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 little home and a huge 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 in the bathroom 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 out 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 there was 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, The Lighthouse, 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 **

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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**

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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.

Holiday events within a 5-hour drive of Central Ohio

I’ve spent the last 15 years within an hour of Columbus, Ohio, so I’m finding I’m ready to get out and explore more of my home and neighboring states.  The Midwest (and Pennsylvania) enjoy a plethora of events to relish in Yuletide joy!

Here’s a guide to Christmas & holiday displays, including light shows, festivals, and shopping opportunities.

Ohio

Ohio Girl Travels gives a rundown of Ohio’s Best Christmas Lights Displays.

Clifton Mill is less than an hour’s drive from Dayton or Columbus.  The day after Thanksgiving, the lights come on- over 3.5 million Christmas lights draping the banks around this historic grist mill.  You can read more about this breathtaking destination on Adventure Mom‘s blog, Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill.

Looking for a unique holiday experience?  How about taking a city light tour while riding a Segway?  SegWave of Sandusky, Ohio is offering one-hour holiday light tours of their downtown.  Nightly one-hour tours begin on November 25th!

For more on visiting Sandusky

Did you know that the Christmas Story house is based in Cleveland, OH?  Not only can you take a tour, you can stay the night!  Check out Mojo Traveler’s review of the tour HERE.

Holiday events within a 5 hour drive of Central Ohio
Credit: A Christmas Story House & Museum

Michigan

I’ve always wanted to go to Bronner’s Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan! Bronner’s is the largest Christmas store IN THE WORLD.  Check out this post from Kana at Life in Wanderlust for more information on visiting!

Indiana

Indiana is full of holiday cheer for the family.  Here’s a few things you won’t want to miss:

Holiday events within a short drive of Central Ohio
Fort Wayne’s Night of Lights

Downtown Fort Wayne offers the Night of Lights on November 22 (Thanksgiving Eve).  The night offers an appearance by Santa and his reindeer and concludes with fireworks at Parkview Field.  Fort Wayne also offers a Festival of Trees at the Embassy Theatre. This runs from Nov 22-29th.

For more on visiting Fort Wayne.

Indianapolis has some fun holiday events of it’s own.  Lindsay from Let Me Give You Some Advice recommends Garfield Park’s Crossing at the Conservatory.  This is a family-friendly & budget-friendly holiday display.

Men may be even more excited than the ladies about Lights at the Brickyard, a drive-thru holiday display at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  This year you can actually drive your vehicle on the oval and across the Yard of Bricks!  How fun?!  Before you go, purchase your tickets online!

Lights at the Indy 500 racetrack - Holiday events within a 5 hour drive of Columbus
The lights at Indy

If historic homes bursting with holiday decor are your thing, check out Madison, Indiana’s tour of homes taking place Nov 24 & 25 and Dec 1 & 2.  Madison is just 1.5 hours from Cincinnati!

Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh isn’t a bad drive from much of Central Ohio!  Karyn from Sand and Snow her best tips for visiting Pittsburgh during the holidays!

For more on visiting Pittsburgh.

West Virginia

I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the Oglebay Festival of Lights.  Oglebay, outside of Wheeling, is one of the nation’s largest outdoor light displays.  They offer special programs like breakfast with Santa and Good Zoo’s reindeer training program.   Overnight packages are available, too!

 

What are some of your favorite holiday happenings in Ohio and her bordering states?

*This is not a sponsored post, but may contain affiliate links.

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Holiday events within a 5-hour drive within Central Ohio. The best Christmas lights, experiences and happenings around Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Eat, drink, and buy all the goods in Wooster, Ohio

Things to do in downtown Wooster

I grew up a meager 30 minutes from downtown Wooster, Ohio-  Mr. Yoder and I even had our first date at the Wooster cinema!  Yet, other than just passing through, I hadn’t been to Wooster in over 10 years!

So when I was invited to Wooster to experience the small city as a travel blogger, my interest was piqued. I wondered, “What are we going to find to do in Wooster?”  I’m overjoyed to report that there are plenty of local restaurants, quaint shops, and coffeehouses.  Here’s my list of things to do in Wooster, Ohio

Where to eat in Wooster:

Downtown Wooster has over 27 restaurants.  Say WHAT?  Yes!  Here are a few suggestions.

Broken Rocks Cafe – Fresh baked breads, homemade soups and sandwiches, and a full bar.  This is where the locals go for lunch hours and an evening with friends.

Things to do in Wooster, Ohio - Broken Rocks Cafe

Basil Asian Bistro – Delicious Asian cuisine in a modern downtown location.  The perfect place for a date night, Basil offers outdoor dining and a full bar.

Spoon Market & Deli – This urban vibe of this cafe makes me think of Nashville, TN not Wooster, OH.  They serve all-day breakfast, plus lunch & dinner.  The bar is made of reclaimed materials and there’s even a small play area for kids. #allthepraisehands

Where to get coffee in Wooster:

Wooster has no shortage of coffee houses.  I know where I’d find myself blogging a rainy day away.

Sure House Coffee – Located just steps away from the St. Paul Hotel, Sure House Coffee strives to use as many Fair Trade and local products as possible.

Tulipan Hungarian Bakery and Cafe –  Open since 2004, Tulipan offers pastries, croissants, and strudels, along with coffee & tea.  I love the small round tables and antique counter – it reminds me of the perfect place to have afternoon desserts with your best friend.

Things to do in Wooster, OH- Tulipan Cafe and Bakery

Templeton’s Scottish Bakery & Coffeehouse – Located in the basement of the Liberty Street Marketplace, Templeton’s does have the ambiance of being “across the pond.”  As if their name wasn’t enough to evoke the Scots, they also serve hot porridge for breakfast.

Things to do in Wooster, Ohio

Where to shop in Wooster:

For a small city, Wooster is a shopping mecca.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Books In Stock – If perusing the aisles of a used and rare book store is up your alley, you’ll want to spend an afternoon at Books In Stock.  A downtown Wooster business for over 25 years, you can’t leave without something new to read.

The Urban Cottage – Farmhouse decor, reclaimed wood, and gifts for person that has everything.  If money was no object, this is where I’d buy ALL the things.

Blue Spruce Boutique – You might think you stepped into the likes of Anthropologie, but you’re still in downtown Wooster!  This boutique contains a curated collection of everything from baby gifts to succulents.  I’ll be going back to spend some of my Christmas cash, guaranteed!

Everything RubbermaidRubbermaid isn’t made in Wooster anymore, but their flagship store still resides downtown.  You’ll find what the name says- EVERYTHING.  And for kiddos tired of sightseeing, they even have a play area.

Things to do in Wooster, Ohio - Everything Rubbermaid

For everything else:

Faithful Little Cupcake – If you’ve already eaten too much, make sure you at least grab a half dozen of these glorious cupcakes to take home.  You’re welcome.

Meatheads Union– A trendy, butcher shop that also serves lunch.  They offer homemade sausages such as Mexican chorizo and German brats.

Grab a beer with friends at JAFB – Paul Fryman has been all over the world brewing beer, but in 2011, he decided to come back to his hometown.  The atmosphere in this renovated fire station has the character of a German beer hall.

Pick out a gift or take home groceries from Local Roots Market & Cafe – Seasonal and sustainable foods can be found, as well as local crafts.  I enjoyed looking at the handmade soaps and lotions.

Best Instagram spots in Wooster:

Window art – located on Liberty Street, across from Broken Rocks Cafe.  Make sure your wings are straight, unlike mine!

Things to do in Wooster, OH- best Instagram spots

Before I die chalkboard mural – Add something from your Bucket List to this public art.  Located on Walnut Street, next to the Local Roots Market.

Things to do in Wooster, Ohio - Best Instagram spots

Wayne County Courthouse – At the northwest corner of the square, the imposing courthouse is a similar style to Philadelphia city hall.

Want a hotel in downtown Wooster?  Check out my review of the St Paul Hotel or check current rates.

So there’s my list of things to do in downtown Wooster, Ohio!  I feel like I’m not even scratching the surface!  What’s your favorite?

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Things to do in Wooster, Ohio. Where to eat, shop, and drink coffee. Wooster is a college town with lots of local businesses. You'll want to add this to your Ohio Bucket List. Things to do in Wooster, Ohio. Where to eat, shop, and drink coffee. Wooster, Ohio is home to the College of Wooster and full of things to do for the whole family.

I was hosted in Wooster, OH as a guest of the Wayne County CVB.  All opinions are my own.

5 FREE Christmas Events near Columbus, Ohio

This post may contain affiliate links.

Central Ohio is the perfect place to enjoy the Christmas season with your family!  The chilled air and falling snow will get you in the mood to take in the sights and sounds with your children.  Here are 5 free Christmas events near Columbus, Ohio!

Scioto Mile Christmas lights

Bicentennial Park along the Scioto Mile is a great place to chill in the heat of summer, but now you can enjoy it once the holiday season hits.  The lights go on November 17th, but the inaugural celebration for 2017 will be a WinterFest event taking place on Saturday, December 2nd.  WinterFest includes a free concert of various local and national performers from 11 am- 4 pm.  Food trucks and beer vendors will also be present, with  a portion of food and beverage sales going to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank.  

If you can’t make it, the lights stay up until January, so swing by after that holiday party or business meeting.

Ohio Statehouse

The lights turn on December 7th at the family-friendly Holiday Festival, but there’s a chance to see the Victorian-era decorations the entire month (check website for times). Located in the center of downtown Columbus, you won’t want to miss the beauty and majesty of the Christmas at the Statehouse.  A visit is also a great way to sneak some education into a two-week Christmas break.

5 Free Christmas events near Columbus Ohio
Photo credit: ohiostatehouse.org

State Auto’s Nativity Scene

Bob Pein, State Auto’s Founder, began decorating the company’s downtown headquarters building in 1932 as a “Christmas gift to the community.” The present day decor, a life-sized Nativity scene, has become a destination for locals and travelers alike.  The display will open Tuesday, December 5th through New Years Day beginning at 5:30 pm each evening with local choirs performing on the weekends.  This may just be your new Christmas family tradition- and it’s absolutely FREE.  Check their website for special choir performances.

Village Lights in Historic German Village

Bundle up the kids and give them a taste of yesteryear as you begin the holiday season in German Village.  German Village is a FREE destination year-round, but when you add luminarias, a Christmas market, and warm beverages, you’ll feel more like you’ve been transported from Columbus, Ohio to Munich, Germany.  The Village Lights Festival is December 3rd from 5-9 pm.  Not only is the event free, but the parking is free as well, with a free shuttle running from 2 local parking lots.  More info HERE.

Granville Christmas Candlelight Walking Tour

A 30-minute drive from downtown Columbus: Granville, Ohio is like stepping foot into a small New England town.  Granville’s Christmas Candlelight Tour is completely free, yet you may want to pack a little cash (along with the kids) so you can enjoy a holiday beverage at a restaurant , or take the children on a magical horse-drawn carriage through the small city.  

Luminaries and lighted Christmas trees will line the streets making for a Winter Wonderland as you pop in and out of local churches to hear Christmas music.  The Granville Candlelight Walking Tour takes place December 2nd from 1-9 pm.  

 

Check current rates at Columbus hotels.

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5 Free Christmas Events near Columbus, Ohio. Take the family and enjoy a night out around the city- from a life-sized Nativity Scene to a Christmas Market or a WinterFest with music. You'll find it all in Central Ohio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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