Family Travel Adventures

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go.jpg

Thank you, Pokemon GO! Seriously, I have been trying to get my kids to go out since we MOVED to Texas. Our new neighborhood in Texas is much safer than our old home back in Phoenix so I’ve been trying to encourage them. At first it was noproblem. The heat here in Texas is nothing compared to the scorching heat in Arizona, but as we have lived here longer they have become accustomed to the weather and now refuse to leave the house due to the humidity.

Oh, vey!

Then last week something changed. Pokemon GO! was released to iTunes in the US. All of a sudden I have my kids BEGGING me to go out (without me) and so far my kids have been out of the house for two hours or MORE, DAILY to go “hunting” for Pokemon or battle at the nearby park (aka “Gym”)

As Julia Gunlock for Heatstreet.com reported, “Pokemon has more kids active and outside in 7days than in the 7 years of Haranguing from Michelle Obama.” (article here) Pokemon is getting kids MOVING without them feeling like they are missing their devices because it has brought the two together.

Now, Pokemon GO is not a new item in the iTunes store that did Augmented Reality Treasure Hunts in the real world. In fact, one of the first games to do this was a game called Ingress. Using the same concept as Pokemon Go, except you gathered clues to help you control a particular area. (like pokemon to control a gym)

If you feel lost in the craze. Don’t feel bad or even worry. Just as long as you have In-App purchases off, your kids (or husband) will love this new free app on iTunes. The concept is very similar to the video games that my kids have purchased. You go around look for pokemons and then battle at various gyms. The only difference is now they are no longer are in the game world but the REAL world looking for the pokemon. Getting them to get up and MOVE. As always you want to advise your children about stranger danger and to always look both ways when crossing streets. Mostly because they can really get excited when they see a rare Pokemon and not pay attention.

So for all those people who want to make fun of Pokemon, it is usually because they don’t have kids or their kids are to old to remember Pokemon. I never even liked Pokemon and I still play with my kids. Why? Because it gets us moving AND lets me spend some quality time with them. It funny when they try to teach me about each Pokemon. Each one is like a mini-pokidex.

So download it. Have some fun with it but defiantly try it before you knock it. And if you get servers are busy (like I did above)just log out then log back in and that usually works. Otherwise, just wait a bit.

5 Reasons to Rent a Screen Shelter at Lake Livingston State Park

The setup of our shelter #4

The weather in our area has been crazy to say the least so we got a “screened shelter”. My eldest daughter is a bit of a princess and I could just see how this camping trip would go if it rained on our tent. So here are the top 5 reasons why I think you should do what I did, and rent a screened shelter for your next camping trip at Lake Livingston State Park in Livingston, TX. (For reference, we stayed in shelter #4)

1. It really does keep the bugs out. Ok, maybe not spiders, but by being mindful of the door it did a good job in limiting the flying bugs from invading our space. That was nice as we were sleeping. Plus the shelters are raised so it seemed like there was very little issues with ants as well. You can also eat bug free and in the shade.(sorta) There is a picnic table inside that you can sit at and so you can eat without having to worry about the sun hitting you. Just move the sides, if needed. Plus, if everyone is shutting the door, you don’t have to worry about ants crawling up in your food and any other flying insects. We tried to eat at the table by the firepit one time and a squirel came up and stole a piece of one of my daughters gram cracker. He had no fear. We were even at elbow length to it!

2. It comes with electricity. There is one light outside by the door and one inside. Both have switches that you can turn on and off. There is a also a GFCI outlet inside as well. This was nice to keep my cellphone charged and on the super wet days, I was able to plug in my electric skillet to make pancakes. (Don’t laugh! It worked!) My only suggestion is that you bring a surge protector as there were times when the rain would hit that area and it made me a bit nervous to plug stuff in, but we never had an issue.

4. The sides adjust for privacy. Each side has a large block of wood that you can roll back and forth to cover parts of the shelter. This was really nice if we wanted to get dressed. Although you can stand up in the middle of the loft and get dressed assuming your under 6ft. Plus this worked well when we had rain coming in. I was able to keep at least HALF of the bottom of the shelter from getting too wet.

3. You can sleep in a loft. You can climb the stairs and sleep in the loft. There are rails at both ends so you don’t have to worry about rolling off in your sleep. I would say two adults and two children could sleep up there. There is also a screen window up top to help ventilate so depending on the direction of the wind you could keep cool. The way the wind went in our shelter, the bottom was very chilly from the wind and my kids were toasty uptop. Plus, when the storm came pounding through, they were dry as a bone and I ended up getting soaked from the spray of wind. (yah. not fun) If you really want to make it a treat, there are strong beams that you can hang a hammock from. I did this to give my kids more room in the loft. It was great in the cool breeze and even for being lazy in the middle of the day. Some sites will allow you to pitch a tent if you still want to tent camp and just use the shelter for eating and storing your goods. There is a latch on the outside so you can padlock it. Most of the time thought I never saw anyone and it was always quite.

5. It’s the closest you can camp to the lake in the park. Each shelter is right off the lake so you can fish, cook, and eat all from right at your campsite. Some shelters where in areas that had their tables close to the shore line that you could even swim a little. Not to mention wonderful views of the lake. Very cool!

As of this writing they were only $30 a night which I thought was a pretty good deal vs the local KOA. Be sure to check their website for the most up to date information.

-Gin

 

 

 

 

 

60 Days of Summer Activities You Can Do With Your Kids in Houston

Great! Schools out! Whoo hoo! (Can you hear my “enthusiasm”?)

It is that time of year again. Kids are out and you know they plan to spend ALL summer in front of the TV playing the Xbox or computer. So what can you do?

Here is my list of what we plan to or will try to do this summer with my kids. (Of course there are MORE than 60 days of summer, but this is assuming your giving yourself some time off.)

1. Houston children’s museum

2. Play Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, etc. Many of these games will last a LONG most of the day and is a great way to get them excited again about games that don’t require batteries.

3. Go swimming at the beach at Galveston State Park. Not only is it super cheap (or free if you are a Texas Park Card holder, like we are) but you can also bring your own chairs, umbrellas or shade covers. I’ve even see people use small little bbq on the beach. The restrooms are even farely nice (for a state park) and flushable with a sink. They also have beach view campsites. (Another thing you can do!)

4. San Jacinto Monument – again is free with that Texas Park Card.

5. battleship Texas – Free with Texas Park Card. (seeing a trend?)

6. NASA Space Center – perfect for super hot days or super rainy days. (free for us as we are passholders)

7. Houston Zoo

8. Musuem of Natural Science

9. Holocaust Museum of Houston – a bit morbid, I know. However, I believe, as Jews, that my children should never forget the Holocaust. Again, another good alternative if it’s a overly hot or overly rainy day.

10. Kemah Boardwalk – an all day pass will work for all the carnival rides. If you plan to do the Space Center, Zoo, or the other museums I strongly encourage you to invest into the Houston City Pass as it will give you huge savings if you are not members of those locations.

11. Have a movie Marathon AT HOME!!! Get movies with lots of sequels like Star Wars, Indian Jones, Matrix, etc. LOL. To this day my kids cringe when they hear the Indian Jones theme song but always with a smile. Or do one of your favorite shows. During the winter break we did a Dr Who Marathon starting with the 9th Doctor. Follow up with theme based meals. For our Indian Jones marathon I made the kids spaghetti and called it Monkey Brains. They still call spaghetti that.

12. DIY Slip and Slide. Get a tarp and the hose and SLIDE!

13. Sylvan Beach, La Porte- last year it was really clean. The nearest bathrooms are at the bait shop and you can not use umbrellas or shade tents on the beach. Only on the grassy picnic areas. So there are some restrictions. Since its farley open, be mindful at all time of you surroundings both in and out of the water. Later in July the can really get overrun by jellyfish. So be warned.

14. Armand Bayou Nature Center

15. 1940s Air Terminal Musuem – they are closed on Mondays. This one totally appeals to me. We have done the museum in Seattle, and from being an airline family for so long this should be cool for all of us.

16. Jumping World

17. Main Event

18. Free Bowling at AMF Lanes – check to see if your neighborhood is participating as the one near us was not. 🙁

19. Library- many library will have events and classes during the summer for free. Check them out.

20. Join a book program! (Since you’re heading to the library anyways.) Check out Barnes & Noble, Pizza Hut’s Book It Program, and Half Price Books. Each will give your kids different rewards.

21. Or Reward for good deeds with Chuck E. Cheese.

22. FunCity Sk8 & Play

23. Buc-ees – Don’t laugh. Serious! Have lunch or pick up some jerky for dad. My kids love the MANY MANY choices for the jerky and fountain drinks. They just built a new one near us so we are planning to check it out.

24. Bay Area Park for a picnic and playground.

25. Moody Gardens – a bit expensive so this might be at the bottom of our list.

26. Schliterbahn either in Galveston or New Braunfels.

27. Space City Ice Skating– just check the times for public skating

28. Build a sofa tent.

29. Fight zombies (offline) with squirt guns.

30. Go to the movies. I don’t recommend the summer movie program only because you end up paying more from movies you probably already own or can’t already watch for free on Netflix/Hulu/amazon.

31. Play card games. We play a clean version of “Bulls-t” and the kids have fun.

32. Play hide-and-seek. Playing with your kids is such a great way to reconnect with them. Especially if they are older.

33. Make a video with kids using your iPad or iPhone (or something similar) and pretend you are on a cooking show. If you have multiple kids you can have one be the “camera man”. Make chef hats for the chiefs.

34. Don’t want to do video? Ask the kids to create a play to perform for mom and dad. Help them with themes, like for the 4th of July or act out a scene from their favorite movie.

35. Go to IKEA. Younger kids can go in the play center while older ones can play pretend “house” in the displays with you. When I was a kid, my dad and I would stand very still and pretend we were manuiqins. Freaked people out when we moved. lol.

36. Make ice cream in a ziplock bag.

37. Go Camping at Brazo Park, Lake Livingston, Galveston park. Lots of parks in the area. Plus, there is FREE fishing at all Texas Parks with entrance fees.

38. Geocaching

39. Do a “spa” day and go get your nails done (feet and/or toes). I find that even the boys like this. Just make sure they don’t get spotted by friends.

40. Go to the Mall and window shop (or regular shop). Make sure you stop at the LEGO store for some “play” time. Plus, by window shopping it will help the kids understand delayed gratification. Something I feel many kids in this generation are lacking.

41. Start a Children’s Book Club using simple books like “Green Eggs and Ham” or “Horton Hears a Who”. Make it fun by catering it with Starbucks and tiny cookies. “Try” to act grown up while you do it and try not to giggle too much.

42. Make suncatchers for the patio or kitchen window. Check Pinterest or Google for some ideas.

43. Pleasure Pier– another big expense so might keep at the bottom of our list.

44. Ringling Bros & Barnum & Bailey Circus will be in town 7/10 – 7/27 2014

45. Play in the sprinklers.

46. Check out the free youth programs at Apple.

47. Have a garage sale and have the kids sell something (ie. their old toys, waters, sodas)

48. Camp in your backyard. Its FREE!

49. Celebrate an Obscure Holiday! Here is a great website showing the list for each days. There is Flag Day, Ice Tea Day, etc.

50. Unplug for the day. Live one day without electricity.

51. Blow bubbles outside. Make it even more creative by making your own bubble juice and bubble wands.

52. Play miniature golf in the backyard. Make your own course.

53. Create sidewalk art with sidewalk chalk.

54. Decorate rocks or shells that you have collected from your trips out.

55. Do a backyard tug of war.

56. Check out Home Depot or Lowe’s for their kids creative workshops. Typically on the weekends.

57. Visit the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory. (YUM!)

58. Color some pictures. You can use printables from online or have them create their own.

59. Movies under the stars (or at the pool). Are HOA does this at the community pool. You can also check out Miller Outdoor Theater for more live events.

60. Go swimming at the community pool.

….and more as I go along.

Would love to hear your tips in the comments below on what you are doing this summer.

-Gin

 

 

 

Airport Anger

I now remember why I quit working at the airport.

I guess I was getting at the burned out stage. Even now I watch passengers walking around either like lost sheep or they are on the other end of the spectrum as self-intitled jerks. Nothing urks me more when I see business men rolling their eyes at a woman trying to juggle her luggage and all her small kids. ALONE.

We’ve all been there.

I think the biggest thing I don’t miss is the baggage situation. As employees we hated it as much as the passengers. Do you REALLY think we wish to watch you rummage thrrough all your dirty chonies? Um, no!

“Baggage Nazi”. That is what I heard from one passenger today. Trust me, he was being nice. There are phrases I have heard that I don’t even think a sailor would dare repeat. He is write though. Each and everyone employee at the airlines has been told over and over again by their employers to watch the weight and not waiver. They threaten our jobs, post photos of injured baggage handlers who handle a bag that was not properly marked (the guild method), and I’ve even had supervisors HOVER over employees. What is even more distgusting is employees report other employees if they see them waive baggage fees or ignore the weight. Do you think that promotes a healthy work environment?

See the gate agents faces I saw the tired and burned out looks, and it was on 930am. How long must the rest of their day be?

This trip, as quick as it is, just help me reconfirm, reconnect, remember, why we decided to have me stay home.

Best choice ever.

`Gin

 

21 Ways to Screw Up Your Online Booking

Travel-Cartoon-Online-BookingWe have all been there at one point in our life.  The end result though is that typically the average person that books their travel online, themselves, screw up.  What is worse is that when there is a mistake they don’t look at themselves, but at the online booking company, the airline, the hotel, the customer service agent. Everyone else but the one you made it, them.

Well, let me be the first to tell you what each agent/rep/employee is thinking while you are yelling at them about this mistake that was made with your online booking, “TAKE SOME ACCOUNTABILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS!!!” I honestly think that our society has become a world filled with people who can do no wrong and it’s everyone else’s fault. What? Are you 3?

Ok. Now I’ll get off my soapbox now and hopefully give you some self awareness advice on some things you are doing or probably have already done that is probably going to cause you to have a not-so-happy online booking experience.

1. Verify the City name. FYI : Ontario, CA is NOT Ontario Canada but Ontario, California. If in doubt, Google “{your desired city} airport code”  and you will get the three letter code for your airport choice.

2. Writing your first name in the last name field and vs. Each vendor does it differently so watch out.

3. Transposing the dates. In Europe they do DDMMYY where as in the US we do MMDDYY. Watch out.

4. Flights leaving at 12:15 am means you need to go to the airport the day before not the same day. Those red eye flights can be cheap but brutal if you miss them after 24hours.

5. Using nicknames for passenger names. TSA doesn’t like that.

6. Using a debit card. Most car rental companies will no longer take them even if you prepaid for them with the visa debit card.

7. Not checking the reviews on hotels. Check tripadvisor.com for the most current reviews.

8. Not combining hotel, car, with airline ticket. You can save money by combining or booking within a package.

9. Clicking quickly through screens and by passing the “are you sure” info. Sometimes your web browser cookies will show something else you picked or a different route will be given because your original selection was sold out. Don’t get clicker happy and not pay attention to what you are agreeing to purchase.

10. Incorrect address info.

11. Not selecting seats on flight. Good way to get bumped from flight. Make sure they are confirmed by going directly to the airlines site if you booked through a travel agent.

12. Not checking other online booking companies. Compare or go directly to the source.

13. Not checking the rental rules on cars. Just cause you can book it online doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Expect to pay more if your under 25.

14. Trying to book a child under the age of 12, ALONE, on a flight. Don’t. Just don’t. Call the airline directly or a travel agent.

15. Put in the wrong email. Write your confirmation number down if you don’t print it. Just in case.

16. Think that once you hit purchase you can just cancel it right away. Depending on the vendor you will also be charged a fee.

17. Thinking you can’t get the same price from the vendor, but for LESS. Thing is, if you are using a online travel agency like Expedia/Orbitz/Hotels.com you will be charged a service fee. Many times you can eliminate this fee by booking directly with the vendor.

18. Hitting refresh. Info lost.

19. Hitting “Back” on your browser. Unless you want it to buy it twice.

20. Not using the map feature on most websites. The city center is not always what some people think as the ‘city center’.

21. Take too long. Most rates are time sensitive. Redo your search every 15 minutes if you haven’t made a selection to get the most up to the minute rates.

May your next online buying experience be just a bit better.

~Gin Nixon

Everything you know about Alaska is wrong

alaska20130601-13ccWhen many people think of Alaska the most common thing that comes to mind is year round snow, glaciers, and maybe even a little gold.

Now, I am not saying Alaska does not have those things, I’m just saying that Alaska isn’t just about snow, glaciers, or even gold. Did you know that Alaska is BIGGER than Texas? It is so big that they have broken up the state into several regions from the Far North to the southern part designated as the “Inside Passage”.alaska20130603-58alaska20130530-01cc

alaska20130602-03While the Far North tends to be the more snow covered area we seem to associate Alaska with, the Southern part which includes cities like Anchorage and Juneau have a more mild experience during summer and even spring. Summer days can even get as high as 80.

Plus, the land isn’t completely occupied with “frontier men” looking for wives. Many people of all ages and cultures live in Alaska who come from a variety of backgrounds. In Anchorage they have many shows that come all the way from the streets of Broadway and fine museums with local treasures found nowhere else in the world.alaska20130601-01cc

Of course you can always see the glaciers, the bears, and the even try your luck for some gold. If you would like more information on what you can see and do in Alaska. Please check out their website at travelalaska.com and order your free Vacation Planner.

~Gin Nixonalaska20130601-12cc

 

 

 

 

Carnival Triumph Wedding Review

Hello, 2014! I know I’ve been putting off this blog post, but I figured the best time would be now. How many of you have just gotten engaged over this holiday? Well, whenever you got engaged, CONGRADS! Weddings can be either fun and exciting to plan or a true testament of your sanity in each other. My biggest advice in planning your wedding, don’t forget to include the person your marrying in the decision making process. Even if its something like small like, cloth vs paper napkins.

We decided to do our wedding on board the Carnival Triumph. Carnival is one of our local port cruise lines and were one of the few choices we had for the time and date of our choice. (My first choice was Princess, but they didn’t sail during my dates in our area.) If you are thinking of doing your own wedding, check all the lines. They all do weddings, but prices will vary for all of them.

When we first arrived, we were placed in a special waiting area and were even allowed to go through security and board before everyone else. The bride and groom will be seeing each other. You can ask to see if they can try to prevent that but it might be difficult depending on the port you are leaving from.First, cruise weddings are good for small weddings. For 50 people or less and a max of 100. Thing is you are limited on your guest list based on how many guest are sailing and not sailing. Typically the max non-sailing guest I could have was 50. This will work out for you if you get a group together to sail with you. With a group rate your travel agent can get it so that your own cabin will be free (minus taxes and fees). This was something I did not do, but many brides do.

Once on board the brides room is your own cabin. When we arrived we had this lovely floral arragement with little chocolates on out bed that was so beautiful. The picture just doesn’t do it any justice. (We gave to the chocolates to our neices and my kids.)

If there are any guest list items or decorations that you have already discussed with the coordinator, this is the time you would give them to them. My husband got dressed quickly and then went up to the Lido to get me and my girl friend some drinks and food. We basically, hung out in the room until ‘showtime’. Which is good if you have to do more hair and makeup. Plus, just to help you relax. My husband entertained everyone in the LIDO and most guest walked around to check out the ship as they had never been on one.

Couple of things about getting married on a cruise ship:paper flowers

1. You can not bring your own flowers on board. They will give the bride and groom a small bouque, which we found was not bad. It was generic and I personally went with my own touch by doing a paper flower bouquet.

2. You can not bring food, your own photographer, rice, bubbles, etc. on board.

Solutions: For the ceremony we placed fan programs (handmade) and made paper wands with bells on them to ring when we kissed. (We had a paper theme, but you could use ribbon wands in lue.)

*Our “guest book” was a mod podge Paper mailbox complete with miniature postcards for them to write their well wishes.

 

We let Carnival take our photos, which didn’t come out that bad. BUT we created a website on Shutterfly Spaces with a guest account for them to download them to. Then we used these cute little paper cameras to place business cards of picshare_boxeswhere they can post and share their photos with everyone else. Including camera phone photos. We did not purchase a package before hand and in the end we ended up paying just over $4k for ALL our photos, the DVD slideshow, the wedding book, digital rights of the photos with CDs, and three of our photos on canvas. All which we received before we left the ship.*Our gift was little anchor and wheel keychains. Many of the party traveled with us so we gave them an on board survival kit.

 

I would say that I enjoyed my experience. The personal touches that I wanted were there and I was very happy with the experience that I had. Please feel to message me if you have any specific questions about the Wedding Experience.

~Gin

 

Cruise Cocktail: Royal Caribbean’s B-52

b52Ok. I will be the first to admit that I have never had a B-52, let alone Royal’s. However, this is a drink that I see frequently on the Cruise Critic Boards, so I figured, what the heck! Let’s try it!

Based on a Royal Caribbean drink menu, their B-52 consist of Baileys, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier. Taking my que from the web, it appears to be a layered drink so without further ado, the B-52.

B-52

1 part Kahlua

1 part Bailey’s Irish cream

1 part Grand Marnier

Layer in the following order. Kahlua, Bailey’s and then Gran Marnier in a tall shot glass.

 

My thoughts: I couldn’t for the life of me make “layers” and other than the smell of A LOT of liquor, it tasted a bit sweet like caramel. I imagine it would of been better with a bit of chocolate. My only beef with it was that I felt like I was taking shots of moonshine. (Not that  I know what moonshine taste like, just what I imagine it does.) Otherwise, the Bailey’s really smooths it out. I know it says shot glass, but I think I would rather have this mixed up and served in a martini glass. When we tried that, it was MUCH easier to handle the mixture. Just in small sips.

My hubby’s thoughts: Sweet but smooth. Smells like moonshine and after awhile a bit too much sweetness.

Cheers!

~Gin

Three Keys to Surviving Airport Security

surviving securityCelebrate too much last night? Do the bright lights of the airport seem to be laughing at you, from inside your head? I bet the last thing you want to do is look at the grumpy faced TSA agent who looks like she’s been enjoying a few too many pies, am I right?

Here are some quick and helpful tips to help you get through TSA just a bit quicker.

1. Check your liquids and anything else you will not need in-flight. Even those that are under 3.5oz. This is so you are not fumbling in line to get your liquids out and prevents the TSA screening agent from stopping at your bag to make sure that your under the 3.5oz limit. If you check most everything and just go through with your laptop bag or purse, you drastically limit the amount of shuffeling you will need to do when you get up to the checkpoint.

2. Get ready while you are in line BEFORE the TSA agent checks your documents. Chances are the lines will be long while you wait to even see an agent. Take that time in line to take off the belt bucket. Dump the contents of your pocket in your bag/purse/etc. If you have difficult shoes to take off, start working them off now. Better yet, where slip on shoes when you go to the airport so you’re not fussing with straps when you get there.

3. Have your documents ready IN HAND. Nothing is more annoying them to stand in line behind someone for the past 10minutes, only to have them get to the TSA agent and NOT have the Driver’s licenses out. I mean, REALLY PEOPLE?? We have been doing this now in air travel for the past TEN YEARS!!! REALLY!?!?!?! (Ok, vent over.)

So use some basic common sense. Be mindful of those around you, and be courteous. Let’s start 2014 on a good note.

Cheers!

~Gin

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