A Travellerspoint blog

Catching up: Clyde Peeling's Reptiland

First, I must confess that I am not a fan of snakes, and that I have always thought that reptile houses in zoos are smelly. I suppose I am not Reptiland's target audience, then. Nevertheless, a while back, a friend in State College recommended Reptiland to me as a good day trip for the kids. Back in March, when both girls were on spring break and everyone was feeling a little stir crazy, Reptiland was sounding pretty good.

Reptiland is in Allenwood, PA, just south of Williamsport and about an hour away from State College. Its location is a bit remote, but it is a legitimately accredited zoo and not just some guy on the side of the road with a couple of snakes.

There are a wide variety of reptiles and a few non-reptiles (frogs) housed in three buildings with habitats: one with alligators, one with giant tortoises and komodo dragons, and the main building with everything else. There were several interactive displays in the main building as well, such as true/false questions about the animals, and my oldest enjoyed many of them. Everything we saw was comparable to what you might find in a public zoo.

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Because it was winter when we visited, there were some things we didn't see because they were outdoors: the dinosaur walk, the butterfly exhibit, and a few animals like the Galapagos tortoise who only have outdoor habitats viewable by the public.

We also went to the show as well as a "Winter Warm Up." The latter was an encounter with an animal that was not currently on display. The staff person brought out a species of lizard to the main exhibit gallery and talked about its features. The main show took place in the Island Giants building, where there is seating. The staff person discussed the different types of reptiles and brought out 3 for us to see, including a boa and a crocodile. The show ended with watching a feeding at the main exhibit gallery. At both events, the staff were knowledgeable and welcomed questions from adults and kids alike. Even my youngest could participate, petting the animals with me guiding her hand.

We got through Reptiland in about an hour and a half, including the shows. You'd want to give yourself more time if visiting in the summer.

In all, Reptiland was a good kid-friendly attraction for a cold day. Both girls enjoyed seeing the animals. That said, it might be better to visit in the summer. Admission is only a couple of dollars more, and all of the exhibits are open.

Admission (off-season rate): $14 adults, $12 ages 3-11, free ages 2 and under
Food: There is a café on the premises, but it is not open in the off season. They will stamp your hand, so it's possible to leave for lunch and then come back. There also are several picnic tables on the grounds for people who want to bring in food when the weather permits it.
Stroller-friendly?: Yes, except for a few steps to enter the gator building (and I think we could have avoided those if we had gone the long way around).
Best for: ages 5 and up because they can take advantage of the interactive displays. Younger kids will still enjoy seeing the animals, though.
Website: http://reptiland.com/

Posted by amikulski 18:55 Archived in USA Tagged children zoo pennsylvania Comments (0)

Overnight to Washington, DC

DD2 was born in January 2014. We have taken a couple of brief trips since then, but I have not had the chance to get these posts up until now.

Our first trip as a family of four happened last August. On one hand, we'd been so busy that travel hadn't sounded like much fun. On the other hand, I hadn't left State College in about a year, so I'd been wanting a change of scenery.

While I was homebound, I wrote about some of the first trips we took with DD1. Although there were nice moments in each of them, they definitely weren't easy trips. At the same time, though, we didn't want to give up traveling altogether just because traveling with 2 young kids can be hard. Our solution to these dilemmas was to try an overnight trip. That way, if it turned out to be a disaster, at least it would only be a short-lived one. It also could be a baby step towards some longer trips in the future. We decided to drive down to metro DC to visit some friends (the same ones who helped us out during the blizzard of aught-nine) who just had a baby in June.

As we planned our trip, we foresaw 2 major challenges:
1. keeping our daughters from waking each other up
2. keeping DD2 from shrieking for the entire duration of the road trip (car seats have been an acquired taste for her).

We had a strategy for the first challenge: booking a suite where the living and bedroom areas are separated by a door. We put the crib in the bedroom with us. DD1 could relax in the living area while I was getting her little sister down for the night. Once her bedtime rolled around, she could sleep on the pullout couch.

I have to admit that we didn't really have a strategy for the second challenge. We just fervently hoped that she'd be content.

In reality, our first obstacle was remembering that all of our suitcases and duffel bags were tucked away in storage and virtually impossible to reach. We improvised and used school bags, which worked fine.

We set off, stopping first to drop off our dog at a pet lodge. Now that we have 2 car seats in the back seat, there isn't room for him to ride there, so he went in the passenger seat on my lap. He was a bit nervous, but we managed. The pet lodge isn't near the interstate at all, so the next task was choosing our route. We planned to take some back roads before joining up with the interstate. We plugged our info into the navigation system, inadvertently choosing the shortest route. We set off on some winding, hilly roads; I rarely feel sick in cars, but the route was making me woozy. Even worse, these roads seemed to get more and more remote, so there weren't places where it made sense to turn off and find another route. Thankfully we made it back to bigger highways and nobody got sick. DD2 remained content until after our lunch stop in Breezewood, PA. After that, we had alternating periods of crying and relaxing/napping. The periodic traffic jams in Maryland didn't help the situation because DD2 is always happier in her car seat when we're moving. The ride home was similar: DD2 seemed to have about a 2 -hour limit when it comes to being happy on the road. The crying wasn't fun, but we were thankful that it wasn't any worse.

The first challenge went even better. DD2 woke up only once in the night, which is what she usually would do at home at that age. What's more, DD1 slept through it all! Having the separate spaces in the hotel room was the key to our success.

In all, this was a great trip; we enjoyed visiting our friends, and we overcame our initial fears of traveling with a baby in a family of four.

Posted by amikulski 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged children washington Comments (0)

Flashback: Washington, DC and the blizzard of aught-nine

December 2009

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Just a month after our trip to San Diego, we were on the road again. I had to be in DC for work, and my husband and daughter (then 7 months old) came along. For this trip, at least, I had done what I could in the planning phase to make the trip easier on us. I had chosen a hotel near the meeting site and Metro, and I booked our flights into Reagan National Airport so we could take Metro straight to the hotel.

We also had adjusted expectations. We knew that getting my daughter down for the night would be a challenge. We asked for a crib, but had traveled with the carseat/stroller travel system so that my daughter would have an alternate place to sleep; this ended up being a good thing because she used it more than the crib.

In all, the trip started off well. I was able to feed my daughter or pump during our breaks, and the meetings themselves went fine. However, things got crazy that weekend.

The forecast was predicting lots of snow for the weekend. When the meetings ended on Friday afternoon, everyone from the east coast was scrambling to get home. I briefly looked into changing our itinerary but couldn't get us back to Phoenix that evening. Our flight was early enough in the day on Saturday that we might get out before the snow hit. I checked the weather on my phone frequently to monitor the situation. I remember going to bed Friday evening, looking out the window, and not seeing a single flake.

I was up once in the night and looked out the window again. The cars were lightly dusted with snow.

When my daughter and I woke up for the day, there was more snow. I got online to check our flight: it was cancelled. I then called JetBlue customer service to reschedule. They dropped my call twice. It was maddening. Then I got smart and decided to choose Spanish customer service and eventually got to speak to a person. The best they could do was put us on a flight out of BWI the next day. We figured that we could get out there for that. It was not an ideal situation, but I was proud that my Spanish skills had helped us reschedule.

We booked ourselves a hotel room near BWI for that night so we could be closer to our flight. Then we packed and checked out of our hotel in the District. Our plan was to use Metro and a shuttle to get to BWI and then take the free shuttle to the hotel.

Then we stepped outside.

About 3 inches had piled up, but nothing had been cleared from the sidewalks or roads. The wind was fierce, and more snow was falling fast. We were having trouble pushing the stroller and pulling our roller bags. Even though the Metro stop was only about a block away, we turned around and went back inside the hotel after just a few steps... and thank goodness we did: although Metro was running at the time, it closed soon after, and there were stories of people stuck in subway cars for hours. The thought of being in that situation with an infant still makes me shudder.

We then decided to call a cab to get us to our new hotel. After several tries, a dispatcher answered the phone. We were then told it would take 90 minutes for the cab to get there. We spent that time in the hotel lobby, doing our best to keep our daughter entertained. Meanwhile, the snow kept falling.

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Once we were in the cab, we saw just how bad the situation was. The streets had not been cleared, not even the expressways. It took about another hour and 20 minutes to get to the new hotel, even though traffic was nonexistent.

We arrived at the new hotel to find a lobby full of people, all of whom had been stranded because their flights out of BWI had been cancelled. My husband and I were also starving because we had missed lunch and eaten through my stash of granola bars (my daughter could nurse, so she was fine). The other folks in the lobby informed us that a Chinese restaurant down the road was still delivering. My husband called in our order to a guy who sounded quite frazzled. Our food arrived about 90 minutes later. We considered ourselves lucky because families who arrived later and tried calling for food found that they were no longer taking orders.

If we were fortunate with regard to the food, we were not with regard to our flights. Midway through our lunch/dinner, I learned that our Sunday flight had been cancelled. I called customer service again, again choosing the Spanish option. This time I was told that if our family wanted to fly home together, we wouldn't be able to leave until that Wednesday--on a flight out of Dulles.

Yes, that would be a third airport: Reagan, BWI, and now Dulles. It would be another drive across metro DC. It would also mean a wrinkle in our holiday plans. My parents were flying into Phoenix on Tuesday to spend Christmas with us, but now we wouldn't be getting in until Wednesday, and our friends who had spare keys to the house were going out of town themselves. It was a mess, but we had no choice but to take the Wednesday flights. It occurred to me that if I had just stuck it out on English customer service, I might have gotten us rebooked for Monday or Tuesday and ultimately gotten us home sooner. So much for my bilingual pride.

Fortunately, things started getting better on Monday. One of my best friends lives in the Maryland suburbs of DC. She and I had been in touch throughout the whole storm and she wanted to help, but she and her family were stuck because 2 feet of snow had fallen and no plows had come, making their street impassable. They were finally plowed out by Monday morning and came to get us. We would have been happy to see them under any circumstances, but it was especially great to see them then. Our friends have a child who is the same age as my daughter. Not only did this make for fun play time, they bailed us out just as our stash of diapers and baby food was running low. The babies enjoyed playing together and we enjoyed catching up.

Our friends had tickets to fly out on Tuesday; the airports were functioning again by this time, so we said goodbye. They were nice enough to give us a spare key and let us stay at their place until we flew out. We were grateful to have the extra space and a whole new set of baby toys to entertain our daughter, who was getting bored with the toys we'd packed for her. Early on Wednesday morning, we caught a shuttle van to Dulles and flew back home. Upon arrival, my husband and daughter drove to pick up my parents from their hotel while I cleaned the house like a madwoman.

Lessons learned:

1. Pack extra baby items. My rule of thumb is 8 regular and 2 nighttime diapers for each day on a trip plus an extra day's worth; it covers you for even a prolific day of diaper use and leaves you with extra. I also try to pack one extra outfit, an extra set of pajamas, and a couple of extra jars of baby food. My extra packing alone would not have gotten us through all of our extended stay in DC, but it got us through the time when we were stuck in hotels and businesses were closed. Had we not been able to stay with friends, we would have had enough to get by until we could take a cab to a store.

2. If you travel with a breast pump, give yourself extra time at security. With so many moms out there traveling for work, you'd think that TSA agents would have seen a breast pump before. Unfortunately, this is not the case. On several occasions, I've had to explain what it is and that no, I can't remove it from the bag because the motor is built in. For this lesson, I remember my flight home from DC the most because my family had to wait while our inept agent got a supervisor to confirm that it was indeed a breast pump. We still made our flight, but it was frustrating to be slowed down like that.

3. Think carefully about rescheduling flights when you're stranded by weather. My first instinct had been to get my family out ASAP, but it backfired, especially in metro DC where they aren't equipped with as many plows and salt trucks as cities farther north. Even though the snow stopped on Sunday, airports and businesses didn't open immediately because people were still snowed in. If that had occurred to me when rescheduling flights, I may have tried to take it into account and schedule something for Monday. I may have been able to save my family the hassle of a second cancelled flight.

Posted by amikulski 13:30 Archived in USA Tagged children snow washington Comments (0)

Flashback: November, 2009--San Diego, CA

Although my first trip with my daughter taught me to be wary of mixing personal and professional trips, I did it again a month later. Why, you ask? Well, it came down to four things.

1. My attendance was required at this conference.
2. If I brought my daughter along, I wouldn't have to pump at the conference or build up a frozen milk stash to get her through the time we'd be apart.
3. The conference was in San Diego, so my sister, who lives in LA, could join us for part of the weekend.
4. This trip was planned as a family trip even before we went to Michigan.

This trip was also going to be different enough from the last one that we didn't dwell too much on comparisons. Instead of flying, we'd be driving. We'd be at a hotel, not at my parent's house. Once again, we went headlong into a journey that I had envisioned (before having my daughter) as a great family trip.

The drive to San Diego went pretty smoothly. When we arrived at our hotel, we received 2 pieces of good news: 1) we had a free upgrade to an ocean view room,

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and 2) we could choose a traditional crib or a pack-and-play for our daughter. After our experience in Michigan, we decided to try the crib. When it arrived in the room, we rolled it to the window and sat my daughter in it so she could get familiar with it. She seemed happy enough.

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That night, we put my daughter in the crib and everything was fine--at first. She woke up an hour later. The next several hours were a blur as my husband and I took turns through the night. We would get her asleep and lay her down in the crib, only to immediately wake up and cry. I remember wondering how long to let her cry it out before we'd upset people in the neighboring rooms (I never lasted more than a few minutes). I remember putting a couch cushion on the floor and trying to get her down on that while I laid on the floor next to her. Most of all, I remember putting my daughter in her stroller and walking laps in the hotel hallways. That is how she finally fell asleep. It was 4 AM. I decided not to take her out of the stroller. With all of her previous waking up, I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks by lifting her out. Besides, I figured that it would be hard for the stroller to work out worse than than the crib. She slept for about 4 hours. Fortunately, I had no early morning commitments the next day, because I felt like a zombie.

I also felt very worried about how I was going to make it through the conference. I think we tried the crib for naps and bedtime a couple if other times, but my daughter started crying as soon as we laid her down. On the other hand, she would stay asleep if we set her down in her car seat. After that rough first night, my daughter ended up sleeping in her car seat every night. It didn't strike me as more comfortable than the crib, but maybe I was wrong because she slept through the night every time we started in car seat.

We didn't have lots of time for sightseeing because of my conference commitments, but we did see a few things. We walked around the Gaslight District and checked out a couple of restaurants there. When my sister came in to visit, we walked through the Little Italy neighborhood and went for a drive on Coronado Island.

Our drive back was not quite as smooth as the way there. Somewhere outside of Yuma, my daughter became very upset. We pulled into a gas station and I tried to feed her. She was still crying. Because she was in a rear-facing infant seat as we traveled east, she was looking west as the sun went down. We thought that the sun might be in her eyes, so I tried holding a receiving blanket so that it would block the sun but not the rear view. She still cried. Two days later, her first tooth broke through: mystery solved!

Lessons learned:

1. Suite-style hotels are great for families. My conference had special rates at an Embassy Suites, so that's where we stayed. It was great on many levels. The suite had a layout with a completely separate bedroom and living space, so we could close the door to the room where my daughter was sleeping and be able to talk and keep lights on. The extra space overall gave my daughter more room to crawl around than in a standard hotel room. The kitchenette, with its sink, mini-fridge, and microwave, made it easy to do dishes and store bottles or opened jars of baby food.

2. Having someone to help is a lifesaver. There is no way I could have taken any of my trips without help. Most of the time it's been my husband, though we often have had other family and friends helping. On this trip, the main caretaking duties fell to my husband, who was getting over walking pneumonia at the time. He doesn't have a starring role in my posts, but these trips would not be possible without him.

Posted by amikulski 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged children hotels california Comments (1)

Flashback: Oct. 2009--Lansing/East Lansing, Michigan


View SLRF 2009 on amikulski's travel map.

I'm starting a new category of entries called Flashbacks where I describe some of trips I took with my oldest daughter. The sum of these experiences are what inspired me to start my blog, and I learned some valuable lessons on each trip.

I'll start with the first trip I ever took with my daughter. She, my husband, and I went to Lansing and East Lansing, Michigan when she was 5 1/2 months old--about the age that her little sister is right now. One of the conferences I regularly attend was being held at our alma mater of Michigan State University. When I first heard the announcement, I was still pregnant with my daughter, and I naively thought that this would be a great opportunity for friends and family to see her. The conference was over Halloween weekend, so i was excited about having my daughter celebrate her first one with family...

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and having the chance to see all the fall colors that I missed when I was living in Phoenix.

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Staying with my parents would be homier than a hotel and give me access to baby essentials like a rocking chair and a fridge. I would even have babysitting for when I was at the conference sessions! It all seemed so perfect. I submitted a paper to the conference, had it accepted, and eagerly awaited my first family trip. My daughter learned to sit up a few weeks before the trip, so we also came up with the seemingly brilliant idea to leave the car seat travel system at home, use the folding umbrella stroller at the airport, and rent a car seat from the rental car company.

Fast forward to October: I caught one of the flu strains that wasn't covered by my flu vaccine, which knocked me out for about a week and set me back at work. Normally I go to conferences with my presentations done, but I found myself leaving for this trip just barely having started it. This meant that I had to use every minute where I wasn't already booked to finish it... and there was very little time that I wasn't already booked. If I wasn't at sessions, family and friends were dropping by my parents' house or we were seeing them at their homes. As for renting a car seat, we did end up with one, but getting it was much more difficult than we had imagined (see below).

On top of all that, my daughter, who had been sleeping through the night like a champ for weeks, decided not to sleep in Michigan. Maybe it was the time change, sleeping overnight (not just an occasional nap) in a pack-n-play, or the unfamiliar surroundings in general. Maybe it was all of those things in combination. Either way, she was sleeping about 4 hours a night, and because I was still nursing, I was the often the one to settle her down when she woke up. Even though you'd think that my daughter would have made up for a lack of sleep at night with some longer naps during the day, the opposite happened: she hardly napped at all. Here she fell asleep but woke up as soon as we laid her down.

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As a result, we began a vicious cycle where she--and I--became increasingly overtired. It was not good. I was miserable and exhausted.

Frustrations aside, it was good to see people and have them meet my daughter. It was also my first in a series of lessons learned about traveling with a little one.

Lessons learned:

1. Do not combine personal and professional obligations on your first trip with baby.
This trip sounded like a great 2-for-1 experience in that I could visit home for my work travel, but in reality I was never able to fully enjoy either aspect of the trip. Perhaps I would try it again in the future, but definitely not for my youngest daughter's first trip. It was just too much for me.

2. Things won't always go as planned.
I'll admit it--I knew this before I ever had a child. Still, I mention it because it takes on a whole new level of meaning when you travel with a child. This trip reminded me that the unexpected can pop up in any form, whether it's lack of sleep or a still-unfinished presentation. There's no way to prevent such things from happening, so I guess the best you can do is not book yourself too tightly so that you have some flexibility when these things happen.

3. Beware of car seat rentals.
When you book a rental car online, the reservation is being made by a central reservation office. They don't check to see what is at the specific location where you'll be renting. Our experience was a prime example. We requested an infant seat when we made our reservation online. When we got to the rental office in Detroit, they only had convertible car seats. That was a bit annoying because we had requested an infant seat, but a convertible seat would still work, so we said it was fine. When my husband realized that the seat they gave him couldn't be installed because it was missing a base, they brought out every convertible seat and base they had. None of the seats went with any of the bases. They said that they didn't know this because nobody rents car seats from them. They ended up sending my husband to Walmart to buy a seat. In all, it took about 2 hours before we could get on the road. Even though the rental company paid us for the seat and gave us a discount for the inconvenience, I would have preferred to pay full price with and have the appropriate seat waiting for us. We have since rented a booster seat for my oldest in Italy without any problem, but I will always be a little wary of renting car seats.

Posted by amikulski 18:32 Archived in USA Tagged children michigan Comments (0)

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