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Arches National Park is located in the beautiful state of Utah. The park encompasses more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, dramatic canyons, and towering pinnacles.

Arches National Park

The park offers 2 scenic drives and we did both of them. The drives were breathtaking with plenty of viewpoint stops along the way. The parking lots can get crowded, so set aside enough time to backtrack if you can’t find a spot at a particular viewpoint.

We did a few easy and family-friendly hikes inside the park, and we’ll share our experiences with you.

Park Ave Trail, Arches National Park

Park Avenue Trail

A 1.8-mile walk through a gorgeous canyon surrounded by some amazing rock formations.  The trail begins at the Park Avenue parking lot with a fairly steep climb down but the incline is stepped making it relatively easy.  We loved strolling through the canyon and stopped often to look up at the massive pinnacles (like skyscrapers on Park Avenue).  It was a cool day, but I would imagine that the walk would be more challenging in direct sun as there was little shade on the trail.  The trail ends at a formation called Courthouse Towers.  If you are taking a shuttle, you can grab it at the Courthouse Towers parking lot or you can retrace your steps to get back to your car.  Rich doubled back for the car, allowing the kids and I more time to explore and take photos.  

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock Trail

This was an easy, partially paved walk to see Balanced Rock. It only takes about 20 minutes and the paved part is wheelchair and stroller accessible.  It’s a rock…balanced…on a tower.  Great photo op!

Sand Dune Arch

Take an easy and scenic hike down Broken Arch Trailhead.  First, take the first right turn to go see Sand Dune Arch.  It’s only 0.2mi down a narrow slot canyon and has a lot of shade. 

Broken Arch

After that, return to the Broken Arch trail and head to Broken Arch.  It’s not really broken, although it is cracked across the top.  The views from the arch are magnificent.  It’s an easy, flat 1.8-mile loop.

Delicate Arch Trail, Arches National Park

Delicate Arch Trail

Delicate Arch is one the most iconic arches within Arches National Park, figuring prominently on Utah state car plates, stamps and in tourist advertisements.  It’s a beautiful arch on an exposed rock face, with scenic vistas behind it.  It is, however, a 3.2 mile round trip from the nearest parking lot, and there is no water or shade, so it’s not for everyone.  You’re advised to bring lots of water, and it’s best viewed at sunset.

This hike may be too much for kids or the elderly.  No problem, just head to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.  The viewpoint has a parking lot and is stroller and wheelchair accessible.

 

Arches National ParkFiery Furnace

Fiery Furnace is one of the most challenging trails in Arches, and the park requires that hikers accompany a ranger-led hike.  It is a labyrinth of bright red sandstone fins that even experienced hikers can get lost in, with identical looking passageways and no landmarks.  You can view the exterior of the fins from the parking lot at the trailhead, and it is magical at sunset.  We highly recommend you stop there if you can.

Arches National ParkArches National Park is a national treasure and the park service asks that visitors do their part to protect the park.  It’s important to stay on marked trails to protect the soil.  The sandstone has pot holes called “Ephemeral Pools” that tiny organisms live in.  They should not be stepped in and if full of water should not be touched.  The Arches themselves are fragile and should not be climbed or walked on. 

Arches National Park

Arches National Park also has a Junior Rangers Program. They offer booklets at the Visitor’s Center or you can download them before you go. The book is full of activities that can be completed to earn a badge and a certificate.  The Visitor’s Center also offers Explorer’s Packs that can be checked out and returned at the Visitor’s Center. The packs include binoculars, a hand lens, a naturalist guide, a notebook, and activity ideas. The Junior Ranger badge can be earned with the pack.

Arches National Park

Camping is available in the park at Devil’s Garden Campground. Due to construction, the campground is closed until November 30, 2017. Campsites will be first come, first served from Nov 30 until Feb 28th. For dates after Feb 28th, 2018 you can reserve a spot up to 6 months in advance.

The park is open 24 hours a day, and the visitor center is open daily (closed on Christmas Day) at 9 a.m. and closed at 5:30 in the summer.

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Arches National Park

On the back roads of Santa Barbara County, over San Marcos Pass and down a side road named, appropriately, Stagecoach Road, lies a piece of Old West history.  Preserved and yet polished, Cold Springs Tavern was originally a stagecoach rest stop on the lonely road from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but is now a destination for delicious food, drink and live music.

Santa Barbara, California

Taking a turn off the modern 4-lane concrete highway 154 that snakes from Santa Barbara to Los Olivos, Stagecoach Road gets smaller and begins to wind around the hills like the original stagecoach road it was.  At the bottom of the arroyo, it winds by a collection of buildings dating from the 1860s, which have been maintained to look much like they did at that time.  The road was completed in 1870 and in use up until 1901.

Santa Barbara, California

We try to visit Cold Springs every time we’re in the area, as there’s just nothing else like it in California, and the food is really good, too!  This last time we went with our extended family ages 11-83, and they let the younger boys have their own table.

Santa Barbara, California

Jen had their famous tri-tip beef sandwich, which they coat in spices and slow roast, and then slice thin.  Rich had their baby back ribs, which were also delicious.  Everything is fresh and local, and the ambiance is pure Old West.

Santa Barbara, California

Cold Springs hosts live music from Friday to Sunday, with Sundays being the most popular day.  Reservations are recommended.

Santa Barbara must be one of the most beautiful cities in the United States.  We love the Spanish revival architecture, beaches lined with palm trees, amazing cuisine, and of course the laid-back California vibe.  We lived in Santa Barbara in the 1990s and we still have family there, so we get to return regularly.  It’s always exciting to visit and so very hard to leave.

We spent a week there this winter, which is out of the peak tourist season in summer, but the weather was very moderate.  There were no crowds and getting into restaurants was easy.

We stayed at The Fess Parker: A Doubletree by Hilton Resort, which is a wonderful family (and pet) friendly hotel.  Located across the street from the beach and within walking distance from the pier, it’s in a perfect spot.  The resort has some great restaurants and relaxing pools!

Running through the middle of Santa Barbara, State Street is the ‘main drag’ of Santa Barbara and is lined with shops, restaurants, night clubs and movie theaters.  We spent a good part of our trip there, and it’s fun to wander around on State with the crowds.

Sterns Wharf lies at the end of State Street.  It is one of the only wharves on the entire West Coast of the US that you can drive on and park your car.  The boys loved it!

View of #santabarbara from Sterns Wharf. The sky was so beautiful that day! #sternswharfsantabarbara #flashbackfriday

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It has a great aquarium (see our post on Sea Center Fun in Santa Barbara for more info), restaurants, gift shops, ice cream counters, and an adorable candy store.  You can even book a sunset cruise! We took a ride on the “Lil’ Toot”, which is a narrated boat ride around the harbor.  The boys loved the ride and we saw several adorable harbor seals.  One way tickets are $5 per adult and $1 per child.  

 My favorite thing about the wharf is the amazing view of Santa Barbara!

Santa Barbara Arts & Crafts Show

Another of our favorite things to do in Santa Barbara is to stroll along the beach on Sundays between 10 and sunset to see the wonderful creations at the weekly Art and Crafts show.  

Established in 1965, the show features original works of art made by local artists.  You can find the show on E. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara in front of Skater’s Point.  

Ideas for Kids and Teens 

  • Grab your skateboard and have some fun at Skater’s Point.   Helmets are required.  
  • Leadbetter Beach is the perfect place to learn to surf or paddle board.  They also have volleyball nets, and surfboard rentals are available.
  • Bike along Santa Barbara’s beautiful waterfront.  You can rent bikes at Wheel Fun Bike Rentals at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort.  

For the younger ones

Chase Palm Park is a great place to play out some energy.  It’s located across E. Cabrillo Blvd from the beach and art show.   This park features a shipwreck playground and a beautiful antique carousel.  A ride on the carousel costs $2.50.

The Sea Center is great for kids of all ages.  Learn more in our recent post: Sea Center Fun in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara has something for everyone.  If we missed one of your favorite spots, share it with us in the comments!

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Family Fun in Santa Barbara


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Nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa is a gem of a hotel.  Built in 1865, the Grand Resort operated as a hotel for 122 years, but had fallen into disrepair in the 1980s.  In 1998 it was purchased out of bankruptcy and completely remodeled by 2002 as a 4 star destination hotel and spa.  We spent 4 glorious days at the Mountain View Grand Resort and our only disappointment was that we were unable to stay longer.  It’s a very special place.  

 

 The Resort is situated on a rise in the middle of a valley near the town of Whitefield, NH, with unobstructed views of the White Mountains, including Mt. Washington.  The grounds are gorgeous!

 The resort offers plush, spacious rooms, with modern appointments and excellent room service.  Our family of 5 comfortably fit in the Vista Studio Two-Queen Room and we had a beautiful view of the resort.

Mountain View Grand Resort

 

The Spa is a top-tier spa offering massages, facials, manicures, pedicures, hydrotherapy and makeup services.  Rich and I indulged in massages and pedicures while the boys were watching a movie in the resort’s theater.  The theater was our boys’ favorite thing about the resort.   You can pick out a movie from their extensive library, and they will play it for you at a time of your choosing.  They’ll also deliver popcorn for you and your guests, which was also popular with our group.  The staff was amazing with our boys and had them feeling very pampered.  

 Dining options are excellent, including a casual farm-to-table restaurant, an elegant wine cellar restaurant, drinks and snacks on the veranda or classic summer favorites at the poolside Club House.  You can also order food for in-room dining.  We loved the food and the service was amazing.  It’s the kind of place where the staff remembers your name and your favorite drink.  

 In the afternoon, the resort offers refreshments and wine tastings.  They also have an impressive wine cellar that you can tour.  On one night our stay they offered a local beer tasting in the Harvest Tavern.  Our oldest enjoyed a locally made soda while Rich and I enjoyed the beer.

 The Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa has a working farm that you can take tours of every morning, as well as a children’s program and a plethora of outdoor activities to sign up for, including hiking, biking, tennis, golf, swimming and more.  They also offer Axe Throwing daily, where you get to hurl large heavy axes at blocks of wood, and compete against your fellow hotel guests.  (Rich lost, but he got a couple solid hits!) The boys loved the giant chess board, the pool and fire pit with nightly s’mores.  The hotel also features a game room with games like ping pong and foosball, a gym and a business center.

 During the winter, they offer dogsledding, rig rides, snowmobiling, snowshoes, snow tubes and cross country skies.  They are close to Cannon Mountain for downhill skiing, Santa’s Village for holiday fun and several quaint New Hampshire towns for dining and shopping.  Our boys our begging to return in the winter to experience the cold weather fun!  

We had a great time at Grand Mountain during our summer road trip.  The people were warm and friendly, the food was delicious, and it was a peaceful retreat in a beautiful setting.  We definitely hope to return sometime soon.

Mountain View Grand Resort

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Mountain View Grand Resort

This week thousands will be traveling to Houston for Superbowl Sunday, but there is so much more to Houston than football. Our family loves art and museums, and Houston has a lot to offer visitors. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in the Bayou City!

Visit the Houston Museum District

Southwest of downtown you will find Houston’s museum district, which is an association of 20 museums, galleries and cultural centers. Some of the highlights include the Holocaust Museum Houston, Houston Museum of Fine Arts and The Houston Museum of Contemporary Art.  Its tree-lined streets are easily walkable, with restaurants, cafés and several parks.

Our favorite museum in Houston is the Museum of Natural Science. It features an IMAX, a planetarium, a butterfly hall and a fantastic array of exhibits. Right now their exhibits include: Mummies of the World, Amber Secrets: Feathers from the Age of Dinosaurs, and Trains over Texas. Our boys loved looking at the Mummies and learning about the process of mummification. Their favorite was the IMAX. We watched National Parks Adventure 3D, narrated by Robert Redford.  It is a visually stunning film showing the beauty of our national treasures while explaining the history of our national parks and the contributions of John Muir and President Roosevelt.

Where to eat: Little Bigs (4621 Montrose Blvd) for gourmet sliders of all kinds, delicious fries, craft beer and wine by the glass. (Check out our Houston Cheap Eats article for more details)

Visit the Theater District

Houston has a sizable theater district in the northwest area of downtown. The Alley Theater is a Tony-award winning indoor theater with on-site parking. A variety of classic and modern plays are always running on their two stages. You can also attend the Houston Ballet, the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony. The Society for the Performing Arts brings notable musicians and speakers to Houston, like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Alton Brown. And to round it out, The Hobby Center brings touring Broadway shows and musicals to its two stages.

Our boys’ favorite place in the Theater District is the Downtown Aquarium.  It has indoor and outdoor aquariums, a train that circles the property and a ferris wheel.  It also happens to be one block from the Hard Rock Cafe, which our kids adore.

Where to eat: The Bombay Pizza Co. (914 Main St) has Indian-inspired and traditional pizza, plus delicious tandoori chicken wraps and curry. (Check out our Houston Cheap Eats article for more details)

Street Art

H-town has some great murals all over the city.  There is a collection of impressive works of art in EaDo at the corner of Leeland and St. Emanuel Street, including Gonzo247 (@Gonzo247), Alex Arzu (@alexarzu), Sylvia Blanco and “Icy And Sot” (@icyandsot). There is plenty of parking and it is a fun place to take those instagram pics.  If you’re in Houston in October, you can also attend the HUE Mural Festival, which celebrates street art and supports new works.

CityPass

You can save yourself time and money by buying a CityPass for Houston.  You get admission to 5 attractions in Houston for a discounted price: Space Center Houston, Downtown Aquarium, Museum of Natural Science and then for the remaining two, you can choose the Houston Zoo or Museum of Fine Arts, and the Kemah Boardwalk or Children’s Museum of Houston.  It’s valid for 9 days from the first day you use it, so you can buy it before your trip and head right to your first destination.  Follow this link to save up to 50% on Houston’s 5 best attractions with CityPASS.

We had a great time in Houston, y’all!  More to come in our next post…

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A Weekend in Houston

Universal Orlando

Our family loves amusement parks!  So when we found out that Rich needed to be in Florida for a few months for work, we made a beeline for Orlando and purchased season passes to Universal Studios Orlando.  We love Universal Orlando!  It has the perfect mix of Roller Coasters, 3-D thrill rides and immersive experiences.  It also has Harry Potter!

Universal Orlando

Universal Orlando is made up of two amusement parks;  Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Islands of Adventure.  They also own some water parks, but that’s for a different post.

Universal Orlando

The parks are connected by the ride “Hogwarts Express”, which is an immersive Harry Potter train ride (and has a different experience each direction, so go both ways!).  

Park admission prices vary, but start at $105 for a single park adult (10 yrs. and up) ticket.  To enjoy both parks we recommend a minimum of a 2 day park-hopper, which costs $219.99 per adult and $209.99 per child (3yrs to 9yrs).

Universal Orlando

Where to Stay

We highly recommend staying in one of the three premier onsite hotels.  Why?  These hotels offer a free Universal Express Unlimited ride access pass for each guest.  This pass lets you skip the lines on most of the rides (sorry, not Harry Potter) which saves loads of time!  They will sell these day passes to non guests but they cost $89 per person (per day!) in addition to the park admission.

On-site hotels also include Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens.  This is a great perk because the lines can be very long for these rides and it is fun to see the land before it gets crowded.  Also included is a complimentary transportation to the parks and priority seating at select restaurants throughout both theme parks and Universal City Walk.

Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando

Two of our favorite hotels in Orlando are premier on-site hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel.  Both are beautiful resorts with excellent pools, great restaurants and comfortable rooms that easily accommodated our family of 5.

Universal Orlando

Where to Eat

Call Universal Studios Reservations at 407-224-FOOD to make reservations the day of your visit.

Finnegan’s Bar and Grill

This American pub is located on the streets of New York in Universal Studios.  Finnegan’s is a sit down restaurant with table service.  It’s a great place to get off your feet while enjoying some tasty food.  We always start with Finnegan’s potato and onion web, which is thinly sliced onion and potato fried in a beer batter.  Rich loved the corned beef and cabbage and Jen always gets the black bean burger.  They have a wide range of beer, wine and cocktails and a good kids menu.

Mythos Restaurant in Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Universal OrlandoMythos serves up award-winning contemporary cuisine in an amazing setting.  Reservations are a must in this table service restaurant.  We all enjoyed the Mezze Platter with hummus, baba ganoush, kalamata olives and pita.  We also enjoyed the risotto and the Pan Roasted Salmon was delicious.  They offer an excellent wine list and a children’s menu.

Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley

No trip to Universal would be complete without a visit to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in Universal Studios.  We love their Butterbeer ice cream!

Universal Orlando

Butter Beer

This popular drink from Harry Potter is available from Street vendors, at The Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks.  It tastes like Butterscotch and is served warm, cold or as ice cream.  We recommend sampling all three types!

Our Favorite Rides

H’s (14 yr-old) picked Dragon Challenge — this is a fast roller coaster in Hogsmeade, with loops and corkscrews.  It’s actually two rides in one, with a blue track and a red track, which have different speeds and turns.  It’s pretty intense.

M’s (10 yr-old) picked Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (65 mph, 17 stories drop!) — on this roller coaster, you get to pick a music track, and then they take you vertically up a tower and then drop you back down, where you scream along a loop and tight turns while listening to music.

A’s (10 yr-old)  picked Men in Black: Alien Attack — this is an interactive ride where riders shoot lasers at alien targets while occasionally spinning you in circles.  You get points for your hits and compete against each other to see who can get the highest score.

Rich’s pick is Transformers 4D: in this ride you get in a car and head off to help the Transformers fight the Autobots.  The car goes past several 3D screens where there are wind, water and heat effects.  It’s not a roller coaster, but the car moves quick and turns to match the action on the screen.

Jen’s pick is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.  Universal Studios describes it as a 3D multi-dimensional ride.  It’s a roller coaster and a 3D movie.  It’s fun and fast and I love riding it. But the reason it’s my favorite is because I love waiting in line! I know, that sounds crazy so let me explain:

The line takes you through Gringotts Bank and it is extraordinary!  It starts with the exterior of the building, a beautiful replica of the bank with a enormous white dragon on top.  The dragon comes to life every 10 minutes to breath fire!  

Universal Orlando

Depending on the crowds, you will spend some time in line in the back courtyard before entering the bank.  The main room of the bank is beautiful and surprisingly large!  The bank tellers are amazingly animated goblin animatronics.  It really feels like you are in the movie.

Universal Orlando

And an All-Family pick: Jurassic Park River Adventure — this is the one ride we all agree on.  Be prepared to get soaked!  There are free lockers near the entrance to store your stuff.  The ride has a pretty big water drop, and if you really don’t want to get wet, they sell ponchos in the gift shop.

Enchanted Wands

The first thing our boys wanted to do when we arrived at Universal was head to Ollivander’s Wand Shop.  Ollivander’s has 2 locations; Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.  You can buy Harry Potter wands at almost every store in the parks but Ollivander’s offers an interactive experience.  Guests are taken into the shop in small groups to see a short interactive wand choosing … after that you exit into the retail shop to purchase a wand.  They offer normal wands and interactive wands.  The interactive wands can be used at various windows and fountains throughout both Harry Potter areas, to activate interactive exhibits.

Universal Orlando

Lockers

All-Day lockers can opened and re-locked starting at $10 per day.

Short-term lockers are available for storing your belongings when riding the big thrill rides.  They’re free for the first 45 min or 1.5 hrs and are then $3 per half hour after that.

Strollers

Strollers can be rented at the front entrance to both parks.  On busy days, it could get hard to navigate them through the crowds, but there are stroller parking and child rider lines for most of the major rides, so mom and dad can take turns going on a thrill ride.

Single Rider Lines

These are great if you don’t mind riding separately from your group.  Look for them at the entrance to a ride.  They will fit you into gaps when they open up, potentially cutting your wait time in half or more.

Pet Care

Universal offers kennels for dogs on a first-come, first-serve basis.  When you arrive at the parking kiosks, tell them you are going to the kennel and they will direct you.  Shot records are required.  They are open an hour past park close, so you can stay all day, even if your dog can’t come with you.

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Universal Orlando

Nosara, Costa Rica was rated one of “World’s 20 Best Surf Towns” by National Geographic, so Rich and the boys decided to give it a try!  Based on Yelp reviews, we chose to take lessons at Coconut Harry’s (okay, maybe we choose them because they have a yummy taco shop at their main location.  It’s called Taco Taco and it was delicious).  Coconut Harry’s offers group and private lessons for all levels of surfers.  Rich hadn’t been on a surfboard in 20 years and this was our boys’ first time.  

We decided to book a group lesson, which ended up being just our family.  The one-hour group lessons were $45 per adult and $35 for kids under 10.  They also have packages with 5 days of group surf lessons for $200 (U.S. Dollars) but we wanted to give it a try first.  All the instructors spoke English and are ISA Certified.  The lesson includes an hour of instruction, a properly sized board and a surf shirt if needed.  We decided to take lessons every other day and practice on our own in between.  Coconut Harry’s also rents boards for the days that we didn’t take lessons. 

Our instructor was great.  He was funny and patient and encouraging when we got frustrated.  We started with basic positioning on the board, paddling and standing up.  Once he was sure we had the basics down, we went out on the water and started (trying) to catch waves.


A video compilation of our family learning to surf – Edited by Harrison Gaushell

The boys struggled at first, but then they started to pick it up, and by the end everybody had caught at least one wave.  The waves in Nosara are very predictable and not too high, so it made for a perfect day to learn how to surf.

Coconut Harry’s
20m Norte de Cafe de Paris
Nosara 12345, Costa Rica
+506-2682-0574
http://coconutharrys.com/

They also offer beach rentals, including surfboards, boogie boards, beach chairs, umbrellas, and snorkel gear.

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Learning to Surf in Nosara, Costa Rica
Learning to Surf in Nosara, Costa Rica
Ring of Beara, County Cork, Ireland
Ring of Beara, County Cork, Ireland

The Beara Peninsula is a beautiful stretch of the west coast of Ireland.  Just to the south of the more famous (and overrun) Ring of Kerry, it offers a less crowded, but no less scenic adventure.  We spent a week exploring Beara with our boys.  All of us fell for its charms, and we wanted to share some of our favorite parts.

Drive the Ring of Beara

To start your adventure on the Beara Peninsula, begin with a drive around the Ring of Beara and take in the beauty of cliffs meetings the sea.  Give the kids disposable cameras and roll down the windows.  Our boys loved the steep cliffs covered with sheep, calmly eating grass and watching us.  The full ring is about 195 km long, but we just drove from Kenmare to Castletownbere, and that alone was a great day.  Stop at the Copper Mine Museum and Garnish Beach.  Castletownbere has several restaurants and places for ice cream.

The Dursey Cable Car
The Dursey Cable Car

Take the Dursey Cable Car
To get to Dursey Island from the Beara Peninsula, you have to park your car and take a cable car high above the narrow straits.  It’s about a 10 minute ride over the ocean.  Locals and livestock have priority, and the car can take 6 people or 1 cow.  It runs 9am to 8pm continuously.

Dursey Island has many hiking trails, castle and ruins, but no restaurants or shops.  Bring a picnic lunch with you and be sure to get back in plenty of time to catch the last cable car of the night!

Star Outdoors of Kenmore

Star Outdoors of Kenmore

We took the 1 hour eco-nature cruise on Kenmare Bay, on the north side of Beara Peninsula.  We enjoyed the scenery, the castles and seal watching.  The cruise operator said that they often see dolphins playing in the bay.  They play Irish music and a recording that points out interesting sites along the way.  There is an outdoor viewing platform on the upper deck and a bar with interior seating on the main deck.  They serve tea, coffee, soda, beer, wine and a couple of snacks.

After the cruise we rented wet suits and took a paddle boat out to the water trampoline & slide.  It was great fun, even in the cold weather.  When it started to rain they came out to us on a speed boat and sped us back to shore, which was much appreciated!

More info at http://www.staroutdoors.ie/

Going to play in the sea, Kenmore, County Cork, Ireland
Sea trampolining in September? You bet. (Kenmore, County Cork, Ireland)

After getting dried out and dressed, we had dinner at the on-site restaurant: Con’s Restaurant.  Even though it was quiet there and they were expecting a large tour bus party soon, we had excellent food and attentive service, including a post-dinner trip to the ice cream freezer, which is stocked with locally made ice cream that was delicious.

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  • Our day at Star Outdoors was fantastic.  Every single staff member from the lovely woman in the office to the boat crew, to the guy who fitted our wetsuits and drove the speedboat were warm, friendly and helpful.  Our kids are begging to go back next summer.

    They have a long list of fun things to do (many are seasonal, so call first)

    • Water skiing, wake boarding and donut rides
    • Archery, paint ball and mini golf
    • Water trampoline & slide
    • Toddler playground
    • Con’s Marina Bar & Restaurant

    1 Hour boat ride: €45 for a family of 5
    We paid about €45.00 to rent wetsuits and a paddle boat and play on the water slide and sea trampoline.
    We paid €9.50 for 2 glasses of wine and 3 sodas
    Dinner at Con’s was €52 for the 5 of us, including ice cream for the kids

    Dunboy Castle
    Road to Allihies, Drum, Castletownbere, Co. Cork

    Dunboy Castle was the site of a battle in 1602, when Elizabeth I sent troops to seize the harbor of Berehaven.  The British defeated the Irish soldiers, and the castle has laid in ruins since.  It’s fascinating and a little creepy.  After passing the unmarked guard gate you drive down a dirt road past Puxley Manor, which was built by an English copper baron in the early 19th century and burned by the IRA in 1921.

    In 1999, a company purchased the manor and began to make it into the only 5 star hotel on the Beara Peninsula, only to run bankrupt in 2008.  Now it’s abandoned and slightly creepy!  You can read more about the history of Puxley Manor here: The O’Sullivan Curse and Puxley Manor.

    Puxley Mansion, Castletownbere, Ireland
    Puxley Mansion, Castletownbere, Ireland

    Directly across the road from the mansion is a shipwrecked vessel in the bay.  The street dead ends at a sign about the castle and then you hike up the hill to the site.  We were the only ones there and the hill has reclaimed the castle covering it with grass and wild flowers.  It looks like something out of a fairytale.  The boys loved climbing over the walls and to the tip of one of the gates.

    Ring of Beara Shipwreck
    Ring of Beara Shipwreck

    This is one of the many sites in Ireland where you just drive up and park on the road.  There is a small plaque with some information at the base of the hill.  There are no facilities or lights here, so go before sunset.

    Ride the Car Ferry to Bere Island

    Sails 4 times per day each way.  Car + 4 adult passengers  €35 return

    Catch the ferry in Castletownbere to Bere Island.  Ferries run several times per day but you need to get there early.  It’s very confusing for a tourist and the ferry operator is not helpful.  Back into a spot in front of the ferry dock.  Be prepared, locals ride first, and only 5 or 6 cars can ride at a time.

    More beaches than we could hit:
    Rossbeigh Beach, Derrynane Beach, Ballybunion Beach, Kells Beach, Banna Beach and Garnish beach.

    And a few more ideas that we didn’t get to:

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    Beara Peninsula with KidsBeara Peninsula with Kids

    A view of Nice from our Villa in Nice, France

    Nice is known for being a romantic destination and a relaxing getaway by the Mediterranean.  But it also is a lot of fun with kids, as we found out.

    We started with a train ride through Nice on the Petit Train de Nice (Little Train), which is just a series of cars connected to a lead car shaped like a train that takes you around the city.  It took us through the streets of the old town and to the Chateau on the hill (or Castle Hill), which has gardens and amazing views of the city and sea.  The kids enjoyed the ride, and it gave Rich and me a chance to understand the layout of the old town of Nice.

    Train rides last about 45 minutes with a ten minute stop at the Chateau on the hill. A headphone commentary is available in French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese.  Get on the train where the Proménade des Anglais meets the Avenue de Verdun.  (More info: http://www.trainstouristiquesdenice.com/)

    A tour of Nice on Petit Train de Nice

    Castle Hill is a great place to spend an afternoon.  You can walk up the 300 ft hill or ride an elevator to the top.  The views are amazing and there are waterfalls, gardens, a couple of cafés, and a playground to enjoy.

    Next, we grabbed a treat and walked along the Proménade des Anglais or the “English Promenade”.  It was built in the 1800s by an English priest who, concerned about the large number of unemployed people who had migrated to the city during some especially bad winters, convinced the town to pay them to build a beautiful promenade along the water.  It’s very scenic, with beautiful views of the pebble beaches and the sea.  It’s lined with restaurants, shops, and bike rentals.

    In Cimiez, there is a wonderful park with Roman Ruins and an amphitheater.  The kids loved running all around the amphitheater trying to figure out what it looked like long ago, and re-enacting gladiator battles in the middle.  The park also houses the Musée Matisse and the Nice Archaeological Museum.  There is a café that serves up delightful treats and a small carousel. The Chagall Museum is also close by.

    Most restaurants in Nice are open for lunch from 12 to 2pm and then close until dinner at 7pm.  On Sunday, bakeries and Markets close for the day at 1pm.

    Nice, France with Kids

    We only had a few days left before we met up with a family member in Germany, so we decided on a whirlwind tour of Paris.  We rode the bullet train from Nice and booked a cute loft in the Latin Quarter.  It’s a dangerous spot: there are multiple Boulangeries full of decadent treats within a minute’s walk!

    On our first day in Paris we heard something from the boys that we never thought we would hear.  “That was so much fun!” they said.  They were not talking about a visit up the Eiffel Tower or a Ferris wheel ride in the park.  They were talking about the our visit to the Louvre!

    We went on a private family tour with “Paris Muse,” which bypassed the awfully long line and took us on a top-secret mission through the museum.  Our guide, Anya, was a young New Yorker who was great with the kids.  She kept their attention and filled their heads with fascinating history!  At the end they decoded a secret message and got a prize.  It was a blast!  The bonus was that Rich and I enjoyed the tour just as much as the kids did!

    #flashbackfriday Our kids loved the Louvre in Paris. Have you been? #travelwithkids #familytravel #childhoodunplugged

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    Somehow, I managed to sprain my foot on our first day, which really put a damper on things.  But a little Motrin and a few open air bus rides did wonders.  We were still able to see a lot of the city.  We strolled along the Seine, played in the Tuileries Garden, visited Notre Dame, drove around the Arc de Triomphe, explored the Champs-Élysées and visited the Eiffel Tower.

    And we dined, and snacked and dined some more.  Thank goodness we only had 4 days or we would have all gone up a pant size!

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    4 Days in Paris, France with Kids