Hike like an Ewok in California’s Redwoods

Take a hike as one of the things to do with kids in the Redwoods.
Explore Redwood National and State Parks with your family to meet the tallest trees on the planet. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids love records and it doesn’t matter if it’s tallest or shortest most days. On a recent road trip up the California coast from San Francisco, my kids discovered the tallest trees. Then we learned the ancient, or old growth redwoods, are tallest trees in the world and the tallest living things on our planet.

Redwood National and State Parks

Hike a trail as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
The redwood groves offer family-friendly hikes where Ewoks once played. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Until 1800, approximately 2 million acres of redwood forests covered California’s northern coast. Then the gold rush started to tarnish and logging became the next gold mine.

California preserved the remaining redwoods in 1923 when it created the first of three state parks. In 1968, Redwood National Park extended the area of protection to link all the state parks and in 1978, the park expanded further. In 1980, the United Nations designated Redwood National and State Parks as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hike the Lady Bird Johnson Grove as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Explore the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a former first lady, during your trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Three types of redwoods exist yet only one type grows in the Redwood National and State Parks. With bark that measures 12-inches thick, redwoods have no known diseases or suffer from insect damage.

  • The Coast Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world and located along the northern California coast. They are the tallest variety with heights over 370 feet from a seed the size of a tomato’s.
  • The Giant Sequoias are located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in Central California. They are bulkier with thicker trunks yet not as tall.
  • The Dawn Redwoods were thought to be extinct, yet discovered in 1944 in Central China.

6 Things to do in the Redwoods with Kids

Redwood National and State Parks offers lots of recreation options for families.

Take your family to a mysterious land where Ewoks once played. After that kids can spot a Roosevelt Elk or hop on their bikes in a favorite national park in northern California.

Scenic Drives

If limited on time, the scenic routes offer glimpses of the magnificent redwood forests. Drive down Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a 10-mile paved road that parallels U.S. Route 101, for some of the best tree viewing. The Enderts Beach Road is a 2-mile road that offers amazing views of the coastline near Crescent Beach.

Family Hikes

Hiking always tops my list. During our visit, we hiked the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, a 1-mile loop off Bald Hills Road. The path meanders through a fern-covered grove where the dedication of Redwood National Park took place.

For families with younger kids, try the Ah-Pah Interpretive Trail, a .3-mile walk off Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. This trail takes visitors through the rehabilitation process after logging.

Cycling

Redwood National Park offers back-country cycling on rehabilitated logging roads, one of just a few parks that allow this. Check in at the visitor center for a brochure and current conditions.

Widlife Viewing

The Roosevelt Elk herd graze in the Orick area. Catch a glimpse in the spring and fall, especially during the elk rut in the fall. The annual mating ritual when males battle each other for the right to mate.

Tide Pooling

Bring the water shoes and check out the tide charts so kids can explore a tiny marine world. The best place to find a tide pool is Enderts Beach, .5-mile hike from the Crescent Beach Overlook. Whale watching from the shore is best in November and March during the gray whale migration.

Organized Tours

Elk Meadows Cabins can arrange guided tours like family horseback riding and kayak tours. Rent mountain bikes and arrange a guided trip. Or reserve a fresh and salt water fishing excursion or a birding tour.

Redwoods with Kids

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Redwood National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the park rangers present them after completing their booklets.

The Redwood Junior Ranger booklet is the same for ages 4 and up. Kids complete the number of activities in the booklet based on their age. A ranger program is not required to earn this junior ranger badge though visiting a tide pool or taking a hike in the redwoods is encouraged.

The California State Parks offers a Junior Ranger program for kids visiting the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center or the Prairie Creek Visitor Center.

Lodging in the Redwood National and State Parks

Stay in a Cabin as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Redwood National and State Parks offers limited lodging in the area so we stayed at the Elk Meadows Cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit to Redwood National and State Parks, I reserved a cabin at the Elk Meadow Cabins ($$-$$$). Located three miles north of Orick, California, Elk Meadow Cabins offers six three-bedroom, two-bath cabins that I would describe as a small house instead of a cabin. They line a short street right off U.S. Route 101 in an area that has a resident herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Outfitted with all the necessities a family needs, I found this house a charming place to stay for a couple of days. This area of California is remote and the Elk Meadow Cabins offers an excellent location to base your Redwood National and State Parks excursions.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids
Stay in a cozy cabin in the Redwood State and National Park on the northern California Coast. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With homespun charm, my cabin featured two bedrooms with a queen bed each and one bedroom perfect for kids with a pair of twin beds. One bathroom included a tub for the kids who bath and the other bathroom had a shower and stackable washer and dryer.

Stay in a cabin as one of the things to do in Redwoods with kids.
My cabin offered three cozy bedrooms decorated with charming quilts. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The kitchen included all the necessary cooking equipment for a family, including a dishwasher. During our stay, I opted to grill outside since it’s a kid-pleaser and easy-to-clean up for Mom. I found a grill on the back deck along with a table for dining al fresco. Grab groceries before heading out to Redwood National Park.

Our cabin featured cable television and Wi-Fi but my kids played outside until dark. Bring the bikes or kayaks, the cabins feature a small garage for storing your toys. Elk Meadow Cabins offers a community fire pit and Jacuzzi.

Grill up some dinner as one of the things to do in the Redwoods with kids.
Stop by the grocery store and grill up dinner on the outside grill or use the fully-stocked kitchen. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Where’s Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are located along U.S. Route 101 in Northern California. From the south, Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, 2 miles west from Orick, California, is 312 miles north of San Francisco. On the north side of the park, the Jedediah Smith Visitor Center in Crescent City, California, is 322 miles south of Portland, Oregon.

Redwood National and State Parks is 63 miles to Oregon Caves National Park, 170 miles to Crater Lake National Park and 185 miles to Lassen National Volcanic National Park.

Details for Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. The Redwood National Park is a fee-free area. Though Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwood State Park and Prairie Creek Redwood State Park collect day-use fees at their respective campgrounds.

U.S. Route 101 runs north and south though the Redwood National and State Parks. Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway offers a scenic drive and several unpaved roads offer beach access. Though trailers are prohibited.

More Information:

I recommend the Moon Guides if you need more information.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post contains affiliate ads.

Know Before You Go: 

  • When exploring the beach, never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves can occur at any time.
  • Rip currents are strong currents that can occur at anytime. Put the kids in life jackets.
  • If exploring the tide pools, remember rising tides can cut off access.
  • If you feel a strong earthquake, move to higher ground in case of Tsunami.
  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found in the Redwood National and State Parks.
  • Know how to identify Poison Oak; it can be found along the trails.
  • Best places to restock: stop at Crescent City, California if driving down from the north and McKinleyville, California, if arriving from the south.
  • Give Roosevelt Elk space, they are unpredictable animals that weigh 1,000 pounds.

How to Fall in Love with Glamping at Lakedale

Lakedale Resort is one of the best places to camp with kids in Washington.
Take a moment to sit in an Adirondack chair and enjoy the glassy lake at Lakedale Resort. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I love camping with my three kids, I just hate pitching a tent. My kids scurry like woodland mice when the tent comes out. I wanted to share the best place to camp with kids in Washington. At Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes on San Juan Island, I got all the camping l love, like making s’mores and listening to the frogs, without the hassle of a tent or sleeping on the cold, hard ground.

Best Place to Camp with Kids in Washington

Nestled in a quiet forest a quick 10-minute drive from the Friday Harbor Ferry terminal, Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes on San Juan Island tops my family’s list as the best place to camp with kids in Washington. As I sit on my private deck along the shores of their emerald lake, the tiniest of twinkles reminds me this isn’t a postcard.

On its glassy surface, the evergreen forest reflects in one of the three lakes at the Lakedale Resort. I have all that’s necessary for relaxation on the San Juan Islands, Washington’s getaway just an hour away by ferry. Lakedale Resort offers oodles of family amenities like kids crafts, free loaner bikes, paddle boats for rent, Ping-Pong and tetherball, just to name a few.

Lakedale Resort provides free loader bikes and is the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
With free loaner bikes, my kids hopped on to discover Lakekdale Resort on their own. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What My Kids loved at Lakedale Resort

  • The free loaner bikes
  • The laid-back atmosphere with lots of activities.
  • They tried out a paddle board and a row boat, both for rent by the hour.

What I loved at Lakedale Resort

  • Utility sink to wash dishes.
  • Complimentary breakfast at the mess tent for canvas cabins and cottages guests.
  • Amazing bed with a chandelier above in our cottage.
  • A private bathroom with a shower in our cottage.

Lakedale Resort for Families

Enjoy family fun at Lakedale, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
My kids found a ton of fun at Lakedale Resort on San Juan Island. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes is 5 miles from the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal. It features a 10-room lodge, two pet-friendly log cabins, canvas cabins and cottages, a vintage Airstream and standard camping and RV sites.

Lakedale Resort has three lakes with swimming beaches though it doesn’t have a swimming pool. It’s quiet resort so I let my older kids explore on their own.

The resort is heavily treed so I didn’t see the RV or tent campsites from my site and Lakedale Resort never felt crowded even though it was full.

My Canvas Cottage at Lakedale Resort

Enjoy the deck of the Canvas Cottage, one of the best places to camp with kids in Washington.
With a large deck on the water, we enjoyed dinner al fresco at our Canvas Cottage. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The centerpiece of my canvas cottage ($$) was the chandelier. I never knew I needed a chandelier while camping until I had a chandelier while camping. Looking at it from my king-sized bed dressed with flannel bedding with lots decorative throw pillows made me forget I was camping.

I melted into the foam mattress and I don’t think I even turned over. A pair of bedside tables outfitted with lamps shaped like branches held my summer reading. I found a battery-operated lantern and a flashlight to use along with a battery-operated alarm clock. Close to the bed was an additional outlet for charging my phone.

Dig the stinky tent and sleeping on the ground. Enjoy a view, a king-sized bed with a chandelier overhead.

The front of our cottage overlooked the lake with a large deck inches off the water. With a wall of bug netting we left the front open for our entire stay. Just an incredible view to wake up to first thing in the morning.

The canvas cottages include a daybed outfitted a trundle underneath. A cocktail table sits in front of the daybed that holds the extra bedding for the kids. I also found a coat rack and a decorative fireplace with a remote control.

Lakedale Resort canvas cottages feature bathrooms, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
Behind the king-sized bed is the spacious bathroom. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The canvas cottage is spacious and includes a rectangular table with four chairs that sits on a decorative rug. I found two chairs on the deck and another picnic table outside.

The Bathroom Situation at Lakedale Resort

My canvas cottage’s bathroom featured a jumbo shower head with hot water in a large and bright room. The bathroom area included a dressing area with a full-length mirror with hangers along a closet rod and a storage console.

Enjoy a hot shower in the canvas cottage at Lakedale Resort, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
A hot shower is a must for me when I’m glamping. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My canvas cottage included plenty of towels for my family along with a signature line of toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion and hand wash. The mirror over the sink provided plenty of light to apply make up along with a hair dryer and a low-flow toilet. The bathroom lacks heat and a bathtub though I didn’t need either.

Family Fun at Lakedale Resort

Lakedale Resort keeps kids in mind for the summer season. My kids found the activities tent before I did. As home base for kids at Lakedale Resort, it’s stocked with free crafts as well as crafts for purchase, like tye-dye t-shirts or birdhouses. A schedule of activities is available at the general store.

Kids enjoy crafts at Lakedale Resort, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
My kids found the Activities Tent packed with crafts before I did. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

 

After the Activities Tent, my kids ran to the General Store  while I checked in at the lodge. At Lakedale Resort’s general store, my kids found ice cream, hotdogs and the stuff to make our campfire change colors.

My kids borrowed complimentary bikes from a rack in front of the general store. They explored the resort by bike and found a gaming area with a giant chess set, a volleyball net, horseshoes, bocce ball and a Ping-Pong table.

With a three lakes on property, it’s hard to choose between the paddle board, the rowboat, the paddle boat, the single or double kayak, all for rent by the hour. Life vests are available too.

What to Eat at Lakedale Resort

The canvas cottages and canvas cabins feature a fire pits with attached grills for cooking up meals. I brought my camp stove and made hot dogs for dinner and saved the fire pit for s’mores.

My site also included a round table with an umbrella next to the fire pit. I used the rectangular table with four chairs inside of the canvas cottage to eat and I used the round one for cooking.

Enjoy a campfire at Lakedale Resort, the best place to camp with kids in Washington.
Pack the marshmallows for s’mores for the kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Don’t feel like cooking? The general store sells grab-and-go items in their cooler, like sandwiches and wraps. They also make hotdogs and pizza. In the morning, I found a full coffee bar and hot pancakes.

Guests in the Canvas Cottages and Canvas Cabins are welcome to enjoy the complimentary Breakfast Tent. I found an area stocked with a full selection of continental breakfast delights, like oatmeal, fresh fruit and assorted breakfast breads.

More than Glamping at Lakedale Resort

Lakedale Resort features a 10-room lodge for adults-only that’s open year-round. I found two log cabins at Lakedale Resort, one sleeps six and the other sleep ten. Both are pet-friendly.

The canvas cottages feature bathrooms and king-sized beds and Lakedale Resort offers seven. The canvas cabins include a queen-sized bed without electricity or bathrooms and Lakedale Resort has 14.

Tent camping and RV sites are available along with one vintage Airstream. All the camping options are open from April 1 until September 30.

Family Fun in Washington:

Explore Lime Kiln State Park while on San Juan Island.
Lime Kiln State Park features a lighthouse and offers whale watching from the beach. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During our visit to Washington, we explored the San Juan National Historical Park with two separate camps on the island. Along with national park sites, we whale watched at Lime Kiln State Park and picked lavender at Pelindaba Lavender.

For national park lovers, Olympic National Park offers days of family fun with mountain meadows, tide pools and rainforest trails along with historic lodges in the nearby Olympic Peninsula. My kids loved Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument as well.

Disclosure: 

Consideration for brands mentioned. This post contains affiliate links.

Know Before You Go: 

  • I didn’t have cell service at Lakedale.
  • Make a reservation for the Anacortes Ferry during the summer and arrive early.
  • Bring another lantern, it gets dark and its nice for the deck at night.
  • I found a utility sink located outside of the shower house, making clean up dinner dishes a snap.
  • My kids used their sleeping bags on the trundle and day bed.

Stay with the Woodland Animals in a Charming Cedar Chateau

Spend the night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Enjoy a night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids after exploring its cave. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After exploring the marble halls of Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, we checked in to the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids, a National Historic Landmark and part of the PBS series, Great Lodges of the National Parks. Another charming addition to my collection of historic properties stays, I found this lodge packed with quaint woodland details and creatures.

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Explore the cave then check in to the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids of the night. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

What I loved at the Oregon Caves Chateau

  • The sense of history with Monterey Furniture pieces throughout.
  • The lobby offers an evening respite and a place to meet fellow travelers.
  • The Northwest-inspired menu in the dining room exceeded my expectations.

What I wanted at the Oregon Caves Chateau

  • The restaurant needs a historic renovation.
  • Updated wall colors and carpet through the property

The Oregon Caves Chateau with kids

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
The lobby provides lots of seating for reading books, playing games and sharing a glass of wine and adventures. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

After winding in and around a southern Oregon national forest for more than an hour, we see the rustic park sign announcing our destination, Oregon Caves National Monument. While my boys love climbing through mountain caves, I’m here for the historic hotel, The Oregon Caves Chateau. Another national park lodge to add to my collection of stays that include Bright Angel Lodge in Grand Canyon to Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic and the Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley.

Built in 1934 by local contractor, Gust Lium, the cedar bark-covered, six-story building with 10 sides is part of the rustic picturesque architectural style. Set in a ravine, the building hugs the sides of the steep landscape with rock work completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Enjoy the Monterey Furniture antiques at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I sat down at the Monterey Furniture desk to write my postcards. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Throughout the Chateau, I found Monterey Furniture pieces. Made in California from the 1930s until the 1940s, their furniture used Oregon adler wood and design influences from Spanish Colonial and California Mission styles.

The Oregon Caves Chateau features the largest collection of Monterey Furniture from the early classic period. I found several pieces in the lobby and my room even included some pieces.

Enjoy Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
In our room we found a journal with guests’ entries including this kid’s plea. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The lobby’s fireplace dominates the space and offers a place to enjoy a book or board game after a day of exploring the caves. With a wall of cottage-inspired windows on the creekside of the lobby, natural light floods the room. Adjacent to the main lobby, I found a kids playroom stocked with games and books.

My Room at The Oregon Caves Chateau

Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I reserved a deluxe corner room with two double beds at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I reserved a corner room overlooking the creek with two double beds. With a room packed with Monterey Furniture antiques and charming quilts, I instantly felt welcomed. We even spotted several deer from our room in the late afternoon.

The beds were comfy and reminded me of my grandmother’s house. My room included a dressing table along with a round table with a pair of chairs where my kids worked on their Junior Ranger booklets.

Enjoy a room at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
The Deluxe rooms at the Oregon Caves Chateau feature Monterey Furniture antiques from the 1930s. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though my room didn’t include air-conditioning, I felt comfortable during my July stay. My room didn’t feature a phone, TV or Wi-Fi and I didn’t miss them. After relaxing in our room for a bit we walked downstairs to enjoy the common areas.

My Bathroom at Oregon Caves Chateau

I live in a 95-year-old house, the terms vintage and original make me giddy. The bathroom transported me back in time but I’m a romantic.

I love the vintage bathroom at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
I love a vintage bathroom with original fixtures though it’s not for everyone. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

With original fixtures, I found the the bathroom quaint. It performs its duty instead of offering an island of relaxation. After all, I’m in the middle of a national forest over an hour from any towns.

I found enough towels from my family of four along with standard toiletries.

Dining at The Oregon Caves Chateau with kids

During my stay at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids, we dined overlooking the creek in the historic property. From the large windows, I watched the sun slowly disappear into maze of fir trees. A perfect way to end a day of exploring.

Spend the night at Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Since the Chateau features six floors, we walk downstairs to the Dining Room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In a room that I thought needs a historic restoration, I found the entrees and service better than I expected.

With a menu infused with Northwest-inspired entrees, the flat iron steak, bison meatloaf and rainbow trout tempted me along with seasonal salads. The dining room also features Oregon wines and cheese.

Enjoy dinner in the Dining Room at the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
We split a Cave Rock Sundae since we hiked a few miles exploring Oregon Caves National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My kids enjoyed an Italian soda topped with a mountain of whip cream. The Oregon Caves Chateau’s dining room features a kids’ menu with options like natural grass-fed burgers and local-made hot dogs. I found vegetables, salad and fruit for sides for the kids’ meals too.

For families wanting a quick bite, I found a coffee shop at the Oregon Caves Chateau.

Family Fun at the Oregon Caves Chateau          

Cave Tours

Reserve a tour at Oregon Caves National Monument, the Discovery Tour lasts a 1 ½ hours or take the Candlelight Tour for a historic, evening tour. For the adventurous, the Off-Trail Tour scrambles and squeezes through the cave for 3 hours.

Explore Oregon Caves National Monument with kids.
Explore the mysterious marble halls of Oregon Caves National Monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hiking

The cave isn’t the only landscape to discover in the Siskiyou Mountains. I found several shaded trails to explore.

  • Cliff Nature Trail, a .7-mile trail from the cave exit to the visitor center with a 75-foot elevation gain.
  • Old Growth Trail, a 1.0-mile loop from the main parking lot to the visitor center
  • Big Tree Trail, a 3.3-mile loop is an ambitious hike with a 1,125-foot elevation gain.
  • No Name Trail, a 1.3-mile trail features waterfalls.
Enjoy the Oregon Caves Chateau with kids.
Take a hike with the kids along one of the trails that start from the Chateau. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Staying at Historic Properties in National Parks

I adore historic properties. With quaint details, from the woodwork and original tile work to the sloping floors and creaking doors, I always book a room at a park’s lodge since each is unique.

I evaluate these properties differently than I would a new hotel property. Most are seasonal properties that are shuttered over the winter and many employ students. A few properties offer luxury in remote locations and others pack in charm along with a pool, though those are the exception.

Looking for a place to stay after exploring Oregon Caves National Monument, I stayed at the Oregon Caves Chateau next door. If you love historic National Park Lodge then add it to your list for its rustic charm.

Most lodges don’t offer air-conditioning though most feature ceiling fans and windows that open. TVs are hard to find and the Wi-Fi is for checking emails only. I know this and don’t expect the modern day conveniences in some of the most remote locations in the U.S.

Pools are rare but hiking is usually right out the front door. Other activities, like horseback riding can be found at many locations too. I always take the free historic tours of the properties.

Most historic National Park Lodges feature large lobbies for enjoying your evening. With my kids, I grab a board game, usually stacked in a corner of the room, and enjoy the simplicity of a game night. Many guests sit by the fire and read a book. Others grab a glass of wine and discuss what they experienced. Some special lodges even provide live music in the evening.

Where’s the Oregon Caves Chateau

Oregon Caves Chateau is located at 20000 Caves Highway, Caves Junction, in southern Oregon. Complimentary guest parking is outside of the Chateau.

Oregon Caves National Monument is 145 miles from Crater Lake, 240 miles from Bend, Oregon, and 75 miles from Redwood National Park in California. Oregon Caves National Monument is a fee-free park site, admission for cave tours.

More information: 

Looking for more information on Oregon, I recommend Moon Travel Guides, I own several.

Disclosure: 

This post contains an affiliate link.

Know before you go:

  • I remind my kids to be gentle with the furnishings and the original doors in historic properties.
  • If you plan on visiting Oregon Caves National Monument you can not wear any clothing, this includes shoes, that’s been in another cave due to White-Nose Syndrome.
  • From Cave Junction, along U.S. Route 199, it takes 45 minutes to get to the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve and the last few miles are a series of s-curves.
  • RV and travel trainers are not recommended beyond mile post 12 on Caves Highway.
  • Kids can’t be carried on cave tours.

Splish Splash in a Natural Pool in Chickasaw Oklahoma

Explore Chicksaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the natural pools of Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Oklahoma, with your kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A few hours north of the Dallas and Ft. Worth, I found the Chickasaw National Recreation Area filled with natural pools and scenic mountain vistas. With a recreational lake open for boating, historic cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps along with a resident herd of bison, I found a ton of things to do in Sulphur for families.

Things to do in Sulphur with Kids

Explore Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur with kids.
Explore the Chickasaw National Recreation Area for family fun in southern Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Sulphur offers oodles of outdoor family fun at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Once Platt National Park, Chickasaw features family hiking trails, swimming in the summer, national park programming and even a herd of bison.

Family Hiking in Chickasaw National Recreation Area

During our visit to Chickasaw National Recreation Area, we hiked on several of the trails. I suggest any of the following.

  • Antelope and Buffalo Springs—a 1.2-mile trail, labeled easy originates from the Travertine Nature Center.
  • Bison Pasture Trail—a 1.9-mile trail labeled moderate originates from the Bison Viewing Area.
  • Flower Park—a .5-mile trail labeled easy originates from the Vendome Well.
  • Travertine Creek Trail—1.5-mile trail labeled easy originates at the Travertine Nature Center.

Swimming in Chickasaw

Your family a fan of natural pools and springs? I found some amazing pools made by manmade dams in Southern Oklahoma's Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area perfect for kids to splash and swim.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area features natural swimming holes that excited my kids. Originally built by the CCC, Chickasaw features manmade dams along Travertine Creek perfect for splashing and wading.

Families can swim in several locations in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, like Lake of the Arbuckles, Veterans Lake, Travertine Creek and Rock Creek. Boating and fishing rules the lakes though kids can splash and even swim in Travertine Creek, near the nature center.

Kids at Chickasaw

Earn a Junior Ranger badge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Earn a Junior Ranger badge at Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Our first stop, the Travertine Nature Center, is the place to start with kids. With a creek running under the nature center, the building that resembles Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie-style architecture.

Explore the Travertine Nature Center in Chickasaw National Recreation Area as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
At the Travertine Nature Center, we found a  large interpretive area with displays and live animals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

My kids loved the interpretive area with live animals. With a live Barn Owl and several native snakes in aquariums, this space offers kids a place to learn. I also found displays on the geologic features of the area.

I picked up a map and the Junior Ranger booklets. The Chickasaw National Recreation Area offers Junior Ranger programming over the weekends to earn the badge and patch. Take a hike, or if the weather is warm, swim in the natural swimming areas created by CCC-built waterfalls.

Bison Viewing Area

Stop by and see the bison as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
I found a herd of bison in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids love animals so stop at the Bison Viewing Area located off U.S. Route 177, just south of Sulphur. A herd of 10 buffalo roam in Chickasaw Natural Recreation Area.

After several attempts at bison viewing, we caught the bison near twilight in the viewing area, including a couple of baby bison grazing near their mothers.

History of Platt National Park

Explore the Lincoln Bridge as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
My boys climbed all over the Lincoln Bridge in Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A little know fact about Sulphur, Oklahoma, it’s home to demoted Platt National Park. It doesn’t happen often, but national parks can loose their designation and it happened to Platt National Park (1906 to 1976).

The Federal Government purchased 33 mineral springs to protect the area from private overdevelopment in 1902 from the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Tourists and bathers flocked to the renamed Sulphur Springs Reservation. At the time in the U.S., hydrotheraphy was fashionable along with Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Stop at Vendome Well as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Stop by the Vendome Well on the edge of Chickasaw National Recreation Area to see how Sulphur got its name. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In 1904, the area enlarged and then in 1906 the area was renamed Platt National Park, after Congressman Orville Platt of Connecticut. Early in Platt National Park’s history, attendance at the small park exceeded the visitation at Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

In 1976, Platt National Park lost its national park designation and rolled into the newly-formed Chickasaw National Recreation Area. The original Platt National Park area is the Platt Historical District, right outside the town of Sulphur.

Civilian Conservation Corps in Platt National Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, shortly after his inauguration. Nicknamed Roosevelt’s Tree Army, the New Deal program employed 3 million people over the term of the program from 1933 until 1942. In all, 4,500 CCC camps were established to restore or construct national parks, national forests, state and community parks across the country.

Explore Platt Historic District as one of the things to do in Sulphur.
Explore the Platt Historical District in Chickasaw National Recreation Area for Civilian Conservation Corps cabins. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Open to unmarried men from 18 to 25 whose parents were on assistance, participants earned $30 a month with $25 a month sent home. Initial enrollment was for 6 months and could be renewed for 2 years.

Like the work in most CCC projects, Platt National Park’s work is organic with a heavy use of local materials. The CCC constructed the majority of the small dams along the rivers to provide natural swimming areas and built trails, pavilions and bridges.

Lodging and Camping in Sulphur

Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center has a hiking trail.
The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a mile-long hiking trail on the grounds. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my visit to Sulphur, Oklahoma, my family stayed at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, located next the the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. With over 1,700 acres to explore, the Chickasaw Retreat offers the ultimate refuge for relaxing and reconnecting as a family.

Located next to the Platt Historical District in Sulphur, The Artisan Hotel offers families refined lodging, steps from all the sights. The original hotel opened in 1906 and included five stories and named after the mineral water found on the property during construction.

After an extensive rebuild in 2010, The Artesian offers visitors and locals a respite of refinement with upscale yet family-friendly dining, mineral bathing and notable spas for adults and kids alike.

For families wanting a rustic getaway, Chickasaw National Recreation Area provides six campgrounds with over 400 sites, some reservable and most seasonal.

Where’s Chickasaw National Recreational Area

Chickasaw National Recreation area features several units. The Platt Historic Unit, right outside of Sulphur, features the Travertine Nature Center and the CCC buildings and swimming area. Arbuckle District offers Lake of the Arbuckles access at each of its three campground areas, Guy Sandy, The Point and Buckhorn. An additional boat is located at Upper Guy Sandy area too.

Chickasaw National Recreation area is 140 miles north of Dallas/Ft. Worth and 75 miles south of Oklahoma City. Located near the town of Sulphur, 12 miles east of Interstate 35.

Details for Chickasaw National Recreational Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. This area is a fee-free area.

Travertine Nature Center is open every day, except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m and 5:30 p.m. during the summer.

Disclosure:

Consideration for brands listed.

12 Out of this World Destinations in Northern Alabama

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
I discovered several waterfalls in Alabama like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Huntsville stands out as the hub of Northern Alabama, offering diverse options in dining, recreation and the arts. For visitors, NASA history and Space Camp top the list of must-dos though residents enjoy nearby recreational opportunities in the nearby Cumberland Plateau, part of the Appalachian Plateau. I’ve pulled together a list of 12 things to do in Huntsville and the surrounding areas.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Explore the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
One the Saturn V rockets hangs from the ceiling of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A must for every visitor to Huntsville, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a sprawling complex where I found the largest collection of rockets and space memorabilia in the world. A day’s worth of discovery and learning awaits along with an IMAX theater and glimpse into Space Camp.

As a Smithsonian affiliate and the Official Visitor Center of NASA’s Marshal Space Flight Center, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center features a rocket park with 27 missiles and rockets that grew into the NASA program. I also found the Space Shuttle Pathfinder, a test simulator along with one of the original Saturn V rockets.

Explore Rocket Park as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Walk through Rocket Park to see the largest collection of missiles and rockets in the world. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is located at One Tranquility Base and open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday. Adult admission is $24 and $16 for students 5 to 12 with kids 4 and under entering for free.

Space Camp for Families

With programs for kids as young as 9 all the way until high-school seniors, Space Camp offers STEM-based camps in a variety of topics ranging from two-day introductory mini-camps to week-long summer resident camps. For families that share a love of space, Space Camp offers family camp. In a three-day program, families work together to learn about rocket construction and use training simulators.

Space Camp is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Space Campers use mock-ups of the International Space Station at Space Camp. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Space Camp is located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Meals and lodging are provided in camp-like dorms.

Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour

The Marshall Space Flight Center houses NASA’s research and development facility for programs like the mission to Mars. Take a guided bus tour of the facility that remains closed to the public.

The Marshall Space Flight Center is one the things to do in Huntsville.
Take a tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center when visiting Huntsville, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A bus tour departs daily from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for a two-hour guided tour. Stops include the historic test site of former rockets, the International Space Station (ISS) payload operations and the Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory.

Tours are limited to U.S. citizens and a picture ID is required for all over 16. Tickets are $20 for all over 5-years-old and kids 4 and under are free.

Are you a NASA geek? Got a kid that's all about the rockets? Then you have to explore the World's Largest Collection of Rockets and Missiles. It's closer than you think. And I found a Space Shuttle too.

A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard

Dine on the patio of a restored 100-year-old lumberyard while enjoying live music. This complex features several restaurants and hosts special events. I found A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard at 108 Cleveland Ave.

Tour the craft breweries as one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Huntsville features a craft beer trail with 10 breweries located downtown. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Campus No. 805

Across 13-acres of a revitalized high school campus, I found a complex of craft breweries, restaurants, food trucks, retail shopping, live music and a speakeasy. Campus No. 805 is located at 2620 Clinton Ave. W.

DeSoto State Park

DeSoto Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville
A stop by the 104-foot DeSoto Falls tops my list for DeSoto State Park. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, DeSoto State Park preserves the CCC-built Desoto Lodge and cabins. Though my favorite feature of the park, the 104-foot Desoto Falls is a must.

DeSoto State Park offers camping along with the lodge, cabins and restaurant. Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the kids and take a hike to discover the rugged beauty of northern Alabama. DeSoto State Park adjoins the Little River Canyon National Preserve.

Located at 7104 DeSoto Parkway NE, 75 miles southeast of Huntsville, DeSoto State Park is free to enter.

Little River Canyon National Preserve

From Lookout Mountain, Little River flows through sandstone carving Little River Canyon as it passes over Little River Falls. One of the wildest and cleanest rivers in the Southeast, Little River offers recreational opportunities like rock climbing, kayaking and hiking.

Little River Falls is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
The waterfalls of Alabama enchant visitors, like Little River Falls. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Stop by the Little River Canyon Center for a map, a Junior Ranger booklet and an educational movie. Located at 4322 Little River Trail NE and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Little River Canyon National Preserve is open from sunrise to sunset and is free to enter.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

In the early 1800s, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole people were forcibly removed from their lands and relocated to the Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. Using several routes, including land and waterways, visitors can retrace the Trail of Tears.

The Benge Route passes through the Little River Canyon National Preserve where I found interpretive information.

Russell Cave National Monument

Near the Tennessee border, the Russell Cave National Monument offers a glimpse into the history of human civilization 1,000 years before European contact. Russell Cave provides one of the most extensive archeological records on the East Coast.

Explore Russell Cave from the boardwalk only. Located at 3729 County Road 98 in Bridgeport, 70 miles northeast of Huntsville. Russell Cave is free.

Find a treasure at Unclaimed Baggage Center

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In the tiny town of Scottsboro, I stumbled upon the final destination for lost baggage. After airlines spend 90 days looking for a bag’s rightful owner, unclaimed bags end up in Alabama.

Bargain hunters from across the country take a side trip from Interstate 59 to hunt through a retail space that spans several buildings. During my visit, I found wedding dresses, racks of men’s suits, a coat of armor and high-end watches like Rolex and Cartier.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Find a treasure at the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Be prepared to dig, though I found clothing sized and grouped by color. I found dressing rooms and a café serving Starbucks along with gourmet sandwiches and pastries in the facility.

The Unclaimed Baggage Center is located at 509 West Willow Street, Scottsboro, 40 miles southeast of Huntsville. Open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and closed on Sunday.

Brunch at the Wildflower Cafe

Tucked away in a woodland fairyland, I stumbled upon Wildflower Café. A charming eatery that appeals to grandmothers and grandchildren equally.

Brunch at Wildflower Café is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Sample southern cuisine favorites like Shrimp and Grits at Wildflower Café in a homespun dining room. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

As I meandered through the rooms of the old house, I stopped to enjoy the local artists’ work that covered the walls. My eyes darted around the dining room as I sat in a mismatched chair and I sipped on a glass of iced tea.

I sampled remakes of southern stables on flowered pottery that reminded me of my grandmother’s pattern. The standout at Wildflower Café, the Famous Tomato Pie, boasts a tender yet flaky crust with layers of tomato and cheese. Firm and flavorful, it’s a must. The Polenta Shrimp Grits topped my list as well, with an elevated remake of the southern favorite. I finished out my brunch with a ham and cheese quiche with a hearty mouth-feel and tender, savory crust.

The Wildflower Café is located at 6007 Alabama Highway 117 in Mentone, 70 miles southeast of Huntsville.

Savor the Arts

After a hearty brunch at Wildflower Café, walk next door to Kamama Gallery for a collection of local artists’ work. I found pottery, landscapes and sculpture in the cultural hub of Mentone. Grab a cup of coffee at the Kamama Gallery’s café, located at 5951 Alabama Highway 117.

Miracle Pottery is one of the things to do in Huntsville.
Miracle Pottery teaches classes and features ceramics by Valinda Miracle in Mentone. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Another gallery, the Miracle Pottery, features the work of Valinda Miracle, who used ceramics as a form of physical therapy after a major car accident. In addition to a gallery, Miracle Pottery features classes in ceramics and located at 7811 Alabama Highway 117.

More Information:

I always suggest Lonely Planet Guides for more information, including this region.

Disclosure:

Consideration for some brands listed. This post uses affiliate links in which I receive a commission if a book is ordered.

 

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.

 

Find the Largest Natural Pool in the World in West Texas

Balmorhea Pool for Kids in West Texas.
Balmorhea Pool offers close to two-acres of swimming in the heart of West Texas, right off Interstate 10. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

In a land that seems barren and forgotten, I found an oasis with the largest spring-fed pool in the world. A road trip stop extraordinaire or a gateway to the weekend of West Texas adventure, I’m sharing one of my favorite destinations in Texas for over 20 years, Balmorhea Pool with kids.

Balmorhea Pool, an Oasis in West Texas

Balmorhea State Park, in the heart of West Texas, offers close to 2-acres of family fun. In the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world, my family finds the perfect place to spend an afternoon after driving along Interstate 10.

Balmorhea Pool with kids in West Texas.
The deep end of Balmorhea Pool features 25-foot depths along with fish of all sizes. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The San Solomon Springs produces 15 million gallons of water a day. And the pool holds 3.5 million gallons of water. With a constant temperature of 72F to 76F, swimmers congregate year-round.

At the end of the L-shaped pool, the depths reach 25 feet and host scuba divers. Peer closely and spot a school of giant catfish sitting on the bottom. Balmorhea pool also features a 3-meter diving board, though life guards are not on duty.

Find a diving board at Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea Pool features a diving board. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I found dressing rooms and lots of shade trees to spread out your blankets underneath. The pool offers a large area of 3-foot deep water though no zero entry options for toddlers, like Barton Springs Pool or Deep Eddy Pool, both in Austin, Texas.

Not only does Balmorhea State Park feature a pool, I found a covered pavilion, a playground, a campground and a motor lodge. Built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC), the San Solomon Court features a white stucco exterior and most units overlook the spring-fed canals.

Balmorhea Pool with kids.
Balmorhea State Park also features the San Solomon Springs Court, a historic CCC lodge. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Balmorhea State Park is located at Park Road 30, Balmorhea, Texas, about 58 miles from Ft. Stockton. Admission is $7 for adults and kids under 12 are free.

Make it a West Texas Weekend

Make Balmorhea State Park your first stop in a West Texas road trip. After a swim, drive south on State Highway 17 to the Davis Mountains and on to Big Bend National Park.

Fort Davis National Historic Park for Families

Fort Davis National Historic Park offers one of the best examples of a frontier fort in the Southwest. During the 1800s, the Comanches and the Apaches made traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road treacherous.

Learn about frontier life and the Indian Wars during the 1800s while earning a Junior Ranger badge. I found lots of building to peer into showing the rugged side of life in West Texas.

Explore West Texas at Fort Davis National Historic Site.
Fort Davis National Historic Site offers a taste of fort life of restored buildings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The brassy bugle bellows over the loud speaker, transforming my boys, 9 and 12, into Army recruits. As part of an elite force of soldiers that don’t need actual weapons, my boy destroy anything in their path.

Fort Davis National Historic Park is nestled next to the Davis Mountains, 40 miles south of Interstate 10 in Davis, Texas. Located in the center of town at 101 Lieutenant Henry Flipper Dr. and open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Day and MLK Day. The admission is $7 for everyone over 16 and the kids are free. Or use an America the Beautiful annual pass.

Looking for kid eats, then stop at the Fort Davis Drug Store. Located on 13 State Street in Davis and open from breakfast through dinner. As an old-fashioned soda fountain, it’s a hit with kids.

Indian Lodge

Explore Indian Lodge in West Texas.
Nestled in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the Indian Lodge offers a historic property in a state park, minutes from Davis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I always stay at the Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountain State Park during my West Texas explorations. Nestled in the quiet hilltops above Fort Davis, Indian Lodge offers a helping of history along with inky night skies.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park with your family.
The interior of my room featured two queens and a period bathroom along with Viga beams on the ceiling. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Indian Lodge provides 39 rooms in a full-service hotel with an on-site restaurant, and managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife. It features whitewashed adobe walls with traditional handcrafted elements, like Viga beams that form the ceilings in most rooms.

Explore Indian Lodge in Davis, Texas, with kids.
The common rooms at the Indian Lodge feature crackling fires and original furnishings. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Built in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal’s work force, constructed the hotel. Along with a historic property with courtyards with fountains and common rooms bursting with crackling fires, I found a swimming pool and resident wildlife.

Explore Indian Lodge with kids.
The Indian Lodge features a pool for the kids with a view of the Davis Mountains. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The rooms are comfortable and roomy enough for a family (with two queens $159), complete with all the standard features. The Black Bear Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Wednesday through Sunday.

McDonald Observatory

Enjoy a desert night by learning about the stars. A quick drive up to the mountaintops from Davis, we saw stars, and even some planets, like never before.

The McDonald Observatory offers solar, twilight and night programs throughout the year. For our visit, I reserved the Twilight Program and Star Party, held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

With close to two-acres of spring-fed pool to swim, this pool is a must-do for natural pool lovers. Swimmers from around the world float in an oasis in West Texas, a stone's throw from Interstate 10.

The Twilight Program features an hour-long educational astronomy program without telescope viewing. A must for the first-time visitor and families, I got a refresher on the night sky.

The Star Party provides two hours of night sky viewing and starts 30 minutes after the Twilight Program. Held outside in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park behind the visitor’s center, I found three domes, each featuring a different telescope ranging in size from a 16-inch to a 24-inch. Portable telescopes are set out, each fixed on a different star or nebula.

The McDonald Observatory is located at 3640 Dark Sky Drive. Twilight Program admission is $5 for everyone 6 and older and free for children under 6. The Star Parties admission is $12 for everyone 12 and older, $8 for children 6 to 12 and free for children under 6.

Marfa, the Art Town of West Texas

Marfa started as a water stop then evolved into a military training area. Now its art scene draws a steady flow of visitors into a town of 2,000 with galleries, museums and movie sets.

Explore West Texas, like Chinati Foundation in Marfa.
The Chinati Foundation features the art of Donald Judd in Marfa. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The most notable museum, Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation features his contemporary work. Behind the buildings we found 15 untitled concrete blocks with a walking path. A great option for parents and the outdoor path is free.

Chinati Foundation is located at 1 Cavalry Row in Marfa and open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the movie buffs, head to the Hotel Paisano, a National Registered Historic Place. Built in 1930, Hotel Paisano hosted Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson during the filming of The Giant. A quick stop and I found a display of The Giant memorabilia.

Explore West Texas in Marfa like the Paisano Hotel.
Explore the Paisano Hotel in Marfa to find The Giant memorabilia. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Hotel Paisano is located on 207 Highland Street in Marfa.

For the mystery lovers, a stop at Marfa Lights viewing station is a must. A West Texas legend, where mysterious lights bob on the distance horizon.

Check out the Marfa Lights outside Alpine, Texas.
Looking for the mysterious Marfa Lights tops the list of many West Texas road trips. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Marfa Lights is located 18 miles west of Alpine on US Highway 67. I found parking off the highway with a nice viewing area complete with telescopes and bathrooms.

Big Bend National Park for Families

Explore Big Bend National Park is West Texas with your family.
Add Big Bend National Park to your West Texas road trip. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If time permits, continue to Big Bend National Park, where all the roads end at the Mexican border. One of the four deserts of North America, Big Bend offers mountain terrain with resident bears, lonely canyon rivers and an International Dark Sky Park.

Know before you go

  • Balmorhea State Park limits the day-use visitors to 1,300 a day.
  • Give yourself at least an hour and a half to explore Fort Davis Historic Park especially if your kids are earning a Junior Ranger badge.
  • Camping is not allowed at Fort Davis National Historical Park but I found some at Davis Mountains State Park, 5 miles away.
  • Make reservations well in advance for the Indian Lodge, San Solomon Springs Court and McDonald Observatory.
  • Watch for snakes, especially around water.
  • The McDonald Observatory evening programs start at varying times based on the sunset.
  • The temperature at the observatory is 15°F lower than Fort Davis.
  • Alternative indoor activities available if the sky is obscured at McDonald Observatory.
  • If you forgot anything, stop in Fort Stockton, Texas, along Interstate 10. Or wait until El Paso.

35 Places for Family Fun in Disney Springs

Visit Disney Springs with kids for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Walk over the bridge near Morimoto Asia to enjoy this view. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Over the last year, Disney Springs blossomed into a family fun destination. Disney Springs is my first stop after landing at the airport since I build in a transportation day in case of airport delays. Disney Springs with kids is the place to build Disney excitement while providing lots of options in dining, entertainment and shopping.

Table Service at Disney Springs

It’s a vacation, so take a break and treat yourself. After several visits to Disney Springs, I’ve sampled several different table service restaurants.

Eat at the Boathouse when visiting Disney Springs with kids.
The Boathouse serves up seafood along with steaks and burgers in a laid-back restaurant. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The BOATHOUSE wowed me with its views of Lake Buena Vista and extensive menu of seafood and steaks. I loved the nautical theme and the service was attentive. Be sure and catch the vintage amphi-cars drive into the water, located close by.

STK specializes in grilled meats, like the filet, along with inventive sides with an upscale environment. The views from the second-story terrace offer sweeping views.

Enjoy STK when you visit Disney Springs with kids.
The Truffle Fries at STK are gush worthy. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I gushed over the parmesan truffle fries so I ate a week’s worth of carbs. The lil’ burgers, featuring wagyu beef, are tender tidbits of burger perfection.

Another favorite, The House of Blue Blues Gospel Brunch, tops my list for comfort food. Served as an extensive buffet, I gorged myself on BBQ and southern favorites before the gospel choir lit up the stage with uplifting spirituals.

Dining at Disney Springs with Kids 

Enjoy pizza at Wolfgang's Express in Disney Springs with kids.
I found a pizza kids will eat that appeals to adults at Wolfgang Puck Express. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

During my latest visit, my boys, 9 and 12, wanted pizza so we stopped at Wolfgang Puck Express where I walked away with a pepperoni pizza for under $15 for us to share.

If kids want sandwiches, I suggest the Earl of Sandwich for lunch. Another solid option for kids in a quick service format.

Stop by Earl of Sandwich in Disney Springs with kids.
Kids love sandwiches? The Earl of Sandwich has them covered. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Rainforest Café offers another option for families with their familiar menu and décor.

Desserts and Coffee in Disney Springs

Did someone say dessert? I found my go-to treat at Sprinkles, for cupcakes. With a wide range of flavors, everyone satisfied their sweet-tooth.

Enjoy cupcakes at Sprinkles in Disney Springs with kids.
Cupcakes your addiction? Then Sprinkles is your destination. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Lucky for me, I found two Starbucks locations in Disney Springs so I refueled.

A new addition is the ultimate ice cream shop topped in chocolate. Stop by Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop for decadent indulges, since it’s a vacation.

I found a patisserie and crepe shop in Disney Springs too.

Adulting Disney Springs Style

As soon as the sun sets, Disney Springs transforms from a family destination to the scene for dinner and cocktails.

Enjoy Disney Springs after dark.
Disney Springs transforms after dark with upscale dining and cocktails. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

If looking for a casual evening, then I suggest Splitsville for bowling and dinner. With my favorite tunes overhead and a pair of bowling shoes on my feet, this is the place to hang out with friends.

And the food, their sushi is tops in Disney Springs. Between games, I grabbed a slice of pizza, like my favorite, BBQ chicken. Don’t forget the sliders or the nachos, both actually helped my game.

Enjoy Splitsville in Disney Springs with kids.
Not just bowling, I enjoyed sushi and pizza along with sliders at Splitsville. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Bowling begs for beer and Splitsville features an extensive selection of beer and wine. If that doesn’t satisfy, I found lots of signature cocktails.

If bowling isn’t your game, then stop by Jock Lindsey’s Hangar Bar for drinks after dinner. The atmosphere reminds me of an Indian Jones hangout and if the inside tables are full, head outside to watch the lights glitter off Lake Buena Vista.

Entertainment for the Family at Disney Springs

With its own free-standing theater, catch Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba. I did and wow this show bypasses the traveling shows in a big way. I found the theater features a more intimate seating arrangement that allows for better views.

Disney Springs also features an AMC theater with 24 theaters so I can’t imagine not finding your favorite movie on the big screen.

Enjoy the House of Blues in Disney Springs with kids.
The House of Blue features a gospel brunch along with a concert venue. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Though I ate at the House of Blues for brunch, it’s also a concert venue booking a variety of acts.

Kids love seeing the giant tethered balloon assent 400 feet into the air next to Lake Buena Vista. For the brave-hearted, seeing all the parks at once might be a bucket list experience.

Top Things to do in Disney Springs with Kids 

Find the splash pad. With a park bench perfect for resting adults, I found the splash pad at the entrance of Disney Springs near the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

If the kids loved the splash pad, then check out spitting Stitch located outside of the World of Disney.

Enjoy the carousel in Disney Springs with kids.
A ride on the hand-painted Venetian carousel is a must for kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

I can’t pass up the hand-painted Venetian carousel. It’s a work of art and an amazing site at night.

The marketplace train express offers littles another way to ride in Disney style. Even the Disney Springs Water Taxi is fun for families.

Stop by all the kid-oriented outdoor sculptures. With LEGOS topping the list here, don’t miss Mr. Potato Head either.

Shopping at Disney Springs

Do all your shopping at Disney Springs. My kids loved the LEGO Store and this store offers free activities. Even if you have a million pieces at home you have to check out the sculptures in and around the store. Really. The Hulk, a dragon, Buzz Lightyear and the list goes on.

Stop by the LEGO Store in Disney Springs with kids.
LEGO Store, your destination for cool kid art. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Star Wars fans in the house? Then visit the Star Wars Galactic Outpost for gifts for the kids and the first-generation fans too. The make-your-own light saber bar is a must.

The dino-loving kids will find the Dino-Store at the T-REX.

For Moms, I start at the sprawling World of Disney for unique Disney gifts. Another destination for distinct Disney gifts, Disney Days of Christmas features ornaments for your tree. I suggest D-Living too.

Add a day to explore Disney Springs with your kids for your next Walt Disney World trip. With a ginormous selection of dining, shopping and activities open nearly around the clock, it's deserve a day for itself.

If you forgot something at home, fear not. Disney Springs offers all the brands you love. I found Anthropologie, Columbia Sportswear, Free People, Kate Spade, Levis, Lilly Pulitzer and Zara.

Need shoes or luggage? Not a problem. I found those too.

Getting to and around Disney Springs

Disney Springs is located at 1480 Buena Vista Dr. I found lots of free parking and the lots are labeled. Valet parking is available.

I always use the Disney Springs Water Taxi to get around. My kids love it and it saves a few steps. With three stops, one at each end and one in the center, I was never far from a dock.

If you staying in the Buena Vista area, a complimentary bus runs frequently or take the bridge back to the Disney Springs Resort Area hotels. For guests of Saratoga Springs Resort, Disney Springs is right across Lake Buena Vista and I found a bridge.

Looking for resorts and more information?

I’ve 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, 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. If this is your first visit, don’t try to do everything.

Disclosure:

This site uses affiliate links in which I get a small commission if the book is purchased. Some of the resorts stays were hosted for review purposes.

4 Ways to a Perfect Spring Day at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Fest

Enjoy the topiaries at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
Enjoy a perfect day strolling among the flowers while watching the butterflies dance about. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Since 1994, every spring the International Flower and Garden Festival opens like a field of flowers across Epcot. From the first week of March until the last week of May, plant lovers drool and daydream as they wander through the eye-popping displays. But what about the kids? I’ve pulled together a list of must dos at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids to keep Mom happy.

With over 70 topiary displays with Disney characters from every generation, I love meandering through Epcot discovering the displays. Each character is a piece of plant art and I take a few minutes to discover the details in each. I am amazed how the gardeners use plants and plant products to create characters with amazing detail.

Enjoy the topiaries with kids at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.
Stop and look at the topiaries of favorite characters at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

And think it’s the same every year, not so. Each year I find my favorite topiaries in a different spot. Even the blooms radiate different colors. As a plant lover, I study the way the gardeners group the plants in eye-popping arrangements. I seriously covet the container groupings. It’s everything I want on my patio.

Even though I am a foodie, I love Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival a tad more than the International Food and Wine Festival in the Fall. Read on and to see why.

Enjoy some pastries at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
I walk through the flowers while I nibble on French pastries. If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

A Topiary for Every Movie

Well, almost. My girly faves are Elsa and Anna in Norway and France’s Beauty and the Beast topiaries. For my boys, Phineas and Ferb top the charts.

Stop by Elsa and Anna in Norway at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
A couple of my favorites, Elsa and Anna, enchant guests in Norway. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Along with the themed topiaries, some of the countries have themed gardens too. In Japan we find a display of Bonsai. In the United Kingdom, I’m enchanted by the Shakespeare Garden and the pots of tea plants.

Over 200 floating gardens catch us by surprise. They float and turn in the wind under the monorail near the Odyssey Bridge and the International Gateway.  

Enjoy the Beauty and the Beast topiaries in France when visiting Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
Can’t miss these characters in France, they’re a couple of my favorites too. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Weekend Entertainment

On the weekends, Epcot comes alive with music at the Garden Rocks Concert. A free concert located in the America Gardens Theatre bringing national acts to the World Showcase.

Of course, special tours and tastings tantalize me. Though additional tickets might be required.

Enjoy delightful birdhouse at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
I love the topiaries yet this birdhouse delighted me as well. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with Kids

Kids and gardens can be a hard sell. So stop by the Music Garden Melodies Playground. My favorite feature is sitting in the Adirondack chairs watching my kids play.

Stop and take a photo with Lightening McQueen at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with kids.
My youngest needed a photo with Cruz Ramirez. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Another must-do for kids, the Road to Florida 500 features Lightening McQueen and Cruz Ramirez.

We explore the butterfly garden, sponsored by Go-Go Squeez next. After chasing butterflies, my boys slurp down an applesauce pouch in one gulp.

Thumper and Bambi are all-time favorites at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival with Kids.
Who can’t pass up Thumper and Bambi on a perfect Spring afternoon at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Kidcot activities, a free educational booklet in selected countries in the World Showcase, get a fresh makeover for Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival with kids. Just grab a booklet head to a special desk in each pavilion. For 2017, kids learn about fruit from across the world.

Always running on-time, the miniature outdoor train in Germany excites my boys. I spend a few moments studying the tiny details with real trees to scale.

Take a hint from Snow White on how to get your kids whistling along as you lead the way to Epcot's International Flower and Garden Festival.

Dining during International Flower and Garden

One of my favorite parts of International Flower and Garden Festival is the food. Just for the festival, the Epcot chefs roll out farm-to-table offerings while mixologists concoct delicate spring inspired cocktails.

Sip a cocktail while strolling among the flowers at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival.
I really can’t say no to a champagne cocktail. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At the outdoor kitchens sprinkled in the countries, I find farm-to-table items offering fresh alternatives for families. The small plates entice me to sample in every country. And the signature cocktails are hard to pass up, especially the champagne cocktails.

Looking for resorts and more information?

I’ve 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, 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. If this is your first visit, don’t try to do everything.

Disclosure:

My visit to Walt Disney World was hosted for review purposes. Some of my resort stays were hosted.

This post contains affiliate link in which I get a small commission if you purchase a book.

 

 

 

 

 

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.