Thursday, April 11, 2013

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

I have a love/hate relationship with Krispy Kreme doughnuts!   I LOVE to eat them but hate all the calories they have!!!  I'm just glad there isn't one too close to my house.

With that said, have you ever noticed the red light in the window?  We look for it all the time!  When the red light is on it means they are making FRESH glazed doughnuts (the BEST way to eat them) right now!  Any order you place will come right off the "cooker" and they will also give you a free hot doughnut to eat while you watch the process take place.  

Free fresh hot doughnuts and a free hat!

Of course we have to take some home too!

My kiddos could watch the doughnut making process for hours.
I have to admit that, as an adult, I really enjoy it too!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Grand Canyon Railway Adventure

A few days ago I shared a blog post on our recent visit to Grand Canyon West.  This blog post is about the Grand Canyon Railway that offers rides from Flagstaff, Arizona to the canyon's south rim and back.  I have seen many articles highly recommending this!  However, it is on the national park - south rim of the Grand Canyon which was further than we decided to travel during our last vacation.

So why am I writing about this when I didn't actually go on the train myself?  Close family members just participated in this adventure.  They LOVED it and shared their experience with me.  If you go to the south rim (the national park side) you really should consider the train ride!

The family that went on the train ride also met up with us a couple of weeks earlier to explore the west rim with us.  They considered the south rim of the Grand Canyon to be much more amazing than the west rim.  Sometimes it hard to capture such beauty in pictures (unless you are a professional photographer) but they shared these with me.

The train experience:  

When they arrived to the station (reservations recommended) that morning they were treated to many fresh baked pastries and beverages.  They also had a gun fight to start the entertainment.

All of the railway staff were dressed in "old west" clothing.  Each car of the train had a staff member to entertain and educate the guests.  They also rotated singing staff to entertain everyone.  They are very interactive with the guests which made the ride a very memorable experience.  During the train ride they even have cowboys on horses ride up to stage a robbery.  Tips are appreciated (they cover that in a very entertaining way during your train introduction).

Once you arrive to the south rim you are given 3 hours and 45 minutes to explore, shop, eat....  There are 3 main places to eat at the park.  One is a high end/fancy restaurant, one is a nice sit down restaurant, and one is a grab and go type of restaurant.

Once you return to the station in Flagstaff you are treated to an impressive variety of snacks and beverages.

Bring kids?  The train ride would be very interesting for kids.  The time at the canyon might be a little long (since many little ones don't understand the amazement and beauty of the grand canyon - at least for that long).   I'm sure you could easily bring some stuff to entertain your littles ones to keep them happy while you explore.  The comparison was mentioned between the west and south rims when it comes to kids.  The west rim has a lot of historical tribal displays that little ones can play in (a variety of housing options they used that are cool "forts" for kiddos to explore).  From what my family members saw (who did not have kids with them) they didn't have a lot for kids to do at the part of the park they were at.  So, make sure you have something fun to keep them happy as a back-up.

I am excited to hopefully experience the railway during my next trip to the Grand Canyon!  Of course that will have to be a while from now.   We have so many other areas of the world to explore ;-)

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sky Zone: Grand Rapids, Michigan

I had heard a lot about Sky Zone from friends that live in the area.  There's one in Grand Rapids, Michigan but they also have other locations.  Everyone claimed to really like it so I figured I better add it to the list of things to check out.  In January my daughter was invited to a birthday party that was held there.  It was a nice warm introduction to the place.  However, my real experience was, as most people, our time there as a family (when we had to make the arrangements and pay).  So I added it to the list of places to visit over spring break.  Here's our experience:

Thankfully, a friend of mine took her kids to Sky Zone earlier in the week.  She mentioned that she had to wait 1 1/2 hours for an open jump time!  She did learn that you can purchase/reserve jump times through their website.  I was glad to hear that because the location is not in an area I travel often.  I would have been upset to find out that I drove all the way there and couldn't get in!  So, two days prior to our visit, I visited their website and paid for our jump times.  I decided on 1 hour (because it can get very exhausting for my kiddos age and it is expensive) starting right when they opened that day.  At that time their website was indicating that some times later in the day were already full.  They seem to be busy often and it was spring break on a Friday so I wasn't surprised to see that.

For our visit - they opened at 9:30 am with a 10:00 am first time to jump.
For those that didn't have a paid RSVP - the next opening that day wasn't until 5:30 pm!
If you do not have a waiver completed you will need to grab one (by the door) and fill it out prior to getting into line.  I was told that the waivers are good for one year.  My daughter was there previously but, because it was part of a party, they did not have her on file. That was fine since I had to complete one for my son (you can add the entire family to one form).  You can check-in early so that you are ready at your starting jump time.  Jumpers can also go barefoot or rent their shoes for jumping.

Check-in & shoe rental

Stickers indicating your paid jump time (start and end).
They must be worn at all times to jump.
We noticed people putting them on their back so they don't get in the way.

They have lots of these racks for shoes, coats, hats, ...

You can pay for a locker to keep your items more secure.
I think it was only 25 cents.

Tables to sit at but there are also a lot of benches and chairs around.

Small cafe.  
The restrooms are around the corner along with a drinking fountain.

Cafe menu and pricing (at the time of our visit in April 2013)

The area to line up when it's your start time.
A staff member goes through the "rules" before they let you into the trampoline area.

A look into the trampoline area.
Adults can walk around to watch or help their children.
However, they will of course need to pay if they want to participate.

There are 3 dodgeball courts


Foam pit - so fun to do tricks off the trampoline while jumping in!
They offer parties that include party rooms!
I loved how much staff they had working!!  Each area had at least one staff member making sure people were "following the rules" and playing safe.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Lowe's Build and Grow

For those of you that don't know about Home Depot Kids Workshop you will probably want to check it out!  My Home Depot Kids Workshop blog post from June 2012 explained our experiences.  We still attend these workshops every month and have collected many pins for the kiddos aprons.

Last summer we attended a couple of Lowe's Build and Grow workshops.  I honestly thought it was something that they only offered over the summer.  However, I recently found out that they offer opportunities at least once a month!  You do have to RSVP for these and the schedule is never on a set date (like Home Depot which has there craft the 1st Saturday of every month).  I highly recommend printing your RSVP waiver/form to bring with you.  If you don't have it you will need to hand write one out again.  Some sessions do fill up so they do keep a RSVP list to verify you are on it.

Lowe's crafts are usually more geared toward hit movies or other popular kids activities.  Overall, it's definitely worth doing - and it is free!!!

They have aprons for first time visitors and they give the kids a certificate with an iron on patch when they have completed the craft.  So we have started our patch collection on the kiddos Lowe's aprons.  I just wish I would have known this last summer.  We had some Shrek patches that I have since tossed because I had no clue what to do with them.

Just 1 patch for this picture.
Now we already have 3 patches on each apron!

Monster Jam craft - perfect for my kiddos!!
This one did fill up at most locations as soon as they let people start RSVPing.
Lowe's Build and Grow is offered at pretty much every location.  During a recent vacation in Las Vegas we decided to do a craft at a local Lowe's.  We got lucky this time - they even let us keep the hammer and goggles (for eye protection)!!!

We love palm trees!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon West is the Land of the Hualapai Nation.  It's also well known for the glass skywalk that you can walk on to see over the cliff of the canyon.

During a recent family trip to Las Vegas we decided to visit the Grand Canyon for a day.  The south rim is the national park and looks like a great place to visit.  However, it is at least a 5 hour drive from Las Vegas - each way!  So, we decided to visit the west rim of the canyon which is only 2.5 miles from Las Vegas.  It also allowed us to drive past Hoover Dam (didn't stop this year since we were there recently) and through the Joshua Tree Forest.

The first nice Joshua tree we found.

My kiddos had a great time exploring the dessert during our short stop.

This Joshua Tree Forest on the way to Grand Canyon West.
I must confess that this picture was taken on our way back to Vegas.
It was a short opportunity on top of the hill.
It was much prettier on the way to the canyon but I didn't realize it would be the only spot
that I could take a picture on some sort of angle (see more of the trees). 

There is a large section of the road that is not paved.   It's very dirty and I have heard can be very bumpy!  We are from Michigan so it wasn't bad for us ;-)  However, we could have been there during a time where they just repaired some spots....

Yes - all visitors must check in at the main terminal!  My mom was there 2-3 years ago and she never mentioned this to us.  I later found out that the options have changed a lot since her visit.  

You purchase tickets to access the canyon at the main terminal.  There are many packages available but at the time of our visit the cheapest was about $45 a person - after you add the taxes and fees!  You can't get anywhere near the canyon without paying that fee!  So we parked and entered the big white puffy building.  There, we used the restroom and paid for our entrance into the park.  You can also do some shopping in the gift shop.  An option that we were offered that I wanted to share with you:  You can add on meals and it is presented as a discount if you do that at the time of purchasing your tickets.  It is a nice option but we found out that not all the menu options are included.  Ask to look at the menu of what is included to see if you want to participate.  We purchased meal tickets for my kiddos only to find out later that the options were not anything they would eat.  BUT - when we were at one of the food stops we saw that they sell hot dogs (not part of the meal ticket)....  

The cost of your visit can really add up at this place!  We opted to not go on the glass skywalk.  The cost to walk out on it was pretty high!  Plus, they do not allow you to take camera's or any other items on the skywalk.  They will take a picture of your group for a cost but, like I said, the cost of things adds up quickly...  However, it is a "once in a lifetime experience so you may choose to do it.  My mom and step-dad had their picture taken on the skywalk during a previous visit and it turned out great!

Instead, we opted to take advantage of a helicopter experience through Papillon that we priced out and reserved ahead of time.  It included a helicopter ride into the canyon, a 10 minute boat ride on the Colorado River, and a helicopter ride back out of the canyon.  The deal we got at the time gave us all that for just $125 a person plus the $45 pp to get into the park.  It was $88 a person (with fees) to walk out onto the glass skywalk - not including the picture but it does include the entrance into the park.  From the main terminal we were able to access the helicopter company.   You may be able to take do a last minute flight but they were busy when we went and they said it gets much more busy later in the day.  We had a 1:40 pm flight scheduled but they squeezed us in early since we arrived earlier.   

A friend once told me how awesome it was to take a helicopter into the canyon.
I am so glad that we choose this experience for our visit!

Papillon landing spot in the Grand Canyon.
It's very dry, dusty and dirty!

Restroom option at the Papillon landing spot.

Stairs to get to the boat.  I saw other companies landing spots and most seemed to have stairs
and a walk required to get to the boat.

Waiting for the boat.

Walkway down to the boat.
It makes sense but look how dirty the water is!!!

Boat ride (kids wore life jackets).
Good thing we brought the sunblock and sun glasses!

Picture perfect!

Now back to the parking and shuttle area to see the rest of the canyon.  

This gives you an idea of the three stops that they shuttle you to.  One Shuttle will take you to Eagle Point (where the glass skywalk is located).  From there you take a shuttle to Guano Point.  Those two locations are where you will see the Grand Canyon.  There are many great picture opportunities and more!!! The 3rd shuttle will take you to Haulapai Ranch.  Each time your ticket is scanned so make sure you do not leave a location until you feel you have fully explored it - you can not return without paying an entrance fee again!  At least  that was my understanding.

I often mention that things change so you will want to check out pricing and such for your trip - especially if you are reading this post a couple years after I wrote it.  This is a good example:  I mentioned that my mom visited this area 2-3 years ago.  At that time, you drove directly to the skywalk.  You could see that portion of the Grand Canyon for free!!!  It was later that they added the parking location, main terminal, fees, and shuttles into the park....  Of course, adding more cost to the visitor.

"Shaded" area at the main terminal where you wait for the shuttles and/or get started for any helicopter rides.
There are two main lines for shuttles.  One will take you to Eagle Point - which will then take you to Guano Point.  The second line takes you to Hualapai Ranch.  The helicopter shuttles are also in this area but the companies will lead you to their shuttles which are small buses.

What the big shuttles look like.
 We opted to visit the ranch first (after our helicopter ride).  Mostly because we had family that were meeting us later that we wanted to have with us for any Grand Canyon stops.

The ranch will not get you close to the canyon.  It's main purpose appears to provide a cowboy town experience.

A "cowboy" at the ranch.

We were shown how to pan for gold.
So fun!

There were cowboy games to play.

Picture opportunity for Harry and the gang.

Cowboys showing us how to rope cattle.  They also had a "shoot out" while we were there.
The ranch wasn't busy when we were there.  It was our first stop while most people make it there last stop.  We did not eat there but I have read reviews stating that it has the best meal option.  It looked great but there wasn't anything for my fussy kiddos or vegetarian me.  They also offer horse rides and a gift shop.

Next, we took the shuttle back to the main terminal and met up with the rest of our group.  As a surprise to my kiddos, my mom and some of her family joined us.  It was a huge surprise that I thankfully caught on video!  Thankfully we had Verizon Wireless so we could communicate with each other in the canyon (to arrange the surprise).  We were told that they are the only carrier with great coverage there.  

From there we took the shuttle to Eagle Point.  It is the location of the skywalk, gift shops, your first chance to look over the canyon, get a-la-cart food (including a couple of vegetarian options and hot dogs), explore some history, and it's the only spot with a penny smasher machine (located in the skywalk building).

Somehow I failed to get a picture of the skywalk.  Many are posted online but I have never seen one that actually shows you that the glass walk is attached to a building.  Anyway, I was surprised to see that  so I wanted to share...

Some of our exploring at Eagle Point:

There was a clock to let us know when the next show was taking place but it was broken - we didn't see a show.
My husband was reluctant but finally posed for this picture for me ;-)

Next, we boarded the shuttle to head to Guano Point.    

This is a huge area where you can hike out to the cliff and get some great views!
I opted to stay back with the kids while the other adults explored.

Eating area and restrooms at Guano Point.
My mom and her family ate here and it was a good dinner plate (not a-la-cart).
My husband regretted missing out on this (we ate at the a-la-cart option at Eagle Point).
This location offered amazing views on all sides!!!!

I loved this crazy tree with the black birds hanging around!

Area at Guano Point to wait for the return shuttle (back to parking).
They had a little market where you could buy handmade jewelry and stuff.

Looking back at the food area from the shuttle.

I LOVE this picture of my step-dad at Guano Point!

Tell me about your Grand Canyon adventures!  I'm really curious to hear about the South Rim (National Park) and if anyone has taken the train that I have heard is awesome!