Category: Travel

Mudpuppy Puzzles Are Perfect for Travel!

Military life comes with frequent moves. That often means being far away from family and friends—and driving or flying long distances to visit them. So, military kids often do a lot of traveling.

My children are the perfect example. My twin boys logged at least five cross-country airplane flights by the time they were 2. My daughter took a 3,000-mile road trip with us at 5 weeks old when we moved from California to Virginia. Over the past two years, we’ve driven to New York to visit family more often than I can count. Add to that our various vacations, and you’re looking at some very well-traveled kiddos.

But while my kids’ extensive travel experience has made them a bit more flexible than other kids in many ways—they can easily sleep anywhere, they can handle schedule changes pretty well, etc.—at the end of the day, they are still kids. And just like any kid, they need to be entertained on long flights and car rides. They need things to do in the hotel room or at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And because Keith and I don’t want their travel entertainment to consist solely of TV and iPad time, we’re often forced to devote way too much suitcase space to toys and books.

So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the chance to try out some of Mudpuppy’s portable puzzles. They are light and compact, making them easy to toss into my carry-on bag or diaper bag. And they are adorable and lots of fun! Here’s what we tried:

Pouch Puzzle: Mudpuppy’s 12-piece Pouch Puzzles (for ages 2 and up) come in zippered pouches, not boxes, making them flat and super easy to tote around. We received the Princess Castle puzzle, perfect for my little girly girl. We took the puzzle with us to Hawaii and on several trips to New York, and even when we’re not traveling Lily loves to put it together. The thick pieces are perfect for her little hands, and the puzzle is just hard enough that she feels challenged, but can still put it together on her own. Pouch Puzzles come in 16 themes and retail for $10.99.

Mudpuppy Princess Castle Pouch Puzzle
Our completed Pouch Puzzle

Puzzle To Go: The 36-piece Puzzles to Go, geared to ages 3 and up, are 12″ by 9″ when put together. That means they fit perfectly into an airplane or train tray table! We received the Outer Space puzzle and the Airplane puzzle, which was perfect because Nate loves space and Matt loves transportation. We first whipped these puzzles out on our long flight to Hawaii, and they entertained the boys for about an hour each! They were so excited to be able to do puzzles on the plane. And because they come in a drawstring pouch, the puzzles took up hardly any space in my carry-on bag. Mudpuppy makes 10 Puzzles To Go that retail for $9.99 each.

Mudpuppy Puzzle To Go
Look how small the pouch is!
Mudpuppy Airplane Puzzle To Go
Our completed Airplane Puzzle To Go

 

My First Touch & Feel Puzzle: Each of the six My First Touch & Feel Puzzle sets come with four three-piece puzzles for ages 1 and up. The pieces are chunky, and each puzzle has one textured piece for little hands to feel. We received the “In The Garden” set, and even at 2 1/2 Lily absolutely loves these puzzles. I’d say this set is the least portable of the puzzles we tried because it comes in a box, but a bonus is that the puzzles are small enough to fit on a tray table. My First Touch & Feel Puzzles retail for $12.99.

Mudpuppy My First Touch & Feel Puzzles
Our completed My First Touch & Feel Puzzles

 

In addition to these awesome puzzles, Mudpuppy makes lots of other fun travel toys and games for all ages, including Magnetic Build-It sets, felt Play Scenes, Ring Flash Cards, and more. So with spring break travel coming up and summer vacations just around the corner, now is the perfect time to visit galison.com/MUDPUPPY and get some for yourself!

 Disclosure: I received complimentary items to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Great Wolf Lodge Lives Up to Its Hype!

Since becoming parents, we’d been hearing SO much about Great Wolf Lodge, a family resort and indoor water park with 16 locations across the U.S. and Canada. While so many of our fellow parents hyped it up as the ideal vacation spot for families, I’ll admit that it sounded awful to Keith and me. Hundreds of screaming kids running around? Overpriced food? GERMS? No, thank you!

But when we saw a great deal pop up on Groupon recently, we decided to give the Williamsburg, Virginia location a shot. Our package included two nights in a KidKamp suite and a $50 daily food credit at a greatly reduced price. We were also able to go Sunday through Tuesday (our school district had a student holiday that Monday), so we knew crowds would be significantly smaller. So, off we went!

And let me tell you—our two days at Great Wolf Lodge were some of the most fun days we spent as a family all winter. All three of our children—5-year-old twins Matt and Nate and 2-year-old Lily—had a fabulous time. But here’s what surprised us—Keith and I had a blast, too! Here are some of the highlights of our trip:

WHAT WE LOVED!

The water parkThis place is seriously amazing, and that’s great because it’s the only attraction in the resort that doesn’t cost extra money. With 79,000 square feet of space, the water park has something for everyone. There are giant, winding water slides for big kids and adults and tiny slides for the little kids. There’s a wave pool, a lazy river, hot tubs, and a regular pool with basketball hoops. There’s a giant climbing structure with bridges, tunnels, and water features for kids to get lost in. There’s a kiddie pool with spray areas that Lily absolutely loved. And there’s the Wolf Rider Wipeout, an awesome surf simulator that the boys did two times each. (They were the smallest kids doing it—such brave boys!) Overall we spent three to four hours each day at the water park, and we had a blast.

IMG_1629.jpg

Here are my water park tips:

  • Get there early! There are a limited number of tables and chairs in the park that often get snatched up in minutes. So get down to the park about 15 minutes before it opens and be ready to stake out your spot. (Note: The resort website lists the water park hours as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, but that is subject to change based on the season. So, double check the hours when you arrive!)
  • Bring snacks. The signs posted say no outside food is allowed in the water park, but nearly everyone we saw had their own snacks with them. (They probably just don’t want you rolling in with bags of McDonald’s). So bring lots of food to munch on and plan to eat meals out or back at your room. There is a small food stand in the water park called Buckets Incredible Craveables, but it has a very limited selection of food and no kids’ meals.
  • Bring your own towels. The resort provides towels, but they are pretty tiny and flimsy. And even though the water is warm, it can feel really chilly in the water park when you get out. So we brought the kids their own hooded towels, and next time we’ll bring towels for ourselves as well.
  • Leave life jackets at home. The water park has free Coast Guard-approved life jackets and puddle jumpers, so there’s no need to bring your own!

MagiQuestWwere going to skip this game because we thought the boys were too young, but we are SO glad we didn’t. It’s expensive, but we played for hours, and Keith and I admittedly had as much fun as the boys did. It’s basically a live-action video game. First you go to a really cool wand shop and pick your own wand. Once your game is activated, you wave your wand at any of the “portals” located around the resort—mini touch screens—to start your quest. You then have to collect a certain number of runes before you can do fun things like battle a dragon, defeat a goblin king, etc. The screen tells you which objects you need to collect to get each rune and what area of the resort you can find them in. Then you walk around and wave your wand at treasure chests, boxes, wall hangings, and more to find the objects you need. When you’ve gotten them, you return to a portal, where a character from the game gives you your rune and instructions on how to get your next rune. Its lots of fun!

IMG_1654.jpg
The twins opened the treasure chest with a wave of their wands!
IMG_1711.jpg
They defeated the evil dragon Charlock!

Here are my MaqiQuest tips:

  • Be patient. The game is tough to figure out at first, but don’t give up. Once you get the hang of it, it’s very addicting! Try to play after the water park opens and before dinnertime—there seemed to be fewer people playing during those times, which meant we didn’t have to wait as long for our turn at the portals.
  • Save some money. As I mentioned, MagiQuest is not cheap: A wand costs $15.99 to $21.99 and the game costs $14.99, but you can play as much as you want throughout your stay! (Then you can bring your wand back on future stays to pick right up where you left off!) The wand itself is super cool, so there’s no need to purchase a wand topper for $17.99 to $19.99. Also, if you have a young child who wants in on the wand action but is too young to play the game, just buy the wand without the game. The wand will still work on all the cool objects around the resort. Lily had a blast waving her wand to open treasure chests, make animals move, light up stars, etc.
  • Be ready to exercise. You may think video games are for couch potatoes, but not MagiQuest. You’ll be going up and down stairs between the second and fourth floors of the resort nonstop to collect objects for the game (unless you feel like waiting forever for the elevators), so it’s a great way to keep your kids moving!

Bowling: The resort has a mini bowling alley that’s perfect for small children because it has shorter lanes, bumpers, and little five-pound balls. Plus, you don’t need to wear bowling shoes! We went bowling with friends who visited the resort the same weekend as us, and all of the kids had a blast. (We did have a problem with balls getting stuck on one of our lanes, but it was still a good time!) The cost was $5 per person per game.

IMG_1679.jpg
Even 2-year-old Lily got in on the bowling action!

 

Our suite: As I mentioned earlier, we stayed in a KidKamp suite, which is a large room with a queen-size bed, a full-size sofa sleeper, and a tent-themed sleeping area with bunk beds. The twins loved sleeping on the bunk beds in their own separate space. We liked that the room had a mini fridge and a microwave. There are many other room options at the resort at various price points, ranging from standard rooms to themed suites (like ours) to premium suites with lofts, fireplaces, and jacuzzi tubs. Our friends stayed in one of the premium suites and loved it.

IMG_1605.jpg
Playing peek-a-boo in the KidKamp Suite

 

Free lobby activities: The lobby always has some sort of free activity or show going on for the kids. We found The Great Clock Tower Show to be a bit creepy, and the kids were bored by the nighttime Story Time. But, all three loved the little activity table that offered coloring pages and guided activities like Bingo and friendship bracelet-making.

IMG_1670.jpg
Coloring in the lobby while Daddy waited in line for Dunkin’ Donuts

 

The wolf ears: To our surprise, we all got a free pair of wolf ears at check-in! Lots of grown-ups got into the spirit and wore them around the resort.

IMG_1596.jpg
Modeling our wolf ears! Daddy wore them too, but he was behind the camera!

 

The wristbands: As someone who’s been known to lose hotel room keys and forget my wallet, this was huge for me: When you check in, you get a waterproof wristband that you use as your room key, your water park entry, and your payment for activities and food (it all just gets charged to your room). How convenient is that? Plus, the kids felt super cool and important sporting their wristbands ( though they couldn’t buy things with theirs).

 

Now, here are a few things we didn’t love (but didn’t totally hate):

WHAT WE DIDN’T LOVE

Northern Lights ArcadeWith its wide variety of games, this place would be awesome for older kids and teenagers, but it was really overwhelming and chaotic for my three kids. Almost every game uses Paw Points, a reloadable gaming card that you swipe to play the game. That means that unless you have one adult to accompany each child around the arcade, your small kids are going to be swiping the card haphazardly without realizing whether it actually worked … and spend all of the Paw Points without playing a single game. Trust me, I know! So I’d say steer clear of the arcade if you have younger kids.

The food: The best food option at the Great Wolf Lodge was the Dunkin’ Donuts in the lobby. Keith went there every morning to get us breakfast and coffee and it was included in our $50 food credit—WIN! We got pizza and wings one evening from Hungry As A Wolf and ate it in the room. It was decent, quick, and convenient. But the buffet dinner we ate at the Loose Moose Bar & Grill was not very good. (Perhaps the breakfast would have been better, but who has time for that when you’ve got to get to the water park?) My advice? Eat dinners off site, or pick up food to bring back to your room. There are lots of casual or fast-food dining spots only a minute or two away, including Carrabba’s, Chick-fil-A, and Sonic.

 

Clearly, we loved a lot more things about Great Wolf Lodge than we didn’t love! And we only scratched the surface of the attractions that are available there. There are 4D movies, a miniature golf course,  a fitness center, a spa, and so much more. We definitely plan to visit again to try out some of these other activities.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge with your family, I have a few more tips:

  1. Go when there’s a deal. I frequently see Great Wolf Lodge deals on Groupon and similar sites, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re an active or retired military family, emergency medical service personnel, or a police or correctional officer, you can take advantage of the Howling Heroes promotion, which gives you up to 30 percent off a suite for stays through October 31. And, keep in mind that weeknights are cheaper than weekends!
  2. Maximize your time. Though check-in isn’t until 4 p.m. and checkout is at 11 a.m., you can access the water park starting at 1 p.m. on your arrival date and until closing on your departure date. And you can often get early check-in if your room is available—we did! There are showers in the water park you can use before you leave.
  3. Two nights is perfect. It’s enough time to take advantage of many of the resort activities without feeling rushed, but not so long that your family will burn out and have meltdowns.

If you decide to visit Great Wolf Lodge, let me know what you think. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine did!

Has your family been to Great Wolf Lodge? Leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it! And if you have questions, just ask and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

GIVEAWAY: Win a Family Four-Pack of Tickets to Blue Man Group!

If you read my Blogger Bash recap, you saw that I got to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group. The show was wildly entertaining and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Blue Man Group combines music, comedy, and state-of-the-art technology to create a truly unique form of wacky entertainment. It is continually refreshed with new music, stories, and instruments.

Blue Man Group has been performed in 15 countries and seen by more than 35 million people worldwide since 1991. It has permanent productions in New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Boston, Chicago, and Berlin. There’s also a tour in North America and Latin America.

Here’s what I found especially cool about the show:
  • The music. The band was super talented and had everyone rocking for the entire show!
  • The neon paint drumming. Audience members in the first few rows even had to wear head-to-toe ponchos to protect them from splattering paint.
Blue Man Group National Tour Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik paul@paulkolnik.com nyc  212-362-7778
Blue Man Group National Tour
Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik
paul@paulkolnik.com
nyc 212-362-7778
  • The fact that it was really interactive. The Blue Men came into the seating area several times to interact with audience members. They even recruited two members to go onstage and backstage to help them with bits. Here’s a photo of vlogger HeyThatsMike helping the Blue Men make body art during our special performance:

Blogger HeyThatsMike onstage helping create art at the Blue Man Group Blogger Bash performance
Now, the big question: Should you bring your kids? Blue Man Group touts itself as a family-friendly show, appropriate for ages 3 and up. And on the show’s website, you’ll see photos and testimonials of happy children who loved it.

I do urge you to use caution, though, when deciding whether to take your own kids. If you have children who get easily frightened by darkness or loud music, you may want to hold off on taking them. Also keep in mind the following:

  • The show is 90 minutes long with no intermission.
  • The lights are often turned off or really low to illuminate the neon paint, costumes, and more used in the show.
  • The band wears glowing neon skeleton outfits and face paint:

Day3_Live_6pm_0019_sm
Older kids and teens would definitely find Blue Man Group to be really cool. If you do decide to take your children, you can find some fun activities and resources on the show’s website to prepare them before the show.

So, do you want to go? Cue the giveaway! One lucky Double Duty Twins reader will win a family 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group show of their choosing in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, or any of the North American Tour dates! The winner will receive a certificate in the mail that can be redeemed for any show from September 8, 2015 through June 8, 2016.

To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me who you’d like to bring with you to Blue Man Group. Then click on “Leave a blog post comment” in the form below, followed by, “I commented!” Once you do that, you’ll unlock opportunities to earn three more bonus entries. You have until August 28, 2015 to enter, and I’ll pick a winner at random on August 29. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CONTEST RULES
PRIZE RESTRICTIONS
THE FULFILLMENT PERIOD BEGINS SEPTEMBER 8, 2015, FOR SELECT PERFORMANCES ONLY, AND TICKETS MUST BE REDEEMED BY JUNE 8, 2016. ALL REQUESTS ARE SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY AND MUST BE SUBMITTED A MINIMUM OF TWO (2) WEEKS IN ADVANCE. IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR BLUE MAN GROUP PERFORMANCES TO SELL OUT, SO ADVANCE PLANNING IS REQUIRED. THE BEST SEATS AVAILABLE ARE LIKELY TO BE SUNDAY THROUGH THURSDAY SHOWS. HOLIDAY BLACKOUT PERIODS VARY BY CITY, AND THE CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID DURING THOSE BLACKOUT PERIODS. THE CERTIFICATE DOES NOT GUARANTEE THAT TICKETS WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR CHOICE. CERTIFICATE HAS NO CASH VALUE AND IS NON-TRANSFERABLE. VALID FOR THE BLUE MAN GROUP SHOW ONLY WITH SEATING LOCATION AT THE DISCRETION OF THE BOX OFFICE. NOT VALID FOR VIP UPGRADES, THEME PARK, CLUB, OR SPECIAL EVENT ADMISSION. PARKING IS NOT INCLUDED. THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES ONCE TICKETS HAVE BEEN ISSUED. ALL REDEMPTIONS ARE FINAL. NO SUBSTITUTIONS, CASH EQUIVALENTS OR TRANSFERS ARE PERMITTED. NOT FOR RESALE. CERTIFICATE IS NOT VALID AFTER EXPIRATION DATE OF JUNE 8, 2016. BLUE MAN GROUP IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR REPLACING LOST OR STOLEN TICKETS AND/OR VOUCHERS.
ELIGIBILITY
EMPLOYEES OF BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, SPONSORS, AND ANY OF THEIR RESPECTIVE AFFILIATES’ EMPLOYEES AND EACH OF THEIR HOUSEHOLDS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE TO ENTER. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY.
GENERAL CONDITIONS
ALL ENTRANTS RELEASE SPONSORS, BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE FOUNDERS, PARENT COMPANIES, AFFILIATES, SUBSIDIARIES AND THE DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AND AGENTS OF THE FOREGOING ENTITIES, AND ALL OTHERS ASSOCIATED WITH THE DEVELOPMENT AND EXECUTION OF THIS CONTEST (ALL AFOREMENTIONED PARTIES, THE “RELEASED PARTIES”) FROM ANY AND ALL LIABILITY FROM INJURY, LOSS OR DAMAGE OF ANY KIND. SPONSORS AND BLUE MAN GROUP RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CANCEL, MODIFY, OR TERMINATE THIS CONTEST OR ANY OF THE PRIZES AT ANY TIME, INCLUDING AFTER WINNERS ARE CHOSEN. ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION SUPPLIED BY ENTRANTS TO SPONSOR OR ITS AFFILIATES WILL BE SUBJECT TO SPONSOR’S PRIVACY POLICY , EXCEPT WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW AND BLUE MAN GROUP’S PRIVACY POLICY LOCATED AT HTTP://WWW.BLUEMAN.COM/PRIVACY-POLICY, ENTRY AND/OR WINNER’S ACCEPTANCE OF A PRIZE OF ANY KIND CONSTITUTES PERMISSION FOR THE SPONSOR AND BLUE MAN GROUP TO USE WINNER’S NAME, ADDRESS (CITY AND STATE), PHOTO, LIKENESS, BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION, STATEMENT AND VOICE FOR ADVERTISING/PUBLICITY PURPOSES WORLDWIDE AND IN ALL FORMS OF MEDIA IN PERPETUITY, WITHOUT FURTHER NOTICE TO OR COMPENSATION IN CONNECTION WITH SAID CONTEST OR THE PRIZE AWARDED. ALL ENTRANTS EXPRESSLY RELEASE THE SPONSOR, BLUE MAN GROUP, AND THEIR AFFILIATES, PARENT, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AGENTS, EMPLOYEES, LICENSEES, DESIGNEES, AND ASSIGNS FROM AND AGAINST ANY AND ALL CLAIMS WHICH THEY HAVE OR MAY HAVE FOR INVASION OF PRIVACY, DEFAMATION, OR ANY OTHER CAUSE OF ACTION ARISING OUT OF ANY SUCH USE.

MISCELLANEOUS
BLUE MAN PRODUCTIONS, LLC, IS NOT THE SPONSOR OF THE CONTEST AND IS SOLELY PROVIDING THE PRIZE. THIS BLOG IS THE OFFICIAL SPONSOR. ENTRANTS AGREE TO BE BOUND BY THE PRIZE RESTRICTIONS, ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS, AND SPONSOR RULES. BLUE MAN GROUP AND ALL RELATED INDICIA ©2015 BLUE MAN GROUP. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

My Amazing Experience at Blogger Bash 2015

Several months ago, an invitation to Blogger Bash landed in my inbox. Blogger Bash is an annual event that connects hundreds of bloggers, vloggers, and social media professionals to more than 100 lifestyle brands.

I spent weeks going back and forth about whether I should purchase a ticket. After all, this blog makes up just a small portion of my part-time freelance writing career. But I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, Blogger Bash was set to take place in New York City—my city—on July 16 and 17. My sister-in-law, Pat, came to watch the kids, and my cousin Kim let me stay at her apartment (which just so happens to be within walking distance of Pier Sixty, the gorgeous venue at which the event took place). And I was excited for the opportunity to make connections and meet other bloggers.

So on Wednesday afternoon, July 15, I hopped on  an Amtrak train to New York. The next few days were a whirlwind of parties, information sessions, and meet-and-greets. And now that I’m back home and have had some time to gather my thoughts, I cannot describe how thrilled I am that I decided to go. I met so many wonderful people, made valuable connections with amazing brands (some of which I am already working with), learned so much about the blogging world, ate delicious food, and had a great time! Here is a recap:

DAY ONE:

Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Day one began with the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch, where I took the #ShareYourCare Oath and became an official #ShareYourCare ambassador. (Puffing my chest out with pride!)

Care Bears #ShareYourCare ambassador badgeI learned all about the new series “Care Bears & Cousins,” coming to Netflix November 6, as well as a new line of adorable plush toys. The highlight for me, though, was meeting 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, who was honored with Care Bears’ first #ShareYourCare Ambassador Award for his commitment to helping others through philanthropy. Last year he raised over $1,200 for Typhoon Haiyan relief, and this year he is collecting stuffed animals to hand out to homeless kids in New York City. Of all the young philanthropists I have met through my writing for Scholastic, Zach is one of the greatest. Learn more about him here!

Blue Man Group performance

Having lived in New York City for nearly 30 years of my life, I’m lucky to have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and plays. But one show I never had the pleasure of seeing was Blue Man Group. So I was thrilled to learn that Blue Man Group would be doing a special performance just for Blogger Bash attendees at the intimate Astor Place Theatre.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group blends music, comedy, and technology into a dynamic, fun, and wacky performance. There wasn’t a single dull moment during the show. Afterward, we were treated to a Q&A with Creative Director (and longtime Blue Man) Randall Jaynes. I even got to take a photo with one of the Blue Men! Don’t we look cute together?

A woman poses with a member of the Blue Man Group

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Blue Man Group. I will also be giving away a 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group performance in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, or any national tour stop!

Sweet Suite 2015

After Blue Man Group, we returned to Pier Sixty for Sweet Suite 2015, also known as the Biggest Night of Play. And boy, did I play! Nearly 100 toy companies were there displaying their hot holiday toys for 2015, many of which have not even hit shelves yet. Here are just a few photo highlights:

My new friend Katrina of Tots Network and I grabbed some yummy cocktails on the way in!

Two ladies hold cocktails in front of a #BBNYC backdrop

This lovely lady and a few of her friends greeted us!

A costume woman on stilts holds a giant lollipop at Blogger Bash

And now for my favorite holiday toy, hitting stores later this year: Playmobil is releasing a new NHL line! The initial line will include a hockey arena, zambonis, referees, the Stanley Cup, and players from the original six NHL teams. We all know which players Matt and Nate will want. (Let’s Go Rangers!!!)

Playmobil hockey rink and players

Another favorite of mine was Wicked Cool Toys‘ Girl Scouts Cookie oven, set to arrive this fall. Kids can make popular Girl Scout Cookie flavors including Thin Mints, Trefoils, and more!

A woman holds a toy spatula in front of a Girl Scout Cookie Oven

There are so many more amazing toys coming out this year, but I don’t want to give them all away at once. I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks, and I’ll also have some handy Holiday Gift Guides for you starting in October!

DAY TWO:

Disney Infinity Breakfast

Day two began with the Disney Infinity Breakfast, where we were among the first to play the new Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition, coming soon. Star Wars joins Disney, Pixar, and Marvel for this latest installment of the toy/video game hybrid. What a great way to start the day!

A still shit from the new Disney Infinity Star Wars game

All-Day Expo and Rite Aid Recharge Lounge

After the breakfast, Katrina and I headed over to the All-Day Expo to get to know more amazing brands. Some of my favorites—which I will write more about in later posts—were Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Kolibree, and Crunch Live.

By that point, our backs and legs were starting to hurt from all of the amazing swag we’d been receiving. Good thing for the Rite Aid Recharge Lounge, where we got to recharge both our and our phones’ batteries! At the lounge—which offered sweeping Hudson River views—we indulged in delicious chocolate, drank refreshing beverages, and received amazing beauty kits filled with top brands like Maybelline, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula. Many bloggers also indulged in free massages!

Rite Aid Recharge Lounge at Blogger Bash

Baby Palooza

Next up was Baby Palooza, where we connected with top baby brands and learned about some amazing products for infants. Brands included Fisher-Price, Gund, TOMY, and more. Once again, I will be sharing some of those amazing products with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

For me, though, the highlight of Baby Palooza was meeting legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes. She even signed a board book full of her beautiful photos for me!

Photographer Anne Geddes

Peanuts Keynote Lunch

We then headed over to the Peanuts Keynote Lunch. This event was truly a blast! We got to meet the young stars of THE PEANUTS MOVIE, which hits theaters November 6. They were so cute and charming! I just can’t wait for the movie to come out.

We received amazing Peanuts swag bags filled with some awesome products, including all laundry detergent, Horizon Organic mac and cheese and other treats, a Hallmark Snoopy ornament, and more.

Oh, and I met Snoopy! Swoon!

A woman poses with a Snoopy character at Blogger Bash

After the lunch, I headed back over to the All-Day Expo to meet with some more brands. By that point, I was pretty exhausted. I spent some time at a health and wellness event hosted by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother, checked out a fashion show, and popped into a closing carnival sponsored by Canadian Lentils. I was too tired to take photos at that point, but there were ladies hanging from chandeliers and serving drinks. Really!

Blogger Bash was such an amazing event, and I am so awed by all of the hard work and detail that went into it. Thank you to all of the sponsors, the staff, and the incredible hosts: Laurie Schacht of the Toy Insider, Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media, and Charlene DeLoach of Charlene Chronicles. I can’t wait for Blogger Bash 2016!

I’m In a New York State of Mind

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I just got home from the most exhilarating girls’ weekend in New York City. Our wonderful former nanny and dear friend, Lisa, is here visiting from California. She had never been to New York, so I took the opportunity to show her around my hometown sans kids (thanks to my amazing and extremely capable husband, who gamely agreed to stay at home with all three kiddos). Lisa and I hopped on an Amtrak train Friday morning and were in New York by noon. We then experienced 48 hours of nonstop grownup fun and freedom—just what this weary mom needed.

Not that I got much sleep. When you’ve got two days in the Big Apple, the last thing you want to do is sleep. We had places to go, delicious food to eat, and cocktails—lots and lots and lots of cocktails—to drink.

We stayed with my aunt and uncle on the Upper West Side, who were fabulous hosts. My cousin, Kim, came along on many of our outings. We showed Lisa all of what I feel are the must-sees in New York, including the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero, SoHo (if only we’d had more time to shop), the Statue of Liberty (by way of the Staten Island Ferry, which is totally free and offers an amazing view of Lady Liberty), the High Line, Times Square, and more.

Two women on the High Line in New York City
Walking the High Line

 

We had dinner at two of my favorite NYC restaurants, Buddakan (of “Sex and the City” fame) and Carmine’s. Buddakan is a must-visit if you’re in the city for a special occasion. The ambience is spectacular and the modern Asian cuisine is so good. (Be sure to order the scallion pancakes!) And Carmine’s offers heaping family-style plates of delicious Italian food.

Buddakan restaurant in New York City
The fabulous Buddakan

We also saw the Tony award-winning musical “An American in Paris” on Broadway. It was fabulous. Featuring the music of George Gershwin, “An American in Paris” tells the love story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl, complete with amazing singing and dancing. I feel so lucky to have gotten to see it.

"An American in Paris" Broadway theater marquee

And finally, what trip to New York City is complete without drinks at a rooftop bar? Rare View offered a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building on a perfect summer night.

Threee women at Rare View rooftop bar in New York City, with the Empire State Building in the background
Rare View rooftop bar

 

I am still physically exhausted from the weekend and I missed Keith and the kids a ton, but my batteries are totally recharged. I believe every mom needs a girls’ weekend away once in a while, and I highly recommend you do it if you can!

And since I can’t stay away from New York for too long, I’m going back—in two days! I’ll be attending the second annual Blogger Bash, a two-day event at which I’ll connect with some of the biggest toy, travel, fashion, and food brands. We’re talking brands like LeapFrog, Vtech, Fisher-Price, Crayola, LEGO, and tons more. I’ll also get to attend a special performance of Blue Man Group (and meet the blue men!), meet legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes, get hands-on with the hottest new toys on the market at The Toy Insider‘s Sweet Suite (and share them all with you), and lots more.

I’ll be posting many photos and updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram throughout the event, and I’ll do a series of blog posts starting next week to tell you all about the awesome brands I’ll be discovering. It’s going to be amazing, and I hope you’ll follow along! Blogger Bash, here I come!

 

GIVEAWAY: One Double Duty Twins Reader Will Win A Free Night’s Stay at an AmericInn Hotel!

AMERICINN HOTELS IS SEEKING WILD AND WACKY VACATION PICS!

Wild, Wacky and Wonderful. That’s what AmericInn Hotels is looking for this summer—in your travel photos. And they are giving away prizes!

AmericInnHotel&Suites logo PMS

AmericInn—the largest midscale hotel brand in the upper Midwest—is inviting adventurous travelers to enter a selfie or other photo of their wildest, wackiest, most wonderful travel moments.

If they pick your pic, you’ll win a free night at any AmericInn location ($200 value). Even better: up to two people in your photo will also win a great prize. AmericInn is awarding a prize each day all summer long, and will be awarding an additional free night’s stay exclusively for readers of Double Duty Twins!

From the world’s only corn palace (Mitchell, S.D.), to the world’s largest concrete gnome (Ames, Ia.), to statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox (various locations), there are plenty of off-the-beaten-path locations, unique events, and small-town festivals to see and enjoy, and AmericInn wants to be part of the fun. Original photos from anywhere in the world—or anywhere else you can get to—can be submitted online.

AmesIA-GiantGnome resized

HOW TO ENTER:

To be eligible for the free night’s stay reserved for our readers, follow these three quick steps:

  1. Use this link to submit your photo to the AmericInn contest: https://adventure.americinn.com?blog=DoubleDuty.
  2. If you haven’t already, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook.
  3. Leave a comment on the Double Duty Twins Facebook page or below this post and tell me what you submitted a photo of—or share the photo!

And that’s it! You’re entered!

Entries must be submitted by Tuesday, July 14. On July 15, AmericInn will choose one Double Duty Twins reader to receive the free night’s stay! You can choose from roughly 200 locations throughout the Midwest and in Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

AmericInnGuestroom resized

Photo entry winners will be selected based on the uniqueness, creativity, and fun reflected in the photos. Entrants may also create a digital postcard with their photo on the contest website.

In honor of the contest, here is a photo of Keith, my brother, and me with the twins back in December 2011, when they were 6 months old. It’s at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO. We weren’t being wacky, but I think it’s hilarious that the boys were so bundled up, you can’t even see their little faces in the photo! It was about 25 degrees that day!

marino_20111203_1959

So get wild, get wacky, get wonderful, and get going. We can’t wait to see where you’ve been! Good luck!

UPDATE: The winner of the free night’s stay at any AmericInn hotel is Jennifer Hayden! Thank you to all who entered, and congratulations to Jennifer. Please check back for more exciting giveaways to come!

Coming Up: New Baby, New Crib!

Summer is often a busy time for military families because it’s PCS (permanent change of station) season, AKA moving season. But this year has been especially crazed for us, as we happen to have, ahem, a few things going on. Where to even begin? Here we go:

1) The twins turned 3 on June 19, and their birthday party was two days later. We decided to have the party at our own home this year. That meant weeks of preparation and lots of cleanup, but it turned out to be so much fun. The boys chose a superhero theme, so we had all the kids (about a dozen) decorate their own capes. We also gave each child a felt mask. And, Superman himself flew in to entertain the kids! He was incredible, and Matt and Nate could not have been more thrilled. They still tell everyone all about how the real Superman came to their party. If you live in the Los Angeles area and want to hire a character for your next party, we highly recommend Wishing Well Entertainment. You and your kiddos will not be disappointed!

IMG_9072

2) We flew to New York a week later to visit family. It was the boys’ ninth round-trip flight, but their first since last November, and I have to say—flying with 3-year-olds was way easier than flying with 2-year-olds! We didn’t need a huge bag stuffed with toys with which to entertain them on the flight. All they needed were iPads, a few books, and some crayons, and they were good to go. They even walked through security on their own! The trip lasted nearly two weeks, and we had a great time catching up with family and friends.

3) Two days after we arrived in New York, Keith and I drove down to Virginia (the boys stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house) to look for the new home we will move into in late October. Since our 5-year anniversary was coming up on July 18, we decided to treat it like a mini anniversary trip/babymoon and stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City. It was fabulous! We managed to look at about a dozen homes in the three days we were there, which was pretty tiring with me being nearly seven months pregnant in the heat and humidity. But, it did lead to the next big thing that happened:

4) We bought a house!!! It’s in an awesome, family-friendly community in Northern Virginia, and it is the perfect home for our growing family. There is a huge, grassy backyard with a big deck and a basketball hoop, a large basement, five bedrooms, and lots of space. The best part is that it’s move-in ready, which is crucial since we’ll be moving in with a 7-week-old baby. Keith’s commute to the Pentagon will be pretty easy, too. As sad as we’ll be to leave California, we’re really excited to move into our new home!

New house
Our new home!

5) Back in New York, my best friend from high school, Christine, threw me a surprise mini baby shower (also called a “sprinkle”). About a dozen of my closest ladies attended, and it was so wonderful. I received a ton of adorable baby clothes for the little princess, and I just can’t wait to dress her up!

Thing have not slowed down since we arrived back in California on July 8. My days and evenings have been consumed with preparations for the baby and the move. I spent two days straight researching and contacting preschools in our new neighborhood to see if I could find a good one that happened to have two openings this close to the new school year. It really was like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, I did find one that I think will be a great fit for the boys. They will start in November and they’ll be going Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm. It’s exciting and nerve-racking, but I know they will love it!

I’ve also spent a lot of time researching doctors in the new area, since the baby and I will both need follow-up care as soon we arrive. The kids and I are on Tricare Standard, which means we can select our own physicians. However, depending on where you live, it can be hard to find good doctors who accept Tricare. I’ve had to rely solely on Internet research and reviews from patients, but I finally found a pediatrician for the kids and a doctor for me who I believe will be good fits.

Things are not likely to slow down for us until well after the move. Today marks 33 weeks of pregnancy for me. I have a C-section scheduled for September 5, which means the baby will be here in only six weeks (or less)! Eeeeeek!

IMG_7001
Me at 32 weeks pregnant with baby girl!

The boys have started a weekly two-hour drop-off class at Gymboree called School Skills, which we’re hoping will help ease their transition to “real” preschool. They love the class so far! They’ll also continue to take weekly gymnastics classes at My Gym. Nate is now fully potty trained—even at night—but Matt is still struggling with the process. We’re trying not to push him too hard, but with preschool starting in a little more than three months, we’re feeling the pressure.

And then there’s the big move, which will begin October 15 if the baby gets the all-clear. Yes, we are driving cross-country with two 3-year-olds and a 6-week-old baby in a Toyota 4Runner with no third row. Yes, we are a tad bit crazy. But we are used to these “adventures” of Army life. After all, this will be the boys’ fourth home in their fourth city and they’re only 3 years old! So please think of us over these next few months, and I’ll continue to keep you all updated on the blog!