Sunday, June 8, 2014

Colorado with kids - Tubing in Keystone

Keystone, CO

I had done some research as to other snowy activities our whole group could participate in and was happy to have come across snow tubing. Once again, having grown up in Northern Michigan, we definitely weren't strangers to tubing and sledding, having done that countless times in our lives. However it is a completely new and wonderful experience to tube on top of a mountain! I discovered that there was tubing in Vail and nearby Frisco but am so happy that I settled on Adventure Point in Keystone, which is about 15 miles from Breckenridge. We passed Frisco and I admit I was disappointed by what I saw from the road. It was just out in the open near the road and not on the top of a beautiful mountain like Keystone's Adventure Point. Tubing in Keystone was the perfect place for us!

We arrived in Keystone and parked in the River Run parking lot (free). We walked through the really cute resort area, which looked like it was quite the happening place for apres ski. We found the check-in area where we all got our passes zip tied to our coat zippers and boarded the gondola to the top of the mountain.

Once up we couldn't get enough of the views. Again this is a wonderful experience for non-skiers/non-snowboarders in your group. We were right up there with everyone getting ready to take off down the mountain. I noticed a nice sized picnic area right at the edge as well. I made a mental note to enjoy a snack there after our tubing experience. We entered through two side-by-side yurts and watched a short informational video about our upcoming experience. Then we headed outside, grabbed a tube and got in line!

I cannot say enough about the staff here. They were all so friendly and made the experience really fun. They told jokes and chatted while we waited for our turns, also always asking if we wanted spins (which we did take them up on!) Once we got the push off we were zooming so fast down the hill! It was a really fun experience and everyone from my 7-year-old to my mom absolutely loved it!

We enjoyed a small snack in the picnic area I packed into one of the drawstring bags. We did leave our purses in lockers at the base of the mountain, however I brought the drawstring bag up and just left it in the yurt. I didn't have any valuables in it, of course.

There was also a really cool {pun intended!} snow fort right at the top of the mountain that all the kids loved playing on!

I highly recommend snow tubing in Keystone: beautiful views, a super cool snow fort, and an hour of flying down on a mountain on a tube. I'd have to say this was quite a spectacular day!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Colorado with kids - It's snowboarding time!

On this morning we all got up early as the kids' ski/ride school started at 9 am and they needed to be checked in by 8:45. We had to get them dressed in all their gear plus pack their lunch. Lunch was included in the cost of ski and ride school, however we opted to pack it due to their food allergies. They each had a drawstring backpack that worked great for toting their lunches and extra gear they didn't need til they were on the mountain.

Once dressed we all headed over to the base of Peak 9. It was a two minute walk from our room which could not have been more convenient! We checked them into school and then my husband and I were free to snowboard ourselves! Now my husband used to snowboard a bit in a previous life--you know, before wife, kids, and career took over. He was anxious to get back on the mountains after about 15 years! As soon as we got into the lift line I realized this was all a lot harder than it looks. I successfully made it onto the lift but then getting off was a challenge! I fell off, of course, and had a hard time getting back up! I don't think I laughed as much at myself this day than I ever have before. I must have fallen about 50 times and it took over an hour to get down the mountain! Mike was a great and patient teacher and despite my numerous "wipe outs" he attempted to boost my confidence insisting I was doing great. I can't help to think about what a sight I must have been...

After that I was pretty exhausted so I offered him to go down as many times as he wanted to himself. He was very eager and took off. I met my mom in the lodge where we had great views of the mountain and some delicious drinks!

I did go back up one more time and improved a lot this second time around. I didn't fall getting off the lift this time (success!). At one point I actually picked up a bit too much speed and was apparently flying down the mountain enough to impress some passersby on the lift above. Mike overhead someone exclaim, "Look at that girl go!" We both had a good laugh at that later. Little did this girl know it was because I couldn't stop! All in all it was a really neat experience and I am proud that I tried it for the first time at 35 years old. I was so beyond exhausted afterwards, though, with my arms hurting the most. It was hard work to continuously push yourself back up on the mountain after fall after fall after fall....!

The kids had a great time in ride school! They met a couple new friends and felt successful with what they learned that day. Just having that experience in and of itself was my goal, not really how well they did. Our son, B, really wants to snowboard again and the girls both want to try skiing next time. I know it goes back and forth between skiers and snowboarders but most people that I've talked to insist skiing is easier. I think next time we plan a trip like this us girls will try skiing. Overall it was a really fun experience for our whole family!

Feeling accomplished after the day!

They also couldn't wait to show off a bit!

In the evening we cooked dinner in our room and then indulged the kids with the "winter swim" we promised them. Us adults stuck to the hot tub and the kids went back and forth, as most kids out there seemed to do. They told us the pool was cold and I believed them (no need to try that myself!) The only hard part was getting out with snow falling on us. I swear I felt my towel freeze around me!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Colorado with kids - Exploring Breckenridge

On our first morning we rose pretty early due to the time change. I was eager to begin our day but soon realized that it was oddly difficult it was to even lift my arms! The high altitude was beginning to take affect. We all took our time getting ready and noticed how we felt a little out of breath performing simple tasks. Soon, though, we were ready to go.

We were excited to step outside and see the mountains in their sunlit glory. The sky was a perfect blue and the beautiful Rocky Mountains jutted into the sky - what a beautiful sight! The kids were oohing and aahing over the beauty of their new surroundings and I was thrilled to see this new environment through their eyes.

Breckenridge is an old mining town and many buildings still maintain this facade. There were plenty of old buildings still standing in town, some with a facelift and others left in their original glory. I loved the authenticity which lent a peek into the past that inspired this town in the first place.

Main Street - Breckenridge, CO

We enjoyed shopping on Main Street and taking breaks as needed. Again we noted how this simple task of walking about tired us out as we were still acclimating to the altitude change. I was very glad to have planned our first day to be an easy day! Everyone had a chance to check out the shops they wanted and finally, the youngest of the bunch, 7-year-old Miss A, dragged me into a boutique that had caught her eye: Anything Bling. It was an adorable shop sure to delight any girl who loves sparkles and jewelry. She knew exactly what she wanted once she found a blue beaded bracelet adorned with snowflake charms. How perfect for our first trip to the snowy mountains. While there, the very friendly shopkeeper informed us of the FREE Breckenridge Gondola. What a fun thing to do on our first day here!

We went back to our resort to eat lunch and rest for a bit and then we drove to Weston Street, which is right off Main Street. There was a large parking area across from where you board the gondola which was free to park in. The gondola is a great way for any non skiers/non snowboarders to get higher views of the mountains and town below. All six of us fit comfortably inside and enjoyed the beautiful views as we rode up. We stayed on for the round trip back to town and were all impressed with how pretty the scenery was.

Views during the gondola ride

We also needed to register the kids for their ride school where they'd be getting six hours of snowboard lessons! My husband took off with the kids and got everything set for the next day.

View from our hotel...the bridge crosses the Blue River and leads right to the base of Peak 9, the lodge, and the kids ski/ride school!

My husband and I also needed to get our rental equipment sorted. After some research I settled on Charter Sports, which is located right IN the Marriott Mountain Valley Lodge. It couldn't have been more convenient and I was very happy with this decision! The guys in the shop were very helpful and friendly and we got our boots, boards, and helmets all ready for the next day.

For dinner we decided to eat out as it's always a fun way to get a feel for a new locale. We initially set out for Breckenridge Brewery, however could not find a parking spot and it looked crowded when we peeked into the windows. Instead I remembered another restaurant I wanted to try, Downstairs at Eric's. The entrance is under a small awning and you go immediately downstairs. The place is filled with arcade games, which of course the kids were thrilled to try. While they played, us adults enjoyed a local brew while watching them. We had over an hour wait but it by fast with all this to keep us occupied! We had an absolutely delicious pizza dinner--one of the best we've had yet! The atmosphere and service also ranked high. As we headed out, a light snow was falling, which made this the perfect end to a great first day.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Colorado with kids - Travel Day

We had a direct flight into Denver, arriving in the early evening hours. We were meeting my mom, who was flying in from Minneapolis, as well. Thankfully all worked out perfectly with our planes landing within minutes of each other! We were reunited near baggage claim, collected our haul of suitcases, and boarded the shuttle bus to our car rental location, Thrifty, which was about a 6-8 minute ride from the airport itself. The sun was starting to set, making a beautiful first impression, with a pink painted sky slowly closing in on the Rocky Mountains in the distance. We all enjoyed nature's show while my husband was taking care of the rental. Finally we had all the bags and people loaded up and were ready to roll. We brought along our GPS from home so we didn't have to pay extra for that and easily navigated our way to the nearest Whole Foods in Denver.

Upon my research in dealing with potential altitude sickness, it was recommended to ascend altitude slowly, drink plenty of water, and eat a lot of carbs. With kids and my mom with us I was worried about how it would affect us. So, for dinner we enjoyed a carb-heavy dinner of breads, pasta salads, chips, lunchmeat, some of our favorite prepared foods, and of course a lot of water. Taking the time to eat when arriving in Denver was advice some friends had given me and I was listening! Because we were staying in Breckenridge, which is over 9,000 ft. above sea level, we wanted to gradually introduce our bodies to the altitude change. So, we first enjoyed our dinner in Denver, which is around 5,000 ft.

Once we finished eating, I quickly shopped for items we'd need for the week with a grocery list I had made out ahead of time. Once we had all of our supplies we headed off to Breckenridge!

Unfortunately we didn't get to see the beautiful mountain views as we were driving, as it was completely dark by this time. The kids quickly fell asleep, which made for a quiet drive.

We arrived at the Marriott Mountain Valley Lodge about an hour and a half later, got checked in quickly, and parked in the parking garage. We had two rooms, right next door to one another, although not connecting. My mom and and our oldest daughter, 13-year-old S, shared one, and the four of us the other. Each room had a kitchenette which is so helpful when traveling with food allergies! We enjoy eating out when we travel but also appreciate a home-cooked meal as well.

We ended up crashing pretty quickly after entering our rooms, as we were tired from the traveling, altitude, and time change!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Looking Back: New York City with kids - FAO Schwarz and Central Park

The kids were very aware of some of the sights they wanted to see during our trip to New York, namely FAO Schwarz and Central Park. We took the day to walk along 5th Avenue, a short walking distance from our hotel, The Marriott Marquis, which is conveniently located in Times Square.

Our first stop was FAO Schwarz, the iconic toy store, which holds the title of "oldest toy store in the United States". Upon entering, you are greeted with a huge selection of life-sized stuffed animals, which the kids liked checking out. When we visited in 2011, the Smurfs movie was the theme of the lower level so they had a good time looking at the recreations from the newly-released movie.

There is something for every child here for sure. My 10-year-old daughter, S, couldn't be happier when she spotted the Harry Potter section!

Of course everyone has to take a turn on the piano from the movie, Big.

The dress-up section is sure to win over the heart of any little girl.

And the Lego section has an endless selection, perfect for your little builder!

All in all our kids agreed FAO Schwarz was an absolute must-see!

Our next stop was Central Park. The south end of the park was a relatively short walk from FAO Schwarz on 5th Avenue. The transition from city sidewalks to peaceful park paths was welcome after a few days in the city. Central Park's lush green landscape set amidst the urban backdrop provides 35 million visitors an escape from the city each year.

There are numerous activities in the park no matter the season. In the summer, there are over 20 playgrounds to help your little one burn off energy, possibly before or after a trip to the Central Park Zoo. The plentiful walking paths are great for a leisurely stroll or a self-guided walking tour. You may want to make reservations in advance for the popular horse-drawn carriage rides otherwise you will have to pay the "walk up rate". The park also hosts many concerts and Shakespeare in the Park during the warm months. In the winter, it is transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland. Ice Skating at the Wollman or Lasker Rinks is a fun family activity with lockers, lessons, and skate rentals available at both locations. If indoor activities are more your thing, kids are sure to love the Swedish Marionette Theatre.

Our kids loved stopping off at one of the playgrounds and letting loose for a bit. Miss A, in particular, loved doing gymnastics.

The kids had a great time spinning on the carousel.

And we all enjoyed sitting on a shady bench, listening to a violinist play.

Our first family trip to New York City was one of our favorite trips ever. The kids are always asking when we will go back - still to this day! We got to cross some items off our travel bucket list for now and look forward to our return when we can explore even more of The Big Apple.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Looking Back: New York City with kids - The Bus Tour

Our second day in the city was spent touring and exploring aboard a double decker bus! We took the City Sights NY bus tour, which I highly recommend. This bus features only open-top seating, offering the best views. After all, who wants to sit below? Not us! If you are concerned about inclement weather, no worries - you can sport a complimentary poncho!

My mom, husband, and kids after our unexpected downpour from the top deck!

We were caught in a torrential downpour due to the fact that we were too busy sightseeing to bother to check the weather report...lesson learned! After the rain passed, however, we all had a great time. The commentary via our guide was humorous and informative. Of course the best part of the tour is hopping on and off wherever you please.

We loved seeing the Empire State Building and iconic Macy's on 34th Street:

....the Flatiron Building and Southstreet Seaport:

....neighborhoods such as Chinatown, The East Village, Greenwich Village, and the Lower East Side:

....and last but definitely not least, Ground Zero. While Ground Zero resonates with sadness of the lives lost on September 11, it also resonates with the American spirit, which rose above the terror that threatened us Americans on our own soil. During our visit in 2011, the Freedom Tower was still under construction so we spent most of our time in St. Paul's Chapel, which remained amazingly unscathed given it's close proximity to the World Trade Center. St. Paul's Chapel became a place of refuge for workers at the World Trade Center Site in the days following the attacks.

Inside St. Paul's Chapel

I remember watching the horrific events of September 11, 2001 unfold on TV while playing with my then-6-month-old baby girl. Her innocent, cherubic face, was a bright light on this harrowing day and the days to follow. Ten years later we were now reflecting together at the location of the attacks, she now a 10 1/2 year old girl.

My oldest daughter, age 10, thoughtfully writing out a remembrance card

After we spent time inside, we explored the grounds. St. Paul's Chapel held it's own in the history department prior to September 11. George Washington worshipped at the Chapel on his innaugeration day in 1789 while Rudolph Guiliani gave his farewell speech from the Chapel in 2001. Many other famous world leaders have worshipped here as well. We were all intrigued by the old cemetery in the back which is the final resting place of many notable people.

Beautiful, peaceful grounds and cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel

In the evening, we ate at what our kids proclaim is their "favorite New York restaurant", Ellen's Stardust Diner. The restaurant is located near Broadway so it's a great place for dinner, pre-show. We had a great time with the singing waitstaff who are clearly Broadway bound. What a fun way to end a great touring day.