On The Road Family Fun

Road Trip Games artwork smLots of families, like mine, hit the road in the summer. Whether it’s a two-hour hop to the beach or a 20-hour trek across a couple of states, “Are we there yet?!” is bound to be heard from the back seat. If you’ve heard that query before (a hundred times or more!) and don’t want to plug your kids into technology for the duration, consider playing some fun road trip games together instead. Here are a few we’ve come up with or adapted from games we played when my husband and I were kids.

Pick a Point
Everyone in the vehicle gets to pick two things that are “point worthy.” (If you have a large family, you may want to do one apiece.) Some choices we’ve made include: lawn maintenance trucks, signs for fast food, theme park buses (we see a lot of those here in Central Florida), Smart cars, boats on trailers, double trucks, emergency vehicles, a tire piece on the side of the road, etc. Once the “pointable” things are chosen, select a game range time such as “Starting when we get on the major interstate, and ending when we get to exit 150.”

If a person sees something on the list, they point at it and say “Vaccuum truck (or whatever) point!” Someone else (besides the one who sees it) has to confirm each point, and points are deducted when you mis-identify something (like an RV for a Big Rig). Play continues simultaneously among all players, with other car-mates probably having to step in once in a while to referee who correctly pointed and named the point first.

Decide ahead of time what point value goes to a vehicle sales lot! (It’s downright impossible to count ALL motorcycles, RVs, etc., so pre-determine if there’s a bonus for a sales lot, or decide sales lots won’t count at all.)

We usually keep a running total mentally, but a tally sheet works, too.

The Guessing Game
One person thinks of something the other members take turns trying to figure out what “it” is. Questions usually are asked in order of general to specific. (Our first question is usually: Is it man-made, or nature-made?) Guessers take turns asking 3 “yes or no” questions, asked in either a clockwise pattern, or according to age (though in the car, just going round robin is way easier!).

Some helpful questions include:

(For man made)  Is it related to transportation? Can you eat it? Is it found in our neighborhood? Is it larger than this vehicle? (Tip: Don’t ask “Is it large?” Large is a relative term. Is it larger than a ______ or heavier than a _______ works much better.)

(For nature made) Does it live in water? Is it covered in fur? Is it a mammal? Is it weather-related? Can you eat it? (Note: This question works for both nature and man-made since a processed strawberry candy can be eaten as well as a nature-made strawberry.)

How Many Homonyms?
I like to sneak in education games without anyone “catching on.” Thus the “How Many Homonyms” game was born to keep riders from being bored (not board, LOL). Players take turn naming homonyms and using each in a sentence. There are usually no points given, but the person who gets one right is cheered, while a stumped player gets a loud “aww man!”

road trip single carDie Cast Match
Every trip we take (with a duration of 2 hours +) includes the “Box of Cars.” You know the die cast cars I’m talking about! Whether Matchbox or Hot Wheels (or off brands, or WHATEVER), you have a box, too, I’m guessing.

The kid or kids in the back must correctly retrieve the die cast vehicle that corresponds to the real life version seen on the road. Front seat passengers might have a tiny bit of trouble reaching back, so this one is for rear passengers only. The first one to get their hands on it, get a point.

Alphabet License Plate
Take turns finding each alphabet letter, in order, on license plates. Youngest goes first. Others in the car must confirm a find. Each person gets 1-5 minutes to find one, or their turn is forfeited. (You determine how long you’re willing to wait between letters, LOL.) If you pass, you get a demerit, and the next person must repeat the un-found letter. Like in golf, in this game you want the lowest score.

Someone needs to watch a timer, and someone needs to tally demerits. Set a specific game time duration, or go through the alphabet “X” numbers of times.

What games do you play in the car to while away the hours? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Heart Your Family Vacation at Orange Lake

OrlangeLakeHeartIt’s no wonder why families flock to Central Florida for vacation. We have no shortage of excursions, activities, and fun all wrapped up in golden sunshine. The trick is figuring out where to stay and when to visit that ensures your family’s holiday goals are met. If that wish list includes a condo-like setting, plenty of on-property activities, free WiFi, and proximity to both the theme parks and major arteries to the rest the area has to offer, then Orange Lake by Holiday Inn Club Vacations may just fit the bill.

Recently our family had the pleasure of being hosted for a 3-day visit to Orange Lake in Kissimmee (and we’re already planning a trip back!). We got to see first-hand the amenities and activities that keep families coming back year after year.

Never one to shy away from introducing myself to strangers to find out how they really feel about a property, restaurant or attraction, I made a point to talk with fellow guests about their likes, suggestions, and thoughts and found the common thread was “loyalty.” Of the dozen families I spoke with, all but one had visited before, some had been “more than a few times”, and one family had been coming back since their now adult daughter with kids of her own was a child herself. That kind of devotion means a lot in the travel industry!

Orange Lake is a time share, but can also be booked like a “regular” hotel if you’re not ready to commit to pre-booking your vacations for years to come. Upon returning home I went through their website to check out the process and, as expected, it’s easy to book your stay in a unit that’s the right size for your group. (We’re thinking of getting some other friends and family involved for a joint trip, so all the kiddos can hang out together while the adults take turns having a little golf time or other time “alone,” and so we can have some great “all together” times with everyone participating.)

Speaking of golf, they have 4 distinct courses including the only Arnold Palmer Signature course in Central Florida open to the public (click here for more information or to book your tee time or call 407-239-1050). We didn’t get a chance to do the courses, but did enjoy shooting our bucket of balls on the driving range. Our son hits surprisingly far, for the record! He’s also pretty good at mini-golf, and Orange Lake has two courses, each with two sets of 18 holes. We putted on each and every one of them, a couple more than once! Guests can buy rounds on the mini courses “as you go” or through a multi-day Play Pass that can also include the Giant Hippo Slide. If you’re not doing the theme parks every day, I highly recommend getting a two-or three-day activity pass. We wore ours out on the mini golf and of course the Slide! (I kid you not: My son went down it no less than 30 times in one day alone!) Side note: The resort is a cashless environment. Everything from food to activities is charged through your room which really makes it easy!

Other activities include water sport rentals (we did the paddle boat), and others such as powered boats and jet skis.

OrangeLakeVideoStill

Click to open a video that shows the unit’s amenities. (The quote you hear is an excited little boy shouting, “This is the biggest bathroom I’ve EVER seen.”)

The unit we stayed in featured two bedrooms, two baths, and a full kitchen. Plates, dishes and all the basics are provided. On our next visit I’ll remember to bring prep helps like cooking spray, spices, etc., but when you’re used to hotel rooms with only a mini-fridge and microwave at most, a kitchen is great selling point for budget-minded families or those like friends of mine who have a laundry list of food allergies and home prep is a must. And on the subject of laundry, there’s a washer/dryer set in the unit, too, so it’s easy to stay on top of things while you’re there so mama (or dad, as the case may be) doesn’t have tons to do the moment you get back home. And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are 9 dining options on property.

The pools were, by far, the biggest “lets-go-back” factor for us. There are 6 to choose from with choices ranging from mild and relaxing to slip-sliding fun! (One guess on which ones my little man voted on!) There’s a winding “lazy river” one (with inner tubes available for rent) where we spent an inordinate amount of time, and ones with big slides, and twin kiddo slides. There was no shortage of group activities, and water volleyball games seemed to pop up all day long.

IMGP0462bIt was at the pool area where we said goodbye to Orange Lake. After checkout, we decided on one last swim that ended with one member of our party with a wet face not from the pool, but from tears shed for having to leave.

Click on “Book a Stay” at http://orangelake.com/ and plan your next fun-packed vacation in Central Florida.

Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Holiday Inn Club Vacations, who provided a two-night stay in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Real Kids Shades Stand Up to Real Kids

Shingle Creek Golf, Aquatica by SeaWorld, Real Kids Shades

Style: Flex Royal for ages 3-7

Kid models in magazines always look so polished (as do models of any age, I suppose). They’re smiling, never having a tantrum, and if they are running pell-mell in some sporting or roughhousing activity, they certainly have no accessory malfunction. If they are wearing cool shades, they are NOT falling off. Their glasses are chosen for looks and for style, with doubtful much consideration for practical things like UV rating, durability, or EEEK cost.

Thankfully Real Kids Shades has a line of children’s eyewear that takes a mom’s wish list into consideration and is not short on either form OR function.

Our family put the line of Real Kids Shades through a battery of tests. Some we liked more than others, and a couple we plain loved. Here is the breakdown:

Five Stars  
★★★★★ Flex Duo—The Flex Duo has 100% UVA/UVB sun protection as well as a wrap-around design that keeps peripheral sunlight to a minimum. Their extremely flexible frames in cool two-toned colors hold up to the abuse kids throw at them.

Dinosaur World

Style: Flex Duo, Black/red

We took our Flex Duos on our summer staycation in and around Central Florida. Our Flex Duos went to Busch Gardens in Tampa and Dinosaur World in Plant City, near Lakeland. Whether climbing on play equipment or scampering up dinosaur bones, they stayed put, which is key in our bright Florida sun. A neoprene strap is included which we found to be a vital accessory. How many kids sunglasses are lost because they are dropped or left behind? Despite having an issue with the strap being too snug to fit over the ends (the first one), we still give this style 5 stars, as the company quickly sent out a replacement.

Flex Duo Real Kids Shades

Style: Flex Duo, Black/red

Daniel, age 5, said they were comfortable to wear, and “didn’t hurt at all.” He thought the colors were “cool,” and even when he wasn’t wearing the band they stayed put through lots of play. He gives the Flex Duo two thumbs up.

★★★★★ Xtreme Sports—With shatterproof, impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, the Xtreme Sports model is ready for action! Our kiddo took them through their paces on his bike. The wraparound design with mesh back is perfect for wear with helmets. There are even anti-fog vents for sweaty kids (like mine) who don’t want to get all fogged up while pretending to be Evel Knievel (with, ahem, training wheels). “I don’t like it when my eyeballs are sweaty,” he said.

Shingle Creek Golf

Style: Xtreme Sport, Black/silver

“The pad on top is good,” said Daniel, referring to the foam-backed polycarbonate lenses. Not only does it cushion little active faces, but it keeps out more light and prevents sweat from dripping down into his eyes from his forehead.

He also wore them out on the golf course running after balls and into more than our fair share of sand traps at beautiful Shingle Creek. Out on the 14th hole he had the best of both worlds. He was protected. And he looked CUTE!

Four and a Half Stars
★★★★ ½  Xtreme Elements—Off to the beach, splash park, or waterpark? Then your kids need Xtreme Elements. These glasses protect kids eyes from the sun and the elements (i.e. water and sand). Note, however, that they are not goggles and therefore are not designed to be submerged in chlorinated water. Yes, they’re perfect for splash pads, waves, and sprays, but they’re not to be worn as your little guppy tries to see how long he can hold his breath in the pool! The foam protects eyes from water and other elements from rolling down into their eyes, but it doesn’t seal out water and is not meant to be used under water as extensive subjection to chlorine could break down the foam gasket. That said, Daniel thought they were “way cool” (we have the blue flame style) and he loved that the neoprene headband made them float (just like him!).  If the foam gasket were designed to withstand the summer pool and SeaWorld, Aquatica schedule a little longer, it would have received 5 stars. They are by far Daniel’s favorite to wear, despite the slight gasket issue.

Four Stars
★★★★ Flex—The bendable rubberized frames make the Flex glasses super comfortable to wear. The boy and girl versions have distinct lens styles. The boy frames are more sleek, while the girls have that big lens “movie stahhhh” vibe. Shatterproof polycarbonate lenses ensure safety along with that style. When worn with the included neoprene strap, they stay firmly in place. Our one caveat to these was that when not worn with the strap they were quite loose. Bendy is good, and my son wears these in the car, and on the beach. I do insist the strap is on, as I can see these coming off in hard play (and that’s the only kind we seem to have around here!).

Why Have Your Children Wear Sunglasses?
I started Daniel in sunglasses when he was a baby. My nephew had retinoblastoma and he lost one of his eyes. While glasses would not prevent this type of blindness, it made me start reading about how important it is to protect children’s eyes, if not for now, but for their future.

Eye damage from the sun is cumulative and can occur even on cloudy days. Kids who don’t wear protective eyewear are at greater risk for:

• Cataracts
• Age-related macular degeneration
• Pterygia – abnormal tissue grown on the whites of the eyes
• Skin cancer around the eyes
• Photokeratitis – sunburn of the cornea

Riding on water ride at Aquatica by SeaWorld.

Style: Xtreme Elements, Blue flame

At Aquatica
I interviewed a few lifeguards at Aquatica about kids and sunglasses. Adrian, from Jamaica, said he estimates only 6% of kids he sees each day wear sunglasses. “There are way more adults wearing sunglasses than kids,” he noted. In an unscientific tally I found a similar percentage of child usage, while about 40% of adults were protecting their eyes (although many were, no doubt, concentrating only on the style).

Parents I spoke with were either passionate about glasses (and their kids were wearing them) or didn’t really seem to be aware the sun could damage their kids’ eyes. Sam, a tourist with his family, said they forgot the kids’ glasses at home so they bought some on site. (Real Kids Shades cost around $14.99 and are available at their website.)

What to Look For
When selecting protective eyewear for your kids, be sure to look for a few key features:

  • Third-party verification of 100% UV-A/UV-B protection
  • No phthalates, lead or bisphenol A
  • Impact-resistant frames and lenses (acrylic lenses can shatter)

Set a good example for your kids and YOU wear sunglasses each and every day. While it doesn’t hurt to look stylish, focus on safety. Choose a brand that blocks block 100% of both types of ultraviolet rays, UV-A and UV-B. A UV 400 rating is best. Make it a habit to put them on your child, even if he (or she) doesn’t like it at first. It’s a habit to grow into. And if you get some of the great offerings sold at Real Kids Shades, they’ll not only be as safe as possible, they’ll look great on their closeup!

Note: I contacted Real Kids Shades about reviewing their product as it was “right up our alley” as a travel-loving family insistent on sun protection. I was provided samples which we evaluated during heavy use over the summer. This review was written after field testing and is my opinion. The 5-year-old reviewer was paid $1 to sit still long enough to tell me what he thought.

I Danced with a Snowman at SeaWorld

I’m thinking about the last few weeks and pondering which things specifically have brought me the most joy. I have to say, without a doubt, that our family has enjoyed our time at SeaWorld the most. It’s quality time together where we wonder at the miracle of life, are wowed at the beauty of nature and all of God’s creatures, and sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season.

As season pass holders we try to visit every weekend during December. There is so much to do and see that you can’t see it all in one trip! Yes I enjoy the “big” things (O Wondrous Night is glorious, Shamu Christmas Miracles is breathtaking, The Polar Express is a wild ride, and the Ice Skating show “Winter Wonderland on Ice” is top notch), but my favorite moments are the small, simple pleasures.

My son is particularly fond of the elves who play with children near the dolphin nursery on your way to the waterfront and Seafire Inn. All children are invited to participate in their shenanigans that vary throughout the day. I’m always a little sad, though, when I hear someone rushing their child past them when the child SO wants to play for a moment. (And isn’t that the reason for visiting a theme park?) Those who do participate, get lots of giggles, a few tee hees, and an occasional oh-gee-shucks. I thought it was hilarious when Flaky tried to tell my little guy about mistletoe kisses. He wasn’t having any of that nonsense!

He also laughed at the toy soldiers who march back and forth by Christmas Village. You never know if their going to follow you, encircle you, or try to swipe a sip of your hot chocolate. If you see them, try to march along. They don’t mind. It’s actually encouraged!

After the Sea of Trees lighting, it’s a great time to stroll by the water to see what holiday baubles and goodies are available in the village, but it’s also a good spot for character spotting (and photographing!). While my husband and son took off to buy an ornament, I saw the snowman at water’s edge, just watching all the children. Gallantly he accepted my request for a dance, and we swayed to holiday music for a bit. What Christmas is complete without a dance with a snowman?!

Sure there a lot of people enjoying the parks, too, but it doesn’t seem crowded. The lines are not excessive, the shows are spectacular, and all the “little touches” SeaWorld has added this year make it even more special for us.

Come on down for a leisurely day of holiday fun. You may go inside a snowglobe, or be snowed ON along the shore. And if you’re luck, you too might get to dance with a Frosty Friend.

 

Starting tonight SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration takes place nightly through Dec. 31!  Waves of holiday spirit splash over the park during SeaWorld Orlando’s Christmas Celebration. With everything from elves to Elmo, and Santa to Shamu, lifelong memories are made in a watery, wintery wonderland that only SeaWorld could create. Don’t miss out on the spectacular holiday shows, including: Winter Wonderland on Ice, Shamu Christmas – Miracles, Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas, A Sesame Street Christmas, and the all-new “O Wondrous Night – the Greatest Story Never Told”, as well as the festive holiday décor and amazing Sea of Trees.

Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Takes Your Breath Away

Discovery CoveMy 4-year-old, Daniel, is used to being up close and personal with marine life. As a visitor to SeaWorld and Bush Gardens well over 100 times in his short life (not to mention countless visits to zoos and other animal-themed attractions) he’s pretty much a pro when it comes to interactions. Our visit to Discovery Cove, however, has raised the bar so much so that I fear his expectation of “normal” is forever altered!

Walking into the check-in/lobby building, Daniel first noticed the incredible art. He bent over to examine the mosaic floor. “Look, Mom. It’s like waves,” he said as he then proceeded to show me how many shades of green were represented, and how many blue. His neck craned up: “Look, Mom, at the dolphins!” Above us graceful dolphins appeared to be floating, breathtaking fiberglass on steel crafted by artist Michael Linenbroker. He looked at it from multiple angles, checking out the white fish “swimming” with them. Our feast for the eyes had begun, and we’d only arrived minutes before.

Once our entire group had arrived, our guide walked us out of the main building toward the Reef. “This is a magical path” my son informs me as we make our way along the nature path past Serenity Bay and Dolphin Lagoon. He knows he’s going to see tons of sea life, and is thrilled to find a corded “fish I.D.” card he can take with us for the day. I was happy to find it, too, as he’s extremely curious on specifics. (I can no longer get away with: “It’s a bird, or a plant, or an airplane.” It’s a Toucan, a Dusty Miller, and a Cessna!)

After donning our wetsuits (sans Spanx, dang it), our little band made tracks for the shore. We easily found a locker for our gear and a chair for our towels. Despite being at capacity for the grand opening of the new attraction, we didn’t feel crowded. Even  “full” was not shoulder-to-shoulder like some places. We felt free and easy, with plenty of “elbow room.”

After our guides gave us the lay of the land we walked into the water, snorkeling gear in hand. A cow-nose stingray swam past us at about “knee deep,” causing aforementioned 4-year-old a moment’s hesitation. Initial fear melted into an ear-to-ear grin followed by wild expressions of delight. Great big eyes looked up at me as he asked, “Can we go way out there?!”

I knew he’d fall in love with Discovery Cove, but I had no idea it would be so hard and so complete. Everywhere he looked there were birds, tropical fish, marine mammals… you name it. At the center of his fascination was the brand new Grand Reef.

With a footprint of 2.5 acres and close to a million gallons of water and 5 million pounds of pristine, sifted beach sand, the Grand Reef is home to thousands of tropical fish and dozens of rays including spotted eagle rays that have a 5-foot wingspan! Behind glass we found eels and, holy moly, sharks!

We balanced on rock formations (man made, like the removable coral so as not to be sharp) and bobbed and floated and swam to points near and far checking out the abundant marine species, and marveling at this unprecedented view into their world.

We did attempt the snorkeling gear, LOL!

I would have loved it if my little man could have used the mask and snorkel to better see the curious and colorful creatures in our midst, but he may be a little young… this trip. He couldn’t quite get it into his head that something covering his eyes and nose (and being tight and pressing on his face) was a good thing. His mom, however, put the gear to good use (with dad nearby to watch the boy). Swimming nose to nose with a stingray whose eyes were larger than mine was awe-inspiring, I can assure you.

“I don’t see how I could ever return to common life after this,” thought we all (quoting “Anne of Green Gables”).

Sure you may have gotten goose bumps at SeaWorld interacting with the marine life and riding the awesome rides. And OK, your family has giggled with delight while whooshing down the slides at Aquatica…. But if you’re ready for your next BIG close encounter with all you love from the marine parks, do not miss Discovery Cove. I’m already counting the days until I, too, can return.