My 2018 Ohio Bucket List

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I have a love/hate relationship with the state I call home.  February in Ohio is THE PITS.  It’s long and cold and the winter blahs are REAL.  However, the joy that Ohio pulls from me in winter is made up for in the other 8+ months of the year!  Ohio has so many attractions- from Cedar Point to Hocking Hills to Presidential History and our three C cities!

There is no denying, Ohio is great for the traveler.  Here’s my 2018 Ohio Bucket List, in the hopes it gets me very excited about the next 9 months of warmer temps.

2018 Ohio Bucket List

1. Experience history at Lanterman’s Mill

Lanterman’s Mill in Mahouning County, near Youngstown, is an 1840s mill that still grinds corn, wheat, and buckwheat.  There are a nearby trail and covered bridge.  This picturesque locale is high on my list.

2. Sleep in a yurt on Kelley’s Island

Last year we took a day trip to Put-In-Bay and it’s hard to believe I spent over 33 years in Ohio without visiting Lake Erie’s Islands!  This year I’d like to explore the quiet, Kelley’s Island and take it up a notch by sleeping in a yurt.  This one even comes with a lake view!

3. Hike all trails at Malabar Farm State Park

We’re lucky to have Malabar Farm State Park and Mohican State Park practically in our backyard.  Last year we hiked the Jungle Brook Trail at Malabar, but this year I’d like to hit two additional trails – the Doris Duke and Butternut Trail.  All of the hikes at Malabar Farm are under 1 mile, so they are perfect for young kids.

4. Watch the Festival of Sail in Sandusky Bay

Sandusky, Ohio is celebrating her bicentennial in 2018 with fun events throughout the city.  The Festival of Sail is one – even the World’s Largest Rubber Duck will be in town!  The view from the rooftop bar at Hotel Kilbourne will probably be the hottest spot in town.  While in town, I’d also like to take the kiddos to the Merry-Go-Round and Maritime Museums. {See 5 Things to do in Sandusky with kids}.

2018 Ohio Bucket List- Sandusky Bay will host the Festival of Sail

5. Wander the Children’s Forest in Huron’s Osborn MetroPark

Just east of Sandusky in Huron, Ohio, the Children’s Forest was just reopened within the Osborn MetroPark.  I love when playground equipment takes on a natural element (think a seesaw made out of a split log), and I know the children would enjoy as well.

6. Play tourist in our own town at the Ohio State Reformatory

The Ohio State Reformatory is best known for being the backdrop to the 1989 film, The Shawshank Redemption.  My husband and I visited back in 2010, but now that we are locals, I want to take the kids.  Hey, I can’t think of anything better to scare them into being upstanding young people than to take them to a creepy prison, right?!  I found a fantastic Groupon for our family and we hope to visit ASAP.   {See if it’s still available}

7. See the Infinity Mirrors Exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art

One of the best free Ohio attractions is the Cleveland Museum of Art.  It’s world-class art and antiquities, coupled with a state of the art building, make it a fun day for the entire family. This summer the Museum is hosting the popular exhibit, “Infinity Mirrors” by YoYoi Kusama.  While the exhibit does cost, I’ve heard that it is a hit with children.  Tickets should be released soon, but the display runs July 7- Sept 30.

#yayoikusama #art

A post shared by Yayoi Kusama (@yayoikusamas) on

8. Learn about Ancient China, but only drive to Cincinnati

Ohio is host to another notable exhibit in 2018.  The Terracotta Army is coming to the Cincinnati Art Museum. While I’d love to go to Xi’an, China; I’m excited to get a taste of this attraction without obtaining a Chinese Visa. 😉 The Terracotta Warriors will be on display from April 20- August 12.

9. Take a walk in the shade at Oak Openings

Oak Openings is a 5,000-acre preserve within the Toledo Metroparks.  The park is home to over 50 miles of hiking trails.  Spending more time in Northwest Ohio has been on my Bucket List for a while, and Oak Openings is just the place to start.

10. Watch my (proverbial) ship come in at the Marietta Sternwheel Festival

Last year, we were planning to spend a night in Marietta at the Sternwheel Festival before traveling onward to North Carolina.  Then, the stomach flu hit.  Waaaaa.  This year I’m dying to get back to Marietta and show my favorite people all the things I love about this river city.  The Festival always takes place the weekend after Labor Day. {See 5 Reasons You Must Visit Marietta, Ohio}

Marietta shows off her Stern-wheeler history throughout town - 2018 Ohio Bucket List

11.  Thankfully I don’t have to like snakes to visit this Serpent

Ohio’s Serpent Mound is up for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  If that’s not enough reason to visit the ancient southern Ohio mound, I’m not sure what is!  Native American history abounds throughout Ohio, and we’re fortunate that this site has been preserved.  Radio-carbon dating now says that the Great Serpent Mound may have been built around 300 B.C.   Looking for more on Ohio’s Native American mounds?- See Visiting the Newark Earthworks with kids.

12.  Explore Cincinnati’s underground

Always living closer to Cleveland or Columbus, I haven’t really spent much time in Cincinnati.  So, I’m eager to get to the bottom of Cincinnati’s history (pun!) by taking a tour of Queen City’s Underground.  American Legacy Tour’s showcase the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, a hidden crypt, and some newly discovered underground tunnels.

13.  Take an Ohio getaway with the hubs

I adore our children, but time alone with my husband is always needed!  We try to get away once a year… last year we only managed one night at the new Hilton Cleveland for our anniversary.  I’m not sure what 2018 will hold, but I’m eyeing the Hotel LeVeque in Columbus or 21c Cincinnati.

14.  Get a dose of holiday cheer at the Castle Noel

You serious, Clark?  If a replica of cousin Eddie’s RV isn’t on your 2018 Ohio Bucket List, we have a problem. Haha! I recently learned about Castle Noel: America’s Largest Indoor Year-Round Christmas Attraction and I’m interested enough to want to visit.  It looks like it’s a guide-led 90-minute tour so this may be one that causes us to leave the kids at home.

I guess I’ve given 2018 some pretty tall orders.  In fact, I read this to Mr. YT and he said, “Wow, I just wanted to go to an Indians game.” #dead

What do you hope to visit in Ohio this year?  Have I given you any new ideas?

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2018 Ohio Bucket List- showcasing the places to visit and explore in Ohio this year! Ohio is full of fantastic attractions for all ages!

 

 

Everything is Awesome at LEGOLAND Florida

Visiting LEGOLAND Florida was something my kids had been begging to do for MONTHS.  When we thought about Christmas presents, we remembered that we hated seeing a pile of toys that would later be unused.  Then we thought about turning a trip to LEGOLAND Florida theme park into our Christmas gift for the kids, and it made much more sense!  We couldn’t be happier with our choice!  Our kids loved their LEGOLAND visit, and we appreciated that it was the perfect getaway from the dreary Ohio January.

LEGOLAND says it’s geared for kids ages 2-12, but I’d say that it’s best for ages 3-9.  Here are some of our favorite parts of LEGOLAND Florida:

LEGOLAND Florida is awesoome for families. The LEGOLAND theme park has much to offer for small children, here are the things we enjoyed, plus tips for if you go.

Visiting LEGOLAND Florida

Miniland USA

Miniland USA is where great cities of the United States are built out of LEGO.  Not only is this fun for adults, there are interactive buttons for the kids! We had fun pointing out some of our favorite landmarks to the kids.  Since we visited LEGOLAND on a 2-day ticket, this is one place we visited on both days.  We didn’t realize how much we missed on our first walk-through.

LEGO City

If you were transported to LEGO City, this is what you’d find.  The boys received their driving license at Ford Driving School, then helped fight a fire at Rescue Academy.  Our favorite part of LEGO City wasn’t a ride, but Firehouse ice cream!  For $15, our family purchased a giant sundae in a reuseable LEGO container.  After a full breakfast buffet at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, this was what we shared for lunch! And hey, that’s a pretty affordable theme park lunch!

 

Character Meet & Greet

Upon entering the park, you’ll pick up a small brochure of the day’s activities.  Make sure you reference the park map and figure out where you need to be at each showtime.  We chose to hang out near the front of the park so we could meet Mr. Business!  We were able to watch the 4D Nexo Knights movie in the Wells Fargo 4D Theatre, then come out in time to line-up for Mr. Business.  I appreciated that the LEGOLAND employees took a photo with my phone and didn’t expect us to buy their park photo at a later time.

 

Character Meet & Greet at LEGOLAND Florida- This kid-friendly theme park is perfect for those ages 3-9. Here's more about our 2-day visit.

Rollercoasters

LEGOLAND has three roller coasters- Coastersaurus in Land of Adventure, The Dragon in Kingdoms and Project X in LEGO Technic.  All of the rollercoasters are rated for  40″ or 42″ and above, so our 5 year old was able to ride all three (with dad)!  I found The Dragon to be the most exhilarating and modern, what I don’t recommend is eating a giant ice cream cone at Kingdom Cones before you ride. #iturnedgreen

Olen & Brian rode Project X on our first day in the park, and the next day they closed the ride to begin it’s transition to The Great LEGO Race- a Virtual Reality coaster.  Here’s the video of what to expect:

Water show

One hit with the whole family was the Pirates’ Cove Water Ski Show!  I can hardly get up on waterskis, but this show involved guys in full-LEGO costumes doing tricks on their skis!  If you’re visiting LEGOLAND on a hot day, this would be a good way to get some shade and (possibly) get wet!

Cypress Gardens

This was not the favorite area for our kids, but a must-visit for the adults.  Cypress Gardens is a 75- year old botanical garden that has been integrated into the grounds of LEGOLAND. The sweeping oak trees, native bird life, and the site of a LEGO pirate ship, made for a relaxing getaway from the busy lands of the park.  If you’re traveling with children that get over-stimulated OR a nursing baby, this is the place to find a shaded park bench.

Shopping

LEGOLAND Florida has plenty of shopping opportunities throughout the theme park.  Before leaving the park we let our kids each pick out a small LEGO set.  I love that the LEGO souvenirs aren’t something that will just sit on a shelf, but they continue to be played with (and then entertained the kids on our next Florida stop).  While pin trading is a cornerstone of the Disney parks, LEGOLAND offers minifigure trading!  If you haven’t found a minifigure you’d like to trade with a park employee, you can go to the Big Shop’s check-out where there are trading boards to consider.

LEGO NINJAGO WORLD

LEGOLAND’s newest attraction is NINJAGO WORLD.  The centerpiece of this land is LEGO NINJAGO The Ride.  This is a 3D coaster in which riders must do their best ninja moves to throw fireballs and ward off villains.  The ride a little scary for our 4 year old daughter, and the first time I ended up holding her in my lap with my hands over her eyes #momfail.  So, think about how sensitive children might react.  However, our boys adored the ride,  as it scores your effectiveness in beating the “bad guys.”  Spoiler alert: I lost.

In NINJAGO WORLD, there are other active playground-like attractions to burn off steam, such as Kai’s Spinners, Cole’s Climbing Wall, and Jay’s Lightening Drill.LEGOLAND Florida is the theme park with perfect attractions for young children. The new LEGO NINJAGO WORLD was a hit with our family.

Tips for your visit to LEGOLAND

Thinking of staying on-site?  If your family loves LEGO, you shouldn’t miss a stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort.  Our family had a fantastic time and I found value in the on-site perks.

LEGOLAND allows you to bring snacks and plastic bottles into the park.  Lucky for guests, there is a Dollar Tree located just outside the park entrance.  We stopped here one morning and purchased cheap snacks and soda.

We visited LEGOLAND the second week of January.  The park was prctically a ghost town– It was amazing.  If able, I recommend visiting in the off-season. The theme park doesn’t seem that spacious, so I can’t imagine it packed to capacity.

Groupon is the place to look for package deals or discount tickets.

If you’re located near a LEGO store, you may also get a B1G1 coupon in the store.  I think upgrading to the 2-day ticket is worth it.  Our children were 7, 5, and 4 during a visit and there were things we missed on the first day that we’re glad we went back for on the second day.  The kids were also able to ride their favorite rides for a second time.

That’s a recap of our favorite rides and attractions at LEGOLAND Florida theme park.  Have you been to LEGOLAND?  What was your favorite ride?

** Our family was provided 2-day press passes.  All opinions are my own.**

 

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LEGOLAND Florida is a perfect theme park for young families. Here's my review of our visit to LEGOLAND Florida plus our favorite rides and attractions.

 

Kid-approved: Monster Truck Tour at The Showcase of Citrus

What checks all the boxes of a little boy’s dream, a science lesson, and an hour of fun?!  The answer: A Monster Truck tour at The Showcase of Citrus in Central Florida.

While researching things to do in the Orlando area, a friend recommended a family-friendly stop at The Showcase of Citrus.  We didn’t know if time would allow, but then we found a Groupon to save on the Monster Truck tour.  Once my husband saw the words “Monster Truck” and “save money” in the same sentence, he was sold on the experience.

Monster Truck Tour at The Showcase of Citrus in Central Florida. A short drive from all of Florida's theme parks, add this one to your Florida Bucket List.

Even with purchasing vouchers through Groupon, it’s best to call ahead and book your time for the Monster Truck tour.  We visited in the off season, so I had no problem booking the tour 24 hours in advance.  If you’re visiting during peak travel to Florida (i.e. holidays or Spring Break), make sure you call as soon as you know your schedule.

What to expect on your Monster Truck Tour

Upon arrival at The Showcase of Citrus, visit the cash register and get your tickets for the tour. (Even if you purchased a Groupon, you need to redeem the voucher).  While you’re waiting, a playground and petting zoo will keep the kids occupied, so feel free to arrive early and let the kids play around.  There’s also ample shopping opportunities, with Florida-specific gifts, wine-tasting and local honey. I was sad we were traveling via plane, because I wanted to try a few things! 😉

Monster Truck Tour- The Showcase of Citrus- A fun adventure in Central Florida, just minutes away from all the theme parks Monster Truck Tour- The Showcase of Citrus- A fun adventure in Central Florida

The Monster Trucks at Showcase of Citrus are actually modified school buses!  One perk of traveling at a slow time, we received an entire school bus to ourselves.  I felt anxious about taking a Monster Truck tour with kids, but it was nothing like the Monster Jam you see on TV! Lol.  No attempts were made to climb citrus trees or jump the wetland. (I know you knew that, but this lady has some serious #momanxiety).

I appreciated that our guide stopped along the way to tell us about the intricacies of the citrus farm and teach us a few things about oranges.  Who knew that in tropical climates, oranges never turn orange!? What?!

Monster Truck Tour at the Showcase of Citrus - a fun adventure in Central Florida that is kid-friendly.

Then we learned about the roughly 500 head of cattle that the farm serves as home.  Throughout the year, the farm will hire real “Florida Crackers” (cowboys) to round up the cattle and move them to new acres.  After feeding the cows some oranges (what else?), we continued our tour by rolling right through… a swamp!


The water was all the way up the tires, and even my husband was surprised we came right through without getting wet.  Swamp-crossing was the highlight for all the boys, the only bummer was that the cool Florida January meant no alligators coming out to say “hi.”

The Showcase of Citrus is home to exotic animals, too!  We also fed oranges to a zebra, water buffalo, and Texas Longohorn!

We stepped off of the Monster Truck with many fond memories.  This was not an inexpensive excursion, but probably one that we’ll talk about for quite a while.

My #1 tip

Before saying farewell to the Showcase of Citrus, try their World Famous Creamsicle frozen beverage.  This orange slushie mixed with frozen yogurt was attacked and consumed by our family.  I want another one ASAP!  I know that no one would object to a return visit.

The Showcase of Citrus in Central Florida- Get yourself a Creamsicle slushie. You're welcome.

Check Groupon for Monster Truck deals HERE

Have you ridden a Monster Truck?  Maybe you’ve had the World Famous Creamsicle?

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A Monster Truck Tour at the Showcase of Citrus in Central Florida is sure to please young and old. You'll learn about the citrus farm, view exotic animals, and even drive through a swamp!

Oh my G-O-S-H: A stay at LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort in Florida

Anyone else’s kids know every single line from The LEGO Movie?  Mine do!  Last year while Mr. YT and I were painting rooms and fixing up the new house, the kids watched a LOT of movies!  The LEGO Movie was on repeat, and in the previews, there’s a short commercial for LEGOLAND. This is where my kiddos became obsessed with the idea of visiting!  They begged and pleaded and told us that LEGOLAND was the ONLY place they really, really, wanted to go!

When thinking about Christmas and the load of items the children receive and then lose interest in, we decided that we would rather DO something with them- create family memories.  One of these memories would be a stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort in Winter Haven, Florida.  I’m so glad we choose to stay on-site at the resort, and I can’t wait to tell you why!

A stay at LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort in Florida is sure to be a hit with the entire family. Here are my pros and cons for staying at the Resort.

Why we chose to stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort

When visiting LEGOLAND Florida, parents have the option of booking either the LEGOLAND Hotel or the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort.  The LEGOLAND Hotel is right nextdoor to the park, I assume some rooms would have a view.  The LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort is across the road from the park (not really walking distance), but offers a free shuttle to and from LEGOLAND.  Theming at the resorts is different- in the LEGOLAND Hotel they offer Pirate, Adventure, Friends, or Kingdom rooms, while at the Beach Resort, all rooms have the LEGO Beach theme.

We chose the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort because I knew that both my sons and daughter would like the style of the room.  I also liked the idea of having a colorful home and pool.  I’m always drawn to more of a Airbnb-style accommodation and the Beach Retreat Resort seemed to fit the bill.

Here is a list of all the things I enjoyed about Florida’s LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort, along with those things I didn’t like:

PROS:

The property is very family-friendly.  In the room, the bathroom has a toilet seat with the child’s potty seat attached. The bathtub was situated so that parents actually had room to bathe their children!

The bunk bed has a trundle underneath so the room will sleep 5 (a rarity in the hotel world).

In the center of each cove is a small playground.  In the mornings, while we packed up things for our day at LEGOLAND, the kids played on the playground and we watched them from the window in the room.

The pool is heated and has large, floating LEGO!  The zero-entry kids section is perfect for little ones.  There were 3 lifeguards on duty and a supply of life jackets for children.

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort, Florida. Staying here is perfect for families and a big hit with the kids. Here are my pros and cons to the resort.

A tour of our room:

The Resort restaurant, Sandy’s Castle Restaurant, offered meal deals!  These may change seasonally, but we took advantage on both nights of our stay.  The first night we were able to get 2 appetizers, 2 adult entrees, 3 kids meals, and Coke products for $50.  The second night the deal was 1 appetizer, 2 pizzas, and Cokes for $40.  We found these deals to be very helpful with our trip budget.  I will say, the food was pretty average.  The kids loved it (who doesn’t love pizza and cheeseburgers?), but at the price, I could not complain.  The nachos were our favorite- definitely try them!

While the adults appreciate the affordable dinner, the kids LOVED the visits from LEGO character “Max.”  The appearance is included in the cost of the dinner and you don’t have to make a reservation.  I researched getting breakfast with some silly-speaking yellow men at another resort, and the cost for our family would have been over $130!  For breakfast!?!  LEGO creates so much value to the on-site stay.

A buffet breakfast is included for resort guests.  From hot items like sausage and eggs, to cold cereals and yogurts, the variety was appreciated.  I found this to be a value-added item as most similar resorts will charge an arm and a leg for breakfast.  Also, during breakfast the servers tried to sit families close to the large sand castle building area.  This gave parents some time to actually eat their breakfast.

A stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort. Meals at the Lighthouse include time with Max. This was a highlight for our children and showed added value for staying on-site. A stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort. The sand castle provided a fun place to play after meals.

CONS:

The room felt small.  Even though it was half of a cottage, it was no bigger than a standard hotel room.  I liked that the kids had a separate space, but because the room is separated by a curtain, not a door, light and noise were an issue.  Mr YT and I tried to stay up and watch TV, but Olen could see and hear it, so we had to just turn everything off and try to sleep.  This isn’t a huge deal, but I definitely prefer a true suite.

The bathroom layout and potty seat were a hit, but for all the thoughtful things they provided, a stool for the sink and a soap dish would be so helpful.  I know that’s a little nit-picky.

As a mentioned above, the dinner items (esp steak and the pizza) were just okay.  The buffet breakfast, however, was ample and tasty.

SHOULD YOU STAY?

I’d definitely recommend a stay at the LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort, Florida.  Our kids were immersed in the LEGO culture for 2 days and they loved every moment.  The shuttle to and from the parks is convenient and easy.  A resort stay also includes free parking at LEGOLAND which we used on the last day after check-out.

The LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Resort offered so many on-site benefits – the meal deals, free breakfast, free LEGOLAND parking (normally $17), and the character dinners.  Our kids are already asking to go back and it’s not something that my husband nor I oppose!

Have you been to LEGOLAND?  Would you consider staying on-site?

** I was given a press rate for our stay.  All opinions are my own **

** Post contains affiliate links **

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A stay at Legoland Beach Retreat Resort in Florida is a fun escape for LEGO-loving kids and their fun parents! Here I share the pros and cons of staying on-site.

 

Traveling to Australia? Things to know before you go

10 Things to Know Before Visiting Australia

Australia has been near and dear to my heart since I spent a year as an exchange student Down Under. Since my time on Exchange, we’ve traveled to the country three times, this last time with our small children.  During my time as a travel agent, I shared my knowledge of Australia with many, and here’s my advice on things you must know before visiting Australia.Things to know before visiting Australia.

1. Australia is bigger than you think

You wouldn’t expect your friends visiting from overseas to cover the best of America is 10-12 days, yet Americans routinely think they can see all of Australia in the same time.  Australia is a big country!  Before visiting Australia, you’ll need to make a (short) list of your must-see locations.  In 12 full days, you could probably hit Sydney, Uluru, and the Great Barrier Reef, but you’d have to save Melbourne for next time.  Think you’d like to drive through the Outback?  From Adelaide in the south to Darwin in the north, it is approximately 1875 miles, or 30+ hours of driving.  Unless you have 3-4 weeks, you’ll probably be flying from place to place.

2. Australia is vast country with a variable climate

From the Snowy Mountains to a tropical rain forest, Australia has many climate zones.  If traveling in the winter months of July and August, you might wake up needing a heavy jacket in Melbourne, while in Cairns it would be a muggy 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  In the Outback, freezing mornings can turn into warm days, requiring plenty of layers.  Make sure you’ve thoroughly researched what you’ll be needing while visiting Australia.  If you’re in a major city, buying forgotten things at a Target or K-Mart, it pretty easy, but if you’re hoping to road trip further from the main cities, you’ll need to be prepared.

3. American citizens will need a Visa

No, not the Visa v. Mastercard debate.  If you’re traveling from the USA to Australia, you will require an ETA – Electronic Travel Authority.   This is Australia’s way of approving you to visit their country.  You can get one through the official government link HERE.  The ETA is electronic – unlike other countries, you don’t need to mail your passport away.  Make sure you thoroughly read through the requirements and submit your info (plus $20 AUD) well before your flight.

4. 85% of Australians live within 30 miles of the coast

You know Australia is a large continent, but did you know that most Australians live along the coast?  Australia is also very urbanized.  In Victoria and South Australia, over 75% of the population lives in Melbourne and Adelaide, respectively.

Things to know before visiting Australia. Tips for first time travelers to Australia.
The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge

5.  Most travelers arrive through Melbourne or Sydney

If you’re arriving from the USA, you’ll most liking be arriving into either Sydney or Melbourne.  We’ve flown to and from both of these airports and here are our tips:

In Sydney, the airport is connected with downtown via the Airport Link train.  You can connect at Central Station for suburb stops, or take the Airport Link into Circular Quay to reach Sydney Harbour and the ferries. The same works in reverse.

Melbourne’s airport is over 13 miles from the downtown.  The best way to reach downtown is via SkyBus.  SkyBus will take you to the Southern Cross station in Melbourne, and from there you can transfer to a free hotel shuttle.  We found this to be the fastest and most affordable option to get to our hotel – especially for a large group that would not fit into one taxi.  What’s even better?  SkyBus offers free WiFi, so you can check-in with family and let them know you’ve arrived.

For more on visiting Melbourne click HERE


6.  Speaking of WiFi, free internet is hard to come by

Have a plan in place before leaving home, because while traveling in Australia, free WiFi is hard to find!  Our hotels did have WiFi, but it does run slower than most hotel connections that you are used to.  Even staying with friends, they asked that we not browse the day away, as Australians still pay for the data they use in their homes.  Yes, it’s not unlimited!   That said, you understand why not all cafes offer free WiFi.

7. Australia does have budget airlines and competitive flights between cities

While Qantas bears the logo of the kangaroo tail, there is competition among airlines within Australia.  We’ve flown both JetStar and Virgin Australia and had positive experiences.  Tiger Air is another airline, but due to less than positive reviews from my local friends, we avoided them.  JetStar and Virgin Australia service many cities throughout the country.  Check with each direct website for pricing on luggage, as it varies per the type of ticket you’ve purchased.

8. Things to know about traveling with children within Australia

For the most part, traveling with children in Australia is very similar to traveling with children in America.  Sidewalks are accessible for stroller use.  Upon request, hotels will provide cribs or pack n plays.  The main difference you’ll find is in eating out.  Aside from McDonald’s, Australia does not have many chain restaurants.  I’m not a fan of chain restaurants, but they do provide  a consistent experience when traveling with children.  Not all Australian restaurants will have the high chair you’re used to, or the children’s cups.

We often dined at “clubs” – places like the Royal Services League, Bowling Clubs, Golf Clubs – places that are set aside for groups of people that you’re able to sign into as a guest.  Because many of these places cater to members, they will have something for the children- a kids room, a playground, etc. Service at the club or pub is typically a “place your order a take a number” type!  We liked that we could get the kids drinks beforehand.  Note though, there aren’t typically kids’ meals or child sized drinking cups.  You may want to pack a few disposable sippycups in your bag, as we did for our two-year-old.

Dining in Australia is usually more expensive than the USA.  One night in Sydney we stopped at a local pub for dinner, for four meals (the youngest split one), 2 beers and 3 small sodas, our bill was over $105 Australian.  This was before any tip – which is not required, but a nice gesture.

9. You’re more likely to fight a koala than step on a snake.

Ok, not completely true!  Haha!  But while Australia is host to a slew of deadly animals, you probably won’t see them.  Yes, there are snakes and spiders, but common sense behavior will help you to avoid a bite.

If you’ve left your shoes on the floor overnight, shake them out in the morning. Redback spiders in the Sydney area like to make shoes their home.  If you’re walking on a trail, pay attention not a step on a snake.  Just keeping your eyes open goes a long way.

That said, a sighting of kangaroos and koalas is what most overseas visitors come for!  While they have the reputation of being cute and cuddly, neither are!  Feel free to admire-  from a distance.

10. Pig out on Chipotle before leaving home, because Mexican food is hard to come by.

At the risk of sounding like an American elitist, I extend my most compassionate plea to warn you about the lack of Mexican food.  Obviously Australia has little-to-no Hispanic population like the US of A, and while you’re now able to pick up some taco shells and Old El Paso at Woolworths, there’s little by way of Mexican restaurants.  Prepare accordingly. 😉

 


Have you been to Australia?  What’s your #1 tip?

**This post does contain affiliate links**

PIN THIS:Traveling to Australia? Here's 10 things to know before you visit Australia? Tips from an American who lived in the country and then has visited numerous times!

A look back- the best and the worst of 2017

Looking back on the year behind is always a little cathartic.  While I prefer to focus on the future, I know the past is what really shapes us!  I thought I’d share some of the highs and lows of the past year, mostly from the realm of travel, but a few from our personal lives as well.

Best of 2017

Visiting Marietta, Ohio on a press trip

This was my first press trip and it will probably live on as being the best.  Even though The Lafayette Hotel gave me a mild case of the heebie jeebies (the hotel has a long, haunted history), the historic nature was something I love.  While in Marietta, I was able to kayak and hike, two of my favorites.  But above all the fantastic experiences, I met other women that love travel and are all pursuing it through blogging.  I came home more energized about my craft and shouting “Girl Power!”  Ok, I didn’t really shout about Girl Power, but I did feel like I met my tribe.

Also, for 2017, Marietta was my most popular post:  5 Reasons Why You MUST Visit Marietta, Ohio

Kayaking on the Ohio River - The best and worst of 2017

Spending our 13th Anniversary in Cleveland

We didn’t want to spend a lot of money, or take much time away, but we traveled to Cleveland for one night in July to celebrate 13 years.  I booked the Hilton Cleveland on Priceline for under $100 and the front desk gave us an upgrade at check-in.  The views from our room were fantastic (if looking at the Browns stadium doesn’t make you too depressed).  The views were even better from Bar 32, on the 32nd floor and facing Lake Erie.  We finished our appetizers just in time as a storm rolled in from the lake.

The view from Bar 32 at the Hilton Cleveland downtown
This view was a little less sad over the summer, before the Browns went 0-16.

Visiting the Garden District of New Orleans

New Orleans was better than I expected.  That said, my favorite day was spent away from the French Quarter and within the Garden District.  I loved arriving by trolley, having a tour guide for Lafayette Cemetery, and then eating shrimp and fried green tomatoes.  Mossy trees, antebellum homes, and captivating history is what I love so much about the south- and the Garden District of NOLA perfectly encapsulated all three.

Great food in Sandusky, Ohio

Every few years we’ve driven to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, spent the day riding rollercoasters, and then driven home.  Never again.  After visiting Sandusky on a press tour, I’ve realized that the downtown area offers so much for locals and visitors.  Maybe one of their biggest strengths is the numerous places to eat or drink – my favorites – J. Bistro for a special night out, or Bates Farm Kitchen for a farm to table breakfast or lunch.

Being surprised by Fort Wayne

We enjoyed 3 days of family-fun in Fort Wayne while tagging along to my husband’s work conference.  We didn’t know what to expect from the small, Midwest city, but we absolutely fell in love.  As we were leaving, the hubs and I both confirmed that we’d be happy moving there if the need ever arose.  Fort Wayne is clean, has lots of public art, green space, and plenty to do with kids.  Mr YT’s conference is at the same spot in 2018, so we’re adding a couple days onto the trip and plan to explore (and eat) even more.

Best and worst of 2017 - We loved Fort Wayne, Indiana

 

 

Worst of 2017

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but 2017 had plenty of hard moments, too.

My grandma passed away

I grew up within walking distance of both of my grandmothers.  I spent countless hours with them and they molded me in so many ways.  Even though Gran was 98, the loss was still hard to take.  In some ways, it felt like the official end to my youth as both of my grandmothers are now gone.

My grandma with baby Cecilia

Health drama

I shouldn’t complain because so many are worse off than we are, but this year we a battle of constant illness.  A mild case of the flu in February, two bouts of the stomach flu, and countless migraines.  One migraine in October was so bad, I chose to go to the ER (I thought I was having a stroke).  My other grandmother used to say, “getting older isn’t for sissies,” and I felt some of that this year as it appears my migraines have hit an all time high (and are mostly incurable).

Moving to a new city

I hate to put this under the “worst” because moving also gave us some positive things, but I will say, moving from somewhere that you’ve lived for 7 years, where you started your family, where your neighbors were like family… it was not easy.  Finding a new church, new doctors, new routines- it all takes time.  I’ve always thought I did well with change, but I think the older we get, the less we like change.  I am thankful for how well the kids adjusted.  The first couple of months were difficult, but they have handled it so well and adjusted to the new home with absolute ease.  I’m also thankful for budding friendships and for what is yet to come.

Losing my pride on a Segway

I know if I don’t mention it, my travel blogging friends won’t let me forget. Yes, I wrecked a Segway.  Yes, it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.  Yes, I got back on and continued with grace gritted teeth. 😉

What were some highs and lows of your 2017?  Maybe you’ve wrecked a Segway, too? 

Fabulous food finds in Wayne County, Ohio

As much as I want to consider myself a “foodie,”  I’m more of a “see-food-and-eat-it” type of gal.  But my trip to Wayne County had me considering the diversity of foods we enjoy in Ohio and eager to seek out more unique foods whilst traveling. Here’s a small taste (pun!) of the fabulous foods you can enjoy throughout Wayne County, Ohio.

Fabulous food finds in Wayne County, Ohio - stop by Lehman's for 300 kinds of soda.

Try up to 300 kinds of soda

Lehman’s Hardware is chockablock full of anything you could ever need.  What I didn’t expect was 300 types of sodas!  If you’re in the mood to try something new, or revisit an old favorite – make sure you stop by this Kidron institution.  Lehman’s is located on the Kidron Square.

Fabulous food finds in Wayne County, Ohio- Dutch Kitchen is just the spot for Amish Country comfort foods.

Gobble up all the comfort foods

Dutch Kitchen is a one-stop shop for any Amish Country comfort foods.  From family-style meals to fresh-baked bread and pastries, you won’t leave with an empty stomach.  I tried the local favorite, a hot ham and swiss, and it was the best I’ve ever had.  I left full and happy.  You’ll find Dutch Kitchen located just off of Route 30 in Dalton.

Fabulous food finds in Wayne County, Ohio- Smucker's Foods is headquartered in Wayne County. Try the many brands you grew up on!

Embrace the foods of your childhood

“With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.”  You’ve heard that countless times over the years, right?  J.M. Smucker started making apple cider and butter back in 1897 from trees probably planted by Johnny Appleseed.  While Smucker was well-known throughout the area back then, he’s now well-known throughout the USA and world!  Smucker’s doesn’t just own the brand that carries their name, but also JIF, Crisco, and the dry-goods section of Pillsbury!  They even own Meow Mix!

 

My favorite part of their flagship store?  The ability to take home a personalized gift on your favorite food!  How darling is this photo of my kids, put on a strawberry jam label? The Smucker’s store is located at 333 Wadsworth Rd in Orrville.

Fabulous Foods of Wayne County, Ohio- Lerch's donuts are a local favorite. Bet you can't eat just one!

Try not to eat a whole box of donuts

I use the word “try” very loosely, because a Lerch’s donut in my hand doesn’t last very long!  Wayne County’s own donut perfector doesn’t even have a store front-  they made the food truck fashionable a long time ago!  Their mobile stand is located in the Portage Square Plaza at 2312 Akron Rd- March – Thanksgiving.  You can also find Lerch’s donuts at many local county fairs.

 Fabulous foods of Wayne County- Shisler's Cheese House

Cheese and bologna and chocolates- Oh my!

Shisler’s Cheese House has been in business for over 60 years.  Specializing in Amish Country staples of trail bologna and swiss cheese, you’ll also find gourmet chocolates and local food products.  Oh yes, there are pies!  What you’ll love even more than the Swiss cheese is the family-owned charm and convenient location.  You can find them just off of Route 30 in Orrville.

This is just a sampling of the fabulous foods you’ll enjoy in Wayne County, Ohio!  Have you been?  What’s your favorite diet splurge?

Looking for somewhere to stay?  I loved my time at the St. Paul Hotel. Check current rates HERE.

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Fabulous foods of Wayne County, Ohio - what to eat while visiting Wayne County, Ohio. There's more to offer than just Amish foods, although you'll want to try those, too! How about 300 kinds of soda or the most amazing donuts?

I was hosted as a guest of the Wayne County CVB.  All opinions are my own!

Post contains affiliate links.

 

Best Christmas gifts for the homeschool mom

Homeschool moms wear a lot of hats:  teacher, principal, and curriculum advisor, not to mention their homemaking roles, financial advisor, etc.  While that may create stress the other 364 days per year, on Christmas Day it means many more options for gifts!

Here are my favorite Christmas gifts for the homeschool mom.  Some for her, some to make homeschooling easier.  The things she wants but won’t ask for!  Read to the end for a fantastic giveaway just in time for the holidays!

EXPO Dry Erase Markers

Let’s just begin with reality- Dry erase markers are equivalent to liquid gold in our home.  They can also cause mama to LOSE HER COOL when the kiddos steal them for their personal coloring.  Save her sanity and stick some of these in your homeschool mom’s stocking.  She will love you for it!

Field guide to trees and Field guide to birds

Our family takes many nature hikes and the children are always asking about birds and trees and well, they are not a part of my repertoire!  These field guides are helpful for any mom that enjoys the outdoors, or uses Charlotte Mason-type curriculum.

Best Christmas gifts for the homeschool mom

Office essentials

Homeschooling often happens at the kitchen table, but it always feels good when it’s a little organized and pretty.  These office items from Target are perfect for making the homeschool mom feel pampered.  The globe will help her with teaching lessons, the files and paper organizer are great for separating each child’s work, and the bookends are functional and cute!  (I have these bookends and I love them).

 

The Unhurried Homeschooler or Teaching from Rest

Not gonna lie, most homeschooling moms could use a little encouragement.  Reading books from those who have been or are currently walking the homeschooling road is one way to help!  Both of these books have been on my “to-read” list for awhile and both received rave reviews.

 

For the Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatic

It seems to me that nearly every other homeschool mom has read the Little House books to her kiddos.  We’re almost done with the series and this new scarf from Litographs takes Laura’s words right off of the page!  Or this novel based on the life of Caroline.  Every time I start whining about motherhood or cooking, I think of how much easier we have it than Caroline.

Amazon gift card

I don’t know how you could go wrong with gifting an Amazon gift card.  Hopefully she’ll use it on herself and not school supplies, but even then, it’s always a great gift!

Best Christmas gifts for the homeschool mom- a massage

Groupon for a massage

She needs an hour of quiet and relaxation, you want to save a few dollars.  Why not check Groupon for excellent savings?  A massage, a pedicure, or an hour at the spa- I doubt the homeschool mom in your life will be too picky about which gift you choose!


best gifts for the homeschool mom

A new t-shirt to show the world she’s a proud homeschool mom

What’s even better?  You could win one!  I’m partnering with 6Money’s Creations to give one reader a chance at winning one of these styles.  You pick the design and the t-shirt size.  (Rules: Must be a US Resident, drawing ends 12/7 at 5:00pm and will be chosen at random.  Must follow the directions on the Rafflecopter below for ways to enter).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Which Christmas gift is your favorite?

** This post contains affiliate links, at no additional cost to you. **

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Picking the Perfect Family Road Trip Vehicle

Sponsored post

I didn’t formally mention it on the blog, but back in March we purchased a used 2014 Chrysler Town and Country.  My 2005 Dodge Caravan was beginning to have a more issues than we wanted to deal with, and we decided that it was the proper time for a replacement.

Mr. Yoder Toter and I had many lengthy discussions about getting an SUV versus sticking with a minivan.  We spoke to friends and family about the pros and cons of each vehicle, taking into consideration our family of five.   Because we do a lot of traveling, we researched gas mileage and storage holds.

Most of all, we considered our budget.   We had been saving for months and we didn’t want to go into debt.  Buying a car is no small decision- especially knowing that we don’t believe in car payments!

It came down to the question- “what would be the best vehicle for family travel?”  Here’s why we chose another minivan and why we find it to be the perfect family road trip vehicle!

How we chose our perfect family road trip vehicle. Yes, we went with another minivan- and here are the factors we considered.

Stow ‘n Go

Most Dodge and Chrysler minivans are fitted with the option to Stow ‘n Go the seats.  This means that the seats fold down into the bottom of the vehicle.  It takes less than 15 seconds to fold a seat down and create extra storage space.  This is convenient for positioning a cooler in the aisle or hauling extra suitcases.  While we checked out other brands of minivans, I knew I’d become too accustomed to the Stow ‘n Go in our old minivan.

Cruise Control

Another non-negotiable is cruise control.  A speed demon by nature (my husband calls me Richard Petty- yikes!), cruise control allows me to stay within a safe zone and give my foot a rest while driving on the highway.

Gas mileage

While our minivan will never get us the gas mileage of my husband’s Honda Fit, it still surpasses most SUVs.  We were able to get nearly 25 mpg while driving to North Carolina in September!  We like to spend money on experiences and hotels, not gas- so getting great gas mileage while road tripping is a must!

Space

Our friends with SUVs told us that they didn’t feel the trunk space was adequate for traveling with a large family.  Also, without the added head room or aisle-way that the van provides, we realized it may be harder to help little ones in third row seating.  These things, coupled with the Stow ‘n Go, really sold us on the minivan being the go-to family roadtrip vehicle.

Price

Obviously, the price was important and another reason why we went with a minivan over the SUV.  Mr YT was pressed endlessly to the screen of his smartphone in research until an unlikely deal showed up.   He drove to Cleveland early the next morning to purchase the Town and Country!  Yes, I let my husband buy a vehicle without me seeing it first! #wifeoftheyear

How we chose the perfect family road trip vehicle. Here are the factors we considered and why we went with another minivan.

That’s how we found our perfect family road trip vehicle!   If are ready to look for something new, cars.com enables you to research vehicles, sell your old car, and find a new car!  It’s a one-stop website!

What type of vehicle works best for your family?

Travel smarter with Global Allianz

Emergency Help Overseas

Oh, the stories I could tell.  Over the seven years I spent as a travel agent, I saw a number of trips interrupted or cancelled because of medical and family emergencies.  The unthinkable happens – an appendix burst a few days before an international flight, a son passes away while cruising the Caribbean, or an epic snowstorm closes down an airport.  (Yes, these all happened to my clients)!  The most stressful?  My own mother’s medical emergency while visiting Europe.

Travel insurance is a vital piece of vacation planning. We purchased Allianz Global Assistance before taking our 3-week trip to Australia.  Traveling with small children, the last thing I wanted to be concerned about was lacking emergency assistance.  So much time and money goes into travel, and protecting that investment -and our health- was something I valued.

So, being the travel insurance advocate that I am, I was excited to hear how the TravelSmart™️ App by Allianz Global Assistance would give me even more confidence to travel safely.

The redesigned TravelSmart app makes it easier than ever to get help when traveling and manage your Allianz Global Assistance travel insurance policy.

Travel Safely with TravelSmart

The redesigned TravelSmart™️ app makes it easier than ever to get assistance while traveling!  First things first, you have instant access to your travel insurance policy.  Any Global Allianz travel insurance policy is accessible from the home screen.  You can even look at benefit allowances or download a PDF of the policy.

While dealing with an emergency, the last thing you want to be searching for is a chunk of papers in the bottom of your suitcase.  The TravelSmart™️ App allows travelers to file and track claims right from their smartphone.

When I flew to London to help with my mother’s emergency, it would have been so nice to have file a claim at the touch of a button.  Instead, in an effort to help out my dad and get the ball rolling, I spent lots of time in the hotel lobby inserting coins into a payphone.  Technology can really save time in the midst of an emergency.

Additionally, The TravelSmart™️ App has a Medication Dictionary which gives international names for 750 common drugs!   Instead of sending an email or making an expensive phone call to your doctor at home, the answer to drug names are right at your fingertips, any time of the day.  In addition, 60+ first aid terms are translated.  So, if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation at a foreign ER, you’ll know how to ask for the help you require.

TravelSmart App by Global Allianz. Offers a medical translator of over 700 common drug names.

Travelers in need of a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or police station, can use the app’s function titled, Assistance Around Me. The geolocation service links with Apple or Google Maps to give helpful directions.  Because 911 doesn’t work in every country, you can even access local ambulance numbers and dial them directly from the App.  Lost passport?  Directions to the closest embassy are included!

You’ll never travel alone

Often we think of travel insurance as only being for epic travel disasters or emergencies.  But what about lost luggage?  Delayed flights?  These happen frequently among travelers and TravelSmart™️ App by Global Alliaz can help you with these as well.

After entering your initial flight information, you’ll get real time updates on your flight status.  You can also file a claim for lost luggage directly from the App.

Travelers can also set their claim to be paid by direct deposit or debit card payment.  What a help this is for younger travelers (like me) that rarely visit a physical bank!  Also, for travelers on an extended trip, this leaves the possibility of receiving your money back before returning home.

There is no purchase necessary to download the TravelSmart App.  Feel free to give it a try!

Want more information on how the TravelSmart™️ App by Global Allianz could help you in an emergency?

Watch this short video:

Have you had an emergency during travel?  Can you see how this App would make your life easier?  I’d love to hear from you!

*This post was sponsored by Allianz Worldwide Assistance.  All opinions are my own.*

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The TravelSmart App from Global Allianz allows you to view your travel insurance policy, get emergency help at the touch of a button, and file a claim directly from your phone. You'll never travel alone.