Sunday, August 29, 2010

Do you travel while the kids are in school? Back to School tips!

School is in session and trips are put on the back burner for many families.  Learning means sitting at a desk, reading books, taking tests, and doing homework.  Do you only vacation during breaks and summer time?  Many families follow this routine in fear that their child's education may be at risk for missing school days.

I was raised in a family where school was the number one priority and received the "perfect attendance" award almost yearly up through middle school.  Now having my own children I find this to be a battle within myself to decide what I consider most important in my life.  Does it hurt to allow my kids to miss a week or two of school to travel abroad?  For my husbands line of business, winter time and colder weather means more time off and summertime is a challenge for longer trips.

Travel can be educational, in fact I believe any sort of travel is true hands-on education.  From learning to ride local transit, to visiting museums, learning to swim or snorkel and the simple task of listening and following directions.  In my adulthood I have learned so much more than I ever have in any classroom by traveling.  New cultures, history and the art of getting lost in new places. 

While not every family believes it is OK to remove children from school to travel, I've had many discussions with other families and compiled a list of tips for taking those school days off to travel.

Tips for School friendly travel

1. Keep your child's teacher informed.  Speak with them prior to making plans and make sure your travels don't interfere with any "major" school activities

2. Most parents I spoke to believe that traveling while kids are in Elementary and Middle school has less impact on education. High School is considered a more important time since future colleges and employers take these four years for applications.

3. Check out your school districts limits or rules on "excused absences".  Even though you may be allowing your child to take the time, your district may have their own allowance and can even hold your child back a grade if they miss too many days.

4. Plan a specific educational outing during your trip. A museum, zoo, aquarium or any place that offers new sightings for your child.  Planning a trip based on something they are learning in school would be even more amazing!  Even for a young child learning ABC's you could spend the day at the park finding objects starting with each letter of the alphabet.

5. Use school time for more local travel. Trips within a 1-2hr drive from home. Take a three day weekend and that way your child only misses one day of school.  Want to go farther? Check out your local transportation.  See if there is a train that can get your farther, faster!

6. Use school time for solo or couples travel! Leave the kids home to stay in school while you spend a four day weekend or even a week long trip away.  No guilt about school and more playtime for the adults!

7. Does your childs class provide the opportunity for "show and tell"? Talk with the teacher to see if your child can share with classmates what they learned during the trip.  This builds up speaking skills for your child, as well as assure your teacher that your child is in fact learning while he/she is gone from the classroom.

8. Listen to your children, ask them if they want to travel and if they are feel caught up in school.  If your child is struggling, maybe it's not the best time to take them out for a trip to Disneyland.  Hold off on vacation until you feel your child is ready. Saving cash to travel in the off season isn't worth putting your child behind in education.

9. Have a child headed for college? Traveling with your children young may lead to future educational trips of their own, such as doing a semester at Sea. Something I wish I had done myself as a young adult.  What a great opportunity for learning and traveling all in one!


Friday, August 27, 2010

Alaska Sunsets - Foto Fun Friday

Beautiful sunsets every night along this cruise to Alaska. This pic was my old point and shoot, but the scenery was so amazing you couldn't take a "bad" shot.

Alaska is definitely a cruise I recommend. Not your typical tropical cruise, but still a great time!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spokane's Riverfront Park and the World's largest Red Wagon

We spent an afternoon at the Riverfront Park in Spokane, WA and it was absolutely beautiful!  The summer flowers were in bloom and it just so happened to be "kids day" at the park with bounce houses and fun games for the kids.

The park has plenty of entertainment year-round including an IMAX theatre, Carousel, train ride, amusement rides, ice skating rink (oct-march), Spokane Falls skyride and the infamous world's largest Red Wagon slide! 

Just walking around watching the ducks in the water and seeing all the sites kept us busy for a few hours and unfortunately we were on a time schedule that day and didn't get to stay and see everything. 

Downtown Spokane is beautiful and clean.  For some reason I had imagined it to be so different than what it was.  I had been told stories of it being old and not very nice, but even with half the downtown being historical property, it's all very well kept and preserved. So many things to see and do around Spokane and we just didn't have the time in our short weekend.  

If you enjoy riding bikes, this is definitely a bike friendly city with nice riding trails all over and along the river.
My daughter enjoyed the World's largest Red Flyer Wagon, even though the metal slide did get a little hot in the summer sun.

Riding the Spokane Falls Skyride over the River was fun and about the right price.  The temperature was about 80 degrees at the time we got on and just a warning, it's about 10 degrees hotter inside the Gondola. So if it's in the 90's, expect to sit in a 100 degree ride for 15-20 minutes.
Where to stay while you in Spokane? See our Riverside Campsite, beautiful state park!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Riverside State Park - Pitcher and Bowl - Spokane and Nine Mile Falls, WA

Our time at Riverside State Park wasn't nearly long enough.  We arrived Friday evening after a long haul over from Western Washington and spent the weekend exploring Spokane and Idaho.  Rarely have we visited a State park and wanted to spend more time IN the park rather than out and about. 
The camping spots along the river are not exactly private, but being there are only several in a row on a dead end road, you have little to no traffic and no one camping in front of or behind you.  We were in space #3, which was a nice location and just a short ways from the great Riverfront walking trails.
On a morning walk my daughter and I saw huge bird nests in the trees as well as several bird species in the river.  The mornings were just right with the sun shining and a cool breeze of fresh air.  The summer evenings were warm and we stayed out to play until late at night. 
Be sure to take a walk over to the swinging bridge or stop in the parking lot near the entrance of the park to go the quicker route.  We went with the kids one morning and they didn't want to leave the bridge.  It was fun listening to the river rush by and toss pebbles into the water below. 
As with any camping near water, the bugs were plenty at night.  Be sure to keep your camper or tent doors shut at all times.  Otherwise you'll find yourself sleeping with the moths and creepy crawlers we found in our trailer.  Unfortunately, teaching two young kids to keep the doors closed is a task all in itself!
My family and I loved this campsite and are already discussing our next trip over to spend more time at Riverside State Park. 

IMPORTANT TIP for trailer campers: We had our own directions but decided to follow the FREEWAY suggestion of taking the next exit.  We were lost after just minutes of not finding another sign to follow.  Print your directions and stick with them.  The actual campground name is called "Pitcher and Bowl" which I hadn't seen anywhere on the state reservations form.

Then we were a little confused when we arrived to the Park entrance road and the sign only had a picture of tents with an arrow.  Typically there is a pic of a camper, but yes, this is the camper/trailer park area.  Don't turn RIGHT off of Riffle Road, this will only take you to the day park area and there is no where to turn around with your trailer.  Follow the tent arrow to the LEFT.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - August 20th, 2010

Located in the Yucatan Pennisula. The most famous structure of these Mayan Ruins is the Temple Of The Seven Dolls, so named because of seven small effigies found at the site when the temple was discovered under the ruins of a later temple pyramid by archaeologists in the 1950s. On the Spring equinox, the sun rises so that it shines directly through one window of the temple and out the other. This is a similar event to the descending snake of Chichen Itza designed to show the power of the gods.The temple is connected to the rest of the site by a long sacbé. (Information provided by: Wikepedia)

Can you name these Mayan Ruins?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What toy kept my kids most entertained on our Road Trip?

A couple days before our road trip across the State of Washington, I stopped in at Target for some kid entertainment.  They have a dollar spot at the front of the store where I grabbed a few items in hopes to gain a couple hours of cheap distraction on the road.  I purchased the following items for $1.

1. Math book for my daughter
2. Learning numbers book for my son
3. Flarp! - Farting putty
4. Sidewalk Chalk
5. Cotton Candy, for that moment of desparation

In addition to these items I let the kids bring a few of their own toys from home. My daughter brought her Barbies and she packed a couple tractors for her little brother and some Crayola Color Wonder Color books and markers so the kids could color without me worrying about the mess my two year old might be making.

Out of the list above, which item do you think was a hit? I'll make it easy and tell you that offering the cotton candy didn't phase them and I think neither of them took more than two bites.  They were too busy farting up a storm in the back seat!

I had purchased Santa brought my daughter Flarp last Christmas and she loved it.  It only lasts a few days before it gets too dry to make anymore fart sounds.  I know, this sounds disgusting, but you have to admit, who doesn't giggle over farts?  My kids love this stuff and it's cheap entertainment.  My son was old enough this time to play with it himself, so I got them each their own Flarp can. 

The rest of the trip was mostly spent playing with their favorite toys from home and we didn't even take the time to use the chalk on our rest stops.  We were more interested in eating, stretching our legs and getting back on the road as quickly as possible.  The planned 6hr drive turned into 8 hours, but it was a great trip overall.  There were definitely trying moments of frustration for both the kids and us parents, but we made it through and want to do the trip again sometime. 

Want to see some cute kids making some not so cute Fart noises? Here is a candid kid review of Flarp! My daughter was making googly eyes for some reason, but I swear I didn't tell them I was posting this or ask them to say anything about it. Just them having fun in the back seat.  Wait for the end to really hear the Flarp working.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Travel Tip Tuesday - Mosquito's are out and hungry!

As we close in on the end of summer (and a late one here in the Northwest), you will find that your outdoor activities may be taken over by pesky bugs!  Our backyard evenings are now down to a routine; cover up, get sprayed and stay away from the wetlands. 

Recognize that while traveling you may encounter more than the usual amount of bugs, especially if your packing up for that weekend camping trip at the Lake or taking a jog through the shaded trees.

Here are some tips to preventing those nasty, itchy mosquito bites:
  • Spray on bug repellent when going outdoors- don't forget your feet, ankles and the back of your neck
  • Cover your body with clothing. If it's extremely hot out, wear thin or lightweight clothes.
  • If your camping outdoors, be sure there are no mosquitoes in your tent before going to bed, otherwise they'll be having a blood sucking party all night long - no fun!
  • If your staying in another country with major bug issues, request a net for while you sleep
  • Don't leave any standing water while your outdoors, even a small bucket of water left untouched will become a Mosquitoes nesting place
  • Close the doors of your home while playing outside. Our kids have the habit of running out and leaving them open. This can be hard sometimes but even closing the screen door helps.
Don't forget your pets!
  • Yes, mosquitoes like animal blood too, so keep your pets indoors
  • Fill any outdoor pet bowls with fresh water daily to keep the bugs out
Interesting Mosquito FACTS:

Who Doesn't like to Travel? Mosquitoes!
Most mosquitoes remain within a 1 mile radius of their breeding site.

Did you think Mosquito's eat blood? (So did I!)
Mosquitoes do not feed on blood. The female mosquito requires a blood meal for development of her eggs.

Find more fun and interesting Mosquito Facts on
Travel Tip Tuesday - August 17th, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Where to buy those impossible to find Camper sized bed sheets

Unless you are a sewing extraordinaire (unlike me), you will find that shopping for bedsheets and linens for an RV or Camping Trailer seems impossible.  We purchased our trailer earlier this year and the first thing I was excited to do was decorate and add all those little personal touches - not that there is much to add, but it needed to feel like a home away from home. 

I went to Target and loaded up on some essential kitchen and camping items.  Our kid's bunk beds were made of a firm thin mattress so I purchased a cheap foam mattress pad and cut them to size for the bunks, worked great!

I realized we needed bed sheets immediately if we were planning to take our first camping trip soon.  After going from Sporting stores to the "world's foremost outfitter" and biggest store I've ever been in, Cabelas, I was unable to find sheet sets to fit our beds.  A couple of the stores had some very cheap feeling, 200 count sheets for the Queen at an outrageous price.  We needed sets for the short queen bed and the four rear bunks for the kids and their future camping buddies. 

I even called up Grandma to see if she could make something but she is one extremely busy Red Hat Society president and wouldn't be able to get to them anytime soon.  But I do still have her on backorder for comforters for the bunks, hopefully coming soon!

I spent a few days shopping online and after viewing the only handful of stores I could find that were extremely overpriced, I came across AB Lifestyles websiteA family owned company that makes quality 300 thread count RV camper style sheets at a decent price!  I did debate for a couple days and sent in some questions on the sizing for my thin bunks and they quickly responded.  I ordered the combo pack which was perfect for us; One short Queen set and two bunk sheet sets. 

They arrived in the mail about a week later and the color and quality was amazing.  Super soft sheets with extra elastic on the top sheet to keep them from shifting and having to make your bed in tight quarters every day.  I was pleased with my order and I am hoping this post may help someone else make an easy choice at Camper bed sheet shopping, rather than spending a week trying to find them and decide if it's a good deal or not. 

AB Lifestyles also provides Camper sized comforter sets, Airstream Trailer sets, mattress pads and mattress covers for allergies.  They also have many other bedding products for specialized needs and custom sizing.

*I did not receive any products or materials from AB Lifestyles. All opinions on this article are my own personal experience from purchasing a product from them.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - August 13th, 2010

I've posted this picture before on an article- but I LOVE it! 
Sitting there in a ghost town city, I captured a great photo in 2010 middle America. 

Do you remember what State I was visiting?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is bigger really better? Mega Cruise Ships take over the Seas

After a cruise last year on what was the worlds largest cruise ship at the time, Royal Caribbeans Liberty of the Seas, I realized the good and bad of these beautiful mega ships.  Their newest Oasis class, holding 5,400 passengers (not including crew), dwarfs the passenger count of 3,600 on the Liberty and the typical cruise ship capacity of 2,500-3,000 passengers on major cruise lines.

The Good
These mega ships are up to date with the latest cruising technologies, including smoother sailing with a wider hull, as well as the ability to check your onboard cruise account from your TV in your cabin.  More deck space creates more activities; climbing walls, ice skating rinks, an onboard carousel, movie theatre's, more dining options and more dedicated youth and adult only areas.  I kept busy aboard the Liberty each day trying out activities I would not have had the chance to do on a smaller ship.

As with every other cruise ship I've gone on, even having over 3,600 people onboard, you'd hardly notice!  If you've never cruised this may seem impossible, but cruise ships are made to hold thousands of passengers without feeling crowded.  About the only time I could tell there were at least a few hundred other vacationers was when I attempted to find a lounge chair by the pool on a nice hot day at sea. 

Along with the sheer size of these ships comes the pressure for better entertainment and activities.  I've seen a few shows while cruising that thankfully didn't cost us extra to walk out and find something more entertaining.  Newer and larger ships are setting the standard with Broadway type shows, ice skating shows and bigger and better props.  On the smaller ships, staging is limited and therefore can sometimes reduce the quality of the entertainment.

Royal Caribbean recently announced the Allure will have a 3-D theatre, Dragon Ice Show and Madagascar Aqua Show, along with Chicago:The Musical Broadway show. 

The Bad 
Our third trip to one of our favorite Caribbean destinations, Cozumel.  We arrived to port and it was unlike any other time we had visited.  Cozumel was not yet equipped for a ship of this size and we had to tender into port.  Something typical for many cruise ports, but with 3,600 passengers and only two exits, can you imagine how long it took?  Much longer than a 2,000 passenger ship to tender.

The small island of Cozumel was instantly engulfed with 3,600 tourist from a single ship.  We decided to take a driving tour, looking back there were three other ships parked along side ours.  I asked our guide how many ships have been here at one time?  He chuckled a little and said, "This is nothing, last month we had 12 ships in Port at one time."  Quickly I calculated 12 x 2,800= 33,600 extra people on the island of Cozumel.  An island 29 miles long by 8 miles wide that occupies 60,000 permanent citizens.  Absolute craziness! 

Even on this mellow day of four ships in port, it was more crowded than we had ever seen the island before.  Tours were packed with people, while beaches didn't seem as private.  We still had a wonderful time in Cozumel, but it brought up the thought in my mind that these mega ships may be supplying more tourists than ports should be handling.  Certainly the Cities are loving profits from thousands of tourists a day, but when does that no longer become fun?  When tours are completely booked up, beaches are over crowded and just getting off the ship is an hour long process.

I love cruising and really want to see the industry adding more Port locations, rather than filling up the ones they currently are using with more tourists.  Bigger ships are bringing in more passengers, while our favorite travel destinations become over populated. 

Would I travel MEGA again?
Absolutely!  These ships are big, beautiful and provide a vacation like no other.  Plenty of activities, gourmet dining and in this case I do believe bigger is better.  In fact, I can't wait for the day I get to experience Royal Caribbeans Oasis class, and hopefully before they are no longer the worlds biggest.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deceptive Hotels - How to avoid them

In the digital age of photography, hotels and resorts can be deceptively inviting. Of course I don't expect them to slap up a photo of their maid service area, but manipulating photo's to make rooms, hallways, lobby's and other area's of their establishment to look much larger than they really are in person, isn't acceptable. A slight modification is no big deal, but when I'm expecting a room to handle four people and it's really only made for two, then we've got an issue. When the Olympic sized pool turns out to be slammed packed when there are five other childen occupying it, then we've got a problem. Don't advertise what you don't have and if your service and accomodations are worth the price your offering, you won't need to stretch the truth.

Here is how the story usually goes...

After a little online searching you come across the perfect hotel.  The right amount of space for all your bags, kids toys and the baby's pack n' play.  To top it off, it's right in your budget! 

Maybe the picture looked something like this...

A few weeks later you arrive to your hotel, excited for a great trip.  You walk in the door and here is what you REALLY get...
*example only- this is a great Seattle lodge
Did you really read the room description closely?  That oversized looking King bed turned out to be a Queen and all that floor space - well it was imaginary, or at least a slight "stretch" of the truth!

I've had this happen to me in the past and unfortunately during the moments when space mattered the most.  We had the entire family packed up for a week, crawling, playing and overall movement space was necessary.

How to Avoid them
I've found the BEST way to avoid this situation is once you've lined up your top picks for a hotel or other accomodation, google the hotel name.  See if other families have posted their vacation photos or if other third party booking agencies show more realistic photos of the property.  I have had this completely change my mind on properties when finding pictures from a new angle.  The one that wasn't touched up, stretched out and overloaded with added lighting.  Do the research and you'll be happy you did!

Travel Tip Tuesday - August 10th, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hyatt Regency - Bellevue, WA

This past weekend I enjoyed retreat with my mom for the first time.  I had won two nights for any Hyatt Hotel on the Traveling Mamas website a couple months ago. Having already stayed at a few wonderful Hyatt Hotels I knew that any destination I chose would be great. 

Promotional Stays and Gold Passport Points
I called Hyatt to plan my weekend in Seattle only to realize that using promotional nights with your Hyatt Gold Card is different than booking a room at a regular rate.  Each hotel has an alloted amount of rooms they can provide while using Gold Points or any promotional free nights.  All the Hyatt hotels in Seattle were unavailable for an entire month with my free nights, so I decided to look into Bellevue. Finally - a weekend we were able to book a room came up.

Hyatt Regency Bellevue
A beautiful, luxury hotel located in Bellevue Place, attached to the popular shopping destination of Bellevue Square.  The rooms were very clean, comfortable and filled with modern decor.  Shopping is just a step away with the sky bridge access to the Square.

Where are all the Ammenities?
You Pay more, you get more, right?
At a typical rate of $160-$250 for a standard room, the extra ammenities were few.  Normally my search for the complimentary breakfast, Wi-Fi and free parking would of been priority, but while booking a free stay I failed to look into these necessities.  

There was no free Wi-fi and no complimentary breakfast to be found.  In fact, finding a moderate priced breakfast was a difficult task.  With many gourmet restaurants in the Bellevue Square, most were open for lunch and dinner only.  We did however find the "needs LID" cafe on the second floor that had a decent menu, but on our second morning (Sunday) they were closed.  The formal dining in the hotel does have a nice breakfast menu, but at $12-$15 a plate to start, we decided to pass.  If you have a sweet tooth, you can also find pastries at the first floor Tully's Coffee shop and if you get there early enough, there are a few breakfast sandwiches. 

Fortunately dinner was an easy task and a hard decision out of all the wonderful restaurants available.  From P.F. Changs, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Boom Noodle, The Cheesecake Factory, Ristorante Luciano and so many more.  As much as I wanted to try something new I went with my old time favorite, P.F. Changs and it was delicious. 

I was hoping to relax in a hot tub after our long days of walking the Bellevue Square, but the Hyatt failed to have one of those either.  A nice gym and lap pool was provided for fitness purposes, but the relaxing was left to our plush beds in the room.

Parking was free for the weekend and we were lucky to skip that extra cost during our stay.  If you plan a weekday stay (Sunday-Thursday night), you won't have this luxury and it will cost you $16 per day .

Hyatt knows Technology
One thing I love about Hyatt, besides that they always provide clean, beautiful hotels is that they are keeping up with technology.  Our hotel had in-room guest services on the TV and we were able to view any hotel charges and check-out of our room without speaking to any one. 

New Online check-in and check-out are also available for a more speedy process if needed.  I stuck with the old fashioned desk check-in, but on a business trip it's probably nice to have that option.  

My next stay with Hyatt is in Vancouver, B.C. and I've already used the online concierege they provide to request a crib and roll away bed for my children.  You can also used this service to book dining, spa services and any other service each hotel provides.   

Hyatt Regency Bellevue is a beautiful hotel and for those looking for luxury, style and have a little money to spend, bring it here!

Upated Tip from @TripStyler via Twitter:
Tully's in the lobby has free wifi

This would have been good to know while I was there since I got my coffee there each morning. Although it's still not as convienent as laying in bed to catch up online at night

Friday, August 6, 2010

Foto Fun Friday - August 6th, 2010

This Capitol dome is plated in 24 karat gold. The gold commemorates this State's Gold Rush days that begun in 1859.

Here is a view from the INSIDE of the dome. Care to take a guess at what State Capitol this is?

Find more fun Travel pictures on Delicious Baby Photo Friday ShareThis

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Are we Travel Spoiled?

Traveling has always been second nature to me, something I feel fortunate to be able to do, but not something I've considered out of the ordinary.  As I travel more areas of the world and even different areas of the United States, I've come to realize that traveling, experiencing different cultures and adventures is not what every person gets to do or chooses to do in life.

Staying Put
Not everyone wants to fly in an airplane across the ocean or even hop in the car across the state for that matter.  My parents are a great example of a couple who just love being home (the term Homebodies describes them well), feeling safe and staying put. The farthest they've traveled is Florida, for a trip to Disneyworld. My first and only major trip with my parents as a teen.

Some families just don't consider traveling as a necessity, and that is ok. Everyone is different and has their important hobby's or what they consider important to their family.

It's sometimes hard for me to imagine that people don't step outside their comfort zone.  Maybe a fear of flying has held them back, or financial burdens that can come with traveling.  For me this is a priority for my family and we make sure it falls into our budget somewhere, even if that means a weekend at the ocean which is an hour drive from our house, or a camping trip at the state park.

That FIRST experience
Once you become an avid traveler, sometimes it's hard not to have that "been there, done that" attitude. Your always on the search for something bigger and better. It seems to be our nature as humans to want and need more. 

How do you step back and remember to enjoy the moment, no matter how big or small? It reminds me of my first time seeing a deer while camping several years ago. I was so excited I jumped up, grabbed my  camera and caught what were blurry distance shots of this beautiful creature. I had my film processed (pre-digital) and showed it to all of my family.  My husband laughed at me, as he had seen many deer in his life growing up in Washington State.  Now fast forward several years, 6 acres later and deer sightings are almost daily in my backyard.  Something so common to me now, but yet I still grab the camera often when I see them.  I haven't lost that luster for them and try to do the same when I travel.

Think of all the things you've done in your life and in your travels. Do you take them for granted? Something as simple to me now as a deer, could just make a City Dwellers day, while taking a ride on the Subway is an amazing thing to me and not something I do often.

I am often thrown back when talking to locals on my travels and finding out they've never flown in a plane or left their own State or traveled to a different country.  Something so simple to me now, but yet something that I shouldn't take for granted.

Can you think of something you do often or have done that may seem "Simple" to yourself, but a dream or adventure to someone else?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Make your Cruise Check-in, Smooth Sailing

You've picked your cruise line, itinerary and researched your ship from stern to stem!  You're packed and ready to head for the open seas.  Here is one little piece of cruising you may not have been ready for - the check-in process.

Boarding a cruise ship is unlike any other travel check-in process, thousands of passengers all getting on one gigantic ship. For the top major cruise lines, check-in is fairly similar.  From long lines to multiple security points and getting that wonderful little key card that becomes your ALL access pass to cruising freedom!

It can be fun, frustrating and exciting all at the same time.  For many first time passengers, just waiting in the terminal through the lines is easily tolerated by their amazement of the enormous ship they're about to embark on. 

On the other hand, experienced cruisers may be more eager to get the process done and over with.  If your a prior cruise line passenger, you may find this process much easier with many cruise lines offering expedited check-in and services to loyal customers.

  1. Cruise lines will mail you a cruising package or provide an online area to fill out forms.  Have this done as soon as possible and bring all paperwork with you to the terminal. Follow instructions carefully on what is needed and be sure you don't leave anything at home.  Place the bag tags on your luggage at the house.
  2. When you arrive to the terminal, there will be attendants to take your bags onto the ship. KEEP ALL ITEMS you need in a seperate small carry on bag! You won't see your luggage for a few hours and sometimes later in the evening.  Medication, extra clothes, and any items for your children during a 2-6hr span; such as diapers, formula or special snacks - pack seperately.
  3. PASSPORT and I.D Card - Just like at the airport, keep these two documents easily accessible at all times through the check-in process.
  4. Get there Early or get there Late (just not too late)! Check-In is typically open for a 4hr period and if it's between 10-2pm, you don't want to find yourself there at noon.  Although we found ourselves once running for the ship and barely making the check-in process. The fastest, but most nerve wrecking check-in I've ever experienced!
  5. Decide which credit card you'd like to use for your onboard account and have it ready, or on rare ocassion some people still apply cash.  This will pay for anything you purchase on the ship, including all tips applied at the end of the cruise.  All ship purchases are done using your cruise card.  If the kids are coming along, discuss before hand whether or not you want them to have the ability to make puchases with their key cards.  Other passengers in on your account can be managed for access type. But EVERYONE gets a card, children and babies alike! 
  6. Adding to note #5: Keep your Cruise card safe! Don't allow smaller children to hold theirs.  This is your room key, credit card and now your families Identification to get on and off the ship. Without it you can not disembark at Port and you'll have to see Guest services for a new one if it's misplaced at any time.
  7. LUNCH is waiting!  Arrive first thing for check-in and make it onto the ship around noon.  The buffett is always open for lunch/brunch and don't let the first buffett excitement get the best of your stomach. A gourmet dinner is soon to follow.  NOTE: The buffett will be packed for that first lunch. This is not how it will be the entire cruise. It's only because it's the only food on the entire ship for the first meal. 
  8. Now that your ready to set sail there's one last "fun" tradition.  Man your Muster Station!  A drill will take place for all cruise passengers before the ship can leave port.  You will take your life vest out of your cabin for everyone in your party and must WEAR IT for the drill.  Not exactly my favorite part of the trip, but it's required.
Keep these tips in mind and rest assured that once you've gone through the lovely check-in process, it's all worth it!  Or at least, it should be!  Believe me, there have been times on vacation when I wonder why I left the house, but then I'm reminded of those unforgettable trips that make it all worth while. ShareThis

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Buffalo Bills Museum and Grave - Golden, Colorado

I have to tell you that as much as I've heard the name "Buffalo Bill" throughout my life, I had no clue who he really was when we took this trip.  My parents even had the same feeling. Heard of him, but "Who the hell was Buffalo Bill?"

Besides being an Army scout, Pony Express rider, Buffalo hunter and a true cowboy; what made him so famous was the Wild West shows he put on while traveling the world.  Needless to say I had never put two and two together having gone to the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West dinner show" in Anaheim California.  His shows featured some of the most skilled cowboys and girls around the world - sort of like a Rodeo show.

For some, this may not seem like something that would interest you.  In fact, my parents were not totally impressed with needing to know about Buffalo Bill, but it turned out to be a great trip.  See, Buffalo Bill is buried at the top of Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado. Why? Because he wanted to be buried there (I asked).  The drive up the mountain is quite the entertainment of winding back and forth, all while dodging the crazy mountain bikers along the way.  Once we made it to the top, the view was amazing! 

If you don't care to know about Buffalo Bill, then don't waste your money on the museum. It's all about him and his life, which I found somewhat entertaining, but I probably could of done without it.   Although we had fun mid-way playing dress-up in the cowboy gear.  It may even be worth reading about him online before going, so you have a better understanding of what your seeing in the museum. 

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody's grave is outside, just to the side and rear of the museum and is free to visit.  We had thought it was part of the museum admission until we found out afterwards it's open to the public. 

Even if the interesting lifestyle of Buffalo Bill doesn't get your heart racing...take the ride up just for the view! You can see the entire city of Golden and even Denver from Lookout Mountain.  Coors Brewery is located in Golden and you can see how enormous it is from above. Once you get back down you can also take a tour of the brewery if beer is your thing.

ADMISSION PRICES for the Buffalo Bill Museum
$5 for adults, $4 for seniors ages 65 and older, $1 for children 6 - 15, 5 and under are free.