Family Friendly Resorts

A Water Wonderland at JW Marriott Ihilani

A secluded cove. A nice pool. Palm trees. A warm tropical breeze. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than the JW Marriott Ihilani in Ko ’Olina, Oahu.

JW Marriott IhilaniWe stayed for a few days in January and it was the most relaxing part of our trip. Located in an area with an entry gate, you have other hotels, a luau, restaurants, a grocery store and golf course all within walking distance.

The hotel rooms are spacious, with a nice entryway, desk area and a huge bathroom with separate tub and shower. The toilet also has its own door, which can be a lifesaver when you’re sharing a room with family. The wooden blinds slide all the way open on one wall and you’re rewarded with a sweeping view of the pool area and the cove’s beach, shared with the Disney Aulani resort next door, and the Marriott timeshare a little further down. The balcony has its own reclining lounger and a table with chairs, perfect for warm, lazy days with the warm Hawaiian breeze. JW Marriott Ihilani beach

When the kids were ready for some downtime, I was able to recline on the balcony with a book in hand while the kids played some games and recharged for our next adventure.

On the beach, you can rent kayaks and water hammocks. We chose a water hammock, which I don’t have a photo of because we were busy out on the water having a fun time. It’s like a circular trampoline for the water, although guests are discouraged from jumping on it. The kids were trying to knock their dad off of it and I was just trying to stay put.

JW Marriott Ihilani poolSpeaking of warm, lazy days, one day we chose to stay put and had lunch poolside. The chicken basket was homemade, which pleased mom, and the Caesar salad was huge and refreshing.

For dinner choices, one night we headed down to Roy’s Ko ‘Olina and were treated to a wonderful dinner. Starting with edamame and moving through delicious seafood, we ended the meal with Roy’s famous pineapple upside down cake, definitely worth the wait! We also tried Monkeypod, right across the street from Ihilani, which had great fish tacos. JW Marriott Ihilani starfish

JW Marriott Ihilani sharksBesides the pool and the ocean cove, the most striking feature at the JW Marriott Ihilani are the small ponds just down from the lobby. In one, you find stingrays. In another, you find baby hammerhead sharks. And the last is full of colorful ocean fish and sea life. The hotel has a program where the kids can feed the sharks, enter the pool and learn about and touch creatures like a sea cucumber and starfish, and get up close with the manta rays and stingrays, feeding them and feeling their bodies brush past your legs. JW Marriott Ihilani stingrays

It’s an experience that my kids will remember for the rest of their lives. And we’ll remember the JW Marriott Ihilani as the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure.

Disclosure: My husband received the hotel stay as part of business. This review is my personal opinion and no compensation was received directly by me.

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Surfs up in Oahu

Having never created a bucket list, I never thought I’d be one to try surfing. Although I have to say, a few years ago, I never thought I’d zipline, either.

You live, you learn and you try new things.

We recently went on a family vacation in Hawaii and were at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s famous North Shore. You wouldn’t go to Mexico and not have a margarita, and you wouldn’t go to Hawaii without getting in the water. So, we had a family surf lesson.

Kids surfing OahuWhat I didn’t know is that yoga is essential to surfing. You need to have a strong core to flex and get up on the board – and squat. Of course, my kids with a lower center of gravity and natural flexibility were up on their boards almost instantly. Surf lesson in Oahu

My husband and I? Not so fast, although we each managed to make it up briefly. I did enjoy a saltwater mouthwash at one point, though.

Surfing is cool and all but how about surfing with Crush? It’s called Turtle Bay for a reason. We paddled and surfed alongside the green sea turtles. Huge and majestic, I had a big smile on my face after paddling past them.

And finally, you learn that a spa treatment would be a really good idea the day after surfing, because the next day your stomach muscles will be sore, as well as various other body parts.

But you also learn that trying new things together as a family can make a lifetime of memories.

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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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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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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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Under construction: The Sheraton New Orleans

If you stay at the Sheraton in New Orleans in late 2012, they’ll tell you when you check in that construction will happen between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Some of the rooms available are newly renovated and some are renovations-in-waiting, one of which I stayed in.

Sheraton New OrleansOverall, the hotel and conference areas are an ideal location. Right on Canal Street, in easy walking to the sites and sounds that New Orleans is known for, the Sheraton towers above most buildings and faces the Marriott.

I didn’t make it to the pool or workout area but when I walked by, fitness enthusiasts were all full steam ahead in a brightly lit and clean area.Sheraton shower

The Pelican bar, in the lobby, is an open, airy place where you can grab a drink, see a game on a giant projector screen and get a bite from a bar menu. I had the four-cheese pizza, of which I was only able to tackle a portion.

I was in a to-be remodeled room and I could immediately see why they are under construction. After choosing the “green choice” for room service, I was dismayed to find that the bathtub faucet had a persistent drip that I could not stop. The showerhead was detaching from the wall and sprayed like a sprinkler when turned on. Based on the noise level during the day, the room is in line to be refurbished very soon.

Rooms at Sheraton New OrleansBut oh, what a view. When these rooms are completed, it will be a perfect place to stay in the Crescent City. The floor-to-ceiling windows look directly over Canal Street and at times you can hear the sounds of jazz drifting up.Canal Street New Orleans

I walked many places while here – along the river, to the quarter and to some indulgent restaurants. The Sheraton New Orleans is a central location and would be great for couples and families visiting the city. The Starbucks in the lobby gives you the boost you need in the morning, as well as the in-room coffee service that also has Starbucks.

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Summer travel recap – Pure Michigan, 5 states and Mexico

At the beginning of summer, I had outlined our travel plans and added a couple of possible trips and a wish list. We ended up pretty much on track with a couple of additional trips thrown into the mix.

Here’s what we did with our summer vacation (not that I was on vacation all summer but it sure seems like it by looking at this list!)

  • The Homestead Resort in Glen Arbor: This is one of our favorite places. We kicked off summer on Memorial Day weekend with a trip to Northern Michigan.
  • Cabo San Lucas: Gorgeous resorts, swimming with the dolphins and kayaking on the ocean. Definitely on my list to return.
  • Charlotte, NC: Besides my favorite blogging conference, Type A Parent Conference, Charlotte was a great place to visit – and eat.
  • New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania: We had a whirlwind family tour of the big city, a waterpark and a relaxing riverside retreat. A perfect combination.
  • Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City: No Michigan summer is complete without a visit to Traverse City. The water was so warm in August.
  • Kohler, Wisconsin: We ended our summer with a Labor Day drive to Wisconsin. Golf, tennis, spa and the best french toast I’ve ever had.

A trip to Ontario, Canada, that I had mentioned ended up being just my husband for his work in the fall. Niagara Falls is still on my list as a family trip.

Onward and upward: What started as planning for a family trip to London during Easter break is morphing into a trip to Hawaii in mid-January. We’ll have to take the kids out of school for a couple of days but I think it’s worth it for the life experiences that they will gain. My husband’s job is requesting that he go, so we’ll tag along in the background.

How was your summer?

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A family affair at the Kohler Resort area and The American Club

Most people know Kohler for the kitchen and bathroom hardware but it’s also a lovely resort town in Wisconsin. The golfers out there know Kohler for its golf – Whistling Straights and Black Wolf Run – but I know Kohler for its family-friendly accommodations, fabulous Waters Spa and indulgent food.

Inn at Woodland Lake ShowerWhen my husband had to go to Kohler for a work trip, the family tagged along. And I do have to say, the hotel shower was exceptional. While there, we explored the Sports Core fitness facility, complete with indoor pool (and another adult pool), indoor and outdoor hottubs and a beach area with a raft that you can swim out to. The beach area is actually a small lake and connects by trail to the Inn at Woodland Lake, where we stayed. Kohler has a few hotels, and the most well-known is the historic American Club.Inn at Woodland Lake

In the middle courtyard of The American Club is an adorable stained glass greenhouse, imported from England, which houses an ice cream parlor and café. We also had a memorable brunch in the Wisconsin Room, with the best French toast ever – crème brulee!

One evening, the kids went to the Dinner & A Movie kids club and my husband and I went out to dinner at the Horse & Plow pub at the American Club. In true Wisconsin fashion, we had cheese curds, beer cheese soup and cheddar burgers – a cheese lovers’ paradise.Beer Cheese Soup at Horse & Plow

The American Club GreenhouseThe kids had a great time at their event, too. They played croquet and bean bag toss on the lawn and then settled into a conference room to watch their movie on fun bean bag chairs. Also part of the kids club, they received a goody bag on arrival, with a hat, activity book and a fold up Frisbee.

My other indulgence for the weekend was a trip to the spa, where I experienced the new Hamman Water Ritual. Pours of warm water, a body scrub and hair treatment had me relaxed and rejuvenated for the rest of the weekend.

The most memorable meal for my kids was the s’mores dessert at the BlackWolf Run Restaurant. Served with a blue flame, homemade graham crackers and homemade marshmallows, the dessert was a fun activity to end the meal.Smores at Blackwolf Run

We took a few walks around the pond and on one of the marked trails, as well as grabbed our tennis rackets and headed to the high school tennis courts. We all had a great time exploring the town, the activities and the food. It’s a great place for a family retreat.

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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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