A Travellerspoint blog

Vegas baby!

sunny 95 °F

My sister-in-law and her husband had a baby in April, so we went to Las Vegas to visit the new addition to the family once DD1’s school year ended. This was our second plane trip as a family of four, and it went well. We woke up, and drove the 3 hours to the Philly airport. The timing of the flight meant that we would be in the air during the east coast’s dinner hour, so I searched the terminal for something to eat on the plane. I found a Cibo for sandwiches, but nearly everything had some kind of sauce or mayo on it: not exactly kid-friendly. I grabbed some that had no sauce listed on the label, only to find out during dinner on the plane that they indeed had some kind of flavored mayo. DD1 ate some, but DD2 did not. Fortunately, everyone had enough to eat thanks to the chips I bought and the granola bars and fruit snacks that we packed for the trip.

While we were in Las Vegas, we tried to choose activities where the baby could join us and the girls would have fun. Most mornings, we visited the park to burn off some energy. We visited the strip a couple of times as well. On our first outing, we rode the High Roller Ferris Wheel. The ride takes 30 minutes, but both girls were pretty entertained.

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Our next stop was the wildlife at the Flamingo, where we saw the hotel’s namesake as well as other birds.

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After a dinner of ice cream (more on that in my next post), we headed to the Bellagio fountains. After waiting for nearly a half hour, we heard a recording announcing that the scheduled show was cancelled due to high winds; it would be nice if they played that announcement more than once every 30 minutes. Everyone was disappointed, but we decided to check out the Conservatory inside the Bellagio to make up for it a bit.

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By the time we stepped out of the casino, the winds had died down and the next fountain show was already underway, so we were able to catch a few minutes of it.

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Our second time on the strip centered around The Secret Garden at the Mirage, where we saw dolphins, leopards, lions and tigers.

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We also took a trip to the Hoover Dam.

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Although the temperatures that day only reached the low 90s—which really is not that bad, thanks to the low humidity—shade is in short supply at the dam, so we definitely felt the heat. We were quite thankful for the portable air conditioners that were set up for visitors!

Our flight home departed at 6:50 AM, so we had a very early wake-up. We regretted this choice the night before—the girls always got to bed later than usual because of the jetlag involved in traveling west—and the morning we left, but the trip went smoothly. As luck would have it, the girls did not make up for lost sleep on the flight: DD1 did not nap at all, and DD2 did not nap until the last half hour. We woke her, grabbed our bags, ate a quick lunch, and drove back home.

Posted by amikulski 19:18 Archived in USA Tagged children planes vegas Comments (0)

Cars, crayons, and covered bridges

My husband is on a car forum online, and he learned that the yearly driving event they do was going to take place in PA. It would be Father's Day weekend, so it seemed like a good way to celebrate. Both the start and end of the drive were a couple of hours away from us, so we booked hotels and turned it into a weekend trip.

Thus far, our only trip with DD2 had been our night in DC the summer before. We still were facing the same challenges as then: keeping the girls from waking each other and keeping DD2 happy in the car. Again, we opted for hotel suites for the first issue and hoped for the best for the second.

On Friday, we left town in the morning and drove to Crayola Experience, which was near the start of the drive. We fielded many questions from DD1 about how far away we were and tried to keep our sanity when DD2 spent over an hour screaming and crying in the car. Once we got there, though, they had fun.

That evening we faced our first challenge again. We had a 2-room suite, so DD1 would take the pull-out couch, but what about DD2? Their bedtimes were close enough for them to share a room, but DD2 was typically waking up almost 2 hours before her big sister. Keeping her in our part of the suite would keep them from waking each other up, but it would mean an early lights-out for us. We were all tired and I was under the weather, so we chose to keep her with us. It worked out for me, but my husband ended up wide awake and watching TV in the lobby at 1 AM.

We made it to the starting point for the drive the next morning: a covered bridge in Allentown. Although families were welcome, we realized that we were the only people who brought along their kids. Then we looked at the itinerary. For some reason, we had thought that we'd be visiting 1 winery and 1 state park. Maybe we misunderstood, but now we saw that there would be stops at 2 wineries and no state parks: not exactly kid-friendly. I was a bit worried, but we managed. The first part of the drive was through various covered bridges with only brief stops, so that was fine. Our lunch stop--Hot Dog Johnny's in Belvidere, NJ--had a swing set, so that also helped. Both wineries had some green space where the girls could run around a bit, and we had packed lots of snacks, so we made it through that part of the day. Everyone on the drive welcomed the girls as well.

By the time we got back from the group dinner, all of us were fading. We again chose to have DD2 in our part of the hotel room and turn in when she did. There was no insomnia this time!

The end point of the Saturday's drive was a bit closer to home, so we only had a 2-hour drive back. We had some crying from DD2, but not as much as before. We made it back having lost a sippy cup and a rattle, but with our sanity intact.

Posted by amikulski 18:55 Tagged bridges children cars pennsylvania Comments (0)

Catching Up: Discovery Space, State College, PA

Spring break tends to be a misnomer in the northern US, and this year was no different in central PA. After our day trip to Reptiland, we were still looking for kid-friendly activities that we could do indoors. I decided to try Discovery Space in downtown State College with the girls.

Discovery Space is a science-themed children's museum with hands-on exhibits. One corner of the space is intended for babies and preschoolers, with toys, books, and large geometric cushions that can be used for building or climbing.

Discovery Space is small: anyone expecting a children's museum on a big-city scale will be disappointed. However, it does pack a lot of exhibits into its square footage and has an open floor plan. The upside to this is that it's easy to be with a child at one exhibit and keep an eye on another child who wants to be somewhere else in the museum; I spent a lot of time with DD2 in the preschool corner while DD1 checked out exhibits in the main space. The downside is that it can feel crowded, especially on a day when lots of families are there (like the spring break day we visited).

One nice feature of Discovery Space is that several staff--mostly Penn State student volunteers, I believe--are facilitating the exhibits. For example, one was at the paleontology dig station talking to kids about what they had found and encouraging them to dig for other specific items. Another was helping kids put together simple circuit boards.

The girls and I spent about an hour and a half at Discovery Space. By that time, my oldest had explored just about everything. That said, she was sad to go because she still wanted to play; I'm guessing that she would have felt ready to go after another half hour. My youngest couldn't voice her opinion but seemed pretty happy there as well.

In all, Discovery Space is a good way to spend a couple of hours with kids in State College, especially when the weather is bad.

Admission: $6 adults and children 2 and over, free for kids under 2
Stroller friendly: yes, though you'll want to park it in the coat room once you're inside to navigate the exhibits more easily.
Best for: elementary schoolers, but older preschoolers can enjoy the exhibits with an older person reading the signs and giving instructions.
Website:http://www.mydiscoveryspace.org/site/default.aspx?PageID=1

Posted by amikulski 18:54 Archived in USA Tagged children museums pennsylvania Comments (0)

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)

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