Minnie!!!! I KNOW HER!!!

Minnie!!!! I KNOW HER!!!

We just got back from our first true family vacation. It was blissful in many ways, as it was our first trip to a specific destination aside from a few weekend getaways. We drove from North Carolina to Orlando, approximately an 8 hour ride for us. We went to Magic Kingdom, Legoland in Winter Haven (45 min from Orlando), and then on the way home we stopped on Amelia Island/Fernandino Beach for 2 nights to soak up some sand. Literally. Sand everywhere!

First off – we did not stay on Disney property. We are people on a budget over here, and a hotel room with 2 young kids sounds horrendous. Lights out at 8pm everyone! Yes, there are suites, but at a cost higher than we are willing to pay. We found an incredible 3 bedroom condo in Davenport on VRBO.com for $88/night plus cleaning fee/taxes. They actually have their own website too. I highly recommend it. It was an easy 15-20 minute traffic free drive to Magic Kingdom. We did Magic Kingdom 2 different days – Thursday and Saturday the first week in May. Thursday we were able to park very close and walk to the monorail location (we arrived around 8:15am, the park opened at 9am). It stopped at two Disney resorts on the way to the park, and would have been a quick ride except the monorail in front of us had technical problems so we got stuck on it for an extra 15 minutes. Saturday it was much busier and we had to take the tram from the parking lot to the monorail location(actually we took the ferry instead of the monorail this time, because we figured it would be a lot more crowded on the monorail with the resort pickups) to the entrance of Magic Kingdom. It was about a 10 minute ride, if that.

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How nice to arrive at the condo to a bottle of vino!!

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The condo was gorgeous and had nicer amenities and decor than most hotels. It’s in the Bahama Bay Resort, which is a Wyndham resort. There was a neighborhood pool in the courtyard behind our condo. There was a playground in a grassy area at the other side of the condo. It was a 2 minute walk to the clubhouse pool and splash pad (which was fantastic). A 3 minute drive (or 10 minute walk) to the on site restaurant, pool and beach area (Tiki thatch huts for shade, lounge chairs with cushions, white sand, poolside drinks – it bordered Lake Davenport, which has alligators, so no swimming, it was fenced off). There was a pier for fishing and a walking/jogging trail that circled the complex. We will absolutely stay here again. My son loved the star wars themed bedroom!

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As always, I wish I took more pictures of where we stayed! Here is a picture of the living room.
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Here’s my 2 year old ready for the second day of Magic Kingdom. That is our condo behind her – we were on the ground floor. Walk to the right between our building and the next to get to the pool!

I looked into the dining reservations at Disney, but there wasn’t a ton available because I was booking a few weeks before our trip…and $30/person for breakfast with the characters just didn’t seem to be worth it.  Seriously, my kids were not going to care. My daughter loves her some Minnie & Mickey, but we had a FastPass to see Mickey and we were going to see Minnie as well. Which we did, she loved them, and we saved a boatload of money eating cereal at the condo vs cereal at a buffet (which my son would have picked. He loves cereal).

As a result of our budget/lack of planning choices, we packed a small cooler with turkey sandwiches/fruit/raw veggies/snacks/water and took it with us to Magic Kingdom and Legoland all 3 days. I had a small backpack I used as well for additional snacks (you can never have too many!) We did buy ice cream in the park as an afternoon pick me up. Gotta get the Mickey Ice Cream Sandwich!!

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Yum!

A friend told me about the Disney App and Fastpasses, and it was fantastic to be able to use the app to check lines and see what we scheduled for our day. We didn’t make it past 3pm either day at Magic Kingdom, both kids were dragging (one was asleep) and my 5 year old was ready to chill out and hit the pool at the condo.

We also did meal prep for those 3 nights so we wouldn’t have to eat out. For budgeting and also health reasons, but also the fact that eating out with 2 tired kids isn’t that relaxing for us. There were a few charcoal grills in the complex, so we made turkey burgers one night paired with a simple cucumber/tomato/goat cheese salad I had made at home before we left.

Another night we did tacos – ground turkey meat with homemade taco seasoning I brought along, with a bag of shredded cheddar, lettuce wraps and tomato. I forgot the salsa. Whoops. All I had to do was brown the meat for that meal so not too much prep.

The last dinner I sauteed some chicken sausage with squash and cauliflower rice. I was getting tired of cooking dinner on vacation at this point, but fortunately this was the last meal I had to cook and it was pretty easy.

We went to Legoland on Friday in between the Magic Kingdom days and it was perfectly planned, if I do say so myself. Legoland was line-free and not crowded at all. The rides were slow, but that’s how my kids like them. The Knight’s Joust was my 5 year old’s favorite. The weather was cooler and felt wonderful. We also got to meet Kai, the Ninja Lego dude, and get his picture with him and he picked out a small lego set for his souvenir. We caught a Pirate Water show, played with legos in the Imagination Center and the Duplos area was perfect for my 2 year old! The Lego themed carousel was also pretty cute and both kids enjoyed it.

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Kai in Ninjagoland
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The life sized Lego creations all throughout the park were pretty incredible!

After the 3 nights of cooking in Orlando and our last day in Magic Kingdom the following day, we headed north to Amelia Island for our next 2 nights (about 3 hours away). We stopped and ate at a Ruby Tuesday’s on the way and arrived early evening. We had a fabulous beach day the next day (we were there from 9:30am-2pm!), during which we ate lunch at Sliders which was right next to the beach. Then we headed into downtown Fernandino Beach for the Shrimp Festival, which we had just learned was happening that weekend! Of course Shea fell asleep in her stroller immediately after our arrival at the festival, so we opted to enjoy dinner in air conditioning at The Salty Pelican. They had a limited menu due to the festival and I was reminded why I don’t eat fries. It tastes so good when it hits your lips!! But awful afterwards, blech.

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Fernandino Beach, Florida

We returned back to the condo and hit the pool, which was right next to our building. The sun was dipping below the trees and the water was a bit chilly.  After about 20 minutes of shivering we returned to the condo for bedtime!

It was sad to have to pack up and head back the next day (Monday). We packed our last lunch and headed home, stopping in Savannah’s Forsythe Park along the way. It was a beautiful park, we saw the famed fountain and we played at the playground for a bit, but the beauty was marred by the somewhat aggressively talking homeless population loitering around the Cafe, which was right next the playground. There were also quite a few napping under shade trees. I don’t know why this was unexpected for me as it’s a city. Duh. I guess because I don’t see homeless in the suburbs where we live and I don’t get into Charlotte parks all that often. I’m a sucker for spanish moss though and there was plenty of it in Forsythe Park and the playground was pretty fantastic. Perfect for burning a little energy before hopping in the car for 4 more hours!

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Forsythe Park, Savannah, Georgia

All in all – it was a fabulous trip. I’m hoping we can do it again in 2-3 more years! What are your Disney adventures? Did you go anywhere else on your trip?

 

 

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Charlotte Area Little Kids To-Do List

Charlotte Area Little Kids To-Do List

I’m not the best planner. The weekend rolls around, it’s 10:30 am and we need to go do something out of the house in the 2 hours we have until the kids need lunch -and I always draw a blank.  I get 3 different emails from Charlotte Parents, hula frog and somebody else with activities for the weekend – and I usually take a peek and sometimes get an idea from there.  But sometimes it’s something you need tickets for, and sometimes I just don’t want to take my 4 and 1 year old to the current exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South.  Although I must say it is surprisingly semi-kid friendly, and very informative.  So while I’m trying to search on multiple websites for something to do that is quick and cheap, my daughter is trying to sit on me and bang the keyboard, while my 4 year old is insisting I look at his latest batman duplos creation…and it’s a real joy.  As a result, I started compiling my own master list of things to do, so I have it on hand (I keep it on my phone) and just pull an idea from there.  It’s also good for during the week when I need something to do with the kids.  Although it’s nothing groundbreaking, and it tends to be a little heavy on things in the Matthews/Indian Trail area since we live near there. Some of these I’ve never done but found somewhere on a google search so want to go.  And some I just forget about from time to time.  Also I would love to add more to this list – especially for fun things to do with kids when we have family guests in town!  I won’t be adding seasonal things like Easter Egg Hunts, etc.  This is just the basics.

The usual suspects
Discovery Place KIDS Huntersville and Discovery Place(uptown)
Charlotte Nature Museum
ImaginOn
Levine Museum of the New South (ok, it made the list)
Carowinds
Carolinas Aviation Museum
NC Transportation Museum
Carolina Raptor Center
Main Street Children’s Museum – Rock Hill, SC – this place is so nice – the drive is worth it!
Chuck E. Cheese – Pineville – very clean, and I’m very impressed with their menu now!   This is one of my go to spots for rainy weekdays when I have both kids – we have the place to ourselves and prices aren’t bad.
Concord Mills Mall and Play Area – play area, carousel, and train ride through the mall. There is also the Sea LIFE Aquarium there, which is a bit pricey and my kids couldn’t care less about looking at all the fish after the first 5 minutes – Bass Pro Shops has a big fish tank for a cheaper under the sea experience.
Carolina Place Mall – kids play area, ride on mechanical animals (they have a booth near the play area.  You’ll know them when you see them)
Skyzone Trampoline Park – the cleaner one of the two in Pineville.  Toddler jump Tues and Thurs morning 10a-12pm half price ($6).
Sky High Sports – The other sky jump place in Pineville.  This place is nice too, the foam pits just look a bit grungy to me.  They have an overhead obstacle course for older kids and more trampoline areas.

Outdoor activities
Windjammer Beach Park – Tega Cay, SC – I’ve never been here and the parking situation on their website confuses me.  Has anyone gone here?
Energy Explorium – Lake Norman
Charlotte Airport Overlook
Reedy Creek Park – nice hiking, their playground is adorable(the one by the nature center) and very cute nature center too.  Dog Park there too!
McDowell Nature Preserve – hiking, play area, nature center
Rural Hill Nature Preserve – hiking
Crowder’s Mountain – hiking
South Park Mall Play area (by Dick’s Sporting Goods)
Kannapolis Village Park – gated splash pad (small charge to enter), rotary train, playground (so fun at Christmas – light show and Santa)
Dan Nicholas Park – Salisbury – too much stuff to do to list!
Lazy 5 Ranch – Mooresville
Zootastic Park of Lake Norman
Ride the Streetcar in Uptown (free)
Ride the light rail (lynx)

Seasonal/day specific
Matthews Farmers Market – Great local produce, organic meats, they have live chefs cooking and giving samples, free coffee and tea, bluegrass music jamming, delicious popsicles (watermelon and basil anyone?).  It’s within walking distance of Stumptown Park as well which has a sandbox and small playground.
Atherton Farmer’s Market – can someone give me a good review on this place?  Haven’t been in ages and I don’t know the area well.
Food truck Fridays in Matthews – personal fav – trucks start serving around 5pm, @ Stumptown Park in Matthews.  We’ve never had trouble parking very close – police on hand to regulate traffic – really awesome!  I’ve never been to the Food Truck Friday in Charlotte because we live in Matthews and I’m totally partial.
Superior Play – Open play indoors on Wednesdays and Fridays
Belle Johnston community center – Pineville – Wednesdays 9a-11am open play 5 and under through May
Michael’s Craft Stores– Saturday Morning Craft 10am $2/kid
Lakeshore Learning Stores-Saturday morning 11a-2pm crafts – this link is for the Matthews location
Home Depot – 1st Saturday of the month Craft 9a-12pm
Hall Family Farm – spring and fall PYO strawberries and pumpkins, hayride, corn maze
Hodges Farm – spring and fall PYO strawberries and pumpkins, hayride, petting zoo
Wise Acres – Another personal favorite – organic farm PYO strawberries and pumpkins, sand box, swings, zip line, lawn mower barrel train, seasonal corn pit.  The owners are always on hand and so friendly.
Patterson Farm – tomato picking?
Carrigan Farms – apple picking – fall
Italian Festival – Raffaldini vineyard – 3rd weekend in September

Others
Berewick Rec Center – personal favorite.  Hardly ever crowded, clean, right by the outlets, $2 entry.  Great for play date meetups as the kids can explore and moms can sit and chat.  Hours vary daily.
Mallard Creek Rec Center Playroom-haven’t been here yet
Pike’s Soda Shop
Madison’s Coffee House – Indian Trail – I haven’t been here since new ownership but they used to have a kids corner with chalkboard, magnetic characters and clothes, books and games.
AMF Bowling – Matthews
Kate’s Skating Rink – Indian Trail – ok so this is for the older kids, but I love a good roller skating rink so had to add this to the list.
Extreme Ice Skating Rink – Indian Trail.  Ice skate rentals start at size 10 for toddlers (3 years old give or take, same with ice skating lessons.
Treehouse Vineyards – Monroe – the tour and wine tasting kid friendliness is dependent on your kids – it’s quick and they can nibble on oyster crackers and other snacks while you do your wine tasting.  Fun events in summer.

**this list is still under construction – more to be added and I would love to add your suggestions too!**