Monthly Archives: August 2012

Turning 8 the Sweet & Sassy Way

Early this summer, maybe even spring, I bought a Groupon and then promptly forgot about it for awhile. Then, as my daughter’s birthday approached, I remembered I had an already-paid-for party option: a Diva Fashion Party at Sweet & Sassy in Novi.

Hair updo at Sweet and SassyWe gathered up as many girls as we could in one car and headed to this new, unknown land.  When we first entered, the girls erupted in pure glee. They were excited about the shopping area, hair salon and spa section. They saw another party getting hair and makeup and then came the deciding factor: a fashion runway, complete with steps and a beaded door to walk through. They were hooked.

First, they were brought back to change clothes. Then came the only bummer of the evening – the cute sequined tops and dresses were itchy. So itchy that most of the girls opted to change because they were jumping and scratching like they just passed a swamp full of mosquitoes.Sweet and Sassy Novi

After the clothing change, the girls all sat on high director’s chairs and chose their hairstyle and nail polish color. The finishing touch on the hair was glitter hairspray. After nails, the girls got eye shadow and a glitter stamp of a heart or a star (or both for the birthday girl).

After being made up, it was time to dance. The girls all stood on the runway and the party hostess ran through some dance moves, and then played two songs for them to dance to. After the dance, the girls all go behind the wall for the runway. Each girl is announced separately and strikes a pose at the end.

After the fashion show, the girls then head to one of the party rooms, where whatever the parents bring is served. In this case, we ordered pizza from their pizza partner and brought a birthday cake. After the presents, the hostess brought in a group photo in a cardboard frame for the girls to take home, along with coupons for future visits.

All in all, it was a great night and perfect for 7- and 8-year-olds, although we did see a group that looked to be a couple of years older. And, a group of Girl Scouts came in. I took home the brochure, and they offer a few options (with a badge of course) for scouts, including how to run a business and plan a party.

Other add-ons that we did not experience on this trip were a ride in their pink limo, custom goody bags and various spa services. Sweet & Sassy also creates several theme nights during the year, so no party is necessary for your little girl to feel like a fashion diva.

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Back to school (frugal) shopping

It became real to me when I looked at the calendar and realized that I needed to order school clothes so they could be shipped in time for school to start.

I try to shop online so I can get additional benefit plus a discount. Before I buy anything online, even with a code, I either try to get frequent flyer miles or cash back, too.

I have all of my favorite frugal and deal bloggers in my RSS reader and see them in my Twitter feed, so when I noticed a good discount for Gymboree, I first went to Skymiles Shopping but sadly, they weren’t listed. I tried my backup, MrRebates.com, but they weren’t listed there, either. However, with a 25 percent off code, free shipping and Gym Bucks on my purchase, I decided it was still a good deal. My daughter loves their clothes, they fit well and they last.

My son, however, is outgrowing the matching clothes and cute sayings of Gymboree. I noticed on the Delta Skymiles shopping portal that they were offering bonus miles for back to school, so we clicked on Lands End, which gave us triple miles for our shopping, and Delta will kick in another 500 miles for each $250 spent on back to school. Lands End has a loyalty program, discount code and free shipping, so the clothes for my son gave us multiple benefits.

We had to break down and buy shoes a few weeks ago, with my overbearing mom instructions that these were still for school and better look good for the first day. The kids needed new shoes sans holes although they didn’t wear them much this summer.

And, one final tip although not directly related to school shopping. I always end up finding the best prices for package travel deals on Travelocity, and they offer a cash-back rebate on MrRebates.com. Always check for more than a discount code before you shop online!

(Disclosure: None of these are affiliate links. I just like to shop!)

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Summer in Traverse City is a Grand experience

In the summer, we go north. A lot of people who live in Michigan head “up north” each summer – to the small towns near rivers, lakes and beaches to camp, stay in a cabin or in a nice hotel or resort.

Grand Traverse ResortThis August, we hit I-75 all the way up to Traverse City and stayed at the Grand Traverse Resort. Just outside of Traverse in Acme, Grand Traverse Resort is a hotel, golf course, spa, swimming pools, beach and a whole host of restaurants and retail shops. 
Dylan's Candy Bar Traverse City

New to us this year, Grand Traverse now has a Dylan’s Candy Bar. We recently saw the original Dylan’s in New York City so we were so excited to see one in our home state. On Saturdays, Dylan’s has a make-your-own sundae and make-your-own cotton candy times to keep the kids – and adults – entertained.

But the real attraction for the kids is the indoor pool. With a water slide, floating pads, splash area and smaller kiddy pool, our kids could spend all day in one location. The pool area also has a couple of ping pong tables and some video games.

Grand Traverse Resort pool slideWe didn’t make it to the outdoor pool at the hotel this time but we did take the short drive to The Shores, Grand Traverse’s beach and outdoor pool area. There’s a snack shack, hottub, heated pool and a beach area with volleyball, beanbag toss and ladderball. In August, the beach water is nice and warm and the swimming area is fairly shallow. 
Grand Traverse Shores pool

Back at the hotel, we walked around outside of the spa and health club and found the outdoor tennis courts (they also have indoor ones). After an hour or so of family tennis, we once again landed at the indoor pool to cool off.

Grand Traverse Resort The ShoresFor an adventure off the resort, we walked around Traverse City’s front street, with a customary stop at Cherry Republic and some other stores. We also have a tradition of putt-putt up north, so this year we hit both hot spots – Pirates Cove and Pebble Creek. The kids were big enough this year to try the ropes course at Pirate Cove and they both did a great job. I’m happy that we’re raising our kids to be adventurous, even if mom is standing on the sidelines watching!Pirates Cove Ropes Course

Sad to see our weekend end, the kids begged for more fun – more pool, more tennis! – but sadly we had to head out for the drive home. But if you’re thinking of a finding a destination for the family, Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Resort will not disappoint.

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Peace in the Poconos at the Shawnee Inn

I knew it was going to be a good location when we say the sign for the Appalachian Trail. The Trail has always intrigued me and when I read Bill Bryson’s book, I laughed the whole way through it.

Shawnee Inn Golf bridgeThe Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort is right in the prime location of the Delaware Water Gap – where the Delaware River cuts through the Pocono Mountains between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Most of the land around it has been turned into a national park – and for good reason – the scenery was breathtaking.

On our tour, we took the golf cart over the bridge to the golf island. But there’s a little more than golf. Shawnee also has its “Shawna Farms” organic gardens, where the produce makes it way to the restaurant tables. And although the residents were out looking for dinner, we saw the home of a bald eagle family high up in the tree, and my daughter brought home a feather we found on the ground.

Formerly on the island but moved due to previous flooding, Shawnee also has an apiary – honey bees – from which they gather honey for food, the spa and for their craft brewery.

Shawnee InnWhat drew me in the most to Shawnee was the history. More than 100 years old, Shawnee has been a draw for more than a century for city folk to escape the heat and take in the healing air and waters of the Poconos. The resort has been in the process of adding historic photos all over the hotel and I had to stop and check out every one – Ed Sullivan, Arnold Palmer, Jackie Gleason. In its heyday, Shawnee drew a broad audience to the Shawnee Playhouse, where the first hour-long radio show took place.

Driving range kidsMy daughter tried it but my son really loved the driving range, which is complimentary for guests, and the chipping course, which was a perfect place to hone his burgeoning skills. He also spent a lot of time on the putting green, lining up his golf balls and creating a competition amongst them. And if you don’t have enough to do by heading to the river, golfing, volleyball, horseshoes or the driving range, you can go on day trips like canoeing or kayaking on the river (Shawnee also recently added stand-up paddleboarding) or a short drive to Bushkill Falls.Bushkill Falls

But you don’t have to go far for food and drink. Shawnee now has its own brewery, ShawneeCraft. They even use honey in one of their brews, Apiarus, which you can find at the Gem and Keystone Brewpub. Every morning, you can find a breakfast buffet at the River Room and for a casual lunch break, the Courtyard Bistro has the view.

The use of honey does not stop with the food or the drinks. I had a ShawneeCraft wrap and facial in the Shawnee Spa. A scrub first and then you’re coated with a paste that includes mud and beer. And if your appointment is after noon, the treatment comes with a complimentary taste of ShawneeCraft (I had to pass because it was before 10 a.m. but I did enjoy it at the Gem and Keystone).

Horseshoes at Shawnee InnThe service at Shawnee also brings a past era to mind. My kids loved that Jesse and Brandon became familiar faces who took them on the tour, river exploration and s’mores by the campfire each night.

As if on cue, a deer and her two babies came out each night while we were by the bonfire. The kids saw big fish in the river and we saw many kinds of birds. Shawnee Inn truly is an escape and a place to relax and rejuvenate.

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Mountain Creek: A waterpark like no other

We’ve been to indoor waterparks: Great Wolf Lodge, Avalanche Bay, Castaway Bay and Kalahari, as well as some smaller, local splash parks with lazy rivers. But we’ve definitely never been to an outdoor waterpark built into the side of a mountain.Mountain Creek waterpark

When we first walked up to the entrance of Mountain Creek in New Jersey, the kids said “where’s the rides?” That’s because the rides are all built into the mountainside. The park also just opened a mountain coaster and a new sports park, which included batting cages, golf, hockey, soccer and more, all with challenges and leaderboards. It also had a tubings/slide ride that simulated snow tubing.Soaring Eagle Mountain Creek

The park also had Soaring Eagle, a tandem seated ride that zips you up and down the mountain on a cable. It looked a lot scarier than it actually was, and it was a really fun ride.

And the water rides. Oh the water rides. Beyond the more traditional grab a tube and slide down, the park also had tarzan swings where you plunge into a cold pool, a slide that ends with a plunge into a pool and cliff jumping. It also has rides you’ve come to expect at a waterpark, including a wave pool and a splash area.

Mountain Creek waterpark mapMy kids, almost 8 and 10, were absolutely fearless here. We first started on the little kid waterslide to warm up, but they soon progressed to the larger slides and both tried the tarzan swing, although my daughter was shaken up because she said the water hurt when she made impact.Mountain Creek cliff jump

My son, thank goodness, was even more fearless because after I flubbed recording his cliff dive, he raced up to do it again. He really wanted evidence to come home and show off to his friends. I don’t blame him, because the closest I came to the cliff jump was recording it.Mountain Creek tubing slide

It was long, hot, exhilarating day and we’d definitely do it again in a heartbeat if we were in the area. New Jersey, you’ve outdone yourself with this waterpark!

For sites from the park, the Travel Channel recently featured it on Xtreme Waterparks.

(Disclaimer: My husband, a golf writer, received complimentary access with our family as part of a golf resort tour.)

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A world away at Crystal Springs Resort

After a hectic weekend in New York City, we headed to New Jersey to Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, New Jersey. In just over an hour, we were transported to a lush, green, mountainous area in northern New Jersey. Driving up to the Grand Cascades Lodge of Crystal Springs Resort, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the ski lodges in Colorado.

Grand Cascades LodgeThe lodge was laid out well, with the covered pool in the middle, and a terrace with fireplaces, lounging areas and another area for games, including table tennis, foosball and pool. The kids could not get enough of the Biosphere pool. In addition to a beautifully designed pool, the area had a hidden waterslide, hot tub and a fish tank that you could swim up to and view partially under water – almost swimming with the fishes!Biosphere Pool Fish Tank

Biosphere pool at Grand Cascades LodgeThe second day, I finally convinced them to check out the outdoor pool – and what another great discovery! The two-tiered pool area had an infinity pool on the lower level and an upper pool with a sprayer, swirling whirlpool circle and a water slide. Just around the corner, a small zero-entry toddler pool had a spray of water and was the perfect size for little ones.

Grand Cascades Lodge pool

Besides the pool, the kids loved the putting course right outside of the hotel. They also have a night glow golf activity for the kids.

Our room, a one-bedroom suite, was spacious with a large tub, full kitchen, pull out couch and patio with furniture. The kitchen made it convenient to give the kids breakfast. (We hate to eat out too much with the kids for breakfast because they hardly eat.)

We had dinner one night at the Crystal Tavern. The Kobe beef burger was excellent. The tavern has a kids menu but the atmosphere was not really child-friendly.Crystal Tavern Kobe burger

Reflections Spa Crystal SpringsI was fortunate enough to have a massage at the Reflections Spa, which features a fire and ice theme. The ceiling area has more than 8,000 hanging quartz crystals and the walls are a deep red. Following the massage (and add on paraffin foot treatment needed after walking New York City), each guest experiences the hot salt foot soak. First, you rub your feet in a bed of fine salt, a texture similar to beach sand, and then you turn your chair around and immerse your feet into a hot water soak. Pure luxury!

The resort felt a world away from New York yet was just a short drive. It’s a perfect location for a family getaway. Oh, and we also went to Mountain Creek, Crystal Springs’ waterpark, but we’ll save that story for next time.

(Disclaimer: My husband, a golf writer, received a complimentary stay and access to various amenities with our family.)

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Exploring New York City with Children

I’ve been to Manhattan several times – but every single time has been some sort of work-related event. The first company I worked for out of college had its headquarter near Times Square and an operations office in New Jersey. I went to BlogHer in 2010. However, each of these trips included minimal sightseeing (or seeing sights if they were on the way to a destination) and did not include kids.

So walking from x street to y avenue with kids in tow was sure to be a challenge. However, I’m proud to report that my kids were in it to win it. They were troopers and never really complained about all of the walking we did. They were too busy looking up and looking around.

Hampton Inn Times Square NorthWe stayed at the Hampton Inn Times Square North. This hotel (regular-sized to most, small by NYC skyscraper standards) was in a perfect location, 8th Avenue and 51st Street) and was everything my family needed – comfortable beds and a free, hot breakfast.Statue of Liberty

We had tickets to the Gray Line Bus Tours so we headed to the open-air top deck of the bus to start exploring the city. You can hop on and hop off the tour, so we got off at Battery Park and got in the long and winding line for the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

It was a perfect boat ride to see the city skyline and to cruise up to Lady Liberty herself. The day was a bit cloudy but warm and the kids were excited to see the statue in person.

After visiting the statue (and trying hard to get the right angle of people vs. the statue in the back of a photo), we took the ferry back to Battery Park (skipping Ellis Island because we were all starving by this point) and got back on the bus for the next loop of the tour.

Big Piano at FAO SchwarzWe departed again near Central Park and walked to Patsy’s Pizza, which turned out to be a perfect location for a casual meal with hungry kids.Times Square

Once we were refueled, we were ready to see more tourist sites. We stopped into Dylan’s Candy Bar, American Girl, FAO Schwarz (and the famous piano from Big) and then wandered through Times Square. We also had a brief encounter with the Naked Cowboy, capping out the tourist must-sees.

The next day, we wandered around Central Park and then checked out to head to our next destination in New Jersey.

We’d love to come back to the city again, going up into the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock and to see a Broadway play. But for now, we’ll take our memories and make plans to return.

(Disclaimer: My husband, a golf writer, received a complimentary stay and access to various amenities with our family.)

Categories: Family Friendly Resorts, Travel with kids | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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