Art of Animation Resort

Art of Animation Resort
Art of Animation Resort, Disney World, Florida

During our most recent trip to Disney World, we stayed at the Art of Animation resort, and I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts/reviews of the property. This marks the third time I have stayed at Art of Animation Resort. The first time I stayed in the Cars family suite with a group of 6 fun loving girls on a bachelorette trip! The second time was with my family of 3 plus my mom+dad+and sister when our daughter was newly 2. We stayed in 2 adjoining Little Mermaid standard rooms. And this last time was just my family of 3 and our dear daughter was 2 (almost 3), and we again stayed in a Little Mermaid Standard Room!

Resort: The Art of Animation is a value resort hotel, and opened in 2012 making it the newest value resort on property. Art of Animation celebrates the animation and fantasy of 4 beloved Disney movies: Cars, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. The resort is divided into sections with The Little Mermaid section offering standard hotel rooms. The Cars, Finding Nemo, and Lion King sections offer family suites with interior halls/doors. In addition, the family suites are in closer proximity to the resorts main hub, Animation Hall whereas The Little Mermaid section is a bit of walk. It took us appx 10 minutes each day to walk from our hotel room to the buses with a stroller and tot in tow from The Little Mermaid section. The hotel also features 3 pools (more comments later), an arcade, a quick service food court: Landscape of Flavors, a souvenir shop: Ink & Paint Shop, a playground with slide for bambinos, and standard Disney amenities including Disney bus transportation to/from parks, Disney’s Magical express transportation to/from airport, and Movies under the Stars.

Rooms: The family suites can sleep 6, and have a designated bedroom with a door in addition to 2 full sized pull out beds in the living area of the suite (1 in the couch, and 1 pulls out from the wall and doubles as a table/bed). The suites also offer a kitchenette and 2 bathrooms! The Little Mermaid rooms have 2 full sized beds, and can hold a max of 4 people, but if you get adjoining rooms like we did you can technically fit 8, although I think it would be extremely tight. The rooms are fashioned after the themes of each movie and are fun and vibrant. If you are not into animated Disney decorum then you may feel the furnishings are cheap and cheesy, but we found them to be whimsical, and our 2 year old loved every second at the hotel!

The property: In addition to the rooms, each section is designed on the outside to reflect the movies’ setting. The Cars section has the cozy cone motel sign as well as cars parked outside. The Finding Nemo section has my husband’s favorite touch, the squalling seagulls that caw “mine, mine, mine” from the humorous dialog on Finding Nemo at set times throughout the day. This really brought out the inner kid in him as he would want to wait to hear their very loud caws 🙂  The Lion King & Little Mermaid sections have your favorite character statues including a rather scary over sized statue of Ursula – might need to give little ones a head up on this!

Little Mermaid Art of Animation
Ursula Statue, Art of Animation

Pools: There are 3 pools at Art of Animation. The Big Blue Pool, The Cars Pool, and The Little Mermaid Pool.

The largest pool at Disney World is the Big Blue Pool in the theme of Finding Nemo. There are underwater speakers in the pool for music. The pool has a splash pad area for younger kids as well as a poolside bar and beverage station. The hotel also hosts weekly activities at this main pool including outdoor movies and games, etc. The pool is located directly behind the Animation Hall providing convenient access to the food court as well.

Big Blue Pool, Art of Animation
Splash Pad Area, Big Blue Pool

The Cars Pool is the smallest pool at Art, but it has cabanas which are first come/first serve.

The Little Mermaid pool is a good size, but nothing extra special about it. It is a nice pool area, and has laundry facilities (fee), bathroom facilities, and vending machines in the poolside buildings.

There is not a pool area in the Lion King area; however, I do not view this as negative since there is no pool noise to work around. When we stayed in the Little Mermaid rooms once it was April and once it was January. For January we had a room overlooking the pool, and it was lovely as it was cold during our visit and not too many people were swimming. However, in April every evening once people would return from the parks the pools would be packed out with tons of noise. My tip for this is to request a lake view room if staying in the Little Mermaid section! When we stayed in Cars it was also cold during the month of February, and we also experienced no pool noise so I am not sure how loud this pool area gets during peak months.

Restaurant: Landscape of Flavors is a great quick service counter restaurant as it has multiple options, and a good variety in terms of food fare. There are 5 service areas. There is a dedicated build our own salad/ sandwich counter, build your own pasta counter, a pizza counter, a burger counter that offers a wide variety of options on burgers and toppings, and the last counter is international fare options including chicken tandoori, chicken curry, ribs, and fish. There is a wide variety of kids meal options, and they also have an entire wall of coolers which contain pre-made pastries, sandwiches, fruit & veggie cups, on the go snack and drink options. You also have the option to order pizza in your room! For breakfast, there are lots of options ranging from a breakfast platter, build your own omelette, pancakes, Mickey waffles, etc. Most of the time the lines were manageable; however, I will say, if at all possible avoid eating dinner here right after the park closes. It is a mad house. The set up is that you order your food and then go thru a cafeteria style line to pay for what is on your tray. One night we opted for this, and once I got my food I stood in line to check out for 20 minutes. By the time I checked out, all of our meals were cold. 😦

Ink & Paint Shop: We think this is a fabulous little souvenir shop. We have found some souvenirs here that we did not find elsewhere in the parks so definitely check out what they have. Also, if you purchase something at another store in the park, you can always return here as well so that is extremely convenient as well. You can also have anything you buy in the parks sent back to your resort hotel, and you can pick up inside this Ink & Paint Shop.

Fun Extras:

Draw Class: Art of Animation offers an area where kids can learn how to draw their favorite characters with a Disney artist. This is held in the little activity center adjacent to the check in area 3 times a day: 11am, 2pm, 5pm.  You also have the opportunity to bring your sketch of your favorite Disney character to the front desk to enter a contest as the hotel picks a winning sketch daily. You can also get art supplies from the front desk.

Jogging and Biking: There is also a free jogging trail around Art of Animation that links it with Pop Century. You also have the opportunity to rent a single or double bike from the property.

Coming Soon: Sky high Gondola: Construction was already underway when we visited last month (Jan 2018) for the new gondola transportation system which will allow you to enjoy an ariel view of Disney World. This system will link Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Caribbean Beach Resort with Hollywood Studios and the International Gateway at Epcot. This is something exciting and unique for these 3 resorts!

Overall: We have really enjoyed staying at Art of Animation, and highly recommend it! We have chosen to visit this property repeatedly because we really feel while our daughter is still little this is a really fun atmosphere for her! She loves all of the attention to Disney films. Some of her favorites are:

  • The shower in the Little Mermaid rooms is is designed to look like Ariel’s grotto where she hides all of her treasures. It has all of the treasures printed on tiles in the bathtub which is a blast for a 2 year old.
  • The cawing seagulls in the Nemo section just like her father.
  • The slide/playground area in the Nemo section

    Playground Art of Animation
    Playground, Art of Animation
  • The chance to draw on easels in the nook inside reception.
  • The outdoor movies
  • The statue of Rafiki in the Lion King section which we discovered last trip has now been removed. 😦
Art of Animation Directory
Art of Animation Directory
Hourglass Lake, Art of Animation
Hourglass Lake, Art of Animation Resort

Cinderella’s Royal Table vs. Akershus Royal Banquet

If you want to dine with princesses in Disney World then these are your 2 main options where multiple princesses from different tales are featured! Character experiences are our favorite part of Disney World! I, also, find the money well worth the expense in order to spend 1 on 1 time with characters while dining instead of having to stand in line especially when you are seeing at least 5 different characters like at these venues!

We visited both Cinderella’s Royal Table (Magic Kingdom) and Akershus Royal Banquet (EPCOT) recently when our daughter was 2! We enjoyed both experiences, but our favorite is Akershus at least from our most recent experiences!

Characters: At Cinderella’s Royal Table you first enter the castle and meet Cinderella. You have one on one time with Cinderella to sign autographs, take pictures, and talk! After visiting Cinderella, you walk upstairs to the dining room inside the castle, and during your meal you are visited table-side by Ariel, Jasmine, Aurora, and Snow White. At Akershus you enter the banquet hall and walk into a curtained off nook to meet Belle. You have one on one time with Belle to sign autographs, take pictures, and talk! After visiting Belle, you walk to your table in the main dining hall and are visited table-side during your meal by Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, and Snow White. They state that character appearances are subject to change at both venues, but the main difference is Belle at Akershus and Jasmine at Royal Table. Although I have to say, the dress Cinderella wore at the Royal Table meet and greet was much grander than the dress she wore at Akershus!

We thought both of these experiences were grand, but we felt that at Akershus the princesses were able to spend more time with our little one than at Cinderella’s Royal Table. They sat down with her, chatted, showed their shoes, told her stories, signed her book, etc. At Royal Table, they visited, signed the autograph book, took a picture, and left. At Akershus the little ones are able to participate in a princess processional with all of the princesses around the dining room holding their hand, dancing, etc. At Cinderella’s Royal Table each little one is given a magic wand if a girl or a plastic sword if a boy and a wishing star which they use throughout breakfast on different cues.

Value: Cinderella’s Royal Table requires 2 table dining credits while Akershus only requires 1. If using the dining plan, Akershus is a better value. However, if paying with cash I don’t really see the difference. Akershus may be slightly less, but only by a few dollars. An example, Disney World lists Cinderella’s Royal Table & Akershus breakfast/lunch price as both $35 to $59.99 per adult. You must use a credit card to secure each reservation even if you are on the dining plan. The cancellation policy at Cinderella’s Royal Table is more strict. Our reservation confirmation stated the cancellation policy was 1 day prior or you pay full price for Cinderella’s Table. For Akershus the cancellation policy is 1 day notice or a $10 per person fee. This is probably due to the difficulty of securing a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Which leads me to:

Reservations: It is easier to get a reservation at Akershus compared to Cinderella’s Royal Table. For our Cinderella’s Reservation I was logged online exactly 180 days (6 month mark) ahead of time, and was able to secure an 8:30 am breakfast reservation. All Cinderella reservations were gone for the beginning of our trip. I had to make the reservation for the end of our trip. For Akershus I made our reservation 3 months prior to our trip, and had multiple options on multiple days. I ended up booking a lunch reservation.

The Food: The food fare at Akershus is more ethnic except for breakfast. The breakfast menu is very much a typical American style breakfast. For lunch/dinner however it is food fare from Norway. We thought the food was fantastic! You begin with a buffet of Norwegian cheeses, salads, meats, fruits, and seafood options. Then you order an entree from the menu. I got the Norwegian meatball dish which I thought was fantastic! Then you finish with dessert! All for 1 dining credit! And since you are in Norway in Epcot your servers are Norwegian which allows for a more cultural dining experience. At Cinderella’s Royal Table we had breakfast so I don’t feel it is an accurate comparison, but we enjoyed the food here as well. I ordered the stuffed French toast and it was mouth watering delectable! You can find menu’s here: Cinderella’s Royal Table Menu & Akershus Banquet Hall Menu!

The Bottom Line: Both of these character dining options are enjoyable and perfectly Disney! We enjoyed the more one on one time with the princesses at Akershus. We enjoyed the food fare, and think it is a better value on the dining plan. Cinderella’s Royal Table does offer a chance to visit and dine in the castle which is a very unique, enchanting experience! There are pros and cons to each one, but I’d say we will probably visit Akershus in the future over Cinderella’s Royal Table! Although, I have heard stories of watching the fireworks thru the stained glass windows of Cinderella’s Castle while enjoying dinner so perhaps we are due for another experience there at different timing. What is your favorite princess character meal and why?




Favorite beach products for little ones!


Enjoying the beach with little ones can sometimes be a lot of work! There is so much preparation in order to avoid sunburns, heat overload, bathroom disasters, and sandy eyes! Here are my top favorite items that always make our beach trips with little ones a joy!

Tent: We always pack the tent! It is amazing how much more enjoyable our beach trips are with our tent! But then again with me having quite a fair complexion, I probably benefit  from the tent more than my daughter! 🙂 The tent makes nap time, potty breaks, etc so much better. It is like our own little home on the beach!

A portable potty: Little ones often have to have numerous potty breaks at the beach! And often kiddies are very scared about going potty in the ocean, and they do not want to take a break to go find a public restroom. Please use this suggestion within reason because obviously a public restroom will be needed in circumstances especially if anything other than number 1 is going down. We love our Potette Plus Travel Potty! It folds up to fit into a purse, backpack, or beach bag! The legs fold out and make a small potty. Absorbent liner bags fit inside the potty, and once done the bags tie up and throw away mess free. This is one of my favorite toddler contraptions!

Baby Powder: If your little one gets sand all over them, use baby powder! Baby powder takes dry sand right off and will circumvent that dreaded situation of sand in the eyes!

Inflatable Pool: We always take an inflatable pool with us to the beach. Our daughter used this at the beach for the first time when she was 6 months old, and continues to use it and she is almost 3! The inflatable pool we have is small and once deflated folds up to fit in my beach bag! It is easy to blow up, and offers a great place for a tot to play and cool off from the heat!

Inflatable Pool

Portable Clip Fan: Sometimes, the summer heat can be sweltering and a little hot for a baby who is only a few months old. A fan like this is great, and clips to to the beach chair!

Radio Flyer Wagon: This wagon breaks down with all of the paneling coming off, and makes it easy for us to load it into our Toureg for a drive to the beach! The wagon isn’t a necessity, but it definitely adds a bit more fun to long beach days. We use the wagon to pull all of our gear to the beach! Your tot can sleep in he wagon, and our daughter loves wagon rides on the beach!

Radio Flyer Wagon Beach

Mum & Bub Soothing Ointment: Long beach days can sometimes leave little one’s sensitive skin chaffed. This is my absolute favorite skin product! The soothing ointment was developed by a leading dermatologist and is naturally derived. It is infused with pawpaw fruit, and free of sufates, parabens, phthalates, gluten, soy, chemicals, etc.

The Beaches of 30A

Rosemary Beach, FL

Scenic 30A is an appx 20 mile stretch of road in Florida that runs parallel to the beach through charming seaside towns and alongside the Timpoochee Biking Trail.

We have visited 30A numerous times staying in multiple locations. We have stayed at Gulf Place near the beginning of 30A. At Rosemary Beach at the end of 30A, and at Watercolor and Seaside in the middle of 30A. We have booked directly through Watercolor Resort and Gulf Place, and we have also booked through VRBO and cottage rental agencies throughout 30A.

The beaches along 30A are a great place to make memories with little ones that will last a lifetime! I will never forget when my daughter giggled when she saw a crab on the beach the first time, or how she begged us to go crash into the waves with her. She and her cousins had a sand castle building contest and a sand burying contest! She collected nearly 45 seashells which are displayed in mason jars on my bathroom shelves and she filled our hearts with laughter and joy! 30A is where our favorite beaches are located, and I hope these tips help you enjoy 30A with your little bambinos in tow!

Logistics: 30A is an approximate 30 minute drive from Destin, Florida or Panama City Beach, FL. If coming from Panama City Beach you will hit the beach community of Rosemary Beach first. If coming from Destin, you will hit the communities / resorts located at the western end first beginning near Sandestin and hitting Gulf Place, Blue Mountain Beach, Grayton Beach, Seaside, etc first.


The Beaches: Beautiful stretches of white sandy beach, sand dunes, clear bright blue waves, and beautiful sunsets are abundant along the beaches of 30A. The majority of our time is always spent enjoying the beach and activities beachside.

We love paddle boarding the waters of 30A with our daughter, and have found Surf Sup Rentals to be a great rental company. They deliver and pick up your board when you are done, and we find the prices more reasonable than the companies located directly on the beach especially for a full day rental! If you are only wanting to try paddle boarding for an hour or so then the companies located directly on the beach are much more convenient.



If your little one wants to try their hand at surfing, 30A adventures hosts daily surf camps from their Seagrove location in both the morning and afternoon during the warmer months! And if you are visiting outside their normal camp offerings, you can always book a private lesson.

Biking: We always book bikes for our trips to 30A. Normally the bikes are included in our rentals, and they are either on the property premise or we are provided vouchers to go to the rental company, and pick up our gear. We always purchase a child carrier as well. Our daughter enjoys riding in a child seat and the pull behind wagon so it is always a tossup as to which we book! We enjoy riding our bikes to the beach, and through the charming towns that dot 30A. We also have tried our hand at some bike trails located throughout 30A. A great guide to the Timpoochee Trail can be found here! Also there are some great trails specific to each development along the way. One such example are local trails located throughout Watercolor Resort that allow you to bike around the lake, etc.

Beachside Communities: Beginning at the Eastern end of 30A in Rosemary Beach, our favorite stops along the way with kiddies are as follows:

The Sugar Shak (Rosemary Beach): Kids LOVE this place which is stocked from floor to ceiling with stacked rows of CANDY! Every candy imaginable is housed here from old school candies to imported candies from Europe. They also have an extensive ice cream bar, and I must say the ice cream is great! This is a fun little shop for kids, and very memorable. Our daughter still talks about the Sugar Shak!

Playground Park (Rosemary Beach): This park is located on the beach side of 30A in Rosemary Beach accessible right off the biking/walking path nestled in between mature trees! It is a great little playground with wooden equipment including swings, slides, monkey bars, and family swings to sit on and watch the kiddies play! We rode our bikes here one evening before heading to dinner!

Camp Rosemary: Created for kids ages 5 – 12, Rosemary Beach offers Camp Rosemary which runs from end of May to beginning of August! The camp is a drop off program with daily activities planned for kids. However, Camp Rosemary also offers kids activities/crafts throughout the week for any kids staying in Rosemary! You can pick up a local calendar of events upon arrival or check their website here!

Rosemary Pools: Rosemary Beach has 4 pools: Coquina Pool, Sky Pool, Barbados Pool, Cabana Pool. The Cabana Pool has a separate kid’s pool and kid’s playground adjacent to the pool which makes it our favorite. The Sky Pool is also great as it is indoors for a brief reprieve from the sun or if you happen to get a bit of rainy weather in sunny Florida! More info on the pools here!

30A Farmer’s Market (Rosemary Beach): On Thursdays and Sundays from 9 am – 1 pm located on the green at Barrett Square. This is a great farmer’s market with so many wonderful local foods, vegetables, fruits, breads, and specialty items! My favorite vendor is “Matt’s Mom’s Mustard”! I did not expect to spend $18 on mustard on a random Saturday morning in Rosemary Beach, but this mustard is so amazing! We purchased the “original mustard”, “pineapple mustard”, and “Russian mustard” We also got a fourth free for buying 3! They give free samples so if you find their stall, definitely stop in for a try!

Cowgirl Kitchen (Rosemary Beach): Love their pizzas!!! Menu here!

Fonville Park & Press (Aly’s Beach): Fonville is a fantastic kid’s park, outdoor seating area, and coffee bar and café located in Aly’s Beach! This is one of our favorite stops on 30A! We love going for breakfast, sitting outside, and watching our daughter enjoy the park! It has a fantastic green space!



Charlie’s Donut (Aly’s Beach): We enjoyed riding our bikes to this donut food truck located in Aly’s Beach! They open daily, but often sell out quickly especially during the peak summer months. They have amazing donuts with some unique flavors such as red velvet or my favorite the sour cream pound cake. We enjoyed our donuts, and then our daughter played in the splash pad located directly in front of the donut truck! This is a great morning stop for kids! And don’t worry about cash, they accept cards!



Seaside Outdoor Movies (Seaside Amphitheater): Enjoy Seaside’s Outdoor Movie Series during the Summer Months at the grassy Seaside Amphitheater right in the middle of town! Movies are on Friday nights, and begin at 8:00 pm! Be sure to check the summer schedule seasonally! Our daughter loved this, and my suggestion is to get food from either Modica Market in Seaside which has great takeaways and specialty foods such as cheeses, coffees, cakes, etc or the nearby food airstreams which leads into…

Food Airstreams (Seaside): Enjoy food truck fare right in the middle of the cute, charming town of Seaside which is where the 1998 movie the Truman Show was filmed! There are so many great options, but our favorites are Barefoot BBQ and Meltdown on 30A. Meltdown has some quirky spins on a traditional grilled cheese, and my husband loves the spicy BBQ Pork from Barefoot! And mine and my daughter’s absolute favorite food airstream is FROST BITES for all of your snow cone/ice cream needs! Order the piggly wiggly: custard on the bottom, shaved ice in the middle, and cream on top. My favorite flavor is vanilla custard, peach shaved ice and cream for a spin on peaches and cream!



Duckies Fun Shop (Seaside): Duckies is a great toy store in the middle of Seaside with fun, unique toys! A favorite of our daughter! We first took her here when she was 6 months old, then at a year, and then again at 2! Every time it was a hit!!!

Sundog Books (Seaside): Sundog Books is a great local book shop for adults and kids located right in the middle of Seaside. All of the books are arranged by categories which is so fun! They showcase popular books up front, and then have similar genres grouped together so that if you are a fan of say Jane Austen books then you would also quite likely enjoy the books grouped with the Jane Austen books! And who doesn’t love a good read at the beach!

Seaside Farmer’s Market (Seaside): Seaside also offers a local farmer’s market similar to the one located at Rosemary Beach although Seaside’s Farmer’s market is a bit bigger! The market is every Saturday from 9 am – 1pm and you can find everything from organic meats, vegetables, fruits to specialty cakes, breads, and crafts!

Watercolor Outdoor Movies: (Watercolor Resort): Watercolor also hosts an outdoor movie and concert series for guests running from end of May through early September. Movies are hosted normally on Thursday nights with concerts on Wednesdays at Marina Park! Be sure to check the seasonal schedule at Watercolor!

Watercolor Pools: If guests of Watercolor resort, you have access to 6 resort pools!!! One pool is an adult’s only pool so for kid friendly options there are 5 pools to choose from! All of the pools are fun and beautiful. We love the Beach Club Pool due to its proximity to the beach and food service; however, we also enjoy the frog and dragonfly pools located further back in Watercolor as they are very kid friendly!

Western Lake (Watercolor): A plus of staying at Watercolor Resort is access to the boathouse where you can kayak, paddleboard, or fish. We have kayaked the lake, and find it extremely relaxing and fun!

Camp Watercolor (Watercolor): Watercolor also offers a kids camp similar to Rosemary Beach. Geared towards children ages 5-12, the drop off camp offers daily activities and crafts!

The Red Bar (Grayton Beach): The Red Bar is an iconic, unique venue located in the heart of Grayton Beach. They schedule live performances weekly, and during the summer months the wait to eat here can be quite lengthy as they do not accept reservations! With smaller children lunch would be a great option, but with older kids in tow they would no doubt enjoy the eclectic mix of furnishings and live entertainment!

Blue Mountain Beach Creamery (Blue Mountain Beach): Located right off 30A on county road 83 in the community of Blue Mountain Beach is the creamery. This place has amazing ice cream made fresh daily, and an amazing amount of flavor variety! The line at this place is sometimes wild, but definitely worth the stop!

Beach Horse Back Riding: (Gulf Place): Just north of Gulf Place on 30A is Arnett’s Horse Ranch where you can enjoy horseback rides along the beach!

Artists at Gulf Place (Gulf Place): The colony of artists at Gulf Place hosts art camps for kids during the summer months at Gulf Place on 30A! The cute little huts in the center of Gulf Place development feature work from various local artists daily! Be sure you check the schedule for which kid’s workshops will be presented during the next summer offering! Visit their webpage here!

For my favorite beach items with a tot in tow, please read my post here!

Rosemary Beach

Rosemary Beach Sunset

Wanaka, New Zealand

Husband – Lake Wanaka
Lake Wanaka
My bambina & me – Lake Wanaka

Wanaka is a small town in the Central Otago region of New Zealand on the Southern Lakes. Wanaka is a holiday resort town that fluxes with the stream of year round visitors, but the permanent population is just over 7000. Wanaka is full of charm and beautiful scenery. Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown, and has often been compared to Queenstown with some even calling it “Queenstown’s sister”. We enjoyed our time in Wanaka with our 18 month old, and found it has a very different feel from Queenstown that we fell in love with. It is very charming, and a perfect setting for a family holiday! We also found Wanaka to be less expensive than Queenstown which is always a plus!

Travel: Wanaka is located an approximate 1 hour drive from Queenstown via the Cardrona Road. Wanaka is also a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park located only 54 minutes to the park via State Highway 6. There are also some bus options that will carry you from Christchurch which is an appx 5 hour drive away.

Hotel: There are plenty of hotels, inns, hostels, and bed and breakfast options in Wanaka. We chose to rent a house via, NZ’s equivalent of homeaway or airbnb, and it was lovely. We highly recommend bookabach. We had an entire balcony that overlooked Lake Wanaka, and we were close enough to walk to town!


The Lake: Lake Wanaka is crystal clear, and amazingly beautiful. There are so many activities to participate in. You can swim, wade, kayak, paddle boat, fish, raft, jetboat, sail, waterski or wakeboard. Our toddler enjoyed wading in the water, and collecting rocks as the water is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom and see tons of rocks! There are also tons of ducks which is a great recipe for a toddler adventure.You can also rent kayak’s, boats, etc right on the lake front from Lakeland Wanaka.

Biking: You can also rent bikes from Lakeland Wanaka right on the lakefront. There are lots of bike trails, bikes parks, or road cycling available. You can even do heli biking for a more challenging ride. I have found the best source of info on biking in Wanaka can be found here! 

The Dinosaur Park: The Dinosaur Park is amazing, and was our daughter’s favorite attraction in Wanaka. We visited this park daily. It is right in the center of town, directly on the beach, and full of lots of fun activities including the famous dinosaur slide! This is a must stop with kiddies in tow. We were able to sit and take in the awesome views, picnic, wade in the water, etc while our little one played at the park and chased ducks! My suggestion is to get fish & chips take aways wrapped in newspaper from Wana Takeaways, and picnic beachside. You will see lots of other people doing the same!

Wanaka Lavender Farm:  Our daughter loved running through the rows of lavender, sitting on the purple tractor, seeing the farm animals, and eating lavender ice cream! This is a beautiful farm, and a great place to visit. We also partook of the lavender ice cream as well as tea, and it was simply divine! The little shop also has fantastic lavender products / souvenirs! Link to their website here!

Hiking: There are lots of family friendly hikes in/around Wanaka. The visitor’s center told us the Mount Iron Walk was a good walk for kids and would allow us to see sprawling views of Lake Wanaka, but we ran out of time to complete this hike. This is a full comprehensive guide of all of the hiking/walking options in Wanaka.

Lone Lake Wanaka Tree: We really enjoyed hiking around the beach to the Lake Wanaka Tree with our daughter. It was an easy beach walk around to the south end of the lake to see this feat of nature. There are no signs or placards that will point you in the right direction so make sure to just keep walking, and you will find it around the side of the lake. The tree sits just off shore from the public beach access, and is framed by the Southern Alps.

Lake Wanaka
The Lone Wanaka Tree, Lake Wanaka

Roy’s Peak Hike: Besides our trek up to Machu Picchu and The Great Wall, this is the most awe inspiring view I have ever had the privilege of seeing! And this def takes the cake for a natural landscape! This hike is NOT TODDLER/KID FRIENDLY. I try to tailor my recommendations to only kid friendly activities, but this view is so stunning I thought it needed mentioning. We left our daughter with my parents while we embarked on this hike. They took her to the dinosaur park, Patagonia Chocolates, and lots of other fun activities around town while we were gone! If you have an older child who is physically fit you can make the determination as to whether to take them along. The hike will take you appx 5-6 hours depending on your level of fitness. It took us about 6.5 hours as we stopped several times on the ascent. You climb appx 1500 meters straight up a mountain thru private farmland. There are sheep grazing alongside the hiking path, and can sometimes block your path. This is an exposed track. There is no shield from the sun, heat, rain, wind, etc. When we hiked, the sun was blazing. The burn time in New Zealand is appx 12 minutes so I required lots of sunscreen, layers of clothes, and an umbrella! I am very fair skinned. My husband fared better since he is not! Also, there are only bathrooms at the beginning/end of the trail so plan ahead for this. You will need to carry lots of water, provisions, clothes, etc as the temperature changes drastically throughout the day and as you ascend. On the descent, it is worth noting that you will be utilizing your knees very frequently as you are walking down a mountain the entire way down. I have relatively good knees, and they were extremely sore following this hike. It is also noteworthy to state that I am not a hiker. I am not extremely fit. I was working out regularly before this trip, but I was by no means an “athletic” individual so this may be WAY easier for someone else!

Roys Peak Summit
View from the Top!

Wanaka Golf: My husband played this course, and loved it. He is an avid golfer, and said this course was great to play and the views were beautiful yet distracting 🙂 You can hire a cart, and take your kids along for the ride! Our daughter loves going golfing with dada!

Amigos Mexican Grill: We really enjoyed this restaurant right in the center of town on Ardmore. It was very kid friendly. They have mariachi hats that my daughter loved, and also have hoola hoops on the lawn street side to be enjoyed.And get the Churros con Chocolate! Amazing!

Patagonia Chocolates: I have the same entry for this place under Queenstown as it is worth mentioning twice, and visiting multiple times. I am a huge fan. This place is amazing for adults and children alike. My favorite is the spicy hot chocolate, and my daughter loved the chocolate croissants. This is a must stop. They also serve ice cream and loads of other treats. My recommendation is picking up a treat before going to enjoy it lake side!

Puzzling World: A bizarre, fun filled alternate reality! Fun for the whole family! Visit their website here!

Make sure to save some time to visit the Hekwick Street Boutiques which are lovely. We found some of our favorite souvenirs in Wanaka!

Its also important to note we visited Wanaka in November. During the winter months, Wanaka is an amazing place to view the southern lights as well as ski and participate in winter activities! Cardrona Ski Park is loved by families!

And if you have time, tack on some time in Queenstown. Check out my guide to family fun here!

Flying with a Toddler

Travelling with a lap baby

Rocketing thru the sky appx 39,000 feet from land while trapped in a metal can with a bunch of strangers and your toddler is something that can be quite fearsome! Before we had our daughter, I had been on countless flights all over the world from China to Peru, but even still I was a nervous wreck about our first flight with our daughter in tow. I did so much research and planning leading up to our first flight to New York. Would she scream because of her ears hurting? Would she throw up? As she got a bit older then I worried about potty training disasters mid flight, jet lag, and the list goes on and on.

Our first flight wasn’t too bad. We traveled to New York, and had one lay over. The total fly time was about 6 hours. Our second trip was definitely a marathon. We flew to New Zealand, and had a fly time of appx 18 hours/ travel time of appx 24 hours. After NZ, our subsequent trips felt like a walk in the park! 🙂

Here are some tested tips that have worked for us, and I only hope they can help you enjoy your travels with your bambino!

At the Airport: Children do not need identification when flying with parents in the domestic USA (this is still so strange to me). Children will NEED identification when flying with anyone internationally.

You are allowed to check a stroller and/or car seat with most airlines free of charge, and they do not count toward your baggage allowance. When we opt to check our car seat, we always put it inside a huge laundry bag and write our name/details on the outside of the laundry bag. I always choose to utilize my stroller in the airport, and then tag it free of charge at the gate.

At security, most of the time small babies/ toddlers are allowed to keep their shoes on during screening. There is usually a family/express lane for screening with children. We never allow our daughter to go into the 3D imaging. We always opt for the step thru metal detector or a pat down. Different airports are different with their requirements, but most of the time I was allowed to carry my daughter thru the metal detector with her strapped in my baby carrier. A few times, they asked I remove her and a few other times she was asked to walk thru the detector by herself.

You are allowed an allowance of liquids when travelling with baby/ tots. You are allowed formula, juice, medicines, etc. I used to always utilize this allowance when my daughter was younger, and they do a hand swab test as well as some additional screening on the liquid items.

Playgrounds in airport: Most airports have children play areas so take a look at whichever airport you will be in! For example, in Dallas they have 5 play areas for children. There is one in each terminal except for E. During our last flight thru Dallas, we visited the junior fliers playground area in concourse C. There is a 33 foot dinosaur skeleton in the Atlanta airport located in the Atrium. In Orlando there is an entire aquarium in the food court. Last time I was in the Boston airport in terminal C, I noticed the Kidport interactive playground created by the Children’s Museum of Boston. This is a great way for children to burn off energy before boarding a flight!

Lap Baby versus Seat: Under the age of 2 years old, a baby can fly free of charge as a lap baby meaning you hold them in your lap for the duration of the flight. We have done this, but we have also chosen to buy a seat as well. From our experience, if your child is under 18 months old and the total flight time is 6 hours max or under this can be done. That’s our personal maximum. The benefits to booking your tot as a lap baby is obviously it is free, they do not have to occupy their own seat during take off and landing (this is a plus as if the baby falls asleep on you, you do not have to wake them up and strap them in to their own seat for take off / landing), and if there is an available seat on the airplane then your tot can occupy it at no cost. Also of note, if your child is small enough at the time of travel you can also book a bassinet for use for your lap baby at no additional cost on most airlines (more on this below). The benefits of buying your tot a seat is that they have their own seat/ space (especially important for long haul), having their own seat means you could also bring their car seat for use if you wanted, they get a checked baggage and carry on allowance, and they get a kid friendly meal on board. We have only ever flown coach by the way. If you are in first class on a long haul, you may could get away with always flying with a lap baby if under 2!

I chose to wear my baby in her sling in my lap when she flew as a lap baby. With that being said, of the 14 flights I did this on almost all had nothing to say about it. However, 2 of the flights did state I could not have my daughter in the carrier strapped to me for take off and landing. They stated this was because if it was an emergency situation, they would not be able to easily evacuate her. I thought it would be much easier with her being strapped to me since I could bolt from the plane with my hands free should anything happen, but I chose not to argue with the flight attendants. My number one motto, “Don’t argue with the flight attendants”. They are there to make your flight safe and enjoyable. Try at all cost to operate within their directions if possible. The only time I have ever spoken up and questioned the flight attendant was when my 18 month old was asleep on me. We had purchased her a seat for the flight, but she was still young enough to be counted as a lap baby. She had fallen asleep on me, and the flight attendant wanted me to wake her up and strap her into her own seat for landing. Seeing as how she had just fallen asleep, and for the mercy of the other passengers I did not want to wake her so I told the flight attendant she was young enough to be a lap baby, and even though I had purchased her a ticket she could still be held as lap baby for landing due to her age. The flight attendant checked with the other attendant, and they both agreed this was ok as long as the seat belt was fastened underneath the carrier and not on top of it. The seat belt extender then went around the carrier/baby. (Not all planes have seat belt extenders either. I have found they are all different domestically/ internationally/ airline specific so just follow directions) So definitely speak up if it is a legitimate concern, but always do so respectfully. I have seen my full share of people screaming on planes, and I will NEVER be that person.

Book the Bassinet: If your child is under the weight limit and small enough, then BOOK YOUR BASSINET for international travel. These bassinets attach to the bulkhead walls, and allows your baby to sleep without you holding them! You must book your seats in the bulkhead rows, and reserve your bassinet in advance. They are subject to availability so definitely call as early as possible to reserve. Each airline has different weight restrictions/ capacity. I have found that United Airlines has the largest bassinets of the airlines I have traveled. Big enough to hold up to 22 LBS / 2 years of age. British Airlines and Emirates also have reportedly big bassinets. I have found this website to be the most comprehensive guide to airline bassinets:

Kid Friendly Meal: If you purchase a ticket for your tot, you can pre-order a kid friendly meal. This must be done in advance so they can stock the plane. They deliver the kid meals before the meal service begins which is great so that you can help your tot eat before your meal is delivered. So far my daughter has enjoyed spaghetti, a cheeseburger meal, and a sandwich meal cut in the shape of a butterfly along with all of the sides as well.

Little Ears: Ear pressure can be quite painful for babies/toddlers. When our daughter was still young, and used her pacifier we found this did the trick with clearing her ears. When the pacifier wasn’t an option anymore, we found that lollipops and fruit chews work wonders! They also make baby child ear planes that can be inserted to regulate pressure. We have purchased these, but have not used them to date.

Flight Wings: Especially for your child’s first flight, be sure to request their flight wings, and request a chance to visit the cockpit and to meet the pilot. Our daughter really enjoyed this on our first flight, and made her very excited. The captain’s wings and the flight attendant’s wings are different as well as different from each airline so you can start a collection over time.

My daughter's first pair of flight wings from Delta

Board the Plane LAST: It always amazes me that people are clamoring for a chance to board the plane first for a long haul flight. I don’t want to be on the plane longer than I have to be!!! I understand that if you need overhead space this may be a valid reason for boarding the plane first, but realistically on a long haul flight there is enough overhead bin storage available. Especially with a child in tow, my suggestion is to board the plane last. Allow them to run and play in the airport then board the plane, strap in, and fly. I usually send my husband on ahead of us. He will store the luggage and wipe down our entire sitting area (seats, tray tables, arm rests, windows, etc) with antibacterial wipes. (There really are so many germs, and I desperately don’t want my tot getting sick heading into vacation). Then we board, and I have our daughter’s activities ready in her personal backpack stored under her seat. If you are travelling alone with a tot, it is rightly understandable you would need more time to get situated with all of your stuff and a baby so definitely don’t board last and feel flustered, but there is no reason to board first either!

On the Plane: We always seek to get our daughter involved in any upcoming trip. She has her own suitcase and carry on backpack which I think is VERY important! We discuss her “special” activities that will be in her backpack that she can only access when we are on the plane! What to PACK:

1.) Number ONE thing to NEVER forget to pack: A change of clothes for both BABY AND YOU. Better yet, on long haul pack a few changes just in case. You don’t want the off chance of your tot getting sick, vomiting on you, and being stuck without a change of clothes.

2.) Ear planes, Pacifiers, Lollipops, Fruit Chews: As already mentioned, pack something to assist with ear pressure.

3.) Medicine: As already mentioned, airport security makes an allowance for travelling with children’s medicine. Have the medicines you need or may need packed and on hand just in case.

4.) Antibacterial Wipes/ Baby Wipes: Every mom knows you need these! A lot of these!

5.) Diapers / Pull ups/ Underwear: Bring more than enough!!! They do have changing tables in certain bathrooms on the plane, but they are SMALL! I suggest organizing like I do. I always pack 3-4 diapers in a gallon zip lock bag with a small thing of wipes, powder, and a change of clothes JIC. I usually have 4 of these zip locks so that I can just grab one and go. Everything is in there! The loud suction of the toilet flushing on a plane also scares my child! So I always allow her outside then flush! Just an idea because the tears and trauma were fierce the first time I did this with her inside!

5.) Activities: The dollar store or the Target value section are my favorite for filling up on small inexpensive toys/activities for flights. I usually pack 1 new toy for each hour of travel time. (Travel time / not just fly time). I then wrap a few of the new toys in wrapping paper so that it makes it extra special. Unwrapping the present then becomes an entire activity, and takes up more time which is the goal on a flight!

Stickers are a big hit for our daughter especially the cling ones. She puts these all over the window, tray table, etc and they just peel right off with no trace. We also bought a cheap little photo album and before each trip I fill it with pictures she has not seen before. Pictures of her family, friends, places, etc. This is a great entertainment! Finger puppets are a hit, small dolls/toys, invisible or water paint books are fantastic! As well as a Rubik’s cube (even small children that don’t understand the concept like these) One great tip I picked up when I was researching our first flight, was to pack kids snacks in a clear plastic small tackle box. It keeps them assorted and contained. I also think a pair of children’s ear phones are a must. We bought these in the tiger motif, and have loved them. There are lots of different animals to choose from. Our tot gets very excited about watching movies with her “special” ear phones on.

And I ALWAYS, ALWAYS have an ace up my sleeve just in case of a meltdown. I always buy one or two toys that I know will be beloved and coveted. I hold onto these, and pull them out when the going gets tough. There was one instance I can remember. My daughter was so tired. We were 5 hours into a 13 hour flight, and all the lights on the plane had been turned off, etc. I had just gotten her to sleep, and BAM the lady sitting directly behind us decides to turn on her light to read. This immediately woke my baby up, and she began crying and crying and crying. I immediately pulled my ace out. For her it was a new mermaid doll. She immediately stopped crying long enough for me to get out of the seat with her and the new doll. I then went and stood in the back with her in the carrier and swayed her back to sleep. Upon returning to the seat, I built a fort. I took a blanket and my scarf and draped it over the seat and pinned it back with my safety pin. The blanket / scarf kept the light out. It shielded her even in the morning when the lights were back on and breakfast was being served, she still slept. That leads to my last tip:

I always bring a scarf and a safety pin. A scarf can be used for so many different things: A scarf, a blanket, hide and seek, to build a fort as per above. 🙂 And a safety pin is an amazing little contraption that has come in so handy in so many different situations. Just pack it, it can’t hurt!


Safe Travels!

Yosemite, CA


Having been to Yellowstone twice, I did not do research on Yosemite as I thought since both were National Parks that they would somehow be similar. I was wrong, and never have I been more disappointed in my lack of trip preparation. I love both parks, and while they do have some similarities they are also vastly different.

Yellowstone seems to have the upper hand when it comes to wildlife, thermal springs, and more easily accessible 2 lane paved roads making travel in Yellowstone more efficient. Yosemite seems to have more hiking trails and varied terrain. Yosemite is also home to the famed sequoia trees. Both parks boast gorgeous landscapes, but Yosemite, only in my opinion, is more majestic and truly a marvel to behold. Yosemite is full of natural, rugged terrain that is awe inspiring. It seemed around every turn there was another postcard view waiting. Yosemite is big (roughly the size of Rhode Island), but it is still smaller and more compact than Yellowstone. Yosemite 1190 square miles appx compared to Yellowstone appx 3,468 square miles.

I traveled to Yosemite in October with my 2.5 year old. We only spent 2 days in Yosemite which is not enough time!!! We loved Yosemite so much that my husband and I are already planning a trip back with our daughter to Yosemite, hopefully within a year, to stay at least a week in a camper van!!! What an adventure that will be!

Entrance to Yosemite is $30 per car. A yearly Yosemite visitor’s pass is $60 which is a great deal if you plan on visiting the park more than once or for longer than the 7 days allowed in the $30 entrance fee. Info can be found here:

Travel: The closest airport is Fresno, and the drive will take you an appx 1.25 hours to the South Entrance. Public transit is also available from Fresno airport via Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS). From San Francisco the drive will take you appx 2.5 hours to the Big Oak Flat Entrance. We actually traveled via car from Lake Tahoe, and the drive took us appx 2.5 hours via the Tioga Pass to the Eastern Entrance. However, the Tioga Pass is closed during various times of the year as the road is not safe so this will need to be checked prior to route planning. You can call the National Park’s service for a daily update about road conditions at 209-372-0200. From the Eastern Entrance, we had to drive 2 hours to the Valley Floor where the more popular sites are, but we did stop at several stops along the way.

Logistics: The roads in/out of Yosemite are very windy. The Tioga pass was especially curvy. We were, after all, driving across a mountain. My daughter and I suffered from car sickness, and had to pull over several times on the side of the cliffs to allow ourselves to re-calibrate. This increased our travel time. Yosemite has a network of one lane roads which can be problematic if you pass your destination so keep this in mind, and mark your map beforehand.

Hotel: We chose to stay at The Yosemite Valley Lodge directly across from Yosemite Falls. The property was very family friend as is convenient right in the middle of the Valley. It has a cafeteria style restaurant on site, and a dining room with a proper menu. I found the options in the cafeteria to be very good and enjoyable. Someone travelling with us also ate in the dining room, and raved about the salmon. For breakfast they also have a simple self serve express lane in the dining room with barista made coffees in addition to the full selection in the cafeteria. The shuttle also picks up/ drops off at this hotel.


Little Cub Program: You can buy the handbook at the visitor’s center, and it encourages kids to complete the activities to earn a button as a little cub!

Junior Ranger’s Program: Geared towards children ages 7-13, you can be pinned as a junior ranger. You can purchase the handbook at a visitor’s center. Your child must complete the book, collect a bag of trash, and choose one of the seminars they offer to attend. I saw some kids really engaged in this endeavor, and serious about that pin!

Tenaya Lake: Near the eastern entrance of Yosemite on Tioga Road is Yosemite’s largest natural lake, Tenaya Lake. Due to its location appx 1.5 hours from the Valley Floor, we found this lake/area to be much less populated. The lake is absolutely stunning, and our daughter enjoyed climbing on lots of the rocks present. We also enjoyed a picnic here. There are 2 picnic areas available, but we chose to picnic on the rocks! This lake is easy to get to as well with a tot in tow as it is steps off the main road. You can also kayak and swim in this lake! The water is crystal clear! This was my favorite stop in Yosemite!

Tenaya Lake, Yosemite

Sentintel Meadows: We enjoyed watching the sun set here in the meadow. My daughter also found it amazingly fun to run up and down the wooden foot paths. You can see a great views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome! This meadow was close to our hotel which made it a convenient stopping point for burning off energy before heading into the hotel!

Sentinel/Cooks Meadow, Yosemite

Yosemite Falls: The largest waterfall in North America! A must see in Yosemite! And luckily for us, right across from our hotel. We found this hike to be easy. The entire path is paved, and we pushed the stroller the entire way. My daughter also walked for a good portion. We spent a good amount of time in this spot. Children will need constant supervision as the rocks present are very slippery. With help from my father, my daughter was able to climb to the bottom of the rocks and play in the stream and rocks for at least an hour!

Bridal Veil Falls: The stunning waterfall that you see in all of the tunnel view photos! This was an easy hike for the 2 year old and took appx 30 minutes round trip with her. We did not take the stroller. And the leaves were all falling while we were there in October, and this was the biggest hit. She collected tons of leaves and carried them with her to the falls! She kept proclaiming “beautiful” looking up at the waterfall!


Mirror Lake Hike: Due to my lack of research beforehand, this ended up being a bit of a challenging hike for us. I did not realize that there is a completely paved road that you can hike all the way to Mirror Lake which is stroller accessible. Instead, I ended up taking the stroller and daughter on the wooded hiking path, and abandoning the stroller appx 1/2 way in. My father, being gracious and benevolent, went back for the stroller and crossed the woods to bring the stroller to me on the paved pathway. So many people passed us trying to yank that stroller up rocks and rugged terrain. Now realizing the paved road runs parallel to the wooded trail makes me realize they thought us crazy.  This hike took us way longer than needed, but it states the full round trip hike can be completed in 1 hour. Mirror Lake was low during our visit since it was fall. The lake has the highest water level in spring after all of the snow melts! The reflections on Mirror Lake though were still beautiful, and we could see the full reflections of the cliffs.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Swinging Bridge Yosemite Valley: This is a great easy hike across the bridge, and down to the Merced River. This is a great spot for picnicking, swimming, or wading. There is also lots of room to run. This attraction was also close to our hotel which was a perk. The bridge doesn’t actually swing though. In order to visit an actual swinging bridge in Yosemite, you would need to go to the Wawona Swinging Bridge.

Valley Visitor Center: Beware! This is quite a long walk from the parking lot! I was ill prepared for this, and did not bring the stroller. Bring your stroller if you have tots! Otherwise the visitor center is nice with a great history display. My daughter actually loved this area and spent a great deal of time climbing under the rocks and looking at all the exhibits. There is also an Indian village in the back and museum to view that is free. You can also collect your official US Parks “Yosemite” Passport stamp here!

Also of note: you can rent bikes during select times of the year at the Yosemite Valley Lodge with bike trailers! In the winter there is ice skating at Half Dome Village! We also found the Half Dome Village Gift and Grocery to be great. We were able to get lots of groceries and souvenirs including snow globes in this store!

We covered a lot of ground for 2 days in Yosemite with a 2 year old, but we also missed SO MUCH. Next go around, a definite on our list is Tunnel View. Since we entered via Tioga Pass, we missed this iconic view. Also next time, we will not miss the Sequoias! Please offer up your favorite activities with kids in Yosemite as I would love to include them in our next camper van trip!

2 ADDITIONAL TIPS: BEARS ARE A LEGITIMATE CONCERN. Pay attention to all of the warnings and information. They told us to remove even scented chap stick from our vehicles while staying at the lodge. They have videos playing of bears breaking into cars!

BATHROOMS AND HIKING WITH A TODDLER: As any parent knows, a potty trained toddler may need to potty in the middle of a drive around a cliff or during a hike where there are no facilities. My absolute favorite contraption is my toddler’s portable potty with bag liners by “Potette Plus”. It has made our life so much easier. The potty folds up small enough to fit in a purse or backpack. The liners are absorbent and easy to throw away. Do yourself a favor, and buy this potty. This is by no means a paid endorsement, I really just love this travel potty that much! The things that excite a mom!  🙂


Mirror Lake Hike, Yosemite