Monday, July 13, 2015

Lake Compounce Family Day

We went to Lake Compounce for the first time last year on Fathers Day. After spending the day there and seeing how much the park had to offer families with kids of all ages, we bought seasons passes. Its located in Bristol CT, so not too long of a drive. You can upgrade your day tickets to season passes at the end of the day, which is nice. If you go twice, it pays for itself. 

This year we got a couple extra weeks on our season and went at the end of May for my daughter's birthday. Even with bringing her friend, it was still cheaper then any birthday party. And less stressful. 

The kids have a great time. And I won't lie, my husband and I enjoy the water slides and rides as much as the kids do. There are several pools with activities for smaller children in the main area, including a Pirate Ship with a tipping bucket and slides, a wave pool, some beginner slides, a kiddie pool for the really young ones with baby swings and slides, and a lazy river with an optional slide. Super fun. If you walk to the newer area, there are 4 racer slides and a big wave pool. Also there is a family restroom on this side of the park, which is always clean and vacant, so we always change into or out of our swimming gear there. 

You can pack a lunch and eat in any of the many seating areas, or get your grub at a variety of places, including Johnny Rockets, Pinks Hotdog Stand, Croc Pot, a pizza place or a 50's style diner. Just note that there are very few healthy options and all the main places close a couple hours before the park does. If you wait too long, you'll end up having fried dough for dinner. We usually eat at the Croc Pot and our family shares two entres with sides. Fried chicken, Mac and cheese, biscuits and home fries for $25 for 5. Or for about the same price you can get a large pizza. 

Once we're done with water rides, we head to the dry side of the park, usually starting in the kiddie area. It's just like a carnival except the rides are better and free with your admission fee. Kiddie coaster, caterpillar train, bumper cars, swings and Drop Zone, the kids love them all. New in 2015 is a walk through Dinosaur area, with some great photo ops. 

My 9 year old started going on the bigger rides last year. She went on Bolderdash with me, a long wooden coaster with plenty of sharp turns, bumps and drops. It was actually voted one of the best wooden coaster in the US. While we do a few of the more mature rides, my husband takes our 2 and 5 year old on their rides. There is something for everybody and we always look forward to a family day at Lake Compounce.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

York Beach, Maine

York Maine is just a 3 hour drive from where we live in CT. That's just long enough to feel like a getaway and about as long as my kids can handle in the car.  The fact that we reside in a small, New England Seaside town doesn't keep us from vacationing in other small, seaside towns.  In fact, I think we favor them because they feel so much like home: a quaint New England vibe, no strict schedules to follow, sandy toed by day and a cozy fireplace at night. 

We pulled into The Anchorage Inn and checked in. I had gotten a deal on Travel Zoo a few months back, so my vacation was already paid for. Gotta love that! We were booked in the Ocean Suites, and as we drove into our covered parking garage, we could see our pool and jacuzzi reserved for our building.

For the price we paid, my husband was expecting our room to have that run-down look and feel that some of the older beach-side accommodations sometimes have. This was not the case.  I do not lie when I tell you that this was one of the nicest rooms we've ever stayed in, budget conscience that we are.  We entered a beautiful suite with two queen beds, adorned with more pillows then a family of 5 could need, a living area with fireplace, pull-out couch, and kitchenette. And the bathroom! Radiant heat in the floors, perfect for feet getting out of the huge jetted soaking tub. From the living area of our room a set of sliding doors went out onto a balcony overlooking the ocean.  We had breakfast on that balcony every morning, soaking in the view. What more do you need on a family vacation?

I loved how the beach roses lined the pebbled beach and perfumed the salty air. I loved watching the waves tease the sandy shore, playing games with young children who delight in being "caught" by the refreshing, salty water kissing their toes.  

Families with strollers packed to the brim with beach toys, towels and coolers shuffle across the street from The anchorage Inn, young ones in tow, ready for a day in the sun. And we were among them.
 After a dip in the pool, we ventured across the street as well, with not quite as much gear. Some towels, sand toys, and snacks, was all we would need.  After a few hours of wave chasing and Sand City building, the kids declared their hunger. Conveniently located right on the beach is Sun and Surf Restraunt. My two little ones shared a bowl of clam chowder (money saving on vacay!), my oldest had the chicken Caesar wrap, I had the grilled swordfish, and my husband had the soft shell crab sandwich. It was seaside scrumptious! I restrained myself from getting a fancy cocktail, so with all of us getting waters, and our 20% discount we got from our hotel, our bill was under $40. 

After the kids had a swim in the soaking tub, we took ourselves on a little self-guided tour of the town, in search of ice cream and whatever other adventures we might find. 

Nubble Light is a lighthouse about 3 miles from The Anchorage Inn (too far to walk with 3 small kids). We drove there at sunset and the kids had a grand time climbing the sea-splashed rocks that posed as a viewing grounds for us and many other light-lookers. As with all other tourist attractions, there is a gift shop on site. Although as a general budgeting rule, we don't do gift shops. There was a restaurant right there with both a take out window and also a sit-down service, and yes, they had ice-cream. Right around the corner was another ice-cream place. 

The next day was a rainy one, so after swimming in the in-door pool, we headed out of York and drove about an hour to Portland Maine to check out their Children's Museum. It was $9.00 per person (they charged for adults too) and had a few exhibits for older children, but  mostly it was fun for my 2 and 5 year old. After that, we ventured off for another hour longish car ride, to the Freeport outlets, specifically to get the kids backpacks at LL Bean. 

Back in York that evening, the clouds had parted, revealing  a beautiful sunset. We got take out at Lobster Pound, satisfying my husband's craving for Maine Lobster. We also discovered a huge playground located right on the beach, just on the other side of town. 

Our last night in York we walked to Stones Throw, a more gourmet style restaurant with an intriguing menu. We chose outdoor seating and started with mussels in a coconut Thai sauce and calamari. My husband ordered the blueberry beer and I had the Sangria. If you're a beer lover, this place had a long list of craft beers on tap. My adventurous 9 year old order the lobster roll, I had the lobster and feta flatbread, and my husband got the Tuna. I ordered kids meals for the younger two, but the grilled cheese was on thick slices of bread and the chicken tenders (though absolutely moist and delicious) were not familiar enough for my kids to eat. So we ate their leftover food the next day. That's the only thing with eating out with kids. I always feel like it's such a waste of money when they don't eat the food. Obviously that meal was a big splurge for us, ringing in at $130. However, we had saved money by going to a local grocery store and eating lunch, snacks and breakfast in our room. Its nice to treat yourself to a fancy meal once in a while. I would want to go back to Stones Throw, if we go back to York, as there are many more things on the menu that I wanted to try. 

All vacations must come to an end. But I always leave one with plans of future vacations on my mind. When I checked out, I asked how much our room would be if we were to go back in July. I was told $500 per night. I had paid $130 per night through TravelZoo! So I'll be on the lookout for another great deal!
An artisan eatery. Would be great for a date night. 
Wild Blueberry Sangria and Blueberry Beer. 
Beach roses. 

Lobster Pound Restaurant. A great place to eat lobster and chowder while watching the sunset. There's also a campground across the street. 

LL Bean anniversary boot!

Portland Children's Museum. 

Fancy vanity at The Anchorage Inn
Spa tub
Living area, pull out sofa bed. 
Cozy fireplace
Our view. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

To Mexico We Go!

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to encourage parents to take their kids on family vacations. It seems that whenever I tell people about a trip we are planning on taking, the popular response is "are you taking the kids?" Of course we are! And everyone seems so surprised. 

Of course it is going to be a different type of traveling When you bring the kids. And if the last time you travelled outside the country was the summer after high school when you took that backpacking trip through Europe, then you're going to have a little less freedom to do only what you want. Or if your last tropical vacation was "Spring Break in Cancun" then a vacation to Mexico with your kids will be a somewhat sobering experience for you. But if you have kids, I imagine you're like me and enjoy playing and spending time with them. 

When I backpacked through Europe by myself, many years ago, I had no plans, no money, no real precautions. And when my husband and I started traveling together, all our trips were booked extremely last minute. This is usually the thing to do in order to get the best prices. But when you're traveling with three young children you need to plan ahead, make reservations, and definitely take precautions. 

Be prepared for anything. Pack every single medicine you may need. I don't think I have ever been on a vacation where I haven't administered either ibuprofen, Benadryl or a band-aid to at least one out of three of my kids. It's always better to be safe then pay $6.00 for band-aids. 

Having pre-set reservations for your accommodations and transportation will save a lot of time and money. We spent a good month researching resorts in Mexico, reading reviews on Trip Advisor and researching prices on different travel sites such as Expedia and Kayak. We found it was cheaper booking directly through the resort, rather then going through a third party. Makes sense. Then we booked our flights separately as well, also spending many hours online, to determine the lowest airfare prices. I spoke with other resort guests and they booked flights and resort in a package seal and paid hundreds more then us. Booking flights in the middle of the week always gives you cheaper fares then on the weekends. We pre-booked airport parking and saved nearly 50 percent! We booked transportation to our resort separately and saved again. The more we save, the more vacations we can go on is how I look at it. 

A trip to an All-inclusive in Mexico is probably one of the easiest trips to do with your kids. While it may not satisfy the single globetrotters appetite for travel,  it offers connivence, family time, and fun for kids. And if the kids aren't having fun then you're not either! We picked our resort based on its kid-friendly reviews. And a resort that offers a type of daycare/entertainment for kids, allows a little more relaxation time for mom and dad. 

 One of the most important mind sets to have when traveling with kids is flexibility. You should make plans, but know that they can, and probably will, change. You and your spouse need to be on the same page when it comes to going with the flow. I would love to tell you that we got to our resort and spent 10 perfect beach, pool and excursion filled days in paradise. But the truth is, by day four my baby, Grayson, developed a fever. So I took Jaidyn and Addy to dinner and a kids show and my husband stayed with G and had room service. We did the same thing the next day, except this time Addy joined the party in the room with a fever as well. I took Jaidyn to dinner and a show and he had room service again. I was more then willing to stay behind this time but he wanted to watch the Red Sox game anyway! With two out of three kids sick during the day, we took turns staying in the room. I went snorkeling and did water aerobics at the beach then he had pool bar time. Of course we would rather be doing it all together, but when vacation plans change for the worst, you really are better off making the best of it. Being angry, bitter and feeling sorry for your somewhat ruined vacation will get you no where. There's always next time!

Our trip facts & costs:
Where we stayed: Grand Bahia Principe Coba, in Riviera Maya.
 We loved: the kids water park and easy access to everything from our room. The kids club was so good that our girls didn't want to spend any time with us! The beach was farther then I liked, but was was beautiful and a section was cleared of rocks for ouch-less swimming.
Resort Cost: 10 days in Paradise for all five cost us approximately $1425

Airfare: $1400 for four tickets (babies fly free, so take 'em while they're young!)

Bag fees: $100, but you can try to book a flight with a carrier who doesn't charge a fee.  We usually fly Spirit or Southwest or Jet Blue but they didn't have any flights left with decent times. 

Transportation: $170 for our own personal driver and SUV. So worth it. This last leg of the trip can be the worst part. Having to stop at other resorts to drop off other travelers is a pain, when you just want to get to your own resort. Spend the little bit of extra money here. 

So where are we at? $3095. That's a grand less then D-World would have cost us for the same things. I don't think it's too bad. Put $300 a month into a vacation savings account and you'll have it in a year, and plenty of spending money too. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Budgeting Basics: The Envelope System

I'm guessing in almost every couple there is a saver and a spender. But my husband and I like to do things together - so when we're saving together it's great - but when we're spending together, watch out budget! Somehow having the other person there with you makes it seem like it's ok to cross that budget line. And it's always big stuff - like vacations! Of course now we have a vacation "envelope." Back in the olden days of our lives we would just go on vacation and figure out how to pay for it when we got home. We were very spontaneous with our weekend getaways, making memories and leaving a trail of debt along the way. Eventually we received a wake-up call. It doesn't take more then your credit card being declined at the grocery store to put things in perspective. We had to start living within our budget. 

My husband read Dave Ramsey's book Total Money Makeover. The first thing he tells you to do is write down your monthly income then list all your expenses. "Give every dollar a name," he says. When you first do it you may find out you're living beyond your means. For most people it's a fancy car with a payment that crushes their budget. For others it's a love of shopping. For us it was a little of everything, but mostly it was lack of any sort of budget. As soon as we started tracking our dollars, we wanted to be able to control our dollars. We used the "envelope" system. You literally put cash in an envelope that is labeled with that Dollar's name. For instance, "Food."  Clothing, entertainment, gifts, kid's activities - anything you spend money on over the month gets an envelope. The vacation envelope is important to us. It's not essessial to most, but to us it means time together, time with the kids, time away from all our work worries. If we have to cut back on spending in another envelope in order to go on vacation we will. We consider it a priority. When I pull up to my daughter's school in my 2002 mini van that looks like the ugly duckling next to some of the other parents' cars picking up their kids, I remind myself that driving it means I get to go on vacation,  and that makes me smile. 

But recently I had to go back to basics with my clothing budget. I had been using the YNAB app (You Need A Budget) which is great, don't get me wrong, especially for more complex budgets, but I was putting clothes on credit cards instead of taking the cash out of the envelope, which allowed me to overspend one month, taking me into the negative for the next month. I went over the last two months. Perhaps it was my Back to School shopping Saga at Justice or my shopping spree at Goodwill when everything was 50% off. I always say that the occupational hazard of working at Old Navy is the temptation to buy! Either way, I went over. So now I have to put the clothing cash in the envelope. And you know, now that it's cash, I don't want to spend it! There's something about it being cash that makes me almost afraid to spend it. I know when it's gone it's gone. That's why Dave Ramsey is so anti credit card. He knows that people will spend more if they have a credit card then if they're paying cash.  So if I want something at the end of the month or if Old Navy has a big sale, I know I want to have that money to spend. I think this is part of the beauty of the system. Half the battle of budgeting is mental. Getting yourself to curb your spending and ask yourself: "do I really need this?" I've listened to Dave's podcasts and heard him argue with someone about them using a credit card to earn points ( or miles, or whatever). His main point is that when you don't have to pay for it right away, you are tempted to just buy it, and figure out how to pay for it later, leaving a trail of debt along the way. And I don't want to go back to that trail ever again!

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Have you ever been excited about luggage? For one thing, it means you're going somewhere! And some luggage I just can't wait to pack and take on a trip.  I recently bought a new 28" Eagle Creek suitcase from their Gateway collection and I am super excited about it. I was excited reading about it online but it is even better in person. The way that this bag turns a 360 as I take it on a test drive around my living room is simply genius. It is the lightest suitcase I have ever owned, at 8lbs 14 oz, which says a lot because my other 3 suitcases are all Eagle Creek. And no, they are not paying me to say this! I love that it has four wheels that all turn 360. My 3 year old can push it through a carpeted hotel lobby while it's full of everything a family of five packs for an overnight. No more dragging a heavy bag on just two wheels and then fighting with it to make a turn. This bag moves! 

In the past, For all of our big trips, I pack the three kids and my stuff all in a big 31" suitcase and my husband gets a 22" size for his stuff. But the kids are getting bigger, therefore clothing is bigger, and let's face it, a family of five isn't going anywhere with only carry-ons, So I decided to get another large suitcase for our upcoming trip to Mexico. This way we can fit it all into two bags and just (hopefully) have one carry-on filled with boardom busters. Of course, we also travel with a double stroller and pack and play.

For packing I have my own system but I plan on spending a little time reading the many travel pins I have pinned, just in case someone else has a better system then me. I'll be sure to share. 

What is your tried and true packing method? And do you bring a pack and play or do you trust the one the hotel provides? 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Harkness Memorial State Park: A place for my heart

One of my favorite parks in CT is Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford. The first time I went there, my then boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed. We were married there nearly ten years ago. Now it is a special place we bring our kids once a year. With beautiful buildings and gardens, a beach that is suited for digging up shells and sea glass, and a huge lawn for flying kites and picnicking, Harkness is the perfect backdrop to a day out with the family. 

You can host your big family get together at Harkness. Just get there early to claim a set of picnic tables and a cooker. We always walk past a smoking grill and probably drool a little! We definitely have to host a reunion there someday, so that our food can be the envy of other park-goers!

If you choose Harkness as your wedding destination, you can rent the outdoor stage area or the impressive mansion. Either way your guests will be wowed and your photos, beautiful. 

We have lost a kite in one of the tall trees skirting the edges of the sprawling lawn. 
On our most recent trip, last Sunday, we brought the girls' bikes and they road the big loop that passes by the stables, gift shop and gardens. The kids trotted through the Mansion gardens before the wedding that just happened to be scheduled started. They pretended to be fairies and yes , I'll admit, I was so inspired by the iron gates overgrown with ivy, the tranquil fountains and tiny pathways, I pretended to be a fairy too! Go for the entire day or just a couple of hours and know you'll have a good time regardless. 

Tips and cost:
We happened to go on the last Sunday that they were charging, but it was still only $6.00. If you were to go now, it would be free. 

Pack a lunch, kite, bikes, frisbee or throwing ball of your choice. 
Pets allowed but must be leashed and please clean up after it. 
Plan on doing a lot of walking and taking a lot of pictures! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Familyof5 Visits Santa's Village

If your kids are anything like my kids, they love birthdays! And they will talk about their birthday all year long. The invitation to a friend's birthday will start a whole new passion for their own upcoming birthday - that is really 6 months away! Jaidyn will talk about what theme her birthday will be, who she will invite, and where she will have it. And it changes with the weather!

This year, about a month before her 7th birthday, Jaidyn made a very surprising choice. She did not want to have a big birthday party with a Star Wars theme (which was the theme she had recently landed on). Instead she wanted to go on a family vacation! (A girl after my own heart ;-)

We discussed different ideas and finally decided on Santa's Village, in Jefferson New Hampshire. We had been 2 years before and had enjoyed it then, and it was just about a 5 hour drive from where we live, which is about all I can take in a car with three kids.

After doing a little research on the Santa's Village website, which is great, by the way, we discovered that if you tell them in advance that a child is celebrating a birthday, they go the extra mile to make sure it is special. When you get there, let the person in the ticket sale window know about the birthday guest. They will give them a sticker to wear, that has their name pre-printed on it.

Employees who saw Jaidyn's birthday sticker wished her a happy birthday. When we went into the Polar Theatre, the employee had the entire audience sing "Happy Birthday" to her. At the end of our day we stopped in to see Santa and he had a special gift just for Jaidyn. All of this was at no extra cost. The only downside was that poor little Addy didn't quite understand why her big sister was getting so much extra attention, and when Santa asked her what she wanted for Christmas this year, she replied "a birthday." Of course, in the fashion of every little child, she has been talking about her birthday all summer, and how she wants to go to Santa's Village. I shiver just thinking about it because her birthday is in January!

Overall, we love this theme park for a family trip with small children. It is clean, which is huge on my list. It is easy to get around and the grounds are beautifully maintained with gorgeous flowers. All the rides are appropriate for young children, so if you have an older child who enjoys thrill rides, they may not be so thrilled. Unless of course they like watersides. A fairly new attraction to to the park is the water play area. There are two big slides as well as two little slides and even a baby area! Its perfect for cooling down on a hot day. For unprepared parents, the gift shop sells towels, suits and swim diapers. But we were prepared - this time - two years before Jaidyn left in wet clothes!

My favorite part of the park is meeting Santa's Reindeer. I really had never seen actual reindeer and they are so cute! For a little extra you can buy them food and feed them by hand.

Human food at the park is reasonably priced with many healthy options, but there are also many areas to sit and open up your cooler packed with snacks and sandwiches.

If you get there when they open, or shortly after, one day is really all you need. Lines are not bad, at least they weren't the weekend when we went, and if you have a couple days in New Hampshire, you might want to bring the family on a short hike or drive up Mt. Washington.

We stayed at The Royalty Inn, just as we had our previous visit. We liked it because it has an indoor, heated pool, which many of the area motels do not, and all rooms had a fridge and microwave, at no extra cost. Also, coffee in the lobby every morning was a plus for tired mommy! We did not, however, like the restaurant next door. The food was greasy and the dining area was in the same open room as the very rowdy bar, which I would not expose my children to. I ordered food to go and we ate at one of the tables next to the outdoor pool.

In two years I plan on bringing everyone up to New Hampshire again, maybe enjoy some of the other area attractions, maybe do a little camping and hiking. Use the Santa's Village website to plan your trip. It lists all types of places to stay or camp.

Trip Tips:

1. Pack entertainment bags for each kid for the long car ride.
2. Try to plan the car ride to include at least one nap time.
3. A movie in the car, your phone, or a portable DVD player goes a long way, so make sure all batteries are fully charged.
4. Plan on taking a stretch break every two hours.
5. Plan games to play in the car with your kids, when naps are had and movies are over. We like to play eye spy. Singing is fun too. For a minute.

If you have ideas for long car rides I would love for you to add them in the comment box. I am not so good with the long car rides, I tend to go coo coo before the kids do!

6. For Santa's Village pack waters for everyone, swim stuff and maybe a picnic lunch.

Have fun!