Colorado Girl’s Summer Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list? You know one of those lists of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket”. My kids and I created our own sort of bucket list. While we didn’t call it Bucket List – we called it “Colorado Kid” list. It was all the things that we thought that someone who lives in Colorado should do in their lifetime. And maybe why some people actually come here to visit (instead of just those of us who get to live here). Some of the items were winter (ski, snowboard, snowmobile, ice skate on a lake, etc) there were quite a few that were summer items. So maybe you can start your own Colorado Kids list with some of these suggestions.

In Town (Denver)

  • WaterWorld is a water park on the North side of Denver (on 88th and Pecos). They have been recognized as one of the best water parks in the country and it is right here in our back yard!  https://www.waterworldcolorado.com/
  • At Elitch Gardens your sort of get a two for one, it is a theme park and water park. There are rides for all ages and sizes and plenty of other fun happenings from free concerts to dive in movies.  https://www.elitchgardens.com/
  • Who doesn’t love a night at Red Rocks? The natural amphitheater that is famous for the amazing sound and natural setting. One of the least expensive ways to really experience the venue with the whole family is Film on the Rocks! The films are typically proceeded by an awesome local band that goes along with the theme of the movie.  http://www.redrocksonline.com/fotr/
  • Free Concerts or movies is an amazing way to enjoy a Colorado evening and some entertainment. Most are free and pretty much you can find something on your side of town (because they happen everywhere). https://www.milehighmamas.com/blog/2018/06/01/summer-2018-free-concert-and-movie-guide/
  • Cherry Creek Arts Festival (July 6-8) is a wold-class and award-winning arts festival showcasing the visual arts, performing arts, and culinary arts. So much to see for everyone. Just make sure you bring your water bottle. It is usually pretty warm out. My kids and I sat in the shade of the tent of the culinary stage. We watched the chef prepare the meal and wrote down the ingredients and steps. Then we went to Whole Foods, bought all the stuff and re-created the meal at home that night. Arts in the home. (We couldn’t exactly re-create some of the visual arts – and we certainly tried to recreate some of the performing arts). cherrycreekartsfestival.org/
  • If music is your thing, Underground Music Showplace (July) is the place to go! Let’s just call it a full two days of a free concert downtown. https://www.undergroundmusicshowcase.com/
  • Taste of Colorado (Sept – Labor Day weekend) is a staple for anyone who has lived in Colorado for any time. Civic Center park is transformed into a tasting haven, top artists perform (Leann Rhimes was just announced for this year) and tents upon tents of crafts/community exhibitors https://atasteofcolorado.com/
  • Renaissance Fair. A bit cheesy but fun. Yes, we all want to walk around eating a giant turkey leg while we watch jousting or say hello to a King and Queen. It is a great teaching opportunity to talk through history and culture of a different time and place.  https://coloradorenaissance.com/

But if you’ve had too much in town – you can always escape to the Mountains!

  • Hike! Pretty much it seems like you can pull your car over on the side of the road and just start walking! Hiking is easy and fun. Stop and take pictures, see if you can find animal footprints in the dirt and try to identify the animal or just let the kids get their energy out. There are several books that can guide you and your team where a good hike might be for the ages and abilities of your crew. Some of our favorites? Bear Creek, Ouzel Falls, Royal Arch Trail and Mt. Falcon. My kids love wearing the water packs – that can be picked up pretty inexpensively!
  • Want to fly over Vail Valley? Try ZipLine! We went to 4 Eagle Ranch. The ranch has the usual ranch stuff (horses, rodeo series and western Family nights) but they also do Glamping, 4×4 tours and our favorite, ZipLining. The kids and I got outfitted at the ranch then hopped in a jeep and driven over to the Zip course. The course is 7 zips each getting slightly longer with the longest being 1000’! My daughter loved it. My son went tandem with a guide. They say they can hold most weights. 4eagleranch.com/
  • Several areas around town seem to have these amazing Obstacle Courses and/or summer tubing
    • Lawson Adventure Park is easy to get to as it is just outside of Idaho Springs (Eat a pizza at Beau Jo’s on the way home!) You can stay at the park in a Yurt, cabin or tent! But you can also just go for the day and try the activities. They have a Via Ferrata (rock climbing), Mountain Zorb (our favorite), learn how to fly fish on Clear Creek, try a short zipline, challenge course or try to stand up in a water walkerz.  http://lawsonadventurepark.com/
    • I can’t decide if I like snowboarding or summer at Vail more. The summer Vail Discovery includes adventure courses, ziplines, mountain coaster, tubing hils, climbing wall and bungee Trampoline. https://www.vail.com/explore-the-resort/activities-and-events/…/epic-discovery.aspx
    • Maybe your kids aren’t ready for a full sleep away camp (or maybe like me, you can’t really afford that)> I love thatYMCA Rockies has day tickets. Try your hand at archery, canoeing, challenge courses, craft shop, bike rentals, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, disc golf, climbing, swimming, tennis, rafting, volleyball or the summer tubing hill.  https://snowmountainranch.org/activities/summer-tubing-hill/
    • Bailey has a new adventure park. I have not been to this one yet – but sounds like a lot of the same stuff from ziplining to obstacle courses.  http://treehouseadventurepark.com/
  • Rafting is such a refreshing way to enjoy the mountains and an ultimate check on the bucket list. We used River Runners several years ago with my kids. They loved it. They sat in the middle of the boat, didn’t have to paddle and enjoyed the ride. We were quite ready for lunch when the 1/2 day rafting was over. That mountain run off water feels good at first – but even in summer it’s sort of cold! https://whitewater.net/
  • Colorado is well known for our Western Roots. So, we had to add horseback riding. We like Safari Ranch outside of Fairplay – because the horses are not trained to follow another’s trail. You feel like you’re out there on your own. We did a ½ day of riding and the day ended by the grill -= where we made lunch and then headed home before the summer camping traffic started on 285. americansafariranch.com/
  • A great weekend getaway is Glenwood Springs. There is a lot to do in Glenwood. You can hike Hanging Lake, go to Glenwood Caverns, swim in the hot springs pool. https://www.glenwoodcaverns.com/
  • I grew up in Steamboat –  so for me this was a must to show my kids all the places I went as a kid. I remember fishing at Lost Dog Creek, camping at big mountain and hiking Fish Creek Falls. But there are tons of things to do in town as well. Try the mountain coaster, or get a tube and go tubing down the Yampa (right by the park/library). However, it’s a 3-hour drive so at least a night up there makes sense.
  • Colorado Springs has a ton to offer as well. You can do it as a weekend get away or a bit further of a drive for a few hours of fun. There is a lot you can see/do down there as well. Cheyenne Mtn Zoo is cool. The Cave of the Winds (and the terror-dactyl ride), 7 falls, and drive to Royal Gorge.
  • If you like sitting in a hot spring pool Mt. Princeton can’t be beat. We especially loved the part in the river where you can be literally sitting in a pool of warm water and still have your toes in the freezing cold river! When we went we did a bit of hiking up Agnes Falls then enjoyed the hot springs afterwards.

This is just a start of the fun places we know about or have discovered. We are pretty certain that the “Colorado Kid” list is something that can be changed or added to all the time. So if you know of some other great things that scream Colorado please send them our way!

Road Trippin’ Fun

Summer is officially here. Let the Road Trips begin! When I was younger and we took our annual summer road trip (usually to Vegas in our case), my dad had a few traditions. One included getting ice cream or some sort of treat mid-afternoon and the other was that we would be in the pool by 4 p.m. But that is not to say that being in the car was awful. We always had a decent time (less when the arguments with my sister that she was on my side, being loud, or whatever other thing I could blame on her). We didn’t have the luxury of movies or smart phones. Those are great for entertainment – but after a while, even those will cause a certain amount of boredom. So here were a few that we came up with that are still viable options today (yes, I’m old).

  1. Mobile DJ. In my car, we would play DJ and take turns choosing the song. Each person would get an opportunity to pick one out then the ipod/plug in would go to the next person. The rule was that in any leg of the trip no song could be re-played AND the person who picked it (at least) had to sing along. We also took this a step further and the next person in to pick the song chose the “better” song from the previous two. A bit of a personal battle of the bands.
  2. Audio Book. There are tons of great stories that are available for FREE on DigitalHoopla (they also have music and movies), which is part of your local library!
  3. Old school songs – do you remember the ditties from when you were little? Can you sing them still? What about if everyone had to take a turn and sing only one word at a time? It gets sort of silly (or maybe we were always a little slap-happy when we tried this).
  4. We would name a category, i.e. Breakfast Cereals. Each person would have to name one that was not a repeat from someone else.
  5. Grandma’s Trunk. Still an oldie but goodie. Name something that “Grandma” would put in her trunk to take on a trip starting with the letter A. The next person needs to repeat what item “A” is and add another item that starts with B. Then the third person repeats items “A” and “B” and adds item C. And so on through the whole alphabet. It is a good memory game as well as learning the alphabet (especially for smaller kids).
  6. I Spy or 20 Questions. These games are pretty similar. You pick an item or an idea. The others in the car get to ask only yes/no questions and try to guess what you saw or what you’re thinking of (in 20 questions or less).
  7. Making up stories. Our favorite was “while you were sleeping,” where we try to convince the person(s) that were sleeping that something happened or that we saw something spectacular. We would also just try to make up a story but each person would take just a line or thought to add to the previous part of the story.
  8. Who’s in that car? As you approach another car (preferably from behind). Try to guess what that person is like driving that car. Are they a man or a lady? Young or old? And any other details.

No matter what games you play or if you don’t play any at all, summer is meant to be fun. The road trip is an All-American Summer tradition. Make some fun memories with the family and enjoy your summer road trip.

Puerto Rico Birthday Weekend

I have long believed that experiences mean so much more than any material possession. I hatched up a plan to take my kids wherever they wanted to go for their 16th Birthday. I knew that I would not have enough money to buy them a car but I did work where I got hotel points and knew that I could trade some of them in to make a pretty nice trip.

My ex won’t let my kids have a passport. You need both parents to sign off on a passport until the kids turn 16 (I had previously thought it was at 18 years old). So, when I asked her where she wanted to go – and she responded, “a beach in Mexico.” I knew I  couldn’t make that happen. That is how we decided on Puerto Rico. As a U.S. Territory – U.S. citizens don’t need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. But, since Spanish is the primary language it would feel like Mexico. (Coincidentially they were in the news right before we went as they have voted to try to become the 51st state).

We chose to stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. One of the primary factors that went into that decision was they are right on Condado beach and family friendly.  It is also in a safe neighborhood that has a lot of great restaurants and other activities nearby. We let the hotel know that it was her birthday. We were upgraded to a suite that had two balconies – one facing the ocean and the other facing the pool and up into Old San Juan (along the beach). When we arrived at the room there was an amazing “Happy Birthday” sign on the headboard of the bed and they sent a birthday cake to the room! Wow. What a welcome! (They also gave me vouchers for free drinks and casino matching money to play). That first night – we ran down to the beach and spent about an hour there. Then decided we were hungry.

We asked the front desk what is something uniquely Puerto Rican that we should have to eat and where to get it. They suggested mofongo (it is mashed plantains, grilled with garlic and oil, turned upside down and smothered with a soupy gravy and beef) at Orozco’s just down the street.

Photo of Orozco's Restaurant - San Juan, Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico. Realllllly. GoodIMG_4667

It was delicious. The girls (my daughter brought a friend) enjoyed the food (we also got empanadas and beans and rice) and the waiter was fairly young. He was super patient at letting them try out their Spanish (while he tried out his English). I also had a rum punch drink that was delicious (Hello! Bacardi is made there).

The next morning was early to rise. We headed out on a tour a the El Yunque Rain Forest Hiking Tour. The tour was arranged by my friends with the Puerto Rico Convention and Visitors Bureau via Destination Puerto Rico. They were really easy to work with and did a fantastic job of explaining everything to us. Our tour guide, George of the Jungle was friendly and knowledgable.

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He seemed very excited to share his island with us. He gave us a brief history as we rode in the shuttle bus with about 20 other people. The first stop was the visitors center. He explained many of the plants and a bit about the Rainforest itself (it is the only one in the U.S. National Forest Service). Then we stopped at a small rainfall “la Coca Falls”, next was an observation tower. Again, the knowledge of the tour guide was amazing – not only did he tell stories but he also pointed out what the islands in the distance were. We did have to hike up several stairs to get to the top (so if you’re not of a mind to walk much this might be a part you skip) the last stop was an upper hill above La Mina falls. We hiked down on a fairly steep path. It took about 30 minutes to walk down. Then we were allowed to swim at the base of the falls. It was so beautiful. The water was a bit chilly (but felt good for the warm day). There were several tour busses there and it appeared that some locals were there as well. Then after swimming for about an hour – we headed back up the hill (the other way) and came out near a parking lot where George was waiting for us. We did hear some other people talking about how steep it was (it wasn’t a big deal for us Colorado gals). Indeed it does rain in the rainforest. The rain was not cold at all. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a road-side cafe (more traditional Puerto Rican food) and souvenier shop. Then the best part, is my daughter had mentioned her love of mangos – George took us to his “friends house” and let everyone get off the bus quickly and pick mangos! (We ate those for breakfast for the next couple days).

 

When we got back to the hotel we had about two hours to chill – then we were headed out (this time in our rental car*) for the BioBay Tour. The BioBay tour started at the beach in Fajardo, a town pretty much on the other side of the island. Once we arrived at the beach area of Fajardo, there were several tents set up. We easily found the one we needed to check in for our tour. There are two tours. We took the earlier one. They told us to use lots of bug spray and then wait. When everyone had checked in we were issued our lifevest and told that the kayak trip would be a 2.4 mile round trip tour. Across the bay, through the jungle (covered – and btw it was VERY cool but hard to photograph), to an open lake where the only way to this lake is via boat. That is where the plankton who when moved create a glow. The glow was not what we really expected – we really could see the blue sparkes of the light up plankton. Then we followed the lights on kayas ahead of us back through the covered part and across the bay.

Sunday was a beach day. I could not have been happier that we planned it this way. People in Puerto Rico either take their Sundays very seriously or Father’s Day seriously. But we were told that there would not be much open. We planned the day at the beach and pool right at the hotel. We did make it down the street for a brunch – and a short detour to a couple touristy shops (had to get a t-shirt and a snowglobe) and the Walgreens there (Icee). We explored the game room at the hotel and the pool. We later ate dinner right at the hotel as well.

Monday morning – the girls slept in just a bit (I woke up my normal early and walked along the beach).  We headed across the street for a quick starbucks breakfast and headed out to the airport in our rented car. We had to return the car right at the airport and then check in to our flight (SJU>MCO>DEN). The trip was short in time – but hopefully long in memories. I think this may just be a birthday gift she remembers for a long time.

*We rented a car as we were told that the bio bay tour that we booked was filled but we were the only three that were asking for transportation from the hotel to Fajardo where the tour would take place. We were offered to “buy out” the bus at $20 per person (even though there were only three of us) which would have amounted to something like $200. So I started looking at cab rides or uber. Everything that I could see and those that I talked to told me that a cab ride would be something like $80 each way. And since Uber is not a real presence there that it would likely be not much less. So I started looking into renting a car – which would get us to/from airport as well as this excursion to the tour. The car rental from the airport was around $125 (it would have been less expensive but I sort of decided to do it last minute and prices had gone up). They are crazy drivers – speed limits and signs mean nothing to them. They swerve and go all different speeds. Also our GPS/Siri didn’t work well on one of the carriers (we had two one of us was on ATT the other two on Verizon). Streets don’t seem to be well marked. They also like to ride on bumpers pretty tightly in traffic areas and we were in a small Kia that just making a turn felt like it was going to fall apart. We were supposed to have paid for parking at $10 per day at the hotel – but somehow the guy who marked our ticket didn’t charge us at all! I thought this was just us and our timing until I heard a lady on the beach on Sunday talking to someone on the phone and her plight sounded eerily similar. (There is a car rental desk at the hotel – but they were out of cars when I wanted to rent).

 

Fall Break Getaway to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone

Through my work with hotels – I had a certificate for a two night stay at the Wort Hotel in Jackson, WY. I had held on to it for too long. (It had been like 2 years – and the certificate was technically expired). But I called the hotel and asked if we could come up during the kids fall break. They said YES!

We were going to drive. Since my son couldn’t go because they were still going to practice for football – I asked my daughter if she wanted to bring a friend. We were driving so we got a fairly early start on Monday morning. It is an eight hour drive to Jackson. My daughter being 15 was excited about having the opportunity to drive a bit on her learner’s permit.

We got through Denver and Ft. Collins in decent time and made it to Village Inn in Laramie, WY for breakfast. But first a quick little stop at the stadium for University of Wyoming. The girls must have been really hungry because they both ordered pretty big breakfasts and at a lot of it. Plus, we got a free slice of pie with any entree. We packed the pie to-go and hit the road again. The road from Laramie to Jackson is mostly across I-80. It is flat and windy. But my daughter was a champ. The girls blasted their music and sang along – while taking photos and videos. A few times during the trip we just had to get out to stretch and take some photos. img_3102

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We arrived at the Wort around 3 p.m. which was perfect as that is check in time! The Wort is a historic hotel right in the corner of town where all the fun tourist shops are and town square (the park). We shopped a bit, grabbed tacos at the little taqueria and tequila place across the street from the hotel and left just in time to catch the most amazing sunset. img_3149

The next morning breakfast was at the most amazing bakery in town, Persephone. It is a cute little bakery with GREAT pastries. It felt like something straight off a pinterest page.

img_3243On our way to Yellowstone! When you create your budget for this trip remember that it cost about $80 to buy an annual National Parks Pass. (National Parks Pass is free for fourth graders and way cheap for seniors). It would be about $50 to just get in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. Since we live near a couple National Parks we decided to buy the whole year deal. From Jackson, we were so close we needed to see Old Faithful. Old Faithful is the guyser that erupts in a spray of more than boiling hot water over 100 feet in the air. It naturally happens on a regular timeline…thus the name Old Faithful. The drive is about an hour and a half from the hotel so we knew we were going to be in the car for a good part of the day. But we stopped, got out and walked a lot more than we had done the previous day. img_3193

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Due to our timing – (October) – it was cold and even snowed a bit while we were there. Old Faithful was worth seeing so we could say we saw it – but the girls (both teens) weren’t really all that into it. We didn’t do much exploring because of the weather. We had to wait in line for the one food outlet that was open. I really can’t imagine how crazy with tourists that must be in the summer. Maybe if you are going then pack a lunch.

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My daughter was our photographer making me stop to take many photos. We also stopped for small hikes – like down to the lake, to the waterfall and to see wild animals! I was hoping to see a moose. Which we did not get to see. But, we saw the big three: Buffaloes (this was early in the morning); a grizzly bear (although my iPhone photo isn’t great – it’s the brown blob in the picture) and a HUGE elk. And actually, we would not have seen the grizzly had we not pulled over on the side of the road when we saw a lot of other cars pulling over. The ranger was great. He was explaining that the Grizzly was about 8 years old (they live to about 20) and that she was over there eating to fatten up for hybernation. She probably wouldn’t be able to run all that fast with all her weight which is why it was OK for us to be so close. If you go to Yellowstone, don’t be afraid to stop on the side of the road when you see other cars doing the same.

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We wrapped up the afternoon with a detour toward Jenny Lake. We found out that the main entrance was closed for repairs to the trails. But the gate attendant told us another way to get to the lake. It was BEAUTIFUL. I mean, I live in Colorado. I’ve seen mountains. But somehow Teton is more majestic, more jagged, more rough.While Yellowstone gets a lot of great hype (and it should – it’s an amazing national park!) Jenny Lake is a highlight for anyone who makes a trip there and should not be missed.

The trails were easy enough for us to have some fun and take lots of pictures. But, we were there in the late afternoon and I had mentioned that we needed to be mindful that the sun goes down pretty quickly when it dips behind mountains. AND there were tons of signs about being aware of the bears. (The sign also said to make lots of noise to help deter bears – which was not a problem for us). img_3218

Dinner was at the BBQ joint in town. It was delicious and more than filling.

The next day we couldn’t leave town before heading back to Persephone’s Bakery. This time we sat down (there is very little seating – especially inside). I had the best croque madame ever. The girls had pastries – chocolate croissant and cinnamon brioche. Then we went back to a few shops to grab some items we had seen but not purchased before.

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And headed back toward Denver. Short but sweet little two-night fun in Jackson.

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Great Family Fun at Lawson Adventure Park

 

 

My family likes to spend time in the mountains. To be honest, it is just me that really likes to spend time in the mountains – the kids don’t have a choice and I typically drag them up there with me. They pretend they are not having a good time. Typical teens. Grumpy face. Head buried deep in whatever social media secret they are keeping from me at the moment. I took my daughter and her friend to Lawson Adventure Park in Lawson Colorado this last weekend. (Lawson is just West of Idaho Springs).

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We tried several of their offerings.

Challenge Course. We started the day with the Challenge Course. A bit like a suspension bridge with a small zipline. We could choose which direction and what challenge to attempt. The climb up the rope wall to start. Then we walked across the suspension bridge to a rope loop hang. Then zipped back to almost the beginning. It was certainly a challenge for all ages at any point but a lot of fun at the same time. There were eight elements total. (We tried them all).

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Zorb. The zorb was one of our favorite things all day. It is like a giant inflatable hamster ball that is tossed down the hill with someone inside! There is also water in here (about 5 gallons) so that the person inside slides and slips around. Be prepared to be drenched.(See the Awesome Video here: https://youtu.be/ebUMt-Tx2KE)

Water Walkerz. From a spectator standpoint Water Walkerz was hilarious. With my daughter inside an inflated plastic ball – she attempted..and attempted…and attempted to stand upright inside the ball as it was floating over a small pool of water. No matter how hard she tried or how close it looked like she would get to doing it – it was met with a fall and a burst of laughter.

Maze. I have to admit, I was a bit blasé about the Maze. It looked like one of those kids mazes that is erected at the playground or Renaissance Festival. Seemingly easy to navigate to the opening point. However the twist on this was there were four hole punches hidden through the maze that spelled out M-A-Z-E. We were to race each other and get all four punches before we could exit the maze and time-stamp how long it took us. The twist made it so much fun and a great (dry) way to finish off our day.

The day was a bit overcast and we were a bit afraid of weather plus, we found that we were pretty tired at that point in the day – but there are definitely some things I would like to go back to do in the future.

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Colorado Summer

I have traveled the world (more posts on my recent adventures coming). But, now I’m trying to plan ahead what I will do for the summer. My money right now is pretty well tapped out (I have recently purchased and house and then when my car died three times in as many weeks had to purchase a new car too) – so we will likely be doing a Colorado Summer.

Not such a bad place. There are plenty of places for me and my kids right here in my home state.As my kids get older, they are also involved in High School sports (cheer and football) which both require summer workout sessions – making any kind of family trip difficult. So staying close to home is a great deal for us.

It was several years ago that I took my kids white water rafting. It was too early in the season and very cold weather. My kids were too little to get the oars themselves – so they were in the middle of the raft. I’m thinking of trying this once again. I stumbled on this video http://www.americanadventure.com/royal-gorge-rafting/ which made me all the more excited to try it again.

I am also contemplating going to Steamboat Springs this summer rather than Crested Butte. (The place we typically stay at is already rented for the entire summer). I want to try a couple hikes – maybe this time I can talk my daughter into going.

How far in advance do you plan summer vacation get aways? Do you plan it around an adventure like rafting or zip line?

 

Chicago In A Weekend

Several years ago, I won a trip to Los Angeles to see Taylor Swift in concert. I took my daughter. I have felt that I owed a trip to my son. (I’m one of those moms that tries really hard to make both my kids even!) So as his 16th birthday approached – I learned that I had achieved Companion status on Southwest Airlines. So I invited him to pick a destination and we would go there for his birthday. (I work with HelmsBriscoe – so I believed that I had hotel taken care of).

He decided that he wanted to go to Chicago. He also said he didn’t want to go unless his sister could go with. So, I booked my flight. I got his for free (companion) and then used some points for her flight. We were on our own Southwest Vacation!

Our agenda:

Saturday: Arrival at Midway at approx 9:50. Get picked up by my friend, Jennifer (who works for Starwood). She took us to The Gwen where we would be treated to an amazing suite and adjoining room. Thanks to the Chicago CVB (Choose Chicago) we were treated to tickets to the famous Field Museum. So the kids and I set out to walk across the park(s) to the museum seeing “The Bean” (officially called Cloud Gate) along the way. We also made sure to stop by a hot dog cart and get a real Chicago Dog. We messed around in the museum and then walked “home” to The Gwen. We did go out in the rain/snow again and got dinner at Gino’s East. Gino’s took a really long time. Despite being warned that it would take a while – we stayed. I felt satisfied that I had made sure that my kids got the quintissential Chicago food (Hot Dog and Pizza).

Sunday: Sunday I let the kids sleep in a bit. Then we headed out to the Willis Tower. I asked the kids if they would like to get an Uber or if we wanted to walk. They said walk. While it was only a 1.5 mile walk. It sure seemed longer in the Chicago cold. The Willis Tower had a thing called The SkyDeck on the 103rd floor. Where you can literally step out on a glass box (jutting outside of the building) and be above the city. We were glad we went that day as it was much clearer than it had been the previous day. Then we went to the John Hancock Building off Michigan Avenue to Tilt! and 360 Chicago. Once again, we were treated to amazing views – and literally tilted out over the city. For lunch, we headed to Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch. But I think more than the food – or even who Harry was my son really liked the interactive Chicago Sports Museum (the interactive exhibits were really fun) – and admission is free with a certain purchase amount at the restaurant.

We headed back to the hotel then grabbed an Uber to the Colorado Avalanche v. Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center. The atmosphere in the center is amazing! And Chicago really does love their Blackhawks. We had great seats and enjoyed the game (even though we – the Avalanche – lost). We were a little worried being the only people in Avalanche gear that we would be heckled – but the guys who sat next to us said, “no, not in Chicago – we are a sports town and just really like a great competition.” They were right!

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Monday morning: Sadly, we had to fly back to reality. Although I thought I was a bit funny – when my daughter noticed on the flight tracker that it said we had 3 hours left in the flight, despite us being about an hour into a two and a half hour flight. I said very calmly, maybe we got on the wrong plane and we’re not headed back to Denver. She kept looking out the window very nervously until touchdown at DIA. #HomeSweetHome.

I need to send out a special thank you to Starwood Hotels (Jennifer and Haley) – our hotel host; Choose Chicago (Dawn) – for tickets to Field Museum, Sky Deck, 360 Chicago, Tilt and BLACKHAWKS (Dawn at Chicago and Steve at Blackhawks); and of course Southwest Airlines for my companion pass and easy to redeem points.

We had a great time in Chicago and may have even inspired a future Chicago resident in my son.

Where would you take a Southwest Airlines weekend get away? What would you do when you are there? Do you look at the Southwest site to get ideas? (There are lots of great ideas/sales right now)

Grand Cayman is Grand Fun

I recently took a trip that I won through my company (HelmsBriscoe) as a Top Producer. We were given a choice (with dates attached) to go to several places. But due to dates and locations I opted for Grand Cayman. We got to stay at the Ritz (FANCY!) for the Top Producer part and then we would extend our trip to the Westin since I have booked a group there (Westin is right next to the Ritz).

Upon arrival, I felt like a pretty big deal when they had a host meet us at the airport holding a sign with my name on it! (just ask anyone…I will tell anyone that I’m awesome). We were walked to the van that would transport us (my friend Melissa went with me) along with a few other HB associates and their guests to the beautiful Ritz. I would say transportation, air conditioning and fresh bottle of water was great. But even funnier, while we were waiting in the van – we saw that Grand Cayman has several wild chickens! I thought it odd so I took a picture and hoped we wouldn’t see chicken on many menus. Would that be like serving fancy road kill in the states?

WIld Chickens

Wild Chickens in Grand Cayman

The island is just 22 miles – so nothing is far. It took us all of about 10 minutes to get from airport to hotel. Upon arrival we were greeted with drinks and cookies. I had a Rum Runner to start (since I figured that would be the extent of my running on this trip).  We were all set to go to our ocean view room! It was awesome and beautiful but, I just wanted out on the beach! ASAP! Then the ammenity of fresh juices and rum arrived. Ahhh. Make my own drink THEN head to the beach. These Ritz people are totally on my same line of thinking.

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

Grand Cayman Ocean View from Ritz Room

After a couple hours on the beach (and luckily no sunburn), we went back to the room to get a shower and get ready for the night’s party – on the beach! (No shoes required). It was beautiful and great sunsets. I really can imagine having a super event here!

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

Sunset Beach Party at Ritz Cayman

The meal was delicious and I had to go back for more of the wahoo (sushi grade), conch soup, salads galore, other beef, and meats. Plus, lots more rum-runners!  And I even asked the guy playing steel drums if I could play. He taught me “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” (I’m writing more about that night – just don’t have it done yet).

The next morning was what I was looking forward to most. Swimming with stingrays! It was beautiful! And I hear that kissing a sting ray gets you 7 years of good luck! I’m getting 7 then. (More on that excursion specifically click here).

Cayman, sting rays, good luck,

Kissing Stingrays in Grand Cayman (Pucker up Sophie).

That evening we headed back to the hotel and had another great meal where we has so much food we could almost pop. There were at least six stations of food from seafood to pork and yes – I did see chicken on the menu! The invite said “Caribbean Chic” what is that?!?!

The next day we moved over to the Westin. We had the afternoon to ourselves then met in the lobby for a tour of the property and another amazing dinner on the beach. The dinner was fantastic. It was a menu specially prepared for us as they are re-furbishing the kitchen. The Chef presented each. I picked the top option (salad, fish, chocolate) and Melissa picked the lower option (crab cake, steak and brulee) and we shared each. I love traveling with a friend who will share with me and let me eat of her plate.

Sunset Beachview from Westin Grand Cayman

Sunset Beach view from Westin Grand Cayman Dinner

The following day Melissa and I decided to go on the city bus (which also acts a bit like a taxi as you flag it down when you want to hop on) to go shopping. We went to a high end shopping area (which also was said to have a farmer’s market but there were just a few booths) and then decided to go to Georgetown (the main town on the island where all the cruise ships dock). Georgetown was typical tourist area – with lots of souvenir junk and jewerly shops. When we were there we went to the Guy Harvey shop. He happened to be there signing autographs. (I have to be honest and say I have no idea who he was/is – but the locals seemed to be all about this guy). He was nice and we got some items autographed. Then we ate sushi at the Guy Harvey restaurant. It was probably some of the best fresh sushi I have ever had and we tried the conch fritters. (Eat like the locals?) Then headed back to the hotel to do dinner with some of the other folks from the group who were still around. It sounds like the highlights of this trip were the meals.

I was sad to see the next day go – and we had to head back to Atlanta to get back to Denver. The trip was fun fun fun and I would go again. I would like to go with my romantic interest. Those beaches are amazing. I hope I win another great trip next year too!

Swimming with Stingrays in Grand Cayman

As part of the trip that I won to Grand Cayman. There was an option for an excursion to go swim with stingrays. I was IN for this. After doing a ton of research on the destination it literally is THE thing to do. And we were getting to go.

We boarded the bus for a short five minute ride to the dock to get on the boat. Upon arrival everyone had to sign a quick release form and then we could get on the boat. We had a short safety talk (basically don’t jump overboard, and here’s the toilet). The talk while necessary and informative – I thought of how much fun my favorite airline, Southwest Airlines does their safety spiel. Fun and funny too.

our Guide at the Sails Grand Cayman

our Guide at the Sails Grand Cayman

We headed out on the open water for Stingray City. (We sat on the open trampoline nets and then had lunch on the boat provided by Ritz Carlton so it was delicious!) Stingray city is actually a sand bar out in the middle of the ocean. I can’t get over how clear the waters are here. We can literally see through to the bottom. The sand bar leaves the water at only about waist high. We were quickly surrounded by a couple dozen sting rays. They were friendly (or so it seemed – despite my friend talking about that is how Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter died). They would swim by and allow us to touch them. They felt a little like a portabella mushroom.

Swimming with Stingrays in Grand Cayman

Swimming with Stingrays in Grand Cayman

The guide was great telling us all about the rays and he really knew a lot about the rays. He told us about their habits, their food, their personalities. He informed us that the females grow to be about three times the size of the males. When he did find a male he held him up. And the male so disliked being held up out of the water he spit water literally into the unsuspecting mouths of my friends! Ha ha. Glad I wasn’t in direct line of that – although I totally wish I had had a waterproof camera to catch that. It was super funny.

Stingrays

But I was up for fulfilling any kind of lucky superstition. It is a superstition that if you kiss a stingray you get seven years of good luck. Several of us kissed Sophie who was the big gentle one that the guide held for most of the time we were there. Once you were in front of her and supporting her weight a bit – she would curl up her lip like she was expecting it!

Cayman, sting rays, good luck,

Kissing Stingrays in Grand Cayman (Pucker up Sophie).

We also had about 30 minutes to snorkel at a reef that wasn’t far from where we had hung out with the stingrays. The snorkel was beautiful and fun. Although not long enough.

The swim with the stingrays was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. If I were ever to go again – I would certainly do this part again. It would be fun for all ages and I since the waters were so shallow even kids could do this. We did our trip thanks to Red Sail. I would highly recommend them as they were fun and informative. http://www.redsailcayman.com/stingray-city 

Try The World From Your Own Mailbox

I may have mentioned before that I am sort of addicted to receiving mail. I know it is sort of a weird obsession. For as long as I remember the mail was so exciting and intriguing (I sort of wonder why I didn’t pursue a job as a mail person). I have signed up for several magazines and monthly subscription packages.

It almost feels like I won a prize when the mail arrives and it is my box from Try The World. This is my second box from them. The first was Paris. Which I opened with my daughter – it included tea, dijon mustard, caramels, cookies and more.

This month was Japan! One place that my daughter wants to go visit. We make an ordeal out of opening our box. We carefully take out each piece, try it together. The box comes in a pretty Tiffany blue color. There is a culture guide included which not only explains a bit about the culture but also a bit about the chef that helped curate the box, some ideas on how to use the contents of the box (this time it was a tea ceremony and dinner date), there is also a link to a Spotify playlist that goes along with that event.

Try The World Japan

Try The World Japan Box

Kasugai Peach Candies Try The World

These were the Peach gummies. made by Kasugai.

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

Try The World Japan Box Okonomiyaki kit. It is basically an omlette like pancake. #delish

We loved the caramels and gummy candies (no surprise) and disliked the seaweed snack. It took a bit more to make the okonomiyaki kit because we needed a few of our own ingredients (eggs, water, bacon, cabbage, green onions). But it was tasty when we did make it.

We are excited to see where we will visit next. You can save $15 on your subscription if you follow this link: http://fbuy.me/cINRi.

What foods would someone experience at your house? Do you have a specialty?