Category Archives: Family Travel Tips

Family Weekend Whirlwind Trip to NYC: Our #OneTankAdventure

When you live in DC, you are often faced with this question: Is a whirlwind #OneTankAdventure weekend trip to NYC with two young kids a good idea?

Is it better to travel from DC to NYC with the kids in the winter or the summer?

Can a 5-year-old stay up for a 7pm performance of the Rockettes?

Do we dare tackle I-95 and the New Jersey Turnpike (barring any Governor Cristie revenge bridge closings) on a busy holiday weekend in December? Or should we cough up the extra money for train or plane tickets?

Note where the youngest WM'ette is perched...on a blustery night in Rockefeller Center

Note where the youngest WM’ette is perched…on a blustery night in Rockefeller Center

And in the end, the ultimate parental-evaluating-a-trip-question must be faced head on: Will we bleed money and end up carrying the kids more than anything? (spoiler alert: every parent knows the answer to this one).

I decided December 2013 was the time to find out the answers to these deep questions. As anyone knows who lives in relative close proximity to NYC, deciding to head there for a weekend trip with the young kids is not a simple question. There are so many things to contend with: traffic, crowds, weather, astronomical prices (starting with how best to get there; plane, train or automobile). But there are also just as many good reasons to take the kids to NYC for the weekend: amazing museums, beautiful architecture, unforgettable theater experiences, entire stores dedicated to candy….to name a few.

So how to get there, where to stay and what to do? My sister lives in Brooklyn and in previous years, just me and the eldest WM’ette would travel up to NYC for a whirlwind weekend holiday jaunt. We’d crash on their sofa and tool around town, it was fun and easy and relatively affordable. Then things got more complicated. My sister now has a toddler of her own and my youngest is now old enough that there’s no way you can take off for a weekend and hit toy and candy stores, see decorations and possibly even a play – and her not find out about it. Suddenly our tradition of quick and affordable holiday weekend for two became a family of four and we needed a hotel room.

Final_OneTankAdventureLast fall as we were considering planning the weekend, I was contacted by a representative from Ford Motor Company offering me a Ford Escape for a weekend. They asked if we had any trips coming up and would we want to give it a whirl? It seemed like the perfect time to try out a new car – a trip up 95 North in the Ford Escape – and we locked it in.

Next question we faced – where to stay and should we spring for tickets to the Rockettes? I knew that at ages 5 and 8, our girls were the perfect age to invest the $500 (yes, you got that right, $500 for 4 seats in the nose bleed section) in taking them to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes.

Final question – where to stay?

We reasoned that if we were going for one night, we should get the 7pm tickets to the Rockettes in order to maximize our time around the city, and we should spring for a hotel close to Rockefeller Center & Radio City Music Hall because by the end of the night, the kids would just be DONE.  We ended up booking a room at the Omni Berkshire, a few blocks from Rockefeller Center.

photo(155)Ford delivered the beautiful blue Ford Escape the day before we departed, back in mid-December, and the next morning we heard rumblings of snow. Being a DC’er, I chalked it up to maybe a few inches but probably nothing. Being a chronic over-packer, even for a 24 hour jaunt, Mr. WM noted just how much storage space we had in the Escape. We loaded the kids and bags into the bag, set up our portable DVD players and set off towards I-95 North. With Mr. WM behind the wheel, he noted the comfort and leg space he had. In particular, he doesn’t like it when his legs hit up against the middle console, a common complaint he has in smaller cars, and he complimented the interior comfort of the vehicle and the space he had for his long-ish legs. I enjoyed the back-up camera, the satellite radio and of course, the blind spot detection on the side mirrors – loved that feature.

I quickly began to wonder if, in fact, this incredibly fuel-efficient small SUV would result in a #OneTankAdventure for us because we were averaging a whopping 26.2 MPG. Obviously highway travel is more fuel efficient than stop-and-go city traffic – but considering we were headed to NYC – we were bound to hit stop-and-go city traffic. Either way, this car was averaging more efficient mileage than my small Mazda3.

Upon arriving in Midtown, we quickly realized that the snow was coming down at a good rate and it was more than a fluke and poorly predicted DC-style snow storm. The valet had whisked away the trusty Escape and we headed out front to grab a cab to the Upper West Side to meet my sister at the American Museum of Natural History.

NaturalHistoryEnter the first big question to be more strategically evaluated when planning a trip to NYC. If the weather is turning bad, should you leave the neighborhood where you are staying? Was traveling so far from Midtown a good decision given the snow? Would getting back be worth the effort?

We didn’t worry about those things as we spent a few hours enjoying the museum, especially the dinosaurs and any exhibits featuring human bones, of particular interest to my 5-year-old.  It was when we left the museum and realized we had three really tired kids, along with fierce winds and a few inches on the ground that we knew maybe we should have stuck closer to 5th Avenue.

What ensued was a long, cold and really magical walk through Central Park. Back to the original question – do you end up carrying kids more often than not?  I offer you exhibit A:

 

One of these things is just like the other.....

One of these things is just like the other…..

Now onto the next question, is a 7pm show a good idea?

Hmm. I still stand by the fact that on a normal night, our youngest goes to bed around 8:30pm-ish – so a 7pm show wasn’t outrageous. But see, factor in whipping cold wind, driving snow, a long magical stroll through Central Park and insane Christmas crowds – and well – a little one doesn’t have much energy left.

Did she stay awake for the duration of the show?

No way.

Did we tell her she did?

Yes.

Did my oldest blab and note she slept through more than half and missed tons of great things?

Oh totally. But she shushed that dream killer and told our little one she barely missed anything. She bought it.

#Lies

#ParentFail

#PoorPlanning

Getting ready to take the Escape over a bridge before heading back to DC

Getting ready to take the Escape over a bridge before heading back to DC (note – you don’t see any snow, do you?)

The next day, much to our total shock, all the snow was gone. Unlike DC where upwards of 6 inches would have shut us down for at least an entire day, all the snow was completely removed from the streets and sidewalks of midtown. It felt like we had a snow-filled dream and perhaps it never really happened?

We honestly had never seen anything like it.The Omni valet delivered the Escape back to us at the hotel and after a lovely morning stroll around Midtown, we headed to Brooklyn, still with about one-quarter of a tank of gas left, enjoyed lunch with baby Jack and his parents before heading back down the turnpike and 95 in our sweet, fuel-efficient ride.

Overall – we had a really great weekend.

Did it feel like we were bleeding cash?

Yes, of course, it’s NYC.

Did Mr. WM end up carrying the youngest on his shoulders pretty much the entire time?

Of course but you all knew that would happen.

Should I have purchased tickets to the 4:30 showing of the Rockettes? Yes, probably but that would have really cut into our day – so them’s the breaks.

Was springing for a hotel so close to Rockefeller Center worth the extra expense?

Absolutely. In the blinding wind and snow at 9:30pm, after a long day of touring around town, this time I was the one carrying the sleeping 5-year-old and you better believe the room was worth its weight in gold at that point.

Did we make it to NYC and back to DC on one tank?

#OneTankAdventure

No. We were driving an entry-sized SUV, loaded with baggage and 4 of us…but we still averaged a whopping 26.2 MPG, filled up one time on the Jersey turnpike, crossed all bridges and tunnels without any unexpected traffic drama, and enjoyed the comfort of our loaner ride.

Will we do it again? Oh absolutely. Right now I’ve got my eyes on a May trip to NYC to see Matilda and celebrate a certain someone’s second birthday…….

Cousins strolling Park Slope

Cousins strolling Park Slope

Disclosure: Ford Motor Company loaned the Ford Escape to me for the weekend but my opinions here are all my own. 

ISO: Advice on planning a trip to Disney World

Friends –

The time has come for us to take our girls to Disney World. We’ve held out – we wanted them to be done napping, we wanted them to be done being asked to be carried constantly, and we wanted at least one of them to be old enough to maybe remember part of the trip – so here we are – ready to plan the trip. We’re thinking of mid-November to celebrate not just each of their 5th and 8th birthdays but as it so happens, Mr Wired Momma’s 40th falls right in between their birthdays – so he will get to celebrate there as well.

I am overwhelmed by Disney and spent the majority of the weekend all over Disney focused blogs and

Photo Credit: Disney World

chat rooms. I sketched out what I think will be our itinerary for about 5-6 days including character meals and dinner shows. But before our insane 180 day advance date rolls around when I can make these meal reservations, I’d love to get any and all feedback, advice and thoughts you have on planning a great Disney trip, things you wish you’d known, meals you’d wished you’d skipped or gotten too, hotels you wished you’d considered or that you stayed in and LOVED….any and all things Disney. I haven’t booked anything yet or made any reservations. I am open to all advice.

Bring it on please…and I suspect there are other readers out there who, like moi, last visited Disney world in the 6th grade (1986…and one of my friends came with and she wore her head-gear the entire time much to the extreme embarrassment of me and my older sister….note we were busy getting character autographs, so who were we to be embarrassed by her braces and head-gear).

I hope you’ll share your wealth of knowledge – I am hungry for any and all tips!!

 

The WM Favorite Things: Summer Edition

 

Beautiful sunset on Hatteras Island, NC

If you’re looking to round out your summer by squeezing in a day trip, a weekend get-away or some date nights, look no further. Today is like Oprah’s Favorite Things Christmas episode…only better. (seriously). From the shores of Hatteras Island, NC, today I bring you the WM Favorite Things Summer recap of my must-hits. A potpourri….a hit list with something for everyone. It’s how I roll.

 

For the day tripper with younger kids, head to Dutch Wonderland. Here’s my review from earlier this summer.

For an unforgettable weekend get-away, load up the car, invite some other families, go it alone, go in the fall, go in the winter, go now – just go – head to Deep Creek Lake. Here’s my tips on renting a house, what to do and why you shouldn’t miss this gem a mere three hours from DC. Yours truly is headed there for the annual Labor Day trip in a few weeks – can’t wait.

For a variety of ideas on date nights, including rocking out to some amazing 80s covers, sunset kayaking or yummy food, click here.

For one of the WM and Mr. WM top 5 restaurants in DC, check out my review here of PS7s including tips on how to make this a chic date night on a budget, thanks to Restaurant.com.

 

Little screams summer more than flying a kite

Now, back to my vacation, enjoy the rest of your summer. And if you were wondering, what separates my amazing Favorite Things Summer Edition from Oprah’s….I don’t have any cars or bags to give-away. Maybe next time, friends. Until then, “Like” moi on Facebook to keep up with the laughs, the tips and whatever else seems fabulous or important.

 

Deep Creek Lake: Maryland’s Lake Tahoe

“The boat is SINKING,” shouted one friend.

I wavered. I froze. How do I protect my CAMERA, I worried, as the water from Deep Creek Lake was rushing into the boat. Kids were scurrying, wives were shouting, another barked “GRAB MY PHONE!” to her husband.

I was paralyzed and once again realized that I totally suck in crisis, only to look to the back of the pontoon boat and notice my husband calmly sitting there holding our 2 girls with the water still gushing into the front of the boat.

As it turns out, on a sunny, extremely humid day in Maryland’s lovely Deep Creek Lake, a pontoon boat CAN almost sink….with 8 adults and 8 young girls aboard.

And many of us gravitated towards saving our electronics and scaring the young kids instead of remaining calm in crisis…

In the end, we didn’t sink. And most of the kids were indifferent to our near-sinking experience but so began our amazing 3-day weekend in Deep Creek, our second annual trip over labor day with some of our best friends, all of whom we met at preschool.

If your kid is just starting preschool, be forewarned that those people standing there awkwardly with you on back-to-school night just might soon become the friends you couldn’t imagine not having, the people you will vacation with, the parents of the friends you hope your kids keep for the rest of their lives.

My husband was born and raised in Montgomery County and he long claimed that Deep Creek Lake is Maryland’s Lake Tahoe. I was highly suspicious until we went for the first time two years ago in the fall. After that trip, I knew I had to go back in the summer and so last year over Labor Day 3 couples and 9 young kids packed up into a hoard of minivans and SUVs and headed to our piece of paradise around the lake, a beautiful rented home that met our criteria of: Lake access, a hot tub and a fire pit for s’mores. That trip was the highlight of my summer and we all agreed to head back again this year. Only this time our tastes were more discerning and we were more experienced with how to spend our precious few days. We also added another preschool family to the brood, therefore we needed a bigger house for our group of 16.

This time we knew we wanted to be on the lake, we wanted to rent a boat (one that preferably wouldn’t sink), we still wanted the hot tub and s’mores fire pit and plenty of room for the kids.

Our rental house in Deep Creek

We ended up with a 7 bedroom, 6 bathroom house with a private dock and a nice view of the lake though it was, unfortunately, largely blocked by trees.  The price tag was about $700 per family for 3 nights. Last year it was about 20 degrees cooler up at the lake than it was in DC. It felt as though a three-hour drive transported us forward to mid-October and we loved it. The chilly nights in the hot tub surrounded by large pine trees, s’mores toasting over a crisp crackling fire and clear star-filled skies were the highlight.

This year, it was like we were transported from cool and not-humid spring to the dog days of July. It was suffocating humidity and too hot for the hot tub or fire pit – we resorted to toasting s’mores in the oven..and one husband packed just one pair of shorts because we were packed for October, not July. The lesson: make no assumptions about the weather in Deep Creek. The warmer weather, however, justified the expense of renting a boat and spending the day cruising the lake.

So for about $300 for a full-day rental, we packed lunches, a cooler filled with beverages and loaded up into the pontoon boat to soak in the views of the lake. The boat rentals are on a first-come, first-serve basis, so I’d recommend getting  motivated and out the door first thing to maximize the day-rate price. Rentals are also available for half-day, or 4 hour, options. After some time boating (and almost sinking), the kids loved the lunch break at the state park, including playing in the sand and in the lake. Later in the afternoon,  a real highlight for the adults involved boating over to the popular Honi-Honi bar, one of two watering holes by the lake.

The Honi-Honi is a must-stop for anyone traveling to Deep Creek for the weekend. 

Babes at the Honi Honi

None of us were sure why someone in our area hasn’t figured out this key to success but this bar offered patrons a (barely adequate) live band, extensive outdoor seating, tiki hut canopies for shade coverage, a cash-only make-shift bar by the expansive grassy area that borders the docks and lake, and large  concrete animals meant for kids to climb all over to keep them busy while mommy and daddy drink chat with their friends. It’s brilliant. But you don’t just go to the Honi-Honi for a drink or for its kid-friendly outdoor space. You go to the Honi-Honi to soak in the  smorgasbord of people and clothing styles. The place is a veritable time machine to the 80s and the people watching shouldn’t be missed. 

After a cool drink at the Honi-Honi, with two husbands back at the house bathing the kids (note: bring your manny’s for a trip to Deep Creek), the rest of us opted to jump off the boat for a cool dip in the lake.  I, for one, was deeply resistant to jumping into a lake where I couldn’t see what was waiting for me under the gray waters, but after caving to peer pressure and donning a super cool life vest, the crisp refreshing water  felt amazing on the hot day – and again – how often do you jump off boats with some great friends after a jaunt to the Honi-Honi? There was no better way to celebrate the end of summer than our day Saturday on the lake.

With Sunday brought questions from the group, should we rent the boat again? Could we resist docking at the Honi-Honi (which is, notably, accessible by vehicle).  Ultimately we concluded that because our group of kids are young (average age 5), we thought they didn’t have another boat day in the them and we opted to head to Wisp Mountain. Since last year, they built a fabulous playground on Wisp Mountain for the kids, along with a rope climbing area (that cost about $30 per kid). Adults can zipline or mountain bike. The Mountain (roller)Coaster was a must-hit for the group based on last year’s experience and we enjoyed the chairlift to the top of the mountain, so for $49, my husband purchased the family pack, which enabled all 4 of us to ride to the top of the mountain and all 4 of us to ride the Mountain Coaster. Initially, the line for the Mountain Coaster was about 30 minutes long, and with our 2.5 year-old growing weary, we opted to break from the pack and head to the chairlift.

Last year, the wind whipped and the temperature continued to drop as we inched our way to the top of the mountain.

Boaters on the white water course on Wisp Mt

 This year, the humidity didn’t budge and there was no wind to be found. Because we weren’t freezing, we actually had a great time walking around to check out the ski trails and then headed over to the Adventure Sports side of the mountain where they built a white-water rafting course. The course looked amazing but unfortunately you have to be 50lbs or more, so it’ll be a few years for us. I would  highly recommend it for parents seeking adventure with older kids. The course is open from May-October and you can also kayak and go river boarding.

Tstorms rolled in later on Sunday afternoon and hanging around the house ended up being a great way to pass the time and enjoy our last full day on the lake. We concluded that, again, because of the young ages of our kids, we didn’t need a 7 bedroom house for next year – what we need is a house with 4 master bedrooms and then we can keep the kids in our rooms. This particular house was set-up for the kids to be in the basement, complete with bunk bed rooms and a tv room and plenty of space to play. Turns out most of the kids had no interest in sleeping 1-2 floors away from their parents in a strange house. We also learned to inquire about the depth of the lake from the dock of the rented house. In our case, the water was really shallow and rocky, therefore we would never have allowed any of the kids to jump off the dock into the lake. Just docking the boat was tricky.  Every year we learn more about what to ask before renting a house.

With Monday came rain and the cool air we remembered from the previous year. If it weren’t raining, we would have likely headed over to Swallow Falls State Park, about 15 minutes from the lake, to hike and soak in the sweeping views of Maryland’s largest waterfall, at 53 feet. We hiked Swallow Falls in the fall two years ago and my eldest was in awe of the waterfall and trees sprouting from rocks on our paths.

Overall, if you haven’t ventured to Deep Creek Lake, I urge you to add it to the top of your list. The range of homes available for rent make it an affordable get-away and though it’s only 3 hours from DC, it feels like you’ve traveled to the Pacific Northwest with the pine trees and mountain views. The leaves will start turning much earlier than here and this weekend, the lake temperature was as warm as the ocean in Bethany two weeks ago.  Also, unlike heading to our beautiful beaches on the Eastern Shore, a trip to Deep Creek doesn’t require strategic planning to avoid traffic.

 You better believe our brood of 16 will be heading up for the third annual trip Labor Day 2012…look for us at the Honi-Honi.  In the  meantime, I am anxious to test out Deep Creek as a winter destination, which we plan to do this year. Look for my post later this week reviewing the fabulous parenting tips I picked up from the other moms this weekend, along with some of the delicious recipes (think black bean dip, curry couscous, tomato soup with basil and crushed bacon), book recommendations and other awesome insights after a few rounds of Flip Cup on the deck.

Don't leave home without your manny's...

If you’re interested in more information about Deep Creek, this site is a pretty good resource. Here’s a link to upcoming events in Deep Creek. And if searching for a house, I’d use Railey Realty or Long and Foster.  Don’t forget to subscribe to the WM blog by entering your email address or “Like” the Wired Momma FB page…I will be posting more great reviews for fall events…among other fun topics.