Ice Cream Days: Family-Friendly Community Festival in Le Mars, Iowa

Welcome to Le Mars

When we made our plans to visit Le Mars, Iowa, for Ice Cream Days, we expected to have a nice time and eat some good ice cream.  I did not, however, expect to be wowed by the extreme family-friendliness of the Ice Cream Days celebration.

We’ve been to summer festivals before, but often only a small portion of the festival is suitable for kids.  Queen coronations, beer gardens, softball tournaments, and street dances are designed more for adults to enjoy than children.

In Le Mars, however, absolutely everything on the schedule of events is designed for family involvement, and that makes it worth the trip for families looking to do something fun and different as they make their summer plans.

For example:

  • The Kids Ice Cream Cone-ival (like a carnival but ice cream themed–get it?) is a well-organized event in the city’s Cleveland Park.
    Cone-ival sign
    Each child gets a number of tickets to use in the various carnival games (all Blue Bunny themed, of course, and run by Blue Bunny employees and their children).
    Cone Toss
    Free watermelon, apples, juice, and Blue Bunny Ice Cream treats are given away as well, and there’s a nice big playground for the kids to play on when they’ve run out of carnival tickets.
  • Ice Cream Days Parade.
    Parade Float
    Perhaps the biggest draw of the weekend, the parade lasted nearly an hour with a wide variety of entries, many of them incorporating the Ice Cream Days theme.
    Parade Float
    I’d advise heading over to Foster Park early to get a good spot to watch the parade, then letting the kids play on the playground while you wait for the parade to start.  After the parade, you’ll be right where the action is for Art in the Park.
  • Art in the Park.  Primarily an arts and crafts fair with booths selling their wares in Foster Park, there are also craft projects for kids and entertainment (this year the Su Fu Du Drumline) after the parade, as well as concessions and ice cream (of course!).  We left proudly carrying marshmallow shooters (kids) and handcrafted garden ornaments (me).

We arrived for just the Friday and Saturday portions of the annual festival, but in the future I’d try to get there on Wednesday afternoon to enjoy more festivities.  There’s enough on the schedule to keep families busy for four days while allowing a bit of time to explore Le Mars.

Le Mars itself is a town where I felt right at home.  Its layout is easy to navigate, its downtown beautiful and vibrant, and its homes and yards well-kept.  I liked Le Mars enough that I posted on Facebook that I could easily see myself living there.  Apparently that feeling is shared by others, because the population of the town is increasing, and I talked to people who have lived there for several years, only to be joined by extended family members who liked the town well enough to move there themselves.

And then there’s the ice cream.  We really can’t forget the ice cream.

Ice Cream Sundae

Le Mars is home to Blue Bunny Ice Cream, and more ice cream is made in Le Mars than in any other place, earning it the title of “Ice Cream Capital of the World.”  The best way to sample the local concoctions is to head downtown to the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor,
Blue Bunny Parlor
where you can explore the company’s history in the upstairs museum exhibits,
Blue Bunny Museum
or better yet, place an order at the soda fountain.
Blue Bunny Parlor
Bring your appetite, though–a so-called “single” scoop cone at 3 p.m. was enough to make my 9-year-old son decline anything for supper.
Blue Bunny Cones
Pleasing for our family was the allergy awareness at the Parlor; when we mentioned my son’s peanut allergy, the parlor staff cheerfully opened a new tub of ice cream and got a clean scoop for him so he could enjoy his ice cream without any worries.

While in Le Mars, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, conveniently located near restaurants and Wal-Mart on the edge of town.  Our room with two queens and a sofabed was extremely spacious, though sadly is only reservable as a room that sleeps 5, even though it’s larger than most 2-queen/sofabed rooms that are rated for six occupants at competing hotel chains.
Holiday Inn Express Le Mars Iowa
At the end of the day when we finally regained our appetites, it was nice to be able to walk a few steps for a bite to eat, and in the morning we all enjoyed the ample complimentary breakfast.

The other treat we enjoyed in Le Mars was its public artwork, represented in a series of large ice cream cone sculptures, each uniquely painted and located in various business and community spots around town.
Blue Bunny Cone
We took the map of the ice cream cones and made our way around town,
Blue Bunny Cone Map
checking off each one and stopping to snap photos with many.
Le Mars Cone
While walking downtown to find our last few cones, we came across an artist painting a mural of a historic Le Mars building and stopped to watch and chat a bit.
Le Mars Mural Painter

The last thing we did before leaving town was to visit the Plymouth County Historical Museum.
Plymouth County Museum
Located in the old high school building, the museum is organized by various themes in Plymouth County history and there’s plenty to see.  My favorite was the “kitchens through the decades” display (aptly located in the old Home Ec room); my daughter liked “milking” the cow in the agriculture exhibit; and my train-loving son was delighted to see that the model railroad club was operating in an area of the museum.  And as if we hadn’t had enough ice cream yet during the weekend, they were offering $1 root beer floats in the recreated Miller’s Lunch diner, which was pleasantly reminiscent of my hometown’s Mildred’s Cafe, down to the style of the booths and counter stools.
Miller's Lunch booths

My kids are already asking if we can return for Ice Cream Days next year, and I’m strongly considering it.  While you can stop and explore Le Mars and the Blue Bunny Parlor at any time, visiting the community during Ice Cream Days provides a lot of family-friendly fun and entertainment.

It probably seems as if I’m gushing over this event, and I’m usually not much of a gusher, but we did really enjoy Ice Cream Days that much.  Ice Cream Days is held annually on Father’s Day weekend, so if you’re looking for a family outing in mid-June, Le Mars is definitely somewhere to consider in your plans.

Blue Bunny Sign

Oh, and I’m not quite sure if this happens to everyone, but . . . after all the Blue Bunny Ice Cream I ate over the weekend, I stepped on the scale when we got home and it hadn’t budged a bit.  If that isn’t a good experience, I don’t know what is!

Disclosure:  We visited Ice Cream Days as guests of Blue Bunny, which provided compensation for our trip expenses. 

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on Jun 18 2012

Town Ball

On Sunday afternoons this summer, if we don’t have out-of-town family plans, you’ll find two things on my itinerary.

  1. A nap.
  2. A trip to town to watch the ball game.

You see, our little town of less than a thousand people has its own baseball team.  Many small towns in Minnesota do, and amateur “town ball” is a popular summertime sport.

For us, it’s the perfect recipe for a Sunday afternoon.

  • The national anthem is played or sung by a local resident or group, starting the game off right.
  • We sit on green bleachers under a blue sky and cheer for our Reds, while catching up with friends and neighbors.
  • Children who don’t want to watch the game make new friends on the city park’s playground, right next to the left field fence.
  • Little kids chase foul balls and turn them in at the concession stand for the prize of a quarter (which is almost always in turn spent right there at the concession stand).
  • Local law enforcement stop by to keep an eye on things, though I suspect it may be more to keep an eye on the game than on any shenanigans that might be going on.
  • There’s no charge for admission, and a $2 concession stand allowance is enough for chips, a drink, AND some candy.

Sitting in the shade watching the home team has become one of our family’s favorite fun and free outings.

What is your favorite hometown activity?


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About This Whole Family Travel Blogging Thing

When I started writing Travels with Children four and a half years ago, it was primarily to demonstrate to other families that it is possible to take small children to new places, and that family fun can be found anywhere if you just look for it.  Since then, I’ve written more than 800 posts, reviewing places we’ve visited, linking to places other family travelers have gone, and dishing out advice and bargains and some miscellanea along the way.

As family travel blogs go, mine’s not one of the biggest or the most well-known.  I’m not a freelancer who’s getting cool gigs in newspapers and magazines.   I’m not in this to get rich, though it’s nice to bring in some income to help cover my blogging bills.  I don’t always follow all the “rules” about creating and maintaining a successful blog.

That’s because of the family part of it.  My husband works the equivalent of two full-time jobs, with most of the work done during the summer.  Since we’ve had children, our agreement has been that my job is to keep the family going, while he earns the bread and butter.  That’s just what works best for us.  My children will tell you I’m a blogger, though I’m not sure they entirely understand what that means.  Truth is, I’m mostly just a mom, looking for some fun and adventures as my children grow up all too quickly, and occasionally writing about interesting places we visit.

I’m happy to share these experiences with anyone who will read them, and I’m grateful to those who stop by and read, leave a comment, or share this site with their friends.  My writing Travels with Children has provided our family with some extra opportunities to see new places, and I hope I am always honest and constructive in writing and reviewing our experiences.  I’ve “met” some interesting people via Facebook, Twitter, and now even Pinterest, as part of this whole blogging/social media thing.  Travels with Children has been good for me and for my family.

This weekend, many travel bloggers are out west attending the TBEX travel bloggers’ conference, or the preview of Carsland at Disneyland.  For various reasons, the big travel-blogger adventures of the weekend aren’t part of my summer itinerary.  Instead, we’re looking forward to going to Le Mars, Iowa, for Ice Cream Days, and later on to Omaha, Nebraska, to experience some pretty neat things in America’s heartland.

After all, fun is where my family is, and time and money don’t always allow for the faraway adventures we may dream of.  Instead, we’re happy to look around and find the fun that is closer to home.  And there is always plenty of that to be found.

It has always been my goal to help families enjoy their free time wherever it may be, and no matter what their budget allows.  I hope that I’ve been successful in this.

If you don’t see too much on Travels with Children this summer, it’s because I’m out having fun with my kids.  We’re looking for new parks, exploring new campgrounds, and visiting new libraries.   After all, my days of traveling with children are fleeting and I must take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with them.

As always, thank you for reading.   A happy summer to you and your family, wherever the road may lead you.

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Published by under Family Travel
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on Jun 14 2012

Sea Life Aquarium at Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota

Since Mall of America opened 20 years ago, an aquarium beneath the mall’s east side has been one of its entertainment anchors.  Originally known as Underwater Adventures, the aquarium underwent a name change and transformation about a year ago and now is one of a handful of Sea Life Aquariums around the United States.

Sea Life Minnesota

We had visited Underwater Adventures a few times when our kids were younger, and were mostly underwhelmed with daily visits, although we found their educational programs to be well-done when we attended a special event.  The moving walkway was a novelty, but it made it difficult to stop and look at specific things in the aquarium tunnel, and visits were often completed in 30 minutes or so.

I am happy to report that I see the changes at Sea Life Aquarium to be mostly positive.  For those who have been to Underwater Adventures, these are the things you’ll find to be different:

  • The order of your journey through the aquarium is reversed.  Visits now begin at the touch pools and end after going through the tunnel and up the winding ramp.
  • The winding ramp is now known as Mysteries of the Rainforest.  It previously had a Minnesota theme.
  • The moving walkway through the tunnel is gone, allowing you to move at your own pace.
  • A scavenger hunt “quiz trail” keeps kids engaged.

Old favorites are there as well:

  • The jellyfish (my favorites).
    Sea Life Jellyfish
  • The tunnel where you can have a shark swim over the top of you.
    Sea Life Shark
  • The opportunity to touch various sea creatures (though now just tidepool creatures, not sharks).

We spent about an hour going through the aquarium on a quiet summer Monday morning, looking at everything from the eels and an octopus to corals and sea horses and frogs.

Sea Life Blue Frogs

My children enjoyed the Quiz Trail, although some of the questions prompted a look at the “fin facts” for a clue when there were no fin facts to be found in that area.

Sea Life Quiz Trail

They viewed the rays from the overlook area and looked at the caiman at both below-water and above-water vantage points.

Sea Life Caiman

They were more impressed with Sea Life Aquarium than they had ever been with Underwater Adventures.

A few notes of caution, however:

  • I had been shown around the aquarium by a Sea Life representative earlier in the spring, on a busy day with both school groups and families there, and it was very crowded and loud.  If you go, try to figure out a quiet time (first thing in the morning or later in the evening, avoid school holidays) so that you’ll be able to move more freely throughout the tunnel and other areas of the aquarium.
    Sea Life Tunnel
  • Explore your ticket options before you go.  Walkup prices currently range from $17 for kids to $22 for adults.  You can save money by buying tickets online ahead of time or buying a combo ticket.  There are often coupons to be found around town, so keep your eyes open for them.  The good news is that admission is for a full day, so you can walk through a few times if you’re spending the whole day at Mall of America.  Memberships are also available if you’d like to visit more frequently.

Overall, we found the Sea Life renovations to be an improvement over Underwater Adventures and my children enjoyed our visit.  Merlin Entertainment, the owner of the Sea Life as well as Legoland (in both Florida and California) and Madame Tussauds, generally adds a new attraction each year, so repeat visitors should be able to see something new at the aquarium annually.

Have you been to Sea Life Aquarium, either in Minnesota or one of its other locations?  What did you think?

Disclosure: Our family was provided with complimentary admission in order to review Sea Life Minnesota.


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Ice Cream Days in Le Mars, Iowa

Small-town celebrations are always a lot of fun, a place for residents and visitors to gather to celebrate something that is cherished in the community or has made the city famous.  Henderson, Minnesota, has Sauerkraut Days, Minneota has Boxelder Bug Days, and Barnesville has Potato Days (complete with mashed potato eating AND sculpting contests).

While these communities embrace their respective claims to fame, their celebrated icons may not be universally loved.  Across the border in Le Mars, Iowa, however, there’s a community celebration that would be hard for most anyone to pass up:  Ice Cream Days.

Big Ice Cream Sunday

Le Mars is the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream and is also known as the Ice Cream Capital of the World.  We visited the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor and Museum in Le Mars several years ago, and since then our kids have been asking to return, especially to see the visitor center‘s new location.

When a representative of Blue Bunny Ice Cream invited our family to Le Mars for Ice Cream Days, we jumped at the chance.  My friend Jody from Family Rambling went last year and had a magnificent time with her family.

2012′s Ice Cream Days are June 13-16, so you can still make plans to attend if Le Mars is a comfortable drive for you.  I like that the Ice Cream Days parade is held at 9 a.m., before the heat of the day begins, and that the festivities wrap up on Saturday so we can enjoy Father’s Day with dear old dad.  Besides the parade, there are carnival games and arts and crafts for kids, a BMX/Motorcycle stunt team and R/C Airplane & Helicopter Fun Fly, arts events, historical presentations, and even maps of barn quilt routes available.

The best part, however, is seeing the ice cream cone notation on many of the events for the celebration, which means free Blue Bunny treats will be available.

Who wouldn’t want to celebrate that?

If you’d like to see more about Ice Cream Days in Le Mars, follow me on Facebook or Twitter, where I’ll be sharing scenes from our Ice Cream Days experience.

Disclosure: Blue Bunny is covering the cost of our family’s trip to Le Mars for Ice Cream Days.

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on Jun 09 2012

California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside, California

California Citrus SHP

When visiting California, our family’s goal was to learn about some of the history and culture of the state as well as visiting attractions like Disneyland and Legoland.  As Minnesota farmers, we also hoped to learn a bit about agriculture in California.  We found the perfect stop for this at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside.

California Citrus SHP

California Citrus SHP exists to preserve the history of the citrus industry that is shrinking in Riverside and its surrounding areas.  While our children explored the exhibits and worked through the children’s brochure in the visitor center, my husband and I visited with the knowledgeable docents, learning about the citrus industry’s history in California and how it is changing in a time of population growth and urbanization.

California Citrus Visitor Center Display

After we’d had our questions answered and browsed the gift shop, the docent took us to the patio behind the visitor center, where we were offered tastes of a variety of citrus fruits.

California Citrus SHP Kumquats

We had our first experience with kumquats (little tiny oranges that are eaten like grapes, skin and all), really sweet clementines/mandarins, lemons, and juicy, red-orange Cara Cara navels.  Even the choosiest eaters in our family were adventurous enough to taste the fruits.

Lemons at California Citrus SHP

The docent then led us down the sidewalk and showed us some of the other varieties growing near the visitor center.  The rule was that we, as visitors, could not pick any of the fruit in the park, but our ranger could pick things and share them with us.  It was a new and tasty experience to eat oranges that had just been picked from the trees.

California Citrus SHP

After trying several of the varieties, the ranger left us to wander through the rest of the park on our own, and we walked the many paved paths through what is an actual working orchard.  Throughout the park, signs indicate the varieties of the trees, from the Meyer lemons that are common in California backyards to the spiky Flying Dragon seedling that is good for root stock but does not bear good fruit.

Flying Dragon Seedling

Our kids liked learning about the trees and how they grow,

California Citrus SHP

as well as just walking between the palm trees, which were originally grown in the orange groves as a navigation aid, so workers could find the roads among the acres of orange trees.

California Citrus SHP paths

Displays along the paths explained things such as the importance of the local canal to the citrus industry and the citrus heritage of the area.

California Citrus SHP outdoor display

The orange trees were just beginning to bloom and I found that their sweet smell now rivals lilacs as my favorite scent.

California Citrus SHP Orange Blossom

The visitor center is only open on weekends, but the park is open daily for walking its tree-lined paths.

California Citrus SHP

After leaving the park, we stopped at the Gless Ranch stand, conveniently located just outside the entrance, and purchased some fresh California oranges to take home with us.  Sadly, they did not make it home, as we ate 16 pounds of oranges in a week’s time.  Even worse, we cannot find anything that tastes nearly as good now that we are back in Minnesota.

Gless Ranch Oranges

We made one more stop before heading back to our hotel in Anaheim, at the ranger’s suggestion:  We drove through Riverside to the corner of Magnolia and Arlington to see the Parent Navel Tree.  If you’ve ever eaten a navel orange grown in the United States, it is likely a descendant of this tree that dates back to the 1800s.  How’s that for a piece of history?

Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree

I highly recommend California Citrus SHP for visitors to California who want to learn about this type of agriculture or to taste a variety of citrus fruits, or to California residents who may know little about the citrus industry and its history in the state.


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Finding the Hollywood Sign

One of the most iconic landmarks of Los Angeles is the Hollywood sign.  Watch a TV show set in LA or read a guidebook, and HOLLYWOOD is sure to be prominently featured.  But getting a good look at the sign for yourself is a bit more difficult.

Say, for instance, that you’re driving on the 101 freeway from Disneyland to Universal Studios.

If you look at just the right time, and you’re not the driver who has to pay attention to traffic or the kid who’s in the backseat on the driver’s side of the vehicle, you might just get a good look at it like this:

Hollywood sign from highway 101

Now, for some people, that would be good enough.  But for others who actually wanted more than a glimpse, or who want to prove that they can find a better vantage point, or maybe have their photo taken in front of the real thing (as opposed to the fake photo op background at Universal Studios) as proof that they were actually along on the family vacation, it is possible to get closer to the sign.

In my somewhat-extensive Hollywood-sign research before we left home, I had read that you could see the Hollywood sign from Griffith Park.  We, however, did not go to Griffith Park.

I also talked to someone from my hometown whose family had attempted to get up-close and personal with the Hollywood sign and had become hopelessly intertwined in the Hollywood hills, and never did successfully complete their quest to see the sign.  I wanted to do better than that.

So I searched Google Maps.  (Do you use Google Maps for as many things as I do?)  And I looked for that sign and found it right here.

Do you see it?  It’s that faint white line just below Mt. Lee Drive on the map.  Yup, that’s the Hollywood sign from way up in space.

Then, I looked at the terrain.  Obviously, any vantage point for the sign was going to be south of this location.

View Larger Map

And yes, those are some twisting, winding roads.

Next, I used street view to see exactly where the sign was visible from a public roadway.

This view? Not exactly the right spot.

View Larger Map

Then I got smart and turned on the photos layer. And voila! I could instantly see all of the spots where people had taken photos of the Hollywood sign with their fancy GPS-enabled cameras or cell phones.

Now, I realize it’s hard to see, but all of those pictures with blue sky and brown-green bottoms and a little bit of white in the middle?  They’re pictures of the Hollywood sign.

Next, we had the issue of finding a place to park and safely take a picture without being chased off someone’s private property or being run down by people who actually knew how to quickly and accurately navigate these streets.

What’s that?  A public park?  With what looks to be cars parked safely and legally on both sides of the street?  I think that’s our spot.

View Larger Map

And so it was that upon leaving Universal Studios, we made our way to see the Hollywood sign. Cahuenga Blvd W to Barham Blvd to Lake Hollywood Dr to Tahoe Dr to Canyon Lake Dr to Lake Hollywood Park doesn’t seem too tricky, but I’d advise having a map or smartphone navigation app to get you there. (It was comforting to see one small “Hollywood Sign” arrow along the way, but it alone wasn’t enough to get us there without getting lost.)

View Larger Map

At the southern tip of the park, we found a place to park along the street, and spotted the sign.

To the naked eye it looked like this:

Hollywood Sign

Zoomed in it looked like this:

Hollywood Sign Zoom

And proof that I was in California looked like this:

Hollywood Sign L

If you know of a better/faster/easier place to see the Hollywood sign, please share in the comments.

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Published by under Roadside Attractions
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on May 09 2012

San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido, California

San Diego has a lot of attractions for families, and one of its best-known is outside the city itself.  The San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park) is in Escondido, a 30- to 45-minute drive from the main San Diego tourist areas.

San Diego Safari Park entrance

Before we went, I tried to get an idea of what the Safari Park would be like.  I looked at satellite views on Google Maps and read the website extensively, trying to guess if it would be a good stop for our family, and how much time we would need there.  Much of the guessing I did was wrong.

San Diego Safari Park

It’s hard to get a feel for the Safari Park from a map because the terrain is quite varied, and also because much of the park’s expanse is not in publicly-accessible areas.  The vastness of the park that scared me when looking at the map was really not so much to worry about.

San Diego Safari Park map

I had read that the Safari Park is extensive and the terrain quite hilly, so I was concerned that my already-troubled feet wouldn’t be able to take it, especially after several days in amusement parks.  While it’s true that one does a lot of walking at the Safari Park, the only part that I thought was really steep was down into the tiger area.  The other zone where there’s a big hill is near the cheetah and lion area, but there’s an elevator available at that location.

San Diego Safari Park

We arrived at the Safari Park just before it opened and parked very near the entrance.  The ticket line was slow-moving but the agent was knowledgeable and helpful when it came to our turn.  At $42 for adults and $32 for children, the Africa Safari is the most basic ticket available.  There are many other ticket options available that include extras like Segway and zipline tours or behind-the-scenes options, all at increased prices.  In fact, there are upsells throughout the park itself, including $5 to have a better view for the cheetah run.  The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park do not participate in the AZA reciprocal program, and adult memberships are only available to southern California residents, so there isn’t a good way to get reduced admission.  Visitors to southern California who want to save a few dollars should take a look at the Koala Club for kids, use their AAA card for a discount, look at the Go San Diego card*, or look at the multi-park/multi-visit options if visiting both the Zoo and the Safari Park.

San Diego Safari Park

The Africa tram is a 25-minute open-air ride that is included with the most basic admission ticket.  During the tram tour, visitors are taken to areas of the park that are otherwise inaccessible by the public.  Narration provides information about the various animals in this zone, many of which are severely endangered.  Since the Africa tram tour is included with admission, it’s worth the time for visitors, especially those who are there for the first time.

San Diego Safari Park

After the tram tour, we wandered around the rest of the Safari Park.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of paths that were shady, lined with beautiful plants.

San Diego Safari Park shady path

The walking was not nearly as difficult as I had envisioned.  Paths and trails and specific exhibits were well-marked, making it easy to navigate to the areas we wanted to visit.

San Diego Safari Park signs

Because the animal areas at the Safari Park are often large, it’s not always easy to see the animals.  After trekking down the tiger path, we learned that the tigers were not in a visible area at that time, and I had a disappointed six-year-old to lead back up the hill.

San Diego Safari Park signage

Food is available at several locations in the park.  The $7.49 kids meal included two small chicken fingers, a bag of Pirate’s Booty, raisins, animal crackers, and a child-sized soda (with $1 in-park refills).  While milk and chocolate milk could be purchased for $1.49, an adult soda (refillable for a charge) carried the price tag of $4.99.  In my opinion, the food was high-priced and mediocre, and I’d recommend packing a picnic lunch if you can.

San Diego Safari Park

Our kids enjoyed an interactive screen show featuring Robert, the zebra from Madagascar, in an amphitheater, and begged to spend time in the splash area and play & climb zone in the park that give kids a chance to run and play.  The carousel was also a hit with the kids.

We spent four hours at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  In the future, if I had to choose either the San Diego Zoo or the Safari Park, I’d go back to the zoo, where more animals were easily seen and more programs were available.  Benefits of the Safari Park, however, included easier parking and a less-crowded atmosphere.  I was surprised at the amount of duplication of animals between the two, and on future visits to San Diego, I would likely choose one or the other, but not go to both.

San Diego Safari Park

For my Minnesota readers who may be interested in visiting the Safari Park, I found it to be very similar to the Minnesota Zoo, and in fact, many of the animals are the same (tigers, takin, meerkat).  The tram ride is similar in scope to the Minnesota Zoo’s monorail, and the terrain and amount of walking we did seemed very much like that of the Minnesota Zoo.

The San Diego Zoo and its Safari Park are known as some of the best zoos in the world, giving visitors to San Diego good options for a zoo experience while in California.


Disclosure:  The San Diego Zoo gave us four free passes so we could check out the Zoo and Safari Park.
* Affiliate link

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Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California

When our family visited California, we had a lot of fun, but we also wanted to have some educational experiences along the way.  Visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum was one of these.

Set in the beautiful hills of Simi Valley, California, north of Los Angeles, the setting for this museum is breathtaking.  Our children enjoyed seeing the banners depicting the order of the presidents as we wound up the driveway, until we arrived at number 40, Ronald Reagan, at the top of the hill.

Our first contact upon entering the building was a representative offering a membership to the library.  We declined this option and moved to the admission window, where we paid for our visit and a Guidecam tour upgrade for an additional $7 per person.  Though this price was somewhat high, we hoped that it would provide additional interest for our kids as we walked through the museum.

The museum itself is very large and well-done.  The exhibits are informational and appealing to look at, with each area based around a specific period or topic of President Reagan’s life.  Occasional interactive areas, like a radio show from Reagan’s early days, or a White House etiquette trivia quiz, livened it up a bit for the kids.

The Guidecams, which are specially-purposed iPod Touches, were indeed a good choice, as the exhibit areas were marked with audio locations.  One daughter especially liked the option of using the Guidecam to take photos in the museum, which were e-mailed to us at the end of the tour.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum

Guidecam Photo taken by 7-year-old

On the downside, there is no child-specific audio option, so the kids got the same spiel as the adults.  A special kid-friendly audio tour would make the Guidecams even better.  Still, listening as we walked and looked made for a very well-rounded experience.

Docents were available at every turn should we have questions, and while some waited quietly in the exhibit areas for questions to be addressed to them, others interacted with the kids as we walked through.  One even gave us tiny bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans (Ronald Reagan’s favorite) when we stopped to ask a question.

After learning about most of Reagan’s life, we made it to the Air Force One exhibit area.  The large annex area is home to the Air Force One that was in use during Reagan’s presidency, and it was very interesting to step on board and walk through the plane, seeing the office areas, press seating, and how the president’s office in the sky is set up.  While photography is allowed in the rest of the museum, there are no photos allowed on board Air Force One.

Air Force One nose

Other presidential and military vehicles, including a presidential limousine from the Reagan years, are also on exhibit in this large area of the museum.

From Air Force One, we continued the audio tour to its end.  We kind of breezed through the last area quickly because we were hungry; we hadn’t realized just how much time we’d be able to spend in the museum.  Using the Guidecam, we had spent nearly three hours learning about Ronald Reagan.

We ate lunch at Reagan’s Country Cafe, which was at the end of the tour.  (If we had only realized when we entered that it was just through the doors by the Guidecam pickup point, we would have eaten first).  There is also a pub in the Air Force One exhibit area, but we opted for the cafe with more menu options and beautiful views from the dining area.

Reagan Library View

Though it rained while we were in the museum, by the time we headed outdoors again it was sunny, so we took some time to see a portion of the Berlin Wall and the replicas of the White House gardens, as well as President Reagan’s gravesite.

Reagan Grave

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum is one of the largest and most-visited presidential museums in the U.S.  With its excellent exhibits, the Guidecam tour, and Air Force One, we found it to be an excellent history lesson amidst the fun of other southern California attractions.

Have you visited the Reagan Library or another presidential library/museum?  Was it interesting for kids?

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Finding More Fun: Family Travel Ideas, May 2012

I realize I’ve been away for a while; my time for the past month has been largely focused on an important community project.  Now I’m catching up, and look at all the of the interesting ideas I’ve found on other blogs.  I’m also trying something new by linking to these ideas on Pinterest.  Are you planning a summer vacation? Maybe you’ll find an idea or two on this list.

Join in the conversation: 10 comments so far

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on May 02 2012

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, Minnesota

I had heard good things about the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, so when I got to choose our family outing last weekend, this is where I decided we were going to go, despite the grumblings of children who wanted to go to Mall of America or the children’s museum instead.  I wanted to go somewhere new and interesting without fighting crowds on a cool and rainy Saturday.

The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting is located in a business/light-industrial area of St. Louis Park, MN, just off Hwys 100 and 7.  After paying our admission and hanging up our coats, one son noticed the audio tour option, but we instead went with the guided tour of the museum that was offered to us.  Our guide cranked up a Victrola and a replica of Edison’s first phonograph, and we threw some nickels into an old-time juke box.  We learned about electricity with Leyden jar experiments like they have at the Bakken Museum, and got a demonstration of a ship’s radio system from days gone by.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Then it was on to the next room, where three kids at a time competed in a quiz show, complete with Jeopardy-style buzz-in buttons and broadcast on an old-time TV right in front of us.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Our guide read the questions and kept score.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

We tried our hands at playing the Theremin, and then were shown a video that proves that some people actually were able to get songs to come from this electronic musical instrument.  We were taken to a back room where it was explained how film works, and after being given actual film clips to look at (something new for our kids’ generation), we watched the Roadrunner escape the coyote until the film broke.

Each child tried their hand at a telegraph, we heard music from old-time movie-theater speakers, and watched old-time TV shows on an old-time television.

The highlight of the visit, however, was doing our own radio show in the radio studio.  With one child at the controls, two announcers, and two reporters, we followed the script and broadcast our very own radio show, which was e-mailed to us after we left the museum.  Seeing how radio works, even though the studio setup was from the late-1960s, was an eye-opener for our WCCO-listening family.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

Our Pavek Museum Radio Broadcast

We spent about an hour and a half at the museum; enthusiasts who want to examine all of the old radios and television sets on site could spend much longer.

Pavek Museum of Broadcasting

At the end, even those children who weren’t sure about going to the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting said it was a lot more fun than they’d expected it to be.  I’ve already recommended it to friends and to our school as a good field trip option for upper-elementary students.  The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting does an excellent job of portraying the history of broadcasting in an informative and interactive way.

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in Palm Springs, CA

On our vacation, we each did something to challenge our comfort zones a bit.  Our kids went on rides they weren’t quite sure about, and I rode to new heights in more than a few places.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway sounded like a good idea when I was planning the trip.  I’d ask Californians if they’d been on it, and they’d say things like, “No, but I’ve heard only good things about it.”  Comments like this, paired with the fact that it was open into the evening, made it a good stop for the end of our day in the Palm Springs area.

As we drove up the four-mile access road just after 4 p.m., however, I began to question my wisdom in putting it on our to-do list.  “We’re going up THERE?” I asked as we pulled into the parking lot and could see the towers on the mountainside that held the tram cables in place.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

By then, however, it was too late.  We were there.  We hiked up the parking lot and into the ticket building to buy our tickets.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Although it was in no way due to excellent planning on my part, we learned that we’d arrived at a good time.  Tickets are discounted after 4:00 for the ride to the top of the mountain.  Though still not a great bargain, the discount was appreciated.

Aerial Tramway tickets are issued for a specific time, and our tram car was boarding as soon as we’d finished the purchase transaction.  We waited in a holding room until our tram car arrived, and then walked into the large car.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Car

The floor of the car rotates throughout the ride, so passengers get a 360-degree view of the Coachella Valley without having to move around the car.  Everyone stands, but a woman with a severe fear of heights was allowed to sit on a small step in the center of the car.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway View

There are five towers that the car rolls over along the way to the top, and while the 10-minute ride is otherwise smooth, there’s a bit of an “oooh” moment as the car swings over the arms of each of these towers.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Tower

Soon enough, we were at the top, with the option to explore as long as we wanted.  The top station includes overlooks, restaurants, a bar, a gift shop, and photo kiosk as well as restrooms and other amenities.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

I wasn’t too sure how I was going to like looking down from the top of an 8516-foot mountain, but it wasn’t really so bad.  Because it’s not a sheer dropoff from the lookout areas, the vegetation and landscape make it appear that you’re just on some uneven terrain, but with a really good view in the distance.  I’m nervous about the third-floor railing at Mall of America, but I managed the fenced-in areas at the top of this mountain just fine.

The kids begged for quarters for the binoculars, and enjoyed getting closer views of the sights from these.  We could see the mountains near Joshua Tree National Park to the left, Palm Springs and its nearby towns below, some of the many wind generators that line the Coachella Valley at the bottom of the mountain, and the Salton Sea to the right.  I forgot to look for the San Andreas Fault, although I’d read that it can be seen from the top.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Looking the other way, we could see hikers in the distance; the land at the top of the mountain is a state park and is available for recreational activities.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

We stayed near the station, however, and after getting our fill of the view, headed inside to find something to eat.  We chose the cafeteria-style Pines Cafe instead of the fancier Peaks Restaurant, and were pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices for basic but good food.  The boys had a large slice of pizza for $4, I had tortilla soup for $3.50, and our daughter liked the $5 yogurt parfait.  My husband had some kind of sausage and sauerkraut that was part of a meal deal but also sold a la carte.  All in all, we ate for about the same cost as fast food would have been, but with a much nicer view.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

While we were eating, the sun set over the mountain, so that when we boarded the tram car again and began moving, we had a beautiful view of the city lights below.  Once again we completed two and a half rotations as we rode, but this time to upbeat music instead of the informational narrative we’d heard on the way up.

In some ways, I’d compare the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway; both take you up about 8000 feet from the city below for some beautiful views.  If I had to choose one over the other for my family, however, I’d go with the tramway.  The 10-minute ride is much easier for kids than the hour-plus of Pikes Peak, and you can stay at the top as long as you wish.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was one of the high points of our California trip, especially since it was unique and not what I expected when I first thought of California.

If You Go:

  • Call for ticket prices before you go.  The after-4 discount is not listed on the website, although a ride-and-dine package is.
    Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Ticket Prices
  • Bring a sweatshirt or jacket, even if it’s warm in the valley.  We were comfortable with sweatshirts on in mid-February.
  • Don’t lean on the glass while the tramway is moving.  Your feet will rotate right out from under the leaning part of you.
  • Remember your camera.
  • Go up just after 4 p.m., grab something to eat, enjoy the view, and come down after dark for a varied experience at a lower price.
  • Check to see if any special activities are available during your visit.

More pictures:

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Flying on Delta with a Peanut Allergy: Our Experience

Delta Flight Info Sign

We learned that my son is allergic to peanuts when he was three years old due to skin testing and bloodwork in investigating another condition.  In the past six years, we’ve become adept at navigating restaurant menus and working with our school, friends, and family to ensure a safe environment for him.  We’ve traveled far and wide, but always in a car where we could control the food that’s brought in.

Our recent trip to California created a new page in our book of dealing with food allergies:  flying with a peanut allergy.  Our experience flying on Delta follows; I welcome any thoughts about your own food allergy airline experiences, or tips for traveling families, in the comments.

Pre-Trip Planning

My pre-trip concerns were two-fold: how to keep our son safe while on the flight, and how to handle epi-pens at the security gate.

About a month before our trip, I called Delta’s main information number and spoke to an agent about the peanut allergy.  She said that Delta does not provide peanut-free flights, but recommended sitting in either the first three or last three rows of the cabin.  We already had seats at the back of the plane, so this was not difficult.  Another option provided was to talk to the gate agent one hour prior to the flight and ask to be assigned (him plus one adult) to the first economy row, which is reserved until that point in time for people with service animals or other special needs.  We decided to stay with our seat assignments at the back of the plane, especially since our family of six was already taking up two rows on one side, which would create a bit of a natural buffer zone.

The phone agent also noted the peanut allergy on our son’s reservation.

Regarding the epi-pens, I checked the airline and TSA websites to see how to handle medications and learned that there should be no problem with them.

At Security

We did nothing special with the epi-pens we had in our carry-on luggage and no questions were asked at security regarding them.

Flight 1: At the Gate

We had arrived quite early for the flight, and as soon as the gate agent arrived, I talked to her about the peanut allergy.  She was very kind, reiterating that there were no peanut-free flights offered on Delta, but that they would not offer peanuts in the three rows ahead of or behind my son.  I asked if I needed to talk to the flight attendants, and she said no, that she would inform them.

Flight 1: On the Plane

We had brought along wipes with which to clean the trays and surfaces in my son’s row, in case there should be any peanut residue there from an earlier flight.  Though we normally do not do this in everyday situations, the idea of having a reaction while in the air with no ambulance or hospital readily available caused us to take more precautions than usual.

When the drinks and snacks were served, the flight attendants worked from front to back.  When they reached the row my son was in, they offered him peanuts.  My husband quietly reminded them that there was a peanut allergy in the row, and they hastily backed up and took back the peanuts they’d just given to passengers in the row ahead.  There ended up being just a two-row buffer instead of the three rows there were supposed to be.  I give the confiscated-peanut passengers credit for not complaining, but I was disappointed that the flight attendants had forgotten the protocol and offered peanuts to them in the first place.

Flight 2:  At the Gate

This time, we did not arrive at the gate until about 20 minutes prior to boarding.  I gave the same spiel to the agent:  “My son has a peanut allergy and the reservation agent said I should let you know.”  He annoyed with me, and said he’d have to put us in the last row.  I mentioned that we were already near the back of the plane, but he said the very back was what he was supposed to do, and now the plane was nearly full and he’d have to move people around.  After pausing a bit, he asked how severe the allergy was.  “Not airborne or contact-sensitive as far as we know,” I replied.  “So just ingestion?”  “Yes,” I replied.  He then decided that where we were sitting was good enough and that they’d have to do a buffer zone of “4 rows or something,” and that he’d have to notify the flight attendants RIGHT NOW.  He walked immediately down the jetway with this information.

Flight 2:  On the Plane

When we boarded, we noticed two small pieces of paper taped to the seatbacks of the third row ahead of our son’s row, marked simply with “ø.” Once everyone in those rows had boarded, the flight attendant explained that there was a customer with a peanut allergy in this area, and that peanuts would not be served beyond that point.  She also asked that any passengers who had brought a peanut snack not eat it during the flight, and that if a peanut snack was the only thing they had brought to eat, she would talk with them about trading it for something else from her cart.  As during the first flight, I did not see or hear anyone complain about this.

As had been promised, the flight attendants discontinued offering peanuts when they got to the marked row.  I did notice that there was still trail mix available for sale, but I did not see if anyone attempted to order it during the flight.

Overall Thoughts:

  • I’m surprised that the peanut allergy was not flagged in the gate agent’s information. Sometimes it is not possible to arrive early enough for seat reassignment, especially if catching a connecting flight.  Similarly, sometimes seat assignments are not available until arriving at the gate, so the allergic passenger could be assigned to a row other than that suggested for people with allergies on Delta.  Delta’s computer system should be able to flag this so the gate attendant knows before we arrive that there’s an allergy on board.
  • The demeanor of the gate agent isn’t what keeps the allergic passenger safe.  The flight attendants are the key piece of the puzzle. Though Flight 1′s gate agent was much friendlier, the flight attendants on the plane were not very attendant.  The gate agent for Flight 2 was more brusque, but the flight attendants on board were much better at communicating with the passengers and following the protocols we’d been told they would use.
  • The allergic passenger was kept anonymous throughout the process. We were not in any way singled out as being the ones with a food allergy in our row.  Any passengers who might be disgruntled did not know if the allergic passenger was right next to them or a few rows away.
  • Our fellow passengers were kind and understanding. No one on either flight was visibly hostile about the absence of peanuts in their row.
  • The cookies and pretzels offered as snacks besides peanuts were a may-contain, so my son couldn’t eat them anyway.  We always travel with our own snacks for him in situations like this.
  • It surprises me that Delta can’t create a peanut-free flight.  I don’t think of myself as a warrior mom for whom everyone else has to change just because my son has a peanut allergy.  But is the right to peanuts on a flight so absolute that they can’t simply be removed from the flight when given advance notice of an allergic passenger on board?
  • I’d think twice about flying on Delta if the allergy were airborne-sensitive. Some people have severe allergic reactions by merely smelling or breathing small amounts of peanut dust.  In an confined space like an airplane, I’d be very hesitant at having just a buffer zone with an airborne reaction history.
  • Traveling with a larger group is a benefit. Our family created its own buffer zone of sorts, just as my son has a self-created group of friends who avoid peanuts so they can sit by him at lunchtime.
  • It was still nerve-wracking. Being locked on an airplane without quick access to a hospital can be dangerous in any medical emergency, but with a severe allergic reaction, time is of the essence.  An epi-pen dose only helps for 15 minutes or so, and a second dose will buy a bit more time, but that’s not enough in the case of a severe reaction while at 30,000 feet.  Preventing a reaction in the first place is really the first defense.

Questions and Comments:

  • Have you flown with a food allergy?  What was your experience?  What precautions did you take?
  • Are there any airlines that offer peanut-free flights?  What are the policies of airlines other than Delta?
  • What could/should we have done differently?

Please share with a comment below.

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A Room with a View: Family-Friendly Beachfront Hotels in Southern California

During our time in California, we stayed at three different water/beachfront hotels.  All had room for a family of six, and beyond that, their amenities varied.  Read on to learn more about these California beachfront hotels.


Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach, Oxnard, CA

Mandalay Beach Partial Ocean View

  • The hotel: Resort-style hotel laid out in several buildings with beautifully landscaped grounds and large pool and whirlpool.  Restaurant on-site.  Reasonably priced room service.  Quiet except for baby crying next door.  Most rooms open directly to outside walkways.
    Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach
  • Our room: Spacious 2-queen, 2-bath suite with living room, dining table for four, small fridge, and microwave.  Large balcony with doors to both the bedroom and living room provides views of beach and ocean; has bar-height table and two stools.
    Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Bedroom
  • Breakfast, etc.: Free breakfast that includes made-to-order omelets and other hot items in large breakfast room.  Complimentary evening reception includes snacks (nachos, popcorn) and drinks (alcholic and non-alcoholic) in breakfast area.
  • The view: Hotel gate opens directly onto beach.  Some areas are dune-like and others flat beach.  Channel Islands and California mountains can be seen in the distance.
    Mandalay Beach View
  • What we paid: $166/nt (“partial view” AAA rate)+ $15 for parking in the hotel’s underground garage.
  • Best for: A beach getaway with time to relax at the pools and enjoy the hotel’s resort feel.
  • Hints:  Ask for a partial view room for the best combination of view + cost.


Quality Inn and Suites Oceanview, Dana Point/Capistrano Beach, CA

Quality Inn and Suites Dana Point View

  • The hotel: Small (30 rooms?) hotel directly on Pacific Coast Highway.  Restaurants within walking distance.  Highway noise and passing Amtrak trains can be bothersome.  Rooms open to outside walkways.  Bathroom fan is loud and on when bathroom light is on.  Hotel has outdoor whirlpool.  Balconies face each other.  Free underground parking.
  • Our room: 2-king bedroom with huge living room, dining table for four, small fridge, and microwave.  Mid-sized balcony off living room with patio table and chairs.
    Quality Inn and Suites Dana Point Bedroom
  • Breakfast, etc.: Free continental breakfast (waffles, pastries, fruit, cereal, toast) in breakfast room with just four tables.
    Quality Inn and Suites Dana Point Breakfast Area
  • The view: Beach is located across the road/railroad tracks; crossover walkway is about 2 blocks from hotel.  Higher floors have best views of ocean and beach/park.
    Quality Inn and Suites Dana Point View
  • What we paid:  $95/nt (organizational rate); free parking.
  • Best for: Budget-minded travelers who want to be close to the beach.  People looking for a somewhat central location between LA and San Diego.
  • Hints: Parking garage entrance can be hard to find at night.  Our GPS had a hard time finding the hotel.
    Quality Inn and Suites Dana Point Parking entrance

Homewood Suites Liberty Station, San Diego, CA

  • The hotel: Two lodging buildings plus central “lodge” with lobby, breakfast area, etc.  Outdoor pool and whirlpool, various patios and terraces, some with fireplaces.  Game room with pool table, exercise rooms.  Variety of restaurants (Greek, sushi, Thai, pizza/brewpub, Mexican, Starbucks, Subway) in strip mall just across parking lot. Snack shop in lobby.  Grocery store (Von’s/Trader Joe’s) nearby.  Airport is nearby but plane noise not an issue.  Within 20-minute drive of most San Diego attractions.  Quiet/no highway noise.
  • Our room: 1-king, 1-queen, 2-bedroom, 2-bath with living room and full kitchen (except oven) and table for four.  Tiny balcony with patio chair off queen bedroom.
    Homewood Suites Liberty Station Queen Bedroom
  • Breakfast, etc.: Free hot breakfast each morning.  Weeknight manager’s reception includes light meal offerings and includes beer and wine.
  • The view: Some rooms overlook the harbor inlet, greenway, and walking path.
    Homewood Suites Liberty Station Water View
  • What we paid: $204/nt (AAA rate); free parking.
  • Best for: Families looking for nice, centrally-located lodging in San Diego.  People who want to cook instead of eating in restaurants.
  • Hints: You pay the same whether you get a waterfront view or a parking lot view, and it’s luck of the draw whether you get a room with a view or not.  One of the top-rated hotels in San Diego on TripAdvisor.  Price fluctuates so keep an eye on it and rebook at a lower rate if you find it.  Larger rooms can sell out quickly.


So there you have it–the skinny on three waterfront lodging options in southern California.  Of all of them, the one I’d most like to return to is the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach with its convenient beach access and relaxed feel plus well-designed room and beautiful view. I would, however, stay at any of them again.

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Comfort Inn Maingate in Anaheim, California

I’m going to start off by saying that some writers would mock a review of a Comfort Inn as much as they’d make fun of a restaurant reviewer’s writeup of the Olive Garden.  But I’ve been reading Marilyn Hagerty‘s columns for almost 40 years now and I think she’s top-notch.  And just as she’s said that she’s just doing things they way she’s always done them, I’m sticking with what my readers like best:  real reviews of places we’ve actually visited.

Those who have been reading Travels with Children for a while may remember my Disneyland hotel-choice dilemma.  I made and canceled numerous reservations as I found better prices or better promotions or better locations.  On occasion, I even asked my husband where he thought we should stay.

In the end we went with the Comfort Inn Maingate.

It wasn’t a slam-dunk decision, mind you.  After reading reviews on TripAdvisor and looking at Google street view and poring over the hotel’s website, we were pretty sure it would work for our six-night stay, but we agreed that if it wasn’t up to snuff we’d leave after the first night and find something better.

That was not necessary.

I booked the hotel at an association rate that’s usually a bit lower than the AAA/senior rates at Choice Hotels, netting us six nights in a two-queen, two-bunk, two-room with two bathrooms family suite for $102/night.  As our trip dates neared, I checked the rates online and saw that the price had dropped, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to rebook for the lower $95 rate.  That $95 included free parking, free breakfast, and free wi-fi.  Not bad.

I knew from my research that the location would be decent.  Though it was a beyond walking distance to Disneyland for most people, it was a mere three-minute drive from Disneyland’s Toy Story parking lot, and about 15 from the Mickey & Friends parking structure.  We never had trouble with traffic, and at the end of the day, it was nice to have a short ride back to our lodging.  With restaurants and stores nearby, the location was good.

But would we actually like the room?  The rate seemed almost too good to be true.  Would we be happy there?

When we drove up, the kids gasped in delight.  “It’s a MOtel!” they said.  Apparently parking right in front of the rooms is rare enough for us that they thought it exciting.  The birds of paradise blooming in the parking lot also drew oohs and aahs as our first real taste of California.

I checked in and asked for a room on the second floor, which I’d read might be the quietest.  We were given room 220 at the back of the courtyard and parked next to the stairs.  I took in my flashlight and did the first check I always do at hotels, for bedbugs, before letting anyone or anything else inside.  Being satisfied that we were ok, we moved in.

Comfort Inn Maingate beds

The family suites at the Comfort Inn Maingate have been constructed by dividing a room in two and giving half of it to each of the adjacent rooms.  One of the half-size bunk rooms gets the extra window, and the other gets the second bath.  Paying a few dollars extra per night for the second bath was well worth it, especially since it meant we also had a second closet.  With all of our luggage, we had plenty of room to stash our stuff.

Comfort Inn Maingate Bunks

The bunk room with a real door that closed was also a benefit when our children awakened at 4:45 a.m., having not yet adjusted to the new time zone.  They could play quietly, read, or watch TV without disturbing us.

Comfort Inn Maingate Bunk Room

The two queen beds were comfortable, and even the small square pillows that hotels seem to stock these days were good enough.  We had an upholstered chair and small table plus the dresser/TV stand with dorm fridge and microwave in the main room, and the bunk room had its own dresser with TV plus a kid-sized table and chairs.  The safe in the corner was locked unless we wanted to pay a fee to access it.

Comfort Inn Maingate dresser

This is an older building but it’s in good repair.  Everything in our room worked as it should, except a sink with switched faucets and a delay in getting hot water to the shower in the morning, which were minor inconveniences.  The room was extremely quiet and set back well away from the street.

We didn’t use the pool because we were too busy seeing the sights, so I can’t comment on it.  There was a guest laundry area adjacent to the outdoor pool.

Breakfast was complimentary each morning, just a bit on the better side of basic.  Besides the usual cereal, toast, and pastries, there were make-your-own waffles, scrambled eggs, and sausage.  A refrigerator stocked yogurt and boiled eggs, and fresh fruit was available.  The fare was identical each day of our stay, and while not exciting, there was certainly enough that everyone got a good start to the day.

The breakfast room itself was not large, with seating for perhaps 25 people, but picnic tables just outside the doors provided an acceptable overflow seating area.  Most mornings, we were at breakfast just after it opened, and everything was well stocked.  The only day there were empty shelves was the day we ate later in the breakfast time.

Though the Comfort Inn Maingate is not fancy, it was for us the perfect combination of price, location, and space.  Having a room where each of the six of us can sleep on a bed for under $100/night is a bargain.

I recommended the Comfort Inn Maingate to a friend who was visiting just a week later with her family of six and they had a similar pleasant experience.  When I started to apologize for the basic breakfast fare, she told me it was much, much better than what they’d been offered at their Days Inn in San Diego.

Families, especially with three or four children, visiting Disneyland on a budget should consider the Comfort Inn Maingate.  We’re glad we did.

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on Mar 14 2012

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