Travel with kids

Bay Harbor brings style to resorts in Michigan

Not much can beat a warm summer day in northern Michigan. And a stay at Bay Harbor makes it even better. In late June, my family and I stayed at the Inn at Bay Harbor for a few days. The weather was perfect, the resort pleasant and the views spectacular.

We used the complimentary bikes one day and rode on the path towards Petoskey. The bike path was in perfect condition with lots of bike and walking traffic. It was shaded so although it was a very warm day, we had the cool breezes of shade on our side. A few openings in the trees provided spectacular views of Lake Michigan.

Downtown Petoskey is just a short drive away, with all of the walkable shopping and cute parks and restaurants for whatever strikes your fancy. We stopped for a music performance in a park, and the kids had fun exploring a toy store and a garden store with fairy gardens on display.

We had a couple of fantastic meals at the South American Grille and Wine Bar. A local Northern Michigan seasonal salad really hit the spot.

The kids had a blast at the pool, which is placed near gorgeous views of the bay. We took a break to walk the shore and find Petoskey stones, of which we found several. We wandered down to the volleyball net and had a short family game.

The rooms are nice and comfortable, with a bedroom, living room with a murphy bed and kitchenette, creating the perfect space for a family vacation. A small balcony overlooking the lake is a great way to end the day.

At dusk, we headed to the fire near the lake and made s’mores and my husband and son played catch on the lawn. Just a few days at Bay Harbor and we were well-rested and recharged.

Disclosure: My husband traveled here on a work trip. My kids and I were along for the ride. This review is my own opinion and is not compensated.


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A few days at the Chicago Westin Michigan Avenue

Any hotel next to the Hancock building may look small, but when the hotel has two wings and two separate elevators, the place is a lot larger than it looks.

Chicago Westin Michigan AvenueWhen I stayed at the Chicago Westin Michigan Avenue in March, the hotel was packed but I never felt overwhelmed or had to wait excessively. It was definitely a smooth operation. The hotel had a mix of business travelers, sports groups and families, many of whom were shopping at the nearby Water Tower Place. In fact, the check-in desk has an American Girl on display and I saw many little girls walking around with their girls.Chicago Westin

The hotel rooms are fairly typical, with a desk, flat-screen TV and a comfy chair. The room did not have a separate refrigerator but did have a filled minibar.

The bathroom was clean and included the standard Westin toiletries. With a full hotel, I was surprised to find that I did not hear any noises from the hallway or from neighbors.

In the lobby, the hotel has a small Starbucks (with typical Chicago prices including $6 for a yogurt cup with granola). The restaurant bar was fairly full of people but I did not eat or drink there.

The Water Tower Place mall and Michigan Avenue shopping is just outside the door, and Giordano’s famous pizza is just a couple of walkable blocks away.

Disclosure: I stayed at the Westin Michigan Avenue for my day job and did not receive any compensation. This is my own personal review and opinions are my own.

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What every hotel should have

I stayed at a hotel recently that didn’t have an alarm clock or a coffee maker in the room. Apparently, they don’t cater to business travelers and/or wanted people to sleep in. As I traveled on several trips to a few states in less than a month, I began to make a mental list of things that every hotel should have.

A plug near the bed. For your phone. Especially if you don’t offer an alarm clock.

A refrigerator. It doesn’t take up that much space. I was recently at a hotel that had a “cooling unit” with a sign that said it would only cool to around 55 degrees and was not to be considered a refrigerator. Why? Why go through that bother? Just put in a fridge and make everyone happy.

A hair dryer. Standard, yet so many have been through the ringer.

A magnifying mirror. I found that I like hotels that have this now that I’m getting a little older. Although, sometimes the results can be more than you bargained for.

Ample coffee. One caffeinated and one decaffeinated is usually standard. If you offer a one-cup experience, give us a little more, please.

A safe that can fit a laptop. Safes come in so many shapes and sizes, and if it can’t fit my laptop, it’s not very useful to me.

A thermostat that allows you to turn on a fan. When you’re in a room with three other humans (including the little humans), being able to turn on the fan at night can make everyone sleep a little more soundly by having some white noise. Especially when those loud people coming crashing through the hallway after hitting the bar.

Room-darkening curtains . The ocean view is nice, but not for my little humans who are still adjusting to a new time zone. We recently had a hotel that had sliding wooden louvered doors to cover the sliding glass door. Pretty, but it sure didn’t keep out any light.

So what did I leave off the list? What else should a hotel have?

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It’s a go with the Go Oahu card

If you’re headed to Oahu with kids, the Go Oahu card is a pretty safe bet. You’ll probably want to hit the major tourist attractions, and this card covers almost all of them. From museums and scenic spots to snorkeling and sailing, the card covers just about every option.

Makani Catamaran OahuMy favorite activity from the card was the Makani Catamaran sail. We chose a morning sail and had no problem finding the catamaran. The crew had their system down and it was a fabulous morning of sailing. We had donuts and fresh fruit, drinks and plenty of warm Hawaiian breezes. I was more than happy to just be out on the water, sunning myself on the netted area, but we were also treated to sea turtles, flying fish and in the distance, a whale blowing a friendly spout of a salute. Makani Catamaran Sail

We did attempt to do a kayak and snorkel trip but once we arrived at the location, we were told that they had just discontinued their alliance with the card. Sadly, we were there at the beginning of the year so we were caught in the changeover. Looking at the site now, it looks like they’ve replaced it with a new activity. My advice? Always call first to avoid disappointment later.

Wet 'N Wild HawaiiWe learned our lesson and called ahead for the Hanauma Bay Snorkel. Unfortunately, they were already sold out for the day that we could attend. From others we met on the island, we were told repeatedly that it was a great place to go for snorkeling, and great for kids because of the calmer waters.

Another place we experienced was Wet ‘N Wild Hawaii, Oahu’s waterpark. It was the off-season so a few of the rides traded off at different times of the day, but we had fun trying to surf, battling the waves in the wave pool and getting adventurous on the water slides.

If we had more time, we would’ve definitely taken advantage of more activities. As an investment, the Go Card gives you a lot of great options.

Disclosure: My family received Go Oahu cards as part of my husband’s work trip. This review is my own opinion and was not a requirement of using the cards.

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Exploring the ocean at Oahu’s Sea Life Park

On a recent trip to Oahu, our family had Go Oahu cards, which offer access to many attractions across the island. We decided to try Sea Life Park as one of our options.

Oahu's Sea Life Park turtlesAlthough it can be fun to look at fish and sharks in an aquarium, Sea Life Park offers much, much more. We had a fun afternoon there taking in the sites and activities. Sure, they have sharks in tanks, and even that was a great experience for my kids because we were able to see a diver going in the tank.

But, we were also able to buy some lettuce and feed the sea turtles, touch starfish and other sea creatures and see a dolphin show. My kids absolutely loved the giant turtles, swimming around and actively going after their lunch.Oahu's Sea Life Park

We were too late to feed the sea lions but watched others give it a go, much the sea lions’ delight. There was even a play area for when the kids needed to blow off a little steam.

The view doesn’t hurt, either. Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, it’s just a great location to get out, walk around and experience the ocean life that Hawaii has to offer.

So if you’re in Hawaii and want to get out for a nice, scenic drive and meet some creatures from the deep, Sea Life Park is a great way to go.

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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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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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