Where to Stay in New York City with a Youth Group

Planning a a NYC trip for a youth group
Designed by famed Architect Richard Morris Hunt and built in 1883, the HI Hostel features dormer windows and a mansard roof. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As a family traveler writer and a youth group leader, I got voted to plan our trip to New York City for a handful of high school girls. Packed with an itinerary full of museums and must-dos, I needed budget-friendly lodging for a group. My go-to for Europe, a HI hostel, provided what I needed for planning a NYC trip for a youth group on a budget.

Our mission, to learn urban travel skills so the girls had the skills they needed to travel the world as young adults.

Urban Travel Skills

What are urban travel skills? Knowing how to travel in urban areas using public transportation along with budget-friendly lodging options.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group. Plan on using the subway.
Buy a Metrocard and use the subway, just a block away from the HI Hostel in New York City. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Traveling in the U.S. is a bit different than traveling other parts of the developed world. Travel can be expensive in the U.S. especially for young adults and college students who don’t have reliable cars or are too young to rent cars.

Traveling exclusively by air is expensive and cumbersome. Just think about hauling yourself and your luggage to-and-from airports without the use of a car. Train travel, like Amtrak, is inconsistent throughout the U.S.

I wanted to teach our girls how to travel using different modes of transportation, like subways, ferries, commuter trains, trams, ride-share and cabs. To do that, New York City topped my list for destinations more than any other urban center.

Planning a NYC trip to a youth group take the Roosevelt Island Tram for fun.
New York City offers many modes of transportation, like the Roosevelt Island Tram along with ferries, commuter trains, cabs and subways. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With transportation figured out, I wanted to show the girls where to stay when traveling on their own as young adults. During my 20s, I strapped on a backpack and explored Europe with a rail pass and hostel membership card. It was fun and I wanted to give the girls the confidence to do it on their own.

Hosteling 101

A hostel is an inexpensive place to stay that provides basic lodging for all. Some are private and others are part of a federation, like Hosteling International.

Hosteling International (HI) is a federation of 70 national youth hostel associations. Formerly known as the International Youth Hostel Federation, Hosteling International began in 1932 and is classified as a charity.

Planning a youth group or student trip to New York City, it can be overwhelming especially with a limited budget. Top of the list, where to stay while exploring NYC. I've got all the information about staying at the HI Hostel in New York City with high school students.

Years back, there was an age limit for hostels but that’s been eliminated at most hostels. Open to all, though it still appeals to college-age students.

Planning a NYC trip for a Youth Group

According to HI, a group is 10 or more people traveling together. For students under 18, the group must be in a room of their own and have adult chaperones staying at the hostel.

Hosteling International caters to groups with a special reservation line to handle groups sales. For our nine-person group, we bought out a ten-bunk room.

Breakfast can be prearranged for a reasonable cost. Sack lunches can also be prearranged.  Luggage can be stored before and after the stay. Free tours and entertainment are available at the hostel too.

HI Hostel NYC

Located in the Upper West Side between 103rd and 104th Streets along Amsterdam Ave., the HI Hostel is actually an historic building. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the famed architect of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty and the Biltmore Estate, the hostel was built in 1883.

Originally for the Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, the building offers dormer windows and a mansard roof along with rich architecture details throughout the building.

The HI Hostel NYC offers free Wi-Fi, free linens, a coin-operated, self-service laundry, a kitchen to use, a café, a game room, along with an outdoor courtyard. Space for your group to meet is also available. The hostel can assist in charter bus parking too.

Our Dorm Room at the HI Hostel New York City

A reasonably sized room featured five sets of twin-sized bunks with sheeting and a couple of fleece blankets per bed, think basic linens. Daily towel service was available though we had to grab towels off the laundry cart. Used towels are deposited in the bathrooms.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group then think about staying in a hostel.
Urban camping at the HI Hostel in New York City with bunks beds the girls loved. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Our room was dim with just a single light fixture but it featured two large windows with black-out shades. We had air-conditioning with the controls in our room. A bonus since we visited in the summer and New York is hot and humid.

Each bunk features an overhead light with a couple of standard 110-volt household outlets. I plugged in my phone and left it on the light fixture and charging station.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group, a hostel offers budget-friendly lodging.
Each bunk gets a metal school-type locker to store luggage and I purchased a lock for $4 from the lobby. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Each bunk also has a standard school-type metal locker though I forgot to bring a lock. I purchased one in the registration area for $4. The locker fit my standard carryon-sized rolling luggage with no problem.

The Shared Bathroom at the HI Hostel NYC

I found two bathrooms on each floor. Each was newly renovated with white tile and individual stalls for toilets and showers.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group then book a stay at the HI Hostel.
The outdoor courtyard features Ping-Pong along with lots of seating. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity features several sinks with lots of lighting and plugs for hair dryers. I never had to wait for a stall or sink though other people were always in the bathroom.

Shared Space at the HI Hostel New York City

The main floor of the hostel features a registration and reception area open to the public. A set of locked doors to the rest of the facility require a key card to open, just like a regular hotel.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group, the hostel offers a cafe.
The cafe, located on the first floor, offered quick-service items along with a coffee bar and beverage cooler. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The café serves fresh coffee drinks along with assorted pastries. Cold and hot sandwiches are available along with salads, yogurt, fruit and cold, bottled drinks. I found the prices reasonable, especially for NYC and it offered extended hours.

A large dining area, game room, computer room, and lounging room completed the first floor. I also found restrooms, stairs and an elevator.

Planning a NYC trip for a youth group consider the HI Hostel NYC.
The HI Hostel in New York City offers a game room with free pool. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The HI Hostel New York City features a large outdoor patio. Guests gathered under the party lights and enjoyed talking with several tables and chairs. I even found a Ping-Pong table and hammock outside.

My Take Away from the Hostel

Our stay was a great experience for the girls. For girls who have attended camp, it was very camp-like. And I called it Urban Camping.

It was a bit like college dorm living too. So that gave them a taste of what’s ahead. None of the girls had any complaints and fought over the top bunks.

For a Mom, the beds were OK. My bunk mate, my 14-year-old, made the bed squeak and shake each time she flipped over in her sleep.

Walking down the hall to the restroom got old after several days. After a week, I was ready to have some private space. But this trip wasn’t about me, it was teaching kids how to travel within their budget.

The location was great. Two blocks to Central Park and one block for the 1 subway train. We used the subway to get around extensively.

The area was safe though we were aware and traveled as a group at night.

Things to Think About:

Some of the guests were under-dressed for the public spaces. Think college-aged dudes roaming the halls without shirts and girls in tiny shorts. But my Mom googles were on and we really saw more flesh in Times Square.

Hostel Must Haves:

  • Flip flops for shower and walking around the room.
  • Earplugs and eye mask. NYC is noisy.
  • Electronic chargers and even a small surge protector if you have multiple devices.
  • A lock for the locker.
  • A plug-in air freshener if staying with students for several days.

Roam the Savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with Kids in Walt Disney World

Spend time at the pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy a safari vacation at Walt Disney World when your family stays at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Waking up to a view of an African game preserve tops many people’s bucket lists. I certainly thought I would never see such a place…until I checked into Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids in January of 2017.

Imagine exploring the African savanna, surrounded by blooming landscapes brimming with countless animals. The chance to take a wildlife safari sounds a bit out of reach, especially for Central Florida. But, I found this and so much more during our latest visit to Walt Disney World.

Enjoy the flowers at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Walk around the grounds of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids and enjoy the flowers. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Traveling to Walt Disney World many times as a child and seven times as a parent did not prepare me and my kids, ages 11 and 12, for the awesome African adventure in the middle of our most recent Disney trip. The remote site gave us a feeling of a true escape away from the chaos of lines and theme park crowds.

When visiting the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids, I found myself transported to a faraway continent. The soaring ceiling and authentic African artwork are unique. The beautiful tribal prints, ornate carvings and large glass windows kept my eyes constantly darting around the lobby area. In fact, the Animal Kingdom Lodge offers one of the most beautiful properties at Walt Disney World.

Watch the zebra while staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Watching the animals from your room tops my list of must-dos at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Fully themed in African culture, this resorts provides the feeling of a serene escape. The décor, food, and cultural representatives give this resort an authentic vibe. In addition, the educational opportunities and theming makes this resort unique and original.

What I loved at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort 

  • Unique theming
  • Several ethnic dining options with lots of vegetarian items
  • Many educational programs
  • Authentic African art and cultural pieces
  • Two large swimming pools with waterslides
  • Night vision binoculars for animal viewing

What I wanted at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

  • More buses to theme parks
  • Less music (or quieter) poolside
  • A larger, wider hall leading to the elevator

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge 

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort overlooks the savanna.
The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort buildings overlook the savanna and its animals. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort opened in 2001 and consists of two main buildings–Jambo House and Kidani Village. Separated by a flora-lined half-mile walking trail, the two buildings provide dining and entertainment options for all visitors. Guests can also choose to ride a van that travels between the two buildings every 15 minutes.

Also, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers approximately 43 acres of African savanna-themed, natural looking landforms. The resort provides a home to 200 animals and 130 birds.

Watch animal gaze on the savanna at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Gaze on the grazing animals of the savanna, like this Oryx, at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The deluxe resort features four main restaurants, a lounge, and two large pools with waterslides. In addition, Animal Kingdom Lodge features a playground, fitness center, free learning opportunities, unique views and safari-themed excursions.

My room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

Jambo House offers 972 rooms and 324 units in Kidani Village, part of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). Resort rooms, designed in a semi-circle, resemble a Kraal African village.

The room at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
My standard room with a savanna view at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

During my stay, I reserved a standard room with a savanna view featuring two queen beds on the third floor of Jambo House. The beds were comfortable, linens plentiful and the room was decorated with African carvings and fabric prints. The balcony features a small table with two chairs that overlooks an active savanna. The savanna provides scenes full of wildlife, including ostriches, zebras, cranes, wildebeests, gazelles and ducks.

The amenities include free Wi-Fi, room service, mini-fridge, and a flat-panel TV. Rooms also feature a desk, two chairs, ceiling fan, coffee maker, and almost all rooms have full balconies. Standard rooms sleep four guests + one child under 3 in a crib.

The bathroom at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort.
Our bathroom featured a granite vanity with two separate sinks. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

The bathroom features a granite vanity outfitted with two sinks though it’s missing the doors that I find in moderate resorts that provide an additional dressing area. I found a iron and board and a hair dryer.

In a separate room, I found a standard tub with a shower head and toilet. The bathroom continues the African savanna theming.

The bathroom at the Animal Kingdom Lodge with kids.
The bathroom at the Animal Kingdom Lodge features a standard tub. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Surprisingly,  rooms provide about 344 sq. ft. which is the smallest of the deluxe resorts. Compared with the larger, yet more expensive Grand Floridian Resort and Spa that features 440 sq. ft.

Table Service Dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge features several restaurants with African and Indian-based cuisines, as well as traditional offerings. In Jambo House, Jiko-The Cooking Place, offers a fine dining experience with a limited menu and romantic ambiance.

Though beautifully decorated, the service was mediocre and the beef short ribs and lamb loin (considered the restaurant’s specialties) were both not available on the night we had reservations. Because Jiko-The Cooking Place is categorized as signature dining, we expected more. Consequently, it was our least favorite restaurant at this resort.

Enjoy the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
I enjoyed several of the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

A bustling and popular buffet restaurant, Boma-Flavors of Africa serves breakfast and dinner. My daughters and I ate both breakfast and dinner at Boma and greatly enjoyed the experience. The buffet offers unique African dishes as well as familiar dishes for those less adventurous. We thoroughly enjoyed Simba waffles and jungle juice for breakfast and delicious vegetarian options for dinner.  Click here for a full review of Boma-Flavors of Africa.

Sanaa, which is Swahili for “art” or “work of beauty”, is found in the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village building. It showcases the most beautiful views of Sunset Savanna. We enjoyed two table service meals at Sanaa and plan to return to try more items.

Presently, the food features unique, flavorful and fresh offerings. Menu items include butter chicken, lentil dhal, seafood curry and African-inspired Biryani with seasonal vegetables. Check out the Indian-style bread service, which comes with five flavors of naan and nine accompaniments. Click here for a full review of Sanaa.

Animal lovers will love this resort at Walt Disney World where guests wake up to gazing animals on the savanna and kids activities at every bend.

Quick Service Dining at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Also, a large, quick service restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner is called Mara. It opens to a patio that overlooks the Uzima Springs Pool and has outdoor and indoor tables.

The menu includes familiar breakfast items such as cinnamon rolls, waffles, eggs and bacon. Lunch and dinner menus offer soups, flatbreads, burgers, and falafel pitas. Mara features salads, fruit cups, and grab-and-go items, too.

Pools at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

The Animal Kingdom Lodge features two main pool areas. Uzima Springs Pool is an 11,000 square foot oasis that faces Uzima Savanna and closest to the guest rooms in Jambo House. With a zero-entry point, a 67-foot waterslide and a lounge and bar connecting to the pool’s deck, this pool gives guests a wonderful place to relax after a long day inside the Disney theme parks. Other features include a children’s wading pool, coupled with two whirlpool spas.

The pools of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy an afternoon at the pools of Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Near the Animal Kingdom Villas-Kidani Village, Samawati Springs Pool surprisingly holds 118,138 gallons of water. It features an 128-foot waterslide and zero entry. Uwanja Camp features a children’s water playground with three zones for varying ages.

Poolside huts provide complimentary towels.  Both pools feature lifeguard stations, but check the posted signs near each pool for hours of operation.

Activities at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with Kids

The Hakuna Matata Playground, located between Jambo House and savanna viewing areas, gives children a chance to climb and play.

The most exciting activity at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids is watching the African savanna wildlife in a large habitat. I found many public viewing areas, some with benches and fire pits. Once the sun goes down, night vision binoculars provide a chance to view animals on the dark landscape.

I found lots of kids activities at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids.
Enjoy table tennis at Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids during your stay. Photo Credit: Jen Koepplinger

Also, my daughters and I met eager African cast members that shared their knowledge and answered questions about their homeland. We found cultural lectures, storytelling and native games available for free, among other things. My daughters chose to decorate cookies and small cakes.

Beyond typical expectations, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge features an exciting dining experience with an animal specialist for as many as 12 guests. Click here for a review of this exclusive experience.

In fact, to enjoy every event at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort with kids, ask for a calendar of resort activities at the front desk of Jambo House and Kidani Village.

Getting to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is located at 2901 Osceola Parkway, Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

About one mile from Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Animal Kingdom Lodge is a short drive southwest from the theme park. Disney transportation provides guests with shuttle buses approximately every 30 minutes.

Twenty-four miles from the Orlando International Airport, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is a 30 minute drive from the airport. Click here for driving directions.

Disney provides complimentary buses for resort guests to and from the Orlando International Airport via Disney’s Magical Express motor-coach vehicles. Reserve Magical Express transportation when booking online through the Disney website or by calling (407) 939-1936.

If traveling to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from another Disney resort, take Disney buses to the Animal Kingdom theme park and board the bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

From a Disney theme park, just board the bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge provides valet parking for $20-$25 a night. Complimentary self-park lots provide spaces for Jambo House guests. Kidani Village features a self-parking garage. Presently, vehicle parking is for resort guests and those with dining reservations.

Looking for More Resorts and Information?

The writers at Carful of Kids have stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

If looking for off-property resorts, see what we have to say about the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

Click here to learn how to plan a Walt Disney World vacation like a pro.

Tips from a Disney Mom:

  • The four main Animal Kingdom Lodge dining options accept some Disney Dining Plans.
  • Advanced dining reservations are best for all table service restaurants.
  • Because this resort is slightly remote, buses are the only forms of transportation to Disney theme parks.  Consequently, consider driving your own vehicle.
  • Check this resort out, even if you don’t plan to book a room.
  • The Disney planning book I use can be purchased here.

 

Finding the Family an All-New Ford SUV

 

the 2018 All-New Ford SUVs like the Ford Explorer
The new 2018 Ford Explorer offers a new stylish grill and the Safe and Smart Package. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Ford Motor Company knows life happens in cars, especially for families with hectic schedules. Families need vehicles that work with them. I recently got the opportunity to experience the 2018 All-New Ford SUV lineup.

Since I am in the market for a new family SUV to love, I am sampling all the manufacturers. Looking for power, space, safety and lastly style, I need a SUV to seamlessly fit into my busy family life.

Ford and the Female Frontier

At a recent Ford installation, what impressed me most was Ford focus on the female frontier. By acknowledging the power of women’s influence on the purchase of new family vehicles, Ford researches and markets their vehicles to women.

With women influencing 85% of all vehicle purchases, Ford values women as users, purchasers and multi-taskers. As commanders of the household, they want to simplify life and that includes the role of a vehicle in family life.

Families, especially Mom, want convenient vehicles for everyday life and comfortable vehicles for road trips.

2018 All-New Ford Expedition Platinum

The 2018 All-new Ford Expedition.
The 2018 All-New Ford Expedition offers families more style, room and power. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I recently got a preview of the new 2018 Ford Expedition and I found a SUV that handled the off-road with ease yet still featured sophisticated styling. With its Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless charging, keeping families connected has never been easier. This vehicle is a road tripping dream.

The all-new Ford Expedition just got leaner. By using advanced materials, like a high-strength aluminum alloy, Ford shaved 300 pounds off their SUV.

Though the stand-out feature is the second row seat that’s slides forward to allow access to the third row. That’s with a car seat in place, a major convenience for families with several children or parents that carpool kids around.

I found four 12-volt power plugs, six USB plugs and one 110-volt household plug. A plug for each kid, and that’s one less argument for a Mom to manage.

Power and plugs in at the 2018 All-New Ford Expedition.
The USBs and the 110-volt household plug in the second row of seats can’t be beat for convenience in the 2018 Ford Expedition. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The dual headrest, rear-seat entertainment system keeps the kids engaged in a program and not each other. Add the wireless charging for compatible mobile devices and a Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 10 devices within 50 feet of the vehicle and everyone is happy.

The seat back entertainment system in the 2018 All-New Ford Expedition.
The seat back entertainment system for the back seater passengers helps keep driver distractions to a minimum. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The driver experience is important so I loved the panoramic vista roof that spans two rows. Add the 12-speaker premium audio package, and this Mom can find happiness in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But my favorite feature has to be the adjustable shelf behind the third row.

A SUV for Dad too

Not just a Mom SUV, Dad can take the wheel and have confidence in the Ford Expedition’s hauling and towing capabilities.

Experience the 2018 All-New Ford Expedition.
I appreciate a well-designed storage spaces like the door of the Ford Expedition. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Remodeling? Stow the second and third row of seats and fit a 4×8 piece of plywood in the back.

The all-new Ford Expedition is engineered to handle rugged off-roading in addition to towing a family’s toys. With a hands-free lift gate, loading up the cargo hold has never been easier.

Look for this all-new 2018 Ford Expedition to be available in the Fall. The Ford Expedition is built at the Louisville, Kentucky, plant.

2018 Ford Explorer

the 2018 All-New Ford SUVs like the Ford Explorer
The new 2018 Ford Explorer offers a new style and safety. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The 2018 Ford Explorer sees a freshen up to the front and rear styling. Giving this SUV an upgraded style to satisfy a Mom that wants a capable vehicle that’s an extension of her personal style.

The 2018 Ford Explorer adds four new exterior colors, Platinum Dune, Blue Metallic, Cinnamon Glaze and Burgundy Velvet Tinted Clearcoat. Five new wheel choices will be available on the 2018 Ford Explorer too.

The 2018 Ford Explorer features a new grill.
The front grill of the 2018 Ford Explorer got a make-over. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Safe and Smart Package is a stand-out for safety and new for 2018. With high-demand driver assistance, families can feel safer in their SUVs. The Safe and Smart Package uses cutting-edge technology to assist drivers.

With features like adaptive cruise control, where the driver can set the following distance along with the speed, to blind spot monitoring, drivers benefit from additional information. Cross-traffic alert uses radar to monitor for cars when backing out of a parking spot. The lane keeping system uses a camera to monitor the lane markers and alerts the driver with a steering wheel vibration when leaving the lane.

Experience the 2018 Ford Explorer for safety and style.
The safety features of the 2018 Ford Explorer include a Safe and Smart Package. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Parking might be one of the most challenging driving skills and the 2018 Ford Explorer has a Mom covered. With the active park assist, ultrasonic sensors monitor the surroundings to help in parallel and perpendicular parking.

Like the all-new 2018 Ford Expedition, the Ford Explorer provides Wi-Fi and features a 4G embedded modem that can connect up to 10 devices.

The Ford Explorer will be available this Fall. It is manufactured at the Chicago, Illinois, plant.

2018 All-New Ford Eco-Sport

The 2018 All-New Ford Eco-Sport.
The 2018 All-New Ford Eco-Sport packs fun in a capable small SUV. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The all-new compact SUV from the Ford line-up, the Eco-Sport, is the smallest Ford SUV. This SUV packs in the fun while staying capable and connected.

The Eco-Sport offers big sound with the available B&O Play audio system with 10 speakers. Add 10 available exterior colors to share personal style and all models feature the swing-gate style tailgate.

Enjoy the 2018 All-new Ford Eco-Sport, a compact SUV.
The 2018 All-New Ford Eco-Sport offers plenty of cargo space. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Stay connected with the Eco-Sport’s 8-inch touch screen for communication and entertainment. Looking for a plug? In the Eco-Sport, it’s easy. It features two USBs and one 12-volt plug and another 12-volt and 110-volt household plug are available.

The all-new Eco Sport arrives at dealerships in early 2018.

Ford and the Future of Cars

Ford acknowledges that more isn’t always better. The use of innovation needs to be deliberate and purposeful. Using technology to create vehicles that are seamless and intuitive.

Ford utilizes passive and active safety features in their line-up. With passive features like improved vehicle structure, crumble zones and airbags, Ford improves safety in accidents.

In the market for a new family SUV? Me too. I got a sneak peek of the 2018 All-New line-up of Ford SUVs. I found several packed with power, style and safety.

The active safety features include mapping the environment outside the vehicle to improve driver safety and convenience. Along with monitoring the driver’s performance while operating the vehicle to ensure undistracted operation.

My Experience with Self Parking

I am a driver.

As a driver, I enjoy the process. I learned to drive on a 1964 Ford tractor with a straight transmission. My dad balanced on the axle as he walked me through finessing a clutch. I moved on to the 1981 Ford F-150 with an equally cranky clutch.

As a smaller driver, I couldn’t reach to shift it into overdrive (old-school term for fifth). I had to throw the gear shift half way across the cabin and hope it engaged.

I will admit I was timid handling over the pleasure of driving to the vehicle. Though I understand for another generation, autonomous driving equals continued freedom of the road. For younger, less skilled drivers or non-drivers, freedom is equally important.

I slid behind the driver’s seat with an open mind. ShebuysCars.com founder, Scotty Reiss, patiently instructed me through the process.

The Ford Fusion maps the environment before I double tapped the park assist button. The vehicle selected the spot and I followed the instructions on the display panel.

The bumper sensors monitored the proximity to the other cars. I monitored the rear backup camera and manned the brake.

When the Ford Fusion failed to move, I pressed the accelerator. I utilized the brake more during the process.

The Self Parking Result

After several attempts, I conquered a self park. I need to practice setting up the vehicle in the proper position.

During the process, I used the side mirrors and looked behind me to insure the Ford Fusion didn’t inadvertently hit another car. I didn’t feel out of control of the vehicle since I maintained control over the gas and brake petals.

Disclosure: 

This post is sponsored.

 

Make the Most of Your Disney Dollars at Coronado Springs Resort

Enjoy the Spanish Colonial styling while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Coronado Springs Resort offers Colonial Spanish styling along with a convention center and fantastic pool for the kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort in Walt Disney World transports guests to Spanish Colonial Mexico with a sweeping lobby and restaurants bursting with Mexican flavors. Watch the sunset over the 22-acre Lago Dorado and nibble off a plate of nachos while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.

The moderately-priced Disney resort features a Mayan pyramid replica at its resort pool with a crazy water slide for the young at heart. With expansive grounds and large lake in the center of the property, the Coronado Springs Resort never felt crowded.

What I loved about the Coronado Springs Resort

  • The pool, it features a water slide that wowed my boys.
  • The grand lobby reminded me of old train stations across the Southwest.

What I wanted at the Coronado Springs Resort

  • A more manageable size, I walked for 10 minutes to get to my room.
  • Something to eat near the rooms. I had to walk back to the lobby area.
  • More transportation options to the parks, Coronado uses bus transportation only.

Staying at the Coronado Springs Resort

The Coronado Springs Resort ($$-$$$) is a moderate resort divided into three different areas with Mexican beach resort themed Cabanas, southwestern cattle ranch themed Ranchos and Casitas modeled after the grand architecture in Mexico City.

 

Enjoy the lobby while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Coronado Springs Resort features a lobby with details that transport me to San Diego’s train station. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort provides 1,915 rooms that measured 314 square feet, the same size as the Caribbean Beach Resort, another moderate resort. Though the Coronado Springs Resort is the only moderate resort to offer a convention center.

Because of the convention center, the rooms boast features for business travelers. The rooms feature large desk areas with task lighting and lots of plugs for charging.

Enjoy the art while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
I found artistic details around every corner at the Coronado Springs Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where the Caribbean Beach Resort provides a trundle for a total of five people per room, the Coronado Springs Resort does not. My room featured a walk-in shower instead of a tub with a showerhead. A consideration when planning a trip with kids that refuse to take a shower.

The Wi-Fi at the Coronado Springs Resort is better than most of the other resorts, including the deluxe resorts. It also features an ATM, resort airline check-in, three guest laundries, Disney merchandise delivery, a business center, a heath club with spa and salon services, and childcare services.

I visited Coronado Springs Resort in April.

My Room at Coronado Springs Resort

I reserved for a second floor room in building 7A in the Ranchos section. The farthest building from the lobby and we hiked for 10 minutes to get there.

Enjoy more space while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
My room at the Coronado Springs Resort featured two queen beds and a ceiling fan. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My room featured 314 square-feet with a semi-private vanity area along with a glass-enclosed shower outfitted with a rain shower head and separate toilet. The room features two queen beds dressed with white linens. I found a spot for a pack-n-play and luggage though it might be tight.

My room featured a large desk and console unit that housed the Keurig coffee maker with coffee and tea, a hair dryer, an in-room safe, iron and board, a flat-screen television, a mini-refrigerator and ice bucket with real glassware.

Enjoy a working vacation while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Since the Coronado Springs Resort features a convention center, I found a work desk in my room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I didn’t find an alarm clock. The charging station located on the bed side table with two outlets and two plugs for USB cords was a nice feature.

I visited Coronado Springs Resort in April.

My Bathroom at Coronado Springs Resort

The bathroom area featured sliding doors that provided a separate changing area. A convenient feature for a Mom who wants to dress before the kids wake up.

The bathroom's sliding doors is convenient while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Closing the doors to let the kids sleep in while I got dressed is a nice feature. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity area features two separate sinks with granite counter tops, decorative lighting and mirror. I found a lighted make-up mirror mounted next to the sink and the shelf above the sinks was convenient to put toiletries.

The bathroom offers lots of space while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The double sinks and spacious vanity allows families to spread out in the bathroom. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found standard toiletries, including a facial bar, a bath bar, shampoo and conditioner. The hair dryer and iron were stashed in the door of the vanity, next to the wardrobe where I found a limited amount of handing space and the ironing board.

My bathroom at the Coronado Springs Resort featured a glass enclosed shower stall with a rain shower head. I loved it but my kids don’t need a tub bath anymore. This room included the toilet.

Enjoy the luxurious shower while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
My bathroom didn’t feature a tub though my older kids enjoyed the glass-enclosed shower. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Coronado Springs Resort Activities

The go-to activity at the Coronado Springs is the Lost City of Cibola pool. With a 50-foot replica of a Mayan pyramid, a two-story water slide named the Jaguar Slide and the largest hot tub in Walt Disney World, this pool is a destination.

The Lost City of Cibola pool is a destination for most while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
The Lost City of Cibola pool features a 50-foot replica of a Mayan pyramid along with the jaguar slide. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Lost City of Cibola Pool is part of a larger complex of activities called the Dig Site. I found a playground in the area, movies under the stars, a white sand volleyball court, the Iguana arcade and the poolside bar and grill, Siestas Cantina.

Play in the playground at the pool while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort.
Kids can play in the sand at the City of Cibola Pool site as well. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Coronado Springs Resort offers La Vida Health Club for massages, salon services along with a full range of gym equipment. During my stay I walked along the .9-mile jogging trail that rings the 22-acre lake.

If kids want to ride bikes while staying at the Coronado Springs Resort rent standard bikes at La Marina. I also found fun four-person surrey bikes.

For guests desiring a quiet pool environment, I found pools in each of the villages, the Casitas, the Ranchos and the Cabanas.

Dining at Coronado Springs Resort

As a moderate resort, Coronado Springs Resort offers several restaurants, unlike the Art of Animation Resort, a value resort.

Got a meeting or convention at Walt Disney World, then the Coronado Springs Resort needs to be your work trip home. With its convention center, pool complex, restaurants with Mexican favorites along with rooms with work desks, Coronado Springs Resort makes it easy to bring the family along on the Orlando work trip.

For traditional Mexican cuisine and American favorites, I found Maya Grill. For families wanting more casual fare, try Las Ventanas, both restaurants accept reservations.

Since the weather was perfect, we wanted to dine al fresco. I headed to the Dig Site pool for Siesta Cantina, where my boys, 9 and 12, ordered off the kids menu.

Other quick service options include Café Rix and Pepper Market.

Where’s Coronado Springs Resort

The Coronado Springs Resort is located at 1000 West Lake Buena Vista Drive near Animal Kingdom. It is located 22 miles from the Orlando International Airport (MCO).

Since this was the last resort of my three-resort tour during my Walt Disney World trip, I used the complimentary Magical Express to return to the Orlando airport. I found plenty of complimentary self-parking at the resort.

To get to the parks, I used the Walt Disney World bus transportation. The service was efficient though we waited at peak times.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

I use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa for every trip. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Disclosure: 

This room was provided for review purposes. This post contains affliate links in which I get a commission if you purchase a book.

Know before you go:

  • Towels are available at the Lost City of Cibola pool only.
  • Lifeguards are on-duty at some pools, check in at the front desk for more information.
  • Must be 14-years-old to use the health club and 17 to enter without an adult.

How to Stretch Disney Dollars at the Art of Animation

Staying at the Art of Animation at Disney is fun for kids.
The pops of color attract kids of all ages to the Art of Animation Value Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Art of Animation, the newest value resort, located across the Hourglass Lake from Pop Century Resort, wowed my kids. It offers lots of value for families and several pools with punches of color along with my kids’ favorite characters. When your family is all about the park time, this resort might be the right choice for you.

What I loved about the Art of Animation:

  • The theming of the Art of Animation is super cute with giant statues and playgrounds.
  • The pools are kid magnets.
  • The Art of Animation’s size is manageable to walk while pulling luggage.

What I wanted from the Art of Animation:

  • A coffee maker, none of the value resorts have them in standard rooms.
  • More pillows, I found two per bed.
  • More transportation options to the parks, this resort uses buses only.

Staying at the Art of Animation Resort

Built in 2012, the Art of Animation offers the nicest property of the value resorts ($-$$). It features 10 four-story buildings with three resort-style pools and a playground.

Play grounds make it fun and one of the reasons for staying at the Art of Animation.
A playground adds fun in the courtyard for kids at the Art of Animation Value Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Art of Animation Resort features more family suites than regular rooms with 1,120 suites. Each suite offers 565 square feet with amenities like a master bedroom, two full bathrooms and a kitchenette with a coffee maker, a microwave and a mini-refrigerator.

The Art of Animation features 864 standard rooms, all decorated with The Little Mermaid theming. Each room offers 277 square feet, a little bigger than the Pop Century. Outfitted with a king or a pair of queen beds, the Art of Animation standard rooms met my expectations for value rooms. 

Kids love the Art of Animation, it's like walking through all the movies.

With complimentary Wi-Fi, staying connected comes easy. The Art of Animation also features an ATM, resort airline check-in, a guest laundry, Disney merchandise delivery and childcare services.

The self-parking is complimentary. I used the Walt Disney World bus transportation and the Magical Express (complimentary Orlando airport transportation). Both are efficient though we waited at peak times.

I visited the Art of Animation Resort in April.

My Standard Room at the Art of Animation

I reserved a standard room with two doubles beds on the third floor of Building 7. I entered my room from an outside corridor and used the elevator to reach the third floor.

Staying at the Art of Animation offers lots of value.
My standard Little Mermaid room at the Art of Animation gave me the basics. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The buildings are well-maintained and vibrate with color. The rooms overlook the courtyard and don’t feature private balconies or patios.

I reserved The Little Mermaid themed room and my boys grunted at the theming. The downside to the standard room option is The Little Mermaid is the only theme. Cars themed standard rooms aren’t available which annoys most boys. Though I loved it, it’s super cute.

Staying at the Art of Animation Value Resort in Walt Disney World offers basic rooms.
A nice feature is the bathroom curtain so I could get ready before getting my boys up. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Our room featured 277 square feet, a bit bigger than the Pop Century Resort. Though still a little tight for a pack-n-play. This room provides sleeping for four with just two pillows per bed. I needed a pillow fairy to visit me and grant me another set of pillows.

Our room featured a small table with two chairs, a small refrigerator, a flat-screen television, a phone and an in-room safe. I didn’t find a coffee maker, a charging station, real glassware, a ceiling fan or separate closet. I missed some of those items, especially the coffee maker.

Cute details pop while staying at the Art of Animation.
The sheet music on the table in my room at the Art of Animation added to the theming. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My Bathroom Art of Animation

The bathroom area was small though it provided a curtain in the vanity area so I could dress while my boys, 9 and 12, slept in. I found the tub and toilet separated by a door. The tub area features treasures under the sea tiles and the Ariel shower curtain is super cute.

I liked the bathroom when staying at the Art of Animation.
The Ariel shower curtain and the under the sea tiles make the bathroom pop. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The vanity area at the Art of Animation features a swirly blue countertop with one sink. The mirror above the sink continues The Little Mermaid theming, complete with a shell light fixture.

On the countertop, I found a plastic ice bucket and disposable cups. Basic toiletries included: bath soap, facial bar, shampoo and conditioner. I didn’t find lotion.

Enjoy a cute bathroom while staying at the Art of Animation.
The bathroom at the Art of Animation offers a cute details with basic amenities. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found an iron and ironing board, hair dryer and luggage rack. Though I don’t like that the closet rod is next to the vanity. I prefer a real closet with a door. The room gets messy with the kids when I can’t hide the clutter behind a door.

I found four towels with a couple of hand towels. The linens seemed of nicer quality than our room at the Pop Century Resort.

Activities at The Art of Animation

The Art of Animation Resort boasts the largest resort pool at Walt Disney World, The Finding Nemo themed pool. Sporting underwater speakers and a splashing area, this pool is the center of kid fun.

Kids enjoy the pool while staying at the Art of Animation.
The Art of Animation pool is the largest of all the Walt Disney World pools and provides underwater music. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Cozy Cone Pool and the Flippin’ Fins pool are also kid magnets. The Schoolyard Spray ground and the Squirts Righteous Reef attract the littles from across the resort.

I found a playground in the Lion King area. A 1.38-mile jogging trail runs by the lake. I found bike rentals and surrey bike rentals along the jogging trail too.

Enjoy the bikes while staying at the Art of Animation.
Rent a bike with the kids and ride along the jogging trail next to Hourglass Lake. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Like most Walt Disney World Resorts, watch movies under the stars between The Loin King building and Finding Nemo building.

Inside the Art of Animation Hall, I found the Pixel Play Arcade.

Thinking about a stay at the Art of Animation Value Resort in Walt Disney World? I've got all the cute details plus a couple of things you might miss during your stay.

 

Dining at the Art of Animation

The Art of Animation Resort features the Landscape of Flavors, quick-service food court with American and international favorites. Open from 6 a.m. to midnight, it serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Outside at the Finding Nemo pool, I found tables that you could enjoy a snack or cocktail from the nearby Drop Off Pool Bar.

In-room pizza delivery is available at the Art of Animation Resort.

Where’s the Art of Animation?

The Art of Animation Resort is located at 1850 Animation Way. The Art of Animation provides the complimentary Magical Express to and from the Orlando International Airport (MCO).

If driving the Art of Animation is 21 miles from the Orlando airport. During my stay, I stayed at several area resorts and rented a car from the airport and returned it to the drop off in Disney Springs. An option if you are spending a day exploring the area before your park days.

Note about transferring resorts during your stay:

I changed resorts three times during my five-day/four-night stay at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World will transfer your bags free of cost. I packed up our bags and rolled them down to luggage services that transferred them in the afternoon, usually between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

If I wanted a bell hop to grab my bags from my room I would have to stay with my bags until the bell hop arrived. I found this inconvenient and brought them to luggage services myself, located next to the main entrance.

Need Travel Insurance?

You just never know. I know I’ve been there when my SUV was stolen on a road trip.

Add peace of mind to your trip when you purchase travel insurance from Allianz Travel Insurance Company.

Travel insurance protects in two ways: covering pre-paid, non-refundable expenses, like flights, hotels and event tickets along with the following coverage.

  • Trip Cancellation
  • Trip Interruption
  • Emergency Medical and Dental Coverage
  • Medical Transportation
  • Baggage Delay
  • Baggage Insurance
  • Collision Loss and Damage
  • Travel Accident and Delay
  • 24-hour Emergency Assistance
  • Concierge Services

Choose from several levels of annual coverage and coverage lasts for the entire year.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Coronado Springs Resort and the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa .

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista, the Best Western Lake Buena Vista and the Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club.

Disclosure:

This post was sponsored by Allianz.

Get More for Your Money at Mystic Dunes in Orlando

Mystic Dunes for families offers resort activities and lots of space.
With 600 acres and 23 buildings, I found Mystic Dunes for families a top value choice in Orlando. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With over 600 acres to discover, Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club offers resort-style lodging away from all the noise and activity of Walt Disney World yet just a few short miles to all the theme park adventures. I delighted in the manicured landscaping and resort activities to keep my kids busy while offering me a quiet retreat to indulge in some reading. I suggest Mystic Dunes for families wanting more value yet still close to all the Orlando action.

What I loved at Mystic Dunes Resort

  • The Ambience. It’s away from the hectic noise of Walt Disney World.
  • Four resort-style pools, including the Dunes Lagoon with a slide.
  • The property was well-maintained.

What I wanted at Mystic Dunes Resort

  • More restaurants located nearby.
  • A more walkable resort, I needed a car to get around the property.
Pool hop with the kids a reason I love Mystic Dunes for families.
Enjoy one of four pools at Mystic Dunes Resort, like the garden pool. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Mystic Dunes for Families

I found 23 separate buildings with several floors of accommodations and four different pools. At the welcome center, I found a fitness center, activities center along with a market and the garden pool and tiki bar.

Managed by Diamond Resorts and Hotels, I found the property well-maintained and spacious. During my stay, I reserved a one-bedroom studio ($ to $$) that accommodated four in building 23, steps away from the Dunes Lagoon Pool.

With four pools, I like Mystic Dunes for families.
The terrace pool offers a zero-entry for the littles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I stayed at Mystic Dunes Resort in April.

My Studio at Mystic Dunes

During my visit to Walt Disney World, I ventured further away from the resorts and parks. A few short miles away in Celebration, the traffic and noise disappeared.

Located on the third floor, I was surprised how roomy my studio felt with just 650 sq. ft. The bedroom was immediately off the entrance, providing a little privacy.

With lots of space to spread out, I like Mystic Dunes for families.
My studio’s living and dining room at Mystic Dunes Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A short hall offered a mom luxury, a stackable washer and dryer behind a door with detergent for one load. A nice feature for families staying for several days.

The open kitchenette featured granite countertops with an electric range, a dishwasher, a full-size refrigerator and a microwave. I found all the necessary dishes, cutlery, utensils and cookware for a family of four.

A kitchenette is great for family trips and I love Mystic Dunes for families.
The kitchenette at Mystic Dunes offers everything needed for a quick meal. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The living area was a tad small and featured a queen-sized, pull-out sofa with bedding located in the bedroom closet. My boys, 9 and 12, were able to unfold the bed by themselves and didn’t complain about the mattress.

I found a counter with two barstools and a small round table with two dining chairs. I would have preferred four chairs but I guess the kids could use the barstools for eating.

A kitchenette helps families save money and whey I love Mystic Dunes for families.
A counter with bar stools offers a place for kids to eat. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My Bedroom at Mystic Dunes

Though the website’s description called my unit a studio, it featured a separate bedroom with a door that closed and separate closet with a in-room safe, iron and board, and a separate TV.

My bedroom featured one queen-sized bed made with white cotton linens. With celery green walls and beachy-white furnishings, I found the room calming in the middle of a hectic family trip to Walt Disney World.

A separate bedroom in my Mystic Dunes studio.
My studio featured a separate bedroom with a ceiling fan and a TV. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My bedroom featured a whirlpool tub in the corner that seemed out of place. It needed to be on the other side of the wall since the bathroom is right outside of the bedroom.

My Bathroom at Mystic Dunes

The bathroom features a shower outfitted with a rain shower head and plenty of hot water during my visit. The large vanity housed lots of towels and I even found pool towels in the bedroom’s closet.

The bathroom didn’t offer a standard tub. The vanity only featured one sink.

Dining at Mystic Dunes Resort

For convenience, I ordered a pizza from Maui Pizza Delivery located at the Kenzie’s full-service restaurant at the Clubhouse, on property. It was reasonably priced and I picked it up since I planned to eat at the pool, though delivery is available.

Kenzie’s full-service restaurant and bar features a full menu. Snacks and bar food can be purchased at the tiki bars located at the pools.

Several dining options at Mystic Dunes for families.
The Mystic Dunes Clubhouse features a full-service restaurant, Kenzie’s along with Maui Pizza available for pick-up at the bar. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my stay at Mystic Dunes, I found a sundry store that sold treats and frozen meals. I saw several families using the complimentary grills to cook up dinner and eat al fresco on the picnic tables. A great option for mom who doesn’t want to tidy up a kitchen and let dad man the grill.

For my visit, I brought little bags of cereal to speed up breakfast since getting to the nearby parks was a priority for my kids.

Enjoy a cocktail at a tiki bar in Mystic Dunes Resort.
Order a cocktail or bar snacks at one of two tiki bars in Mystic Dunes Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Activities at The Mystic Dunes

With four pools to choose, my boys, 9 and 12, pool hopped. Finally landing at the resort-style Dunes Lagoon with a two-story water slide. With several private cabanas, the Aloha tiki bar that serves poolside snacks and live entertainment on select nights, this area hops throughout the day.

During my stay, I found a steel drum percussionist to entertain the sunbathers while adding to the tropical vibe of the pool. A small sand area provides a place for littles to play.

A water slide and waterfall at the pool keeps kids busy.
The Mystic Dunes Lagoon with a two-story waterslide tops my kids list. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though labeled a quiet pool, the Garden Pool, also offers a tiki bar along with shuttle board, water volleyball and ping-pong. Closeby, I found the tennis and basketball courts.

Located next to the welcome center, the activities center is a hub for fun. My boys enjoyed several different games, like Foosball. The activity center also hosts crafts for kids and adults (some free and others low-cost). Guests receive a full schedule of activities and crafts at check-in.

Lots of family fun at Mystic Dunes Resort.
Lots of fun for kids at Mystic Dunes, like a game room, loaner bikes and sports courts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The activity center loans out miniature golf equipment course for the 18-hole course across the street. I found loaner bikes in assorted sizes along with tandem options. A great option for teens yearning for more independence in a resort that seemed too large to walk.

Golf is available at the Mystic Dunes Clubhouse and Golf Shop. The resort features an 18-hole par 71 championship golf course.

Less than 10 miles from Magic Kingdom, Mystic Dunes Resort offers lots of value for families and four different pools. My kids loved pool hopping and I loved all the activities for kids and adults, like daily crafts, miniature golf, sports courts and even BBQ grills.

Getting to Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club

Mystic Dunes Resort and Golf Club is located at 7600 Mystic Dunes Lane in Celebration, Florida. The gated community is 25 miles from Orlando International Airport (MCO) and 8 miles by roads to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

During my stay, I rented a car to get around since it was cheaper than shuttles or taxis. The parking is complimentary and located right outside of the buildings.

Transportation to-and-from the airport is not included. Complimentary transportation to the theme parks is and a schedule is available at check in.

Looking for more reviews and information?

I’ve stayed at the Pop Century Resort, the Art of Animation Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, the Grand Floridan Resort and Spa, and the Coronado Springs Resort. Follow the links for more reviews.

Looking for off-property resorts, I’ve stayed at the Wyndham’s Lake Buena Vista and the Best Western Lake Buena Vista too.

I always use the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World by Bob Sehlinger and Len Testa. It provides a comprehensive guide, packed with information.

Know before you go:

  • A $13.00 resort fee is charged per day, per unit.
  • The management company collects $100.00 fee for damages.
  • It takes 7 to 10 days to be refunded to your card.
  • The management company offers its timeshares to all guests though I didn’t feel any pressure and didn’t attend any presentations.
  • Kids must be 48″ to use the water slide.

Disclosure:

As a result of a partnership with Vacatia.com, I enjoyed a complimentary room. This post includes affiliate links in which I receive a commission if you order a book.

Top 5 Things To Do in Punta Cana with Kids

Explore the Dominican Republic with kids
A baby monkey on a mama’s back tops the chart for cute.

The Dominican Republic offers tons of family fun. I’ve pulled together a list of things to do in Punta Cana with kids.

So my Mom wouldn’t buy me a monkey as a kid. Something about throwing poo. .

But I still wanted to play with a monkey so I was beyond excited when I learned I could feed monkeys in the Dominican Republic. I was all in.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Lounging in a beachside cabana offers busy adults the time they need to recharge and relax. But I didn’t want to sum up my time in the Dominican Republic with a one sentence, I sat by the beach with a glass of champagne.

Explore Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The blue water beckons at Ocean Blue and Sand by H10 Hotels in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Don’t get me wrong–I love champagne and there’s nothing better to drink sitting next to the beach. I just wanted to learn a few things and walk away with a better understanding of the Dominican Republic. A few of my favorite things like chocolate and coffee grew in the Dominican Republic. I needed to learn more.

Why Choose Bavaro Adventures?

With 20 years of operating experience across the Dominican Republic, Bavaro Adventures offers eight different tours. During a recent trip to the explore the Ocean Blue and Sand All-Inclusive Resort by H10 near Punta Cana, I spent a day exploring the countryside with Bavaro Adventures.

Stop and smell the flowers as one of the things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
The tropical flowers in the Dominican Republic delight plant lovers like me. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My tour sampled several of Bavaro Adventures signature activities. I fed the monkeys, witnessed thrill seekers on zip lines, learned about the local agriculture and even stopped by a pristine beach. All things to do in Punta Cana with kids.

Monkeyland

I was a little hesitant, I’ll be honest. What do you expect from a place called Monkeyland. I didn’t want to see unhappy, little monkey faces. I’m too much of a kind-hearted animal lover for that.

To my delight, I found a family of tiny, curious two-pound monkeys that swung from limb-to-limb in their five-acre sanctuary in the rainforest of the Dominican Republic. At night the monkey family sleeps in a large protective house, keeping them safe.

After a quick briefing, I walked though the door of the monkey compound. Down a few steps and into a grove of trees where the monkey guide handed me a bowl of cut up tropical fruit, nuts and sunflower seeds. Seriously, I would feed the nutritious snacks to my three kids.

In a blink of an eye, monkeys jumped onto my head with tiny, velvety feet and ran along my shoulders and arms to grab their treats. The monkeys perched on top of my head to nibble their fruit. I wanted to grab one and stuff it in my bag to take home, the monkeys were that cute and gentle. I didn’t.

Got your place to feed monkeys in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, along with zip lines and coffee for Mom.

A must-do for the family. My kids, 9, 12 and 14, would’ve loved it. Though the monkeys prefer calm-natured people that remain quiet during their feeding.

Maria’s House or Casa de Maria

I’m just your typical coffee-drinking, chocolate-hoarding Mom. So when I learned that the Dominican Republic grew cacao (the beans roasted to make chocolate) and coffee beans, I had to learn all about it.

Visit Maria's House in the Dominican Republic and 4 other things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
Maria House in the Dominican Republic offers a glimpse of traditional housing near Punta Cana. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Just down the road from Monkeyland, the Bavaro Runners stopped at a traditional Dominican house owned by Maria for a lesson in agriculture. Her land is covered with different tropical crops that yield year-round, like coffee, cacao and pineapple.

Behind her simple yet colorful house, I walked down to covered area where Maria works to turn the raw products into my favorite treats. First, I sampled the cacao seeds, fresh from the pod and experience a completely different taste and texture. The seeds remind me of a tart banana, almost lemony and look nothing like chocolate.

Learn about cocoa as one of the things to do in Punta Cana with Kids.
I learned how cacao goes from seed to cocoa powder. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Maria dries the cacao seeds before roasting them. Then she pounds and sifts the seeds to remove the flavorful nibs. The nibs are molded and eventually grated with cinnamon and raw sugar for a Dominican cocoa powder. I got the opportunity to taste the fresh cocoa powder—a must-do for the chocolate lover.

Coffee requires less steps, the Christmas red-colored beans dry for days then roasted to a deep chocolate brown before grinding. The best part, I sampled a hot chocolate, fresh coffee and pineapple from Maria’s trees.

Learn about coffee and other things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
From bright red berry to roasting then grinding, I learned how my coffee is made. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Not only did I find cacao and coffee plants, her land brims with tropical flowers and chickens run around eating bugs. Maria’s House is a popular stop for families wanting to learn more about the cultural heritage of the Dominican Republic.

Learning about Sugar Cane, Rum and Cigars

The Dominican Republic, on the second largest Caribbean island after Cuba, is an important agricultural center. Sugarcane is the largest crop harvested in the Dominican Republic and my Bavaro Runners Tour explained the production process.

Like about sugar and other things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
I learned how sugar cane becomes sugar in the fields of the Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As I walked through a field of towering sugar cane plants, I image a machete-wielding farmhand harvesting the cane and dragging it to a pair of oxen. Traditionally oxen drove the sugar cane press that extracted the sugary juice when the stalks were placed between two rollers.

Fortunately, this process has been automated but the harvest is still done by hand. Before moving on, I sampled the raw sugar cane juice that’s sweet yet not syrupy.

Learn about cigar production and other things to do in the Punta Cana with kids.
Though I don’t smoke, learning about the cigar production was interesting. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The next stop on the tour featured a series of boilers where the sugary juice reduces to molasses. The molasses can be used as a sweetener or fermented. The fermenting process produces rum, another important product of the Dominican Republic.

Next to the sugar cane fields, I watched a demonstration of traditional cigar making. With a combination of local and imported tobacco leaves, the cigar maker rolls the leaves into some of the best cigars in the world.

Zip line Adventures in Punta Cana

Bavaro Runners offers a zip lining adventure through their canopy of rain forest trees. Twelve zip lines connect 18 platforms for a ride of a lifetime, thrill searchers even flying over a small river.

Certified by the Association of Challenger Course Technology, safety is paramount at the Zip Line Adventures. Kids have to be 6-years-old and 44 pounds to ride and adults have weight restrictions too.

Macao Beach

Punta Cana is world famous for its sugar-white sand beaches with water the color of the purest turquoise. Though hotels line the majority of the beaches, except for Macao Beach, a locals favorite.

Learn how to surf at Macao Beach as one of the things to do in Punta Cana with kids.
The Macao Beach offers surfing along with surfing lessons. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With deep beaches ideal for sunbathing, Macao Beach offers a deeper straw-colored sand dotted with palm trees. A beach for beach-lovers, I found a surf camp and several huts offering seafood and drinks.

Where’s Runners Adventures

Runners Adventures picks up their guests from the lobby of their resort, a convenient feature for travelers without rental cars. Depending on the adventure, guests will ride in an open air safari truck or smaller air-conditioned tour bus.

The mountain roads offer another adventure. Kids love the bumpy unpaved roads.

Disclosure: This tour was provided for review purposes. The opinion is my own.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Runners Adventures used to be called Bavaro Adventures.
  • Kids are welcome though strollers might be difficult to navigate in the hilly terrain that’s explored during the typical excursion.
  • Monkeys are sensitive to insect repellant so it can’t be worn in the monkey compound.
  • The Monkeyland tour not recommended for people with peanut allergies.
  • My school age kids would love the Monkeyland though it might be intimidating for timid preschoolers or babies.
  • For the Bavaro Adventures, I recommend wearing hiking sandals and clothes that can get dirty.
  • It rains at anytime in the rain forest.

Float in the Caribbean’s Ocean Blue and Sand to Recharge

Explore Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The blue water beckons at Ocean Blue and Sand by H10 Hotels in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A beach vacation tops many lists as the ultimate place to unplug and relax. But what about the kids? I’ve got all the details for the Ocean Blue and Sand with kids for your next trip.

Why Stay at All-Inclusive

Recently, I woke up, grabbed my passport and hopped a plane headed for the Caribbean. I needed a place faraway that would drown out a house of jabbering. I needed to lounge in a white-curtained cabana while listening to the waves crash against a beach of sugar white sand.

The idea of not thinking for a week sounded divine. Even better, soothing my soul with a glass of champagne that never seemed half-empty.

The moment I landed in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, my resort, Ocean Blue and Sand by H10 Hotels, took care of me. As an independently-minded Mom of three, I forgot how nice it is to be indulged. It’s been so long since I had someone catering to my pleasure, namely a butler.

The Ocean Blue and Sand All Inclusive Resort

About 12 miles from the Punta Cana International Airport on the western edge of the Dominican Republic, I entered the private lobby for Privilege-level guests at the Ocean Blue and Sand All-Inclusive Resort. I sat down in the plush seating as the concierge offered me a hot towel and a glass of champagne.

Enjoy the Caribbean Ocean at Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana.
With water the color of my favorite jewelry box, Ocean Blue and Sand offers everything needed to relax. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My flight might have been economy but my resort was first-class. Moments later, my butler arrived to drive me to my suite, one of 708 suites. I felt like I had arrived at Fantasy Island when I stepped into the golf cart.

This mom forgot about laundry, lunches and that pesky school project. It was fine, my kids wouldn’t starve because their dad is a chef.

My Privilege Suite at Ocean Blue and Sand

My butler showed me around my Privilege-level junior suite in building 10, the closest building to the beach. From my balcony, I enjoyed a view of the turquoise-blue ocean for my wicker chair with a matching ottoman. The perfect place to witness a spectacular sunrise as I began my day with in-room coffee topped off with little Dominican Rum from the mini-bar.

My large suite offered lots of seating, I found a small white leather settee with a pull-out bed and a cocktail table. The upholstered chair with a matching ottoman and reading lamp called me to read a book.

The credenza offered functionality with an area for working with task lighting, electrical outlets and a pair of USB outlets along with a mounted 32-inch flat screen TV. Below the credenza top, I found the beverage station with a mini bar stocked with single-serve liquor bottles and an in-room coffee and tea service. I delighted in the deluxe ice bucket with glassware and ceramic mugs.

Enjoy a standard suite at the Ocean Blue and Sand All-Inclusive in Punta Cana.
The standard suite at the Ocean Blue and Sand All-Inclusive in Punta Cana offer lots of space and deluxe toiletries. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My suite included numerous electrical outlets and included air-conditioning and a ceiling fan. The closet offered an in-room safe that fit my large laptop along with my camera and purse. I found more drawers along with an iron and a golf umbrella.

The bathroom featured a whirlpool tub and separate glass-enclosed shower with rain shower head and hand-held wand. The vanity featured two separate vessel sinks on top of a travertine counter. The bathroom was tiled extensively in travertine along with the flooring throughout my suite. During my stay, I enjoyed deluxe toiletries and several bottles of water. 

Where to eat Ocean Blue and Sand

With nine different restaurants, I ate a different cuisine every night. Each offered wait service and an extensive menu offering regional specialties. For the guests staying in the Privilege-level rooms, 24-hour room service is available.

Enjoy the buffet during your visit to Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana.
The El Carey and Tortuga buffet offers a rotating menu with regional flavors along with familiar favorites. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found most of the restaurants centrally located near the main lobby, including the extensive buffet, El Carey and Tortuga. The Villa Marina is located beachside and offers traditional breakfast options with a view for Privilege-Level guests.

I ate at the main buffet (El Carey and Tortuga) for lunch and several breakfasts. With plenty of seating and waiters offering water service and coffee in the morning, the buffet exceeded by expectations for breakfast and lunch.

The buffet at the Ocean Blue and Sand features fresh fish and Caribbean flavors.
I enjoyed fresh fish and regional flavors for lunch at the El Carey and Tortuga buffet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The buffet offered numerous options and a rotating 14-day menu of international favorites. I found a pasta station, a couple of grill stations with traditional burgers or seafood and beef, a salad bar, a cheese and cold cuts station, several daily soups, along with several Caribbean specialties and Mexican favorites.

I delighted in the fresh juice bar and enjoyed the ready-made mimosas and make-your-own Bloody Marys. The extensive dessert station with ice cream sundaes can not be passed up and stocked with yogurt and platters of fresh topical fruit. The Dominican Republic pineapple is the juiciest and sweetest around since it’s tree ripened.

During my stay, I stopped at Mike’s Coffee every afternoon where I enjoyed a Caribbean coffee with espresso, cinnamon, chocolate and rum. After a night of dancing, I stopped at the Over Time Sports Bar for the local beer, Presidente, and some late night French fries.

Restaurants at Ocean Blue and Sand

Each evening I sampled a different restaurant. The Italian restaurant, I Mascherati di Vencia, I found traditional Italian appetizers and pasta dishes. Looking for a lighter option, I ordered seafood options, like their salmon. For a special treat, the Sambuca is toasted tableside to accompany traditional tiramisu.

Ocean Blue and Sand Offers lots of specialties to choose from.
I sampled lots of specialities at Ocean Blue and Sand, like lobster and delectable chocolate desserts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At Sensai, I took a seat at the table facing the chef who entertained the diners while cooking up traditional Japanese favorites. I started sushi and sake, then dined on fried rice with a chicken and beef stir fry. Sensai offers two seatings of 56 diners each.

Bluemoon, an adults-only restaurant with a dress code, offers French-inspired selections for a fine dining experience with specialities like terrines and ratatouille. I enjoyed a carved lobster with its elegant plating.

To enjoy the specialties of the Caribbean, I dined at the Villa Marina. I started with ceviche featuring a Caribbean twist along with a seafood stew. All the restaurants serve delectable desserts with at least one chocolate choice that pairs well with coffee or an after dinner drink.

Despacio – the Spa at Ocean Blue and Sand

During my stay at Ocean Blue and Sand, I enjoyed an afternoon at the spa located on the premises. As I walked through the doorway, the scent of lemongrass lifted my travel-weary spirit.

Enjoy the spa at Ocean Blue and Sand.
With indoor or outdoor spa treatment rooms, relaxing comes easy at Despaio. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The welcoming staff escorted me to my lounger and handed me a glass of infused ice water as they placed a warm, lavender-scented pillow around my neck to soothe my soul.

After breathing deeply and letting my muscles relax, my therapist escorted me to a private room. I found a large therapy room outfitted with a dressed massage table, a therapy tub, and a small shower. During my visit, I enjoyed a thorough massage and a facial.

Spa patrons can use the outdoor pool and I found an outdoor area for treatments. The Despacio offers hair dressers, nail technicians, fish pedicures, a sauna and separate dressing rooms.

Take the kids to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic for fun in the sun while you lounge on the beach. All your tips for this top resort.

Entertainment at Ocean Blue and Sand

Though I found my suite lovely, I didn’t spend much time in it. Instead I enjoyed the private beach for the Privilege-level guests that boasts white-draped sun loungers with waiter service and upgraded towels.

Enjoy a privilege beach view and cabana.
The Privilege Beach at the Ocean Blue and Sand featuring white curtained cabanas with ocean-side cocktails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found plenty of beach loungers for the non Privilege-level guests though no sun shades. The beach at the Ocean Blue and Sand includes a beach volleyball court, a climbing wall and gazebo. The diving center, Dive It! Scuba and Fun, is a PADI diving center that offers certification and snorkeling excursions. I found two bars in the beach area.

The Ocean Blue and Sand features two large outdoor pools, one with one swim-up bar and a spa. The pools dominate the central area between opposing building that flank the edge of the resort property. I found lots of loungers and the pool area hosts gatherings during the day and features an additional walk-up bar.

Enjoy lots of activities while vacationing at Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana.
Along with snorkeling trips and scuba, I found a climbing wall and volleyball court. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The area has a shallow kids pool area but lacks a themed waterscape.

The open-air lobby bar features live music most nights that belts out popular dancing hits with lots of seating. Or enjoy a quiet cocktail in the piano bar located behind glass doors nearby.

Ocean Blue and Sand in Punta Cana offers gambling.
Try your luck at the gaming tables in the Casino at the Ocean Blue and Sand.

Ocean Blue and Sand features a casino and a disco. I watched a 70s-themed show one evening that packed top hits. After the performers finished the show, they stopped by the lobby bar and entertained guests.

Ocean Blue and Sand with Kids

With daily activities like crafts and special snacks, kids have a delightful clubhouse just for guests 4 to 12. They will stay entertained during the morning, have lunch with their parents and return for the afternoon. (Club hours are 9:45 a.m. to noon, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.)

Play at the Daisy Club at the Ocean Blue and Sand with kids.
The Daisy Club at the Ocean Blue and Sand offers a place for arts and crafts along with snacks, steps away from the pool and beach. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Activities include bowling, swimming (in pool only), tennis and arts and crafts. Snacks include ice cream, popcorn and cotton candy.

For the older kids, I found a teen club above the bowling alley. Equipped with six gaming stations, air hockey, Foosball and pool tables just for the teens, it’s the place for teens. The bowling alley below features six full-sized lanes.

Enjoy the bowling alley or pool tables at Ocean Blue and Sand with kids.
Older kids and teens have a game room and bowling area to discover. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Adventures Outside the Ocean Blue and Sand

The Dominican Republic offers surfing opportunities, cultural heritage experiences, lessons in their culinary history and the chance to feed monkeys. I enjoyed a full-day excursion with Bavaro Runners where I did all that.

Note: During my stay at the Ocean Blue and Sand, their beach had encountered significant beach erosion due to a storm. The property worked overnight to rehabilitate the beachfront.

Disclosure: This trip was provided for review purposes. The opinions are my own.

Travel Tips for the Dominican Republic

  • A 30-day tourist card and a valid passport for all travelers is required to enter the Dominican Republic at the Punta Cana International Airport (PUJ). A fee of $10 US per person is best paid in cash.
  • Ocean Blue and Sand uses the standard 110-volt 3-pin North American electrical plugs; no need for a conversion kit.
  • The water from the sinks is NOT potable, use bottled water to brush teeth. All drinking water is fine.
  • I used U.S. dollars for tips and didn’t bother to exchange money during my trip. All large purchases were made with a credit card.

Know Before You Go:

  • The buildings don’t have elevators but my butler hauled up my bags. Families with smaller kids and babies might want a ground-level room.
  • The resort property is large, pack comfy walking shoes.
  • Women wear dresses for dinner.

Escape to Luxury in the Forest at Lake Quinault Lodge

 

Enjoy Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Lake Quinault Lodge in the Olympic National Forest was featured in the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks, Volume Two. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A skipping stone from Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault Lodge regally sits on the shores of its namesake in the Olympic National Forest. With resort activities and amenities that most national park properties lack, Lake Quinault Lodge offers families a refined national park adventure.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park offers over 900,000 acres to explore in Washington State. A year-round outdoor destination boasts rugged Pacific coasts dotted with tide pools, hidden trails meandering through dense rain forests and accessible mountaintops with inspiring views. 

Explore Olympic National Park at Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Hike a trail in Olympic National Park while staying at Lake Quinault Lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Olympic National Park offers three distinct ecosystems to explore. For this reason, The United Nations designated Olympic National Park a biosphere reserve in 1976 and later proclaimed it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

What I loved at Lake Quinault Lodge

  • The secluded setting along the lake allows families time to reconnect.
  • Kids can play games on the lawn or game room.
  • The heated pool and sauna are luxuries in an historic property.
  • In-room coffee maker features Starbucks coffee. 

What could have been better Lake Quinault Lodge

  • Parked cars crowd the entrance of the lodge and distract from the building’s architecture.
  • Inconsistent bathroom renovations

The Hotel

Constructed in 1926, the main building at Lake Quinault Lodge features cedar shakes and original divided light windows. The evergreen shutters match the towering centuries-old spruce trees that surround Lake Quinault Lodge, adding charm to this hidden gem.

Discover Lake Quinault Lodge with kids when exploring Olympic National Park.
The cedar shake exterior and divided light windows add to the charm of Lake Quinault Lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The front of the main lodge is understated and a bit crowded with the guest cars. To get a true appreciation for this historic lodge, walk around to the back of the building.

A large, gracious lawn slopes towards the Lake Quinault, during the summer mature hydrangeas soften the lines of the hotel. Adirondack chairs dot the lawn, an ideal place to enjoy a book, a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Guests gather here from sunrise to sunset to decompress.

Enjoy the activities of Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
Along the shore of Lake Quinault, I found rental canoes and kayaks along with stand-up paddle boards. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A white gazebo sits at a corner of the expansive lawn and overlooks the lake. When not hosting a wedding ceremony, guests watch the sun set over the lake.

The Atmosphere

Lake Quinault Lodge features 91 rooms plus one suite across six buildings centered around the historic two-story lodge. Perched on a hillside on the shores of Lake Quinault, families can enjoy water sports as well as rainforest hikes during their stay.

Enjoy a book by the fire when staying at Lake Quinault Lodge.
The lobby offers lots of places to sit and enjoy the fire or play a game of chess. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Inside of the Lake Quinault Lodge, guests relax in over-sized leather chairs next to a roaring fire, year-round. Steps away, I found a lobby bar, covers every thing from cocktails to Starbucks coffee.

Next to the lobby, I found the Roosevelt Dining Room that welcomed Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. FDR visited Lake Quinault Lodge when he toured the area before creating Olympic National Park in 1938.

Enjoy dinner at the Roosevelt Dining Room at Lake Quinault Lodge with kids.
I enjoyed desert while watching the birds eat from feeders right outside the dining room windows. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With historic rooms in the lodge to modern rooms with fireplaces and balconies, Lake Quinault Lodge offers lodging to accommodate most guests. Conveniently located on the southern end of Olympic National Park, it’s a couple of hours to drive from Seattle.

I enjoyed Lake Quinault Lodge for the rustic lake scenery, the refined common areas of the historic lodge and the rain forest hiking. My kids, 8, 12 and 13, enjoyed the rental boats, a heated pool and a game room.

My Room at Lake Quinault Lodge

A lakeside room at Lake Quinault Lodge.

During my stay, I enjoyed a room with two queen beds dressed with white linens and a pink coverlet in the Lakeside Building ($$). The lakeside rooms offer modern furnishings and a balcony overlooking Lake Quinault.

In my room, I found a TV along with a chocolate-colored pull-out sofa, a convenient option for families. My room also featured an armchair upholstered in hues of the lake along with a coffee table. My room didn’t include a phone.

I found the granite bathroom counter with a white vessel sink and upgraded vanity lighting outside the rest of the bathroom. The room with the tub and toilet was a tad small. My room didn’t have a closet but had a handy coat rack next to the front entrance. I use the closet in hotel rooms to keep the kid clutter to a minimum.

Enjoy lakeside activities like paddle boarding, canoeing and roasting marshmallows at this lodge near Olympic National Park in Washington state.

The balcony overlooking the lake offered a perfect spot to enjoy the in-room Starbucks coffee and I found two chairs and a small table. The siding glass door remained open my entire stay so I could hear the lake.

I entered my room from an outside corridor and parking was convenient to my room.

Family Activities at Lake Quinault Lodge

The pool at the Lake Quinault Lodge.
I don’t find many pools in historic National Park properties so my kids were thrilled.

Lake Quinault Lodge features a heated indoor pool along with a men’s and women’s sauna. Features I don’t find in many national park properties. My kids found a game room stocked with a pool table, Ping-Pong and foosball.

Lake Quinault Lodge rents kayaks, small row boats and stand-up paddle boards along the shore. On the lawn, my kids found a basket with a football, a baseball, bocce balls and a Wiffle ball plus the bats.

Lots of activities at Lake Quinault Lodge for kids.
The game room kept my kids busy along with skipping rocks along the lake. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the evening, Lake Quinault Lodge lights a fire pit on the lakeshore and the gift shop sells s’mores kits for $4. Toasting a marshmallow while the sky glows like a campfire ember really can’t be beat.

Lake Quinault Lodge is located on South Shore Road, next to National Forest Information Station. The lodge is within walking distance of hiking trails and the general store.

Lake Quinault Lodge’s Roosevelt Dining Room

The historic Roosevelt Dining Room offers breakfast, lunch and dinner with a kids’ menu. Breakfast starts at 7:30 a.m. and the dining room closes at 9 p.m. during the summer.

The Roosevelt Dining Room features tables overlooking Lake Quinault and offers traditional selections for breakfast, like omelets and eggs benedict. For lunch, diners can choose from resort-inspired offerings. The dinner menu features Pacific Northwest seafood along with traditional favorites like Roosevelt’s Classic Pot Roast.

Family Hiking in the Lake Quinault Rainforest

During our visit, I took my kids on a hike. Hiking trails start on property and vary in length and difficulty.

  • Rain Forest Nature Trail Loop, a .5-mile trail that partially accessible, an option for strollers
  • Lake Quinault Loop Trail, an .9-mile accessible section along the lake
  • World’s largest Sitka spruce, a .3-mile trail located close to the post office

Excursions at Lake Quinault Lodge

The Lake Quinault Lodge features a couple of excursions that depart from the property.

A four-hour guided bus tour takes visitors to the best photo opportunities in the Quinault Rainforest and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of an animal. The knowledgeable local guide discusses the history of the area along with the Quinault Indian Nation. This tour includes short hikes into the rainforest to see the magnificent Western hemlocks and Douglas firs up close.

A Lake Quinault Boat Cruise departs from the lodge’s dock three times a day. Scenic tours offer passengers a sunrise, afternoon or sunset cruise.

The third weekend in October celebrates the mushrooms of the Olympic Peninsula with the annual Mushroom Festival. Guests can learn how to forage for wild mushrooms and the Roosevelt Restaurant’s chef creates a special menu for weekend featuring mushrooms.

Disclosure:  My family was hosted by Lake Quinault Lodge. The opinions are my own.

Know Before You Go:

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi available in the common areas.
  • Lake Quinault Lodge doesn’t have air-conditioning, though I didn’t need it during my July visit.
  • Lake Quinault Lodge is a pet-friendly property.
  • If your kids require a bathtub, request one. Not all rooms have a tub.
  • Just need to feed the kids? The Quinault General Store makes pizza to-go along with sandwiches and ice cream, located across the street.
  • Paddle the lake in the morning for calmer water.

Mazda Crossovers for Moms

 

Mazda crossovers for Mom at the Houston Auto Show
After 15 years in the same SUV, it might be time to move on to a Mazda crossover for Mom.

After a 15 year love affair with my Mom SUV, it’s time to think about another. I attended the Houston Auto Show to try on cars like I would try on a pair of shoes. Looking for a vehicle that feels right requires that I try on a lot of SUVs and crossovers.

Why attend an Auto Show

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, the local Auto Show should be your first stop. And here’s why:

  • Get an overview what’s new in the industry–from safety to style.
  • Shop brands efficiently and effectively without the pressure of salespeople.
  • Sit in different types of vehicles. Try on that convertible, sit in the luxury SUV.
  • Find a new car crush. A totally out-of-your-league dream.
  • Have some fun. I test drove a stick shift convertible and took a spin on a truck obstacle track.

Mazda

I haven’t owned a Mazda though I’m researching it for my next Mom crossover. And here’s why.

Mazda prioritizes the driver experience by meshing technology and performance from styling to safety. As a Mom, I appreciate that.

I’ve driven across a continent so I enjoy driving. Mazda understands that the technology used for safety gives drivers the confidence in their vehicle. Fuel economy is important though I shouldn’t sacrifice power when merging on the interstate.

Finding a new Mazda crossover for Mom.
At Mazda, the drivers experience is paramount from the displays to the seat.

The details Mazda incorporates into their designs helps transform a Mom from the school pick-up line to the s-curves of the Pacific Coast Highway. The interior reflects their craftsmanship and design aesthetic.

Consumer Reports recommends the entire 2017 Mazda line-up.

My Mom SUV

She feels like a trusted friend, always reliably waiting for me and my three kids. Never left me stranded or failed to start, and always ready for an family adventure.

Through the years, I installed my first car seat in her. I strapped my last baby in her. We struggled together as I mushed three kids into a combination of boosters and carseats in her.

Showing for a new crossover or SUV? I'm comparing the features of the Mazda crossovers for Moms.

She still looks good on the outside with timeless styling and a paint job that’s held up but she’s been demoted to short-haul trips. I don’t take her on the long road trips I’ve made into a career.

So the time has come to thing about replacing my first Mom SUV and passing her down to my kids. Though the thought makes me sad, I’m looking forward to new technology and especially the new-car smell.

Mazda Crossovers for Moms

In a line-up that concentrates on sedans and a sporty convertible, Mazda offers three crossovers for Moms. All feature the low ground clearance that makes getting in-and-out easy. Pack with safety, technology and power outlets, Mazda offers a stylish family-friendly vehicle.

Try on the Mazda MX-5 to have some top down fun.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata RF offers a Mom a vacation in the drivers seat along with a stick shift.

Mazda CX-3

Big on style, the CX-3 is Mazda’s smallest family-friendly vehicle. The sporty sub-compact crossover, or CUV, starts at $19,900, magic to Mom’s ears. With seating for five, I can accommodate my kids in the CX-3.

The Mazda Crossover CX-3 offers lots of cargo space.
The Mazda CX-3 offers lots of space for hauling gear.

The CX-3 features 146 horsepower with a MPG of 29/35, a factor for most family budgets. The cargo area hauls an impressive 44.5 cubic feet of gear with a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat. A feature I look for and a must for hauling stuff (like a small piece of furniture) and kids. The CX-3 features AWD as an additional option, important for my annual ski trip.

With push button start and steering wheel mounted audio, phone and cruise controls, the Mazda CX-3 offers lots of tech. The 7-inch full-color display, one USB and a 12-volt power outlet keep everything powered and the trip on track.

The interior of the Mazda CX-3.
The interior of the Mazda CX-3 offers sporty styling with lots of travel tech.

Though I love the sporty styling, the CX-3 is a tight fit for my full-sized kids.

The All-New Mazda CX-5

The all-new CX-5 offers a driver-centric design that impresses the passengers too. With a starting price just over $24,000, the CX-5 gives families lots of value-driven performance and seating for five.

The Mazda CX-5 crossover for families.
The all-new Mazda CX-5 offers sleek styling with power under the hood and outlets in cargo area.

The Mazda CX-5 features 187 horsepower with a MPG of 24/31. The cargo area hauls over 65.4 cubic feet with a 40/20/40 split one-touch, fold-down rear seat. And the CX-5 features AWD as an additional option.

The 7-inch full-color display, two USBs and two 12-volt power outlets (one in front and one in the cargo area) keeps everything powered.

All the features along with the stylish interior keeps the Mazda CX-5 on my list. I need to get behind the wheel and feel the performance and handling.

Mazda CX-9

Mazda crossovers for Mom at the Houston Auto Show
The Mazda CX-9 offers power and refined style for families on the go.

A favorite among Moms for its refined interior and budget-friendly starting price of $31,500. Mazda’s CX-9 is the only SUV in its line-up that concentrates on sedans.

The CX-9 features 250 horsepower with a MPG of 22/28. With three rows, I found a seating capacity for seven people. The second row features 60/40 split, fold-down and reclining seats with tilt and slide access to the third row. The third row offers 50/50 split, fold-down seats. I found underfloor storage as well.

The interior of the Mazda CX-9 offers classic styling.
The Mazda CX-9 exudes luxury with a two-tone interior and wood grain accents along with the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

The Mazda CX-9 features steering wheel mounted audio, phone and cruise controls. In addition, I found a 7-inch full-color display, two USBs and two 12-volt power outlets (one in front and one in the cargo area)to keep everything powered and the driver on course.

The interior styling and the driver-centered design of the Mazda CX-5 and the CX-9 beg for a test drive. Stay Tuned.

Disclosure:

This post is sponsored.