Category Archives: things to do

Dublin, Ireland: Pints, Passports and The Blue Oyster Cult

Sure I’ve traveled quite a bit, but most of the best destinations came BC (Before Kids).

Though, there was this one time in Dublin.

Temple Bar District, Dublin, Ireland

Actually our trip was an Italian escape. A week in Tuscany. Shopping in Florence. Stopping to see family in Rome, a day trip to Lucca and enough wine to float us home. So where does Dublin factor in? What I’d done was book our flights so that the layover in Dublin was more like a day trip. Bonus, it saved me money too!

Travel tip: Long layovers can save you money AND get you an extra destination in your itinerary too.

After one of the best flights I’ve ever been on* we touched ground is sunny Ireland, my ancestral home. All the lucky holders of EU passports got swiftly ferried through the fast line, whist Hubby and I had to cue up with the snails. It was still great, after all we were kid free and about to hit Temple Bar for an early morning pint. Gotta love that you can get a proper stout at nine in the morning served in with a frothy head and no judgment.

The fine gentleman at the customs counter asked us the usual questions, “Where is your final destination?”, “How long do you plan to be in Ireland?”, nothing out of the ordinary. Passports stamped, hand-in-hand, we made our way towards the throngs of travelers exiting the inspection area. All was right with the world.

Until the guy in the supervisors booth stepped in front of us and said, “Come with me please.”

Wholly crap! My heart climbed into my throat and started to do a jig. Couldn’t this guy tell I was Irish? I mean, I belong here. What was going on? I’d never even been stopped at a border. Not even as a slightly inebriated teenager returning from Mexico on a Saturday night. What the heck is going on?

Naturally. It was all my husband’s fault.

As the Supervisor lead us out of the crowd and towards his booth he introduced himself. Then he proceeded to ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind posing for a picture with him. Good looking as my man is, he’s never been mistaken for a movie star. Ah, but he did have an association with one. See he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Will Farrel in his classic SNL parody of  The Blue Oyster Cult skit in which we are all told that,  “It Needs More Cowbell!”

I’d nearly had a heart attack because the guy wanted a picture of the SHIRT??!!!

Oddly enough we’d later be stopped on the streets of Temple Bar so that the shirt could be admired. I guess Will Farrel is a big deal in Ireland.

Temple BarStay classy Dublin!

(this post is in NO WAY sponsored by anyone. That said, mad props to Aer Lingus for great service… a rare thing in air travel these days)

Family Travel: Savannah, Shrimp & Residence Inn… Oh My!

Being a big family has never kept us rooted at home. Given the opportunity, we pick up and go! Planes, trains and automobiles? We’ve done that. This summer we set out to explore the Gulf Coast. The adventure began with taking the kids, and even our car, along on the Amtrak Auto Train to Florida’s glimmering shores. Waving a fond farewell to Florida, we hit the road, landing in Savannah, Georgia.

If I had to use one word to sum up our stay in Savannah it would have to be, Magical.

To be honest, choosing to stay in Savannah was more a strategy than a burning desire to see the place before I die. The logic? The kids could only last a maximum of eight hours in the car before a hierarchy emerged and people started to be marked for elimination. Not good. So Savannah it was. Lucky for me -card carrying member of the Residence Moms Club- there were a few Residence Inns (RI) to choose from. Little did I know what amazing stay we’d have at the the RI Historic District.

From the moment we pulled up in front of the charming brick building -nestled amongst art museums, city trolley tour stops and historic landmarks- we were made to feel like family. A friendly valet welcomed us, helped with bags and made the kids giggle (a very “luxury property” touch). The desk staff got us checked in, in a jiffy, then gave us a mini tour of the property, from the fire pit crowning the sparking pool and courtyard, to the full dining area and bar, the place as an “Old South” feel and true Southern Hospitality.Obviously the kids loved the pool most of all. That and they Eggs Florentine, grits and fresh waffles at the free breakfast bar. My kids love to eat. I enjoyed having a full kitchen (hello, eating out with a family of 6 can break the bank) stocked with groceries that the RI staff picked up for me and had delivered to our room, swoon.

The staff were so much more than hospitality workers, they became our personal tour guides, recommending places the locals go to eat, indulging my obsession with Johnny Mercer and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and pointing us to an awesome dolphin tour. We got to see WILD baby dolphins!

My absolute favorite part of our visit to Savannah (other than the Shrimp and Grits at The Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern on the Riverwalk) was the afternoon we spent at Bonaventure Cemetery. Yes, I drug my kids into a cemetery as a family activity, don’t judge. In the visitor’s center, most people grab a map and go, in a rush to go find the Bird Girl. We lingered, and boy was it worth it. We met a lovely Southern Gentleman, a  member of the historical society and a treasure. He entertained us with an oral history of Savannah in a way no book or website could. We learned about the founding of the city, why the cemetery is laid out the way it is, how it was inclusive of several religions at a time when this was a rarity in the south. Some of the stories he told us were simply jaw-dropping. Like the one about his 200 year old obelisk that made it’s way into the Georgia soil all the way from France.

How did it end up in Bonaventure, and why? Well it was purchased by a local businessman who wanted to save the particular plot it resides on, for the day he meets his eternal rest. Where does one go to purchase a several ton marble obelisk from France? Why, eBay of course! True story.

Bonaventure was also the perfect place for me to hone my very-amateur photography skills.

From encounters with wild dolphins to a not-so-spooky walking ghost tour, amazing eats to quaint cobblestone streets, Savannah is a magical place imbued with true Southern hospitality, steeped in history and the perfect place for a family adventure!

 

Disclosure: Our stay at the Residence Inn in Savannah was compensated as part of my participation in the Residence Inn Moms Club. I was under no obligation to give this property a favorable review. As ALWAYS my opinions are my own. That said, you should stay at this property, words really can not describe how wonderful our stay was. 

Is “Family Friendly” a Luxury?

I spend a lot of time traveling with my family. Sometimes it’s a work gig they get to tag along for. Other times it’s a getaway. We’ve stayed in many a budget bungalow where the only stars you could find were on the free HBO. Most of the time the destination determined the digs. More often than not though, the biggest factor in choosing where we stayed was budget.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy hotel. When you’re used to having to tuck everyone else in the joint in, read them a story, fetch endless glasses of water and chase off monsters from closets and corners, turn-down service is a welcome novelty. But as much as I like the luxury hotel experience it didn’t really fit into my family travel plans. Until, Omni.

My philosophy is, if you’re going to splurge on a topnotch hotel -with your family in tow- the hotel should be just as much of a destination as your actual destination is. Omni hotels have a knack for doing just that. From their Kid’s Fantasy suites, to Camp Omni, their Sensational Kids program to Teen Connect Omni makes your family a part of their family, ensuring that fun is had by ALL.

Being that my kids range in age from 18 to 6, making sure everyone has a blast is a tall order. Omni Hotels go out of their way to make sure that job is easier for me. My 13 year old daughter got to interview some of the staff at the Omni Berkshire this past Fall and put in her two cents about what tween/teens like at a hotel, as part of her participation in the Family Travel Conference. I was privileged to be hosted at the Berkshire during BlogHer 2012 last weekend. I got to see, first hand, some of the things she was excited about. With their new Teen Ambassador, David Strebel, on board to help take the program over the top, my family can’t wait to go back again, and again. Omni adds so much more to your family’s trip, it’s like destination in itself. An added luxury that is priceless.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Omni Berkshire New York hosted two of the three nights I stayed in conjunction with my trip to BlogHer 2012. AS ALWAYS, all opinions are my own. I have stayed at several Omni properties, own my own dime, and highly recommend them for families who travel.

 

Lauderdale By The Sea: Not the Lauderdale You’re Thinking

I was 19. It was Spring. We had a car and Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t that far from the Naval training facility in Orlando. So, this California girl took her first trip to an East Coast beach. Really, what teenager with a car, a paycheck and a swimsuit wouldn’t go? It was a weekend to remember.

Fast forward more years than I care to count.  Traveling Mom reached out to me to ask if I’d like to bring the brood “down the shore” to cover the annual Family Fun Week events in Lauderdale By The Sea. Florida. My first thought? Oh heck no, what if I left my “mark” in Lauderdale and they found out?! Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was more of a “Hmm” moment. I couldn’t fit the picture of my kids into my memories of the Ft. Lauderdale I knew. Ah, but you see I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the offer. Did you know that Ft. Lauderdale and Lauderdale By The Sea (LBTS) are two different places, close on a map but worlds away?

I sure didn’t.

LBTS is an adorable little village, harkening back to the golden days of giant floral print shirts, women in cat-eye glasses and The Flamingo Kid. Dotting the nearly pristine shoreline are boutique hotels like the Tropic Seas, where we spent one wonderful night and a day tromping the 50 yards from the front door of our brightly painted room to the shore.

During Family Fun week, the village is chocked full of great activities and discounts that make the stay that much more memorable.

The kids can take skim-boarding classes at Alley Oop Skim, have a blast at a chocolate making demonstration at Kilwin’s, or fish from the pier in the annual fishing competition. The whole family can explore the wonderful world of “Crush” and company on a Sea Turtle walk (best for older kids). Many of the shops and vendors offer discounts for families who have purchased the Family Fun Week Discount Card. There are also tons of FREE activities, from live music to movies, and more.

The food? Amazing! We enjoyed an amazing breakfast at Athena By The Sea <—um… imported Feta. HELLO. AWESOME.

The best part of our visit was our stay at the charming, homey and simply sublime, Beachside Village Resort. A slice of The Cape in South Florida, staying here was more like coming home to visit family than staying at a resort. The rooms are each inspired by cities on Cape Cod, decorated in bright white and infused with welcoming style and outstanding amenities. With two pools, a welcoming fire pit, shaded outdoor seating and even grills for you to fire up, this place has it all. PLUS it’s only a hop across the street from the beach!

As grand as all that sounds -and is- the very best part of the stay is the people who run the place. Talk about family-friendly! They treat you like their own. Every need anticipated and met. The owner of the resort also owns three of the villages best eateries and he welcomes you to dine with his “family” by providing a free breakfast at The Village Grille. Ah but dinner at this place is simply mouth watering, a perfect marriage of foodie-fabu and family-friendly.

The sushi at The Village Sushi bar was OUTSTANDING (and my family is a bunch of sushi snobs)

If you’re looking for lots highrise luxury hotels or hopping night life, this isn’t the beach town for you. However, if you’re looking for great beaches, friendly people, businesses that do it right when it comes to family fun, or even an awesome place for your family dog to vacay (this place is the picture of dog-friendly), Lauderdale By The Sea is where you need to be planing your next Florida stay!

Want to learn and see more about LBTS? Visit the LTBSevents page on Pinterest!

 

Disclosure: I was invited, through my affiliation with Traveling Mom, to visit Lauderdale By The Sea during their Family Fun Week promotions. I was compensated for my honest review. AS ALWAYS, my opinions are my own, because YOU deserve no less!  

 

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What The Heck Is A Quarter Auction?

So you’ve been invited to a quarter auction. It’s likely your first reaction to join in this recreational enterprise was, “What the heck is a Quarter Auction?!” Yeah, me too.  I’ve enlisted the help of the pal who drug invited me to my first one, to help explain how these things work, why they’re so much fun, and frankly… what the heck they are.what the heck is a quarter auction?

Quarter auctions appear to be the “new thing” in some states. I’m not sure how or where they began (I think they started in Virginia but I can’t be held to that) but they had their launch and the rest is history…

From my experience with the auctions here in Maryland, quarter auctions (also termed “Quarter Mania”), are a venue where you go to bid and win items of your choice. Bidding is in quarter increments, thus the name.

There are a million variations on how quarter auctions are run. It’s impossible to cover them all but I’ll give a general overview of those I’ve participated in.

Typically, a fundraiser group will plan the quarter auction for their organization to raise money. The auction items can be ANYTHING! I’ve seen brand new items such as restaurant gift certificates, jewelry, purses, food, home goods, toys, and tools auctioned off.

What The Heck Is A Quarter Auction?

As a quarter auction participant/player you’ll arrive to the location at least half an hour in advance of the start time, loaded with tons of quarters. You want to arrive early so you have the opportunity to view all the items being auctioned off (there are usually about 100 auction items). You will also need to arrive early to make sure you get a seat. Some venues have been known to sell out!

When you arrive, you’ll find a table where they are selling paddles and making change in quarters. Here you pick a numbered paddle (or two, or three) that you will use as your bidding number(s). You’ll pay a rental fee for the paddle that generally ranges from $1 – $3 and you’ll return the paddle at the end of the auction. The paddle money is retained for the charity organization. The person selling the paddles will put a corresponding numbered chip/ball into a bucket.

When the auction begins, each item will be displayed to the crowd and auctioned off, one by one. At this time, you will use your quarters and paddle(s) to bid. Each item will have a retail value that determines the number of quarters required per paddle to bid. For example, 1 quarter for an item with a $10 – $25 value, 2 quarters for $26 – $50 value, and so on up to 4 quarters. The values and quarter amounts do vary from auction to auction.

Once you deposit the required number of quarters per paddle to bid (quarters are dropped into bowls on the tables and collected) you can raise your paddle(s) in the air. The announcer will begin calling numbers from the chips/balls in their bucket. If the announcer calls a number that wasn’t played (the person didn’t bid and raise their paddle), that person with the number will yell out, “No bid.” The announcer will continue calling numbers until there is a winner amongst those who bid and had their paddles raised in the air.

Here’s an example:
Jane really wanted this beautiful new necklace. Its retail value was $50 and it required 2 quarters to bid. Jane had two paddles, numbers 6 & 104, and since she REALLY wanted the necklace she put four quarters in the bowl (two quarters per paddle) and raised both. The announcer called her first number, “2.” Joe had 2. He didn’t bid on the necklace so he hollered out, “No bid.” The announcer called the next number, “104.” “Right here!” yelled Jane. The necklace was hers! So, for a $50 item, Jane won it for just quarters.

Still muttering to yourself, “What the heck is a quarter auction?” To sum it up, quarter auctions are good, clean fun and they don’t require a lot of money to play! Check your local papers or craigslist.com to see if there are any auctions in your area.