A Travellerspoint blog

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.

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.


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


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.


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)

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