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 hasmade 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.
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.
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.
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 park: This 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.
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!
MagiQuest: We were 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!
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.
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 twinsloved 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.
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.
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.
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 Arcade: With itswide 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:
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 stayexclusively 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.
HOW TO ENTER:
To be eligible for the free night’s stay reserved for our readers, follow these three quick steps:
If you haven’t already, like Double Duty Twins on Facebook.
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.
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!
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!
Matt, Nate, and I just returned from another wonderful two-week trip to New York while Keith was in the field. Once again, the boys adjusted beautifully to being away from home, in a completely different environment and in a different time zone. I really love how adaptable they are—a quality that certainly comes with the military lifestyle. It gives me a great deal of hope that our upcoming move to LA will go smoothly and that Matt and Nate will adjust to their new home relatively quickly.
The boys got in lots of fun, quality time with their grandma and grandpa and the rest of the family. I also enjoyed many much-needed nights out without the kiddos. Heading into the city on the subway to hit the town with my friends and family, I felt like my old self again. I ate at great restaurants, hit up fun bars, went to the movies, and even took in a New York Rangers game. It was certainly a much-needed vacation for all of us.
The trip home? Not so wonderful. My Aunt Terry flew back with the boys and me because there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle them on my own. In fact, the two of us could barely handle them. I got to see firsthand how much “behind the scenes” stuff Keith takes care of when we travel to keep things running smoothly.
The fun started when my dad pulled up to the United Airlines terminal at LaGuardia Airport and none of us could get the car seats out of the car. My dad’s car has the latch system, and Keith had made sure to show me how to remove the seats. And I did know how to remove them. I just couldn’t do it. I felt like the latches were buried so deep in the seat I could barely get my hands on them, let alone unhook them.
After 20 minutes of the boys growing increasingly agitated as my dad and I fiddled with the seats, the curbside check-in guy took pity on us and removed them in three minutes flat.
But then we had another problem. I couldn’t seem to attach the seats tightly enough to our Go-Go Babyz Travelmates, which had been lifesavers for us in the past and are amazing items to have if you’re 99 percent of the population. But if you’re me and you’re a complete idiot when it comes to anything technical—yet you don’t bother to read the instruction manual—suddenly they became way less useful, and you end up dragging the kids through the airport without the wheels even spinning half the time because various straps are getting caught underneath them, and your kids are bouncing around in their car seats like they’re on a wooden roller coaster.
(This photo, from our much more peaceful flight in December, depicts how the Travelmates are supposed to work):
Yet we made it onto our flight to Denver, and the boys were doing great. Then we sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half because of some technical difficulty. That’s when the boys’patience wore thin and they began to get whiny and fidgety. They calmed down once we were airborne, but they demanded constant entertainment for the next three hours, and only when we began our descent into Denver did they fall asleep.
We made it to Denver with about 15 minutes to spare before our short connecting flight to Colorado Springs was set to board. Piece of cake, right? Not when you come out of gate B25 and your next flight leaves out of gate B95. That’s SEVENTY GATES! But along we went, each with two carryon bags on our shoulders. Nate was so upset about having been woken up, he refused to sit in his seat. So I had to run through the airport while struggling to carry all 26 pounds of him, and poor Aunt Terry had to drag both of the rickety car seats behind her, one of which contained Matt.
Yet we somehow managed to get to B95, sweating profusely—only to find that our connecting flight was delayed. At this point it was 7 PM Colorado time (which was 9 PM to us since we had come from the east coast) and the boys were starving, so I started shoving whatever I could find in my bag—frosted strawberry Pop Tarts—down their throats. Then we boarded the plane and sat on the tarmac again for an hour—triple the time of the actual flight. Both boys fell asleep once the plane took off, but when we had to wake them 20 minutes later to deplane, all hell broke loose.
Once we got our three huge suitcases and managed to lug them, along with everything else, out of the airport and find the boys’ babysitter (who had driven our own car to come pick us up), we thought we could finally relax. But, oh yeah—now we had to get the car seats back into our car. And Nate was screaming bloody murder at the top of his lungs because all he wanted was to be asleep in his crib. And it was snowing.
We finally got home around 9:30 PM Colorado time—11:30 New York time—and the boys drank their milk and went to sleep fairly easily. Then Aunt Terry and I ate cereal and Nutella with crackers for dinner at midnight before we finally hit the sack.
It was a long way home. But two weeks later, here we are, and the whole crazy debacle is behind us. Now we can rest easy—until our big move in three months. Oh, brother…
*DISCLAIMER: I wholeheartedly recommend the Go-Go Babyz Travelmate. Just don’t be like me: Read the instructions!