Family – The Barefoot Nomad Travel. Tech. Family. Fun. Wed, 07 Feb 2018 20:25:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Things To Do in Vancouver With Kids Thu, 04 Jan 2018 01:30:00 +0000 Vancouver, one of Canada’s premiere destinations and wildly regarded as one of the world’s great cities, is also only a few hours away from our our place. As such, we’re in Vancouver several times a year with the family.

It’s a fantastic city, and there are plenty of things to do in Vancouver with the family, from indoor fun like the Vancouver Aquarium, to outdoor adventure by the ocean, to thrill seeking fun on either the Lynn Canyon or Capilano suspension bridges.

Things to do in Vancouver with kids

There are hundreds of fun things to do with kids in Vancouver, but we’ve picked the very best for this list.

The Vancouver Aquarium

The non-profit Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is committed to rehabilitation and re-release (wherever possible) of injured, ill or abandoned marine creatures. It also operates Ocean Wise, a conservation program that works directly with local restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers to ensure that they have the most current scientific information and to help them make ocean-friendly buying decisions.

The Vancouver Aquarium is Canada’s largest aquarium and home to over 58,000 animals. It’s a great place to take kids, with the new Discover Rays touch pool, and plenty of kid-friendly exhibits and play areas.

Vancouver Aquarium kids fun

Stanley Park

I’m not sure I can count how many times we’ve visited Stanley Park over the years. Quite handily, it’s right next to downtown and it also houses the Vancouver Aquarium. There are over 1000 acres here, with stunning views of Vancouver’s skyline, and plenty of room for kids to run free. It’s a special place that lets you glimpse the natural wonder of British Columbia’s coast in an urban setting. Be sure to take your time and wander through the giant Sequoia trees. If you love trees, Stanley Park won’t disappoint.

Ducks on Misty Beaver Lake Stanley Park Vancouver

First Nations heritage

The First Nations people of Vancouver have played a large role in preserving Stanley Park in its natural state. If you’re interested in First Nations culture, and especially the relationship between First Nations people with Northwest coast trees and plants, I’d highly recommend taking the Talking Trees tour with Talaysay Tours. It’s a two hour tour, and I was fascinated by our soft-spoken guide’s intimate and detailed knowledge. Just a note, this tour may be better suited to slightly older children.

Horse-drawn tours and railway tours

Everyone on these old-fashioned horse drawn carriages looks like they’re having a blast. The tour leaves from Coal Harbour, and a guide describes Stanley Park’s attractions, which include the Vancouver Harbour, Lions Gate Bridge, the cedar forest, totem poles, and Deadman’s Island and more.

The kids will also love the Stanley Park Miniature Railway and the Prospect Point totem poles.

Stanley Park beaches and more

Everyone in your group will love the miles of stunning boardwalks that line the rugged coast with walkers, joggers, bikers and rollerbladers all cruising by. There are also numerous beaches and beach volleyball courts set up along the shoreline.

Science World at TELUS World of Science

Kids adore Vancouver’s Science World, with it’s fun, hands-on interactive displays like Eureka!, as well as huge special events, OMNIMAX films and real life art exhibits. Even if you don’t go inside, there are plenty of free fun things to check out outside like the giant marble maze and the moving water stand.

With continually changing exhibits and galleries designed just for kids, there’s something new at Science World every time we go.

Vancouver Science Centre

Vancouver Seawall

The Vancouver Seawall is a 28 km (17 mile) long paved pathway that runs along the ocean front through most of metro Vancouver. Views are fantastic here, and it’s always busy with families and health enthusiasts. There are beaches, kids play structures and beach volleyball courts running along the seawall at various places so make sure you grab your swimsuit if you’re there in the summer months.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Kids will love this suspension bridge, which stretches 140 meters (over 450 feet) long and 70 meters (230 feet) high above the Capilano River. The only negatives I can say about it are that it can be busy, and that admission is steep at over $40 for an adult. Kids under six are free, though. As well as the bridge, there’s the Treetops Adventure, a decent collection of First Nations totem poles, rain forest ecotours, gardens, nature trails and the new cliff walk which lets you climb on the outside of a cliff along a slim cable suspension bridge.

The FREE Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

As an alternative to the pricey Capilano Suspension bridge, we like to visit the free Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge. The lesser known (and free!) Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver’s Lynn Canyon Park is a solid alternative to the Capilano bridge and has some pretty pathways that cross the bridge and lead down to natural pools and waterfalls.

Granville Island

Granville Island, in Vancouver’s downtown district, is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Both kids and adults usually love a visit.

The main attraction here is the bustling Granville Island public market, full of fresh fruit and veggies, pastries and breads, specialty coffee, ethnic specialty cuisine, and artisan handicrafts. There are also almost 300 stores on Granville Island itself.

As well as the shops, there’s almost always some sort of show being performed on Granville Island. Whether that’s buskers blowing enormous water bubbles for the kids, musicians playing everything from bongos to reed instruments to banjos to dance troupes performing acrobatic stunts, there’s always something there to entertain the kids.

Vancouver Foodie Tours The Best of what to see do and eat in Vancouver British Columbia

Granville Island is surrounded by lovely views of the waters of False Creek and the Burrard Street Bridge. There are marinas and boats all along the shore front here. Also, be sure to take some time to walk by the floating water homes just east of the public market.

Getting to Granville Island

You can either cross the Granville Island bridge on car or on foot (it’s a very long walk by foot) however parking is very limited on Granville Island. As such, most people take an Aquabus Ferry to get there.

The kids will also love cruising around False Creek on the Granville Island Ferries, which runs a fleet of adorable, mini ferries that buzz back and forth between small docks around False Creek and Granville Island. It’s also the easiest way to get to Granville Island if you’re walking in from downtown.

Aquabus at Granville Island Vancouver

The Kids’ Market

Be sure to check out the kid’s market on Granville Island! It’s housed in a large, yellow building, and packed with toy shops and a busy play area. Your kids will love it, but your wallet probably won’t so take that as you will.

The Granville Island Water Park

Despite Granville Island’s small size, they’ve managed to build the largest free water park in North America. It’s open all summer and is a great place to chow down on all the goodies you picked up at the public market.

Kitsilano Beach

Located right downtown, Kitsilano beach is a long swath of soft, gold sand that peeks out over beautiful English Bay.

There’s plenty of fun to be had here resting on huge logs along the beaches, beachcombing for shells and playing in the golden sand. There’s also a playground right there with park benches for the parents and beach volleyball nets set up, ten tennis courts, as well as basketball courts.

Vanier Park

Kitsilano Beach, or Kits Beach as the locals call it, is next to expansive, leafy Vanier Park, which is home to the Museum of Vancouver, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the City of Vancouver Archives, and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre. There’s plenty of grass and space here, making it perfect for a relaxing day under the trees. If you visit during summer, check to see if the International Children’s Festival is happening in the park which is a popular festival for kids every summer.

English Bay from Vanier Park Vancouver

English Bay from Vanier Park Vancouver

Kitsilano Pool

You’ve likely seen photos of this outdoor, heated salt water pool with city and mountains in the background. It’s only open in the summer, and there’s a place for little kids in the shallows.

Cuddle cats at the Catfe

Catfe is Vancouver’s first cat cafe, featuring adoptable cats from the BC SPCA! Animal loving kids will adore a visit here, but since it’s hugely popular, make sure to make an online reservation as soon as you can since it’s usually booked up days in advance.

Catfe Vancouver

Saving money on your trip to Vancouver

Vancouver’s beautiful and fun, sure, but it can also be a bit pricey. Here’s little list of ways to save some cash in Vancouver.

Attractions near UBC

During our last visit to Vancouver, we stayed on the UBC (University of British Columbia) Campus, at the lovely West Coast Suites at UBC. If you’re looking for a quieter pace, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Museum of Anthropology (MOA) and the Greenheart TreeWalk at the UBC Botanical Garden may be just the ticket.

Tip! If you’re planning to visit several UBC attractions, look into the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass. You can buy adult, concession (senior, youth or student) or family passes. The pass gives you admission to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA), the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, Nitobe Memorial Garden and the UBC Botanical Garden. It also gives discounts on food, books, clothing and the fun Canopy Treewalk.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

An enormous blue whale skeleton is the first thing you’ll notice at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Inside, we were fascinated by a dated, but interesting, documentary on how the blue whale skeleton was found, unearthed, and installed. The vault-like downstairs houses more than two million specimens of plants, marine invertebrates, insects, fish, vertebrates, fungi, and fossils. Kids with a naturalist or scientific bent will love this place.

Beaty Biodiversity Museum

Greenheart TreeWalk and the UBC Botanical Garden

Our kids had a blast tearing along this 310 metre (1,000 foot) long canopy walkway. It’s not as tall or scary as the Capilano or Lynn Canyon Suspension bridges, but the multiple walkways make it a lot of fun for kids. At its tallest, it’s almost 20 metres (65 feet) above the forest floor.

Tip! The Greenheart TreeWalk is not included in the UBC Museums and Gardens Pass, but the pass offers a 10% discount on the treewalk.

The Greenheart TreeWalk is in the larger UBC Botanical Garden, which covers about 110 acres (44 hectares) and has over 8,000 different plants. We loved the long, winding trails through big, shady trees, as it gave the kids (and us!) a chance to burn off some energy.

Greenheart TreeWalk at UBC Botanical Gardens

Museum of Anthropology (MOA)

If your kids are a little older, they may appreciate the beautiful Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Inside, there are stunning displays of First Nations totem poles plus 38,000 ethnographic objects, as well as 535,000 archaeological objects. The MOA building, designed by famed architect Arthur Erickson, is a gem in itself.

Museum of Anthropology Vancouver

The best family accommodation in Vancouver

Deciding where to stay in Vancouver with a family can be a bit tricky. All of the accommodation downtown can be a bit pricier, but it’s a good choice if you want to be near the city’s main attractions. We’ve picked our favorite downtown hotels, an excellent choice just out of the center, as well as a great airport hotel, and our best value option out of the downtown.

The Perfect Location – Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

A couple of years ago, our little family stayed at the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver for two very happy days.

It’s a gorgeous hotel in a perfect location downtown across from Canada Place, and it caters perfectly to families. Our kids loved sitting in the room looking out over the harbor to watch float planes land and take off, and cruise ships like the Disney Wonder dock. Rooms are modern and beautiful, with plenty of room for little ones to run about, and it has every amenity you would want, from a heated outdoor pool to a spacious gym to quality dining downstairs. There’s even a rooftop herb garden and beehives that you can visit!

See prices and availability.

Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver

The relaxed family hotel – West Coast Suites UBC

Don’t get me wrong, we love Vancouver’s downtown. It’s interesting and vibrant, with plenty to do and see. However, downtown’s not always a kid friendly place. When the kids were a bit younger, we were in town for a wedding, and got a hotel a close to Granville Street. On the way back to the hotel from the reception, with our then nine and six year olds in tow, we had to dodge a lot of drunk and rowdy folks so choose your place accordingly.

Needless to say, we were up for a hotel that was a bit more relaxed the next time we visited the city.

West Coast Suites at UBC was a perfect choice, with its location out of the downtown core, and surrounded by quiet grounds. Driving to the hotel, you’ll see the spacious UBC campus to one side, and get peeks of British Columbia’s stunning Pacific Coast on the other.

All of the rooms at West Coast Suites at UBC are one bedroom units with a full kitchen and a pull-out Queen bed for the kids. You can read more about our West Coast Suites stay here.

See prices and availability.

West Coast Suites UBC living area

West Coast Suites UBC living area

The airport choice – Fairmont Vancouver Airport In-Terminal Hotel

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport In-Terminal Hotel is Vancouver’s only in-terminal airport hotel. It gets great ratings, and might be worth the splurge if you’re looking for a little luxury at the airport. There’s a surcharge for WiFi.

See prices and availability here.

The budget downtown option

If you’re looking for a budget hotel in the heart of downtown, Robson Suites and Sunset Inn and Suites both get good reviews.

We haven’t stayed in either because they’re always infuriatingly fully booked far in advance, but they’re both smaller boutique hotels that should run you close to, or under, $120 a night for a double room. Both hotels include free WiFi, but Robson Suites is closer to Stanley Park (but doesn’t include breakfast, though rooms have a kitchen or kitchenette), while Sunset Inn is right next to Stanley Park (and includes breakfast in the rate).

See Robson Suites availability.

Check Sunset Inn and Suites availability.

A bit of a drive, but great value – Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Riverport Richmond

If you’re up for taking the SkyTrain or driving into downtown Vancouver, and want to save a few $$, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites Riverport Richmond is an affordable, clean option. We stayed here for a few days a few years ago, and would stay again. It’s a pretty standard chain hotel, but clean and new, with free breakfast, free airport shuttle, fast, free WiFi, and a pool and hot tub.

See prices and availability here.

The Hidden Gem – The hotel on Granville Island

Granville Island Hotel is one of Vancouver’s less known gems. It’s a boutique hotel located right on Granville Island, overlooking the water, and gets great reviews.

Check prices and reviews here.


As a family, we love staying in Airbnb properties. We always rent a condo or house, which gives us a kitchen, more bedrooms, and often an extra bathroom. The price you’ll pay varies on location and size, but a small private studio starts at around $60/night downtown, while a private two bedroom starts at around $100.

Create a new account using this link, and get $35 USD in Airbnb credits the first time you use them. (We get a credit, too).

Vancouver fun with kids

How to get around Vancouver as a family

Whether you drive, grab the efficient Skytrain, or take a scenic SeaBus, there are plenty of transportation options for families in Vancouver.

SeaBus to North Vancouver

This is relaxing, affordable ride across Burrard Inlet, and gives you a lovely view of Stanley Park, the Lions Gate bridge, and mountains on the distance. Kids will love watching float planes land and watching the other boats on the water.


Vancouver public transit includes the SeaBus (above). To get to Vancouver Island or the other off coast islands, you can take a ferry with BC Ferries.

Granville Island has its own ferry company, Granville Island Ferries, with a fleet of adorable, mini ferries that buzz back and forth between small docks around False Creek and Granville Island.

Hop-on, Hop-off Sightseeing

We haven’t had a chance to take the hop-on, hop-off trolley downtown, but our kids’ eyes light up every time they see it drive by. I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit!

Wee ones are thrilled to see Vancouver from an old-fashioned trolley or an open-air bus. With fully narrated tours, Vancouver’s hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tours give a great overview of the city, along with giving families the flexibility to make stops whenever suits them. Hop off to explore all the downtown attractions, then hop back on again to continue to the next exciting destination.

Vancouver Downtown Vancouver Trolley Hop on Hop off Tour


Driving around downtown Vancouver is certainly possible, and we’ve done it many times. As long as you’re not visiting during a major event, there are usually enough parkades to handle the traffic. Just be warned: traffic can get highly congested during rush hour or if there’s an accident. Parking is also one of the most expensive in Canada and runs $10 to $30 a day in downtown Vancouver, depending on your location.


Most visitors to Vancouver take advantage of the Skytrain service around the city. The system is quick, efficient (trains leave the downtown stations every two to five minutes) and covers most of the city. You can take the Skytrain out to the suburbs, and scenic Westminster Quay on the way to (not so scenic) Surrey.

Public transit

Aside from the ubiquitious Skytrain, Vancouver has a large fleet of buses that cover most of the city and are a great option if you’re staying at UBC.

Uber and Lyft

As of January 2018, ride sharing apps like Uber or Lyft aren’t available in British Columbia, but there are suggestions that may change soon.

Have you visited Vancouver with kids? What were your favorite Vancouver attractions for the family?

Things to do in Vancouver with Kids We travel to Vancouver several times a year with the family. There's always so much to do, including walking or biking the seawall, having fun at the aquarium or hiking through Stanley Park | Vancouver Travel | Vancouver BC Canada | Vancouver with kids | Vancouver with Family #Vancouver #BC #travel Things to do in Vancouver with Kids There are hundreds of things to do in Vancouver with the kids, from indoor fun like the Vancouver Aquarium, to outdoor adventure by the ocean, to thrill seeking fun on the Lynn Canyon or Capilano suspension bridge. | Vancouver Travel | Vancouver BC Canada | Vancouver with kids | Vancouver with Family #Vancouver #BC #travel ]]> 1
Marival Residences Luxury Resort Review: Family Friendly Luxury Tue, 28 Nov 2017 18:00:00 +0000 marival sponsored disclosure

Last year, I was lucky enough to spend a few days at the Marival Residences Luxury Resort in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit. So, this year, when Marival invited the whole family along to check out their Family Emotion Program we were happy to join in.

When you need a break, sometimes an all inclusive hotel is the perfect choice. Winter was creeping in on us in Canada, and the idea of a stress-free vacation somewhere with a long stretch of beach and some nice warm swimming pools sounded like exactly what we needed.


Why a special family program? If you’ve ever traveled with kids, you know that it’s a completely different experience than traveling alone or as a couple. Days of lounging on the beach and partying the night away are long gone, and replaced by playtime in the sand and mid-afternoon naps (it’s not all bad).

How much does it cost? Click here to find out.

The Family Emotion Program at Marival does a really good job of figuring out what parents and kids want. There are plenty of fun activities, a concierge to help organize your trip, and goodies for both the parents and the kids!

The Marival Family Emotion program

Marival’s all-inclusive Family Emotion program is just for families. It includes a ton of goodies, all which are customized for your family’s needs. I’m pretty sure they thought of absolutely everything!

Family concierge service

I think the very best part of the program is that each family gets a family concierge to help with their stay. Our Family Emotion concierge, Raquel, was absolutely wonderful. She was attentive to us (but never intrusive), and always helpful and welcoming. We had absolutely first class service from her – as good as any hotel we’ve ever stayed in.

Welcome basket

Inside our room, we found a welcome basket of healthy and sweet snacks. With hungry kiddos, this was the perfect welcome!

snack basket at hotel

A stocked mini-bar with family goodies

Our full size fridge came stocked with soda, beer, juice, yogurt and chocolate milk! Even better, it was refilled every day and we could request just about anything from the resort.

Marival suite kitchen fridge

Nanny Service!

Yes, you heard me right: up to eight hours of child care is included during your stay (conditions apply). That means that if you want to go out together for anything from a special meal to a few hours at the spa you can knowing your children are in good hands.

Kids Club

Every day from 9 am to 5 pm, you have the option of dropping your kids off at the kids club. They can play video games, do crafts, and have a lot of fun while you enjoy a few kid free hours.

Gifts for the kids!

There was an adorable bath basket in the kid’s bathroom, waiting for each child. This included some tub toys and some special child friendly bath products.

kid's gift basket

Pampering for Mom

Our room came with a gorgeous basket of high end L’Occitane pampering essentials for Mom, and a gift certificate for the on-site spa (more on that later!)

moms gift basket

Beach essentials and toys

In our suite, we also found a bag filled with sunscreen and beach essentials, plus a family menu to help us select from a broad choice of beach and pool toys, as well as other vacation essentials. Once you’ve selected from the list, pass the form back to the Family Emotion concierge and they’ll deliver everything right to your room.

Family picnic

One of the great Family Emotion options at Marival Residences is that you can order a fully prepared picnic for wherever you like. You can have it delivered to the beach or by the pool. We had ours dropped off in our room to enjoy beside our semi private demi pool. The chocolate cake dessert where a huge hit with the kids and we enjoyed the mountain of guacamole they included in our specially made picnic basket.Our Marival Family Emotion picnic

In Room Family fun!

When we ventured out on our own, our kids adored the free Xbox console and game rental they provided. There are also DVD players, movies, electronics, water toys and more available via the Family Emotion program.

Outdoor family fun!

As well as the kid pool and the always entertaining splash pad, Marival Residences also has a playground area and they even rent out free bikes so you and the family can go for a family excursion. The best news, a few of them are 3 seaters so even the littlest riders don’t get left behind.

A family photo shoot

I couldn’t remember the last time that we had a family photo shoot!

The Family Emotion Program comes with a professional photo shoot, with a photo album and CD, plus a gift card to develop prints when you’re back home.

We were very happy with our family photo session. The sky was a little cloudy however the photos turned out beautifully and the photographer was fun to work with.

a photo from our family photo session

Included Tours and fun!

The Family Emotion package comes with a free off site activity for every person, as well as a free second family tour.

There are numerous options to choose from so went zip lining as a family, and also had a blast driving on a little RAZR off road vehicle over a giant swinging suspension bridge.

RAZR car over the river

Want to learn more? Check out our article on what to do in the Riviera Nayarit, with 23 wonderful experiences, from visiting the bustling surfing town of Sayulita, to checking out the idyllic vibe of San Pancho, to snorkeling the aquamarine waters off Marietas Islands (where you can see birds like blue-footed boobies of Galapagos Islands fame).

Zip lining fun


Our room at Marival Residences

Our two bedroom Family Emotion suite with a semi private demi-pool was a whopping 1,711 square feet. That’s huge!

When we walked into the nicely air conditioned space, we saw a modern open-plan living space with a full kitchen, dining area and a living room with a large flatscreen TV.

The two bedrooms each had a private en-suite bathroom, plus each had a flatscreen TV. Our master bedroom had a lovely deep bath and King-size bed, while the kid’s room had two double beds.

Marival master bedroom

We even had our own private washer and dryer, plus our ground floor suite had outdoor lounge chairs by the pool as well as a patio table and chairs.

Marival bedroom

The kiddos loved the fridge filled with drinks, and the fruit and snack basket. Anyone with kids knows they get hungry at the most inconvenient times so that was a huge plus when the kiddos were feeling peckish.

Marival kitchen

What about maid service? Yep, it’s included. Our daily cleaning service was always on time, and did a great job. They also provide turn down service complete with tasty little snacks like chocolate or cookies.

All of the Family Emotion accommodation is in two or three bedroom suites, with the option of an ocean view, a demi-pool, a penthouse suite, or even a three bedroom private villa.

In our demi pool ...

In our heated demi pool …

The Hotel

There’s definitely something wonderful about an all-inclusive, no worries vacation. Once we donned our cool, braided bracelets from the Marival Residences Luxury Resort, we could eat and drink all we wanted. Not only could we enjoy all of the facilities at our resort, we also had access to the nearby Marival Resort’s facilities and restaurants.

This is a great deal, as you essentially get two resorts facilities for the price of one. The Marival Resort sister hotel is just five minutes away. There’s a free shuttle that runs every 15 minutes from the main lobby and the Marival Resort also has a special area devoted just to the Marival Residences as well as the rest of the resort.

WiFi: There’s WiFi Internet access throughout Marival Residences Luxury Resort. I had great luck with my connection, which rarely dropped, and worked reliably in my room and all throughout the resort. That said, if you find your internet connection to be slow, ask for an upgrade, as they do have faster speeds available.

The Food at Marival Residences

In general, we found the food quality well above what we’ve had at a typical all inclusive in Mexico.

The all inclusive program includes all snacks, breakfast, lunch, drinks and a la carte dinner specialties, plus national and international brand drinks.

There are five restaurants on site, plus the VIP beach club, room service and poolside service, in addition to six restaurants at the sister resort, Marival Resort & Suites.

As vegetarians, the kids and I were very happy. There were always vegetarian options available, which is wonderful, because we often have a difficult time at resorts!

There’s really not much bad to say about the food here, but we’d love to see a few more family friendly menu items always available at the hotel, like pasta or pizza. Since the menu for the Lemmon Grass was a set menu, there wasn’t a lot for kids there. When we went inside to Omaggio, the theme night was Asian, and like many US and Canadian kids, ours don’t love Asian foods. When we went upstairs to Insu, we found a few items that the kids loved, but it would be nice if the main restaurant, Omaggio, always had a few kids’ items available, or a separate kids menu.

Room Service!

Room service is included with the all-inclusive package at Marival, though you do pay a 10% surcharge. Being able to get room service 24 hours a day, seven days a week was one of my favorite parts of staying at the Marival Residences. The kids loved it too!

We had great luck with room service, as it came quickly and everything was the correct temperature and quite tasty. Our room was close to the main lobby, so that may have made it especially fast. Their breakfasts were especially tasty.

Insu Sky Lounge

Insu was my favorite restaurant at Marival Residences Luxury Resort. It’s located in the penthouse of the main building, above the lobby, with an impressive view overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Menu items are all bite size to share, and we all found everything to be delicious. My kids adored the bite sized Caesar salad and especially the grilled cheese while Charles raved about their great sliders.


The largest restaurant at Marival Residences is Omaggio. The menu is huge, with a great selection, and it offers a themed evening menu for each day of the week.

Lemmon Grass

Located outdoors, Lemmon Grass is a casual and elegant poolside restaurant. It has a set menu at night however the menu varies by day.

Lemmon Grass Restaurant Marival Residences

Grill al Fresco

Grill al Fresco is outside by the pool, and has plenty of dishes for breakfast, including Mexican delights, an omelette station, and a selection of fruits, juice and pastries. At night the Grill al Fresco transforms into a barbecue.

Brunello Lobby Wine Bar

Brunello Lobby Wine Bar is a lovely, intimate spot to enjoy tapas and a glass of wine (some wines are not included in the all-inclusive plan).

Poolside snack service

If you’re in the mood for a snack by the pool, just wave over a server, and they’ll bring you snacks and drinks poolside. Our family can wholeheartedly recommend the chips and dip as well as the fries. The guacamole everywhere in the hotel is extraordinary!

Mozzamare Beach Club

The brand new, ocean side Mozzamare Beach Club serves up (my favorite!) tasty guacamole and chips, fresh seafood as well as gourmet dishes and beverages. They were still partly under construction when we were there however the area was already looking gorgeous and, judging by all the smiling people, a huge hit with the crowds.

Mozzamare beach club

Mozzamare Beach Experience

There’s beach access, a Palapa Restaurant and another gorgeous pool here, and this beach section is only a few minutes walk from the main area, conveniently on site at the Marival Residences Luxury Resort. Charles and Cole both grabbed a free boogie board and enjoyed the waves while we all enjoyed watching dolphins jumping out of the water in front of us. The Mozzamare beach club is new this year, and it’s a fantastic addition from my trip last year.

We also enjoyed a special night time celebration at the Mozzamare Restaurant and think that it would be the perfect location for an outdoor wedding!

Food at the sister Marival Resort

Guests of the Marival Luxury Residences can also eat at the sister hotel, the Marival Resort. The Marival Resort has several restaurants, including La Pergola (the large buffet restaurant), Piazzetta del Forni (thin crust pizza), Las Palmas (Mexican cuisine), La Palapa and Miramar Bars, La Bamba Rodizio, and Amalfi (Italian).

The Melange World Spa

If you’re a spa lover, then the onsite Melange World Spa is for you. The spa treatments and decorations are based on therapies from around the world so if you love choices, then this is the spa for you!

At Melange, you can enjoy a specialized World Spa Experience from Mexico, Italy, Japan, Turkey, Russia, Bali, India, Thailand, or the USA. Each spa is unique, and based on the spa history and culture for which it’s named.

Italy Spa at Melange World Spa Marival Luxury Resort and Residences

Italy Vendimia Wine Experience

We had a wonderful time with the family spa package. Both of our kiddos (aged eight and twelve), enjoyed a facial and massage with us. I think that our daughter may have found one of her new favorite things to do on vacation.

Our little girl enjoying a chocolate facial

Our little girl enjoying a chocolate facial

If you’re interested in a few of the other World Spa experiences, these two definitely stand out as all around faves:

The Italy Vendimia Wine Experience starts with a wine therapy bath in an original wooden winebarrel, where you enjoy a wine tasting, followed by a full body relaxing massage.

The India Shirodhara Spa Experience includes a Shirodhara treatment with herbal oil that is poured in a steady stream onto your third eye, and a gentle scalp massage to help relax the nervous system. All of this is done on a traditional wooden table (with padding to make it comfortable) that was imported from India. Following the oil treatment, there’s an Abhyanga therapy whole body massage with warm herbal oils, followed by a steaming hot water bath in a luxurious copper tub.

Melange World Spa India Shirodhara Experience

India Shirodhara Spa Experience

All of the spa treatments are uniquely customized to the area of the world where they originated. For instance, the Mexico Agave treatment (which I enjoyed last time) featured a facial and body wrap with the native agave plant, cacao, honey, aloe vera, and Mayan mud, with a facial and body exfoliation and a light body massage. There’s also a specialized couples massage, or a men’s wellness & renewal treatment.

Melange World Spa Couples Massage room.jpg

Couples Massage

Melange also offers traditional spa treatments, including facials as well as hand and foot treatments.

Marival Residences Family Emotion

The beach in nearby Sayulita

Where is Riviera Nayarit?

The Riviera Nayarit, which includes Nuevo Vallarta, is the northern neighbor of well-known Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s ruggedly beautiful Pacific Coast. The Puerto Vallarta airport actually serves both areas and is actually closer to Marival Residences (around 15 minutes) in Nayarit than some of the downtown hotels on the Jalisco state side.

The bottom line

Like many Canadians, we’ve been to many all-inclusive resorts, and we’ve visited Mexico many times over the years.

The Family Emotion Program at the Marival Residences Luxury Resort was, hands down, one of the very best family programs we’ve ever enjoyed. It’s a perfect place to visit for a stress-free, relaxing holiday with the kids!

Want to book? Just head over to the Marival website to book directly with the hotel.

We even have a great deal for you with the Marival 100 Free Extra Ahhs promotion.

You can get a $100 Spa Credit to relax and celebrate the brand new Marival Residences Beach World! There’s a 5 night minimum stay.

You need to know:

Hotel: Marival Residences Luxury Resort

Where to book? You can book directly with the hotel.

Online Reviews: TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

Address: Av. Paseo Cocoteros Lt 53 Villa 8, 63732 Nuevo Vallarta, Nay., Mexico

Location: Half-hour drive from downtown Puerto Vallarta

Nearest Airport: 15 minute drive from Puerta Vallarta’s PVR airport, the Licenciado Gustavo Díaz Ordaz International Airport

Phone: +52 322 226 9740

This trip was in partnership with Marival Residences Luxury Resort and the Riviera Nayarit tourism board.

Riviera Nayarit All Inclusive Family Luxury Hotel Riviera Nayarit All Inclusive hotel ]]> 0
Top 10 Things to do in Athens Greece with Kids Fri, 17 Nov 2017 21:49:52 +0000 Today we have a guest post from Chrysoula Manika. She is a fellow travel blogger and tourism professional based in Athens, Greece, so she definitely knows a few things about what to do in Athens with kids. Enjoy!

With perfect weather, good family hotels and many activities for children, Greece and its capital are a great destination for family holidays. In summer, a city visit to Athens can be combined with the beaches along the Athenian Riviera or the islands nearby.

Athens in August is almost empty as most Greeks go to the islands for their holidays. In winter time, Athens is an ideal destination for a weekend escape or city break. So take the kids, put on some comfortable shoes and explore one of the oldest cities in the world.

Things to do in Athens Greece with Kids

Looking for some family fun? Here are the 10 things to do in Athens, Greece with kids:

Climb up the Acropolis

On top of the list and a definite must see when visiting Athens with your family is the Acropolis. Travel back to ancient Athens and show your kids the birthplace of democracy. If you enter the Acropolis archaeological site from the main entrance, you will see not only the world-famous Parthenon but also the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes. The Acropolis is suitable for children starting from 3-4 years old; it is not easy to use strollers inside the site. 

Visit the New Acropolis Museum

Combine your visit to the Acropolis rock with the exhibits in its nearby museum. The impressive New Acropolis Museum offers family back packs with educational games and organises family tours. A family-friendly restaurant, a kids’ reading corner and a Lego model of the Acropolis guarantee a fun family day visit.

Take a Mythology Tour

Do your kids love mythology? Then a specialised interactive family tour around the ancient monuments of Athens is a great way to explore the city and its history. Under the guidance of a dedicated educator, your kids can become actors in the ancient Theatre of Dionysus, picnic in between the olive trees, search for goddess Athena inside the museums or draw like an ancient architect at the Parthenon. These tours are suitable for children from 5 years old.  

Ride the Athens Happy Train

Are the kids tired of walking around or do they just love Thomas the Train? The little red or green toy-like street Athens Happy Train makes a 40 – minute tour in the historical centre of Athens and the most famous ancient sites and monuments. You can hop-on-hop-off from different points in the city and see Athens as you please at your own pace.

Coffee and snack at the Little KooK cafe

No other place in Athens appeals more to kids than this fairy tale themed cafe in Psiri neighbourhood. Little KooK transfers your family to fantasyland and is amazingly styled around Halloween and Christmas. Enjoy delicious cakes and (savoury) crepes in a fairytale setting and don’t forget to wander around the beautifully decorated streets in hip Psiri.

Admire amazing views from Mount Lycabettus

A unique experience for all kids and adults is the cable car that goes up Mount Lycabettus. There are also telescopes guaranteeing views as far the island of Aegina. Buy an ice cream at the cafe on top and enjoy a panorama over the city.

Syntagma Square and the Parliament

All children will love feeding the pigeons and watch the impressive changing of the guards at the central square of Athens. These ‘Evzones’ are members of the Presidential Guards wearing traditional Greek outfits. They stay completely still next to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Parliament building until the moment that they can move for the change of the guards.

Get lost in the National Gardens of Athens

For a picnic or an escape from the summer heat, go to the National Gardens or Royal Gardens right next to the Parliament Building. A very stroller friendly place that is also suitable for kids of all ages. Inside the National Gardens, you will find a small zoo with farm animals, a turtle pond, a large shaded playground, lots of grass areas for babies to play on and a section with botanical gardens.

Discover Street Art

Travelling with teenagers and tired of ancient monuments? Athens has a blossoming street art scene. Many hip neighbourhoods have transformed into an open art gallery with stunning graffiti that places the city into the top places to see street art around the world. Several tour companies offer guided Street Art Tours.

Taste a traditional Greek sweet

Buy a ‘koulouri’ from one of the street vendors on Syntagma square. Young kids will love nibbling on this healthy large bread-ring with sesame seeds. And don’t miss a chance to try ‘loukoumades’, a small Greek doughnut covered with honey. You can find them in any bakery or ‘loukoumades’ shop.

Athens for the family

Athens is a fabulous place for a family vacation or a weekend trip with kids. It is a safe city to visit with an excellent public metro system, many hotel options, lots of sun and warm winters. Your family will enjoy being outdoors surrounded by historical monuments, good family food choices and easy to visit activities.

Chrysoula Manika bio:

Chrysoula Manika is a travel blogger and tourism professional based in Athens, Greece. She writes in both English and French for Travel Passionate, her blog focusing on luxury travel around Europe. She’s traveled extensively throughout Europe for the past 25 years and has no intention of slowing down. She loves to explore the local culture and gastronomy of the places she visits.

Things to do in Athens Greece with kids as a family things to do in Athens Greece with Kids ]]> 0
13 Expert Tips for Family Travel on a Budget Tue, 17 Oct 2017 17:00:00 +0000 Whether you’re throwing the kids in the minivan and heading out to see the Grand Canyon, or jumping on a jet and heading to Paris for some croissants and a tour of the Eiffel Tower, the truth is, it can cost a lot more when you travel with kids.

Before we traveled with our kids, we just had to worry about airfare for the two of us, and hotel rooms that would fit a couple. Today, our airfare costs are now times four instead of two and while we’re gone, we also need more room for the kids to sleep. Plus, we need more reliable access to laundry since kids are messy.

In hot countries, we also find that the kids are a lot more susceptible to extreme heat and humidity, so we often use air conditioning to keep them happy and comfortable. All of that adds up to spending more on family trips than when traveling as a couple.

Despite the extra cost and logistics, we love to travel with our kids, and we’ve traveled with them to every continent except Antarctica.

Kids on the Beach in Cancun at Chokmal

No, we definitely didn’t win the lottery, and we don’t have a huge trust fund. We can travel with our kids because we’ve discovered ways to save money on family vacations that lets our dollar go farther and last longer.

So whether you’re staying someplace for a day or a week, here are some tips for saving money when traveling with kids.

Stay Longer

Yikes, that doesn’t seem to make sense, now does it?

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter family with the frog choir show

At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

However, we’ve found that that the longer a trip lasts, the lower the per day cost.

The reason for this is simple. When you have more time, you have time to do things differently. Instead of renting a car or taking expensive tours, you can can jump on a bus and see something on your own. You can slow your schedule down to see what you want to see, exactly how you want to see it.

Expert tip: Condo and house rentals can be less expensive the longer you stay. On sites like Airbnb and VRBO, we’re found time and time again that we’ve been able to rent a condo for two weeks for the same prices as for a full month. We’ve found this to be true for rentals we’ve booked in Spain, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico, among other places. Get $35 off your first Airbnb rental with this link.

Bonus: Longer vacation.

Con: Figuring out a way to get extra time off work and potential lost income (though you’d be surprised how much time you can get if you ask and make sure it’s not your companies busiest time of the year).

Travel Farther

We realized long ago that there’s a cost to living no matter where you hang your hat at night. It’s just that there are many places where you can live much cheaper than in North America.

Tamarindo Beach Costa Rica

The beach in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

So while it might be tempting to jump in the car and tour a few States or Provinces over, jumping on a plane and heading someplace different might end up costing you less. This is especially true if you do some of your own cooking while you travel.

Bonus: Wine in Southern Europe is $2 a bottle

Con: Getting out of your comfort zone (but maybe this is actually a plus!)

Eat in

Now eating in on holiday doesn’t sound appealing, but the reality of eating out with kids everyday for a week or two is enough to deter even the hardiest of family traveler.

Blooming onion snacks Victoria House Belize

Let’s face it, kids can be temperamental and fussy at times, and making sure they’re always on their best behavior can get tiring awfully quickly. I wish I could say our kids ate everything we set in front of them, but that’s not the case. We have days where the kids both turn up their noses if the mac and cheese is simply the wrong consistency.

My suggestion? Eat breakfast in your room before heading out and eat every third supper in. Keep it simple, with a bowl of cereal and fruit for breakfast and make your simplest (yet favorite) supper. The kids will enjoy the comfort of home and you still get to eat out most nights on your trip.

There’s one surprising bonus to this – you get to shop at your destination. It can be a lot of fun to browse markets and find new foods and products all over the world!

Bonus: The kids will have more energy for the day if they can eat and then play while you get the day’s activities ready.

Con: You have to buy groceries and cook (though we love browsing in different grocery stores around the world since it gives us a great understanding of popular dishes and eating styles).

Snack time

It doesn’t matter if they’re two or ten, kids have smaller stomachs and need to eat more often than adults. Instead of wasting the entire family’s time and money in a restaurant, pack snacks for on the go.

Vancouver Foodie Tours The Best of what to see do and eat in Vancouver British Columbia

Whether that means cutting up some local fruit to take with you, or a couple of packages of Handi-Snacks or squeeze applesauce packages, it’s up to you. The reality is that no one wants to deal with a hangry child, at home or on vacation, so take something with you whenever you go.

Bonus: Not having to stand in long lines for things you can buy at the corner store for a fraction of the price.

Con: Snack prep time (however checking out local fruit and snacks can be an adventure in itself).

Bundle and save

Just like shopping in bulk saves you money, buying attraction passes all at once can save a lot as well.

I’d love to say that we practice this ourselves, but we find that we travel too last minute, and like to leave our options open most of the time. That said, using multi-passes and city cards can save you a lot of money if you plan on visiting a lot of attractions.

Using a company that offers city tourist passes for multiple places all on one card not only saves you from standing in long lines (especially in summer) but if you’re an energetic family it allows you to save tons while getting to see some of the best sites a city offers. We like GoCity Cards and CityPASS cards, as they cover a lot of European and North American cities.

Get CityPASS deals here.

You can see GoCity passes here.

If you’re in the UK, be sure to check out PlusVoucherCode.

Bonus: Families can split up and visit different attractions depending on what their interests are.

Con: If you don’t visit enough attractions, these multi-passes aren’t a great value (though it does force you to get out and see more).

Family Discounts

Does your family size make the Brady Bunch look small? If so, many major attractions around the world have deals for large families.

We usually find that our family of four doesn’t get much of a deal, but if you have five or more in your family then the savings can add up quickly. If you’re a group of eight or 10 you can usually get group rates (sometimes even on airfare!) so if you’re traveling with another big family it’s worth looking into group savings.

Bonus: Renting a limousine or van for a big group is often cheaper than taking a bus.

Con: The logistics of group travel can be a challenge (though you might get to ride around in a limo!)

Kids stay or eat for free

This is one of our favorite discount tips for travel with kids!

Girl running down the dock at Victoria House Belize

Some parents don’t know that most hotels, even all-inclusive hotels, don’t charge for kids under 12. Sure, you might need to pay for their flights if you’re going somewhere far, but once you’re there, the kids may not cost you a dime. The same goes for restaurants, lots of restaurants offer free food for toddlers and even small children.

Bonus: Most resorts offer free kids clubs during the day that will occupy your kids while you relax by the pool and drink margaritas.

Con: Kids over 12 often don’t qualify. Our oldest just turned 12, and we’re feeling the pinch a bit (though he can now babysit so that’s a plus).

Rent a house

Sure, an all inclusive down in Cabo might sound divine, but you can likely stay twice as long if you stay in an Airbnb or VRBO house or condo.

You might have to do a little more cooking, but with the money you save you can hit some of the nicer restaurants. You’ll also have more space for a little extra privacy than a hotel room would offer and there will be more areas for the family to spread out so when you’re tired from your long day of adventures, everyone gets their own space to relax.

Bonus: You can even do your own laundry.

Con: You can do your own laundry (though at least you can rest assured it will come back and be in one piece when it’s done).

Kids fly free before age two

Want to sit on the beach in Bali or go visit family on the other side of the country, but the thought of three airplane tickets leaves you in a cold sweat?

In Old Havana, Cuba back in 2007, when Cole was just a baby. We may have changed a bit, but Havana hasn't.

In Old Havana, Cuba back in 2007, when Cole was just a baby.

If you have a child under age two, there’s good news, as nearly every airline offers free flights to kids under age two. Sure, they have to sit on your lap for the entire duration but chances are, at that age they’re going to anyway.

Bonus: Strollers and car seats aren’t included in your baggage restrictions.

Con: You’ll have a wiggly kid in your seat for the flight (though that might make your neighbor move to another seat giving you and your family the entire row).

Free museum days

Want to go check out the Gugenheim museum, but know your kids won’t last an hour?

Cole Reina Sofia Madrid

A kid’s take on art at the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid

The good news is that a lot of museums around the world, like Madrid Spain, have free museum days. Sure, they can be a little busy, but with that extra bit of saved cash you can afford that extra large mocha cappuccino. Just make sure you don’t take it into the museum, they frown on that.

Bonus: There are usually more kids on free days so if yours are a little hyper they’ll fit right in with the rest.

Con: Museum time with the kids (though there are some great children museums out there too).

Extra carry-ons

With the abundance of low cost airlines out there, you can save a pretty penny by sticking to a budget airline. Unfortunately, that low cost can get quickly eaten up if you have to pay for every bag you carry.

eBags Allura 22 hardside carry-on with brushed steel look and our kids at the airport

The good news is that every person, regardless of size, gets the same luggage allowance. That means that with many airlines, even budget airlines, your three year old is allowed a full size carry-on and a personal item. So instead of packing one massive bag for everyone, split your stuff up with a bag for each of you and get the kids to carry little backpacks with a few of their stuffies or toys so you don’t have to.

Don’t think you can manage carry-on only? Check out our post on how we travel carry-on only for a family of four.

Bonus: Smaller bags are lighter to carry, easier to throw in a trunk or boot and make looking for your kids socks much easier.

Con: If your kids are little, you’ll need to manage more little suitcases (though they will be lighter than a massive one and kids love pushing rolling suitcases around).

Bonus miles

Whether you generally fly with one airline or many, most companies won’t let you use your reward number for your kids flights.

It might sound like more work than you want to do, but if you fly with one airline more than the rest it makes sense to sign up each person in your family so they can start earning miles. Some miles can be spent on things like lounge passes and even on plane refreshments so they won’t go to waste.

Bonus: A lot of companies use the membership number to prefill your flight information when you go to book so you won’t need to enter everyone’s info every time you book a flight.

Con: The hassle of applying for, and managing, multiple rewards cards (sorry, no upside to this, it sucks but it’s worth it).

Bring your own car seats

This may sound like a no brainer, but if you’re flying somewhere and planning to rent a car once you’re there, you can save money by bringing your own child seat.

Road trip with the kitty cat

Car rental places often charge $7 to $15 a day for car seat rentals, so you can save a bundle if you’re renting for a while.

Pro tip! We used to buy car seats in foreign countries when the kids were young since it was less than half price to buy a brand new one than rent a beat up one for the week. We just gave them to other harried parents as we returned the car or left them in there. We even brought a few home and sold them since child seats fly free.

Bonus: You’re guaranteed to have a good seat if you bring your own.

Con: You need to lug the seat on the plane and to your hotel (though you can use some car seats in the plane to make the kids more comfortable).

Travel off-peak times

Yes, winter break, summer holidays and spring break make the most sense to take the kids on a cross country trip, however everyone else is also doing it. What that means is that prices are jacked way up, availability is limited, and you’ll face lineups everywhere you go.

Merida Peacock Feather Christmas Tree

Sometimes you make do with what you have… Cole and Jo with our peacock feather Christmas tree in Mexico

Instead, go a week before or a week after the holidays. You’ll get the same weather and the same experience, but with a fraction of the people and a fraction of the price. If you can, book travel before and after peak times.

Bonus: It’s easier to book time off from work in the shoulder seasons and you might be eligible to get double time if you’re the only one working over the holidays to help pay for the trip.

Con: You may have to pull the kids out of school for a few days.

Do you have any tips for saving money on a family vacation? Let us know! 

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LEGOLAND Florida Tips and Secrets to Save You Time and Money Mon, 25 Sep 2017 17:00:00 +0000

Earlier this year, we had a chance to team up with LEGOLAND Florida and checked out their amusement park and waterpark as a family. We’ve been huge LEGO fans for years, and we have the bins of LEGO pieces in our living room to prove it, so we were thrilled to visit!

While it’s not as big as the Universal or Disney parks in Orlando, there’s still a lot to see and do in LEGOLAND. It can be a bit confusing and overwheming, honestly, so we spent our time at the park looking for helpful tips and tricks to help when you visit LEGOLAND Florida. You’ll find everything in here, including the best rides and attractions, how to save money, where to stay, and where to eat in the park.

LEGOLAND Florida tips and secrets that will save you time money and trouble

Read on for our…

LEGOLAND Florida Tips and Secrets

How to Save Money

First, let’s get you the best deal we can for LEGOLAND. Generally, you’ll save money buying tickets online, rather than at the gate. Plus, you’ll avoid having to wait at the gate to buy tickets!

Undercover Tourist

If you’re looking for a great deal on park tickets, check out Undercover Tourist first, which offers a significant discount over gate admission. They also don’t charge sneaky delivery fees or extra taxes like some sites. Delivery is instant, as these are electronic tickets sent to you by email.

For example, when we looked, the Undercover Tourist price for adult 1 day park and waterpass admission was $95.91. At the gate, the price was $113.99.

See prices for a single day ticket.

See all discount LEGOLAND tickets on Undercover Tourist.

... the trusted name in attraction tickets

Get a Kids Go Free Coupon on Amazon

Check to see if you can pick up a kids go free coupon for LEGOLAND on Amazon here. They run around $18 (including shipping) for a coupon for Kids Go Free with a full price one day adult Ticket to Legoland Parks or Legoland Discovery Centers. Check the terms and conditions, but these can be a great deal if you’re booking ahead of time.

Go Orlando Card

If you’re looking at doing multiple other attractions in Orlando, a Go Orlando Card might save you a good chunk of money.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find passes that combined LEGOLAND with the other large parks at Disney and Universal, but there are some great combo deals for LEGOLAND and smaller Florida attractions.

Click here to save $10 & visit four attractions, including LEGOLAND Florida!

See the Go Orlando Card discounts here.

Groupon and Living Social

You never know when a good deal will pop up for LEGOLAND on Groupon or Living Social, so be sure to check before you go!

See deals here.

What to Bring

It’s pretty easy to spend the whole day at LEGOLAND, so pack accordingly.

  • Camera. We took most of our photos with our smartphone, but you may want to bring a waterproof camera for the waterpark.
  • Sunscreen. We like water resistant spray sunscreen.
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Jacket, if it’s cool
  • Comfortable shoes. The park is a lot smaller than Universal or Disney, but there’s still a lot of walking.
  • You can’t bring coolers, food and beverages into the park. However, there are exceptions for infants and if you have special medical needs. Bottled water is allowed. Alcohol is not allowed.
  • An emergency poncho (great for The Quest for CHI water ride, trust us). Get a 5 pack at Amazon for less than 2 on site.

LEGOLAND Tips and Tricks You Need to Know

LEGOLAND Florida is not open every day during the low season, so check hours and dates before you go.

If you adore LEGO, look at getting a two day pass, as it’s only about $10 more than going one day on the Undercover Tourist site. See 2 day pass pricing on Undercover Tourist.

Bring minfigures to trade. All LEGO employee wear minifigures on their name tags, and they’re happy to trade. Just don’t bring your rares though since most of fairly standard issue. There’s also a minifigures ambassador with hundreds of minifigures who’ll trade, if you can find them!


If it rains, indoor activities like LEGO Mindstorms, building a minifigure, the Imagination Zone and the LEGO NINJAGO ride will keep the kids busy.

There’s a lot of walking, so if you have young children consider bringing a stroller. You can rent strollers, but they’re first come, first serve with no reservations.

There’s no free WiFi in the park, unlike at larger parks like Universal Orlando.

LEGOLAND entrance family photo

Raising the roof at LEGOLAND

What age is best for kids at LEGOLAND Florida? The LEGOLAND best age for kids is probably under 12. Our son was 11 turning 12, and while he still enjoyed himself, I think he would have loved LEGOLAND even more when he was a little younger. That said, we saw plenty of teens and older adults having fun!

Wait times vary a lot, depending on weather, peak season, and even time of day. Almost all the rides had a sign at the front listing the current wait time, and we found them pretty accurate. If you have limited time or you’re visiting during peak days like Christmas, you can buy a Premium Play Band that offers front of the line access. You can buy it when you arrive on the day of your visit.

Is there a LEGOLAND Florida app? Nope. Unlike Universal or Disney, the LEGOLAND Florida Park doesn’t have an official app yet. We looked through the app store, and there are a few unofficial apps, but they got horrible reviews, so we decided to forgo the app. You really don’t need one, as the park is not overwhelmingly big, and we found the wait times and lines much more manageable than the larger Orlando Parks.

Best things to do at LEGOLAND Florida

There’s a lot of fun to be had at LEGOLAND, but these were our favorite rides and attractions.

Build your own LEGO character at the Minifigure Market

This was one of our kids absolute favorites of our LEGOLAND Florida secrets. Well, it’s not really a secret, it’s more of a don’t miss! At the minifigure market, the kids can build their own customized LEGO character.

It costs $9.99 to build a set of 3 mini figures, which includes 3 heads, 3 torsos, 3 legs, 3 headgears and 3 accessories, plus a handy holder to bring them home.

LEGOLAND Florida Minifigure Market


Make sure you try the Lego Ninjago ride!

It’s one of LEGOLAND’s newer rides, and a lot of fun! Lines were long when we passed it when we first entered the park, so we waited until the end to try it. Such a mistake! We only had time for one ride as it was closing on the way out, but we wish we’d gone on it several times. The good news is there wasn’t a single person in line in front of us so we just walked directly on.

To play, you put on 3D glasses, and practice your ninja moves while the computer records your movements.


Loved this ride! This is a snap of the scoreboard at the end.

The Quest for CHI

This ride was an absolute blast! It’s an interactive boat ride with water cannons, where you shoot bystanders and other boats with water guns. When we were there in March mid-week, the wait was only about five minutes.

You will get soaked! If you want your clothes to stay dry, LEGOLAND does sell ponchos for around $5.99 at different places around the park. If you want to save a few bucks, grab a poncho at a dollar store on the way or order one directly from Amazon before you go.

LEGOLAND Orlando The Quest for CHI

The Battle for Brickbeard’s Bounty

Full disclosure here: this about about as cheesy as they come. That said, we all had a lot of fun watching this live water show at the site of the old Cypress Gardens. As it’s set on the water, you’ll see lots of acrobatic water skiing with plenty of live LEGO action. We especially loved Miranda, the head of the Imperial Navy.

Just a note, though, if you’re in the front few rows you’ll likely get wet but the crew definitely gets the crowd going.

LEGOLAND The Battle for Brickbeards Bounty

Imagination Zone

The Imagination Zone was one of our kids’ favorites. There’s a lot to do here, including free play with a huge number of LEGOs. The kids loved the Flight Zone and Wheels Zone where you pick up parts to make your own flying or racing machine.

In the Imagination Zone, the kids can also build skyscrapers, virtually build water creatures, or even take a LEGO Mindstorms course. You have to sign up to take the course since it fills up every day so we decided to skip it to our son’s displeasure.

Imagination Zone car at LEGOLAND

Flying school

This looks like an upside down roller coaster, and gives you the feeling of flying through the air.

It’s especially lots of fun for the older kids (and us too). Our eleven year old son had a blast here, but our eight year old didn’t want to ride. The minimum rider height is 44 inches, and kids below 52 inches tall need to be accompanied by a responsible rider of this height or taller.

Flying school LEGOLAND

Dragon Coaster

We all tried the Dragon Coaster, and honestly had fun. It’s a smaller coaster, so don’t expect terrifying thrills and drops. There was only a 15 min wait when we went in March.

Attractions we didn’t love as much

In the LEGO Driving school, the kids go through driving instruction, and then drive around a track in a LEGO-themed mini car. This was really cute, but the driving portion only lasted about five minutes, and the line up took about half an hour.

Did you know there are LEGOLAND locations all over the world? You can visit LEGOLAND in Florida, California, Denmark, Dubai, Malaysia, England, Germany and more! There are also LEGOLAND Discovery Centers all across North America. See all LEGOLAND Discovery Center locations here.

Miniland USA is a large outside area dedicated to LEGO displays, most of them USA-based. It’s a pretty impressive display that takes up a good chunk of the park, with detailed recreations of scenes in LEGO miniature, like Daytona Speedway, Las Vegas, and the White House. While it’s cute and shows a lot of imagination and creativity, many of the scenes are fading and showing a little wear.

LEGOLAND Joust is ride where kids sit on the back of LEGO-themed horses that pretend to joust. It’s honestly an adorable ride, but our kids, at eight and eleven, were just too big to fully enjoy it. Little kids should love it.

LEGOLAND Royal Joust

Our 11 year old on the Royal Joust. Just look at that enthusiasm, lol. He perked up pretty quickly when we visited the Flight School, though.

Where to stay near LEGOLAND Florida

There’s a cute, new LEGOLAND hotel right outside the LEGOLAND front gates! This is our top pick if you’re visiting LEGOLAND in Florida.

That said, you have two options for staying at LEGOLAND: the LEGOLAND® Florida Resort and the LEGOLAND® Beach Retreat. Because we were based in Orlando, we didn’t get a chance to stay here during our visit, but they would have been our first choices for a hotel near LEGOLAND.

The bonus is that people staying at one of the LEGOLAND resorts get early access to LEGOLAND Park! That’s right. Hit the park before anyone else and then sneak out during the afternoon rush for a quick dip in the pool (or a nap) and then enjoy the park again until it closes.

The LEGOLAND® Florida Hotel

The Legoland Florida Resort is within walking distance of Legoland Florida Theme Park. Rooms are LEGO themed, and there are plenty of fun surprises for the kids!

More than two million LEGO bricks make up over 2,000 LEGO models throughout the hotel.

See prices and availability now.

LEGOLAND Florida Resort - Outside

The LEGOLAND® Beach Retreat

The LEGOLAND Beach Retreat is about half a mile from the park itself. It has 83 themed bungalows, each with its own whimsical LEGO décor inside and out. There’s a pool, a kid’s outside play area, and lots of fun activities for the kids.

Click to see prices and reviews

LEGOLAND Beach Retreat 

Holiday Inn Winter Haven

The Holiday Inn Winter Haven

This is a good family choice, with good reviews and a pool. It’s only about a nine minute drive to LEGOLAND Florida, and walking distance of Winter Haven Amtrak Station.

See prices and reviews.

Holiday Inn Winter Haven


When we travel, we often stay at an Airbnb, because it gives us a full kitchen and more room to run around. Since we were spending two days visiting the Universal Studios The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (check out our post on it here), we picked an airbnb closer to Universal, and we drove out to LEGOLAND for the day.

Click here to get a $35 credit on your first airbnb stay!

Where to eat at LEGOLAND Florida

There are plenty of places to eat at LEGOLAND. You probably won’t find five star dining here, and prices are generally on the expensive shade of reasonable (as are all theme parks), but we found the food to be decent.

Granny’s Apple Fries

We heard great things about Granny’s Apple Fries, so we tried them for our first snack. Honestly, they were good, but I don’t think they were as good as their reputation. The apples were a little sour for our taste.

They come with whipped cream, which is a huge plus. The combo with a drink was the best deal we saw, at $2 more.

Granny's apple fries

Fun Town Pizza and Pasta Buffet

FunTown Pizza and Pasta Buffet is a great alternative if you’re a big eater or absolutely starving. It’s all you can eat and drink. Prices are $9.99 for children plus tax, and $15.99 for adults plus tax and they include beverages.

Firehouse Ice cream

We were pretty much sold at ice cream. This is a great place for sundaes, floats and coffee.

Firehouse Ice Cream

Panini Grill

Looking for something healthy? We ate at Panini Grill for our main meal, and it was pretty good, especially for amusement park food. I’d give it a solid C+.

Our meal at Panini Grill ended up costing $45 for two adults and two kids. The $10 adult panini meal has an option of roast beef, ham and white cheddar, chicken Florentine, and the vegetarian panzanella. Drinks are extra. For kids, the $6.99 kids panini meal includes a drink, fruit and chips. Kids’ choices are ham and cheese, or ham only, or cheese only. There are free fountain drink refills so it’s a good place to quench your thirst. The Panini Grill is in the Imagination Zone.

There are also plenty of other food options at LEGOLAND Floride, including the Fried Chicken Restaurant, Castle Burger, Sunshine Sweets and more!

LEGOLAND water park

We were pretty tired after an almost full day of rides and attractions at LEGOLAND, so we almost skipped the water park. However, we decided to buckle up and spend an hour and a half here, and I’m glad we did. It’s a fun place to hang out.

We started by building a LEGO raft on the lazy river. The water was just a little too cool for us in March, but once we were in we had a blast. We ended up going around the lazy river three times.

After that, it was on to the wave park and water slides. Charles and Cole had a blast taking the tubes down the Twin Chasers tube slide and careening down the giant dual Splash Out slides while Jordan and I enjoyed the wave park.

Water Park at LEGOLAND Florida

Locker rental at the LEGOLAND waterpark

We didn’t want to wander around all day at the main park in our swimsuits, so I was happy to find out that you can rent lockers inside the LEGOLAND waterpark. We used them to stash our clothes and valuables while we were having fun in the water.

It’s $7 for a small, but the small truly tiny. It would work for a single person, or two people without much gear. A large is $10, and this was plenty big enough for clothes and shoes for the four of us. It costs $13 for a jumbo, which would work for a larger group.

Water Park at LEGOLAND Florida end rental button on locker


You pay using an automated system, where you pay with credit card at the automated kiosk. You’re then given a code and locker number to match.

This part is a bit tricky. To end the rental, there’s a RED END RENTAL Button at the bottom of the locker keypad. The problem is that it’s virtually impossible for an adult to see, as it’s tucked away under the keypad. Luckily, our eight year old daughter pointed it out to us.

How to get to LEGOLAND Florida

Driving to LEGOLAND Florida

LEGOLAND Florida is approximately 45 minutes away from Disney World, an hour from Universal and around an hour from the Orlando Airport. It’s address is 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 3388.

Parking at LEGOLAND Florida

Parking at LEGOLAND Florida costs $15 online and $17 on site. Most of the parking stalls are only a few minutes walk from the front gate and there are plenty of stalls with shade. Parking opens 30 minutes before the gates open and there are handicapped parking spots right outside the front gate.

LEGOLAND Florida Shuttle Bus

If you don’t want to drive, there’s a $5 shuttle to LEGOLAND Florida that picks people up at I-Drive 360, the massive entertainment complex at 8401 International Drive, Orlando, Florida 32819. Parking in the garage is FREE.  The LEGOLAND shuttle bus pick up area is outside the parking deck by the back entrance of the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye on the Universal Boulevard side.

The LEGOLAND Shuttle bus picks people up at 9 AM and drops them off after the park closes. You need to book the shuttle at least 24 hours beforehand and arrive 30 minutes before the shuttle leaves to be guaranteed a seat.

Final Thoughts on LEGOLAND Florida

All in all, we had a great day at the LEGOLAND Florida amusement and waterpark. Unlike the bigger parks, there’s definitely more room and shorter lines to deal with however, that said, it’s more geared for those under 12 or for people that are huge Lego fans. We had both so it was resounding good day for all of us.

Have you been to LEGOLAND Florida? Do you have any LEGOLAND secrets or tips to share? We’d love to hear them. Leave us a comment below!

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The Best Audiobooks for Family Road Trips on Audible Canada Wed, 13 Sep 2017 20:00:00 +0000 Every year we drive thousands of kilometers across Canada to visit friends and family. Many years, we drive from Kelowna to Winnipeg, and then back again. Within a few weeks, we log in over 40 hours and four thousand kilometers behind the wheel.

That’s why Audiobooks are an absolute lifesaver on those trips. When we start a great audiobook, the hours fly by as we drive across our gorgeous country. It’s a great way to keep the kids entertained, and keep us from going stir crazy.

Also, unlike watching movies alone in the backseat, the audio books allow our kids to watch the countryside, play with their things and most of all, not get car sick. It also gives us all something to talk about when we stop to refuel or while grabbing a bite to eat as we drive.

So when Audible reached out to us to help spread the word about the launch of Audible Canada, we wanted to pass it on to our fellow Canadians.

A quick note on Audible Canada

Owned by Amazon, Audible has the largest library of audiobooks in the world and is a great place to get audiobooks for any of your devices. What we love most about them is if you don’t like an audiobook, you can just swap it for another for free.

What’s really cool for Canadians is that features price parity with the US Audible website.

Did you catch that? If an book costs $15 USD on, it will cost $15 CAD on This is huge for Canadians right now, as it gives us about a 20% savings because of our exchange rate.

An Audible membership is FREE for 30 days, and that gives you one credit, which is good for any audiobook. As well, the marketplace is bilingual, and in Canadian dollars unlike

Click here to sign up for free!

Note: If you’re already an user, don’t worry. You can still access your existing library and credits. There’s more information on membership at the end of this post.

The best audiobooks for family road trips

We’ve listened to dozens of audiobooks over the years and the kids actually look forward to long drives in the car now since they know we’ll put one on. The trick is having a few to choose from and letting the kids decide which one appeals to them the most.

With audiobooks, we find that the narrator can make or break your experience. Even if the book is fantastic, a poor (or irritating!) narrator can make it miserable. On the other hand, if you love a narrator’s voice you can listen to just about anything they say, so choose wisely.

For example, Charles once got his parents excited to listen to some audiobooks on their yearly 34 hour drive down to southern Texas, but stressed that getting the right narrator was critical. A big fan of westerns, his parents chose a few narrated by a fellow with a slow, heavily accented southern drawl that literally made them pull over and take a nap after listening to him for a few hours.

The best audiobooks for family road trips with kids

I’ve included links to the Audible listings for each of these books, because each book offers an audio sample. To listen to the sample, just follow the link to the book, and the sample play button is right below the book image.

I’ve also tried to pick audio books here that adults should enjoy as well, making listening a pleasant family experience. However, everyone’s tastes differ, so check out the samples and read some reviews before making a choice.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book 1

The whole family really loves the Harry Potter series narrated by either Jim Dale or Stephen Fry. This was our first real foray into family audiobooks, and the 20+ hour car ride to visit family seems to fly when we listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks. Even though the kids have read the entire series and watched all the movies, they still enjoy listening to the audiobooks. We’re almost done book five and plan to keep listening until we reach the conclusion in book seven.

Unlike most audio books, the Harry Potter series has two narrators that do all seven books. Jim Dale reads the US version and Stephen Fry the UK version. Both are English, both are amazing and each excels at different things, however you can’t go wrong with either.

Written by: J.K. Rowling

Narrated by: Jim Dale

See Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Audible

See the complete Harry Potter series on Audible

The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials, Book 1

This is a fantastic book, and kept us all engaged for the full time we listened. However, some of the themes are a bit dark, and it may not be the best for young children. I had my doubts about letting our eight year old continue to listen, but she made it through OK. That said, she’s a pretty stoic little person, and I’ve never seen her upset by a book or movie.

Written by: Philip Pullman

Narrated by: Philip Pullman however there is a full cast for each character that really makes this audiobook shine.

Series: His Dark Materials

See more information about The Golden Compass here.

See Philip Pullman’s complete His Dark Materials series here.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2

There’s a whole series for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the narrators differ. We’ve listened to a few (not in order) and enjoyed them all however that said, I’m excited to try The Last Battle, narrated by Patrick Stewart of Star Trek (plus much more!) fame.

Written by: C.S. Lewis

Narrated by: Michael York

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Get The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe now.

Check out entire The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis here.

How to Train Your Dragon

We loved the How to Train Your Dragon movies, the Netflix series and the kids loved the books, so this is a natural choice. Even better? It’s narrated by the 10th doctor himself, David Tennant.

Written by: Cressida Cowell

Narrated by: David Tennant

Series: How to Train Your Dragon

See the How to Train Your Dragon audiobook.

Check out the complete audiobook series of How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell.

How to Eat Fried Worms

This one’s a little shorter, at just under two hours. Kids love it, and it’s an easy listen for a shorter road trip.

Written by: Thomas Rockwell

Narrated by: Jay O. Sanders

Listen to a sample here.

Eragon: The Inheritance Cycle, Book 1

This is an engaging audiobook and the writer was only in his teens when he wrote the first one. It will capture the minds of every one in the car from the very beginning where a poor farm boy finds a polished blue stone that becomes a dragon hatchling to him becoming the next dragon rider.

Written by: Christopher Paolini

Narrated by: Gerard Doyle

Series: The Inheritance Cycle.

See it on Audible.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

At just under two hours, this is a shorter audiobook that both old and young Harry Potter fans should adore. We haven’t listened to this yet, but I think it would be a good book on tape for a family road trip.

Written by: J.K. Rowling, Newt Scamander

Narrated by: Eddie Redmayne

See Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them here.

Charlotte’s Web

Over on, this book rates almost five stars. It’s a touching classic narrated by the author in his raspy New England accent and will make your children both happy and sad in equal measure.

Written by: E.B. White

Narrated by: E.B. White, George Plimpton

See Charlotte’s Web on Audible.

The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1

I’m personally not a huge fan of the narrator’s voice here, but the kids loved it, and the narration did grow on me after a while as we drove. Our 12 year old son, in particular, loves all Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books so this one was a natural for us. A nice bonus is that most of the books in this series can stand on their own, so you’re not forced to listen to every single one of them.

Written by: Rick Riordan

Narrated by: Jesse Bernstein

Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Listen to a sample of The Lightning Thief here.

Check out the complete Percy Jackson and the Olympians series here.

Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Prequel

I really enjoyed the narration in this story about the children of evil villains banished to the Isle of the Lost. Will definitely be a hit with classic Disney movie lovers.

by Melissa De La Cruz

Narrated By Sophia Carson

Series: Descendants

Listen here.

The Field Guide: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 1

This is a special treat, as it’s narrated by the rich voice of Mark Hamill and it’s a childhood classic.

Written by: Tony DiTerlizzi, Holly Black

Narrated by: Mark Hamill

Series: The Spiderwick Chronicles

Hear a sample of The Spiderwick Chronicles here.

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole Guardians of Ga’Hoole, Books One, Two, and Three

This is a great value, as it has three books in one, and over 16 hours of audiobook.

Written by: Kathryn Lasky

Narrated by: Pamela Garelick

Get it on Audible here.

Peter and the Starcatchers

My husband, Charles, loved this take on the Peter Pan origins story and its read by the fantastic Jim Dale, the same person who does the Harry Potter series. The kids enjoyed it as well.

Written by: Dave Barry and Ridler Pearson

Narrated by: Jim Dale

Hear a sample of Peter and the Starcatchers here.

See all the books in the Peter and the Starcatchers series here.

Audio books for younger kids

While most audiobooks for little kids can be about as much fun as nails on a chalkboard for parents, these children’s audio books should keep the adults happy as well.

Treasury of Classic Children’s Stories

This is an especially great choice for nostalgic parents, but the kids will love these classic stories as well. Jack and the Beanstalk narrated by John Ritter is especially good.

Written by: Oscar Wilde, Brothers Grimm

Narrated by: Audrey Hepburn, John Ritter, Sharon Stone, Orson Welles

Listen to a sample here.

The Ralph S. Mouse Audio Collection

This is the story of a mouse always on the lookout for more excitement.

Written by: Beverly Cleary, Tracy Dockray

Narrated by: B.D. Wong

Get it on Audible here.

Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies

If you love Julie Andrews, this is the collection for you and your little one. It’s as lovely and charming as you’d imagine.

Written by: Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Andrews

Narrated by: Emma Walton Hamilton, Julie Andrews

Listen to Julie Andrews’ Collection here.

Audiobooks for the adults

While listening with the kids is a lot of fun, I’ve started to become a real fan of audiobooks on my own.

I spend hours on the computer each day, and while I love the ease of reading on my Kindle, I do sometimes want to give my eyes a rest. My favorite time to listen to audiobooks is when I’m lying in bed, relaxing before sleep.

Just for fun, I’ve included a few of our top picks for adult fiction and non-fiction.


The Handmaid’s Tale: Special Edition

Hurry and download this, as it’s FREE with the launch of Audible Canada, but mostly because this is an extraordinary audiobook. The Handmaid’s Tale is by one of my very favorite Canadian authors, Margaret Attwood. I read it first years ago, and it both touched and shook me deeply. Claire Danes is nuanced and sympathetic as the main narrator.

Written by: Margaret Atwood, Valerie Martin – essay

Narrated by: Margaret Atwood, Claire Danes, Ray Porter, Tim Gerard Reynolds, full cast

Get the Haindmaid’s Tale here!

Stephen King. It.

Full disclosure here – I’m too much of a wimp to listen to this, but I kind of want to. It’s been sitting on my wishlist for a while.

Written by: Stephen King

Narrated by: Steven Weber

Get It here.

Non Fiction and Entrepreneurship

Besides for this blog, we also operate several other websites, and we’re always looking at branching out the business into other areas. Needless to say, I read a lot of non-fiction geared toward entrepreneurs and business owners.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

I’ve been struggling a bit with getting in touch with my creative side lately. While I’m a little too analytical to agree with all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s assertions here, this audiobook is beautifully crafted and has plenty of insights.

Written by: Elizabeth Gilbert

Narrated by: Elizabeth Gilbert

Listen to a sample of Big Magic on Audible.

The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth

Now, I don’t take everything James Altucher says to heart, but he is exceptionally good at getting you to view the world from different angles.

Written by: James Altucher

Narrated by: James Altucher

Get it on Audible.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Despite the title, there’s not as much swearing in this as you’d expect. Mark Manson is direct, and an easy listen. My favorite part is his discussion of how we all need Truth Panda in our lives.

Written by: Mark Manson

On Audible here.

About Audible membership plans for Canada

You can order books on Audible without a monthly membership, but I’m actually a fan of the monthly membership.

An Audible membership is FREE for 30 days. Click here to sign up for free!

After 30 days, membership is $14.95 per month. That $14.95 per month gives you 1 credit for a month. That credit is good for any audiobook, at any price.

You keep your audiobooks even if you cancel. If you want to buy more books, you save 30% on any additional purchases.

I especially love this last part – you can exchange any audiobooks you don’t love, anytime. Sure, there’s a five minute sample of an audiobook you can listen to, which is great, but it’s possible to get further into a book and decide you don’t like the book or narrator. In that case, just exchange the audiobook. Easy!

Common Audible questions

When we first started with Audible, I had quite a few questions about how it works.

Do I need to have Internet access to use Audible?

If you choose to stream your audiobooks, you need Internet access whenever you want to listen to them. However, if you choose to download your audiobooks, you only need Internet access for your download and then you don’t need Internet access when you listen to your audiobooks.

Can I download my Audible books?

Yes! The easiest way to download your audiobooks is to go to the Audible Canada library page and click the Download button.

How do I listen to Audible?

You can listen to Audible on your Smartphone, tablet or computer. You can also download audiobooks.

Can I listen to Audible books in my car?

Of course. There are several ways to do this. The easiest way, if you have a car that has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, is plugging your phone into your USB port and following some simple instructions.

You can also use Bluetooth to stream your Audible book to your car stereo.

Can I use a USB stick to play Audible books in my car?

Our car stereo has a USB port, but it’s an older stereo, so it isn’t enabled to play automatically from Audible.

If this is your case too, you can use a FM transmitter that plugs into your device to broadcast from Audible through the USB plug.

Have you tried Audible? Let us know what you think!

the best audiobooks for family road trips

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Tips for Getting the Best Gear for Back to School Tue, 05 Sep 2017 18:00:00 +0000 Whether you’re preparing for a round the world family trip or just getting your kids back to school this fall, having clothes that last them the duration is important.

Quality counts, and sometimes the best way to save in the long run is to make sure that you’re not buying more clothes halfway into your trip or halfway through their school year.

So whether it’s for school or travel, here’s a list of things to look for when buying new gear for your kids.

Buy quality

Even though our kids grow like weeds, we’ve learned that cheaply made clothes still wear and fade faster than they can grow. Low quality clothes are also more prone to rips and tears, as well as shrinking in the wash. We’ve learned that it’s well worth it to look for stores and brands with quality clothes, shoes and backpacks.

Do the purge

Get rid of styles that they don’t like, that aren’t comfortable, or that don’t fit any more. On our 3 month trip through the South American Amazon, with a stop at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Orlando on the way home, we brought only carry on luggage, making this essential. When we’re at our home base in British Columbia, we work hard to keep their closets streamlined as well. Keeping their closets purged of clutter makes it a lot easier to keep track of what new items they need, and it’s so much simpler when they pick out their clothes in the morning before school.

Make comfort a priority

Life is far too short to wear uncomfortable clothes, which is why I’ve banned pantyhose from my wardrobe forever. I’ve given my kids the same permission to just say no to any clothes that itch, scratch, or are just uncomfortable to wear. I love this soft little Under Armour cotton t-shirt we picked up for Jordan at Sport Chek. It’s cute, and she loves the soft comfy feel.

Find things they love

At ages eight and twelve, our kids are already fussy about the styles and colors they like. When the kids choose their favorite colors or styles, they are much more likely to wear the clothing than if I pick it out. I also love to see how my kids go forward with so much more confidence when they’re wearing clothes and other gear that they like and feel confident wearing. It’s so much easier to let our kids choose what they love at a store like Sport Chek that carries multiple, quality brands with some great products.

Our 12 year old loves anything fun and quirky, so I wasn’t surprised when he picked out this fun Firefly brand graphic T-shirt in store. As a bonus, it’s an incredibly soft and comfortable cotton blend. I think he’s found his favorite shirt of the season.

Make it easy

If the thought of shopping in store with your kids gives you hives, then give yourself a break and order online. A good quality sport themed store like Sport Chek has plenty of styles to choose from online (there are 35,000 styles at Sport Check), making it easy for picky kids to find something they like. Orders can be shipped to your home, or picked up in store. Returns are easy, as customers have 60 days to return products, and there’s free shipping on orders of $99 or more.

Insist on a great fit

Like her Dad, our little girl has high arches. For the longest time, we struggled with finding shoes for her that fit well and were comfortable. It was only after we tried on several brands that we found a few that fit her feet.

As such, we need a store that has plenty of shoe styles and sizes, like Sport Chek, where they guarantee approximately 30 footwear styles in any size and from where we’ve bought nearly every sandal or runner we’ve owned in the past few decades. Styles include kids and adults models and they have have one of the largest sport sandal selections in Canada so Charles is always happy.

Get clothes that work for active kids

Whether we’re at home in British Columbia or on the road somewhere, our kids always seem to be on the go, so they need gear that helps them stay active.

Chasing waves in the Galapagos Islands

Choose clothes that go together

Sticking to colors and styles that work well together makes getting our kids ready for school or their latest adventure on the road so much simpler. You never need to worry about clashing colors or styles if you stick to what works together. If your kids like bold colors and funky designs then that’s fine too. The important part is that they’re comfortable in their choices.

Be realistic about the weather and occasions

Jordan, our daughter, loves comfy shorts. She’d wear them every day if she could, but with winter coming here in Canada that’s just not realistic. I really appreciate that Sport Chek has seasonal clothes in a great selection of colors and styles. While she may not be able to wear her favorite shorts in our cooler Canadian weather, we did find her a comfy pair of Firefly girls’ Sydney graphic leggings and Firefly girls’ Fiji pants that she adores for the fall.

You can find all of these great styles and much more this back to school season with Sport Chek. Visit or in store for all your back to school shopping needs.

Do you have any tips for getting the best gear for back to school?

I have partnered with YMC and Sport Chek and have received compensation for this post. All opinions in the post are my own. That said, we have been regular shoppers at Sport Chek for over 20 years and are big fans anyway.


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Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips and Hacks to Save You Time, Money and Hassle Fri, 05 May 2017 19:00:00 +0000 Whether it’s fate or just good timing, some things just seem meant to be.

You see, for the last two months of our South American trip, both of our kids devoured the entire series of Harry Potter books. Once done, we all started re-watching the movies together as a family since Charles and I are huge Harry Potter fans as well.

So, when the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando on the way home presented itself, we were thrilled.

At this point we had heard nothing but good things about the Harry Potter world, but honestly, the Universal Orlando Parks blew our expectations out of the water. Every detail was perfect and lovingly crafted. We truly felt like a family of muggles magically dropped into Harry Potter’s world.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

Aside from having a fantastic time, the four of us learned a lot during our visit, so I wanted to share our tips for visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to make your visit easier, faster, and save you money.

Top Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

Get the Park to Park pass

To start off, in order to access everything both wizarding worlds offer, make sure you get the Park to Park pass.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is split between the two Universal Florida parks, with Hogsmeade in Universal Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley in Universal Studios. The parks both have unique shops, rides and experiences, so you’ll want to go to both. You’ll also need a Park to Park pass to ride the Hogwarts Express!

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl with Hogwarts Castle

Try to visit for at least two days

It is possible to visit both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one day, but you’ll likely be rushed, and you’ll miss a lot of the carefully crafted details. You’ll also miss everything else both parks have to offer.

If you can, take at least two days to visit, and don’t forget about the Park to Park passes. Even better, right now Universal has a fantastic special, where you get two more days FREE if you buy a two day Park to Park pass. See Universal Orlando’s deals here.

We’ve heard great things about buying passes in advance on Undercover Tourist. Unlike a lot of other sites, taxes are included up front (so no surprise fees at the end), AND shipping is free. Plus, you’ll save $42 over paying at the gate.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

Get the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App

We grabbed the app the day before we went to help develop a game plan for the big day and to let everyone in the family mark the attractions they didn’t want to miss. Once there, we used the app constantly during our visit to figure out where we were and to help decide where to go to next.

Tip! If you don’t have a data plan, don’t worry, there’s free WiFi available throughout the park!

The app was so helpful for checking out wait times and show times, finding rides, and figuring out which restaurant we wanted to go using the interactive park map. You can even set up alerts for when ride wait times drop, save your parking information, and check out restaurant menus! Download the app on iTunes here. Get the app on Google Play here.

Stay at an onsite hotel

Many of the Universal Orlando hotels include Unlimited Express Passes and early park access to help you beat the morning rush. Since no car is needed, you’ll also save time and money by using the free shuttle service.

You can choose between Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Leows Royal Pacific Resort, Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel, and Leows Portofino Bay Hotel. Free Universal Express Unlimited is included, which is worth up to $89 per person, per day (not offered at at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort or Cabana Bay Beach Resort).

Check prices for hotels near Universal Studios Florida.

Important: Universal Express access is not valid on Fievel’s Playland, Pteranodon Flyers, Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides or Ko’okiri Body Plunge.

All on site hotels offer Early Park admission (one hour before regular opening hours) and complementary transportation to the Parks and CityWalk. There are some other great perks, including complimentary delivery of merchandise from the Resort to your hotel, appearances by Universal Orlando characters, and priority restaurant seating (for Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort).

Tip! If you want to purchase a package vacation, the folks at Get Away Today offer a layaway plan. Click to see Orlando vacation packages here.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter entrance

You can also get Early Park admission if you buy a Universal Orlando vacation package through Universal Orlando, even if you don’t stay at a Park Hotel.

Did you know that there’s a Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan and California?

Interactive Wand Hacks and Tips

First, get the new interactive wands

They ring in at $47 USD per wand, but our eight and eleven year old spent hours casting spells in shop windows at Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. They were worth every penny, as they brought the shop displays to life, and really made our kids feel they weren’t mere muggles! They also used them at both parks each day we were there and you can bring them with you the next time you go to Universal Studios.

You’ll find the spell locations on the map included with your wand and will see the corresponding medallions with the nature of the spell on the ground. Don’t worry too hard about finding them, there are usually a few kids lined up trying to get them to work, as well as a special wizard helper showing you exactly how to make the perfect wrist movement.

Wand Tip! Since the camera sensor is small, stand just in front of the medallion. It seems that tight wrist movements work best and make sure you aim towards the four red dots.

There are a bunch of locations to master your wand skills in both Diagon Alley as well as Hogsmeade. One of the kids favorites was the wingardium leviosa spell to float a feather and make quiddich balls float in the air at Spintwitches Sporting Needs in Hogsmeade!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl casting spell with wizard

Buy the interactive wand at a cart

The most popular places to buy an interactive wand are at Ollivanders in Hogsmeade or at Wands by Gregorovitch in Diagon Alley. Both places can be very busy, especially Ollivanders, since it also has the special wand selection attraction.

If they’re busy, and they probably will be, pick up your wand at a cart instead of in the small and often busy wand shops. There are wand stands located throughout both Harry Potter Worlds with practically no one in line.

We picked our wands up at a cart in Hogsmeade at the Islands of Adventure, near Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. There was almost no wait at the stand, and they had the most popular wands on display. Since the wand chooses the wizard, Dumbledore’s wand chose our daughter, and Sirius Black’s wand chose our son. The stand attendant was patient and helpful, and our kids got their wands much more quickly than if we’d gone to Ollivanders.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter wand cart

If you want to buy your wand at one of the shops, it’s usually quieter at Ollivanders in Diagon Alley than Ollivanders in Hogsmeade. The Diagon Alley Ollivanders is also bigger, with a larger selection of wands, and you’ll get the experience of having the shopkeeper help you choose your wand.

Secret Locations! The special map that comes in your interactive wand’s box will guide you to wand spots in both worlds, however there are also a few secret spots hidden throughout the park. Here’s one to get you started: check out the storefront at Slug and Jigger’s Apothecary in Diagon Alley.

Here’s the next best thing to picking up your wand at Olivanders. These aren’t interactive wands, but they’re carefully boxed and get good reviews.

Harry Potter’s Wand

About the wand show at Ollivanders

You can also visit the wand show at Ollivanders in Hogsmeade to get help picking a wand. The show lasts about five minutes, and Ollivander himself will select one person from the crowd to demonstrate a wand selection ceremony. The show’s free, but you’ll have to pay for your wand.

It’s All About the Butter Beer

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter girl with butter beer moustache

Everyone needs a butter beer foam mustache

Make sure you try the butter beer

It’s non-alcoholic, and comes in three types: regular, hot, and frozen. I absolutely loved the regular butter beer, and I’m not a fan of sweet drinks, so I thought I wouldn’t like it. In fact, I now get butter beer cravings! I think it may be time for a trip back to get some!

Regular butter beer tasted like a mix of cream soda and root beer, but less sweet than either, topped with a butterscotch flavored creamy topping that doesn’t melt into the drink. I found it both tasty and refreshing.

Our 11 year old, Cole, loved the new hot butter beer. The hot butter beer tasted a bit like white hot chocolate with the same butterscotch flavored topping as regular butter beer.

Charles tried the frozen butter beer, which we’d heard was the best. Surprisingly, it was our least favorite. We did drink it on a fairly cool day in Florida (it was about 20 Celsius /65 Fahrenheit at the time). We may have enjoyed it a lot more on a hot day in the summer.

You can also get butter beer ice cream in the park!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter delicious creamy sweet regular butter beer

Delicious, creamy, sweet regular butter beer

Share a butter beer

The butter beer portions are fairly large, so if you’re buying for a small child, consider sharing. Our eight year old couldn’t finish hers, but luckily I was able to help. 😉

If the stands are busy, you can get butter beer with your meal at Three Broomsticks and the Leaky Cauldron. Even better, there’s a secret entrance at the back of Three Broomsticks that will let you get into the bar, which is part of the restaurant. This can save you a wait in the Three Broomsticks restaurant line. Just go down the alley on the side of the Three Broomsticks to find the entrance.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter hot butter beer

Hot butter beer. Yum!

If you love butter beer as much as I do, and plan to make it your main beverage while you’re in the park, forgo buying your butter beer in a souvenir mug. You don’t get discounts on butter beer refills, and the souvenir mug is smaller than the disposable cups. As a note, you do get discounts on other beverages in the souvenir mug, so if you’re drinking other beverages it may be worth your while. Plus, you’ll get the mug as a souvenir.

Where to Eat

Eat at Three Broomsticks. We loved Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade so much that we ate there twice in two days. The food is British inspired, with treats like shepherd’s pie, kids mac and cheese, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and roasted potatoes. It was all absolutely delicious.

For supper, for a family of four we got two side baked potatoes, one salad, two corn on the cobs, a kids Mac and cheese, a roast chicken, two regular butter beers, two hot butter beers, and our total came to $65.18. We were absolutely stuffed, so next time, we’ll be sure to save some room for a pumpkin drink and the delicious looking sticky toffee bread pudding.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter shepherds pie at Three Broomsticks Restaurant

Shepherd’s pie at Three Broomsticks Restaurant

If you can, eat outside of the usual 11 to 1 pm lunch window. On our first visit to Three Broomsticks, there was a line way out the door. We only had to wait 20 minutes, but when we went at around 2 pm on our second day, we walked in with only a five minute wait.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter menu at the Leaky Cauldron

Plan your meals ahead

If you’re a vegetarian, or if you have special dietary requirements, choose your restaurant wisely. We had three vegetarians in our group, and there were veggie options at every restaurant, but you may be limited in what you can eat in certain restaurants.

For example, at the Leaky Cauldron in Universal Studios, they only had soup and salad as a veggie option, so we decided to eat elsewhere. You can get menu information on the Universal Orlando App or the Universal Orlando website to plan ahead.

Use the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App (get it on iTunes here | Google Play) to check out menus in advance.

Shopping – Our Harry Potter World Tips

If you have time, quickly stop in all of the shops, since each shop has something unique. Each shop is beautifully Harry Potter themed, with everything from the Owl Post where you can buy stationary, quills and ink (and send a postcard from the Hogsmeade Post Office that’s stamped with a Owl Post postmark) to Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley where you can dabble in dark arts merchandise.

Inside Weasleys Wizard Wheezes novelty joke shop

Our favorite shop in Diagon Alley was Weasleys Wizard Wheezes novelty joke shop run by the Weasley twins Fred and George. You’ll find fantastic jokes and magical stuff like Pigmy Puffs, U-No-Poo pills and Puking Pastilles.

Berties Bots Every Flavor Beans

Sugarplum’s Sweetshop was another favorite, with the inventive Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans (but watch out – they do come with vomit and booger flavors!), and fun treats like Cauldron cakes and Exploding BonBons.

Treats inside Honeydukes sweets shop

In Hogsmeade, our favorite shop was Honeydukes sweets shop. It was one of my personal favorite places in all of Hogsmeade. We found wonderful treats like chocolate frogs and exploding bonbons.

Honeydukes Emporium Exploding Bon Bons

Dervish and Banges was another winner, with fun magical items like Golden Snitches, and brooms like the Nimbus Two Thousand.

If you’re short on time, skip Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods in Hogsmeade. Filch’s Emporium is more like a regular gift shop with merchandise like clothing.

Both Universal Orlando Parks have a pickup service, so you don’t have to tote your purchases around all day. Just buy your souvenirs and pick them up at the end of the day. If you’re staying at an on-site hotel, you can even arrange to have your purchases sent directly to your room.

Rides at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was our favorite of all the fantastic rides, shows, and experiences at Universal Orlando. I don’t want to spoil too much of the surprise, but the ride felt the most like the real world out of any theme park ride I’ve ever experienced. It honestly felt as if we were truly swooping through Harry Potter’s world on broomsticks. Even our little eight year old, who doesn’t love scary rides, thought this was one of the best rides in the park.

Because this ride is so popular, it can have longer wait times, but there are so many interesting things to see in the line as you wait that the time really flies! On the way in you’ll see the Defense Against the Dark Arts class room, moving paintings, the Gryffindor common room, and even Dumbledore’s office.

Escape from Gringotts

If you’re in Diagon Alley, ride Escape from Gringotts. It’s a fun, 3D ride with incredibly realistic looking animatronic goblins, lots of twists and turns, and fire-breathing dragons. You may even catch a peek at he who shall not be named, Lord Voldemort, himself! Even if you’re not a big fan of rides, it’s well worth your time to stand in the line for all of the incredible sights and sounds of Gringotts Bank on the way in.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter line for Escape from Gringotts

Look up on your way into Escape from Gringotts

The dragon on top of Gringott’s breathes fire periodically. You can actually feel the heat from his flames so get your camera ready – you won’t want to miss it.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter street with Gringotts Bank and Dragon

If you’re a fan of Hagrid (like I am), check out the Flight of the Hippogriff ride in Hogsmeade. You’ll see Hagrid’s hut while you’re in line.

Saving Time at Harry Potter World

Get there early

We are not morning people, so morning starts were the hardest part of our day, but we did find the crowds to be much lighter in the morning before noon. Try to be at the park at least half an hour before opening. It’s a fairly long hike from parking to the entrance, and it does take a few minutes to pass through the entrance, and then through the park to the Wizarding World of  Harry Potter as well.

Stay late

We found that the crowds really dropped off around 6 pm, in the three hours before closing, and stayed quieter until the park shut down. This, or early morning, is the perfect time to take in the busier rides and attractions at Harry Potters Wizarding World since most people have experienced and left this area of the park already.

Make sure you check closing times! Closing times for Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure were different when we visited.

The Wizsarding World of Harry Potter Universal Orlando Resort Ticket

Look at getting the VIP Experience

With a VIP experience, you can skip ALL of the lines plus get your very own personal Universal Orlando tour guide. You also get a continental breakfast, plus you can choose several other options.

That means you can get priority front-of-the-line access to all rides and attractions including all of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions and experiences. Plus, you can get behind the scenes tours, complimentary valet parking and reserved seating at shows.

You can also get a private VIP experience, with just you and your party (which includes two full service meals), or a regular VIP experience. I didn’t know about the VIP experience option when we want, but it sounds amazing. I’d be especially tempted to get it if I was short on time!

See information on the VIP experience here.

Visit the other Universal Park attractions mid day

Harry Potter world is incredibly popular, and many of the shops and lines can get crowded early to mid afternoon. We used this time to check out the rest of Universal Orlando and Universal Islands of Adventure. Since the rest of the Parks are so huge, they feel much less busy during peak times compared to the Harry Potter areas.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley at sunset

Go during a quieter month

If you have the flexibility, try to avoid traditionally busy times like weekends, Christmas, Spring Break and summer holidays. Orlando Informer has a helpful Universal Crowd Calendar.

Get Express Passes if you’re visiting other areas of the park

An Express pass lets you skip the normal lines and jump in the express line. We loved having the Express Passes, as they saved us plenty of time in lines during the busier afternoon time and allowed us to experience nearly everything both parks had to offer.

Important! You can’t use Express Passes at Fievel’s Playland, Pteranodon Flyers, Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides or Ko’okiri Body Plunge, but we found they were a lifesaver for other rides in the Universal Parks.

To save time in lines, use the alerts in the Official Universal Orlando® Resort App to let you know when a wait time has dropped (get it on iTunes here | Google Play).

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Gringotts Bank

Use child swap

We used child swap on Escape from Gringotts, as our eight year old decided at the last moment that she didn’t want to go.

With a child swap, all the family stands in line together. At the last moment, one adult waits with the child when the other adult rides. When the first adult is done, the adults swap, and the adult who waited with the child goes to the front of the line. Just tell the greeter at the front of the line that you want to use child swap.

I loved that even the Escape from Gringotts child swap waiting room was perfectly and carefully Harry Potter themed, with clips from the Harry Potter movies that coincided with the attraction playing on a TV on the wall.

Take the single rider line

If you want to get onto the rides quicker, and don’t mind riding without the rest of your group, use the single rider line. This will save you a lot of time in queues, especially on the busier rides like Escape from Gringotts and The Hidden Journey.

Hogwarts Express Tips

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts Express

Check to see if Hogwarts Express is running before you go

If the Hogwarts Express is up and running, go as early in your trip as you can, to make sure you don’t miss it. It was down a few times over the two days we visited, and we’ve heard other people say it was down for part of their visit too. You can see it’s status on the Universal Orlando app mentioned above.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter platform nine and three quarters

Ride the Hogwarts Express both ways

It’s a real train that that you can ride from King’s Cross in London or Hogsmeade. The experience is different each direction, but you’ll be sure to see the beautiful scenery of the English countryside, Hagrid on a flying motorcycle, Mad Eye, Harry, Hermione and Ron, and the Weasley twins, and even a dementor or two. The ride is also a lovely way to rest your feet for 10 minutes.

There’s also a fun surprise at Platform 9 3/4. If you pay close attention while watching people ahead of you in line, they’ll appear to walk through a wall to get to the platform.

Other Harry Potter Orlando Tips

There’s free WiFi throughout the park. We found it fast and reliable, so turn off your data roaming to save money. Thanks, Universal!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter family with night bus driver

Visit the Night Bus

The Night Bus and wizard driver Stan Shunpike are outside of the Wizarding Worlds Diagon Alley on your way back into the rest of Universal Islands of Adventure. Stopping by for a photo op is well worth a few minutes. The driver and his little friend, Dre Head the Shrunken Head, were a lot of fun to talk to.

Call the Ministry of Magic from the telephone booth

You’ll need to figure out how to use a rotary phone for this one! If you dial the numeric equivalent of M A G I C (it’s 62442), you can hear a special message from the Ministry of Magic.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter family with the frog choir show

Go to the shows!

They’re well worth seeing. You’ll find the Frog Choir and the Triwizard Spirit Rally shows in Hogsmeade, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard show and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees show in Diagon Alley. Check the Official Universal Orlando App for show performance schedules (get it on iTunes here | Google Play).

Don’t be afraid to dress up and have fun!

Deluxe Harry Potter Child’s Gryffindor Robe

We saw plenty of people in Hogwart’s robes and house scarves with interactive wands in their hands everywhere throughout the park. Adults seemed to be in on the fun as much as kids so don’t be afraid to embrace your inner wizard.

elope Harry Potter Gryffindor House Infinity Scarf

Indulge your inner dark wizard in Knockturn Alley

It’s perhaps a little lesser known that some of the other Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions, but Knockturn Alley is chock full of interesting things to see and do.

Create your own moving pictures at Shutterbuttons

We somehow missed this during our visit, but it sounds like a wonderful keepsake. In the shop, you’re guided through 12 scenes, and you can purchase a DVD photo album in a collectible Shutterbuttons’ tin.

If you have any questions, just ask the staff

I was amazed with how helpful the staff were, even if I was asking them something that was well out of their field of expertise. They also stayed in character throughout Harry Potters Wizarding World and didn’t let us muggles get into too much trouble. Top marks to Universal for their amazing staff, who were always friendly and welcoming!

Hidden Secret: If you’re patient, you can see Kreacher the House Elf peeking through the windows at 12 Grimmauld Place.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter entrance with cars

Pay for Prime Parking parking if you’re driving

We got prime parking both days we visited, and it was wonderful to have such a short walk to our car at the end of the day. We also managed to walk to the entrance a lot faster. Prime parking is an additional $10 a day at $30 (it’s $20 for regular parking).

Read and watch before you go

If you haven’t see a Harry Potter movie, or read the books in a while, consider catching up a bit before you go. There are so many little tidbits and in-the-know places and items throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter that it makes it more fun if you know the backstory before you go. If you have time to catch up, there are lists of all of the movies and books at the end of this article.

That being said, you’ll still enjoy the park regardless. You just won’t be as amazed at all the little details Universal included while making it.

Saving Money on Tickets!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Universal Globe

Before you buy your tickets, be sure to check out Universal’s deals and specials. They often have some fantastic deals, and offer special rates for Florida residents as well. Right now Universal has a fantastic special, where you get two more days FREE if you buy a two day Park to Park pass.

Check prices for a two day Park-To-Park pass, with two days FREE here. 

See Universal Orlando’s deals here.

Is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on your bucket list? If you’ve been, do you have any Harry Potter Universal tips to share? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

We were kindly hosted by Universal Orlando Resort during our trip, but they didn’t tell us what to write, and all opinions are all our own. They definitely didn’t encourage Micki’s current butter beer obsession, or get Charles to buy the kids their own wands and they definitely didn’t force us to smile all day. Those came all by themselves.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Tips

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How We Travel Carry On Only As A Family Of Four Mon, 24 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 How to travel carry on only as a family of four | family travel luggage | family luggage | carry on for kids | carry on kids | carry on for kids travel tips

This is a real life, in the trenches, honest look at how we travel carry on only as a family of four.

We traveled carry on only for our family of four for three months through Canada, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands and the USA. We managed this despite needing to carry extra blogging gear, including several cameras, tripods, and two laptops. We also carried clothes for two climates: the hot 80 degrees or more of the Galapagos, and the cool early spring climate in Canada on our return.

The truth is, we weren’t always light packers. In fact, we’ve even written about our luggage over packing woes before.

That said, we have learned a couple of key things from our tendency to over pack. First, it is not fun to lug heavy suitcases up steep, multi-story staircases in Spain and Portugal. Second, we honestly didn’t use many of the items we used to pack “just in case” in our huge suitcases.

So, after a few years of packing way too much, we decided to see if we could try carry on only for our family. The good news is that it worked splendidly and saved us hundreds in extra check in luggage fees.

What do you need to pack?

To do the switch to carry on only, we needed to first change our attitude about packing. We let go of the idea that we needed to pack things just in case we needed them. Instead, we only packed items that were essential.

When we packed, we put all of our “just in case” items in a separate pile. After we put all our essentials (see our list later on) in our carry ons, we cherry picked a few of our best items from the “just in case” pile to go with us.

What luggage do we use?

Carry on only luggage for a family of four

Carry on only luggage for a family of four. Three wheeled carry-on suitcases, one duffel that straps on top, plus three personal item sized backpacks (one small backpack not shown).

Split between four of us (two adults, and two kids, aged 8 and 11), we use:

  • Two 22″ carry on wheeled expandable suitcases. One suitcase holds Charles’ clothing and toiletries, the second has Micki’s clothing and toiletries
  • One 21″ carry on wheeled suitcase (that we’re exchanging for another 22″ expandable one) that carries the kids’ clothing.
  • One duffel bag, carry on size. This contains our extra shoes, towels, sunscreen, sunglasses, and snorkels and masks.
  • 3 small backpacks, small enough to be considered personal items by North and South American airlines. The largest backpack carries all of our electronics, the second backpack holds our kids’ toys and jackets, and the third backpack holds snacks and other odds and ends that we pick up on our travels.

Who will these carry on tips work for?

  • Parents with kids out of diapers. In fact, this carry on system will be difficult if you have a young child who’s in diapers, and who needs a stroller, diapers, wipes, a cot, and other baby items or if one of the parents needs to constantly carry one of their children.
  • Parents with one child who can pull a carry on size wheeled suitcase reliably, especially when boarding the plane.

Traveling carry on only as a family of four would have been hard to manage if our eldest, who’s 11, couldn’t wheel his own bag, and carry one of the lighter backpacks. That said, you could travel carry on only for a family of four if one adult was willing to pull two wheeled carry on suitcases, and stack a personal item-size backpack on top. This tended to happen when our son was otherwise preoccupied but I will say that boarding the plane was tricky with a backpack and 2 carry ons.

How did we carry the bags?

Our 11 year old with his luggage in the airport
Charles pulls the heavier 22″ carry on, and carries the heavy electronics backpack. He also does double duty taking Cole’s bags if Cole’s hands are full with food or toys.

I pull the second 22″ carry on, and carry a lighter backpack. I also set the duffel on top of my wheeled carry-on, wrap the duffel’s straps around the carry on handle, and pull the duffel on top of the carry on. This works well as long as your carry-on’s weight is evenly distributed. Charles’ carry on is front heavy, and if we set the duffel on top, the suitcase topples forward.

Our 11 year old pulls a 21″ carry on and carries the lightest backpack.

What is in our family carry on?

Packed carry on suitcase for a family of four

Once we pared our belongings down to only the essentials, and a few nice-to-have items, our family carry on only packing list looks something like this.

  • 4 light summer jackets
  • 4 light raincoats
  • 4 pairs of sneakers (we swapped them out with our sandals depending on the weather)
  • 20 T-shirts (5 each)
  • 12 long sleeve shirts (3 each – Charles had 2 casual dress shirts)
  • 8 pairs of pants with long legs (2 each)
  • 8 pairs of shorts (2 each)
  • 28 pairs of underwear (7 each). Yes, that’s a lot of underwear. But we figured that it was easy to re-wear clothing. Underwear, not so much.
  • 8 swimsuits (2 each)
  • 2 dresses
  • 4 pairs of pajamas
  • 2 toiletries bags, each about 8″ x 6″ x 6″ square, filled with toothbrushes, shaving kit, medicine, etc.
  • 2 snorkels and 2 masks
  • 3 lightweight towels
  • 6 toys (3 toys each for the kids)
  • 2 laptops
  • 2 iPods
  • 3 eReaders
  • 1 GoPro and accessories
  • 1 DSLR camera and lenses
  • 1 tablet (which we rarely used)
  • 2 external battery chargers
  • Cables, wires, chargers, tripods, and other electronics odds and ends
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and other personal items

We carry personal items like our smartphones and wallets in our pockets at all times, so I excluded them from the list.

Tip! We keep clothes organized in the suitcases by using packing cubes!

What kind of luggage do you need?

First, a wheeled carry on is essential, especially if a child pulls it. We especially love carry ons with four wheels, which allows the suitcase to be pulled in any direction. For us, using a backpack as a carry on would have been a bit awkward, as we were already using a small backpack as our personal item.

Tip! Purchase an expandable carry on if you can. Not only can it give you that little bit of extra space if you purchase more clothing as you travel but it makes it super easy to compress your bag when it starts to become unwieldy. Just expand it, close your bag then un-expand it. Voilà, instant compression bag.

Second, we recommend using a duffel as one of your carry on pieces, especially if one of your children are still too small to handle a carry-on. It straps easily to the top of one of our carry on suitcases, and it holds an incredible amount, because none of its storage area is taken up with wheels or retractable handles. It can also be slung across the body which comes in handy having to carry it up large flights of stairs or boarding the plane.

Third, get durable luggage. If your child is pulling a carry on, it’ll end up being dragged over curbs, sidewalks, and slammed in corners. On our trip, our luggage was slung on ferries,
shoved in lockers, squeezed into Ubers far too small for four people and our luggage, crammed into the cargo hold of a ten seat airplane, squashed into countless overhead bins, thrown in bus cargo holds, and even strapped to a golf cart. By the end of our trip, it was pretty easy to see which carry on was good quality, and which we should have spent a little more money on.

Want some more family travel tips and packing tips? Check out our articles on traveling light with electronics, and how not to fry your electronics while overseas.

Hard sided or soft sided luggage?

The biggest benefit of soft sided luggage is extra pockets, no scuff marks or possible denting, better breath-ability and that it only opens on one side allowing it to be placed on stands easier however clothes is piled deeper. It also has more flex and is more often than not also expandable.

The biggest benefit of hard sided luggage is better security, more water proof (our one soft sided piece of luggage had to be completely emptied due to a sudden downpour that soaked every last piece of clothing in it while our hard sided ones were fine), better protection of the objects inside, easier access to all clothes since it splits in the middle though this means it takes more space to open.

I would say that hard side vs. soft side mostly comes down to this. If you like pockets, expandability and less scuff marks go with soft sided luggage. If security and protection is your major concern, go with hard sided.

Where to get durable luggage

Getting durable carry on luggage may mean ponying up some cash, or waiting until quality luggage goes on sale.

If you’re looking for sales, check out large stores, as they carry a bigger selection, and often have great pieces of luggage on sale.

Best Buy Canada is a great place to start looking.

They have a huge selection of luggage, including Samsonite, Heys and Swiss Gear, and you can browse their luggage selection online. You can even buy online, and return to your nearest store.

Check luggage prices and selection.

You can also find them at @BestBuyCanada on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Now for one of our favorite parts of running this blog! Best Buy Canada has generously sponsored a giveaway for a quality Samsonite luggage set to one of our readers!

Enter to Win! * Contest is Closed*

This contest is closed! Congratulations to our winner, Judy.

We get to give you a chance to win your very own Samsonite Stamina NXT 3-Piece Hard Side 4-Wheeled Expandable Luggage Set with a MSRV of $599.

Samsonite Stamina NXT3 Luggage 3 piece set

You can take a look at the prize on Best Buy Canada here.

The contest is open to residents of Canada, except Quebec (sorry!). See the entry form for terms and conditions.

Now the best part – your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

So how do you enter? It’s easy.

See the Rafflecopter widget above? To enter, all you have to do is to enter your email or log in via Facebook!

The contest runs from April 24, 2017 to May 8, 2017. The winner will be contacted by email and the prize will be shipped soon after.

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The Ultimate List of Family Things To Do in Cozumel Sat, 25 Feb 2017 18:00:00 +0000 Thinking of visiting the beautiful island of Cozumel with your family? Whether you’re in port for the day, or on the island for a week, there are plenty of family things to do in Cozumel with kids.

We just finished up a five day stay on the island. Between this trip and another visit a few years ago, we’ve found a lot to keep our family of four busy.

Fun family things to do in Cozumel

Cozumel is an island in the Caribbean sea that’s famous for some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving, and it’s only a short 15 minute ferry ride from Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

This all means that there’s a lot for families to do in the area, whether you’re looking for beach fun, shopping, or exploring ancient Mayan ruins.

Find a beach

Fun family things to do in Cozumel Kids racing in the Sand in Cozumel.

Our kids racing in the sand in Cozumel

Two of the things that make Cozumel kid friendly are its beautiful climate and small beaches. With crystal clear water and white sand, beach time is probably the most affordable and fun thing to do with kids on Cozumel. Because Cozumel is such a relatively small island, it’s easy to reach most beaches from a great vacation timeshare.

If you have smaller kids, you’ll want to stick to the sheltered west side with its reefs to protect against crashing surf. Southern beaches like Playa San Francisco or Playa Palancar are a good choice.

Kids enjoying an oversized drink in Cozumel at Carlos And Charlies

Kids enjoying an oversized drink in Cozumel at Carlos And Charlies

With only a few decent beaches to choose from compared to nearby Playa Del Carmen, Beach Clubs are huge on Cozumel and they can be a lot of fun with the family. We had a blast at the typically touristy and fun Carlos and Charlies beach bar on our first visit to Cozumel.

Often there’s an admission charge for beach clubs, and you’re definitely expected to order food or drinks there if there’s not, however nearly all of them offer you a lounge chair and shade.

Water trampolines and water parks!

If your kids are big enough to enjoy them, there are some fun water trampolines at Mr. Sancho’s Beach Club on Paradise Beach, which is just down the beach from Carlos and Charlies beach bar.

Playa Mia Beach Club will also keep you and the kids occupied. There are water slides, kayaks, water toys, an on-water trampoline park, and the little ones will love Bucanneers Bay, which has a kids lagoon pool with a pirate ship, water spray-cannons and all the fun they can handle.

You can get a day pass to Playa Mia Beach Club with a Viator tour here, or just show up at the gate.

Snorkel or SCUBA dive

If your kids are too little, skip snorkeling and SCUBA in favor of beach time. That said, Cozumel is home to some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world. If your kids are old enough to snorkel, they’ll find an abundance of colorful fish and corals at Cozumel’s Mesoamerican Reef.

Older kids and teens will love snorkeling at the Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park, while smaller kids will likely do better snorkeling from shore somewhere like the Money Bar Beach Club.

We only snorkeled on our own in Cozumel, but if you’re looking for an organized tour, ScubaTony Cozumel gets great reviews from families. Check out the ScubaTony Cozumel reviews on TripAdvisor here.

San Gervasio Mayan Ruins

Despite its small size, Cozumel has an interesting Mayan site, the San Gervasio ruins. Check out the video below for a walk through the site.

Atlantis Submarine

We took an Atlantis Submarine ride in Oahu, and absolutely loved it. In Cozumel, Viator offers a 40 minute Atlantis Submarines tour. You can check out Atlantis’ reviews on TripAdvisor here.

Shop Plaza del Sol

Plaza del Sol is the zocalo (town square) in San Miguel, Cozumel’s only square.

There are plenty of souvenirs to be found in the streets around the Plaza del Sol, including hammocks, embroidered and lace clothing, silver jewelry, and little wooden toys for the kids. There are also plenty of places to stop for lunch or ice cream.

Kids will enjoy the street performers and musicians who are ever present in the square.

Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park

Chankanaab is located inside Cozumel´s National Marine Park. You can swim, snorkel in the lagoon at the Chankanaab reef, grab a snack and check out the exhibitions, spa or zip line. Cost is $21.00 USD  for adults and $14 for kids age 3 to 11.

Punta Sur Park Ecological Reserve

Photo by Jared Young

Punta Sur is Cozumel’s largest ecological reserve. It boasts a gorgeous white beach and reef for snorkeling as well as tons of wildlife on the lagoon side. In the lagoon you can see crocodiles, turtles and tons of birds including flamingos and there is a free pontoon boat ride available. The cost is $14 USD for adults, and $8 for children age 3 to 11. It’s open Monday to Saturday and there are change rooms, hammocks, chairs, showers, restaurants and even lifeguards on duty there. The Faro Celerain lighthouse is also at Punta Sur.

Faro Celarain lighthouse

One of Cozumel’s most iconic buildings, the Faro Celarain lighthouse is located in the Punta Sur ecological reserve. It’s included in your admission to the park and you can climb to the top for some of the best views on the island. It’s a bit of a climb though so make sure you and the kids can handle it. There are nearby hammocks at the bottom for those that prefer to wait for others in comfort.

Cozumel Pearl Farm

If you’re looking for something unique and memorable to do in Cozumel, a visit to the Cozumel Pearl Farm may just be it. This is around a six hour tour that gets stellar reviews on TripAdvisor, where you learn how pearls are made and farmed, with time to relax on a private beach, eat lunch and play in the water.

I only wish I’d seen this while we were in Cozumel. It’s a must-do for our next trip. Reviews say it’s good for small children, as well as older kids.

Cozumel Glass Bottom Tour

A glass bottom boat is a great alternative for those who don’t like to snorkel, or if you have little ones that are too young to SCUBA or snorkel. Viator offers a three hour glass bottom boat tour in Cozumel.

Find out prices and more here.

Drive around the island

If you have a little time on your hands, you can rent a car in town and see most of the sites above all in the same day. Prices for cars are decent and there is only the one ring road so it’s hard to get lost. The road only covers the south side of the island so if you want to see the northern end you either need to take a boat or rent some atvs. In both cases it’s better to take a tour.

For those on a more tight deadline, you can always hire a private driver that will take you around the island. Most cruise ship day tourers opt for this to make sure they’re back in time for departure. You can often just hire a taxi driver to take you where you want to go however the taxis aren’t metered on Cozumel so make sure you agree on the price before you get in.

Day trips from Cozumel

While Cozumel is a lot of fun in and of itself, there are quite a few family friendly day trips from Cozumel that are worth checking out.

See our day trip suggestions from Cozumel here.

Day trip to Playa del Carmen

Art on Quinta Avenida Playa del Carmen

Art on Quinta Avenida

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Playa del Carmen, returning every couple of years to spend a month or two. It’s just a 15 minute ferry ride from Cozumel, with the pedestrian friendly Quinta Avenida (5th Avenue) just in front of the ferry terminal. With plenty of shops and restaurants, there’s also many family friendly activities in Playa del Carmen itself, and lots of free things to do.

There are also miles of beaches right in town that are free and easily accessible for families with children.

Xcaret Theme Parks

Xcaret Park Night Show Witness the best show at Cancun and Riviera Maya over 300 artist on stage.

While you’re in Playa Del Carmen, you may want to check out one of the parks in the Xcaret family, including Xcaret itself (our favorite for kids), Xel-ha (where you can snorkel and swim to your hearts content), Xplor (which has some fun ziplines, ATV tours and swimming), or the new and quirky Xsenses, which we loved.

IMPORTANT: You can get 10% to 15% off admission to the parks if you book online through this link.

Day trip to Tulum

Tulum Ruins by the Sea

Tulum Ruins by the Sea

While most first time visitors make a beeline for the Mayn Ruins at Chichen Itza or Coba, the ruins at Tulum are closer and are perched spectacularly at the edge of the Caribbean sea. Make sure you make time to visit the seemingly endless stretch of beach in Tulum, and nosh at some of the good restaurants on the main road through town.

Visit a Cenote!

Charles and Jordan Cenote Dos Ojos Mexico on Platform Entrance

Charles and Jordan planning a jump at Cenote dos Ojos, north of Tulum

The most popular cenotes (clear, natural, freshwater limestone pools) are located on the mainland near Playa del Carmen and Cancun. If you’re looking to visit one, blogger Anna Everywhere has a helpful article on the best centotes in Mexico and we’ve visited more than a few ourselves including nearby Cenote Cristalino and Cenote dos Ojos.


Kids on the Beach in Cancun at Chokmal

Generally, we prefer Playa del Carmen to Cancun, as we find Cancun to be more touristy, its beaches are rougher and the town less walkable. That said, there’s a lot to do in Cancun for kids, and it can make for an exciting day out. Cancun is also a quick and easy bus ride from Playa Del Carmen and the main ADO bus terminal is only a few blocks from the ferry terminal.

Day trips to Coba or Chitzen Iza

Dad and son descending the pyramid at Coba Mexico

Most visitors to the Mayan Riviera make a beeline for the famous Mayan Ruins at Chitzen Iza and the massive El Castillo pyramid.

We loved our time at the smaller, but definitely impressive Coba Mayan ruins. It was an incredibly important site for the ancient Mayans, and because it’s a little less known than Chitzen Iza, you can climb many of the pyramids with fewer other tourists around.

Viator has some fun tour options for both Chitzen Iza departing from Cozumel and a fun looking tour that takes in cenotes, Coba and the ruins at Tulum.

What to bring


You can rent masks, snorkels, and fins at any hotel or beach club, or simply bring your own. We haven’t had a chance to try them ourselves, but we’ve heard great things about the adult full face Tribord EasyBreath mask and the kids Cressi DELUXE Youth Mask Snorkel Set.

Most tour operators include children’s and adult life jackets, but inquire first to be sure.

Also make sure that you have waterproof sunscreen on hand if you go snorkeling. Xcaret and most of the nature reserves require you to use biodegradable sunscreen when swimming in the water however we haven’t loved the biodegradable sunscreen we’ve tried so far. Our friends swear by the Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream and it gets great reviews on Amazon so we’ll give it a try next.

Another great option for kids (and even adults) is to get a SPF 50 rash guard t-shirt like this one. We’ve used rash guard shirts on our kids for years and they’re so much easier to deal with rather than constantly applying sunscreen. Our kids love them and they’re great when snorkeling or even just hanging by the water. We plan to pick up one like this for ourselves when we get back for when we go stand up paddle boarding or kayaking.

When we’re in a beach destination, we also like to have two sets of swimwear for everyone. That way, one swimsuit is always dry, and we don’t have to deal with putting on a cold, clammy suit.


Most hotels and tour operators provide towels, though we carry a lightweight travel towel that works as a cover up, towel, and a lightweight blanket for cold airplane rides. It also makes a great impromptu fort for the kids.

Looking for something else?

If you can’t find something that suits you above, check out all of Viator’s Cozumel Tours and Activities.

Click here to see tours.

Where to Stay in Cozumel

Cozumel Palace family loft suite

If you’re looking for more fun family things to do in Cozumel, be sure to pick a family-friendly hotel.

We stayed at the Cozumel Palace all-inclusive, and the kids loved it. It’s an intimate all inclusive, with a kids’ program (yay, for free time for Mom and Dad!), and kid-friendly swimming pools and restaurants. It’s also nice and close to Cozumel town, giving this Cozumel family resort one of the best locations in town.

Cozumel Palace family suite Ocean View at Cozumel Palace Riviera Maya Review

Ocean view from our family site at Cozumel Palace

Tip: If you’re looking for easy, cost-effective help with family activities in Cozumel, ask about the offer for a Palace Resorts credit with every stay.

You can read about our stay at Cozumel Palace here.

See prices and availability for Cozumel Palace.

Check out Cozumel Palace reviews on TripAdvisor.

Looking for a great price on a last minute hotel in Cozumel?

We’ve had great luck finding cheap hotels via TripAdvisor.

See TripAdvisor prices for Cozumel here.

What you need to know

Nearby airports: Cancun (CUN) and Cozumel (COZ)

Language: Spanish, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas

What to do: If you can’t find family activities in Cozumel that suits you above, check out all of Viator’s Cozumel Tours and Activities.

Family things to do in Cozumel

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