Hello World… Here We Come!

Life is a journey, not a destination… At this stage of my journey, I’m travelling with 2 incredible ‘tween girls — S (12) and E (almost 10).  The girls are smart, fun, humorous, curious, and adventurous.  They are foodies, fashionistas, love music, dance, drama, roller coasters, movies and are way more techno savvy (now) than I will ever be.

Keeping them amused, busy, entertained and away from technology is a challenge and takes planning, creativity and work.  Between school, homework, activities, programs, friends and family commitments, free time is a precious premium – and is now reserved for their latest passion — making travel plans.

I’m excited by the prospect of exploring new places with the girls and re-visiting cities I have been to before — with a new and fresh perspective. One wants to journey to every amusement park possible especially those with fast, high and exciting roller coasters – which suits PassengerDad; and another who loves to shop, explore and eat – which is perfect for me!

Travelling with tweens is very different from touring with young children.  This is a unique age — the girls don’t want to be treated like ‘babies’, but they are far from grown up — and are quick to remind me of this — often. They now want to be involved in where we go, how we get there and what we do.  I just need to remind myself that tweens can swing from high drama, being moody, intense, and silly in seconds.  They get easily embarrassed by mom and dad and think they know it all. It makes me laugh and makes me cry. But they are on their way to becoming who they are and I am truly enjoying this stage…

This blog shares our passion for travel and experiences along the way – good and bad; as well as with other ‘stuff’ that’s inspiring the girls along the way.

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Top 5 Vacation Reads for Tweens

S & E’s Top 5 Book Picks For Holiday Reading

S loves to read anywhere and anytime (even on vacation) while E would rather play.   Both agree that when travelling, a good book always comes in handy on the journey or when you just need a quiet break.3.

The following are the girls’ picks for fun and light reading on the road:

1)  ‘Sisters’ by Raina Telgemeier.  (Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated)

The story:  Raina can’t wait to be a big sister. But once Amara is born, things aren’t quite how she expected them to be. Amara is cute, but she’s also a cranky, grouchy baby, and mostly prefers to play by herself. Their relationship doesn’t improve much over the years. But when a baby brother enters the picture, and later, when something doesn’t seem right between their parents, they realize they must figure out how to get along. They are sisters, after all.  (source — http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18225810-sisters)

2)  ‘Drama’ by Raina Telgemeier.  (Publisher: Scholastic, Incorporated)

The story:  Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!   (source — http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13436373-drama?from_search=true)

3)  ‘Recipe for Adventure’, a book series by Food Network star and best-selling author, Giada De Laurentiis.  (Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap)

Comprised of 6 books in the series — Naples; Paris; Hong Kong; New Orleans; Rio; and soon to be released, Hawaii.  The story:  When Zia Donatella comes to live with the Bertolizzi family, little do Alfie and his sister, Emilia, know what’s in store for them. Zia is determined to show them how a home-cooked meal is better than even the best takeout pizza. And when Zia’s plan actually transports Alfie and Emilia to famous food cities around the world, they learn how food can not only take you places, but also bring you back home.   (source — http://www.giadasrecipeforadventure.com)

4)  ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio.  (Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers)

The story:  Ten years old, August “Auggie” Pullman has faced many obstacles. Born with a facial deformity and having spent most of his young life in a hospital and homeschooled by his mother, Auggie’s life has never been easy. But, when his parents send him to Beecher Prep Middle School in Manhattan, his life is turned upside down. Told from nine different perspectives, this novel delves into not only his struggles of fitting in and finding true friends but those around him struggling with Auggie’s deformity.  (source — en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_(Palacio_novel))

5)  ‘Diary of A Wimpy Kid’ is a series of 9 books and journals by author and cartoonist, Jeff Kinney. (Publisher:  Amulet Books)

The story:  Befitting a child’s diary, the books are filled with hand-written notes, simple drawings and stories about main character, Greg Heffley and his daily adventures at school and home with his family and friends.

What are your favourite books to take on vacation?

And do you prefer reading books or e-books when travelling?

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S at Cornell University’s URI library in Ithaca, NY

Sandusky, Ohio is Amusement Central

On our road trip to Chicago, we discovered the perfect spot along the way for an 11 year old daredevil — Sandusky, Ohio.  Who knew?

According to Wikipedia, Sandusky is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio situated on the shores of Lake Erie and midway between Toledo to the west and Cleveland to the east.  Ranked No. 1 by Forbes.com as the “Best Place to Live Cheaply” in the United States, Sandusky has a population of 25,793.

But what makes this town a must-see destination for a roller coaster-loving tween is the number of amusement parks, waterparks and interactive museums per capita.

Cedar Point

Cedar Point is the flagship amusement park of the Cedar Fair Entertainment, the company that owns Canada’s Wonderland (a park we have visited hundreds of times over the past decade). Originally opened in 1870, it is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the United States.   The 365-acre park has one of the largest collections of roller coasters in the world (17), three huge kids’ areas, amazing live shows, a vast and clean beachfront, 71 diverse rides, petting zoo, an extensive outdoor water park and so much more.  For information about Cedar Point including attractions, rides and tickets, check out http://www.cedarpoint.com

 

Kalahari Resort 

Kalahari Resorts is an African themed park, hotel and convention centre with an exciting mix of rides, slides and adventures for the whole family.  The resort has the largest indoor water park in the United States (larger than 3 football fields); an outdoor water park; swimming pools; Safari Outdoor Adventure Park; exotic Animal Park; volley ball courts; shuffleboard; pottery studio; and a giant game room complete with bowling alley. Kalahari also offers programs and amenities such as a spa hair salon, fitness centre, and several dining options.

After a full day of non-stop water park fun, E was ready to hang out at the pool, while S, my daredevil tween, was up for extreme fun the Safari Outdoor Adventure Park.  She took a ride on a 400 foot zip line ride more than 60 feet above the ground, braved the adventure climbing walls, thrilled on ropes courses and visited the Safari Adventures Animal Park.

For more information, visit http://www.kalahariresorts.com/ohio.

 

We packed a lot of fun into 3 full days in Sandusky, Ohio before getting back on the road trip… There are a number of other attractions, museums and incredible water parks in Sandusky, which we hope to visit someday in the future including:  Cedar Point Soak City; Great Wolf Lodge; Maui Sands Resort and Waterpark; Castaway Bay Waterpark.

Sun Smart and Sunburn Protection at Home and Away

After a long harsh winter, I long to put away the winter gear, and live in tee-shirts, shorts and sandals.   It’s amazing to believe that once upon a time, I would lay in the sun with tanning oil and a reflective visor in the hopes of getting the perfect tan.  Thanks to education, information and common sense, those days are long gone.  Sun damage in the form of burns and blisters and residual sunspots are my reminder of direct, prolonged exposure to ultra violet (UV) rays.  No longer just about premature aging, I protect my skin to prevent burning and the threat of skin cancer.  Sunscreen is part of my daily routine and is always part of my travel gear.

As a parent, I’m raising my kids to love the outdoors and the importance of sun protection — wear a hat and sunscreen.  From the time they were 6 months old, they have worn sunscreen when out in the sun.  When they were young kids, it was easy as I was the one to apply sunscreen — but now that they’re tweens, I’m not always  there to do it or remind them.

We recently discovered a new sunscreen that they’re happy to apply and reapply as needed when in the sun.  Coppertone has developed a way to make sun protection fun and easy.  Coppertone® Kids Sunscreen Mousse SPF 60 is a light-as-air formula designed to leave skin both protected from the harmful UVA/UVB sunburn rays and nourished. The gentle, non-stinging and fragrance-free mousse has a non-greasy formula and provides effective broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. It is moisture-rich and is waterproof. (Suggested retail price is $11.99.)

CT Kids MOUSSE 60_170G

Coppertone® Kids Sunscreen Mousse SPF 60

Product information provided by Coppertone®.

A Summer Road Trip to Chicago with Tweens

We have discovered that travelling with tweens can be an enjoyable experience. They key is to listen, have patience, plan where possible and expect the unexpected.

When planning a family road trip, everyone in the family starts by making a go-to wish list.  Everyone has a different point of view on what is fun and what makes the ideal vacation spot.  The beauty of a road trip is the opportunity to visit multiple spots, creating our own path and discovering unique stops along the way.

Once we have a wish list of what we want to do and see, we choose the ‘hero’ spot for the road trip and then plan a series of stops for the way there and the way home.  The ‘hero’ is the location we generally stay for the longest period of time and tour the most extensively.

This summer we chose Chicago, Illinois as our ‘hero’ — as it offers a wide variety of activities, attractions, museums, shopping, dining and things to do for kids of all ages and interests.  Oh, and an American Girl super store — for E…  And of course stops along the way would have to include an amusement park, hiking, beach, record shopping, shoe shopping and unique, quirky towns.

With a destination in mind, I did my research on where to stay, what to see and how to enjoy the best Chicago has to offer — at the best rates I could find.  Staying downtown is ideal as a home base for visiting nearby local landmarks and day trips — and many hotels offer special summer rates.  We chose the Hilton Chicago on Michigan Avenue (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/illinois/hilton-chicago-CHICHHH/index.html) as it is centrally located and offered a fabulous family summer package (including a room with 2 full bathrooms(!), 2 queen beds, delicious breakfast daily for 4 and parking). Across from Millennium Park, the hotel is also a stunning local landmark that dates back to 1927.

The CityPASS was an ideal way to see the sites as one ticket saves 51% on admission to 5 top attractions in Chicago including Shed Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, The Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicago.  (http://www.citypass.com/chicago).

A fantastic selection of what the city has to offer, the kids enjoyed all of the activities and tours — and there is a lot to do in Chicago!  We packed in as much culture as we could in 5 days, while still managing to shop along the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue), an afternoon at American Girl Place, see a Cubs game, take an Architecture River Cruise and eat outstanding food including Chicago deep dish pizza and hotdogs.

Here are just some of the highlights of our time in Chicago:

 

 

A Canadian Girl’s Love for American Girl

Long before I become a mom, I found myself in an American Girl store while on a business trip in Chicago.  Amazed by what I saw, I knew that one day, if I had a daughter, I would be back.  It was decadent, overwhelming and unlike anything I had seen before. A big, bright, beautiful and indulgent girly confection of a store that not only sold dolls and accessories, but it was an experience complete with a hair salon, hospital and piercing station for dolls, as well as a restaurant and movie theatre for little girls to enjoy with their dolls.

According to americangirl.com, the brand celebrates girls through “age-appropriate, high-quality dolls and accessories, books, clothes, movies, and experiences”.  It is designed to “inspire girls to be their best and has earned the loyalty of millions of girls and the praise and trust of parents and educators”.  It is comprised of collections including ‘Girl of the Year’ (a celebrated doll that is only available for one year and then removed from store shelves); ‘Bitty Baby’ newborn infants;  ‘My American Girl’ (“just like me” dolls with various hair, eye and skin tones, as well as eyeglasses, wheel chair, and personal interests); and classic historical characters.  Each collection offers dwellings, clothing, jewellery, food, carrying cases, accessories, books and movies.  They even have matching clothing for girls and dolls — so they can dress alike.  American Girl also has a vast literary collection of fiction and non-fiction books to educate, entertain and empower girls including “The Caring and Keeping of You”, “The Feelings Book”, and a series “Smart Girl Guides” to teach girls about babysitting, managing friends, money, school issues, family situations and boys – among other lessons.

More than 15 years after my first visit, I have 2 daughters — one is a super fan of American Girl dolls (E) and another who adores the books.  When they discovered American Girl, they immersed themselves in the culture — reading the magazines, catalogues, books, quizzes (to find out ‘what kind of girl are you?’) and website.  When E’s friends began talking about the dolls and she saw what they looked like, it become the coveted item to behold.  She wanted a girl that looked just like her and a newborn baby.

We decided to surprise the girls with an American Girl experience on a recent trip to Chicago.

The expression on their faces as they entered the store was magical.  They could barely contain the excitement as they rode up the escalator to the departments featuring hundreds of American Girl dolls, clothing, doll houses and accessories including food, furniture, athletic gear, cars, and more.  We walked through every level and room in the store including the hospital, library and theatre.  The girls carefully and methodically selected their own American Girl dolls and were thrilled to have the dolls join us for a delicious lunch at the American Girl Cafe.  The dolls were seated in booster chairs beside the girls and all were treated to mini place settings with pretty, pink food and drink.

The girls had a blast and were entertained for hours.  Sharing this experience with my girls at this particular time in their lives is one that I will always cherish.

The following are just some of the highlights of our visit to the the American Girl Place Chicago:

 

March Break Staycation with Tweens

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Playing at the TIFF DigiPlaySpace

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Green screen magic at the TIFF DigiPlaySpace

A beach or ski vacation would be fabulous this March Break!  Not happening for us this year…  We will be staying in Toronto and I am the designated ‘director of fun’.  There is something nice about taking a break from our hectic schedules, enjoying relaxed mornings, and quality time with the kids.  But, how do I keep the kids entertained, happy and off the couch and technology — with budget in mind and without losing my sanity?  After all, they’re tweens and ‘know what’s fun and cool’ better than I do…

The good news is that in Toronto, there hundreds of March Break activities and programs for kids of all ages and interests.  You just have to do your research…

March Break Camps offer the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new friends and have fun throughout the week. There are full and half day camp at municipal community centres, after school program centres, and city attractions.

For our Toronto staycation, we are considering a number of options  including special events, activities, shows and festivals happening at museums, galleries, theatres, libraries, shopping malls and other venues.  Some of the activities include:  Maple Syrup Festivals; TIFF digiPlaySpace and screenings of Walt Disney classics at TIFF Bell Lightbox;  Bata Shoe Museum; Toronto ComiCon (March 20-22 at Metro Toronto Convention Centre); Hockey Hall of Fame; and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada (offering early hours during March Break to beat the crowds).

I asked the kids what they would like to do over the week-long March Break.  After a few “I don’t know”s and “whatever”s, I received this combined wish list:

  • movies
  • Ontario Science Centre
  • skating
  • tubing or skiing (weather permitting)
  • bowling
  • library
  • hang out with friends
  • go shopping and out for lunches

Should be fun!

What are you doing for March Break?

Chocolate, Roller Coasters, Sunshine and Kisses

The ingredients for a fun, activity packed vacation for tweens.  Chocolate lovers of all ages can appreciate a town built by and for a chocolate empire and it’s makers.  Hershey, Pennsylvania, with streetlights shaped like the famous Hershey’s Kisses and a main street called Chocolate Avenue, is the sweet spot.

A bit of history about this town will provide context…  According to www.hersheypa.com, in 1903 Milton Hershey returned to his birthplace with a vision to build the world’s first modern chocolate factory. He also took an active role in the community and built his dream “real home town” complete with schools, shops, and “Hershey Park,” a place where his employees and their families could relax.  He even started an orphanage and a school, endowing it with his entire fortune.  Later, while the U.S. suffered during the Great Depression, he created many jobs for the town’s citizens by building a community centre, theatre, stadium, arena – and a spectacular, European-style grand hotel – The Hotel Hershey.

Our first stop was ‘The Hershey Story’ on Chocolate Avenue, a museum detailing the history of the town, the Hershey company and all things chocolate.  The ‘Story’ features exhibits and memorabilia, as well as interactive activities to make and eat the sweet treats.  ‘The Chocolate Lab’ is a culinary classroom where visitors can make, dip and mold chocolate into all kinds of shapes and sizes.  Foodie and non-foodie tweens alike will love this hands-on experience.

We visited the ‘Origins of Chocolate Tasting’ to sample cocoa delicacies from around the world.  We were each given a sampling tray with shot glasses containing warm drinking chocolate from more than 10 chocolate growing regions including Java, Mexico and Tanzania.  With diverse intensity degrees of cocoa, this tasting proved that not all chocolate is the same and that we all have varying tastes and likes.

Hershey’s Chocolate World is playground for the chocoholic!  The chocolate themed attraction features ‘The Great American Chocolate Tour’, an interactive ride that takes you on the cocoa beans’ journey from the tropical rainforest to becoming a Hershey’s chocolate. Very informative and we loved the chocolate samples at the end of the ride.  Chocolate World also offers 4D films, an interactive chocolate bar (and wrapper) making tour, chocolate tastings, magnificent shopping and eating experiences to delight all of your senses and cravings.

Chocolate is delicious and it’s great to know where it comes from and how it’s made, but our thrill ride seeker, S, couldn’t wait to get to HERSHEYPARK, the Hershey treats-themed amusement park featuring 12 roller coasters and more than 65 rides, shows and attractions.  There is also an awesome 4-acre water park — so bring a bathing suit along with comfortable shoes, sunscreen and a hat.  Speaking as the non-thrill seeker in the family, there is something for everyone in your group to enjoy.  I particularly enjoyed walking along the boardwalk and the beach area…

Check out the Hersheypark website in advance for insider tips including upcoming shows and Fast Track passes, as well as deals on park admission fees — http://www.hersheypark.com.  We also found the free Hersheypark App (available for iPhone and Android phones) to be very helpful.  It features a GPS map of the park, ride descriptions, height requirements, real-time updates on ride wait times, show times, and more.