Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mind Stretching Fun

I'm not a big fan of Groupons and similar coupons. I think a lot of the time, people buy things they wouldn't normally have purchased in the first place. And 20%-40% of them are not used, which is a huge waste of money. But every now and then, I see a Groupon that really makes a lot of sense to buy. Right before Christmas, I saw just that type of Groupon.

I bought a one-year family membership to the Sci-Tech Discovery Center in Frisco for $39. We have been to this place a few times before with our kids and when family has come to visit. It's a small, hands-on science museum with rotating exhibits. I figured out that if we visited just twice this year, we would recoup the cost of the Groupon. And it's not far away, we don't need to pay for parking, and our visits can be as short as 1-2 hours. It will be nice to have the membership during the hot summer months when I'm looking for something different to do with the kids.

The Sci-Tech Discovery Center is located inside the Frisco Discovery Center near the Dallas North Tollway and Cottin Gin Road. We visited this past Friday to see the Animal Grossology exhibit before its final day (which is tomorrow).

The very first time we visited Sci Tech was during the Human Grossology exhibit, so we knew to expect a lot of visuals about poop and other gross things.

There were some trivia type games to play about slime and poop:

At 10:30, the center announced that a story time and experiment would happen in a few minutes.  We rounded up our kids for that.  The story was about snow, and the kids got to play with fake snow on paper plates.

Then they got to make their own snowmen out of marshmallows.

And of course they got to eat their creations!

I didn't see much of the story time and experiment youngest child kept insisting she had to go potty and we left frequently.  I gave up on the story time and let her play in the Kid Zone nearby.

In addition to the Animal Grossology exhibit, there were other areas that appeared to be more permanent parts of the center.  Toward the back there is a space toy area that all three of my kids enjoyed:

And a place to make giant bubbles!

Some interesting magnet experiments:

And an indoor tornado!

We stayed about 2 hours and could have stayed a little longer had it not been so close to lunch time.  The center is closed during most of the month of January to change out exhibits.  We are looking forward to returning in 2013 to make good use of our yearly membership.

Check out Sci-Tech's website at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

San Antonio Trip--Part 3

In case you missed the first parts of this trip report:

Part 1
Part 2

Nathan really wanted to ride the big roller coaster, the Steel Eel.   We decided to split up, and Brian took Nathan to ride on the Steel Eel while I took the younger kids to the SeaWorld Express Christmas Train.

The SeaWorld Express:

Before boarding the train, each child received a ticket (that looked like the ticket in the Polar Express movie) and the tickets were punched once we were inside the train.  The train took us around some Christmas decorations near the lake.  I think this was Alyssa's favorite part of our whole day!  She was so excited to be on the choo-choo train!

Our timing worked out perfectly that we were off the train about the same time Brian and Nathan got done with the Steel Eeel.  I think the roller coaster was higher and faster than they both expected!

Next we visited the penguins at the Penguin Encounter:

Then we kept traveling around the lake and came upon the Rio Loco ride.  Nathan insisted on going, so I went with him.  Luckily, we didn't get too wet (although Nathan was disappointed we didn't get too wet!)

It was 4:15 p.m. at this point and we had to decide if we were going to make it to the 4:30 Shamu show.  There was only one other Shamu show at 8:15 p.m., and we weren't sure our younger kids would make it that late.  So we decided to book it over to Shamu stadium.  We got some of the last seats but still had a great view of the show.  The kids were once again really impressed with all the tricks, but Brian and I noticed how different the show was from shows in the past.   (Trainers are no longer allowed in the water due to past tragedies).  It was still neat to watch, though.

After the Shamu show, we had about 30 minutes to kill before the Sesame Street show.  So the kids played some more in the Bay of Play and we met a few more characters.

At 5:30 we went to "A Sesame Street Christmas Show."  Alyssa was mesmerized and excited to see Elmo on stage!

It was now 6 p.m. and we decided to head back to the Shamu section to get some dinner.  The park was really emptying out.

We had dinner at Shamu's Smoke House.  As you can see from the picture, there was hardly anyone else in the whole restaurant.  The food was pretty good.  We had brisket and bbq chicken.  A nice change from the typical theme park fast food.

The kids' meals came in a Shamu container:

We decided to let the kids have one more round in the Bay of Play (I think this was our 4th time there that day?) before we left the park.  As we walked from the restaurant back to the play area, the walkways were completely deserted.  It felt like we had the whole park to ourselves!

We ran into Abby Cadabby:

The boys went on some rides for a 2nd time and also played in the big jungle gym area.  Alyssa had more fun on these raised mounds in front of the stage.

After 7 p.m., it seemed like the park started to fill up again.  It must have been season passholders coming after work.  At 7:35 p.m., we watched a different Sesame Street show called "Elmo's Christmas Wish".  Alyssa loved it!

At this point, it was 8 p.m. and Brian and I were worn out.  We decided to head back to the hotel. 

We took one last walk through the candy cane forest and had one last look at the lights:

Up next:  Final thoughts on the trip and ways we saved money.

Monday, November 26, 2012

San Antonio Trip--Part 2

In case you missed Part 1, here is a link.

We returned home from the River Walk around 7:30 p.m. I helped Brian get 2 of our kids ready for bed and then I took my oldest with me to Starbucks to meet a friend.  Dividing the kids near bed time made it easier to get our two youngest to sleep.  Unfortunately, I shared a bed with my younger son and didn't sleep a wink that night!  Oh well.

The kids were all awake by 6:30 a.m., which is normal for them.  Since SeaWorld didn't open until noon, we had plenty of time in the morning to swim in the hotel's pool after breakfast.

We had the whole pool to ourselves.  Yippee!  The kids hadn't been swimming since late summer.

After swimming and showers, we ate lunch in our room (brought from home and stored in the room's refrigerator). 

Finally, it was almost noon and time to head out to SeaWorld!  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day.  Here is the sign at the entrance:

We had pre-paid for our parking online at a discount, so we just had to show our receipt.  The parking lot looked fairly empty when we arrived.  I was surprised that there was nobody directing us where to park--you could just park wherever you wanted.

When we walked up to the entrance, there were probably almost 1000 people in line.  Not exaggerating.  There were 2 lines, one on each side, and they snaked around and stretched out to the parking lot.  It was 11:55 p.m., 5 minutes before opening.

Brian took the kids out of line to snap this picture in front:

Once the park opened, it took 25 minutes for us to actually get in the gate.  Ok, now I don't want to constantly compare SeaWorld to Disney World....BUT, there are a few operational things that SeaWorld could learn from Disney World.  Just sayin'. :)

Christmas decorations were out!

Once we were inside the park, we decided to head to the left and go to the dolphin area and the shark/coral reef tank.  First we fed the dolphins.  They were hungry!

Then we went next door to the shark/coral reef tank.

Alyssa was more interested in swinging from all the rails inside!

We then walked back in front of the entrance to get to the rest of the park.  There was a mariachi band playing:

We headed for the Sesame Street Bay of Play next.  This area just opened in 2011 so none of us had seen it.  We saw Cookie Monster and Grover just standing around.  There were no kids around them at all.  I thought that was odd, since we were used to a crowd gathering around all the characters at Disney World.  We stopped for some hugs and a family picture with these guys:

And then around the corner we saw some more characters with no lines.

The Bay of Play was nearly empty!  The boys wanted to ride some kiddie rides.  There were no lines at all.

We also spent some time at the big play area there.  Cargo nets, slides, all sorts of things.  There was a little kid play area down beneath it in the shade where Alyssa and I went.
It was now getting close to 2 p.m. and we needed to head to the Sea Lion show.  We weren't sure if we could see all the shows offered that day (7 total), but we decided to prioritize the Sea Lion show (Clyde and Seamore's Countdown to Christmas), a Sesame Street show (there were 2) and of course the Shamu show (Shamu Christmas Miracles).  The Sea Lion stadium was adjacent to the Bay of Play.

For some reason, I did not take any pictures during the entire Sea Lion show.  It was good.  The kids were impressed at Clyde and Seamore's tricks and the show held their attention the entire time..

After the show, the boys wanted to return to the Sesame Street section.  So I took them there for more rides, while Brian took Alyssa to another nearby playground.

It appeared that a lot of people from the Sea Lion show dumped into the Bay of Play because it was a little more crowded than it was before the show.  There were slight lines for the rides now, but still 10 minutes or less.  We rode Grover's Round-Up Carousel:

And the Shamu Express! (I took this photo from the SeaWorld website).

I think the kids could have played in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area all day.  But it was 3:30 p.m. at this point and if we wanted to see more shows or go on more rides, we had to get moving.

To be continued...