One Day Itinerary in St. Louis

Despite the close location from Dallas, this was our first experience going to St. Louis and I definitely left feeling like I want to experience more!  We arrived Friday night and settled in with Pizza at our hotel.  We got the kids to bed early (Thank you, Melatonin) and prepared for an early departure from the hotel to get the most out of our day.

8 am-12 St. Louis Zoo

12-1 Lunch break

1 pm-5 St Louis Science Museum

5-6 Dinner

6pm-8 St. Louis Arch

ZOO: We started in the cooler weather at the St Louis Zoo.  The entry fee is FREE!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either!   Parking here was $15 a car and it was quite a long line to get in.

 

We went to lunch at Steak ‘n Shake. Kids eat free on the weekends (for every $9 spent, get one kids meal free).  This restaurant makes dining in easy with kids.  They provide coloring mats and crayons along with build-your-own cars with stickers. The menu is kid-friendly with pictures.  The food came quickly about right when the kids were finishing up their activities.

We headed to the St Louis Science Museum.  This was in the same area as the zoo (Forrest park).  It was probably a mile of driving, so not close enough to walk, but very close to the zoo. This was also a FREE entrance fee!  The parking here was $12/car.

My thoughts were, “You get what you pay for” and figured an hour or 2 would be all the enjoyment we would get.  However, this was a legit science museum; full of various exhibits and interactive learning.  We spent 4 hours and didn’t get enough. As a mom I love reading and learning different aspects of science and the kids have so much to touch, do, discover and learn.  Science museums really have something for every level.  We were busy playing and interacting so we didn’t get many pictures.  You’ll just have to experience it yourself!

Only 5 miles away was the St. Louis Gateway Arch.  The kids loved finding it on the skyline as we drove that way.

We weren’t sure where to park or how to get to it.  So we passed the first base and parked just passed the northern base.  I don’t think it really matters though, just find a space or a parking garage.  There was a Cardinals baseball game starting the night we were there so we wanted to get away from the stadium a bit. Where ever you park you will have to walk into the park, but it is made into a gorgeous park looking out over the Mississippi.

The visitors center is closest to the North Base.  We just paid for tickets right outside to get into the visitors center ($3 for adults/ Kids free).  The wait for going up the arch was 2 hours, but just going in there was no wait.  Once you got inside the Center there is a theater, a Ranger Station (with Jr Ranger booklets)  a gift shop and  LONG lines to get up the arch elevator.  Our kids were tired and I was glad we didn’t spend $60 to go up, but then again, we missed part of the experience.   We watched the 20 minute movie about how the arch was made. I thought it was fascinating (even though it was made in the 70s and was so dated! It just added to the appeal).  When we went in 2017, much of the arch was under construction, but it should be amazing when they finish the park in front of the arch, the museum entrance and the Museum exhibits inside.

IMG_9266Hopefully, when you finish this full day you get to crash at a hotel and maybe hit the pool, but we  drove 3 hours  to get to our next destination.  An audio book put the kids right to sleep!

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Top Ten reasons to travel with a baby

Frequently, I hear of families putting off trips because they have a small baby. It seems like too much work, so they want to wait until the baby is weaned and they can leave him/her home.  First of all, I understand this thinking.  They are a lot of work.  There are messes and sleepless nights.  There are unknowns and fears of strange places.  There are things you won’t be able to do with baby in tow.  Plus, the baby won’t remember any of it! All that being said, I love traveling with a baby!  Let me tell you why.

  1. Most people love babies.  I met and struck up conversations with the most interesting people because of having a baby with me.  Locals, docents and tour guides who normally leave tourists alone,  couldn’t resist the smiles and coos of a baby.  This really helped me experience the location through the eyes of people who lived there.  It also helped me connect with other travelers who have great ideas or tips of things to do (or not to do!). Babies are easy conversation starter with people in lines or airplanes.
  2.  Babies help pass the ‘downtime’ of travel with joy. I loved the smiles and tickles and complete attention I could give my baby while I waited in lines, sat at the airport (delayed, of course!) and in my hotels. As my 3rd and 4th babies, sometimes they don’t get the attention they deserve and on trips I could fill their cup to overflowing.  I loved having pressure-free time to snuggle baby on the plane.
  3. When you are together traveling you make sure to feed and change the baby frequently, before it is too late and causes a probably. Meeting the baby’s every need means that she will be happy, healthy and sweet the whole trip.
  4. Little babies can sleep anywhere! My babies aren’t great at sleeping long on the go, but made up for it by napping frequently. Being in a stroller, car or plane helps lull them to sleep. We even changed time zones 9 hours and my baby learned to sleep when it was dark within one night!
  5. Even though babies wont remember the trip, there are still pictures and stories they will be told as they grow.  A love of the world and traveling can be started this young.  They will be exposed to other peoples and cultures (and probably some foods!) that will help them become more understanding of others.  My baby can say she’s been to Paris and show photos.  She will grow up with a connection in her mind to Paris.
  6. Babies are mobile and flexible. As you child gets older, babies will need consistent naps in a bed (not on the go).  They will want more movement and independence, have louder lung capacity and be more needy.  As a baby, they are perfectly happy where ever they are when their needs are met.
  7.  Nursing is the best if you are traveling!  No need for bottles or cleaning.  In this photo, I nursed my baby in the wrap, during the swamp tour and she proceeded to fall asleep for the rest of the ride.
  8. Strollers actually can be a benefit for traveling.  We got to skip the amazingly long line at the Empire State building and go straight into the wheelchair/ stroller line!  Disneyland has the stroller pass which we maximized to ride as many rides as possible!  Having a stroller means people give a little more space for you, which can be nice in crowded places.  ( my snap and go is my favorite for baby travel because the carrier can snap in and out of it.  It is so light weight)
  9. A baby wrap makes it possible to hike, walk steps, and do any activity mom desires.  Plus, baby loves to be close to mom for snuggles and sleep.  Its a win-win!
  10. Bonding with baby can happen for mom or dad as you do something together.  It was difficult for my husband to bond with a newborn since I am doing most of the caring and serving and ALL of the feeding (my babies wouldn’t take bottles).  When we took a trip with just #3, he finally connected and felt a relationship with her  because of time spent and memories created with her.  Even if the baby doesn’t remember, you will remember your time with them forever. And that contributes to your family closeness and bond.

So you can have a baby and travel, too!  Make it happen!  What do you love about traveling with a baby?

 

 

St. Louis Zoo

We started in the cooler weather at the St Louis Zoo (8 am opening!) The entry fee is FREE!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either!  Zoos are typically so expensive, to just walk right in was so unknown,  that we waited in a line, just to have the confused attendant, point to the gate and tell us to walk in like we were complete idiots.

Parking: Parking at the zoo was $15 a car. When we were leaving the zoo we saw people walking accross the street presumably to cheaper or free residential parking, but we didn’t know that trick, so we paid to park in the lot.

TIP: My husband dropped the kids and I off at the front entrance.  He then drove passed the LONG line, flipped a U-turn and entered the parking lot from the other direction where the line was only 4-5 cars long.

We went on a Saturday to a free zoo so, understandably, it was crowded.  But if we were patient, we were able to see all the animals we desired. The crowds moved freely and everyone at their own pace and agenda, so it all works out.

 

Favorite Exhibits: I loved the smooth perfection of the Cheetah’s fur, the butterfly encounter fluttering all around us and the polar bear swimming right up against the glass.  Seeing my 8-month-old laugh at the elephants and get splashed by a penguin was the best!  My daughter loved the sea lions swimming right over our heads in a walk through aquarium.  My son loved the butt of a wild hog and monkey, of course (He’s 9 thats what boys like).  Giant tortoises, red pandas, prairie dogs and the small insect rooms were among the other favorites.  We missed the whole section with lions, giraffe, etc.  So we will have to come again.

Costs: The zoo had plenty of options to see things the were free. That being said there were several things we wanted to see that you had to pay to get into. The kids were very excited about the children’s zoo with animals to pet and otters.  It was $4 a person and I would’ve paid it normally, but we had a few  more venues we wanted to hit, so we passed… this time.  There was also a sea lion show, wild west outpost (discovery room) and sting ray encounter for $4 to see.   The carousel, railroad, safari adventure, and theater we other pay-for attractions. We opted to see everything we desired for free and then move on, vowing to try it out again another day.  We still missed 2 HUGE sections of the zoo after 3 hours of animal viewing.

Food: Outside food and drinks (including coolers) are permitted inside the zoo.  If we would’ve been more prepared we could’ve eaten and stayed longer, but we needed a food break and recharge, so we headed out.

TIP: A Souvenir cup of soda costs $10.99.  Outrageous! but after you buy it you can get a soda refill for $1 and water at any of the concession stands for free.   Refilling with slushie was $2.50  We kept our kids hydrated in the hot temperature, so it was worth it to get refills constantly.

This will definitely be getting another visit from us!  Thanks City of St. Louis for offering such an amazing FREE zoo!

St Louis Zoo Homepage

Junior Ranger Programs at National Parks

Leaving Phoenix - Carlsbad Caverns (10)
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

 

We LOVE national parks.  We have never been disappointed in our visits to these spectacular pieces of our country.  They are well-preserved natural habitats.  The cost to get into the park are a small fraction of the amount of things to do and see and experience.  It is well worth the money!

At EVERY major national park, there is a Junior Ranger program for the kids to complete Usually it is free, although we did have to pay a couple of bucks for one at the Smokey’s because there was not park entrance fee.  There are usually 2 different programs, one for readers (6 yrsold-12) and one for younger children.

Tennessee - Jackson takes a photo of black bearTaking a picture of a bear for his Junior Ranger Program.Our first stop at a National Park is always a visitors center.  We watch a movie, see some of the displays, grab a map, talk to the rangers about kid-friendly outings or any info we need to know and then ask for a Junior Ranger Program.  The kids work on these activities in the car and on our outings.  On our way out of the park, they like to return to any visitors center, show the activities they’ve completed and be ‘sworn in’ as a junior ranger to get their ranger badge.

Olympic Nation Park - Under the Tree
Olympic National park

 

 

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Getting Sworn in at the Everglades National Park, Hats and all!

They are all specific to the things they will be seeing in that park and have pictures, puzzles, games and kid-friendly information.  I feel like these are most secretive than they should be!   You always have to ask for them and the rangers are usually like, “Oh yeah!  Those!”  why don’t they just have them out to take?  Anyway, my mission is to get the word out to our junior members of society to make our trips to National parks more meaningful and memorable!

 

Maine - Hallie & Jackson in the Forest
Acadia National Park Junior Rangers
Hawaii - Family at the Lava Tube (2)
Hawaii Volcano National Park Junior Rangers

 

The Folly of Flying by the Seat of our Pants

Most of the time, I love last minute planning and ‘on-the-fly’ adventure travel.  Usually, we find awesome places to see and things to do.  When we finish a trip, I frequently say that deciding on-thespotmade the trip better than pre-planning it.  However, our most recent trip showed us the disadvantages of not planning, preparing and researching carefully for a trip.IMG_1685

As we drove toward the ocean, swimsuits on and ready to rock the waves,  I looked up family-friendly beaches in Miami. I had heard that some beaches that were nude, gay, party  beaches, etc.  So I thought I would make sure it was family friendly.  Those 2 words should do the trick, right?

South Beach came up as the most popular IMG_1686beach; NOT to be missed.  I also read about a little park, Lummox park, on 12th street and Ocean, that is a great place for kids to play around.  Seemed like a no-brainer.  My husband dropped the kids and I off at the park.  I sun-screened everyone while they played and he parked the car.  Together, we went right behind the park to the ocean.

All the ingredients for a successful day on the beach were present.  Hot sun…check; rolling waves… check; warm water….check; gorgeous, clean sand…. check;

We were absorbed in keeping our family together and finding a quick place to plant our stuff so we didn’t have to roll the stroller through sand any longer than absolutely necessary.

IMG_1683We plopped down, spread out our stuff and the kids and I ran to the ocean as fast as we could.  Dave was occupied getting Whitney to stop crying and go to sleep despite the heat and sun.  It was a moment of chaos for our family.  And thus, we were completely oblivious to those around us.

When things finally calmed down and we looked around, we piece-by-piece discovered that we had unknowingly stumbled on to the gay-est beach in town.   To our left, there were hundreds and hundreds of male couples sunbathing in speedos and short-shorts.  To our right, lesbian couples tanned.  The four lesbians right next to us (like 5 feet away) were sunbathing topless facing up. There wasn’t a child to be seen for miles.  Men in skimpy swimwear showing tanned skin and feminine walk, chatted gayly (and I mean that in the happiest way).   Women in thong bikini bottoms (*and by bottoms, I mean they didn’t actually have a bottom) caressed their partners.

We slowly realized that we had just planted our family in the middle of people who were not wanting to see a big Mormon-family with tons of kids running around.  We felt so out-of-place with our 4 kids, a baby, our white un-toned bodies, my one-piece workout swimsuit and missionary hair-cuts.   While those around us were lathering their bronzed bodies with bathing oils and donning the latest fashion sunglasses, we were sun-screening around hand-me-down stretched-out kid’s suits in the shade of our just given-to-us-umbrella.  The closest I came to fitting in was when I breastfed– without my cover on!  While we were not exactly shunned,  several couples obviously picked up their stuff and moved 20 feet down the beach, away from our noisy children.  We realized we were in the minority (or rather the ONLY) and felt very uncomfortable.   But, because we only had an hour before we had to head out to the airport, we just stayed put and tried to enjoy the beach despite our obvious differences.

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See the wide space we were given on a crowded beach?  How nice, right?

True to form, and much to our chagrin on every other part of our trip, our kids were oblivious to the people around them.  They didn’t seem to notice anyone or anything except the waves, water, sand and toys.  They didn’t miss having other kids to frolic in the waves with (but did miss the same-gender couples making out in the ocean because I started a seaweed war to distract them).   My 4-year-old did beg to take her swimsuit top off, but as far as I could tell, that’s all they noticed.

As we left the beach, we were still wondering if it was, in fact, a gay beach or a special event or WHY there were so many in that area.  We then noticed the rainbow flags flying loud and clear and soon learned via google that 12th street beach is the #1 Gay beach in Florida (and has been for 25 years).  So glad we didn’t miss it, LOL!

And someday we will tell our children the story of the day we took our family to the Gay Miami beach.

A day in Seattle

We arrived in Seattle late at night (2 am our time) and crashed in a slummy hotel just north of the airport.  No problem, it had 2 large king sized beds, a kitchenette (which we didn’t use) and free breakfast which is the only thing our kids need to be happy.  I crashed putting the girls to sleep and Dave fell asleep with Jackson.  We both spent the night uncomfortably being kicked in the back by our children.  We usually help them fall asleep separately and then move them… note to self.. ALWAYS move the kids together!

At 5 am I was up (it is 8 am our time)  I started using my phone and next thing I know my 3-year-old is next to me and in the most motherly voice said, “It’s not time to use your phone, Its TIME to be in bed!”  I promptly obeyed and headed back to bed with her.  She fell asleep for another hour until everyone started waking up around 6:30.  I am always proud if my kids sleep past 7 or 8 our time.  When I was a young and inexperienced traveler, I would stress and worry about the amount of sleep my kids got, now I know that tired and not well rested kids are just part of the first days of travel and I try not to stress about what I can’t change and try harder to be prepared to help them through those tired times.

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You know your living in a high class motel when you can only shower from the belly button down!

1. Pike’s Market Place

We started the morning where everyone told us to go, Pikes Place Market.  I must not have done enough research, because I expected only a fish market with workers singing and moving all over the place (‘FISH‘ book anyone?) But really it is a multilevel giant mall, with portions of it being in open air on one side of it.  We entered from the parking garage on the water side We really struggled finding the center famous part of it.

TIP#1 : Use the downtown parking website or app:  This helps you know the cost of parking and where to find close parking anywhere downtown.  It saved us at least $10!

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Mini Donuts for breakfast (because the toast and jam and muffins at the hotel weren’t enough carbs to start the day)

 

This picture is a great memory because the kids were all sorts of worried about these fish  here, they wouldn’t approach them and they kept asking if they were dead.  I assured them they were and told them to get in a picture with me.  They reluctantly joined me, but kept their eye on the fish.  Then right before the picture this fish in the background jumped up!  Scared the kids (and me) to death.  The kids went screaming and crying away as the stranger with the phone snapped this.  Turns out the fish is attached to a chain and can be pulled from the other side of this display.  We had all sorts of fun with it later on (after the tears were dried).  and other families got their laughs and giggles as we pulled it and scared their kids… so pay it forward!

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I finally convinced one of the kids to touch a fish.
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Rosie the Bronze piggy bank found around the area.

Once the day got going, the market was really crowded (and this was a Thursday morning.  We had trouble staying together with so much to look at and so many people.  The kids were begging for lots of things and my husband stopped to buy Brats and Salmon (packed with lots of ice so it could last until dinner time). We ended up walking on the outside of the market and looking at the sculptures and bridges from the market to the other side of the street.

2. Gum Wall

This really is just a part of the market place, since it is just down the stairs from the central fish market.  The gum wall was gross!  I thought I would really like it, but I was grossed out.  Luckily,.my kids are old enough to NOT TOUCH when I commanded it!
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We all left our mark. The kids just liked that we got to chew gum!

TIP: Bring gum or buy it before going down.  We left ours in the car and bought more in a shop upstairs.  BRING SANITIZER!

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We wandered down the hall of the market and Dave found some German Brats we bought by the link, so we tried every kind.  Jackson of course ordered the Italian one.  Our hotel had a grill so we planned on making it for dinner that night.  We also bought some king Salmon to complete the random meal.

Seattle was so interesting!  We found art pieces, waterfalls, sculptures etc all around the city.

3. Waterfront

Behind Pikes Place we wandered down to the waterfront.  It was beautiful and there was ping pong, the giant ferris wheel ($13/adults $9/kids), the Puget sound and the aquarium ($25/adults, $17/kids)  if interested.  There was also a really cool blue path that I thought would be fun to bike if the kids were bigger.  We only spent 30 minutes enjoying the sites and sounds of the area and didn’t spend a dime (except in our parking that went over by 2 minutes and we paid another $3.)

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This was part of the waterfront and the building the the back is the aquarium.
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Another interesting sculpture.  Always something fun to look at here!

TIP: Bring a Sack lunch and eat on the provided picnic table with a fantastic view and the kids can roam or play ping pong.

4. Hiram Chittenden locks

We parked at the “locks’ and realized the kids and I were really hungry.  The place to eat only had fish and chips and I wasn’t sure how that would go over with the kids, but they loved it!  It always makes me a little nervous to take my picky eaters to new towns so I pack a lot of snacks, but I love finding food they will eat!

We then headed through a nice little park to see the Hiram Chittenden locks (free) where the ships enter and it fills up or lets out water to move them from one lake/canal to another.  We were there just in time to see a few boats rise within minutes.  The kids thought it wasn’t real, so it was fun to try to explain it.

Unfortunately, we missed the salmon swimming upstream season by a week, but there are windows into the canal so you can see the fish trying to jump up the stream to get back to their nesting ground.  We saw a few fish swimming around. IMG_20160721_125450536_HDR

TIP: Research the weeks that Salmon are running and this would be more entertaining

5. Discovery Park

We headed across the canal to Discovery park (Free)  I didn’t realize that during the week you have to check out a parking pass to go down to the beach and lighthouse.  There are only 8 parking passes!  One was expected back within 45 minutes so we decided to wait.  There was a small, but fantastic kids play area with puppets, tunnels and a few other things to look at and do.  It was a perfect down time for us and the kids.  The parking pass came right as we were ready to go and we headed out to the Puget sound for some tide pools.

TIP: Research when the tide goes out and get a parking pass early if possible. IMG_20160721_133116045

The water was coming in.  I didn’t see much of anything in the tide pools, but the kids liked exploring.  We walked around the lighthouse and it was much colder and windier around the point.  There were some great views and the kids always love a beach. IMG_2337

6. Seattle Center: International Fountain

We headed back down town for Seattle Center.  Here you can find the children’s museum ($10/person), the space needle($22/adults, $14/kids), Chihuly glass garden($27/adult, $16/kids), the international fountain (free) and lots of art and gardens (free) to see and explore.

This international fountain was amazing.  Look at the little people next to it.  Even though I had researched it I thought it was a small splash pad.  It is HUGE.  The fountain is choreographed to music so it is unpredictable and exciting.  One song the fountain sent water spraying SO high I got wet sitting above it and a hundred yards away.  It was so entertaining and fun.  Despite the weather being mild (in our humble Texas opinion) the kids were delighted to get soaked and run and play.  Such a great time was had here.  (and yes, my daughter is picking her nose for the pic… reality of having kids)

TIP: Swimsuits and a towel on hand would’ve been great!  It worked out just fine since kids are amazing, but if you are more prepared, stash some suits in your pack.IMG_2347

The space needle was a bit underwhelming.  It wasn’t nearly as high as I thought it would be.  The cost was astronomical though, so we passed.

We went into a “Center of the center” Seattle armory to find a restroom and in the process saw a lunch area with a bunch of places to eat.  There were giant games set out to play for free.  Giant scrabble (complete with beanbags for participants, connect 4, chess, checkers and other games).  I wish we had time to stay and eat and play.  Looked like a blast (for free too!).  We met a balloon guy and left the center with happy kids, ready for a rest.

TIP: Eat lunch or dinner at the Armory while the kids can be free to roam and play games here. IMG_20160721_153907039_HDR

 7.  Ferry ride across the Puget Sound

An hour ferry ride getting across the Puget sound would take 1 1/2 hours (waiting time) and driving all the way around would take 1 1/2 hours.  I was so glad we opted for the more expensive ferry ride ($32), because it was a fantastic experience.  Mariah fell asleep on our drive to the ferry and was able to stay asleep in the car while we waited.  The kids and I explored around the ferry waiting area and looked at motorcycles and different cars (and changed into dry clothes).  IMG_2351IMG_2353The ferry views were indescribable.  Seeing the Seattle skyline and then the amazing homes along the Puget sound was so beautiful.   We even got to chat with a local about how his experience was moving from Cali to Seattle.  I loved getting an insider’s perspective.

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Snacks to tide the kids over until dinner

8.  BBQ at the Hotel

You’ll have to  check with your hotel to see if they have a grill or eating area, we called while we were in line for Brats at the public Market.  Without any  intentional planning on our part, our hotel (we got free with Marriott hotel points) was only 3 minutes from the ferry port.  Once at our hotel, I  set up the hotel room and headed out to set up dinner near the grill, while Dave headed to the grocery store to get some extra fixings.  We couldn’t visit Seattle without a little rain, so with no warning and beautiful blue skies, the rain started falling moving our BBQ inside.

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Our knight in shining armor tames the fire-breathing dragon for dinner.

Salmon, brats, chips, grapes, pickles and juice.  I LOVED having our own space to enjoy dinner together without having to get on the kids for perfect restaurant behavior.  This was the perfect end to our day.  We really wanted to swim, but it was late (and even later in TX) so we headed to bed with visions of Seattle city in our heads.  This time we split the kids up to fall asleep and then moved them together for the night.

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In all of our travels, we’ve found that we don’t enjoy the city scene as much as others, so we tend to hit the main sites in a day or two and call it a success.  There were many family friendly venues we could’ve visited, but we felt like we got a great overview of this city in a full day of adventures (and only spent money on a bit of food, ferry ride and parking, maybe $65 total!!) and we were ready to take a road trip out to Olympic National park in the morning.