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).

 

Blue Apron Made Me a Chef

I was sitting at an event at the Marriott Denver enjoying the food. It was a celebration for Marriott and Starwood’s merger. I often go to hotel events (it’s part of my job). We are often given what I affectionately call “parting gifts.” They are typically an item like a notepad, water bottle, or a bag. This time – we were treated to seeing Western Daughters Butcher Shop dismantle a full pig (with a saw) and then getting a chunk of pork. Most were given a pork chop. I told them that I am not much of a cook to give me something simple. So they handed me a larger chunk of pork wrapped in brown paper and told me that all I would need to do it sear it, salt and pepper it and stick it in the crock pot. I wasn’t really even sure what this cut of meat was. I brought it back to my table with a sort of giggle – I’m not a chef. I’m not close to a cook. Simple is good. This is when my friend Leslie told me that she had been using Blue Apron and she had some meals to give away (she had two sets of two meals).

When she sent me the link. I decided to try it. I opt’d for the family meals. There are three of us in my family – myself, my daughter and my teenage (football playing) son. The meals said they would serve four – but I have found that with a teenage boy – what normally feeds four people feeds the three of us just fine. I figured if there were leftovers I would eat them for lunch.

I am an adventurous eater. I will try just about anything. My kids used to be the same way. They were never picky kids that would only eat hot dogs and McDonalds (not that there’s anything wrong with that in my book). But I chose the Moroccan-Spiced Lamb & Beef Tagine and the Blackened Chicken & Rice. I chose those because I was not sure that my kids would eat the fish and the other option was a pasta. I figured if it was free I would go with what seemed more expensive. I could probably make a simiilar pasta dish for cheap.

The package came a few days later. It was packed in ice and in an insulated box. Everything I needed for two full meals! There was a menu sheet for each meal. Simple and easy to read. The front side has a short description of the meal and then the list of ingredients. The ingredients in the box were clearly marked and I could see which items were for which meal.

The first we tried was the Tagine. The smell was delicious. The preparations were simple and easy to follow with just a few steps. (Six steps). It walked me through how to cook, when to add what and even how to finish off the meal complete with a dollop of yogurt sauce and green scallions. The meal smelled awesome and tasted even better…to me. When I proudly served it to my daughter (my son was out with friends). She didn’t love it as much as I did. She ate that but not much of it. I hadn’t even told her it was lamb (if I did I think she would not have eaten ANY at all). I had enough leftovers for several days. I loved the fact that it was a WHOLE meal. Not just the entree (as you might get at a place like Dream Dinners). Complete even with the pita chips served on the side.

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The other meal was the Blackened Chicken & Rice. Again this was a simple and easy to follow directions. The side  was cooked rice with kale, different oranges (mandarin and blood orange) which the chicken was served atop. I thought it delicious. But neither of my kids ate much. They said they didn’t care much for the taste. On the other hand, I loved it. So once again I will be eating for DAYS on the leftovers.

Overall, I loved both meals. There was plenty of food to really serve four people. The recipe choices were unique and something I would certainly not have made on my own. They were both easy to follow and delicious. They made me feel like I really could master the kitchen. But the fact that neither of my kids liked the meals and at the cost – I may opt for once a month doing Blue Apron but just a meal for two – so I can make it for myself and have leftovers for just a day or so. I liked that it was a full meal – not just an entree –  where I need to dream up what to have on the side or how to incorporate veggies.

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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Perfect Break To Orlando Vacation

I planned the trip months ago. Last year we took my mom to Washington D.C. (the kids and I). She had always wanted to go – but my dad didn’t. (Yes, my parents are still married). So we invited him to go with us to Orlando – which just happened to be this year’s destination. With teenagers, we knew that DisneyWorld and Universal – the big theme parks – would be on the agenda. But, I didn’t want to overwhelm my 70-year-old dad with roller coasters and costumed characters. So, we left one day in the middle of the week for him to plan what we were doing. He did a GREAT job! It was probably one of my most favorite days.

The day started early (early by definition of my teen daughter would be anything before noon but this was 8 a.m.). We rented a car just for the day. It didn’t make sense to rent a car for the week and then pay for it to sit in a parking lot. The reason we needed a car? We were headed to Lone Cabbage Fish Camp. By the looks of the map on my iPhone we were literally going to the middle of nowhere. It didn’t appear that there was ANYTHING else nearby. The camp really is out there by itself. While it is weather worn and looked a bit old (seriously straight out of a movie) – it was clean and the people were GREAT. They were very down to earth. We waited on the deck (which is beautiful on the back side of the building – you wouldn’t know it was there when you first drive up. We had actually reserved a 60 minute ride but through some scheduling conflict we weren’t on their calendar – so we opted for the 30 minute (which you don’t have to make reservations for).

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp between Orlando and Cocoa Beach.

Lone Cabbage Fish Camp between Orlando and Cocoa Beach.

The 30 minute airboat ride was awesome. The guide was very knowledgeable about the alligators and other wildlife. He told us that he is a hunter – there is actually a process to get your alligator hunting license. He is careful just to hunt what he is going to eat (and told a story about his dad catching him shooting a crow – which he had to eat). He told us about the migrations and where they like to hide, what they eat, poaching, feeding and more. The boat got going fast enough for my kids to really feel like it was a ride (and not just a float).

Airboat Ride at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

Airboat Ride at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp

We were told we HAD to have the sampler plate which included gator, frog legs and catfish. I was impressed that both of my kids ate some of each. I thought the food was great. Especially the frog legs.

Sampler Plate at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp includes gator, frog legs and catfish. #nomnom

Sampler Plate at Lone Cabbage Fish Camp includes gator, frog legs and catfish. #nomnom

We asked the lady that did everything at Lone Cabbage (cook, wash, bartend, answer phone etc) the best way to get to Cocoa Beach. Her directions? “Go East on the same road you got here on until you hit sand.” Sounded simple. And it was! Within 15-20 minutes we were at the beach!

We forgot to pack swimsuits (guess we weren’t really thinking) but figured that since it was a rental car and that the sand and wet wouldn’t make much of a different. So we literally jumped into the ocean with our clothes on! I suppose it was not all that different from a swimsuit – when my daughter and I have shorts and sports bras on and my son had basketball shorts. Being from Colorado means that my kids hardly ever get to see a beach or the ocean. This was the perfect opportunity to play for a couple hours! We parked at a meter (thanks to the attendant/park ranger who told us where the meters were just a block away – so that we would not have to pay the full $10 day rate). Besides, I think the walkway was cooler looking than if we had gone to the paid lot.

At Cocoa Beach

At Cocoa Beach before we fully jumped in. 

We HAD to shop at the iconic Ron Jon Surf Shop located right there at the beach. The shop had all assortment of beach needs and some fun souvenirs. Even though we live in Colorado we have seen several Ron Jon stickers in the back of cars here. (Plus, I thought if someone wanted a clean/dry shirt they could get one there).

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Ever since I was a kid my dad would ensure that we had an afternoon snack on any trip. This one was no different. As we were driving back toward Orlando from Cocoa Beach we decided that we were going to have a Key Lime Pie somewhere. I couldn’t remember exactly where I had seen the store – but I knew we passed one on our way between Lone Cabbage and Cocoa Beach. When I drove past it (on the left side of the road), I literally drove around in circles getting to it. While the location of the Key Lime Pie Company isn’t easy to get to if you’re on the wrong side of the road – it is worth the circles! The shop is little and there is no seating inside – but there is an awesome tiki bar just outside (up the stairs) where you can take your key lime and sit in the shade to eat it.

Key Lime Pie Company

Key Lime Pie Company

Our day was winding down. We headed back to our hotel in Orlando. We visited the new Orlando Eye (although we didn’t go in) after we got cleaned up from our ocean excursion. While we didn’t go in (I’m cheap – it is about $25/per person). We had a great time! (And then went to the theme parks again the next day.

Have you had a perfect break from all the tourist hype somewhere? What is your favorite?

Denver Deal: Sonic, JC Penney, Movies and More

Happy Father’s Day! My dad always cheered my sister and me on when we scored a great deal. I always thought that was the girl thing (you know, mom clipping coupons to go to the grocery store). But if we could get a buy-one get-one free or a fun “extra” that we couldn’t really afford, my dad  is always the first one to cheer us on. His birthday is near Father’s Day so we presented him with coupons from a bunch of places freebies this year – he said, “this will be the best week ever.”  I hope this is your best week ever too!

 Kneaders Bakery & Café will open Friday, June 26 at 7:00 a.m.  To celebrate their Grand Opening, the first 100 customers will receive a complimentary meal of Kneaders famous French toast! With 3 locations in Colorado and over 35 locations throughout the west, Kneaders Bakery and Café specializes in authentic European hearth breads that are made fresh daily. The fast-casual restaurant also offers a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and 40-50 different pastries in a charming, family-friendly environment.  Their Arvada location will open at 7945 Wadsworth Blvd and will serve customers Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Michaels’ Passport to Imagination. If you have crafty kids, be sure to take them to Michaels on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays where they can get their craft on from 10 a.m.-noon. Cost is just $5 (or $12 for three sessions) and you must pre-register here. You’ll have time at the end of session to doodle, play and create with the products from that week’s sponsor.

Lakeside Amusement Park savings. Groupon is currently offering the following deal: Admission and Unlimited Rides for Two or Four at Lakeside Amusement Park (Up to 44% Off). There are two options: $27 for admission and unlimited rides for two (Up to $45 value) or $50 for admission and unlimited rides for four (Up to $90 value). The all-access admission allows guests to enjoy the park’s bevy of activities, such as a roller coaster, the merry-go-round, and Kiddies’ Playland.

SportsAuthority Football Field Day.  Sports Authority Football Field Day for kids ages 6 to 14, hosted by Sports Authority and USA Football’s Heads Up Football initiative. The high-energy event will allow participants to train where the Denver Broncos play their home games, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The training will include a strong emphasis on safety where players navigate through stations dedicated to improving specific skills, such as passing, catching, running, Heads-Up tackling and more. The event is June 28. There are morning and afternoon sessions. Sports Authority Football Field Day is free and open to the public. To reserve your spot on the field and for more information, please click here

Sonic. We know summer is here when I get the hankering (seriously, did I just use the word hankering?!??) for ice cream shakes and other sweet yummy drinks. Apparently, Sonic believes the same as they offer half-price shakes all day on Thursday, June 18!

Bath and Body Works. Bath and Body Works is having their semi-annual sale starting June 1 (going through the month). Great bath and body care including fragrances, lotions and bath soap at up to 75% off!

Free Movie. Best Friend. Hero. Marine. You and your heroes are invited to a special advance screening of MAX on June 22! Visit http://www.wbtickets.com/MAXMamas to download your admit-four pass! Please note that seating is NOT guaranteed, so please arrive early for a chance to get in! MAX in theaters June 26!

Greek Festival. Friday, June 19 through Sunday, June 21 experience Greek culture, food, drink and dancing at the Greek Festival. The party happens at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Tickets are $5 for adults, Kids 12 and under get in free.

JC Penney Bonus Cash. Kohl’s has been doing it for years – spend $50 get $10 back in Bonus Cash. I recently received an email that JC Penney is also doing the Bonus Cash offer (same deal – spend $50 get $10) through this Sunday, June 21. Plus, they have additional discounts of extra 20% off!

QDoba Buddy Pass. QDoba is offering a buy one get one free entrees this Tuesday (June 16) and Wednesday (June 17). Just say “Mid-Week Buddy Pass” when you place and pay for your meal. Qdoba is also offering a free entree when you put $30 or more on your Q Cash (like the Starbucks phone app where you can pay from your phone).

Ongoing

Free, healthy summer meals for Colorado kids and teens. Summer should be a fun and enriching time for all Colorado children, but for many it represents a time when they are at the greatest risk of hunger due to lost access to school meals. Thanks to a statewide collaboration to address child hunger, 533 community sites across Colorado will provide meals to children up to 18 years old at no cost this summer.  Colorado families can find nearby summer food sites by using an interactive map at KidsFoodFinder.org or calling the statewide, bilingual Hunger Free Hotline toll-free at (855) 855-4626.

Free Outdoors Movies and Concerts. Denver is chock-full of great, talented musicians that play around town for free – and what is better than a movie outdoors on a cool summer night among about 500 of your closest friends? Don’t miss our round-up of free outdoor movies and concerts this summer.

Harkins Summer Movie Fun. Harkins Summer Movie Fun program for kids is back again this year. Kids can enjoy a movie a week for 10 weeks, for less than $1 per film. Make Harkins Summer Movie Fun for kids an annual tradition for your family. All adults must be accompanied by children.  Tickets are on sale now at participating locations. Movies this summer include: Boxtrolls, The Lorax, Rio 2, Dolphin Tale 2, Curious George, Nut Job, Puss in Boots, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and Penguins of Madagascar.

Cinemark Movie Clubhouse. There’s nothing quite like spending a hot day in a cool movie theater.Cinemark has a 10-week film fest of its own: $5 for 10 movies when purchased in advance at cinemark.com.  If you delay and purchase at the theater, movies are still just $1. Most locations start on Wednesday, June 2 with screenings starting at 10 a.m. every Tuesday and/or Wednesday. The film line-up includes The Croods, The LEGO Movie, Dolphin Tale 2, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar, Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chip Wrecked, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days and The Nut Job.

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading. Kids can earn a free book of their won from Barnes & Noble (one of my favorite stores) in three easy steps. Step 1: Read any 8 books and record them in the Reading Journal (PDF). Step 2: Bring the completed Reading Journal to your local B&N store. (Find a Store). then Step 3: choose a FREE BOOK from our selection on the Reading Journal list at the store… Enjoy reading!

Free Denver Walking Tours Denver parents, kiddos, and visitors alike will be able to see and experience downtown Denver in a new way. They’ll be able to take advantage of Denver Free Walking Tours’ new two hour daily tours that leave at 10 a.m. daily, starting in Civic Center Park, then wind through downtown past more than a dozen of Denver’s distinctive landmarks, and end in front of Coors Field. No reservations needed and tours are every day – rain, snow, or shine.  There’s no up-front cost for this fun, educational opportunity for kids and parents but tipping is strongly recommended. If you’d like a tour specifically geared to your kids, Denver Walking Tours offers group tours for a nominal charge so grab your friends for a fun day of learning this summer!

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Email me if you know of any great Denver deals!

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What If Your Family Is Not a Four-Pack

Who’s idea was it to package four tickets to an event (usually with a meal of some sort) as a “Family Four Pack”? Probably some genius marketer. I can say that because I used to be in marketing. Ostensibly to marketers “family” means two adults and two kids. Which means that to get a deal on tickets (it is most often four tickets, four meals, four drinks). What happens if you really only need three? You can’t break down that ticket rate to $22 each (using the example of $88 for a four pack). I am a deal hunter – but when I have to spend extra to get a discount…it’s not a deal. Even television shows seem to be getting this right more and more. Sometimes “family” is a divorced mom with two kids (or a blended family, or extended family, or…)

So here is my dilemma. I get invited to things from time to time and I’m offered a family four pack. There are three of us (I’m divorced and have two kids). That is where the fighting usually ensues. My kids argue over who got to bring the extra friend last time or even if it is appropriate for that particular gender (really even if it is my son’s turn I’m pretty sure that he would not want to bring one of his teen friends to Disney’s Princesses on Ice). So far, I have let them be the one with the extra friend – not me. Some times we let the ticket go because I don’t feel like driving in circles to take a friend home late at night.

So really marketers – are we really not a family because there are only three of us? What about those families that have more kids? Who do they sit at home? The other adult? Which child has to sit this one out? Usually the marketing genius has also booked the entire section for families – meaning there are no additional tickets available anywhere near where the family section is. Do you sit one in a different side of the theater/auditorium/stadium just so they can see it too?