home to California. We met at the Rainforest Café. Maybe not the food that Chicago is known for, but decent kid options and good entertainment.

After dinner we headed to Navy Pier to ride the newly renovated Ferris Wheel. We all loved it, and Aunt Tina got some good pictures of everyone enjoying the views. We hit up the carousel and then started more walking (with our 31-week pregnant trooper Auntie). (and unpictured Ghiradelli ice cream. Yum!) We kept the kids up late and they crashed hard when we finally hit the room.28363108253_072bccc1d1_o28947534186_35166699a8_o28360688334_0b04ab05bd_o

The next day, we were woken by the alarm at 6. I am guessing Jack and Audrey were playing with buttons and accidentally set it. Yawn! But it meant that we got a head start on breakfast, checking out of the room, and off on another walk along the lakeshore. This time our destination with the Field Museum. Another favorite of mine! Matt and I hadn’t been for over 4 years and were really looking forward to sharing the adventure with the kids. They both are very interested in dinosaurs so Sue, the T-rex, was an immediate hit as was the flying pterodactyl.  We checked out the rest of Dinosaur Hall for the majority of our time there. Lots of questions on whether these were “real” dinosaurs, where was their skin, etc. and some speculation on whom would be eaten first in our family if dinos attacked. With limited time before lunch we decided to end with the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit to check out the mummies. Next time we will have to plan on the Family Playlab on the ground level. Looks like some great activities for little kids.IMG_2207IMG_20160814_104143219

After a quick lunch at the museum we took a water taxi back to Navy Pier and walked our stroller back to the rental. Then we lugged two tired kids back to our hotel and car. Audrey was asleep pretty soon after hitting the car and Jack gave his best effort at recapping the trip with us before he fell asleep too. With a quick overnight, I loved what we were able to fit in. As the kids get older, these trips are getting more interesting and maybe just a little easier.IMG_20160814_124439273_TOPIMG_2211IMG_20160814_123004970

Do you visit any of the museums in Chicago? What’s your favorite?

Disney Cruise with Toddlers – Tips & Suggestions

Since booking our cruise (with details in this post), we’ve had lots of friends say they have considered going the Disney route as well. Matt and I loved to research some tips and tricks as part of our planning and wanted to be sure to pass along some of our tips of making a great trip with little kids.IMG_2120

1.    If possible, get a veranda room

Our kids took naps on the ship most days, and went to bed earlier than we did. Having a balcony was wonderful for sitting outside and hanging out while they got some rest. We kicked up our feet and enjoyed a drink (you can bring 2 bottles of wine or a 6 pack of beer per person. Make sure to bring a corkscrew and/or bottle opener.). On pirate night we were able to catch the fireworks from our balcony after Jack and Audrey went to sleep.  (Matt’s tip: try for the 9th or 8th floor on the right or starboard side of the boat for best views. Mid-deck is also nice.)  My parents got the regular veranda room which was wonderful and very spacious for two people and had the same balcony. We got the family veranda room which was even a little bit longer, giving more room for Jack’s couch-bed (with rails!) and Audrey’s pack and play. As an aside, I was a bit nervous about the balcony before seeing it. It is totally enclosed and worry-free with toddlers.IMG_3094

2.    Book the early dinning time

The early dinning time is 5:45 and the other option is 8:30. I don’t think we would have ever made that option! We were assigned to the later time initially, and kept calling and checking in to make sure our name was on the waiting list for the earlier time slot. About a week before the cruise we were able to move to the earlier dining time.

3.    Bring some beach toys

This was our kids’ first time on a warm beach. It was great to have plenty of beach toys for them to share. We had buckets and shovels and brought some dump trucks from home. It made the sand even more fun. (Note:  you don’t need beach towels. They hand them to you when you debark the boat on Castaway Cay.) We went to the family beach. There is also a bigger kid beach with play equipment in the water – that our kids weren’t big enough for so we didn’t head that way. Beach2

4.    Don’t be afraid to try out the shows and leave whenever you want

That’s the beauty of all of the shows being included, AND of being with lots of other families. No one expects perfect show behavior. We went to each show being ok with ducking out whenever it was time. We got a chance to see lots of singing and dancing that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The balcony is a good option if you know you’ll be leaving early.

Short video of Audrey dancing before crashing hard for the night:

5.    Get to your room early on the first day

You are allowed in your room around 1:30/2pm on boarding day. We knew there would be a mandatory emergency drill at 4, but we didn’t know the alarm would start at 3:30. If you have little ones who nap, get to your room early so they can get settled and get decent naps before the alarm starts.

6.    Request a pack and play

We had briefly considered bringing ours. Don’t! They have it all set up and it was in perfect condition. We also requested a diaper genie for the room. Good decisions all around that made for very easy travel. If you have an older toddler sleeping on the sofa bed, you can request bed rails. They were solid for our wiggly Jack.IMG_3021

7.    Pack a “carry-on” bag for the first day

Bags might not be delivered to your room until about 5pm on the first day, so make sure you have everything you need for nap, diaper changes, outfit changes, white noise machine, etc. in a carry-on bag.

8.    Little tidbits

-Sign up for earliest embarkation time. You don’t have to board at that time but you can as soon as you’re in the area.

-Disney transfer from the airport was SO easy.

-If you can easily bring 6-12 water bottles with you, it is nice to have on the beach and to keep offering when you’re out and about.

-The Cove Cafe coffee bar is in the adults only area on Deck 11. Its not obvious immediately. They have cold brew coffee…wish I would have found this earlier. (All the drinks and food there are an additional fee)

-There are a couple of breakfast options (regular buffet, menu full-service, and buffet with drink service). With little kids I really liked the buffet with drink service. We could get the kids food and have drinks brought to us…and lots of coffee.

-Bring alphabet magnets for your room door. We spelled out our names (and brought some for Gigi and Bapa). It made going back to our room fun, and made finding our rooms very easy.

-Bring clothespins to pin wet bathing suits to chairs on your balcony.

-Bring a laundry bag to easily stash dirty clothes to pack home. (will try to remember this one for future travels)

-A small air freshener/candle is really nice for keeping a small room fresh.

-Get room service ice cream Mickey bars. They aren’t on the menu but are available….And they are delicious!MickeyBars

-Take plenty of pictures and videos. We loved having Matt’s GoPro camera with waterproof case for the following little videos

-Enjoy being a big kid with your kids. It pretty much rocks!DCIM100GOPRO

Summer 2016 Disney Cruise

Short background on this trip:  Matt and I don’t consider ourselves “cruise people.” We’ve always liked planning our vacations with some out of the way little stops, and Matt especially likes planning lots of the little details. We are coming up on celebrating our 10 year anniversary (!!) and while we always said we would go back to Hawaii we found (1) that’s a really long travel for a short vacation and (2) we really wanted to have a family vacation with the kids. Matt suggested a Disney Cruise and I jumped at the idea. So here we are…Beach1

I can’t say enough good things about this trip! We did the 3 night Bahamas cruise on the Disney Dream. There are stops in Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay. And to make the cruise even more fun Gigi and Bapa came too! (They honeymooned in the Bahamas 37 years ago – I’m sure traveling with grand kids was just as exciting, ha!)GigiPapa Cruise

We traveled to Orlando the night before our cruise took off so we could spread out our travel a bit more and enjoy our first day at sea. Getting on the boat on Day 1 was mildly hectic (get boarded, get lunch, get let into room for naps before a mandatory emergency drill) but the evening was a blast. At castoff, we had great Disney entertainment with singing and dancing from Mickey, Minnie and gang. After that, we had the best dinner of our trip that night in the Enchanted Garden. The kids did a wonderful job through a multi-course dinner, but were definitely ready to explore.  After exploring the ship a bit, we wandered over to the Golden Mickeys, which were a Red Carpet-like show with great singing and performances. We lasted until 8:30pm, when Jack started getting scared of the dragon banner in Mulan. He has an excellent imagination! (wink, wink)


Day 2 was a day docked at the Bahamas. My parents got off there for the day, while we stayed on the boat to take advantage of the great pools.  Audrey adored the Nemo splash pad. Jack had fun hanging out in there but really liked the two-story slide.CruiseDay2

After good pool time, the kids had naps in the room while Matt and I had a drink on our room balcony. Then we walked around the ship in search of Mickey and Minnie. Audrey kept shouting “Minnie Moushhhh!” at Mickey and Minnie and was thrilled to see them from a distance. She refused to get too close though (reminiscent of Santa) but Jack was happy for a hug.IMG_2119

Evening was Pirate Night, and there were some fantastic costumes. Jack and I wore the provided pirate head scarves, Audrey dressed as Tinkerbell, and Gigi and Bapa were happy to join in the pirate fun. After dinner, there was another outside party with character singing and dancing. We watched from the balcony and danced until our little ones were ready for bed. After we got them tucked in bed, we took a bottle of wine out to the balcony to watch fireworks. It was an amazing day!PirateNight

 Day 3 was the day I was most excited for, and it was perfection! We docked at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island) and took a short shuttle ride to the beach. We had packed plenty of beach toys and trucks and got to work playing in the sand and playing in the water. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we were on the beach around 9am (one of the advantages to having early risers!).Beach2

Beach3We had lunch on the island, and then Audrey started getting pretty droopy on Bapa. He took her under an umbrella and they enjoyed a nice nap together. Aren’t they adorable?SleepyBaby

 Two of my favorite pictures from the trip – And how appropriate since it was Father’s Day. (Matt joked that this was going to be a really hard Father’s Day to top in upcoming years)MollyFavs

 After Audrey woke up, we decided we’d all head in from the sun and spend some time on the splash pad in the shade on the ship. My parents played in the water with the kids while Matt and I took a ride on the AquaDuck, a big 4-story “watercoaster.” I screamed like a kid and we had a blast.

We continued the fun at dinner at Animator’s Palate which was a really cool restaurant with interactive animation featuring the sea turtle from Finding Nemo. The turtle paid a special stop at our table to talk to my dad and appreciate his Hawaiian shirt. Then we finished the night at our final Disney musical, Disney’s Believe, that featured songs from Aladdin, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lion King…and others. After no nap, and a fantastic imagination the talking tree in the Pocahontas portion of the evening had Jack yelling “I’m scarried!!” So we took that as our cue that it was time to head back to our cabin for sleep. After we got jammies on, we all cuddled in our bed to sing the kids songs and they fell asleep almost immediately. From start to end, it was such a happy and memorable day. I’m already itching to go back.

I’ll check back in later in the weekend (or week) with some tips and tricks for traveling with toddlers on the cruise and a couple of our favorite videos.