Ski In, Ski Out Lodging!

Hello Montana!

Wouldn’t you know we had to drive through Yellowstone National Park to get to Big Sky, Montana! We’ve driven through so many national parks and forests, but they don’t get old seeing so much natural beauty! We looked like the Clampetts unloading at the lodge. Even though you only need about 10 days’ worth of clothing, it’s all bulky clothing plus a dog and his belongings. Thankfully there are drawers to put our belongings in so we don’t have to keep everything in suitcases. We’ve had four different types of lodging on our trip…a condo in a tiny ski town, a hotel in downtown, a house in urban living and now a hotel at the resort.

We started our time in Big Sky by hiking Ousel Falls Trail to a frozen waterfall. Hiking in the winter means ice but thankfully the concierge’s recommended we bring our ski poles which was a huge help. Tally enjoyed it too! Cory had so much fun sharing winter hiking tips with the kids just like his daddy did for him growing up. We planned to ice skate for the afternoon, but it’s been so warm lately that the rink was closed. It didn’t open again during our stay. Bummer! There is a super cute town square that we walked around.

Next, we found an après ski dance party going on at the base of Big Sky. Well, Teddy doesn’t pass up a chance to dance and found his own dance floor on the snow away from the crowd and got some compliments from people who enjoyed watching him. He was dancing in his own little world! A few days later, we discovered a video of the party and Teddy dancing had been posted on Jerry of the Day. That tickled him so much! So of course, when we found this same party the next weekend, Teddy was so happy! He immediately jumped back up to his spot on the snow to dance. People recognized him from the video, and he was the life of the party…at 7 years old! He even was asked by a cute girl to come join everyone dancing, which, of course, he did (after asking if that was ok…cute thing!) He was requested to hop up on the stairwell so all could see him again; the crowd cheered as he danced, and Teddy ate it up! People were high-fiving Teddy afterward! He acted like it was just another day which is true cause he just dances to his own beat and wherever he wants.

Back to our regularly scheduled skiing…we got some much-needed snow our third day there. Big Sky hadn’t seen snow in a month! It’s been a consistent theme this season with everyone getting way less snow than they usually do. First thing we hit the new Swift Current lift which we knew about as our family friend was the project manager for the build back in the fall. It is so fancy with segmented, cushioned and heated seats and a cover that automatically went up when we were about to hop off the lift. Thanks, Reto! We had an amazing day playing in the powder as it dumped snow the whole day! We dropped down into the Forbidden Forest, which you can imagine is full of trees, that put us to the Challenger lift that is experts only… aka only black diamonds and up. I was a bit nervous because of the white out conditions but the kids rocked it! Your legs tire easier on powder days especially when you take mostly mogul runs…but it’s totally worth it! The best solution for that is the hot tub and a heated pool for the kids.

As the week went along, it got warmer, so we hit the back side of Lone Mountain (which is their big peak at the resort that has triple black diamond runs…maybe next year!) where it’s gotten icy in the mornings but softened up as the day went along. The best part is hardly anyone was there so we all but had the mountain to ourselves! We’ve had a variety of snow conditions to ski in which I feel like has made us quite adaptable. Our final days skiing became slushy, so we didn’t ski long. However, we found a race course and all took a turn. It was the best way to cap off our ski adventures; what a rush!

Cory is still working while we’re in Montana, so the kids and I took a day and drove to Bozeman; what a beautiful drive (a little over an hour away) of winding roads and babbling brooks with a few people fishing. A recommendation from Teddy’s first grade teacher, our destination was Museum of the Rockies. Located right beside Montana State University, this museum has great dinosaur exhibits, Taylor Planetarium and a couple of interactive kids’ section. We listened to an engaging talk about what we could specifically see in the ‘Montana Skies’ that very evening. Explore Yellowstone was geared to younger kids but we enjoyed it because of the creatively made animals and geological education. Along with Explore Yellowstone, their other favorite exhibit was Human Plus where they became engineers to solve real lives’ physical challenges. Still in the heart of campus, we enjoyed a flavorful lunch at Tacos Montes

Being in a hotel, you eat most meals out, we though did have a handful of sandwiches in the room meals, so here are our recommendations.

Tips Up– Very decorated in ski gear, this funky restaurant had yummy chicken dishes.

Riverhouse BBQ– This Texan owned restaurant knew how to make his fried chicken, ribs and fried okra taste delicious.

The Cabin– At this upscale restaurant, we had juicy wild game (bison and elk) and pork shank.

Chet’s– Breakfast was included so we ate here every morning but as Teddy said, “dinner was way better than their breakfast.” Their buffalo chili, ribeye, pork chops and chicken orzo were quite tasty!

Westward Social– A nicer lunch option at the base of the mountain. There isn’t a kids’ menu but ours figured it out with a charcuterie board and nachos.

Montana Jack’s– A staple at the base of the mountain serves good, basic bar food.

We have enjoyed a variety of wildlife on our trip including seeing a red fox late one night at the base of the mountain. We woke the kids to see him. Tally was quite interested in him and vice versa. When Tally sat, the fox sat! The fox was just starting to turn back red from his winter white coat. 

Aside from skiing, animals were a part of our theme so we couldn’t pass up Safari Yellowstone with Yellowstone’s first Safari guide of 29 years, Carl Zeiss. Unfortunately, it was a bit more of a trek than it should’ve been because they close some entrances after mid-March. We drove to Livingston (1hr 30 min drive) to meet Carl then another 45 min to the park entrance. The animal party started before we even got to the entrance though seeing white-tailed deer (which are common for us anyway), mule deer and elk. I had never seen mule deer; they get their name honestly with their big ears. Into the park and bison are running beside our vehicle. It was SO cool and a bit nerve racking! We stopped a few times along the way to see big horn sheep, mountain goats, grey wolves and black bear. Wolves were reintroduced to the park 25 years ago so they’re the main attraction to find in the park. Our guide also knew where to find the momma black bear’s den. She and her cubs had been out earlier in the week, but it was so cool to see her laying down at the edge of her den protecting her cubs. The cubs will stay with her until they turn one in June. We also saw a bald and golden eagles. Our ski trip has been filled with amazing snow, unique animals and even better family time!

Our trip is winding down and so are we. As with every trip, you get a bit tired toward the end as you know what’s coming. Funny enough, we asked the kids where their favorite two ski resorts that we’ve skied this year and they both said Grand Targhee and Winter Park. Cory and I agree! It’s a super long drive home; however, we’re going to split it up by cutting our time in Big Sky short since the snow is melting and to have a day to enjoy Driggs, ID. It’s the tiny town (with one stop light) by Grand Targhee. We found a quaint brunch spot, Provision, to eat in upon arrival. For supper we found out one of our favorite spots in Jackson has a sister restaurant in Driggs… Teton Thai. Whoo hoo! On our way out of town the next morning, we grabbed one of the best breakfast burritos we’ve ever had at Rise Coffee House. Who knew a town that small could have so many good eateries! 

The long drive home consisted of the following states: Montana – Idaho – Wyoming – Nebraska – Iowa – Missouri – Arkansas – Tennessee – Mississippi…and finally home to Alabama!

5X Ikon Pass Mountains, Great Friends & Urban Living

Hello Utah!

This is the only state all four of us have been to before but we’re skiing four different ski resorts than we have previously and there’s 5 on our Ikon Pass within 45 minutes! We were also super pumped as we have close friends who are also temporarily living in Salt Lake City for the winter that we got to hang out with for six weeks! With each destination, our housing set up has differed; this time we’re in a duplex in downtown SLC. The bonus is the backyard for Tally to run freely in! It’s also a bit different being down in the valley as we didn’t experience snow at our house on a regular basis.

Keeping with the norm of our trip, we have a good routine of school most full Mondays then we do half days the rest of the week and ski in the afternoons. I took my first drive up Big Cottonwood Canyon on our way to Solitude with the kids in tow one afternoon and we navigated the roads and runs just fine. I have felt very accomplished doing things like this when Cory had to work but I equate it to touring around foreign cities by myself when my kids were even younger. Still, it feels good!

When we ski with Cory, I always feel more comfortable challenging ourselves a bit. Our second day at Solitude (which is our unlimited skiing resort while in SLC) was no different; we tried our first double black diamond. The kids were so pumped! Honestly, they just continue to get better, always willing to try new things and challenge me to as well. Doing this cements the fact that we have accomplished already what we were hoping to by the end of March…to be all mountain skiers. I am so proud of my kiddos for pushing themselves and having such adventurous spirits about them!

The five resorts that are included in our Ikon Pass are: Solitude (again, the unlimited one), Snowbird, Alta, Brighton and Deer Valley (they each allow seven days of skiing per season). Each one has their own charm and unique attraction. The kids and I loved getting to call Solitude our “home base” mountain and ski it whenever we wanted. You can park right by the lifts; parking is free past 2pm or you get a discount depending on how many people you have in your vehicle. It has fun moguls and tree runs, which are the kids’ favorites! Also, we saw a meadow vole scurrying across a run at Solitude and it made Teddy’s day!

We decided after crazy crowded weekend days in Colorado, that we would try to avoid skiing Saturdays. However, when it snows, you go to the mountain. I’ll tell you why we try to avoid those days. What should have taken us 45 minutes to get to any of the ski resorts outside of SLC, took us over 2 hours one weekend day because of traffic and snow! We got one of the last parking spots at Solitude. It was worth the hassle because the snow was coming down so good and we got to enjoy this resort like we haven’t previously with some extreme terrain runs.

Snowbird and Alta are now a combined resort and have great terrain to challenge yourself. They also both have porcupines living in the trees; but, unfortunately, we never saw one. Snowbird has a unique “lift” called the Peruvian Tunnel that showcases the miners tunnel and their artifacts about their past. It’s like a history lesson! The carpoolers parking is also a huge bonus as a family of four automatically qualifies. They don’t have a ton of spots, so you need to go early to snag one. Speaking of parking, Alta also has a great setup as you must reserve parking on weekends and holidays. You do pay for it but it’s a guaranteed spot! Both mountains have great runs for all skill levels.

Brighton celebrated its 85th season of being a ski resort this year and is the oldest resort in the area. The charm for Brighton is their night skiing! It also has a lift named Milly Express; how fun is that! Off this lift, there is also a black diamond run called Little Milly. Of course, we had to take it each time we visited! We skied one Saturday at Brighton and came upon the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation. They’re an organization that shares the history of the area and encourages conservation, especially about the watershed…meaning the purity of what happens in the canyons translates to clean water for folks in Salt Lake Valley (they also hold talks at Snowbird, Alta and Solitude). Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the ranger-led talk, learn all about the history of the area and how we can help protect it. Really it was the ermine fur on their table at the lodge area that caught Teddy’s eye! What’s an ermine you say? It’s a small weasel that is red during the summer and white in the winter for camouflaging; Teddy told me that! It was a great tour especially hearing that 65% of the snow melt is used for drinking water in SLC and the trees that stood the same height had been planted just over 100 years ago after the area was almost wiped clean because of logging in the early 1900s. The few trees that stood above the rest that hadn’t been cut down were map markers used by miners to find their way from Park City to Alta. Our longest night skiing day came we got a dumping of snow, so we got to play in it! It was our favorite ski day for the four of us thus far with so many giggles heard while we skied through so much snow. When we left around 7pm, they had already had 16″ of snow that day. The kids rocked through tree runs, powder up to their chests and double black runs. They’re the most adventurous, amazing kids ever!

Last but not least, Deer Valley…Cory’s favorite! Deer Valley is known for their expansive groomed trails, but Bea and Teddy can always find the moguls. Cory also found a double black for us to try. Like I said, I just cannot believe we’re skiing this type of terrain already. We were told that it’s actually easier to just ski black diamond runs as you don’t have to worry about as much traffic with other resort skiers plus skiers don’t do blacks unless they have good confidence in their skills. It was also a great resort to take people that aren’t skiing to enjoy the mountain too. Cory’s mom and stepdad were able to ride the Silver Lake Express lift to The Silver Lake Lodge and watch all the action including the great snow we got the day they were there.

With all the skiing we’ve done, it was perfect timing to capitalize on and watch all the winter Olympic events possible. The kids were into it more this year than they ever have been, but I still think I loved it the most! I may have won them over letting them watch Cool Runnings prior to the Olympics starting. There have been many movie quotes since then!

Most trips aren’t without hiccups but most of the time they’re small and it doesn’t affect you too much. We had one of those hiccups that caused us a bit more trouble this tip. We woke up one morning to head to the mountain only to realize our SUV was not in front of our house… aka it had been stolen! Oh, Urban living! Unfortunately, our skis were in the vehicle…boo! Our friend, Brett in town was going skiing with us so he proceeded to cart us around to brunch and for us to buy new skis. We knew we’d never see our vehicle again. Crazy enough, we got a call the next morning at 6am from the police saying they had found our vehicle. It was wrecked into a parked car, but no one was at the scene. It wasn’t wrecked too bad; but unfortunately, there were biohazardous materials left in there which caused our insurance to “total” the vehicle. The good part is we got our skis back! Now a long story short, we’ll be driving home in a new SUV almost exactly like our other one except a few years younger. Funny enough, Cory had to fly back to CO as this is where he found the best deal and drive it back to SLC in a snowstorm. Thank goodness he knows how to drive well in this weather! After a new roof rack and snow tires, we’re back to normal business.

We mentioned having friends in town so let me explain. One of Cory’s former colleagues turned close friend from Boston is working remotely and his fiancé is a travel nurse. These two people were the highlight of our time in Salt Lake City. Not only did we get two date nights as they asked to babysit our kids, but we also got so many amazing evening hangouts with them. It was such a treat! And just before our time was over, they asked Cory to officiate their wedding. He was so over the moon honored and excited to be part of their special day! So the colleague part is from their time at Dell and also the podcast and blog that Cory and Brett are a part of called Big Data Beard. We got an even bigger bonus when the other member of BDB team, Kyle visited with his wife and daughter so it was a party with all three families together for the first time. Needless to say, it was a blast!

We had a few more visitors on this leg of our trip; we were there for six weeks. Cory had a guys’ trip planned with some close friends from Birmingham. They were so kind to let the kids and I ski with them one day and it tickled Bea and Teddy so much to get to hang out with the dads of their friends from home. We also had Cory’s mom and stepdad visit us; it’s always a treat when grandparents are around!

Being in Salt Lake City for six weeks afforded us lots of time to new restaurants so here’s what we got:

Red Iguana– This place is hopping as the kids and I tried to walk in on a weekday around 5pm and there was a 1 hour and 45 minute wait. What?! We never ate in the restaurant, but we sure enjoyed takeout from there multiple times and it didn’t disappoint!

Blue Iguana– Supposedly the spin off from Red Iguana, it was also a delicious Mexican restaurant located in downtown.

Bruges Belgium Bistro– Waffles plus sausage and eggs equal a super yummy lunch! You can also get sweet waffles that looked equally as delicious. They have two locations…one downtown where you eat outside and one in Sugar House which is a neighborhood on the south side of SLC.

Caputo’s– What a gem of a delicatessen and more! It has homemade pasta, so many meat and cheese options and a huge variety of imported chocolates. You can either peruse the market or order a sandwich and sit down in the restaurant. A must eat in SLC!

Ginger Street– Asian food done right! We tried about one of everything on the menu as we had a bigger group but the veggie dumplings were all of our favorites!

Nomad East– A neighborhood pizza joint with a delicious charcuterie plate too.

Hall Pass– Downtown food hall with lots of options so everyone in your group can chose something different.

Ivy and Varley– Date night for Cory and me so we tried a place we couldn’t take the kids. Utah has different laws that its 21+ years if they serve any liquor. They even take a picture of your license before you sit down for your meal. Solid, simple place.

Christopher’s Steakhouse– We were able to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday with her so Cory picked a fabulous steakhouse. It was exactly what we were hoping for!

Eva’s Bakery– Another must eat in SLC is this quaint bakery with sweet rolls that rival *Ann Sather in Chicago. Everything we ordered was top notch!

Hub and Spoke– When you find delicious food and great service, you go back again. We sure did with this spot. I could’ve tried more options from their menu too!

Other SLC recommendations:

Salt Lake City Public Library– One trip to a local branch of the library turned into a regular occurrence after we found out we could get a library card to check out books while we were in town. This was a highlight of Bea and Teddy’s time here! Not only was it awesome to check out books (they were getting tired of the ones I brought for them) but they also had so many activities for the kids to enjoy. There was always a scavenger hunt, an activity to take home, snacks, and a 3D printer where they could request an object. Of course, they both picked animals! We also were able to visit the main downtown library which was quite expansive, so we came home with many books that day. The kids enjoyed a couple of games of chess using the life-size pieces.

Hogle Zoo– You know we cannot go to a city with a zoo and not visit it. It had a variety of animals we don’t see regularly at our zoo…grizzly bear, red fox, Siberian tiger, silverback gorillas including titi monkeys with a baby born that same day that we got to see riding his momma’s back. The main attraction was the polar bear; he put on a show! He dove into the water then swam straight to the glass where we stood coming up out of the water to see his giant features then pushing back off the glass. He made loop after loop of his exercises and it was mesmerizing to watch. Also, the male lions at the zoo, Vulcan and Baron were actually born at Birmingham Zoo; what a treat to see them in SLC!


Diggity Dog– Tally enjoyed some daycare days and a couple of baths here. It was exactly what you hope for in a dog boarding/bathing facility.

City playgrounds– It is quite nice to try different ones in a big city but our favorite was Rotary Playground in Liberty Park. The weather was not too cold and full sun which made it even more fun! They had two different playground areas depending on the age of your kids plus a musical section with drums and different kinds of xylophones.

Natural History Museum of Utah– What a cool place of history, specifically their dinosaur collection! The even neater part is that most of the fossils had been unearthed from the very sight the museum was on. There was a watering hole that herbivores would go to drink, then the carnivores would come to eat the herbivores. As it turns out, it was tar and they all got stuck so there were 70 dinosaurs found in this one location. They even had different juvenile dinosaurs too!

Loveland Living Planet Aquarium– We’re animal loving people so we had to try the aquarium too. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many creatures including a sloth, binturong and clouded leopard.

Great Salt Lake– Located just outside the city, this lake is the largest sale water lake in the western hemisphere. The craziest fact I saw is that the ocean has 3-4% salt in it and Great Sale Lake has 25%.

Like with our change of vehicles, sometimes things don’t go as planned. When Cory was on his guys’ trip, I took the kids skiing at Brighton one afternoon. We went there since you can night ski. Well, we had a blast doing double blacks, lots of moguls and tree runs. I felt so accomplished with my kids…until I realized there’s only one night you cannot night ski. Wouldn’t you know it, it was the night we were there. Oops! As it turns out, it was a blessing as we had a not so fun task waiting on me when we got home. Tally’s tummy wasn’t good and he had gotten sick. Thank goodness for friends who bring you a mop and dog shampoo. Did I mention we only had a shower with no tub; so that was another comical part to the evening. We all lived to tell about it and now we can laugh about it! Oh, the joys of being a pet owner!

On our last week in Utah, we skied each of the four resorts one last time. The kids and I skied a final time at Solitude and we did everyone’s favorite one last time. There was Rollercoaster, the fun lift line run that was all moguls, many runs of the Eagle lift and finally Homerun three times. They are just the most fun to ski and do any adventures with! We had skied Deer Valley and Snowbird/Alta earlier in the week so we picked Brighton for our final day. This time we chose the night skiing day correctly so we could ski past 4pm. It didn’t really feel like night skiing though since it’s past day light savings time. When you come early in the morning or afternoon, you can usually get a close parking spot. We did just that again this day and also got to meet up with a colleague of Cory’s and her friends. The kids really love meeting any of Cory’s colleagues since he works remote it doesn’t happen very often. It was a perfect bluebird day to end our time in Utah!

Now for the last leg of our trip…Big Sky, MT!

So Much More Than Skiing!

Hello Wyoming!

We had an early start to our day heading north to Jackson, WY and in frigid temps! We left with a temp of -31 degrees… brrrrr! Our fingers and toes were hurting they were so cold just from being outside for a short period of time. Cory and I take turns driving and this drive was a bit wild with 65+ mph winds on parts of I-80. That’s called white knuckle driving! No one minded the drive though as we saw a bald Eagle, a herd of prong-horned antelope and two moose on the way. We love seeing wildlife! We also saw multiple tumble weeds hurling toward us with the wind whipping. Unfortunately, you couldn’t take advantage of the 80 mph speed limit because the wind was so forceful! Side note, Tally is being boarded this week as dogs aren’t allowed in the Spring Hill Suites so he’s staying at DogJax. We had to make quick arrangements for him as our hotel originally said they were dog friendly only to find out, the week prior to arrival, that it was service dogs only. It will work out great for everyone though so we have freedom to enjoy Cory’s week off without having to worry about Tally. Plus, he’s been cooped up in a tiny condo for a month so having a week of playing with so many other dogs will be awesome for him!

Hotels are always hard when young kids go to bed earlier than adults. However, I did myself a solid by packing their sleep masks. I was thinking they’d use them sometime in the car but our hotel stay turned out to be the perfect place to use them. They can get to sleep much easier and allows us to have minimal lights on until we head to bed.

In Jackson, they have charter buses set up with most hotels so you pick your time to head to the mountain each morning and back in the afternoon. It’s quite nice to not deal with parking! Now for the main event…hitting the slopes at Jackson Hole! Although, Jackson Hole isn’t as high in elevation as Colorado, it is known for being the steepest and deepest in the US. Unfortunately, they hadn’t gotten snow lately so it was quite icy in most places…meaning it was only the steepest this week. However, that didn’t slow us down. It was also unseasonably cold; but, again we were used to it as Colorado had been the same. Like we mentioned before, a hot tub can fix all that at the end of a cold ski day! Cory wanted to try the tram, bowl and longest run in US so up we went. They can fit 100 people in the tram and it goes to runs that are expert only aka black diamonds. We took Tram to Corbet’s Cabin for a brown sugar waffle before we hit Rendezvous Bowl. I was so nervous but we all rocked it even with the wind howling and very low visibility because of snow falling. The snow helped make it less icy though. Then we did the longest run in the US aka 5 mi long; our legs were toast after that! Ski days (long or short) always wear us out!

A bonus of traveling is sometimes you meet up with friends! We caught up with a childhood friend of mine and her family who live in Jackson. The kids loved this so much as they got to play with two adorable little girls. The adults had the best time visiting too. We also got some of the best restaurant recommendations from them. Here is what we tried.

Trio– In downtown Jackson, this restaurant was easy to get a table and had delicious food. We also walked here.

Teton Tiger– This was a must eat but reservations were hard to get. So take out it was! Their food didn’t disappoint!

Blue Lion– What a quaint restaurant in an old house with unbelievable food! Cory’s rack of lamb were the best he’s ever eaten! I ate elk. I would say this is a must eat when you’re in Jackson. Also, this was another walkable restaurant.

Local Restaurant– Located on the town square, we walked here after ice skating across the street. It had all the charm and delicious meat options!

Cowboy Coffee– A locally owned coffee chain in town was a great place for coffee, breakfast and lunch sandwiches.

Snake River Brewery– This local brewery was easy to get a big table to meet friends and great for kids too!

Some more recommendations in Jackson…

National Elk Reserve– Located just on the edge of town, it a gem of animal fun! We saw thousands of elk and big horn sheep. You had to look hard for the sheep but we found them on the steep cliff faces. It was mesmerizing that they were right in front of us as we drove through the park.

Teton National Park– Obviously, this is a well-known park for so many activities and we chose to enjoy it by snowshoeing. There’s a lovely loop around the pond and it was a great introduction for myself and the kids. Thank goodness was Cory knows how to do most of these type activities to help us along the way! Also, we rented snowshoes from Teton Mountaineering with no need for reservations.

Teton Raptor Center– By far one of the coolest animal tours we’ve had. Starting with the guide Amanda who is also an Aggie like Cory. The knowledge she had to share about the raptors at their center was so vast and she went above and beyond the normal tour to encourage our kids in their love of raptors. We saw a kestrel, 3 owls and 1 eagle and got a tour behind the scenes for their Raptor Hospital. They’re also renovating so it will even better soon…a must see!

Ice Skating in Town Square– The kids loved ice skating one evening and the adults enjoyed a scenic town square experience while we watched the fun!

We took a day trip (only 1.5 hr drive) to Alta, WY to ski Grand Targhee Resort. It’s a mountain we had been told was a favorite by a fellow skier and he was so right! First, the drive was lovely over the pass, parking was great and well laid out, tickets weren’t crazy expensive and then there are the views. You can see the most amazing views of the Tetons from the summit. Crazy enough, they had completely snow covered trees even after Jackson was frozen over. Wild how weather works like that! We happened upon our first freestyle snow competition which made the kids (especially Teddy) excited to maybe try it one day. We had the best time on the mountain skiing tree runs (my kids’ favorites) and a black mogul with so much powder if felt like a playground! This mountain gets even better… there was a shuttle back to our car at the end of the day (even though it wasn’t that far of a walk), almost no lift lines, no staffing issues (like we’d seen in CO) and a great lunch restaurant Branding Iron Grill that was delicious, reasonably priced and had tiny etch a sketches for the kids with their menus on the back. Grand Targhee is our favorite mountain of the trip by far! 

One of the main reasons we travel is to be together! At dinner one night, Cory and I had the best time encouraging and praising our kids for being them. They had crushed expert terrain that day, were not whiny when they got cold, were amazing dinner dates, etc. We’re so lucky to be their parents! This trip has been exactly what we were hoping for… extra time to be together!

Next stop, urban life in Salt Lake City, Utah!

Ski Village Life

Hello Colorado!

First stop on our mountain adventures is the small town of Fraser, CO. It is just as quaint as we were hoping for. Located next door to Winter Park and the resort where we’ll ski for the month, it’s the perfect location for us! We arrived in early January to give us some good days on the mountain before school starts and Cory’s work is in full force after the new year.

We wasted no time getting to the mountain! Our first morning in town, we got an early start on the slopes; and, it was a glorious, sunny day. Everyone felt good getting our ski legs back under us. However, one family member’s feet didn’t feel as good…our pup dog’s! We had been warned of the bitter cold that we would experience and the humans were prepared. However, we forgot about the dog! He had a jacket to keep his body warm but that poor dog also needed shoes for his pup pads. Don’t worry, we bought him some…at the Ace Hardware over in Granby, which is just a 15 minute drive if there’s no snow, but where’s the fun in that!

As we settle into our new town and mountain, we’re starting to figure things out. We found that parking at the Mary Jane side of the Winter Park resort was a much closer walk to the lift (if you leave early enough) than Winter Park base. We’re also figuring out that since we’re skiing some half days due to school and work, you can also get great parking after lunch when morning parking spaces are coming available. The days we skied mornings, we’ve enjoyed being one of the first groups on the lifts. It’s such an electric feeling especially the day that we got 16″ of snow. The crowd couldn’t wait to get to the summit and get in the powder! I don’t believe I’ve ever skied in that much snow; and, boy, was it hard! There were lots of laughs though. Teddy kept losing one of his skis as he likes to fall a lot when he skis; he’s a total risk taker! Bea, on the other hand, is so cautious and was very patient as we slowly skied down the mountain. I was horizontal half the time too as the snow was to my knees. Then there was Cory, the sweeper, taking care of all of us as he’s, by far, the veteran skier. The kids first skied just before the pandemic hit in 2019 and I didn’t begin skiing until I was an adult and met Cory.

Our first Friday in town was met with much excitement as the kids had their first day of their multi-week ski school session which meant Cory and I had a date day. Luckily, Cory’s work schedule has been lighter this week for him to ski with us each day so far. The kids have the same ski skills so they were put in the same blue/black class to work on moguls. We were so excited to see what all they would learn! The kids had a great first day and so did the adults even if I did accidentally take us down our first black diamond mogul run of the season. Remember, I’m not the most veteran skier so moguls for me on week one were comical! 

You also have to throw in some rest days from the slopes but it doesn’t normally keep us inside. One day, we took sleds and the dog to Hideaway Park for some fun. Sledding didn’t disappoint especially with the snow coming down while we played. We also went on walks on the Fraser River Trail which was located right behind our house. The kids also had room to build a snowman and play in the snow behind our condo. Tally loves to sit on the back porch and watch them and any action going on. He also likes to eat the giant icicles on the porch.

If you’ve been wondering how we’re making this happen with school, let me share. We unenrolled our children from public school and enrolled them in an online church school. The main reason is the church does the reporting to the state for me for attendance purposes. For their curriculum I wanted to stay with what the kids would have been learning with their teachers. On that note, we could not have been more fortunate! The kids’ school graciously went above and beyond helping me prepare to teach my kids. Both of their teachers gave me outlines of what they would study as well as notebooks of details in order to help them stay on track with the rest of their classmates. The administration has also been incredibly supportive through it all! We could not be more thankful for their encouragement of Bea and Teddy and of me to successfully teach them while we’re away. 

We were so lucky to have some friends come ski with us one long weekend in Winter Park. The Cawyer family have three kiddos close to Bea and Teddy’s age and they sure have a blast when they’re all together. But first, it’s ski school Friday for the kids and adult double date! As much as I love my kids, this was a fabulous day! The snow we got made Parsenn Bowl (12,080 elevation) even better! We enjoyed a few days navigating the mountain with all nine of us and everyone did amazing! The hardest part was being so cold. Since we usually got to the mountain for the first lifts up and doing this means you ski in single digit or sometimes negative temps. Do you know what that does to your toes and fingers? You guessed it…makes them numb! Winter Park has a few great warming huts around the mountain and they’re perfect for just that. You know what else warms you up? The hot tub…have I mentioned that already? It’s just the best after a cold day on the mountain. 

Want to hear a funny story about being cold? First, let me tell you we’re driving our 10 year old vehicle (with an engine that’s solid but the windows are a bit creaky when cold. I know this; but, I must have forgotten) and I rolled my window down before we left for the mountain then it wouldn’t go back up! Did I tell you the temp was -11 degrees F outside? Brrr!!! It took the whole 15 minute drive for the window to slowly warm up enough to roll up.

Fast forward to our departing Winter Park and we have fallen in love with this little town. Here’s why we love Winter Park! As I mentioned, we have learned many ins and outs of the mountain starting with parking. If you can ski blue runs, you can park easier on the Mary Jane side of the mountain. However, if you’re heading to ski school you need to park at the Winter Park lot. The closest lot is a bit of a walk though especially at the end of the day when you have tired legs. This resort also has great staff and amazing amenities at the base as well as on the mountain. Not only has the kids’ ski instructor been super encouraging but liftys love seeing the kids. One particular guy called Bea and Teddy “mini shredders” every time we saw him and they loved it! Shortly after that, Bea told us “skiing makes me feel free and alive!” We were quite impressed with the variety of restaurants, Waffle Cabins (I’ll tell more about this deliciousness later) and warming huts.

As you can imagine being on an extended adventure means you cannot eat out each night. However, we did enjoy a handful of great eateries starting with our favorite Tabernash Tavern. It was a fine dining experience that was delicious as well as comfortable to have our kids with us.

Waffle Cabin– It’s a must eat snack at WP! You can get your liege waffle plain, with cinnamon sugar or chocolate drizzle; yum! There are multiple located around the resort too.

Fraser River Beer Co with food truck Shreddy’s Taco Truck– The tacos were delicious and there were board games to play. The best part was that it’s dog friendly so you can bring your dog along. One evening it was like a dog party with so many dogs and Tally loved it!

Hernando’s Pizza– This is another restaurant we frequented more than once because of the food as well as you could make a day of reservation. That was very handy with 9 people! My favorite part was the honey on the table for your crust. It was like dessert was already on the table for you! The kids also loved walking in to see their ski instructor Amanda as the hostess.

The Ditch– When we walked in, it wasn’t fancy looking but the food sure was, including their margaritas!

Randi’s Bar and Grill– It was a great English pub food that gets busy so go early.

Winter Park Pub– It was a fun vibe where we didn’t have to worry about noise level when our kids played on their foosball table. 

Granby Garage– A neat, modern place in Granby with classic American and Southwest inspired dishes.  It would be a great spot in summer as they have a huge patio and outdoor music venue.

A few other recommendations we have if you’re in the Winter Park area…

-We were lucky enough to see another family, the Millers, from our hometown who have kids similar ages to Bea and Teddy. We took the kids to Colorado Adventure Park for tub sledding and it was a huge hit! An hour was perfect timing for fun and ensuring a good night’s sleep by all!

-Through a local vet’s recommendation, we also found Lucinda at Wagaway Dog Walking to walk Tally on days that we skied all day. She was excellent! She sent pictures of her adventures with Tally (she’s quite the photographer!) and is very polite, well prepared and dependable.

-If you bring your dog along, go see small business owner, Tenille at Leaving Pawnet Earth to bathe your dog. Tally came home so clean and happy!

-For any ski boot help, Local Experience is your place! It’s a husband and wife duo whose knowledge is vast about ski boots and fittings. Because of their expertise, Cory and I have the perfect boots for us that helped change the way we ski.

-The Lift bus in Fraser and Winter Park is a great way to get to and from the mountain without having to worry about parking. Unfortunately, they’re short staffed (like everyone else) so buses didn’t come as frequently as advertised this season.

-Fraser River Trail- We lucked out that part of the trail was behind our condo so Tally got plenty of walks down this path.

Cory tried a new way of skiing, skinning up, thanks to a great deal on skis, bindings and skins from a local backcountry expert he met doing his research. We’ve seen lots of people doing this and it’s as hard a work as it looks! Cory sure enjoyed himself though.

We took a day to ski in Steamboat Springs. It’s 2+ hours away from Fraser so we left at 6am (hoping to get a good parking spot). It was a beautiful drive! We saw the sunrise and a herd of 50+ elk. The elk were crossing the road and jumping a fence when we came upon them. It was awesome to see! On to Steamboat for a glorious ‘blue bird’ day. That’s what a sunny day on the mountain means; Bea calls them ‘blue brrrrr’ days. For the skiing, we were at the rope drop of the first run on the top of the mountain. That was super fun! Steamboat is a big resort and we wanted to hit as many lifts and runs as possible including a crazy black mogul run that left everyone giggling. It was a wonderful day at Steamboat! We saw more elk, deer and a gorgeous sunset on the drive back.

Let me go back to ski school. The kids received such excellent instruction and were requesting more mogul runs so I needed some tips. I took a weekday afternoon group lesson but it ended up being just me and my instructor. What luck! I learned four main takeaways and feel like my instructor completely changed the way I will ski in the future. I was SO excited!!! The kids’ last day of ski school was met with their first black diamond mogul run. We were so proud of them for that as well as the compliments their instructor gave us about their bravery to try new things and listening skills. Their instructor said she wanted to see them in ski races in a couple of years! Cory and I were so proud of their progress and couldn’t wait to ski more with them!

On our last full day of skiing at Winter Park everyone picked their favorite run to do. Of course, Bea picked a tree run and Teddy the terrain park. We also traversed some tree lined black diamond moguls runs in the Eagle Wind Territory that were quite challenging and the kids rocked it! I believe we have turned these kiddos into ski lovers! We also had to eat at the Waffle Cabin one last time!

After being in one location for a month, you can imagine we had settled in quite nicely but we’re packing differently for our next leg. We’ll only be in Jackson Hole for a week so we don’t need our kitchen or dog bins, condensed our school bin, etc. We have 11 bins, 3 suitcases and a couple of duffles but we’re only taking 5 bins and 2 suitcases into our next destination. Organizing is my jam and Cory is the vehicle packer. That makes for good teamwork!

Next stop, Jackson, WY!

From the Magic City to the Big Easy

Happy Fat Tuesday!

We recently took a long weekend to the Big Easy; and, boy, did we do it up right!  It all started with a super fun trip on the train…Amtrak to be exact.  Cory and I had ridden the Amtrak years before as our Christmas holiday transportation but it was a first for the kids.  The newly renovated train station in Birmingham along with an on-time train departure was a nice to start to the adventure.  The train takes longer than driving but you can move around and your seat is like having a seat in a first class plane ticket.  We travel with a backpack for each kid with activities, toys and books.  It couldn’t have gone smoother!

We hit the ground running, even though it was past our kids’ bedtime; but, we needed some dinner.  And we got a delicious one at an old pub called Pierre Maspero where we had delicious gator bites, crawfish etiouffe and classic N’awlins Cocktails.

As you may know, we have loyalties to Marriott for hotel stays (and Delta Airlines when flying).  We love a hotel stay on points…aka free!  Cory found us the most central location at the W hotel which had just been moved to the French Quarters.  As we walked out of our hotel the next morning, the sun had shown up; and, we soaked in a full day of uncharacteristically warm January weather.  I was in heaven!  We got started at Cafe Du Monde and right before the line got really long too.  Trick…go before 9am!  We enjoyed dark coffee with chicory and the most delicious beignets with powdered sugar all over our faces!  The warm sunshine talked us into changing our original itinerary and taking our carriage ride around the French Quarter and Marigny today.  This was our daughter’s request as she likes ‘fancy’ things and this was her fancy.  We were pulled behind a mule driven carriage because horses aren’t allowed in New Orleans.  It was a lovely start to the day learning history of the French Quarters and New Orleans!

As we continued on our day, it took us by the Mississippi River where we heard the steam whistle coming from the steam boat.  Not only was it beautiful music but it was live music being played by a gentleman we could see (and wave to) standing on the top fo the boat.  How fun is that!  After a lovely stroll, my husband needed (yes, he needed) some chargrilled oysters from Drago’s.  I didn’t mind either as they were amazing!  Even my son got in on the oyster action; he’s always up for trying new and different foods.  Before we left for NOLA, Cory made it known that he would be eating his way through the Big Easy.  And he (we all) did just that!  With full tummies, we visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium next.  What a cool, very different animal museum!  We are regular patrons to any and all animal establishments if my son is along for the trip.  He loved it the most as he isn’t afraid of any type of animal.  My daughter, on the other hand, hid behind the map the majority of the time as the creatures were a little too creepy for her.  The butterfly garden was a hit for everyone though as they each got to hold a butterfly.  We didn’t try their version of a tasty treat but you can eat a bug (masked with sweets) in the museum’s bakery if you feel so compelled.  I would say this is a must visit place especially with kids.

After working up our appetite, we needed a sweet treat and got that and more!  We hopped in Palace Cafe to spoil ourselves with a bananas foster and bread pudding.  Wow!  The plates were all but licked clean as no one wanted to leave a morsel of these decadent desserts.  While we were there, a three-piece jazz band was playing.  They came to our table and played a couple songs the kids would know and sing a long to as well.  Treats on treats!

After much needed naps, we were on to our next eatery.  Remember, I did say that would be the focus of our visit to New Orleans.  Cory used to travel to the city every couple of months so he has his favorites.  Cochon is always on the list and it didn’t disappoint!  It’s fresh farm food with a modern twist and extra delicious!

Our next day might have been a bit chilly but it is winter after all.  Luckily the sun was out for our walk to Arnaud’s for jazz brunch.  Arnaud’s is a famous, established New Orleans restaurant..and super fun and fancy!  Again, my daughter loves all things fancy so we dressed up for brunch.  Along with a four-course meal, we were serenaded by another jazz band trio.  This time it was a stand up bass player, a soprano saxophone player/singer and a banjo player.  Music also seems to be the name of the game in New Orleans and I love it!  We love a stroll after a meal so we took to the pavement to get to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas then a walk through Jackson Square and the French Market.  It was a lovely afternoon!

If you’re in New Orleans close to Mardi Gras, you must eat some king cake.  We had a sample at a local bakery and wouldn’t you know that Teddy got the piece with the baby in it!  If you’re unfamiliar with a king cake tradition, whomever gets the piece with the baby in it has to buy the king cake next year.  I guess we’ll let him slide since he’s only five!  After a little rest, we ate again!  I wasn’t kidding about eating our way through NOLA.  We took the famous street car to Commander’s Palace for one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  I say that because it is an old school establishment with amazing food, excellent service and for reasonable prices!  And they love having children in their restaurant; I must brag that our kiddos do well at fine dining restaurants; but, it helps when the staff is clearly happy to have children there too.  I would say this restaurant is a true ‘must eat’ on your first (and or all) visits.

Whew, what a packed-full time we had in NOLA!  To round out our trip, we drove to Slidell, Louisiana for a swamp boat tour with Cajun Encounters.  This is what my son was looking forward to the most!  Although, we didn’t see alligators, as they hibernate in the winter; we did see turtles sunning and egrets and blue herons perched.  We also found a family of raccoons and wild hogs that the guide fed.  They’re both surprisingly good swimmers; who knew!

The return train schedule didn’t work for us so we rented a car to get home.  One of my husband’s requests on our visit was to stop at a Rouse’s (aka local grocery store) to get cajun seasonings and a king cake to take home that you cannot get in Alabama.  It was a beautifully sunny day to drive home after a lovely weekend away with our adventure-loving family!

Here are also a few highlights we have done on past trips that we didn’t fit in this time as well as a great website for a family traveling to NOLA.
Buying muffalettas at Central Grocery and eating them by the river
Enjoying jazz music (fun for all ages) at Preservation Hall
Eating a po-boy https://www.neworleans.com/listing/domilises-restaurant-and-bar/32175/
https://www.neworleans.com/plan/itineraries/family/

Until our next adventure…

Amtrak to New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Gentleman playing the steam whistle on top of the boat on the Mississippi River

Teddy with the king cake baby

Arnaud’s Jazz Brunch

Swamp Boat Tour

Country #19: New Zealand (the south island)

Our next stop is a new country for Go With Daddy…New Zealand!  But first some necessary preparations, aka wash all our clothes!  The Prins were gracious enough to let us stay at their apartment, while they’re away, to wash away.  We’re heading even further south which means colder weather but we’re trying to pack in only 2 suitcases which is hard when four people have three different layers of coats and boots for all… but we did it!  Luckily, we could drop off a suitcase and stroller at the Marriott as we’ll be back there for one night before flying home after a couple weeks.  Being able to utilize these extra conveniences are huge!

At the airport, we went through customs as we’re leaving Australia and this time it was computerized.  We found this interesting that small children could go through here as it meant they went through on their own.  Bea and Teddy did great though!  We had given ourselves extra time so Cory wouldn’t be rushed as he’s just a little slower moving than normal right now.  It was a quick three-hour flight to Christchurch.  Upon landing, customs had to check my boots for seeds and stink bugs as they’re very particular about not bringing any outside contaminates into their country.  We stayed at the Sudima Hotel which was nice, clean and very close to the hotel.  We all went straight to bed as it was past midnight in NZ; we lost two hours in the time zone change.

Saturday morning we waked up to the no-work, family vacation portion of our trip and we were all so excited as it included a campervan for the next twelve days.  After a quick stop for breakfast and supplies, we had one last errand to buy a new boosters/car seats bag as the zippers (that were on the brink upon arriving in Australia) broke.  On each long trip we have taken, we have bought a bag of some sort.  Luckily, we found one that would fit both boosters with no problem; thanks Baby on the Move.

Now on to Willowbank Wildlife Park; I bet you couldn’t have guessed a zoo stop, huh?  It was a cool wildlife park and proudly showing the big five NZ animals.  The one most recognizable is the kiwi; it’s a nocturnal, flightless bird that we saw inside a darkened area to simulate night.  We were able to see a few kiwis rustling around in the bush and digging around with their long beaks, which have their nostril at the end.  The other four are: kea, who has a very loud call and sharp looking beak; tuatara, which is said to be the last living dinosaur; takahe and kaka.  They don’t include it in the top five but we (Teddy mostly) were excited to see a weka, another native, flightless NZ bird.  New Zealand has no native four-legged animals; they have all been imported.  Other highlights to this wildlife park included eels, capuchin monkeys, siamang gibbons, capybara and llamas.

We couldn’t stay all day as we needed to head north to Kaikoura for the night.  For supper, we stopped in a town that only had one restaurant open and it was takeaway food only.  Luckily, we could eat in the campervan then got settled in and put kids in pjs as it will be past bedtime when we arrive in Kaikoura.  We have a nice set up and much bigger than when we rented a campervan in Oz when the kids were 3 and 1.  We’ve gotten a bit wiser from that experience!  The kids will sleep above the cab and the adults in the back where a couch converts to a bed.  We also have a table (that could convert to a bed) so we do not have to take down any bedding each morning…upgrade!  After some windy, two-lane roads, we made it to Kaikoura to the *Pier Hotel where we parked for the night.

When we waked the next morning, we had an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean!  A quick stop at Why Not Cafe for a hearty brekky before it’s Whale Watching Kaikoura time.  Fortunately, we could go as the past few days had been cancelled due to rough water.  Unfortunately, the captain said it was a “very high seasick possibilities” day so Cory found us seasick medicine to take.  Bea and I both felt rough but no one got sick.  We were able to see two male sperm whales just hanging out on the top of the water (there are no females here in the winter as they go further north for warmer waters with their calfs).  The whales stay at the surface for about 15 minutes before they dive back into the deep for 45-60 minutes!  Again, seeing these massive, majestic creatures took my breath away and I cried.  Whales must be my favorite animal of all time!  Being in the wild, you never know what you’ll get to see but we also saw three fur seals swimming.  Each fur seal had one fin up soaking in the sun’s heat to warm their bodies.  Many albatross and other birds flew by us just above the water’s surface; so amazing to watch them glide by.  After this breathtaking experience, we came back to the Pier Hotel for lunch where I had the best seafood chowder.  Sorry New England, New Zealand has you beat!

We have twelve days to cover as much ground as possible on New Zealand’s South Island so on to the next town we drove!  The seasickness meds made us all drowsy so coffees were much needed this afternoon.  Since it’s winter, it gets dark early so we rolled into Blenheim at 6pm to complete darkness.  We checked into Blenheim Top 10 Holiday Park before a quick, delicious and very friend meal at Eat Thai.  Sweet Teddy had fallen asleep and that’s never the easiest waking someone that close to bedtime to have supper.

Even though we picked a larger campervan, the bathroom section is still pretty small with the toilet taking up the majority of the space.  So we utilize the holiday parks for showers.  Thank goodness we can each take a kid to speed up the process.  Another benefit of a holiday park is they usually have a playground which the kids took advantage of and enjoyed while we got ready to hit the road again.  Today is wine day…Cloud Bay to be specific!  This winery put NZ on the map for Sauvignon Blanc and our tasting did not disappoint!  It was a beautiful, sunny day so the kids played outside among the vines.  Due to NZ regulations, we could not tour the facility.  We continued wine day at The Vines Village for lunch where we also soaked in the sun while eating outside and the kids played on the playground.  Win, win for all!  We have driven past many vineyards and some even with sheep grazing amongst the vines!

We were told traveling from place to place will take longer in NZ and that is accurate.  The highways are two lanes and have many one-way bridges.  These bridges have signs showing who has the right of way or a stop light.  However, we found one with neither of these which was nerve racking especially since it was dark and we had to go around a corner.  Lots of honking was done then!  On our drives, it’s fun to hear the kids playing with their toys.  They each have a small, Skip Hop backpack of toys.  A good handful of the items come from the Family Dollar since you get a good price and don’t have to worry if you break or lose something.  I also love to hear their imaginations!  We mix in some movie time too.  This specific day seemed like the most desolate of roads we’ve been on, so we made sure to stock up on groceries before leaving town.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better before night fall.  The holiday park we planned to stay in was closed so we had to backtrack a bit in the little town of Charleston to Mitchell’s Gully Mine.  It used to be a huge mining town but is now almost non-existent.  We parked but couldn’t find anywhere to check in.  Then out of nowhere a gentleman, Valentine Mitchell, came out with his flashlight.  He confirmed we could park here then proceeded to show us the many glow worms on his property.  He had dug tunnels and the glow worms came to make homes here…so cool!

We waked to find Mr. Valentine waiting to show us around his gold mine.  He told us all about the history of NZ’s gold rush starting in the 1880s when his great grandfather immigrated from Scotland.  He was very proud of his heritage!  We strolled through the tunnels where the miners would have dug for gold; there were a lot of tunnels!  We saw a new bird which we found out was called a fantail.  His name perfectly describes him with his fan being as big as his body.

The drive south down the West Coast was beautiful as it was mostly along the coast of the Tasman Sea.  A quick cup of coffee at Rusty Cup Coffee (his set up was portable and energy efficient using propane and solar panels to power it all) before stopping to see Pancake Rocks.  They’re giant stacked rocks that no one can figure out how they got this way, as well as Blow Holes where we witnessed geysers produced by the forceful waves coming into the inlets.  We weren’t expecting to see geysers as it wasn’t high tide so that was a fun surprise!  Lunch was at Pancake Rocks Cafe for another yummy edition of fish and chips.  Driving on south we saw stunning views of very diverse landscape…giant fern leaves, palm trees and fur trees, mostly dry riverbeds (as they won’t fill completely until the snow melts in the springtime), one-lane bridges, cows and sheep, llamas, mountains and oceans!

Tonight’s stop is in Fox Glacier at Fox Glacier Top 10 Holiday Park which turned out to be the nicest holiday park we stayed at during our whole trip!  Every other night we have made sure to get a powered site for power and showers.  This one even had heated bathroom floors…bonus!  We grabbed dinner at Cook Saddle Cafe and Saloon then showers for all.

Happy Birthday to Cory from New Zealand!  We were all so excited for this day, especially the birthday boy, as we were getting to take a heli (the Aussies and Kiwis love to shorten words) ride to a glacier; however, the rain saw otherwise.  So, we soaked our sorrows in an amazing brekky (with birthday candles for Cory to blow out) and coffee from Cafe Neve then on to Wanaka.  Sweet Cory has done all the driving and I know it’s not easy.  It was a hard, full day of driving today as it poured, and the wind was quite strong!  We made a few stops along the way for lunch, to see Thundering Creek Falls (a magnificent waterfall right off the road), and not one, two but three amazing rainbows among the mountains and lake.

Upon arriving in Wanaka, we went straight to Rippon Vineyard (just before they closed) for a tasting and an amazing view of the vines and Lake Wanaka.  Tonight, we met a colleague of Cory’s (Simon), his son and their friends for supper at Lake Bar.  This colleague, among others, has been so hospitable and thoughtful especially with Cory’s medical issues.  They didn’t know they were joining us for birthday dinner and celebrating Cory made it even more fun!  Cory doesn’t have any colleagues in our hometown so it’s always a treat for the kids and I to meet people he works with.  It helped even more that tonight there were two kids the same ages as Bea and Teddy to play with.

Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park worked great for our evening’s accommodations too.  The next morning, Cory snuck off and booked us on a glacier helicopter ride!  Boy, were we all excited!  Wanaka Helicopters, a boutique, family business, provided an amazing experience with Pilot Pete (son of the owner) piloting our flight.  The kids and I had never been in a helicopter and they sat in the front seats giggling as we took off.  I, on the other hand, was teary eyed as we took off.  Did I forget to mention, it was just the five of us…our family of four and the pilot.  It was such an amazing feeling and could not believe I was getting to do this!  We flew over Lake Wanaka to Mount Aspiring (featured in Lord of the Rings) seeing beautiful snow-capped mountains.  New Zealand has some of the most breathtaking views including amazing waterfalls that we flew right beside and blue ice, which is highly compressed snow that free of any air inside.  We did not realize the best was yet to come; that would be when we landed the helicopter on a glacier!  Yes, that’s what I said and in one meter of snow.  The kids played and played in the snow; they were covered in snow when it was time to get back in the helicopter.  What a magical, unbelievable experience we had!  I sat up front on the way back and soaked in the landscaping beauty.  I’m still pinching myself!

Wanaka is an adorable lake and mountain town with boutiques and heaps of restaurants including Francesca’s Italian Restaurant where we ate for lunch.  I had an amazing mushroom, truffle oil pizza while Cory enjoyed a braised lamb pasta.  So yummy!  Back on the road and onto Queenstown now.  The kids and I fell asleep for the whole hour and a half drive…sorry Cory!  Queenstown Lakeview Holiday Park was our pick of parks for the next few days while we enjoy the adventure sports capitol of the world.  Even in winter, Queenstown is more crowded than any place we’ve been in NZ.  Sometimes you need some downtime, so Cory gave me a little while he took the kids to the playground; then, we watched a movie and heated up leftovers.  These times are needed sometimes on long trips.

We woke to a day of mostly rain, so we took the morning to give the kids another break while Cory did the “not so fun” campervan duties.  I took the kids to (an indoor) Chipmunks Playland and Cafe and they had a blast!  We met Cory for lunch at a quaint little hole in the wall, Red Rock Bar and Cafe before a true Queenstown experience and NZ originated jetboat ride.  Shotover Jet has it down to a science as they pack in 28 people in a boat every fifteen minutes for their ride of a lifetime.  First, they outfit us with jackets to block some of the water, glasses to keep the water out of our eyes and life vests for safety.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but it was way better!  Cory and I bookended the kids in the back of the boat and heard Bea’s giggle and saw Teddy’s perma-grin the whole ride.  Our captain drove the boat 90 kph in only 10 inches (in some spots) of water zooming up and down river currents, through a canyon and almost missing many giant boulders.  We also did many 360s where I came off my seat every time while holding tight to Teddy.  Boy, what a rush!  Another bonus were the heated handrails, so no one was even cold.

Saturday morning we were up at 5:30am (which is way earlier than the 8am we’ve been getting up on this vacation).  Sweet Cory fixed us breakfast, as he always likes everyone to be well fed, before our 6:30am cab ride.  Today’s adventure with Real Journeys took us on three buses and two boats.  We had seven people (low numbers in the off-season) on a coach bus that took us to Manapouri.  However, we wouldn’t be in NZ if they didn’t stop for coffee on the way which consequently had a playground for the kids ten minutes of wiggles out.  Why not, right!  Once in Manapouri, we took our first boat ride in a relaxing catamaran on Lake Manapouri to our second bus which was a 20 km scenic ride full of vegetation (many beech trees and moss) and the beginning of all the waterfalls.  The main event was a three hour boat ride (yes, we did make it back!) touring Doubtful Sound.  It’s been a warm winter so far in NZ as it was only 8 degrees Celsius instead of typical negative temperatures.  Doubtful Sound is a cove of water ways viewing one amazing waterfall after another amazing water.  It started raining (actually storming) on us which normally would’ve been a bummer, but the rain emphasized the hundreds of waterfalls we saw!  Crazy wind made the waterfalls even cooler as some of the water from the falls don’t hit the lake before being swept back north.  Wild!  The boat captain got us up so close to some of the waterfalls that we could almost touch the water.  I have never seen anything like it!  The kids loved being so close, standing in the rain and wind.

After all the beauty, we still have two more buses and another boat ride to get back to Queenstown but Doubtful Sound’s beauty was worth the whole day of traveling.  It was a late evening with the kids getting to bed at 9pm but not before a delicious Indian dinner at Boliwood.

Sunday morning, we hit the road again to see the animals of NZ’s South Island.  However, we stopped at Macca’s first which we have done once on each of our international trips.  On our three-hour drive, we saw elk farms (who knew they farmed elk and deer), bungee jumping (I have no desire to try this) and lots and lots of sheep and cattle.  Our first animal destination was a hidden gem Cory found on Backpackers Guide Magazine to Matakae Scenic Reserve at Shag Point.  It’s a New Zealand Fur Seal colony and today it also had a full and stunning rainbow!  We were the only ones there watching the seals sleep, waddle into the water and stare back at us.  We got pretty close to one who seemed to be checking us out as much as we were him.  We love seeing animals; but, when they’re in the wild, it’s even cooler!

Tonight’s activity might be the kids’ favorite thing we did.  We drove on to Oamaru, checked into Harbour Tourist Park, right on the Pacific Ocean, before grabbing our premium seats for the Blue Penguin Colony viewing.  Around 300 of these adorable little (1 kilo) blue penguins come into their colony each night after swimming approximately 50 kilometers each day to fish.  They travel home in “rafts” to protect themselves then waddle up onto the rocks to their burrows.  This evening they had to navigate a couple of NZ fur seals in their way.  The seals aren’t predators, but they do make the penguins nervous.  Blue penguins are the neatest little creatures to see and hear; they have a very distinct sound!  As we left, we walked past many blue penguins (already out of the water) heading to their burrows.  I cannot believe we were so close to them!

The next morning, I waked to hear the blue penguins heading out to the ocean for the day…so amazing!!!  Breakfast was next at the cutest Tees Street Cafe; it had a super cool vibe, delicious food and even Corkcicles for sale behind the counter.  Since it was a beautiful sunny day, we took the kids to Friendly Bay Playground right off the ocean for the kids to play and us to enjoy the amazing views.  Oamaru is another adorable town with a cute boulevard of shops, coastal cafes, breweries and more.  We drove back into the mountains today to Mount Cook; and, even though a campervan isn’t the most comfortable to ride or sleep in, it sure is convenient.  We stopped on the side of the road to make sandwiches in our kitchen.  Close to our hotel (yes, tonight’s bed is in a hotel!) we stopped at Mt Cook Alpine Salmon shop for some fresh salmon sashimi.  They have salmon farms here as they can make the water so cold for the salmon from glacier and snow melt.  It’s so blue!  Now up the mountain to the Hermitage Hotel and the kids went straight to jumping on beds and wrestling with the extra space in a hotel room.  The first item on the agenda was for all to shower without having to wear flip flops; it felt grand!  Sometimes you need to experience a rustic lifestyle to appreciate the luxuries we think are normal.  Mount Cook Village is a small village, so we ate supper at one of the only places open that evening, The Chamois.

We waked the next morning to find six inches of snow on the ground!  Whoo hoo!!!  After a buffet breakfast in the hotel, we put on all the layers for a walk/hike to Tazman Glacier; however, the road was closed to get to the head of the trail due to possible avalanches.  So, we decided to try Kea Point walk instead.  It was quite a slushy hike but beautiful to see all the snow on the mountains.  The sun was bright and felt amazing, so it wasn’t that cold after we got going.  Since we brought three weighted layers for all the different temperature ranges, we had many layers to play with.  The kids had rain pants, which didn’t cover their ankles; so unfortunately, they got snow inside their boots from walking in the snow.  Even more unfortunate for Teddy was that he didn’t step lightly in the snow, so both his wool socks were soaking wet making his feet red and burning.  Oh mercy!  We hustled him back to the hotel to avoid frost bite.  After we dried out and grabbed a quick bite of lunch, we took required naps as we have an evening of stargazing scheduled.  The naps were so nice!  We had an amazing dinner of ceviche and salmon at Panorama Room.  The sky was cloudy, so the stargazing took place in the planetarium.  We heard a stargazing talk in the Middle East in February; so, it was nice to hear from the southern hemisphere (even if the presenter was subpar) and Bea connected things that were said at both presentations.  It was fun to hear her recount facts!

We waked early on our last morning in New Zealand to hit the road as we have an almost five-hour drive ahead of us to Christchurch…on NZ roads.  We left plenty of snow in Mt Cook but knew it’d probably be gone soon after we got out of the mountains.  Upon driving through Lake Tekapo, the snow started back up again; boy, was I glad we had time to drive a little slower for safety.  We stopped in Fairlie for coffee at the cutest, clean cafe called Eat.  It also had a fun, little play area for kids.

We arrived back where our New Zealand adventures began in Christchurch at the same shopping area for a quick bite to eat at a delicious Chinese restaurant, Tai Chi Restaurant, before heading home.  Our flight back to Sydney was on Emirates which is always a treat especially for the kids as they give great toys, stuffed animals, mini-backpacks, etc. on flights.

Back in Sydney, we head to our usual Marriott hotel for a quick sleep before our long flight home the next day.  It sure was an amazing adventure and it’s always bittersweet to head home!  We may be a little more excited than usual to get home after Cory’s medical issues.  Regardless, I’m so glad we added New Zealand to our trip as it was unbelievable to see!

Good morning, Kaikoura!

Sheep among the vines in the Marlborough region

Pancake Rocks

One of three beautiful rainbows that day

Rippon Vineyard with Lake Wanaka in the background

“Heli” ride to Mount Aspiring and landing on a glacier

Doubtful Sound in the Fiordlands

New Zealand fur seal (we were so close!)

Mount Cook

Snow Fun!

Sydney: Like a Local

Back to Australia’s East Coast, Sydney where we’ve seen quite a bit of rain since we arrived which is out of the ordinary for winter.  However, as I tell the kids, we won’t melt!  And we haven’t!  

We all slept in a bit as it had been a late night arriving back from Perth.  Cory hadn’t slept good so he went back to the doctor.  All still checked out ok; it is strange that he still has chest pain though.  This will be explained more in the next city we visit!

Anyway, the kids and I headed out for another day of adventuring and this time to Luna Park.  It’s an amusement park located by the Prins’ apartment so Brittany joined us!  We did it all; we rode the Ferris wheel where we could see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House from a different view from our hotel room.  Along with the merry go round, we rode what I call the rock ‘n roller coaster as it was similar to a county fair ride I’ve been on before; boy, were there a lot of giggles on this ride.  Bumper cars were next and neither of my kiddos had ever ridden them!  They both had to ride with me which made it even better in my opinion so I could watch their excitement and see the smiles.  This whole park is like a carnival that doesn’t move so I felt much better about the rides as they don’t move to a different location weekly.  Finally, we all hopped in burlap sacks to slide down a big slide; Bea and I both went airborn!  Soon after this, we saw a giant gray cloud and almost immediately it started raining.  We hustled with Brittany to her apartment to rest and do some laundry.  All in all, it was a successful day in Sydney!

Teddy has been asking to visit the Sealife Aquarium so this following morning was the day!  It’s a fun aquarium where you walk straight through as it guides you up and down ramps to see all the different sea creatures.  Whew, this momma got her workout when I raced the kids up the ramps a couple times!  There were many hits of the aquarium including an octopus, dugong (similar looking to a manatee), sharks, scuba divers (diving with the sharks), sting rays and penguins.  It’s also in Darling Harbour which is a really cool area to just walk around.  

Tonight the Kyle and Brittany joined us for supper one last time as we won’t see them again before we head back to America.  We had such a great time just being with them not to mention they’re excellent traveler buddies!  Let’s do it again sometime!

Now the kids and I are heading up the coast to Brisbane to see my Aussie family; I cannot wait!!!


Luna Park

Sealife Aquarium

Farthest from Home: Perth

Hello from Australia’s West Coast!

After a five hour to flight from Sydney, we made it to Perth; the furthest major city from our hometown! The Prins also joined us in Perth; so while Cory and Kyle had to work, the girls and Teddy hit the road with me behind the wheel.  It’s been about a year and a half since I drove on the wrong side of the road.  Luckily we were heading out of Perth to Yanchep National Park which makes it easier to drive outside the city.  The park was amazing with sightings immediately upon arriving of galahs which are pink and grey cockatoos.  We took the Koala Board Walk to find many koalas sleeping and eating; some were extremely high up in the trees.  Usually where there’s koalas there are kangaroos and here was no different with gray kangaroos.  We found a mob of kangaroos just resting in the grass.  They watched us but we didn’t seem to bother their slumber!  Finally we took a tour of the Crystal Cave which has amazing crystals dating back 500,000 years old. The kids really got into hearing the guide explain about the stalagmites and stalactites too.

I safely drove us back to Perth to meet the working guys for a fancy supper recommended by Brittany (who always has the best restaurant recommendations) at Flour Factory where we all tried the octopus.  My son is the biggest fan!  Speaking of Teddy, his fifth birthday is the next day and per tradition at our house we place balloons in the bedroom of said birthday child.  So tonight all the adults blew up balloons before going to bed for the impending day of celebration.

As you would imagine, the birthday balloons were a hit by the birthday boy and his sister!  The rest of the day wasn’t quite what we had planned as my husband had waked in the night with symptoms of a possible heart issue.  Cory’s not an alarmist so I knew he was in pain when he said he needed to go to the ER.  Thank the good Lord our friends were with us so they could take the kids to King’s Park and I could be with Cory.  The staff at the Royal Perth Hospital were outstanding…efficient, thorough and friendly.  They ran a gammut of tests and concluded that he had no major heart issue but were unsure what was causing his pain.  With that he was released and we knew we needed a calm afternoon.  First things first was lunch as Cory hadn’t eaten any breakfast.  However, we waited too long to feed my lumberjack husband and after a coffee, he proceeded to pass out on me!  Again, thank God for friends around!  Luckily a little food was all he needed but what a crazy day and it was just 1pm!  After lunch, we drove to Caversham Wildlife Park for a leisurely afternoon.  It was an unexpected, super cool park where we started with the farm show seeing Australian cattle dogs work by rounding the sheep.  Then they sheered a sheep in one fell swoop!  They pull the sheep on their backs so they wouldn’t fight that you’re holding them.  It was crazy cool to see!  Then the birthday boy, lest we forget today was supposed to be about celebrating him, got picked to feed a five-week old baby lamb!  He was so pumped as his birthday wasn’t going quite like we planned but you wouldn’t have known by his sweet attitude.  We also saw bats, which is hard to do without it being a dark, nocturnal section of a zoo; they have quite big wing spans. Then we were able to take pictures with a wombat, blue-tongued lizard, Australian opossum, olive python and koala. My favorite part was getting even closer with their kangaroos and wallabies.  We hung out and fed these marsupials for a while and boy were they hungry. A few kangaroos would even hold your hand to get a better angle on their food. It was a super fun afternoon of enjoying Australian animals!   

On Saturday, we decided to give Teddy’s birthday a do-over calling it his “American birthday” since we’re a day ahead in Australia anyway and yesterday wasn’t exactly a celebration.  Thankfully Cory was also feeling better so off to Fremantle, a cool harbour town with a lot of old buildings, we drove to catch our ferry to Rottnest Island.  The ferry was the fastest ferry I’ve ever ridden plus the water was “sloppy” as the captain called it.  Oh mercy, that made for a rough 30 minutes.  For the way back, we found some Dramamine.  Back to the fun, Rottnest Island is a quokka preserve as they are critically endangered so we got bikes and hit the paths to find quokkas in the wild!  So you’re not supposed to pet the quokkas but they would eat leaves out of your hand.  Actually they’d pull it out of your hand!  It was crazy cool to be this close to these wild animals!  It was supposed to rain today and it surely did but not before we got a quick walk on the beach by the Indian Ocean.  We had an outstanding lunch at Thomson looking out over the ocean and watching it pour.  Teddy got another birthday dessert with candles, singing and all!  He was so sweet about all the craziness that had happened in the past couple of days.  We encountered one more Australian wildlife before heading back the mainland in the form of a huntsman spider.  He was about half the size of my iPhone and almost decided to jump in our souvenir bag.  Yikes!  

To round out our time in Perth, we chose to go to the Perth Mint to see where Australia used to make currency. The Mint now shows how gold is melted down and turned into bars as well as seeing the world’s heaviest gold coin at one ton.  They make collector’s coins here now too.  We all really enjoyed it including our funny and entertaining tour guide!  Grovesnor’s Hotel was our lunch spot for pub food before flying back to Sydney.  Luckily the tail wind makes it a shorter flight by more than an hour.  

Perth was a last minute addition to our Australia travels.  Regardless of our unexpected chaos, it is so awesome we got to experience a bit of Western Australia!  Back to the East Coast!

Kangaroos at Yanchep National Park

Caversham Wildlife Park

Quokka on Rottnest Island

Birthday Boy

One Ton piece of Gold at the Perth Mint

Sydney Again…Our Most Visited Go With Daddy Destination

Hello from Down Under!

June 11th finally came and we’re ready to head to the other side of the world. Well, we were until we hit a snag at the BHM airport. Yes, BHM is our home airport! For Australia, you need a visa to enter the country and somehow we had messed up our son’s name on the visa. Rookie mistake! Luckily you can do an eVisa now so we redid his visa and were back in business. Nothing like a hiccup before you even leave your hometown! After that we had three smooth flights to ATL – LAX – SYD. The best part for my daughter is that she was upgraded to sit in first class with her daddy on the long flight…lucky! We called it the “nicest date she’ll ever go on!” Cory said he wants to set the bar high for any future suiters.

Upon landing in Sydney, my son, Teddy said “eek, we’re here!”  We’re all really excited to be here! We are staying at the same hotel we have on previous visits so that makes it easier to get around as we already have our barrings. This time in Sydney we have friends who live here. Kyle and Brittany Prins moved here a year ago from Tennessee and it was so great to see them! Being with “locals” always give you the upper hand to see things you might not have known about otherwise. Our first night was no exception getting to view Vivid Sydney. It was an awesome light festival all over Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Taronga Zoo, etc. We saw lights on the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, buildings, train station and sea turtle sculpture. So cool to see!

The next morning, Cory headed off to work while the kids and I went exploring. After our delicious breakfast in the Sydney Harbour Marriott lounge, we bought our Opal cards to hop on the train for Tumbalong Park. Brittany suggested we do this and she didn’t steer us wrong. It was an awesome park with an extensive playground (slide, spider climb, zip line, etc).  Plus we hit the right day with the kids participating in a yoga class by YogaBudz while we watched from adirondack chairs in the sun. Perfect! Our next stop of the day was probably my daughter’s favorite as it included dressing up. Chinese Garden of Friendship is an unexpected, serene garden in the middle of the city that has Chinese costumes you can rent while you walk around. They also had a scavenger hunt for the kids to search for the different Chinese year animals. It was a great place that we all enjoyed!

As the kids have gotten older, our naps have wained; however, they are still necessary sometimes especially trying to push through jet lag. After a short nap (which is always hard to get up from…such a catch 22), we joined Daddy and the Prins’ by their apartment (or compartment as the kids have been calling it) for a delicious supper at Kirribilli Woodfire Grill.

Now it’s the weekend, whoo hoo! Today we were going whale watching to see humpback whales on their northern migration. We didn’t have to go out more than about a mile from the harbour to see a handful of whales. How awesome is that! I have only seen whales once before (also off the Australian coast) and it still blows my mind to see creatures so large and beautiful.  We decided to get off the boat at Darling Harbour to have lunch at Din Tai Fung for amazing chicken and pork dumplings, fried rice with beef, etc!  Kids loved it too!  I love that they’re so adventurous to try new foods when we travel.  The afternoon took us on a stroll through Hyde Park, past St Mary’s Cathedral where we saw a very fancy wedding in progress (Bea loves to see international weddings) and on through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  What a relaxing afternoon!  Teddy even spotted a Kookaburra in a tree which he named Flyer.  After a full day, we did baths and ate supper in the lounge at the hotel.  Sweet Teddy fell asleep at the table, mid-sentence at 6pm.  Bea wasn’t far behind at 6:50pm.  Jet lag is real!

Happy Father’s Day to Cory!  Thankfully I came prepared with cards as they don’t celebrate Father’s Day in Australia until September.  We sure are blessed to have the best one out there!  And we love getting to “go with daddy!”  During the first few days upon arriving on a trip, especially when there’s a 15 hour difference, we take it easy. This Sunday morning we did just that then ventured out with our friends for lunch and the National Maritime Museum.  It’s also free to walk through the main exhibit hall! The Maritime currently has a really cool 3-D, bird documentary about the migration of birds.  It totally kept the kids’ attention!  The Maritime museum sits on Darling Harbour so we sat by the water to enjoy dessert and a few rounds of Uno.  

All good weekends must come to an end; however, it doesn’t mean the three of us cannot keep exploring.  Today’s adventure was a train ride to the Powerhouse Museum as it’s supposed to rain.  Powerhouse was full of interactive experiences for the kids.  We saw all kinds of transportation through the years including locomotives, cars, motorcycles and inside of a space craft.  There was lots to touch which is always fun for a kid!  They also enjoyed The Wiggles exhibit.  The Wiggles are an Australian group whose members have changed over years but kids still love it!  Remember how I said it was going to rain?  Well, while we were grabbing a meat pie for lunch, the bottom fell out.  It was a counter service restaurant but luckily we were standing under an awning!  We did get quite wet walking to the train but we didn’t melt.  Our train departed from Central Station which is a huge station where you can even travel to other cities.  It took me a minute to find which platform to go to out of 25 options!  We made it back to the hotel to dry out part of the way but then head to the indoor pool to get some wiggles (no pun intended) before showers and supper in our hotel.  Another 7pm bedtime, this time parents included, is getting us on the right time zone. 

Thankfully for our adventures today the rain stopped by the time we left on a ferry.  Brittany met us there to go to the Taronga Zoo.  We have been to the this zoo before but never have we seen so much in one day.  Brittany was the best tour guide knowing when all the shows where and where we we should go to maximize our time.  Again, it’s so fun to travel to a destination where you have friends!  Our first stop of the day was to see koalas, of course.  I don’t think it would ever get old even if I got to see them daily.  Reptile house was next before the seal show; and, boy, did they put on a show!  We saw a new fur seal being trained, veteran seals do flips and make a lot of noise; it was awesome!  Next off to see a momma and baby elephant being bathed.  The zoo has a few babies as the tiger family has three tigers cubs.  That’s always Bea’s favorite is seeing the baby animals.  On to the Australian animals…kangaroos, wallabies, emus, cassowary, platypus and wombat.  We also saw the best view of Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the spider talk we sat in on.  I learned a lot about Australian spiders and there are definitely ones that you shouldn’t mess with like the red back spider (similar to our black widows in the states), funnel-web spider (most venomous spider in Australia) and the infamous huntsman (who is huge but actually quite harmless).  Teddy ate this talk up hearing about all the spiders!  We saw a binturong and little penguins before we needed to catch the last ferry back across the harbour.  Cory and Kyle (he is also a colleague of Cory’s which makes it even more fun as we came to Sydney for the guys to work on a project together) met us for dinner in The Rocks for a relaxing evening of dining al fresco at Caminetto.

On all long trips, laundry is inevitable so this is how I spent hump day.  Having friends in town, they let us do laundry at their house which makes for a much more pleasant experience than sitting in a laundromat entertaining children.  Tonight we flew out to Perth but not before we entered the airport through the VIP lounge which means the security line is virtually nothing.  Traveling with my husband sure spoils us!  SYD to PER is a five hour flight so we settled in and all slept the whole way.  

Now for more adventuring in Western Australia!

Delta One

Vivid Sydney


Kookaburra


Ferry fun


Funnel-web spider at Taronga Zoo

Emirati Excellence Again

As my daughter said when we arrived back in Dubai, “it’s nice to be home!”

India was such a change from our normal life that Dubai felt like coming home especially since we stayed at the same hotel, Dubai Marriott Harbour.  Our room is on the 40th floor (of 52) this time so we have an more expansive view from our balcony….and the room is even bigger than our last one (3 beds, 4.5 baths)!  Wouldn’t you know the kids picked to sleep in the queen bed together!  We chose to stay in the same location for two main reasons: having laundry in the room and the best service we’ve had in a while!

The weather has been warmer than we anticipated (no one was complaining) so we went to the Jumeirah Beach (while somebody had to work…sorry Cory) on our first day back in Dubai.  The kids have radar eyes for a park so we enjoyed the playground before the beach.  It was a sunny, relaxing day and much needed for everyone after we had hit the touristing hard in India.

We had one last morning of culture touring the Jumeirah Mosque.  The kids’ favorite part was trying the Arabic tea, donuts, pancakes (with cream cheese) and dates.  They got restless at the mosque so we got our wiggles out at the pool afterward.  Our main goal of the day though was being prepared for dinner with friends so everyone took good afternoon naps.  We met two of Cory’s colleagues and their families at Sammach where we sat on the patio viewing the Dubai Fountain water show and Burj Khalifa light show.  You can never see this too many times!  It was a lovely evening of sweet hospitality and delightful conversation with co-workers that Cory has enjoyed working with for years…and now we all got to know them and their wonderful families!

On Cory’s last day at work, I decided we needed a non-culture day so off to Legoland Dubai we went!  We parked right up front as the park was all but empty.  We didn’t stand in line for anything!  We have found very small crowds all over Dubai which was unexpected due to it being their busy season but I love it!  The only part that I did not like were the height restrictions on rides.  I’m all for safety and unfortunately, my daughter met the age requirement but missed the height requirement by five centimeters to ride anything by herself.  We looked for rides we could all do together.  Bea’s favorite was driving her own Lego car and boat.  My favorite part was walking through “mini land” aka real buildings and scenes all made out of Legos; here are a few examples of what we saw…Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai (with skiers inside the building), Dubai Fountain (with it’s own water show), Dubai Museum, etc.  They also had India’s Taj Mahal, Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque, Egyptian pyramids and many other famous skyscrapers.  Amazing to see and read how many legos and hours it took to build them all!  Before leaving, we went inside the “factory” to see how Legos are made; I love a factory tour of any kind!

Wednesday morning we woke up to Cory being on vacation with us!  We try to plan downtime for the whole family while on our trips and this one had a little sprinkled throughout our month away.  We visited the Gold Souk this morning to find some gifts before our big event of the day.  You may have already seen it on Instagram… Dubai Camel Racing at Al Marmoom.  It was a free activity where we watched the camels race from every angle.  We viewed the paddock and the start of the races from an elevated cross bridge, the eight kilometer race from our vehicle driving beside the camels and the finish line from the grand stands.  At the finish line, the owners and their teams gather their camels as there are no jockeys riding the camels.  Also, they served food at the race track and it was free too.  This event was a highlight of our time in Dubai!

Thursday starts the last leg of our journey as we drive north to the Ritz Carlton Al Wadi Desert in Ras Al Khaimah.  It has been really fun seeing camels on the side of the road!  We jumped into the resort activities with a camel caravan for our family of four.  Bea rode with her daddy on Jafron or better known as “the singer”; I’ve never heard a camel talk quite so much!  It was a beautiful view of the desert just before sunset as we rode through the sand dunes.  The kids also found more animals in the barn…bunnies, Shetland ponies, horses and a couple of resort cats.  They’re getting their animal fix until we can get back home to our dog and cat.  The resort also has bikes to ride and even one with training wheels for Bea.  Riding bikes around the property was a huge hit while we were there as well as a daily swim in the private pool we had at our villa!

On Friday, Bea celebrated (we’ve never done this before) her half-birthday and she was so excited!  The celebration began during breakfast at Kaheela when the staff brought her a chocolate muffin with a candle to blow out while singing happy birthday to her.  She was too cute telling everyone about her half-birthday.  Why not, right!  The fun didn’t end in the morning; she was celebrated all day including at the evening’s bbq.  I’ll tell more about this shortly.

The kids requested we take them to “Kids Camp” (aka Ritz Kids) so we obliged.  I bet they needed a little time away to just play like I need ‘me’ time too.  While they played, Cory and I enjoyed an early Valentine’s treat with a Rainforest walk and a massage at the spa.  The rainforest walk was so different than any other spa experience I’ve had as you went through different stations of showers and steam rooms.  It was quite invigorating even though I expected putting ice on my arms and legs to be colder than it was.  We biked to collect the kids before going to the big pool.  It was a beautifully warm day so a perfect day for the pool!  Tonight, we enjoyed a BBQ with a full buffet of delicious Middle Eastern cuisine and a belly dancer for entertainment.  To top the evening off, the staff including the belly dancer sang happy birthday to Bea again bringing a yummy chocolate dessert with a candle in it.  She was definitely living her best life today!

Bea and Teddy waked us Saturday morning to see two Arabian oryx from our back patio!  We all sat on the patio couch together and watched them graze…so cool!  Today’s activity was to see more nature…Jebel Jais Mountains to be exact.  We had a driver take us up the mountain and set up a picnic for us to enjoy while we soaked in the mountains, houses built into the mountains, goats and a few people zip lining on the world’s longest zip line at 2.8 kilometers.  Our picnic was an expansive spread of hummus, chicken swarma, pita bread, tabooleh, all sorts of mezzeh, champagne and more.  This was a perfect activity on our last full day as reminisced about our trip and told our favorites things from each stop.  It was a magical time for our family!

Upon arriving back to the Ritz Carlton, we were upgraded to a tent villa.  The first villa was lovely but we were super excited to experience the tent villa too.  The kids immediately jumped into the pool; I think they’ve been in the pool each day we’ve been in Ras Al Khaimah.  Tonight, Cory had planned for us to go to the star gazing experience and it was way better than I expected.  We learned history and stories of the sky which Bea was able to regurgitate stories about the constellations later on at dinner.  It’s always interesting to know what they soaked in.  We also looked at Mars, galaxies, and constellations through a very high tech telescope.  Luckily the kids had naps in the car on the way home from the mountain so we could have a late dinner at Farmhouse.  I’m so glad we didn’t miss this as the combination of the delicious meat and amazing service couldn’t be beat!

One more day of adventuring and it began in the barn.  They groomed ponies then rode horses.  The dynamic of my kids is so interesting as they challenge and encourage each other in different ways.  When it comes to animals, Teddy takes the lead.  Bea was nervous at first; she derives some of her bravery from him!  I love watching this!  After some Kids Camp time and swimming, we packed in one more adventure before heading to the airport.  We went to the falcon show where we learned falcons are the fastest animals of all, about the art of falconry and how people, especially the Bedouin, used them for hunting.  The Bedouin “borrowed” the falcons on their migration south but released them before summer to fly back north as it’s too hot in the UAE for them.  Such an interesting concept!

All packed up and on our way to the airport, we stopped for supper.  Zahra Al Quds deserves a shout out as I would say it was the best tabuli, garlic sauce and mixed grill plate we had!  Who knew I loved Palestinian food so much!

Then back to reality (well after 36 hours of travel), the comforts of home, our family and friends and our pets!  It is always with such mixed emotions upon returning home.  What a joy to have the blessing of both a safe, warm, well taken care of (thanks Will!!!) home and the chance to go see the world!  Thanks again, Cory for letting us “Go With Daddy!”

Jumeirah Mosque
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Legoland Dubai
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Camel racing
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Pool at our Tent Villa
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Falcon Show
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