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YOU WENT WHERE? VEGAS! (WITH KIDS, COUSINS, & GRANDPARENTS?!)

When planning your family vacation, did the words Las Vegas ever cross your mind? Did it stay in your mind or did you immediately dismiss Sin City? Oprah Magazine just did a feature talking about Vegas attracting families hoping to see their favorite artists’ shows while in residency in Vegas. …But, what can the family do before and after the concerts?

Would you believe that my family roadtripped to Vegas with ages 5 to almost 75? We spent hours in the pool and more hours chasing adventure!  Some things we did together, sometimes we split up into smaller family groups, but we were pleasantly surprised with how many of the attractions fit the bill for all ages! 

Always chasing deals, I purchased things from Groupon or looked for specials on the ground in Vegas. MGM offered a 3 for $57* card with choices of a wide variety of attractions! Everyone in the group mixed and matched to fill in their bucket lists – we didn’t all stick to the same itinerary. So here are the top 10 (in alphabetical order) from our last trip to Vegas. For even more things to do in Vegas, check out what we did on our first trip to Vegas – just myself and my 2 kids.

ADVENTUREDOME at CIRCUS CIRCUS* – My t(w)eens’ easy first choice for the 3 for $57 card! Even though Circus Circus felt a little stuck between classic crooner Vegas and the new flashy resorts, it held SO MUCH fun under one Adventuredome for kids of all ages. Tons of games, rides and fanfare to enjoy many air-conditioned hours! My young niece chose to see Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage instead. 

BODIES … THE EXHIBIT* – After hearing so much about this exhibit we eagerly chose this as one of the 3 for $57. The t(w)eens did less cringing than expected and more studying of each display. The human bodies’ exhibited such intricacies and artistry that really drew our attention and awakened our fascination. Sorry, they did not allow photographs.  My 5 year old niece chose to do the Titanic exhibit instead – we just left out the ending of that story.

ETHEL M CHOCOLATES – When considering our favorite chocolates, everyone knows about M&M Mars, but did you know Ethel Mars?  Just 13 miles or so from the Vegas strip in Henderson, NV we found the factory store (that happens to be surrounded by a beautiful succulent garden)!  I looked closely for Lucille Ball operating a conveyer belt within the inner workings. The best part was creating our own custom assortment of flavors to take home – sharing not required!

GORDON RAMSEY BURGER at the PLANET HOLLYWOOD – While I influence the foodie adventures, the kids recognized Gordon Ramsey from Hell’s Kitchen. They both stick to simpler choices in general, but instantly noticed the differences in textures and flavors while inhaling these delicious plain cheeseburgers and shakes!  

JABBAWOCKEEZ at the MGM GRAND – My kids don’t remember the Jabbawockeez as winners of the premiere season of America’s Best Dance Crew, though enjoyed them after I offered an extensive online video review. They absolutely appreciated and were inspired and energized by the moves they saw on stage.  The theatre offers great seats from every spot – plus the show and story goes beyond the fourth wall.   

JOHN MULL’S MEATS & ROAD KILL GRILL – Upon learning the name of this restaurant, I instantly wanted to freak my kids out and go.  It’s a short drive into a residential neighborhood but when you arrive, the smell pulls you from your car and brings you to the crowded door.  The barbeque options were tender and flavorful and a welcome change from the miles of buffets on the Strip! 

LUXOR – The Luxor offered a central location to so much of what we did in a magnificent pyramid!  The kids dug the Egyptian theme with the nightly pinnacle beam of light – perhaps a beacon for travelers from outer space! They gasped at how huge the interior felt with each level revealing more hidden treasures! My kids’ yearn to stay in every resort on the Strip!

MARVEL AVENGERS S.T.A.T.I.O.N. – We received an invitation to check this place out and what a fan favorite!  My kids know the Marvel Universe better than they know U.S. history and this offered an even more intimate look at the many characters and their stories.  Such an amazing interactive exhibit to let us walk a mile in their shoes and suits!

SHARK REEF AQUARIUM at the MANDALAY BAY* – The unanimous favorite for all ages, this exhibit fulfilled all of our deep-diving fantasies.  Next time I go, I want to fasttrack through the attractions and spend more time sitting in the hull of the ship just watching the sharks.  Take your time strolling because the jellies mesmerize and the aquariums made us fantasize. This was our last of the 3 for $57!  

lauren slotzilla

SLOTZILLA ZIP LINE at the FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE – I often try to find attractions uniquely special for each child. For my daughter’s first-time ziplining, I thought the rock-n-roll light show from the “ceiling” of the Fremont Street Experience fit perfectly. The course was fast enough to thrill but not scare us and Bon Jovi music left our hearts pumping! Downtown Vegas offers an older charm but the scene is changing and growing each year! 

ON THE ROAD HOME…
ALIEN FRESH JERKY
– Not going to lie – the idea that this jerky came from alien-abducted cows stayed in my head while we walked all over the store! Final verdict: The aliens know what they’re doing and you need to stop here! This shop offers the best in roadtrip snacks of all kinds (and happens to be across the street from a place offering the widest selection of sodas and pop!). Easy to spot from the highway, just look for the World’s tallest thermometer in Baker, CA!

What about you?
Did this change your mind that families can vacation in Vegas?
Need more convincing?
Where have you travelled with kids in Vegas?
Where should we go next?
Where do you find special deals?
What’s your favorite Vegas season?

#lasvegas #youwentwhere #familyfun #familyvacation #roadtrip #travel #travelwithkids #blogtober #Nevada #Baker #Henderson #EthelM #MGM #Luxor #Adventuredome #Slotzilla #FremontStreet #GordonRamsey #Burger #bbq #aquarium #makesmewander

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YOU WENT WHERE? SAN FRANCISCO (With Kids)

During the toddler years, my family’s cranky moods  (mine included) disappeared with some creative distraction and a change of venue – if severe. Now that the tween and teen years dictate the mood in the house, when the bickering levels get intolerable, Mom offers a proportional change up – Roadtrip adventure!

MB transamerica-pyramid_san-francisco

Photo courtesy of megabus.com

I’ve been dreaming of a trip to San Francisco since the last time we’d been almost 13 years ago. My teen son only remembers riding in a limo at 3 ½ years old (over riding his first cable car) and my tween daughter simply made it through that trip to her due date!  I love the energy of the city with its cool modern minimalistic hotels next to classic historic hotels with warm solid mahogany bars in the lobby. I love that everywhere you turn, distinct neighborhoods welcome you with their distinct charm, as do the piers decorating the waterfront!  So the three of us set out on an adventure blending history, new experiences, old favorites and of course something weird!

32 hrs in San Fran (with kids)!

DA, DA, DA – ANOTHER ONE RIDES THE MEGABUS
Always up for an adventure, the wheels in my head started turning immediately (The wheels on the bus go round and round)!  When you put things out into the universe, the universe responds! Amazingly, we received the opportunity to try Megabus.com for free in exchange for our honest opinion.  I immediately responded, “Yes, Please!” after a great first-hand testimonial from my office mate who used this bus line recently during her East Coast holiday adventure.

Planning a weekend getaway limited our time in San Francisco, so the idea of showing up only 30 min. early, getting on a bus with reclining seats and sleeping my way to San Francisco – then waking up refreshed at my destination – cemented the decision for me! The night we left, California disappeared under the rainstorm that my generation will retell vividly for generations to come. The Megabus travelled securely on the roads, unfazed by the elements. In fact, for both directions of the trip, energetic and helpful employees kept us on track. Their rates remain reasonable, only additional charge should you wish to reserve seats!  Check their site often for their $1 sales! I wish I’d known about this when I was a college kid – weekenders would have educated me! For a full review click here.


YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE FOR A FIRST IMPRESSION
As we crossed the Oakland Bay Bridge, the sun shone on the waking city and almost converted me to a morning person (Hah, you know how unlikely that’d be). The bus dropped us at the Caltrain station and Uber picked us up before we even stretched out our rested bodies! Everything feels closeby in San Francisco and in minutes we arrived at the Hilton SF Union Square – a hotel I’m super familiar with thanks to my Team In Training (TNT) years.  Though they aren’t the most hipster or historic place in town to rest your head, they consistently provide a comfortable experience that seems upgraded from the price paid (especially with their renovated rooms). Feels like dropping in for a visit with a long-time friend!  What cinched our future return was letting us check in 8 hours early! Thank you!

hotel

Despite our welcome middle of the night snack from the roadside rest stop, we arrived to San Francisco hungry for adventure …and breakfast!  Wanting to set the tone for the weekend, and to fuel us for the day, we chose another favorite from my TNT days, Sear’s Fine Food

The moment you enter, you step into your grandparents’ era for some unconditional love delivered in a heaping serving of delicious warm food. With our bellies and hearts filled up, we left for our first adventure… except nothing was open yet. So we went to the hotel to plot our course, unpack, watch TV…

Two_hours_later_in_Squidtastic_Voyage

THRILL OF A NEW RIDE
While the kids power napped, I navigated and doubled back cross-checking the Cable Car routes to deliver us to all of our desired locations. We opted for a single-day pass immediately opening up our access to the city. I purchased our tickets while the kids watched the city’s tradition of re-directing the cable car at the turn about.  We hoofed it 2 blocks to the next stop up from there (where 10 people stood in line vs. 100s at the turntable). For the first leg of our trip we jumped onto the outside of a crowded cable car and held on!  My daughter told me later that she got nervous – not that she’d fall off – that other people wouldn’t get out of the way.

One of the most memorable visuals of the city flashed briefly at the change between the Powell-Hyde and California lines as we looked downhill through the city.

Alcatraz is first on our list for next time!

OFF TO EXPLORE – AH, TOUR – EE, YUM!
One parental benefit allows us to run alongside our kids, watching the world through their curious eyes, bright with wonder.  At the Exploratorium, everyone’s minds expanded and repeatedly blew as we flew from exhibit to exhibit, squealing like loudly deflating balloons!  Each new stop offered fascinating exhibits where you learn by interacting with the exhibit! This museum encouraged touching or climbing into and through exhibits!  My daughter’s and my favorite experience deprived us of our sight as we traversed through a maze in complete darkness. As a pair, we relied primarily on touch and sound while traveling through the Tactile Dome (slight additional, but highly recommended fee).  She turned out to be an amazing leader providing step-by-step directions as to what challenge I would find next.  My son’s favorite challenged him to learn Morse Code – harder than it looked considering it’s only dashes and dots! Totally exhausted though only getting a fraction of the experience done, we finally broke for dinner!

PEPPER MEAL WITH HISTORY
As a divorced mom, I haven’t shared a lot of their Dad’s and my history. At first I lacked an age-appropriate answer for their innocent questions, “So if you had fun, why’d you break up?” Later, out of respect for his new wife, and largely because I’d boxed them all away, wrapped in impenetrable box in my self. 11 years later, I realize that the generic statement “Even though we’re no longer together, you were created from love.” doesn’t carry weight if I don’t sometimes share proof.  Their Dad and I enjoyed The Stinking Rose restaurant a few times both here and the one in LA. One thing we actually agreed on was that only the SF one seasons the experience with a mythical bohemian feel – being that it’s the original location.  Also, honestly, this restaurant wouldn’t have teased my palate without his family’s cooking. The first time they opened their door, a rush of garlic took my breath away! The rest is history.


WALK RIGHT DOWN THE STREET
After dinner, though absolutely stuffed, we desired something light but sweet.  We calculated the distance we needed to walk to make enough room for Gelateria Naia (who are we kidding – there’s always room for gelato)! My kids stuck with classic flavors of mango, coffee and chocolate chip (though not all together).  They featured a whiskey flavor I’d never encountered before that blended smoothly with chocolate – the recipe for the perfect evening nightcap. 

I SPY… SOMETHING GOLDEN
The next morning, after we slept in a bit, we hunted for a meal large enough to rush us through the day and sustain us until we got on the bus to relax for the ride home to Los Angeles.  Originally, we went fishing for a fish and chips truck, but, they weren’t open when our stomachs started growling at us. The mist of the heavy fog led us straight to Tarantino’s Restaurant on the pier promising a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top floor (talk about multi-tasking when on a limited timeframe).  The kids laughed at the names of boats in their slips, communicated telepathically with seagulls begging for the kids’ fries through the scenic glass window, and squinted to find the bridge through the fog. We raved about the crispy golden seafood (lightly battered and fried, without any recognizable fish features).  


LIKE KIDS IN A CANDY STORE
As we exited the restaurant, the bright red logo of Rocket Fizz served as a beacon from across the street.  My son’s sentimental side insisted that we go “support the company” so that they don’t go out of business (I doubt there’s any danger of that, he’s still sore we lost the location in Westchester). Your sweet tooth compels you to stop the next time you pass near this store. It offers many childhood or jumbo-sized favorites and hard-to-find imported candies.

WTF: WEIRD, TOTALLY FUN!
Headed towards the Pier, we pulled inside a doorway to briefly to plot our course …and never left.  We’d stepped through a door into the most fantastically freakish place – Musée Mécanique!  This features the personal collection of Edward Zelinsky’s arcade games, and other mechanical wonders, collected from 1933 on (though some originated from decades earlier).  This collection felt slightly unsettling only because we had no idea what to expect (or was it the large clown at the entrance). Uneasiness immediately yields to exponential levels of excitement as you discover each new relic from a player piano, to old-time picture machines, to Space Invaders and a steam motorcycle.  We completely fell into this parallel universe, lost track of time, and wish we could have stayed longer.
 

MY NEW PERSPECTIVE
After a relaxing and a more spacious ride home (less people on the bus so each person could take a row of seats), we returned home from vacation refreshed, a little exhausted from our adventures, and with new perspective.  Our Three-thumb review is 3 tired thumbs up.  My tween daughter loved the unique challenge of the Tactile Dome and a new appreciation for her vision. My teen son left for San Francisco believing that one beach town resembles the next one. He returned with an appreciation for the history and the varied terrain (and we didn’t even visit the largest or curviest hills) of Northern California.

I caught a glimpse of my children and how they treat each other when mom’s not around thanks to the water fountain experiment in the Exploratorium. It featured back-to-back water fountains and two buttons on each side: SIP or SQUIRT. Each sibling simply pressed one button and if they match, it happens, if it doesn’t match, it cancels each other and nothing happens.  I fully expected to need to buy new dry clothes, or that they’d cancel each other out.  My heart grew when I witnessed my kids gently lowering their heads (and dare I say they were both a little bit surprised) to get a sip of water.

I found out AFTER we got back that if we purchased a CityPASS for our trip it would have reduced my time researching fun destinations AND saved us money! San Francisco’s CityPASS offers two options: 1 booklet of 5 attractions, or one booket where you choose 3 out of 8 attraction choices.  (Note: This is an affiliate link which means if you purchase the CityPASS not only will I be super excited for your upcoming adventure, but I earn a little bit of change towards my next CityPASS purchase – at no extra cost to you!)

If you want even more detailed reviews on each place we visited, check out the Yelp Reviews. Plus subscribe to check back when we update the list after future roadtrips!

Follow the blog to see where we go next!

What about you?
What is your favorite San Francisco gem?
What do you do to save your sanity on trips?
How do you remain present and not skip ahead to the next destination?
What changes in perspective do you encounter while traveling?
How often do you travel with your kids vs. on your own?
Where are you off to next?
Where should we go next?

DON’T TAKE MOMZILLA ON VACATION

The power of 3 showed it’s magic this month when in one week, I suddenly received my first 3 invitations to wander off to destinations in our closest neighboring state: Northern California (OK Fine! Same state but so vastly different)! My tween daughter pleaded to join me. My teen son surprised me by stating that he would love to visit these destinations too. We compromised with them tagging along for 2 adventures, and I’m attending one alone, creating a one-woman writing retreat. Even though we’ve worked out a peaceful solution – someone threatens to rear her ugly head and ruin my vacation vibe – Momzilla!


The minute I commit to taking a vacation, preparation floods my consciousness:

  • Transportation
  • Packing
  • Lodging
  • Itinerary
  • Budget
  • Contacting friends in that area to meet up
  • Cleaning the house (so if something happens, your neighbors and family won’t know about your paper piles)

My mind feels even crazier than (hopefully) yours since I think in a spirograph pattern. Plus, I didn’t even take into account what I have to do with work before I can walk away from my desk with a clear conscience:

  • Emptying the In-Box
  • Reading/answering all unopened emails
  • Training a replacement (if applicable)
  • Cleaning your desk (so if something happens your co-workers won’t know about your… wait, they already know).

Now I don’t have the perfect process, but here’s one skill I’ve learned from my brief time as a manager – Delegate! With 3 trips coming up, I need the kids to take on more responsibility for themselves. You’ll see on my social media if it went well or not.

Great prices, comfy with free wifi!

TRANSPORTATION:
We’re trying something new! For this first road trip, we’re riding a Megabus to San Francisco! I’ve always had a goal to take the kids up the coast to explore northern California. As a passenger, I get to take in the gorgeous view on the way home! On the way up, I’m saving a hotel night by taking a red eye bus! We leave Los Angeles in the evening after work, sleep on the bus and wake up refreshed in San Francisco ready to hit the payment. Whenever I’m in San Francisco I always am inspired to walk everywhere anyway, plus uber can help with longer treks or late-night rides back to the hotel.

PACKING:
After the first summer packing a week’s worth of clothes for my son’s sleep-over camp, only to have him return in the same outfit he left in (albeit with clean undergarments), I retired from packing for my kids. Somehow the teen, who regularly produces 2x the laundry that his sister and I do, manages to get by on very little when travelling. Vacation miracle! My daughter still needs to fine-tune her packing but fortunately so far, every destination we’ve been to isn’t too far from a Target or cheesy touristy T-shirt shop.

CLEANING THE HOUSE & EMPTYING THE IN-BOX:
People, just do your best, zip up the suitcase, walk out and shut the door behind you. A very wise man once told me


Meaning, don’t kill yourself to finish everything (or to perfectly stage your home before your trip). 10 things will hit your inbox as soon as you read the last email, 10 more papers will land in your mail slot, and we all know how crazy it is to leave on a trip so yeah, there could be a small tornado that occurred in your home during that preparation time. Just get your home to the point that it will welcome you when you get home then hightail it out of there!

Now I only touched on 3 things here, because when planning agenda and lodging, I am like a Hungry Hungry Hippo not wanting to miss any tips, savings, coupons and reviews that roll into view.

Now, our trip is more simple than say a cross-country or international trip. I’d love to hear what you do to streamline your travel preparations and outrun your internal Momzilla. Please share your biggest travel prep gem in the comments!

Where are traveling next?
When are you leaving?
Traveling alone or with others?
Share your tips to staying sane!

 

#Travel #RoadTrip #Bus #Journey #Megabus #LosAngeles #SanFrancisco #FamilyVacation #WeekendGetaway #Momzilla #Organization #Sponsored #Blogger #MakesMeWander

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