Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A new countdown!

Well, we are barely home from our Florida summer vacation trip (see this), but we have already started a countdown to our next trip...New York City! And yes, we are taking our kids!

We hadn't planned on going to New York City with the kids this year. My husband and I enjoyed our 10th anniversary trip to NYC last year and figured we'd take the kids in a few years when they are older.

However....since our trip to NYC, our kids keep asking us when they can go. They have actually been asking to go to NYC for years before our trip last year (Thanks, Spiderman and other comic books). And we had the airline miles and hotel points to go there for (almost) free, so we figured why not this year?! This is the last year that we have 2 Southwest Airlines companion passes (1 of the passes expires at the end of this year). So we only have to spend miles for 3 of us instead of 5. And we have a 3-day weekend coming up this Fall, so the kids won't have to miss any school.

I'm such a planner by nature, but booking this trip is one of the most spontaneous things I've done.

We will fly on a direct flight to NYC on a Friday night. We will have two full days to explore the city before flying back on Monday. Our plan is to explore the Times Square area on Saturday, including the Toys 'R Us that will be closing later this year (with the ferris wheel inside) and the Disney Store. We will also go to the Top of the Rock and hit the Nintendo World store (one of my kids is super excited about this!) I think that is enough to wear us out in one day. Lots of walking!

Toys 'R Us Times Square

On Sunday, we have tickets for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We managed to get 3 tickets up to the crown (my youngest does not meet the height requirement, so I will stay at the pedestal with her). I'd like to hit the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum later that day if we have time (free with our Perot Museum membership). As a bonus, my brother and his family will also be in NYC the same weekend, so we will get to meet up with them.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

If we manage to see anything besides what I've mentioned above, it will just be icing on the cake. After all, we only have 2 days!

I've had it in my head that I want my kids to experience New York City before we take them to any cities in Europe. It's just such an historic, iconic, busy city...I realize this is just my own silly prerequisite for London and Paris. I think my kids are going to be shocked by NYC--it's so different from where we live. But I can't wait!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Florida Trip Report Part 6: Airboat Ride and the Largest McDonald's Playland in the World

Florida Trip Report:

Travel Hacking a Trip to Florida
Vacation music video
Disney's Contemporary Resort Review
Hyatt Place Daytona Beach Review
Part 1: Getting There, Poolside and Chef Mickey's
Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios
Part 3: Reunion and Beaches and Cream
Part 4: 'Ohana Character Breakfast and Heading to the Beach
Part 5: Daytona Beach Shores

Part 6: Airboat Ride and the Largest McDonald's Playland in the World

Our last day of vacation. :( We ate breakfast at the Hyatt Place Daytona Beach and checked out by 9:00 a.m. Our flight didn't leave until 6:00 p.m., so we had almost a full day to have fun!

I had booked us a morning airboat ride in Christmas, Florida. There are several airboat companies in this town on the St. Johns River, and we picked this area since it is between Daytona Beach and the Orlando Airport. (There are also several airboat places closer to Disney World in Kissimee, but those would have been a longer drive for us). Based on Trip Advisor reviews, I booked a 1-hour ride with Airboat Rides at Midway.

My youngest fell asleep on the way there:

When we arrived at Midway, this pig was there to greet us. He walks back and forth between the parking lot and the store.

We had a few minutes to observe the animals in the store before we got called to board our boat. There were snakes, birds, turtles and bees. The company had several airboats parked in back.

Our boat had 3 rows of seats and a large fan motor in the back. It sounded like a race car with a loud muffler.

Our kids were thrilled with the headsets we all got to wear--like the ones you would wear on a helicopter ride. We could hear the captain, and he could hear all of us speak as well. Except our kids thought it was cool to hear their voices over the microphones, and we had to keep reminding them to stop singing so that we could all hear the captain.

The only photo of all 5 of us on this vacation:

The airboat ride was thrilling. There were times when we were in wide stretches of the river where we traveled at a high speed. We saw quite a few alligators in the water, and a few on the banks of the river.

We also sailed slowly into quieter, woodsy areas of the river. Our captain talked about the history of the area and the wildlife we saw. When it was over, my oldest said, "Can we go on this again?"

The airboat ride was something I've wanted to do for a few years, and I'm glad we had a chance to do it on this trip!

After our ride, the captain let everyone hold this baby alligator:

We went back to the store to check out the animals again before leaving.

By this point, it was lunchtime and we decided to drive to nearby Titusville for lunch. We were craving Mexican food and we ate at a forgettable Mexican restaurant. We had planned on playing at a park on the beach with a view of Kennedy Space Center, but of course right after lunch it started raining! We thought about going to the Orlando Science Center since we could get in for free with our Perot Museum membership, but we would have only had an hour or so to enjoy it. So instead, we drove to the largest McDonald's Playland in the world:

It's only 15 minutes away from the airport. That entire french fry building above is the play area.

It was sort of like a Chuck E. Cheese, except with McDonald's food. A good portion of the play area was devoted to video games.

It had a bowling alley:

And a large fish tank in the dining area.

And a moon that sings and plays the piano:

This McDonald's has food that most other McDonalds' do not have, like pizza, sandwiches, pasta, etc.

The kids each ordered some ice cream (they had many flavors available besides the standard vanilla).

Before we left, we posed by the giant McCafe.

My overall impression of this McDonald's that boasts having the largest Playland in the world is that it was crowded and a little dirty. But if you have a rental car and some time to kill before your flight, it's an option to burn some energy.

Our flight home was uneventful. And since this is my last blog entry about this trip, our vacation is really over. :(

A few closing remarks:

*  I'm so glad we had the chance to stay in a new (to us) Disney resort that is on the monorail loop!

*  I'm glad we got out of the "Disney bubble" and experienced other things in the Central Florida area. When I was a kid, we did non-Disney stuff all the time since we always stayed off-site. But now, with so many Disney resorts and the Magical Express that whisks you away from all the non-Disney stuff, it's a lot harder. There is a lot of cool stuff in Central Florida!

*  I wished that my husband and I could have had a date night without the kids on this trip. We looked into the kids' clubs at Disney World, but the price for 3 kids was just too much. Our trips next year will incorporate more couple time.

*  I'm thankful for this points and miles hobby, and the blogs I read to help me figure this stuff out, because using miles and points on this trip helped save us a significant amount of money. And it enabled us to go to our reunion, which is a priceless experience.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our trip.

Over and out.

Florida Trip Report Part 5: Daytona Beach Shores

Florida Trip Report:

Travel Hacking a Trip to Florida
Vacation music video
Disney's Contemporary Resort Review
Hyatt Place Daytona Beach Review
Part 1: Getting There, Poolside and Chef Mickey's
Part 2: Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios
Part 3: Reunion and Beaches and Cream
Part 4: 'Ohana Character Breakfast and Heading to the Beach

Part 5: Daytona Beach Shores

The next morning, we headed to the beach right after breakfast (we even went down to breakfast in our swimsuits and cover-ups, which totally fit right in...we saw people in swimsuits in many stores and restaurants in this beach town). We decided to reserve a few chairs for the day.

The kids tried boogie boarding (my oldest really got the hang of it) and just playing in the water. Time slipped away quickly.

We debated eating lunch on the beach from the food trucks passing by, but instead we decided to go back to the room to shower before heading across the street to Subway and Dairy Queen. I wanted to see a little of Daytona Beach today. Originally, we had planned to go to a chocolate factory tour and visit a local science museum, but we didn't have time to squeeze both in before they closed at 5:00 p.m. So of course I prioritized the chocolate factory!

The Angell and Phelps chocolate factory was small, but it advertised free tours and had good reviews on Trip Advisor. The tour was basically down one hallway with about 4 big glass windows where we could see chocolate and candy being made.

The owner works in the factory and is the only one to touch the press machine.

We saw the assembly line for chocolate covered potato chips, the company's #1 seller. (Chocolate covered bacon is the #2 seller, which I just couldn't bring myself to try).

At the end of the tour, everyone was given two samples to try. I tried a dark chocolate covered potato chip and a dark chocolate caramel. Both were outstanding! The chip was much tastier than I imagined it would be. We bought a small amount of chocolate and candy before we left.

On the way back to our car, we decided to stop at this magic shop.

One of the owners did a trick for the kids. We bought a few gag items.

After the magic shop, we had to drive back to our hotel to drop off the chocolate we purchased because, as Trip Advisor reviews warned us, the chocolate would surely melt if we hung around downtown Daytona for any length of time.

So we drove back to our hotel briefly, and then we drove to a Japanese Hibachi restaurant for dinner. It was ok, but not as good as some of the ones back home, so I won't even mention the name.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel pool and beach for another round of swimming.

The next morning, we again went straight from breakfast to the pool and beach area. I watched the time a little more closely so that I could be sure we had enough time to drive the opposite way to a few activities at the southern tip of Ponce inlet.

We started by visiting the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. It is the tallest lighthouse in Florida.

We had to climb 203 steps in the spiral to get to the top (flip-flops are not recommended).

The top had a great view!

Can you tell which kid did not want his photo taken???

Unfortunately, after only being at the top for a few minutes, it started raining. Lightly at first, and then a huge downpour. We cut our visit at the top short and descended.

The lighthouse museum had other buildings on the campus, such as the caretaker's historical house and this lens exhibit building.

A very short drive away is the Marine Science Center. This is a very small exhibit that was worth seeing since we were in the area.

The main room had a few aquariums and a touch pool with stingrays.



The Marine Science Center takes in sick birds and sea animals and rehabilitates them. We happened to be there the same day that 3 young sea turtles were being released back into the ocean after their rehabilitation. So we all walked over to the nearby beach to see them set free.

While the main building was very small, there was also a bird exhibit across the street and an elevated hiking trail with an observation tower. We got to see some bald eagles.

Ponce Inlet also had some boat tours and watercraft rentals, so if we had been able to stay longer we would have checked out more stuff there.

On our last night in Daytona Beach Shores, we went to Aunt Catfish's On the River for dinner. We got there shortly after 5:00 p.m. on a weeknight, and there was already a 2-hour wait!

Thank goodness there was a dock and a playground to entertain the kids.

I was looking out at the water from the dock and saw several dolphins swimming nearby. One came right up to the dock, jumped up and startled me!

The food was totally worth the wait...I got fresh fish, and each meal came with a cinnamon roll (kinda weird for dinner, but it's the restaurant's specialty).

After dinner we went back to the beach. We were all sad that this would be our last night on the beach. I wished we had at least 2 more days there--one to do some water sports and one to just lounge around the beach all day.

The kids made some sand castles before it got too dark to see.

Up next: Airboat ride, and visiting the largest McDonald's Playland in the world!