Monthly Archives: January 2013

Review: Oahu’s Turtle Bay Resort

Listening to the pounding surf and waves crashing sounds like a cliché or like a sound machine designed to make you sleep, but at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu, Hawaii’s fabled North Shore, it’s just a Tuesday night.

Turtle Bay ResortWith rolling waves designed for surfing, the resort is situated on a picturesque bay with a secluded calm beach and two pools – one with a deep end for adults and another with waterfall and slide for the kids.

We spent three nights at Turtle Bay in January and it was the perfect escape. Because Turtle Bay was our first stop, I didn’t know at the time of the hustle and bustle I was escaping in Waikiki. But after experiencing both, I’d pick Turtle Bay every time.

Turtle Bay Resort Room

The resort, scheduled for a large scale renovation and expansion this year, has good sized rooms with large closets and an area with a mini fridge, perfect for traveling with kids.

Turtle Bay Resort breakfastBut we really didn’t spend much time in the room. After a sumptuous breakfast overlooking the ocean, we spent all of our time either at the beach or the pool. Although one afternoon we did take a walk to see the horse stables and another stretch of beach that had another stunning view.Turtle Bay Resort View

Turtle Bay Resort poolWe tried our hand on the tennis courts, which were in nice shape and home to many lessons for guests. We didn’t get a chance but the resort also rents bicycles and snorkel equipment, of which we saw a lot of in the swimming beach. We also saw ukulele lessons in the lobby, and the resort provided a daily list of activities and excursions.

Turtle Bay Resort fire showEach Sunday night, the poolside beach area is home to the fire sword show, with entertainers in native garb performing fiery feats for the audience.

Just down the street, we took a tour of Kahuku Farms and had a meal at one of the many shrimp trucks. Just a bit further is the Polynesian Cultural Center, a top tourist spot on Oahu.Oahu North Shore Shrimp Truck

It may be out of the way from the tall towers in Waikiki but that’s how we like it – a place to retreat and relax and have a true vacation.

Disclosure: My husband and our family received accommodations as part of his business travel. This review was not part of the stay and the opinions are my own. 

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Out with the old, in with the new — appliances

A New Year turned into new appliances for my family – some planned and (of course) one big one unplanned. New to our household for 2013 are:

Black & Decker Toaster OvenA toaster oven. Our old toaster oven was white, stuck out like a sore thumb in our kitchen, was 20+ years old and had all of the numbers on the dials worn off. To replace it, I purchased the Black & Decker TRO480 Toaster Oven, regularly $49.99 at Macy’s for a Black Friday price of $19.99. So far, it’s nice to be able to see the numbers of the oven settings instead of guessing, and I love using a toaster oven to warm up a small snack for the kids, leftover pizza or toasting a bagel. Hoover Pet Vacuum Cleaner

A vacuum cleaner. For my wedding 11 years ago, my aunt gave me her used Kirby because she had purchased a new one. I don’t know how long she had it before me, and it came with a huge box of attachments that we may have tried once and then kept in a closet. However, after many years of use, the front cracked and was being held together by duct tape so none of the funky stuff from the carpets would shoot back out. I replaced it with the Hoover Pet WindTunnel T-Series HEPA Bagged Upright Vacuum. Do you know how hard it is to find a vacuum cleaner with a bag? I tried a bagless once and I hate cleaning out the chamber – it seems like you can never get all of the dog hair out. I prefer the bag type but they are getting harder to find. I’ve only used it once and my only complaint is that the lever on the side will push down and then pop up to get wedged under a bed or a coach. I’ll need to make sure I vacuum near those things in the other direction with the lever on the outside.

Keurig Special EditionA coffee maker. We have some funky coffee at work and many people there have a coffee pot in their office. I bought the Keurig B60 Coffee Maker on Black Friday but have not taken it out of the box yet. Should I keep it for home and take my current pot-type to work or vice versa? I drink coffee during the week at work and weekends at home. Still deciding on this one but wanted to try a Keurig to reduce waste. Amana Distinctions Furnace

And finally, the major unplanned appliance was a new furnace. We came home from our Florida work/vacation trip the first week in January to find our house at 40 degrees – when we had set the thermostat at 60. Fortunately, the furnace was out but no pipes burst and we had no major damage – except to our bank account. We ended up with a shiny new Amana Distinctions furnace that is 96.1% efficient. The good news is, it comes with a Federal tax credit and a rebate from our electric provider. Not enough to make me want to buy more furnaces but I’m glad to have some money coming back to us eventually.

One thing that I’ve never thought about until it changed was how a furnace makes your house sound. With a new furnace, the house sounds are slightly different. When all is quiet, new noises, however normal, still sound different.

So that’s what’s new in our household for 2013.

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Pre-vacation planning for the household – stop the mail!

As I was creating my out-of-office plan for work, I realized that I usually run through a mental out-of-home plan, too. Besides packing for myself, the kids and the type of vacation we’re going on (warm, cold, camping, etc.), there’s also household things that need to happen while we’re away from the house.

  1. Stop mail delivery. I love that you can do it right online at Just choose home services and mail stop. Then you can choose whether you pick up the accumulated mail or they deliver it all at once.
  2. Stop newspaper. Yes, we still receive a newspaper although the home delivery is only three days per week. Our newspaper allows options to deliver accumulated papers, a credit or to donate to local schools; we always choose the schools option.
  3. Fish feeder. We have dogs that always need a sitter (grandma or grandpa) but the fish can fend for themselves with a feeder.
  4. Set thermostat. We have a programmable thermostat so we turn the heat down while we’re out of town. The future step would be to get one you can program with your phone or computer so we can have the house warmed up when we return!
  5. Lights. We used to have a plug-in timer that would turn a small lamp on and off but got out of the habit. Now that we travel a lot, I’d like to do that again.
  6. Packages. My husband receives a lot of packages in the mail, so we have a trusted neighbor that will move them inside while we’re gone. That way, they don’t accumulate on the porch as a signal that we’re not home.

Pack, check and repack.  If we’re going to a beach vacation, we must have the kids’ goggles, bathing suits and extra suits (they don’t dry hanging in a hotel bathroom). I usually move the kids’ summer clothes in a box in a spare closet when I get the winter clothes out, and then it’s easy to find the Crocs and flip flops, as well as shorts and T-shirts, when we are headed out of town.

And finally – clean sheets. I usually clean the house so it’s not a mess when we return and for some reason, I really love to come home from a trip to find fresh sheets on the bed. It just makes it feel so relaxing to be back in my own bed.

What did I miss? Do you have any pre-trip rituals?

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Room with a View at the Marriott Tampa Waterside

It’s not every day that you can look out of your hotel room and see elephants. Or tigers. Or horses. We happened to be at the Marriott Tampa Waterside when the circus came to town. Right out of our window, we could see the elephants getting exercise and the horses in the training ring.

Ringling Brothers Circus TampaOh, and fireworks, too. We happened to be at the hotel on New Year’s Eve, and we had the perfect side room to see the Channelside fireworks right out of our room. We sat, in the beds with our kids, and looked out at the fireworks. No bugs, no weather and no worries – it was the perfect way to watch fireworks.

As far as the hotel, our room was nice, clean and roomy for our family of four. The balcony was a nice touch and the lobby was a scenic two-floor area with a view.

Something I hadn’t seen before in a room was that in place of a mini fridge or minibar, they had what they called a cooler. It had a note on the front that the temperature was in the 50s and that it wasn’t a fridge. I wonder why they’d go through the trouble of installing a cooler when travelers (especially those with families) would want a fridge.

The pool area was on the third floor and the water was warm, although the hot tub was fairly small for the large crowd gathered there.

I only tried one restaurant at the hotel, the Café Waterside, and a soup and a salad were $30. The salad did have some great tropical citrus flavors in the chicken and the dressing.Marriott Tampa Waterside salad

Outside of the hotel, the walk along the canal is gorgeous, with fantastic boats, a beautiful view and great weather. There’s also a small park on one side with a playscape for the kids. We had an easy walk down to the Channelside complex for dinner. Unfortunately, the movie theater there has closed, as well as several other businesses there.

Overall, the Tampa Marriott is in an ideal location for downtown and sports attractions with clean, comfortable rooms.

Disclosure: I traveled to the hotel for work. No compensation was received and this is my own personal review.

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Exploring Legoland Florida

We were going to Florida for a combination vacation and work trip. I didn’t want to go to DisneyWorld for just a day or two because it always feels so rushed and not everyone gets to see what they want with that limited time – not to mention that it costs more for a shorter amount of days.

Legoland FloridaWe chose Legoland for our one-day funday. Since it had recently opened in Florida, we thought we’d see what the Florida version had to offer. We had been to the California Legoland a few years ago. Legoland Face Painting

Of course, I’m always searching for the best deals so I read online that the Lego magazine had a free kid’s ticket with a paid adult. Luckily, we still had one laying around so I was able to get both kids’ tickets for free.

We chose Christmas day for our trip. We flew to Florida on Christmas Eve, stayed at the Embassy Suites in Lake Buena Vista, and drove to Legoland for the day. When we woke up at the hotel, Santa had left two Lego bags with cash in each for our day. At the park, parking is $12 ($11 something plus tax, magically totaling $12) and the lot was fairly empty when we arrived.

Legoland Florida Star Wars MinilandLegoland had some nice holiday touches – a large Christmas tree (made of Legos, of course), santas hidden throughout miniland and some other sites throughout the park. Legoland Florida Cypress Gardens

The weather was overcast but not cold, making it a perfect day to walk around a theme park. The waterpark was closed because of the off-season but everything else was up and running.

I really like this park for the kids, who are 10 and 8. The rides are just their size and they especially love the driving school (unlike most theme parks where cars are on a track, these cars are on “roads” with stop signs and stoplights and the kids learn to navigate them.

The only problems we ran into, which were minor, were with food. Cap’n Brickbeard was listed on the printed map as “All American food” but when we walked over there, the sign said “Cap’n Brickbeard’s Burgers.” I know burgers are American but I was expecting more than only that, so we headed over to the all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta buffet. My son burned his finger on one of the pizza pans and the workers there would not give us any ice. They said we had to go to the first aid station and that they would get in trouble if they tried to help us. So I ended up using a bunch of napkins to put ice in for his finger.

Legoland Cypress Gardens Banyan TreeWe also walked around Cypress Gardens, a former park that Legoland preserved, and found the giant Banyan tree. The kids also liked finding the Travelocity gnomes that were placed around there, too.

Other than the incidents, the food was typical and filled us up for more explorations. My son was thrilled with the Star Wars miniland and was doing his best to find all of the santas (we ended up being a few short). My daughter was excited with the new Lego Friends store and seeing one of the characters outside.

All in all, it was a great Christmas day and we’d definitely visit again.

Note: No compensation was received for this post. We traveled and attended on our own. 

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A Visit to Orange Lake Resort Holiday Inn Vacation Club

Ah, the weather. When you’re in Florida in December, it’s like a box of chocolates where each day can be something completely different. Our first day at the Holiday Inn Vacation Club’s Orange Lake Resort in Kissimmee, Florida, we were just headed out to check out the pool complex and video arcade when it started to rain.

Orange Lake Resort master bedroomComing from Michigan, my kids immediately ran out into the rain and danced around. Warm rain is a novelty in the north so it did not deter them. Luckily, our spacious unit had a washer and dryer so the clothes were OK. Orange Lake Resort Dining area

The condo unit in our East Village location was like having our own apartment on the road – two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, washer, dryer and balcony.

We had dinner at the Legacy Sports Bar & Grill, which was in our village. And you really need to realize this place has villages – it’s so large that it could be its own small town. When you arrive, you’re provided with a map of all of the villages and areas, much like when you visit a theme park, although I think the resort may be larger!Legends Walk Night Golf

Orange Lake Resort Master BathOur second day, we headed out to the River Island complex. We experienced the Putt-Putt golf, the hippo inflatable water slide, the lazy river, hot tub and the arcade. Whew, it took us the better part of the day but the kids weren’t to be deterred – even without super warm weather. The pools and river were heated and the hot tub is good in any weather.Orange Lake Resort Hippo water slide

At night, we headed out as a family to the Legends Walk golf course, a family-friendly (read: easier than usual courses) that’s lighted for night play. My kids played and giggled and ran around in the night.

Orange Lake Resort River Island area

It was a short stay but I could see a family spending more than a week there. We never made it to the tennis courts, beach and other villages. There’s so much to see and do here – you may never make it to the nearby theme parks.

Note: My husband and our family received complimentary lodging. This review was not part of the agreement or expected, and all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Review: Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista

I was searching for a hotel for my family to stay at the night before we were headed to Legoland Florida. Legoland is not right by all of the attractions in the Orlando area but rather midway between Tampa and Orlando. We flew in to Tampa but didn’t need to stay there.

Embassy Suites Lake Buena VistaI was looking for a few things in a family-friendly hotel – free parking, a decent room, a decent price and breakfast would be a bonus. Because we flew in mid-afternoon, I wanted my family to be able to go outside and enjoy the day, as well.Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista Pool

Ultimately, I chose the Embassy Suites in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Just outside of Orlando and very close to Disney, this hotel had a bedroom, breakfast included as well as the manager’s reception in the evening. It also has a heated pool, hot tub, tennis court, basketball court and sand volleyball – enough to entertain my energetic family.

Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista HottubWe arrived on Christmas Eve, so I knew we weren’t going to have many options outside of the hotel that would be open and if open, not crowded. After we checked in, we found a note that said happy holidays with some wrapped sugar cookies and a milk in the fridge. Also, they had left a couple of packets of hot chocolate on the counter. Our kids were thrilled. Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista playground

After exploring the grounds, we went back to the room and grabbed our tennis rackets. We wanted to hit the courts before the early darkness came. Mother Nature has hit the courts a bit so parts are bumpy but it’s good enough for messing around and hitting the ball. Outside of the fence, there are ponds on both sides, so we were able to see some wonderful Florida birds and a crazy squirrel running around.

Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista tennisAfter tennis, we changed into our suits. The pool was heated but a tad chilly for mom, so I supervised as the kids splashed and laughed. I joined them in the hot tub, although we couldn’t seem to get the jets going. Embassy Suites Lake Buena Vista Basketball

We then went to the manager’s reception and the kids loved the slushies. Of course, mom and dad liked the sangria and margaritas. Because it was the holidays, they had a hot snack of egg rolls along with the chips and popcorn.

We were only at the Embassy Suites in Lake Buena Vista for one night but it was a great choice and a short 40-minute drive to Legoland the next day.

Note: I did not receive any compensation for the stay or this post. It was purely on our own and I wanted to review my experience.

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