Adventures in Mini-Golf….our day trip to Destin and The Track

   When I’m not exploring our fair city with the Littles in tow, I moonlight as a wine advisor for a company called Wines for Humanity.  (www.winesforhumanity.com) I do private, in home, wine tastings and part of the money from the sale of our wine goes to help local charity (thus the ‘humanity’ part).  So one day last week I had to deliver some wine to a gal in Destin and I decided to make a day of it.  Why not, right?  I Googled the area and decided to give “The Track” a try.  It is billed as a “family entertainment complex” but truth be told, it’s really geared to kids that are a wee bit older than the Littles.   That said, I check out their website and prices, saw that there was a kiddie area and that mini golf was FREE for the Littles.  So we loaded some snacks and drinks into the car and off we went.

One good thing about going last week was that it’s obviously the off season, so it was pretty dead.  (This proved to be helpful on the mini-golf course.  That was some good comedy!)

We arrived, parked and walked into the arcade area where you purchase “points” loaded onto a card.   This is where I learned a fascinating fact.  Really little kids think arcade games are awesome even when they aren’t turned on.  This can be a big money saver.  Let ’em sit in the car game and pretend to drive it…without putting in any coins.  Genius!  We purchased the smallest card of points…It was $13 and after paying for my mini golf game, there was enough points left for 3 of the kiddie rides just outside.  In hindsight, I wish I’d bought the next package up, so the kids could have ridden a bit more.  Each kiddie ride is 3 points and the points cost .87 each individually.  The biggest money saver was the family pack that gets you 144 points and is only $90.85 if you pre-purchase it online. There were also several packages in between.  The points apply to all of the rides and attractions.  Only the arcade games operate on a separate token system. 

So, obviously “The Track”s main attraction is their go-kart track.  I’m looking forward to when the Littles are old enough to ride them, because it looks pretty neat.  There’s also bumper cars, the big arcade, mini-golf and a pretty cool area called “Kids Kountry.”  There are some HUGE thrill rides as well as some water based rides that weren’t open in the off season, too.  We rode the Carousel and almost made it onto the flying airplanes.  There was a train ride, swings, a bounce house and a few other cute rides.  Think traveling carnival type stuff, only safer!  I think we could have skipped the golf and hung out in this area all day.  But, we ‘d already paid for my round at least, so off we went.

Let me just say that by this point I realized that my vision of trying to teach them to play mini-golf was lofty and unrealistic.  (Have I mentioned that they are only 17 months apart?  I’m a first time Mommy with them both!)   So, I set my expectations aside, was really glad there was no one else there, and we grabbed our clubs and balls and were off.    There are 2 course to choose from…the mountains or the beach.  The kids wanted the mountains at first, but I pointed out all the cool animals on the beach and they quickly changed their minds.   There’s a zebra, rhino, giraffe, elephant and her baby, and gorillas and some gators in the water.)

The first few holes were surprising,  as they both were actually interested in trying to learn how to hit the balls into the hole.  That didn’t last very long!  Pretty soon Spencer just started picking up the ball and dropping it into the hole.  Then Spencer just wanted to hit the ball wherever he could and Sam decided that her golf club resembled a broom (she named it her ‘cleaning fing’) and set out to “sweep up” the greens.    So we traipsed from hole to hole, saying hello to all of the animals and tossing the balls around from time to time.  Again, so glad they were free and that the course was empty!  It took us about 20 minutes to frolic around all 18 holes and wind up back at the arcade.  There were some giant goldfish in the water and the kids probably could have stayed and watched them forever.  Obviously they get fed a lot, because it looked like they wanted to eat the kids!

I think all together we spent about an hour or so at The Track and only spent about $14.  I didn’t see any food but I did try to buy the Littles and Icee, but they declined.  We left there and delivered the wine and then grabbed lunch at “Old McDonald.”  (yes, that’s what the kids call it and no we don’t eat there but maybe once a month.  It’s awful, I know.  But they LOVE it.  And if it’s a Tuesday or Thursday, Happy Meals are $1.99.)

So, what do we think about The Track?  Well, we still have some credits and they are already asking about going back.  I think we will wait until it’s warmer and all the attractions are open.  And we will probably go next time with the whole family, so my 14 year old can enjoy some of the bigger rides.  I’m sure it’s a zoo once the summer rolls around, though.  What are your thoughts on this Destin tourist attraction?  Do you have a different ‘go-to’ spot for when the family is over in Destin?  Let us know!  We’d love to hear from you!

Hmm. One million dollars!

She was more interested in the pretty flowers.

Sam sitting on the baby elephant. I’m pretty sure this is against the rules!

 

 

8th Annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival-2012

What: Hot Air Balloon Festival; Where: Foley Sportspark; When: June 15-17; Cost: FREE

The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is an annual event in Foley, Alabama. It is one of those events that we will make the drive for if we have the time and are in town. The festival goes on throughout the day but our favorite time to visit is in the early evening. The weather has cooled down a little bit (as cool as it gets in June!) and if you arrive as the sun is going down you can see the hot air balloons all lit up.

There is a children’s festival that is open on Friday, June 15, from 2pm to 7pm and Saturday from 8am to 7pm. The children’s festival will include inflatables, children’s interactive entertainment, reptile displays, face painting and more. There will be live entertainment, the Disc Connected K9s and more.

Admission to the festival is free. See the schedule before you go to confirm activities.

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • There is shuttle service from three locations and the shuttles run every 15 minutes. Shuttle fare is $2 per person, per route. See the information page for details. We haven’t been to the festival since 2010 so I can’t speak to the improvements now that they are charging. I can say that you need to be prepared to wait. If it is crowded, you may need to wait at least one or two shuttle runs before boarding. Parking at the festival is limited but depending on when you get there, you might be able to find a space.
  • Pack a cooler for when you get back in the car. It is hot and you will be glad that you have that cold bottle of water in the car. NOTE: You Can Not bring your cooler to the festival. Outside drinks and food are not allowed.
  • Wear sunscreen and comfy walking shoes. You will be outside and there is not a lot of shaded areas.
  • Some of the children’s activities are free but there may be a cost associated with others.
The festival is located in the Foley Sports Park, 18507 Highway 98 West, Foley, Alabama.

 

 

Baldwin County Strawberry Festival

What: Strawberry Festival; Where: Loxley Municipal Park; When: 4/14 9am-7pm and 4/15 9am

 If you are looking for something to do this weekend, take a day trip over to Alabama for the Baldwin County Strawberry Festival. The festival will be held at Loxley Municipal Park on April 14th from 9am to 7pm and April 15 from 9am to 5pm.

There will be arts, crafts and food vendors, entertainment, and a car show.

Have you been to the Baldwin County Strawberry Festival? What did you think?

Emerald Coast Science Center

What: Science museum; Where: 139 Brooks Street, Ft. Walton Beach; When: Tues-Fri 9am-2pm, Sat 9am-4pm, Sun 12pm-4pm; Cost: Children $3.75, Adults $5.75, Seniors $4.75, Children 2 and under free

The Emerald Coast Science Center has been on our list of activities to try for three years. Every summer, I say that this will be the summer that we drive over to Ft. Walton Beach and visit the Emerald Coast Science Center. Every summer comes and goes without making the stop. The silly thing is that we drive past the center at least once every two or three months on our way to Destin or Panama City. Last week, we finally stopped and visited the Emerald Coast Science Center and we loved it.

The Emerald Coast Science Center is in a small building but it is packed tight with hands-on, interactive exhibits.  It wasn’t very crowded so we were able to move freely from exhibit to exhibit.  Each room houses a different set of exhibits. One of the things that I first noticed was that every hands-on exhibit my kids tried worked. That is my biggest complaint about visiting children’s museums. So often, we visit a museum and many of the exhibits are closed for repair or just not working. We only found one thing that appeared to be out of order or the directions weren’t clear enough to us to figure out (more likely, it was the latter of the two!). The exhibits are well maintained and clean throughout the entire museum.

Exhibits include the Electricity and Wind Tunnel where visitors can learn more about electricity and fly a model airplane (one of my son’s favorite spots).

There is also the Hall of Life as well as Critters and Bubbles, and Color and Light.

We spent the most time in the Hall of Life and the Bubble Room. The Bubble Room was a huge hit with my two children. There are two tables full of a bubble solution. On one table, you use a hose that is blowing out air to create bubbles. My son decided he was building a bubble city.

The second table has a bubble wand that creates large bubbles. It took a few minutes to figure out how to make a bubble without popping it right away. It took Little S a few minutes to figure it out but once she did, I couldn’t tear her away from the table.

The Hall of Life is one of the largest sections of the museum. This is where visitors will learn more about the human body.  There are a number of pull-out panels and doors to open and explore.

There are even learning activities in the hallways, like this wall hanging that fascinated both kids for several minutes.

Once you are finished visiting the museum, you can head to the beautiful park behind it. There is plenty of shade for a picnic lunch and a playground to run off some energy before getting back in the car to head home.

The building is located on a road that runs parallel to Highway 98 and is close to restaurants, the park, and more. The Emerald Coast Science Center is very close to the Indian Temple Mound Museum and is about a ten minute drive from the Gulfarium making it easy to plan a full day trip.

If you have a membership to the Association of Science-Technology Centers, the Emerald Coast Science Center currently participates in the Passport Program.

LEGOLAND Florida in Winter Haven – A Weekend Getaway from Pensacola

If you have been anticipating the opening of LEGOLAND Florida for the past year like we have been, you will have to wait no more!  I was so excited to be able to visit LEGOLAND Florida on Grand Opening day and it was an incredible adventure.  Living in Pensacola puts us just a six and a half hour drive from Orlando, home to all things theme park.  We are able to get in the car and drive down for a weekend without spending the large sums of money for plane tickets and more if we want to do a theme park trip.  We have spent several weekends in Orlando recently and I like being able to just go to the theme park one or two days and not have to spend hundreds of dollars on a week long pass.

LEGOLAND has added another option to the land of many theme parks.  LEGOLAND opened on October 15th about 40 minutes south of Disney World.  Some of you may remember going to Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven and the builders of LEGOLAND did a lot to preserve the gardens, some original structures and even some rides.  LEGOLAND Florida is the largest LEGOLAND and has the added beauty of the gardens.  The entire park is full of brightly colored LEGO bricks placed perfectly around the many brightly colored flowers and the many different shades of green…green trees, green grass, green bushes.

Things to Know Before You Go:

LEGOLAND is meant for children ages 2-12.  The park will appeal to LEGO lovers of all ages but it is meant for younger children.  I brought my 4 and 7 year old and felt like they were the perfect age to enjoy the park.  My 7 year old could go on almost every ride by himself and my 4 year old could go on just about every ride when I was accompanying her.  Most of the rides and activities have an interactive element to them so children will be shooting lasers, driving cars and boats and more.

Be prepared to wait just like any other theme park.  My one and only complaint about our visit is that it seemed like most of the rides had to be loaded with riders, sent on their way, unloaded, loaded again, and so on.  There weren’t too many rides that were constantly moving.  This could also have had to do with the fact that it was opening day.  This caused for a few lengthy ride wait times.  The good news is that every ride wait time sign was accurate almost to the minute or the times were overestimated!

Upgrade your single day ticket if you will be returning.  You can purchase a two day ticket for just $15 more than the one day ticket.  If you love the park, you can also look into upgrading your ticket to an annual pass.  Annual passes begin at a $99 for children ages 3-12 and $129 for ages 13 and up.  We spent two days exploring LEGOLAND but I do think it is doable in one day.  A day and a half would be perfect.

Choose your hotel wisely.  If you are making the trip just to visit LEGOLAND and don’t care about staying in Orlando, book a hotel with the Bed and Brick program and choose one that is close to the park.  There are a number of hotels in the program but the Best Western Park View Hotel is the closest hotel to LEGOLAND Florida.  We stayed at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando and had a great time.  The Nickelodeon Suites Resort is near a Disney park and is also a participant in the Bed and Brick program.  It was about a 45 minute drive from the Nick Suites to LEGOLAND.  We took the shuttle, which provides roundtrip transportation from Orlando Premium Outlets-Vineland Avenue.  The pick-up time is 9am and the shuttle returns at park closing.

Look for the inexpensive or free souvenirs.  Save money on your trip by picking up one of the many souvenirs under ten dollars like a key chain or minifigure.  There are two free souvenirs that you can pick up: the LEGOLAND Florida brick and a paper driving license at Ford Driving School.  After learning about how LEGO bricks are made in the LEGOLAND Factory each child will get the special LEGOLAND Florida brick.  After attending driving school and driving the cars at both the Ford Driving and Ford Jr. Driving School, children will be given a paper driver’s license.  You can purchase a laminated driver’s license for $14.99 (ouch!), but if you push past that area hopefully your kids won’t notice and will be satisfied with the paper version.

Another option for a LEGOLAND souvenir is to bring a minifigure from home to trade with an employee.  Most all employees have a minifigure on their name tag and will trade you their minifigure for yours.  Don’t have one from home that you want to give away?  Minifigures can be purchased for $2.99 a piece or $9.99 a three pack.

The food at LEGOLAND Florida is actually pretty reasonable.  I was impressed with the prices of food available.  It certainly is not cheaper than eating a sandwich at home but there are a number of options with a variety of prices.  We ate at the Fun Town Pizza and Pasta Buffet where you can choose all the pasta and pizza that you wish for around $10.  Our favorite meal was at the Market Place where I paid $6.99 for a large piece of chicken and two huge spoonfuls of sides.  My daughter and I shared this meal while my son had a kid’s chicken tender meal.  Share a meal to save even more money.  For a snack, I recommend you try Granny’s Apple Fries.  I bought the $4.99 container of apple fries because everybody I spoke to talked about how wonderful they were.  I really liked them but my kids weren’t interested.

LEGOLAND is worth a visit even if you are just viewing the LEGO structures and Cypress Gardens.  Don’t miss wandering through the Cypress Garden area.  The gardens are beautiful and the Banyan tree in the back is amazing to see.  If the kids are bored while you wander the gardens have them hunt for the belle of Cypress Gardens…this belle is wearing a hoop skirt but she is made out of LEGO bricks!  Spend some time wandering Miniland where structures were built with 30 million bricks!

Don’t miss The Battle for Brickbeard’s Bounty Water Ski Show.  Cypress Gardens was famous for its water ski shows and LEGO pays homage to it with the Brickbeard show.  A couple of kids will get to be part of the show and blast the pirates with a water hose.  The fact that the characters water ski in those costumes is impressive!

The verdict?  We had a blast! My LEGO loving son couldn’t get enough of the LEGO sculptures and interactive rides and my daughter loved being able to participate in almost every ride.  We will definitely return and I can’t wait to see what LEGOLAND Florida has in store as it continues to grow (rumor has it that a water park is in its future!).

*Thank you to LEGOLAND Florida for hosting us.  As always, opinions are my own with no outside influences (except for my kids, of course).

Reflections on the Waves at Waterville, USA

My pal Dianna mentioned she was headed to Waterville, USA in Gulf Shores, AL for an afternoon of fun in the sun and I was thrilled when she said that she would do a guest post.  We haven’t been to Waterville yet and though we intended to make it this summer, it will have to wait until next summer.  I love Dianna’s tips on how to survive a day at a big waterpark!  Even though school starts Monday, Waterville will be open on the weekends until the end of September (9/24).  Be sure to check the calendar for dates and times before you go!

The Hayden Trio decided to take advantage of the first sunny day in weeks and embark on a journey to Gulf Shores, Alabama for our first experience at Waterville, USA.  We hadn’t been to a water park in years, and decided to take the plunge with our three-year-old, Cautious C.   Overall our 3 hour stay was a mixed bag of fun and less fun mostly because of some oversights, mistakes, and lack of information.   To ensure that your experience is better than ours, I have compiled a list of tips in the form of do’s and don’ts for your trip to Waterville. 

  • Do pack water shoes.   Again, I have not been to a water park in years and do not remember needing shoes.  But for Waterville in July, foot protection against the hot pavers is a big plus, especially for little ones.  Cautious C is sensitive, but even we bigger Haydens ended up with scalded soles at the end of our day. 
  • Do not pack food or drink (but you can get away with a juice box).  We packed two waters and a juice in our bag for our fun day, and were promptly asked to take them back to the car when the park attendant searched our bags.  Since the car was parked in the back 40, we ended up throwing away our perfectly good waters.  When I pushed about bringing the juice box, they did bend on that rule. 
  • Don’t avoid the parks in July.  Though it was a beautiful day and fairly crowded, the lines moved rapidly and there was plenty of room on the lazy river and in the wave pool. 
  • Do park near the arcade (right below the biggest hill of the roller coaster) and buy your wristbands there.  We avoided the long lines at the entrance and waited only minutes in the air-conditioned arcade for our wristbands.  Plus it gave me an opportunity to buy the tickets while the hubby entertained Cautious C by walking around the video games. 
  • Do use the clean restrooms in the arcade before you enter the water park.  It is obvious that bathrooms in a water park are going to be wet.  But if it grosses you out to put your bare feet on a wet bathroom floor, the dry arcade is your best bet. 
  • Do print a map from the Waterville website before you go.  I know it’s a water park and you’re not going to run around with a wet map all day, but it would have really helped to have a map to get our bearings at first.  There are no signs directing you to things like inner tubes and the beginning of the lazy river.  It doesn’t take long to figure it out, but when you have a little one whose feet are burning, not having to backtrack at the beginning really helps. 
  • Don’t expect to be able to go down slides together (except for inner tube slides).  After making a climb up Rainbow Falls with Cautious C, being told we could not accompany him down the slide, and then having to walk all the way down the crowded steps, it is a lesson I will not soon forget.  Cautious C has gone down slides before, but needs a little help to get comfortable at the beginning.  Needless to say, he never went down any of those slides. 
  • Do not bring a life jacket.  Waterville provides all types of life jackets in good condition free of charge. 
  • Do nab a yellow tube anywhere you can get it.  From my previous water park experiences, I thought tubes and flotation devices were organized in separate areas for each attraction.  However, even the Waterville employee told us that we might have to look several places for an inner tube.  There was no real pattern to the distribution and collection of inner tubes, and they seemed to simply flow without boundaries all over the park.   If you intend to ride a tube ride, get on the lazy river, or float in the wave pool, get your yellow tubes wherever you see ‘em.  We got ours around one of the lazy river exits and held on to it for the other tube attractions.  
  • Do not wear a shirt over your swimsuit and don’t feel subconscious about it.  There were signs everywhere that directed slide riders not to wear shirts down the water slides.  If you wear a shirt because you want to hide something, don’t.  Even at the beach I have never seen the range of body types and “get-ups” that I saw at Waterville.  There is no reason to wear anything more than a swimsuit.  It’s July for goodness sake! 

Final Note

If you too have a Cautious C, It may not be best to start on the 10 and under play area beneath the huge dumping bucket.  That is where we started and it was a critical mistake because Cautious C does not like surprises.  It took us over an hour to rid him of his anxiety after the huge bucket dumped right on his head as he reached the slides.  We should have started small. 

Overall, Waterville was an interesting and entertaining experience.  If you have a fearless child, then you should have no problems just diving in and having fun.  The Hayden Trio spent over $100 at the park and did little more than we would have at a community pool.  But most of that was due to having Cautious C and making some general mistakes.  Hope that these tips can help make your Waterville trip everything you want it to be! 

Dianna Hayden lives in Cantonment with her husband and 3-year-old. As a family they love to travel, but find that Pensacola and the surrounding areas are hard to beat!

Photos courtesy of nola.agent via Flickr.

Ten Things I Didn’t Know You Could Do at Callaway Gardens

 

Callaway Gardens is located about twenty minutes off of I-85 in Pine Mountain, Georgia so odds are that if you have driven to Atlanta from Pensacola, you have driven past signs telling you that Callaway Gardens is nearby.  It is just a short four hours north of Pensacola so it makes for a wonderful weekend getaway.

Did you know that Callaway Gardens is more than just a garden?  I didn’t until our recent visit.  I was expecting gardens much like Bellingrath in Theodore, Alabama or Alfred B. Maclay Gardens in Tallahassee where you wander through gardens, go for a walk, maybe ride a boat or see the home.  Boy, was I wrong!  When we started planning our trip, I was amazed at all of the different things that you can do at Callaway Gardens.

Stay on the grounds.  Little cottages, villas, rooms at the inn or the gorgeous lodge are a few of the lodging options available on the grounds of Callaway Gardens.  We stayed in a two bedroom unit in the Southern Pines Cottages.  These cute little cottages are hidden around the trees.  You are close to neighboring cottages but not close enough that it was too loud.  They are perfect for families, both large and small.  The two bedroom cottages have a small kitchen, dining area and living area as well as two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  There are decks off of both the living room and bedrooms where you watch the lightning bugs and stars light up the night.  Nearby is a pool, a Laundromat and a pizza parlor.

Go for a hike or ride a bike.  The expansive property of Callaway Gardens is full of places to hike or go for a bike ride.  A great way to get around Callaway Gardens is by bike but be prepared because it is very hilly and attractions are not as close to each other as they appear to be!  There are many different trails with varying levels of difficulty and length.  Our favorite walk was the walk from the Discovery Center to the Butterfly Center.  We were able to wander through the woods, walk over bridges, and spy turtles sunbathing in the water.

Spend time on a lake.  There are lots of ways to become one with nature at Callaway Gardens but my kids will tell you that their swimming time was their favorite activity.  There is swimming, kayaking, boating, water skiing, tubing, and so much more to keep you occupied and out in the sun all day long!

Zip line through the trees.  One of the newest additions at Callaway Gardens is the Treetop Adventure.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try it out due partly to the fact that my children are too short and that the time slots filled up so quickly that they weren’t taking anymore signups for the day.  We did, however, spend some time watching other visitors shimmy from tree to tree over rickety bridges and zip across the path into the woods.  We were very impressed by the Treetop Adventure staff.  As one little girl slowly began to panic, we watched a staff member quickly calm her down, hook her up to a rope, and slowly lower her to the ground all the while telling her what he was doing and how it worked.  She was able to calm down enough to get to terra firma without completely freaking out!   It was nice to know that if you had any issues with the heights of the aeriel challenges that there was a plan in place to get you down!

Find your inner peace in the Butterfly House.  One of my favorite activities was visiting the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center.  We loved to watch the butterflies float through the air and land gracefully on the trees and flowers throughout the center.

Get your exercise on Aqua Island.  Aqua Island is an inflatable island at Robin Lake Beach.  You can visit the island for an hour at a time where you can climb, slip, slide and jump around and into the water.  Children under seven (if I am remembering correctly) must be accompanied by an adult and all visitors must wear a lifejacket, which are provided for you.  About halfway through our hour on aqua island we were beginning to think we should have signed up for two hours…until we finally finished our hour.  We were all exhausted after running around the different obstacles, jumping into the water and getting back out again.

Watch birds and students soar through the sky!  When you are ready to stop moving and rest for awhile, check out the Birds of Prey show.  Held inside to keep you out of the heat during the day and outside in the evening, these birds swoop and fly while you learn about the mighty raptors.  You can also watch students fly through the air.  Yes, students!  The Florida State University Flying High Circus performs through August 12th every summer.  Unfortunately, they are almost done with their summer session but they do put on occasional public shows at FSU.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was thoroughly impressed.  The kids couldn’t take their eyes off of the acrobatics happening above their heads.  If you visit in the summertime, be sure to catch the show.

Eat some Southern soul food.  There are many restaurant choices on the grounds of Callaway Gardens and for the most part they are reasonably priced.  We had dinner at the pizza parlor in the Southern Pine Cottage area the first night.  The pizza was tasty but I do recommend calling ahead.  We waited almost exactly an hour for our pizza due to the crowds.  The group next to us had called their order in earlier so they got their pizza only just a few minutes after they grabbed a table.  But nothing topped our delicious meal at the Country Kitchen.  Located just a few minutes outside of the entrance, the Country Kitchen serves up yummy southern dishes.  We ate perfectly fried chicken, baked apples and seasoned French fries until we couldn’t stomach it anymore.

Practice your swing.  If you prefer to pick up a tennis racket or a golf club, there is ample opportunity at the tennis courts or the golf course.  The golf course offers different packages and offers an academy as well.

Visit the vegetable garden.  When we arrived at the gardens on a Friday evening, the sun was still out but some of the activities had closed up already.  We weren’t ready to check out the lake so we took a drive around.  I saw the sign for the vegetable garden so we decided to take a look.  This is no backyard veggie garden!  This vegetable garden is huge!  Rows and rows of corn, watermelon, grapes, and so much more are spread throughout the garden.  We saw how okra looks before it is fried up (really…I had no idea what it looked like because I am not a huge fan!) and we saw beautiful sunflowers blooming.  On Friday nights, you can visit the Farmer’s Market and purchase veggies that have just been picked right out of the garden!  As we were walking around, I almost expected to see Peter Rabbit come bounding through the rows!

Things to Know Before You Go:

  • When you arrive and get settled in your accommodations, read up on the height, age and weight limits.  There were a couple of things that we were unable to do (like laser tag and the treetop adventure) due to the limits.
  • If you really want to do something, head to Square One located at Robin Lake Beach to sign up early.  If you don’t, you might miss out.  We went to sign up for the Blaster Boats at 11 in the morning and they were already booked until 7pm that night.
  • Although biking is a wonderful way to get around the gardens, if you have smaller children this might not be an option.  We almost threw the bikes into our car but at the last minute we didn’t bring them.  I was glad because when I saw the hills and how far apart some of the stuff was, I knew my kids wouldn’t have made it very far without complaining.   We used our car to travel around the gardens.
  • If available, consider purchasing the Ultimate Summer Fun Pass which includes admission into the Treetop Adventure, Light Striker Laser Tag, Aqua Island, Blaster Boats, Golf on Lake View Golf Course, Bicycling, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, and Tennis.  If you are planning on participating in several of these activities, you will pay off the pass quickly.
  • If you are looking to get away before school starts, Callaway Gardens has a great special going on.  Rates at the Mountain Creek Inn begin at $99 a night and you can purchase the Ultimate Summer Fun Pass for only $48 a person per night.

Have you been to Callaway Gardens?  What was your favorite activity?

*Disclosure: Callaway Gardens hosted our stay and provided us with Ultimate Summer Fun Passes.  We paid for our gas, all meals, and additional activities while we were there.  As always, my opinions are my own and are not influenced by others (except for maybe my kids!).

Olin Marler Dolphin Cruises – Destin, Florida

What: Dolphin cruise; Where: Destin, Florida; When: Cruises run daily; reservations recommended; Cost: Adult : $25.00; Seniors (60+): $20.00; Child (4-12): $13.50; Child (3 and under): Free

Today, I am welcoming my pal Jay to Pensacola with Kids as a guest poster.  Jay and his family had the opportunity to check out the Olin Marler Dolphin Cruise a few months ago and I was so excited when he offered to do a write-up about his experience.  We haven’t had a chance to do a dolphin cruise and after reading his account and seeing the pictures, I can’t wait to schedule a tour!

We got a great deal through Groupon to drive over to Destin for the Dolphin Cruise on the Olin Marler. We called ahead and made our reservations for a morning cruise which left at 11:30 and stayed out for about two hours. The drive over was easy enough. We arrived 30 minutes early, as suggested by the staff at Olin Marler. We had enough time to find a potty for our 3-year-old and check out a guy cleaning shark jaws on the pier and then it was time to board the “Hannah Marie.”

The boat was not too crowded; plenty of places to sit/stand/lean as we headed out. There is even an indoor cabin for folks who want to stay out of the wind. As we left the harbor, the Captain introduced himself and his 3 man crew and began the narrated tour of Destin Harbor.

Olin Marler advertises its cruises as “family friendly,” and it really was. There was plenty of shade, a snack bar ($1 for chips, sodas, crackers, etc.), and the Captain and crew were very personable and answered all of our 6-year-old’s many questions. As we got out into more open water, the crew came to the back of the boat and showed the kids how they could feed popcorn to the seagulls; one took a piece right out of my hand.

We had asked, in the phone call beforehand, how certain it was that we would see dolphins and were informed that every cruise this season had seen some. Sure enough, we were soon spotting dolphins at a distance and the Captain adjusted our course to get closer. We did not just see a few isolated dolphins, we were treated to a show as 10 – 15 dolphins played and jumped around the boat for better than 30 minutes straight. The Captain continually adjusted course to keep us within a few short feet of the action and stayed on the microphone making sure we missed nothing. The kids loved it!

After a solid hour of non-stop dolphin sightings, we began heading back toward harbor. The Captain announced that the wheelhouse was open for kids to come in and steer the boat and take pictures, which we did, and once again the kids were thrilled.

The only thing I could say that would be a negative is regarding the Glass Bottom Viewing area.  The boat did have a portion that was glass-bottomed, but it did not provide any interesting viewing. Between the glass itself being thick and somewhat opaque and the water beneath it churning as the boat moved, you couldn’t really see anything at all. This did not bother me or the kids at all; however, because there was so much to see up top that we wouldn’t have wanted to be down below anyway.

Olin Marler is pretty easy to get to, but it is easy to miss the final turn-off to the harbor if you aren’t looking carefully. The harbor itself is end to end fishing charters and dolphin cruise boats. There are several seafood restaurants flanking the boats and a shopping area which looked like mostly stores that were out of our price range. We did notice; however, that almost every restaurant there advertised “Kids Eat Free” specials after 4 P.M.  

Jay McElroy is a Pensacola native who recently moved back to his home town after spending the last 15 years in California. He returned with his wife Amber, whom he met while living in Fresno, CA, and their two children: J.T. (age 6) and Jillian (age 3 ½). Jay is, happily, a stay at home dad during the summer but will be returning to work in August as a 6th grade ESE reading teacher at Workman Middle School.

7th Annual Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival

Somehow, I completely forgot to post that this event is happening this weekend!  The Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival is one of the events that we will drive to attend.  We aren’t going to make it this weekend (which is why I forgot about it!) but we have been several years in a row and love it.  Our favorite time to go is early in the evening so that we can see the hot air balloons during the day and all lit up at night! 

Be sure to check the schedule before you go!  There are balloon glows, a children’s festival, Disc-Connected K9s, Alligator Alley and more!

Things To Know Before You Go:

  • There are shuttles running from different parking lots, but try to park in the lot right next to the fields.  When we went, we first parked in a school parking lot where we waited thirty minutes for a shuttle that never showed.  I assume it showed later but we didn’t want to wait anymore!  We got back in the car and drove closer to the fields where we got a great parking space near the balloon fields.
  • Pack a cooler for when you get back in the car.  It is hot and you will be glad you have that juice box or water bottle in the car!  NOTE: You CAN NOT bring your cooler to the festival.  It must stay in the car!
  • Wear sunscreen and tennis shoes.  You will be outside the whole time and walking through grassy fields (which were quite muddy two years ago!).
  • Some of the children’s activities are free but there are others are for an additional cost.
  • Visitor parking at the festival grounds is $5 per vehicle.

2011 Free Summer Movies at the Destin Commons 14

We had several requests for the free summer movie schedule at the Destin Commons 14 Rave theater.  I came across the information on the Abrakadoodle Facebook page so I wanted to share it here.  We are still looking for the Ridge schedule and the Gulf Breeze schedule (if either are participating in free movies this summer).  If you come across the schedule before us, we would appreciate it if you email it to us using the Contact Form!

Abrakadoodle, a mobile art educaton program, will be holding DC Kids Artful Play every Wednesday before the movie.  Join Abrakadoodle at 9am for an art project in the Destin Commons 14 Rave lobby!  I am not sure if there is a cost associated with the project.

The Destin Commons 14 Rave Free Family Film Festival schedule is as follows:

May 24th and 25th – Megamind

May 31st and June 1st – Yogi Bear

June 7th and 8th – Diary of a Wimpy Kid

June 13th and 14th – Marmaduke

June 21st and 22nd – Ramona and Beezus

June 28th and 29th – Percy Jackson

July 5th and 6th – Chronicles of Narnia 3

July 12th and 13th – Gulliver’s Travels

 *Please note that the Abrakadoodle flyer only lists the Wednesday dates because that is when the Artful Play is.  According to the main Rave Motion Pictures website, the Free Family Film Festival will occur on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  As always, we advise calling ahead if you aren’t sure!

*Photo courtesy of NightRPStar via Flickr