Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Soaring Eagle Waterpark: Mt Pleasant, Michigan

My family recently visited the Soaring Eagle Waterpark in Mt Pleasant, Michigan.  Here was our experience:

Our visit started with a one night stay at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.  My husband had tickets for an event there.  It was a crazy busy weekend for my family so we decided to join him, not for the event but to squeeze in some family time.  Since we were going to be in the area we decided to spend our family time at the waterpark.

The Soaring Eagle Waterpark is also a resort.  However, there were no available rooms for the night we needed.  So, we didn't stay at the waterpark resort.  We did read on their website that the waterpark has limited "tickets" for each day so it was recommended to reserve your tickets ahead of time.  So, we did just that.  My husband took care of this.  He had to call to make the reservation and it was kind of awkward but it ended up going well overall.  We were given a start and end time for the waterpark.  We had the choice of a full or half day visit.  Since we were visiting on the day that we were heading out of town we decided to just pay for a half day.

So, we showed up the day of our reservation.  

The only "tips" I had received from previous visitors was that it was small and the food wasn't cheap.  Was it small?  Well, kind of... but I didn't think it was bad. However, I went in the summer (when most people choose to be outside) and my friend went in the winter (when indoor waterparks get really busy).   

We went to the hotel desk to check-in (there was a desk for the waterpark but it wasn't staffed).  At the desk my kiddos were given coloring books and crayons.  We were also given paper bracelets to wear during our visit.  It was color coded for the day and time frame we had paid for.

Inside the waterpark:

Locker rooms with plenty of toilets, private showers, private dressing area, and one of the machines I LOVE that spin dries your suit. 

Private cabana's.  I'm not sure how much these were but I did see a family hiding out in one without paying ;-)
There were many lounge chairs around (for free) but it was hard to find any available (people were "holding" them for future use, or for "lockers" for their items).
Lockers:  you can see the staff member at the computer screen.  This is where you pay for a locker, get assigned a locker, and open the locker when you would like.  The problem?  If the computer has an "error" you can't access your locker until it is fixed!!!  This happened to us at an amusement park once and it was a HUGE set back!!  I mentioned that there is a staff person at the computer in this picture - the computer had an error that she was trying to fix it.  We waited in line to get a locker and quickly changed our mind once we saw what was going on.  My husband took some important stuff out to the car and we just sat our remaining belongings on chairs (just like many others were doing).

They provide life jackets for kiddos.  They also have towels but they are small and rough.

A play area for little kiddos.

Another view of the kids play area.

Swimming pool with 1 basketball hoop.

Log walk (not sure of its official name).  Basically, you try to walk across the floating "stumps" while they move around.  There is a net over the area to hold on to for support.  My son opted to not try this because they would not let parents in the water to help (unlike other water parks we have been to).  However, my daughter is a little more brave and successfully completed the task.

This was a favorite for my kiddos!  It is like a water tornado.  The water rapidly pushes you around a circle area (off to the side of the pool).  Even as an adult I found it hard to stand up.  It was fun but my kiddos wore life jackets to make it more enjoyable for their age and swimming skills (or lack of).
Rock wall!  And you just push yourself off at the top so you land in the water.  My kiddos were not interested in this so we didn't try it.  However, it looked fun.

Flow Rider:  wave surfing ride!  My daughter and my husband both tried this.  The staff was very helpful with all ages and skill levels!  The line took a while to get through.  But, they let you ride for a while so if you got knocked off right away they gave you another chance.  You do have to sign a waiver (they give you another paper band to wear after you have signed a waiver so you don't have to do it every time you surf that day).

There are two slides:

No tube, single person at a time, and way too fast for my kiddos!   I highly recommend trying it first before sending your kiddos down it.  My daughter did okay (after instruction from the life guard) but she decided that once was enough.  My son, thankfully he didn't go down (as I was going down the slide I knew it was NOT going to be fun for him).  Thankfully, the life guards instructions were too overwhelming for my little man so he opted out and my husband walked him back down the stairs.

You can ride this as a single or double ride.   It spits you out into a small "toilet bowl" that makes it fun.  My daughter and my husband revisited this slide many times!

My kids were tall enough but my daughter was measured EVERY time she attempted to go down a slide.  So, we were able to go to the staff office (near the locker rooms) to get another paper band to let staff know she was tall enough for the slides - without having to remeasure her every time.

Little Beaver's Bend (lazy river).

Hot Springs (hot tub)

Outdoor seating

Eating area - was very hard to find a table to sit at.

Restaurant: fries, drinks, hot dogs, grilled cheese, club sandwiches, ...
Kind of expensive - especially when you add beverages.
Everything is cooked when you order it so you wait a little but it's fresh.

You can't bring food in but you can go to your car/hotel room, eat, and come back to the waterpark (as long as you have the band and stay within your paid time).

Sample of our bill - not cheap but....

Grilled cheese with fries.

Turkey club with fries

I have many friends that went to Central Michigan University (in Mt Pleasant).  One highly recommended stopping at this ice cream place on the way out of town.  I have since found out it is a popular place.  My experience:  it was a little confusing as a "first timer".  There were two windows.  I waited in line at one only to find out that it was the pick-up window and the other window was for ordering...  There were so many options that it was a little hard to figure things out.  I also checked out their Facebook page before our visit and there appears to be some menu options that are more known by the locals.  I say that because what I saw special options that were being promoted on Facebook that I did not see on the many menus at the ice cream shop.  Would I stop again?  Yes - but I would try to get some more "local" tips to improve my visit ;-)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Best EVER Birthday Present for an Adult

I am not perfect at coming up with my own ideas...  But, thanks to blogs, Pinterest, Facebook, ....  I have been able to find some pretty cool, creative, and memorable things!

Recently my mom celebrated her 55th Birthday.  We had a big gathering for her 50th birthday that was nice but my mom isn't much for being in the spotlight.  Plus, it wouldn't be that special if we threw a big party at every "milestone" birthday!  So, I decided to implement something that I had heard of but that I knew would be a huge surprise for my mom.  I wanted to give her a present full of memories.  So here is what I did:

I sent out a letter (via mail, Facebook, email, ...) to everyone that I could think of that my mom has known over the years.  Here is what I sent:

    "Hello everyone!
  • If you're receiving this email, you probably know that my mom, Peggy XXXXX, is turning 55 this July (much as she would hate me to be reminding everyone, I'm sure.) To celebrate her birthday, I'd like to put together a little surprise to let her know that her nearest and dearest are thinking of her. I'm going to try and create "55 Years of Memories" by filling 55 envelopes with a memory her friends and family have of her.
    And this is where you come in!
    If you have a spare moment in the next few days, I would be so grateful if you'd jot down a favorite memory you have of my mom and put it in the mail - sent to me. It doesn't have to be anything fancy -- you can just write it down on a piece of paper and sign your name. You can mention anything you like -- although the more nostalgic the better! Please absolutely feel free to send more than one memory (in fact, I welcome it -- we've got 55 envelopes to fill!), but make sure you write them on different pieces of paper (and sign your name to each) so I can split them up.
    Thank you so, so, so much for participating -- I know everyone is busy with their own lives, and I do appreciate you taking a few minutes to do this; it will be so worth it when she reads all the memories people have of her (Please don't forget to keep it a surprise until then, though!)
    Thank you so much again. And please feel free to pass this information on to others that might want to contribute (especially since there are many that do not have Facebook.)"
    Then I ended the message by giving them my name and the address to send their letters to.

I purchased 55 pretty envelopes (her favorite color is pink but I also added a few lime green envelopes) and then I tied them up with a bow.  My out of pocket cost for this was low!  I just had to pick up some matching envelopes and I few stamps for the requests that I mailed (via USPS) to potential "authors".

Her reaction:  She laughed, she cried, she LOVED them all!!!  It really was a great present that I think anyone would enjoy!  It meant a lot to her and she has them to keep to read over and over again through the years.  Her Facebook response:  "I have never had such a great birthday gift in my life thank you all"

Things to know:

  • I did end up with some last minute submissions that I received via email or just as a reply to my Facebook message.  I simply cut and paste those messages into a word document, made sure the authors name was included, and printed it on colored paper.
  • I did not end up with 55 letters (it was more like 35).  I did send some reminders to the people I had contact with on Facebook.  There were some people that I should have "pushed" more to submit a memory.  But, I was short on time and didn't realize the "missing" submissions early enough to make a special request.  Example: from close family and friends that are a little shy about sharing feelings ...
  • I saved my "letter writing" for last.  I wanted to figure out how many of my memories should be split up to fill more envelopes.  
  • The very first letter in the pile was from me.  It only made sense since the gift was from me.
  • I mixed up the letters in the pile so she wasn't reading back to back letters from people that sent more than one.
  • I had one letter that I was questioning if I should add to the gift.  The "attitude" of the letter didn't have the warm fuzzy, or even funny, feeling that I was hoping for.  But, after talking it over with my only sibling, I decided to add the letter.  However, I did include a sticky note on top of it just reminding her to keep in mind the "social skills" of the author.  My mom has a thick skin so it went over well and she was back to reading the other GREAT memories that were shared.  However, consider your audience!  If this gift would have been for my mother-in-law I would have never shown her the letter!
  • I received a large variety of letters.  Some were funny, some were sad.  Some were long some were short.  Some were on fancy paper and some were on sticky notes.  But, they sent them to me and my mom enjoyed every one of them.  She was also very surprised by the people that sent letters and to read the memories that they cherished most!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Legoland Discovery Center: Chicago, Illinios

My "summer bucket list" for 2013 included a visit to Legoland Discovery Center - Chicago.  Well, actually Schaumburg, IL but close enough.  Don't confuse this with the Lego store that is actually located in Chicago.  My son is a Lego maniac right now and my daughter likes to build with them too.  So, planning a visit for this summer was perfect!  

Here's our experience:

You can make so many things with Legos!

I highly recommend purchasing your tickets online before your visit!  At that time you select what hour of the day you want to start your visit (you can stay all day once you are in).  We picked 10:00 am (when they opened) and received "VIP" treatment over the people who didn't pre-purchased tickets.  The rates are cheaper when you buy them online and in advance.  However, some times you can find coupons that give a free kids admission per a full priced adult admission purchase.  The coupons I have seen can not be used online and I do not know how that rate compares to the online promotions.  

We purchased a family package (it was a deal going on at the time that I do not see online at the time of writing this post - included 4 tickets for a great price), a family hot dog meal package, and two activity packs.  

Activity packs:  these were $4 each.  They included a lego lanyard, coupons (the two we used saved us enough to cover what we paid for the activity packs), games, and a "scavenger hunt" type of game that ended with the kids getting a button in the store before we left.

Activity Pack

The coupons that were in our activity packs.
We did purchase a photo that they took of my family when we arrived.  With our $3 off coupon, we paid $12 for it.  They also took a picture while we were on a ride but the machine was broken for that.  For an extra $1 we were given a code to access our picture online for a digital copy.  The code was located on our receipt.  

Notice the circle in the bottom left corner?  This is part of the "scavenger hunt".
After your visit each station you will find a stamping station.
Stamp all of the stations (that are part of the hunt) and you will get a free button at the store.

Example of a stamping station.

Front and back picture of a "button" that you get after completing the scavenger hunt.
They do have a variety of themes to pick from.

More legos!

There is a "Lego Factory" that you visit.  Basically, you go into a room that has a small set-up of how things work.  They don't actually make the legos there but it is very entertaining and educational.  It was good enough to make my 6 year old think that they maybe do make some legos there ;-)

You get a sample lego on the way out.
Another station is a classroom.  Each session takes 40 minutes to complete.  You have to sign up for the sessions so you don't have to wait in line.  Just visit the staff person standing out side of the door to get signed up.  This is located on the second floor just to the left of the photo booth.

The kids built something from Star Wars.
You can either build and leave the item there or you can purchase it for $5.

They do a great job at entertaining and teaching even the littlest kids how to build!
The staff member builds at the desk and "students" can see everything she is doing on the TV monitor.

You can sign up for a free magazine subscription and kids club (one free subscription per household).
Not going to Legoland but interested in getting the magazines?
Call 866-534-6258 and give operator code "LD11".  That should give you the two free years membership!

These are the two magazines we got for free at Legoland.
I had never heard of them but my kids love the ones we were given!
We found these on the same display as the Lego Club sign-up.
There are 4D movies to watch!!! We figured out that there were 2 different movies that rotate through the day.  Check out the sign at the theater (2nd floor) to see what is playing next.  we saw both movies and really enjoyed it!

There are two rides in the building.  One is on 1st floor.  You ride in a car (holds 4 people) and shoot lasers and bad guys while you travel through the ride.  The second (pictured below) is a 2-person ride that moves you up and down in the air as you pedal.  It is not great when you are wear flip-flops - I thought it was more of a workout ;-)

There is a large section of the 2nd floor devoted to playing, building, and testing!

The 2nd floor also offers a cafeteria.  We purchased our family hot dog meal online.  It sounded like a great deal at the time (discounted price for purchasing in advance) but now I wish we would have just ordered when we got there.  The activity pack had a food discount package that would have helped us save.  They have a few food options and even some salads!  They also offer kids meals that include a mini figure!

Hot dogs are usually the safest way to go for my picky eaters.  But, these had poppy seed covered buns and the buns were stuck to the hot dog (my kids do not like buns).  So, they ate their chips and drank their beverages....

Hot dog & bun
The store was nice but we had visited the Logo store in Woodfield Mall the night before.  I actually preferred their options and pricing over the store in Legoland.  Don't forget to sign up for the Lego VIP program for great rewards and promotions.  We signed up the night before our visit while at the Lego store in Woodfield Mall.

We did buy these at Legoland.  They had a ton of options!
They were $5 each or 3 for $12.  I figured they would be cute additions to my kiddos backpacks.
They offer a variety of fun experiences.  Here is one that I thought may be interesting for older kids.

We stayed at the Comfort Suites in Schaumburg.  I found a great Groupon deal which peaked my interest.  The suites were nice and within 1 mile of every place we planned to visit.  They offered a good free breakfast (even had a mini waffle maker which we love)!  There were only two "negative" things about our stay:  the hot and cold water in our shower were hooked up backwards (was fine once we figured this out) and there was no open seating left when we headed down for breakfast.  All of these were minor so they can easily be worked around if you experience them.  Our room was great and clean!  Those are two important details for us.  My kids even made 2 friends during breakfast that joined us at Legoland for some fun memories.

We stopped at Woodfield Mall to eat dinner.

We did a little shopping in Woodfield Mall.

We ate lunch at Woodfield Mall.

AND - they have an IKEA!!!!!
This was my first visit to an Ikea but I had heard a lot about it.
I made sure the car was empty so we would have room to bring home our purchases!
LOVE this place!!!