There is nothing quite as fun as taking off for the holidays...no, I'm not being sarcastic, I promise. I love everything about making the most of the kids' time off of school. Co-parenting has always made for a tricky scheduling of the holidays and it hasn't gotten any easier even with adult children, so this season we decided to do what we've never done before, take off without the girls. We chose a city the girls had already visited but felt that Ari would love, Washington D.C.
It had been YEARS since I had been to our nation's capital, I was definitely very excited to plan this trip. We wanted to surprise Ari but also uphold his wish of celebrating with the family on New Year's Eve so we booked our flights to depart on the 26th of December and return on the 30th. Four nights was just right to hit up all the spots and still have some time to unwind. We rented a car and planned our stay just outside the district to be in a family centric area. Old Town Alexandria, VA was the perfect combination. Just a 13min drive to D.C. but also within walking distance to all major modes of public transportation with quite a bit of nightlife & ice cream shops on their main street. It was the best of both worlds.
At first, I wasn't too keen on booking a traditional hotel, much less for the entirety of our stay but, Ernie persuaded me in order to save some time. So I did the impossible which was to find a hotel that would include a hot breakfast, have a kitchenette AND be in an area where we would be able to park our rented car street side. Now, truth be told, I did not have the hotel booked until we actually arrived to the area which allowed for us to drive around and see where we could park before deciding. But I did have a list of places I had in mind as well as pricing. When we do this sort of thing (not book till last minute) we also like to walk into the lobby and ask if they can beat the rate online. They are always honest and most of the time, they cannot. This was one of those times so we booked three nights (because I still wasn't convinced on the notion of staying in one place the whole time , even if it meant only one night left to explore beyond the city). Still $270.09 for 3 nights with breakfast (which was pretty darn good, like for real...I mean they didn't have an omelet station but I was still pretty pleased with the freshness and selection) AND a kitchenette was a steal (all taxes and fees included)! On our last day they even set up a hot chocolate bar in the lobby and Ari nearly tripped over himself when he realized it was FREE! This kid of mine loves a good deal as much as his momma. The service was stupendous and on the eve of our last day I called downstairs and asked if they could extend our reservation for one more day. They did, and only charged us $68 for it!!! It was definitely a WIN.
When I plan vacations I like to do quite a bit of research in order to get the itinerary right and make any reservations if necessary but I try not to have a solid "things to do list", instead more like suggestions or points of interest. Our list was pretty long and we like to sleep in but, somehow we made it all happen. We took our leisure with breakfast, went back up to the room and packed snacks for the day before heading out with no plans to return till bath and bedtime. We had only 1-2 meals out and about and were able to be rested enough to hit up the attractions when most of the crowds were long gone. You'll notice that almost every landmark photo we took was in the evening. The sun sets in D.C. at around 5pm but we were still visiting Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington all the way till dinnertime.
We truly enjoyed experiencing the capital as it was dressed for the holidays but our favorite activity, by far, was our time spent in both the National Museum of Natural History and the USPTO's Inventors Hall of Fame. The Inventors Hall of Fame is situated within the US Patent and Trademark Organization which in itself is a pretty cool place to be. The exhibit highlights patents and trademarks created by the creative minds of our nation. It was fascinating to say the least. There was quite a bit of information but also interactive parts where one could play with robots and media tech. Reading about the processes of the great inventors of our time, seeing their charts and notebooks, hearing their interviews, was not only educational but empowering. I might have liked it more than Ari though as he preferred a second day at the National Museum of Natural History because one afternoon simply wasn't enough. There is no better feeling than to witness your child's light up and open wide as they soak in new things in wonder and amazement. Our little guy loves to travel but not just to go from place to place like a checklist, he wants to take things in fully. While we were at the Library of Congress he just wanted to sit amongst the book in the children's area and simply be in that space. At the museum it looked like he felt his eyes just weren't big enough to take it all in. He even sat through a movie about the deep sea twice. And then to run up and down the National Mall's wide open green spaces without a care in the crisp cool air. It was better than I could have dreamed!
I won't bore you all with the gritty details this time but if you would like a sample itinerary along with specifics on restaurants, cafes and hotel please comment below. As you all already know, I love to share but I also don't know how to be short about it.
Somewhere in the middle of Florida lies a Lego wonder land. It's a bit of a pain to get to since it's not off any major highway but for those of you out there with kids between the ages of 5-11yrs old, it's the place to be. Legoland, FL is located in Winter Haven which is about 1hr away from Florida's turnpike Yeehaw Junction exit or about an hour away from I75 Tampa exit. There isn't much else to do in Winter Haven but indulge in the typical franchise faire or shop at Walmart but Legoland is a one stop shop for a 1-2 night family vacation.
My 9yr old son and I have been to Legoland a few times already and last year became annual passholders (which makes more sense than the daily admission rate if you plan to visit more than one day in a year, and especially if you like water parks). We've stayed at both resort locations and off property. Here is the low down on each:
Legoland Hotel: The convinenence of the location is notable since you walk right into the theme park from the lobby's connecting sidewalk and individual security check point, this is also quite helpful in the event that the park gets shut down for lightning (which happens often). The resort is expensive but includes a nice breakfast buffet with omelet station (my favorite) and the interior decor of the rooms is especially made for the littles. Each bunk bed is set with a lego gift at check-in and the rooms accommodate two adults in a king or queen sized bed and up to three children in a bunk bed and trundle combo which is divided from the adults' bed by a little wall and curtain. Even the elevator ride up to the rooms is fun, with a disco theme dance party during the ride. They offer activities in the lobby throughout the day with a nice bar area for the adults while the kids play. The pool is just okay but give the kids huge floating lego pieces and they are playing for hours. Overall, a great stay if you don't mind the line for one of two elevators to access all rooms and are in the mood to splurge plus it gets pretty packed on weekends.
Legoland Beach Retreat (my favorite): This spot is about a half mile from the theme park but offers a free shuttle service as well as includes theme park parking pass (in case you don't want to wait for the shuttle which comes every 15mins or so). The bungalows are spread out throughout the property without an official lobby area (you check in as you drive up) and are cute as heck. The pool area here is great with a little fire pit where they offer s'mores kits in the afternoons. Breakfast is also included and not as hectic as the Legoland resort since the area is a bit wider and occupancy isn't as heavy on site but no omelet station. There is an outdoor play area right outside each set of bungalows where kids look out for each other and end up playing at all hours. This resort is perfect for family reunions or larger family groups traveling together with kids. My only complaint was that the ice machines are located ALL the way by the pool section which is the furthest point from the rooms for every room. But we truly enjoyed the outdoor area of the bungalow with a patio perfect for take-out pizza dinner. Check-in also includes the same treats as the hotel and the rooms are configured in a similar fashion but decorated with water themes instead.
Off property: There are not many options available since the area is still under development but the closet hotel to the theme park is the Shergill Grand Hotel, it's so close that it shares a fence with Legoland but there isn't much grandness to the place. It is inexpensive, serves a decent breakfast in the price of the night's stay and is clean. It served its purpose when we were on a budget and preferred to forgo the resort amenities.
Legoland itself is a great time for little guys. It is not to be compared with the likes of Universal, Disney or even Busch Gardens as it is a modest concept truly focusing on the Lego theme. I imagine that their insurance coverage is also not on par with the bigger theme parks as they often shut everything down when lightning is at bay (you may not even see a storm or hear the thunder and….boom! Shutdown anyways with no rain checks). To eliminate the stress of getting closed out we started to plan for two day visits; staying on property helps to keep the Lego fun going even in spite of the weather.
I would recommend the water park access pass as well as it makes for the perfect combo day. We pack some towels and basic water needs and tote around a small bag. When the temperature goes up (because, Florida) we hit the wave pool or lazy river and leave our dry clothes in the lockers for rent.
Legoland is close enough to Miami that we have even driven up for the day and come back home in the evening. The water park section has showers where you can freshen up before you head back home from a day full of fun in the crazy Florida sun and since it closes on most nights at 7pm you can be back in the 305 by 10pm(ish).
I made a mistake the other day, I mentioned that we like to "get away" and I was wrong. We don't like to "get away" but rather we like to live for the day. And, as often as we can, we live the day away from our day to day.
This summer, like most, seemed to be slipping away with us entrenched at work as the sunny skies floated by. Ernie and I have a tradition of celebrating our engagement anniversary (blog post staycations-celebrating-the-little-things.html) but our scheduling conflicts at work have made more than one tradition this year a bit difficult to see through. About two weeks Ernie said, "just book something and we'll make it happen".
The GOALS for that "something":
At first we thought VEGAS BABY, since we had already missed going as planned for Ernie's 40th birthday, but the idea of baking in the dessert sun with only resort pools or adult pool parties as reprieve was off putting (not that I don't love a good pool party but I wanted more water than that) and the thought of losing so much in travel time when we only had 4 days was stressful which eliminated quite a few other options as well. The search was on! I went through cruise options, all inclusive resorts and even started considering forgoing one of the goals until it hit me. What about Bimini?!
I had avoided Bimini for so long because I rarely hit up places during a launch or craze. The idea of getting on a ferry and being schlepped to a place that didn't sound all too prepared for tourism while still forcing it into place was just not for me. So I did what I usual do when faced with only cliché options, I started my research. It was not looking good for Bimini during my sleepless 2am quests. It seemed our only options were the Hilton resort or a villa of some sort which all seemed quite costly for a 3 night stay plus a ferry ride. All options ranging from $350-$1000 per night. The Hilton includes transportation on the ferry but tacks on a $25 resort fee per night, offers no real beach front option and, as a hotel with traditional hotel rooms, quickly falls low on my list. The moment I came upon THE ONE alternative to the typical Bimini trip it was a done deal. I did what I rarely do and booked in that moment, even paying for the stay in advance.
Typically, we only book travel to and from a place and perhaps the first night's stay but Bimini is tricky and I still had much to learn about the tiny 7 mile long island. Having booked our stay I still had to figure out which way to get there and with very few options from which to choose I decided to go with www.frs-caribbean.com/ being that it was our first time and we don't mind boat rides (it also helped that I had found a promo code). I exhausted myself looking for rental cars and other on island transport options and Ernie said, "let's just wait till we get there and we'll figure it out". Now, we have a bit of experience with impromptu vacations and "winging it" but I don't recommend that sort of attitude when heading to Bimini. We got "lucky" or rather worked our usual travel tactics which aren't for the faint at heart but to avoid all that let me break it down for you, there are NO rental car companies on Bimini, only one scooter place that has a whole two scooters for rent and it's far from where they drop you off from any transport, there are barely any bikes and boats can't access all areas due to shallow waters and lack of dockage. So....you have two choices, okay three but barely, pray that you can get one of the 3 taxis on the island for hire (I saw people waiting hours for one), stay confined to resort shuttle which includes a tourist shopping strip, two beaches and the resort itself or....rent a golf cart. Rent the golf cart, trust me. They are costly, at $90/day as well as some additional fees and taxes (now 12% VAT which the Bahamian government recently increased from 7%). Some companies will drop off the golf cart at the resort for you and pick it up when you are done.
On Island TRANSPORTATION
Golf Cart options:
Elite Golf Cart Rentals elitegolfcartrental.com/rates/ they charge $30 for gas if you don't return refueled which is unlikely given that there is only on gas station on the entire island and it's pricing is not worth the trek so you'll just have to pay for the gas. They are available right at the Hilton Resort.
Sue and Joys 242-347-6082 are at Fisherman's Village which is part of the Resorts World and one of the ferry tram stops, seaplane arrival port and tourist shopping area within the gateway resort area.
We, however, went with Vincent who is a local and whose number I now need to track down. Our golf cart was cheap, two seats, no brakes and only one working light but...he refueled us when he drove by us once and didn't tag on any added fees. I'm using this guy again. How did I find him you may ask...it's shady business only reserved for the expert wing it traveler but I'll post his number here and you can call him for a legit transaction. ;)
As far as FOOD goes, that might have to be it's own post so I'll just highlight a few quick tips:
Bimini tips & highlights:
We almost accomplished all of our goals. The water's majesty took away all of our gambling interests as we trekked every inch of the island's beaches and ended up heading to bed way earlier than usual for us (11pm the latest during our 3 night stay). But being awakened by the soft morning sun through our bungalow's bedside view of the sunrise each morning. Feeling renewed and inspired by the little island of Bimini whose awe-inspiring colors have left us wanting for more. "There ain't no place like Bimini" that's for sure!
Multi-tasking over-thinker that is, as you can imagine, often running late.