A new feature for all travel related stories is debuting in this tale of our adventurous afternoon. It is the Vicarious Video where you can live our experience through images and sounds as well as words. Enjoy.
The original story for this segment appeared in LA Parent.
It started in the lobby. A big black spider clung to the ceiling, its sharp fangs hovering over the little guest’s heads, an eerie spiderweb covered the entire front window. This sight alone would have turned any sensible creature to a pile of mush – if this spooky spectacle wasn’t crafted entirely of balloons.
“Is that more balloons than anywhere?” asked 6 year old Knox. “I don’t know honey,” I answered, wondering about the world record for balloon exhibits, “but it sure is a lot!”
The giant wolf den into which we had stepped this past February, when the Great Wolf Lodge first opened its doors in Garden Grove, CA , was now transformed into a mock house of horrors with decorations designed to bring smiles instead of fright to young and old alike.
Multi-hued spiders crawled along every wall.
A haunted house mysteriously appeared in the back of the lobby.
Pockets of decay lay in every nook and cranny.
Even the wolf ears had changed colors.
Yet, we discovered even though our favorite lodge had transformed to celebrate the fall season, all the fun we had first fallen in love with, was still there.
After sitting in Friday traffic, the boys decided to investigate the newest exhibits later and wasted no time in throwing their luggage into their den,
The restrictions have more to do with height than age. There is a handy guide, as you walk into the water park, that puts adventurers into color categories.
They are then given a wrist band that alerts lifeguards and attraction hosts whether they are tall enough to appreciate the various slides and adventures around the waterpark. Kaleb is over 48 inches tall so fell into the green category, which meant he could do anything there, while Knox was pushing yellow but still within that range. He sported a yellow wrist band, which showed he was taller than 42 inches. The wrist band saved on time since the hosts didn’t have to measure him before every ride. The yellow designation meant he could go on every attraction except the Howling Tornado and Wolf Tail. So that just meant, I had to go on the Howling Tornado with Kaleb.
And how was it? Glad you asked…..
The only other thing Knox couldn’t do was the Wolf Tail and since I did it last time, I didn’t feel like I had anything left to prove and didn’t want to wait in that long line again. Or so I told my kids 😉
The waterpark stays open until 9 pm from Friday to Sunday but we hadn’t had any dinner, so we wrapped it up shortly before then, showered off, put on our jammies and had a late buffet dinner at the Loose Moose which thankfully stays open until 10:00pm on weekends.
I was impressed again by the creative and healthy options offered by the restaurant.
They were impressed again by the dessert.
We went to bed way past our bedtime so didn’t get a chance to start our next day with the free yoga class the resort offers in the lobby.
Not to miss out on that great way to begin our day, we decided to do yoga in our room before breakfast.
Besides free yoga, there’s a whole array of free activities offered daily to guests of all ages. It really is an amusement park that you can sleep in, as the assistant General Manager, Diana Harrison described the resort.
I got a chance to meet Harrison and tour the various rooms on the property and also learned about the various holiday and winter themed activities that the Great Wolf Lodge will offer its guests for the next few months.
Turns out we arrived the exact weekend when the lodge first started celebrating Howl-O-Ween! From October 1-31, the whole lodge fills with spooky scenes and trick-or-treating begins every night at 5pm ….but more on that later!
There are various rooms available at the lodge. We stayed in the Wolf Den,
which is perfect for a family with two kids as the boys have their own space where they can chill out with their own TV and animals that come to life when you wave the magi wand at them and the adults have their own little retreat and don’t have to hear those cute little sounds all night.
For families with three or more children, there is another themed suite called the KidsCabin .
And if that wasn’t enough, during the winter holidays, there is even the option of having a Christmas-themed suite for families who still want to celebrate Christmas but are far from their tree.
I didn’t see where the Chanukah themed suites were but I guess a menorah is more portable than a tree.
There’s even options if you’re traveling with grandma and grandpa…or with family that snores!
Santa will arrive at the lodge the weekend after Thanksgiving on November 26, offering him a chance to eat his turkey with Mrs. Claus. The wolves, Wiley and Violet will accompany him in their convertible car. That day is sure to be howls of frozen fun!
After yoga and breakfast, daddy took the boys for a while so mommy could enjoy some down time. There is an outdoor area that is perfect for those who need a little escape from the chlorinated air inside the water park and is also perfect for toddlers and babies.
In this outdoor area, there is also a bar and a place to order lunch that doesn’t involve fried meats or breads topped with cheeses. In other words, this area is perfect for all ages.
When the boys came back, we all dove back into the water park and got a chance to have some thrilling family fun.
Daddy and Kaleb decided to try out their surf tricks on the Wolf Rider Wipeout. Knox wasn’t tall enough to ride it on the surfboard but he could have done the boogie board.
Daddy went first.
He didn’t do as well as the first time he tried it.
Kaleb braved the current too.
I think he did better than Daddy! Daddy might need a little more practice.
We splashed around in the lazy river Crooked Creek….
They chilled on a floating log in Chinook Cove.
Then they wanted to get their sports on, so shot some baskets in a different area of the same “cove”.
Life vests are available for anyone that wants them.
One area they didn’t explore but looked fun for those who are still growing into their height was the Cub Paw Pool.
We could have spent the entire day and night in the fun water park but we had Halloween business to attend to in the dry parts of the indoor amusement park. The entire month of October, all the hotel areas transform into a mock haunted house with a trick-or-treating trail that begins at the haunted house in the lobby every night at 5pm. The path goes through seven haunted stations where the pack members (aka the employees) live out their own fun childhood fantasies by bringing them to life for your kids, says Harrison.
The kids get candy and activity books. But who says kids get to have all the fun?
And we weren’t the only ones who got in the spirit with the kiddos…..
The haunted house will be remodeled after Thanksgiving into a Gingerbread House, and the lobby will transform into Snowland. Families can sign up online to eat a private meal inside the Gingerbread House for only $10. The Great Wolf Lodge donates all proceeds from the special venue to Ronald McDonald House to support families with sick children.
After going through all the stations, the boys wanted to seek their fame and fortune by taking on one of the MagiQuests that was included in the Paw Pass we got.
Battle stations are spread throughout the hotel….
They loved their quests and it’s an activity that’s good for kids and teens. The younger ones can have their own, shorter, adventure with the Clubhouse Crew, stuffed friends they can build at the Creation Station.
Also include in our pass was a bunch of souvenirs the boys got to take home and show to their friends at school.
The leather bracelets, included with the Pass, were cool but the Great Wolf Lodge band is still on Knox’s wrist. He refuses to take it off. It’s going on three weeks now.
When their sentences, weeks later, begin with, “Do you wish you could live at the Great Wolf Lodge forever?” you know you’re going back.
Things I noted:
- The floors in the waterpark are new and less slippery. Last time we saw a woman take a big slip and we wondered how long it would take for them to make a change….not long at all!
- The lifeguards are more observant than any I’ve ever seen.
- We ran into two families we knew from home. Kids loved that.
In fact, people can come from the surrounding community and dine or have drinks there even if they’re not guests of the hotel.
- Although we were all fine and spent HOURS inside the waterpark each day, it’s important to take breaks if you have asthma or other respiratory issues. Luckily, there is a ton of fun options.
I want to thank Elizabeth Hanson for this post about her family’s recent trip to Rancho Mirage, CA.
It is affectionately known as Splashtopia by many families in Southern, California and beyond.
In a nutshell, it’s both super fun and enormously relaxing.
The resort itself is set on 240 acres and includes a full service spa, 2 acre water park, a 27-hole golf course, and 444 guest rooms.
I went with my three boys and husband, so I have to admit that I did not set foot in the spa. I wish I did, however, as it includes 20,000 square feet of facial treatments, massage and body treatments, hair, nails, make-up service, and more fun stuff. It also has a separate pool. But I will have to come back someday on a girl’s weekend.
What drew us there was Splashtopia. It is a dream for both kids and parents. For the older ones there are two, 100-foot waterslides, a 425 foot lazy river and a pool to swim around in.
Here is a fun video featuring the waterslide.
For the little ones there is an actual sandy beach and a play zone with fountains and sprinklers for them to splash around in. The other great aspect of the beach is that it included a shaded seating area. I definitely appreciated it as when we went in August it was hotter than hot!
A few facts about the resort that you might find helpful.
I’m including a few little details here just in case you are considering Splashtopia for your family.
- Kids must be 42” to ride the slides. And let me tell you, they are fast!
- They don’t allow outside food and drink. However, I saw many families bring in snacks for the little ones. We did too and tried to make it not too obvious. As we spent the entire day there we also bought food from the Splash Grill.
- They have food at the pool from their Splash Grill. It’s ok, not fantastic. It includes things like burgers, fries, sandwiches and fruit plates. The pricing is what can be expected at a resort. There are cocktails and other alcoholic beverages for the adults.
- The main pool is open from 9 am to 10 pm with lifeguards in attendance. The lazy river and slide close a little bit earlier at 9 pm and also has lifeguards. In my opinion, it is so hot there in the summer that spending the entire day at the pool is the best way to go.
- The Splash Grill is open from 10 am to 8 pm.
- All of the hours I have given are for April through August and differ the remainder of the year.
- There is a changing table for babies in the women’s restrooms and NOT the men’s restrooms. I find this a bit of out of date as today’s daddy changes diapers too.
- Internet is free. Bring your own movies on your Ipad as they cost $17.99 plus tax if you order one in your room.
- A pull out bed costs $35 extra nightly.
- There is a separate adult only pool.
- The resort offers daily activities for kids as well as nightly music.
- Golf and tennis are free June to September.
What are the rooms like?
We stayed in a room that was not off the pool. It costs a bit less and only required us to walk about 2 minutes to get to the pool. The room was clean and big.
The only thing I wished it had was a place to hang up swim suits. There are not ample hooks in the bathroom. And I don’t know about you ladies, but I have more than one suit!
Eating at the Resort
There are several options for eating at the resort if you want to dive in and not explore the surrounding areas.
The Splash Grill is the restaurant that you order from while playing at Splashtopia. It has kids meals, sandwiches, burgers, tropical drinks and a variety of other things. I thought the food was ok. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it was far from gourmet. It’s more pricy then eating out, but the advantage you get is not leaving the pool. That was worth it to us. Sandwiches are $14 to $16, smoothies $8, salads $12 to $15, and alcoholic frozen drinks $12 to $13.
We did not eat in the main restaurant Blu Ember. I asked other families about it and everyone seemed to like what it had to offer. They have a kid’s breakfast that got rave reviews from the children I spoke to. They serve nutella and that made quite an impression. Kids under 12 eat for free at dinner time with the order of an adult meal. Main meals are $24 to $39 each. Even with our kids eating free, we could pay less off the resort.
In our opinion Palm Springs has so much to offer in the way of restaurants that we preferred to venture out. This, of course, was much less expensive than eating at the Resort and frankly, I preferred the food options much better. Within minutes of the resort is every food chain you can imagine as well as many other great restaurants.
Fun Things Nearby
If you can tolerate the heat, The Living Desert, is a must see. It is one of the most impressive zoos I have ever seen. The giraffes have over 5 acres to roam on as do the cheetahs.
There is a whole program of Zoo Talks that you can hear as you visit various sections. The speakers are well informed and clearly love their jobs.
What I love the most about this zoo is that all of the animals have ample space to roam around. I won’t give you the whole list of animals, but in addition to giraffes and cheetahs there are snakes, amphibians, coyotes, gazelles, big horn sheep, bobcats, and more.
For those of you that are in love with miniature trains, the zoo has a Wild West miniature train track which is very impressive.
They also honor memberships from several other California Zoos. As we are Santa Barbara Zoo members we got a nice discount.
The Palm Springs Air Museum is a mecca of World War II airplanes. It is also air conditioned so you don’t have to worry about beating the dry heat.
Even if you are not an airplane buff it is worth visiting. Their list of war birds is very impressive and includes a C-47 Skytrain, a P-51 Mustang, a corsair, a Thunderbolt, and a ton more impressive aircraft from both the Pacific and European Theater.
Upstairs in the library, you will also find flight simulators to try out.
We didn’t go to The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway on this trip, but we have gone in the past. It is a fantastic view. Once up top, you can hike around or stay inside and eat at the restaurant.
If you are afraid of heights, you should know that it is both steep and high. The tram is solid though and feels very secure.
Palms Springs is a great place to visit. We miss it already!
Splashtopia was so much fun that we definitely want to go back. My entire family gave it a big thumbs up. My husband said he has never felt as relaxed after a vacation.
You can sign up to receive special deals at the Omni’s website.
You can also check Groupon. We got 50% off our room there. If you get a Groupon, keep in mind that it doesn’t include taxes and resort fees.
Elizabeth Hanson is the mom of three fantastic little boys that she has the pleasure of homeschooling. You can visit her blog www.modernhippiemommy.com to read her musings on natural living.
An abridged version of this post first appeared in Outdoor Family Magazine.
What could possibly go wrong? Four boys jostling in a small space, no husbands to pawn them off on for a few seconds of peace?
Well. This. This could go wrong.
And it did. Over and over again. But that’s not the whole story.
The idea was born after my husband told me he was going away on a surf trip with our oldest son, Kyle.
He chose to go the one week of summer when there would be no camp. So, while they got to go do this:
I would get to do this
No. I refused to let it happen. So, I asked the boys: what should we do?
We had to do something. I didn’t think I’d survive the week without having to becoming a zoo keeper and finding a way to re-invent the hokey pokey. Plus, I wanted to have some fun too.
I’d been thinking a lot lately about San Diego. It’s where I went to college and a place I’ve always loved for it’s beauty and people’s friendliness..
There’s a beach campground in the northern part of the county called San Onofre State Beach. I used to tent camp there with my girlfriends, pre-marriage, and then our family started RV camping there postpartum. It’d been years and I wanted to go back.
I booked our campsite on a website called Reserve America. Most campsites nationwide can be booked there. Because there is such a high demand for space in some campgrounds, you’d normally have to make a reservation 6 months in advance (the earliest you can reserve a campsite in California) and it still wasn’t easy. You’d have to get on your computer, your smartphone and your friend’s computer at 7 in the morning and keep hitting refresh until you found a site you could call your own. It’s like winning a crazy radio station contest. For some reason though, there were still plenty of spots available when I looked at dates two weeks out, so hurray!
Tip #1: Stay at San Mateo Campgrounds
Since we wanted to be around the San Onofre State Beach area, there are a few campground options but if you want to be as close as possible to San Onofre State Beach, then you have to stay at the campground there. However, there are two different areas to choose from, the ones at San Onofre State Beach and the ones at San Mateo Bluffs. Its tempting to choose the San Onofre State Beach ones because those sites are closer to the ocean. I made this mistake the first time I went. They’re also closer to the 5 freeway and the railroad tracks. When you finally lie down after a long day at the beach, it feels like the cars are inches, instead of feet, away from rolling over your head. Instead of falling asleep to the serenade of ocean waves, you’re awake all night praying not to get hit and popping awake every 5 seconds after drifting off between passing trucks. When the train rolls by, you get the extra added pleasure of having the ground bounce beneath you. Earplugs might help but not by much. The San Mateo Bluffs, on the other hand, are a 5 minute drive away, still very convenient….and quiet. Just do a search for San Onofre SB and under “Narrow Results” click on the drop down menu called “Loop” – then select a San Mateo Bluffs site from there.
Tip #2: Have an RV delivered to your site
We are bargain travelers and always trying to get the best deal. Normally, when we camp, my husband goes onto Craig’s List and finds a private party from whom we rent an RV for a fraction of the cost of renting from a dealer. We drive it ourselves. We stuff our SUV with everything we’ll need for the week or so that we’ll be using the RV and transfer everything when we arrive to the place it’s parked. It’s not hard when you have someone helping but I didn’t have the time or energy to do all that on my own with two crazy kids.
I had heard of companies that do drop off rentals of trailers. It turns out, every campsite has their own companies they’re contracted to allow RV drop offs. I called to see which companies were authorized to drop off at the campsite we chose and I was told Luv 2 Camp was my ticket. I was a little annoyed that there wasn’t a few to choose from (some campgrounds have this option) but renting from them ended up being about the same price as renting a nearby RV , driving it to the campground and then paying extra to have them stock it with all the essentials Luv 2 Camp would already have included. Remember, we’re going for easy here. Besides, they were cool when I spoke with them and told them what we were doing and gave me a free night for an honest review.
So with the foundation of our 3 night trip in place, all I needed was to recruit a trail blazing friend with kids to be my partner in crime.
I found my kindred spirit in my friend, Lori, whose husband is NOT into camping and wished her well as she packed weekend gear for two boys and a mommy.
Tip #3: Use a list to remember what to bring
I’m pretty sure I have permanent mommy brain, which is a form of temporary amnesia that affects the hormonally-charged and sleep-deprived moms in early parenthood. Only mine never seemed to have gone away so lists are a must. There are several that are helpful for camping but I used the one at GoRVing.com to help me remember all those little items that non-regular campers might forget. Like firewood (they sell this at the campground for $6 a bundle if you do forget) or a first -aid kit. (We use colloidal silver first -aid gel and band-aids to heal mostly everything.)
You must bring a first-aid kit because someone always gets hurt.
Not sure why with my mellow kids.
Luckily, Lori’s boys were mellow so they sort of balanced my jumping jellybeans out.
Even with a list, we didn’t make it to the campsite until about 7pm -after all the last minute shopping…
…and fighting that went on throughout the day (everything takes MUCH longer when you must stop every 2 minutes to break it up)…
…everyone was super excited to see the RV trailer all set up and waiting for us!
We unloaded our stuff fast because the inmates were getting restless and hungry. I had brought salmon to grill on the campfire pit and Lori tossed together a salad and pasta inside the trailer. That’s the really nice thing about having an RV. You get a smidgen of comfort next to the rugged wild.
How to build a campfire:
All you need to build a killer campfire is dry wood stacked in a tepee formation, newspapers beneath it and lighter fluid sprayed over the whole set up. Perfect every time.
One thing I didn’t love is the rental company provided dishes and cups that were all plastic. In real life, we try and stay away from plastic, especially with hot liquids, because of all the carcinogenic and hormonally disruptive chemicals that it leeches. So we just put paper plates and cups on our shopping list for the next day (there’s a Ralph’s about a mile away). We would temporarily forego our commitment to the environment so we wouldn’t have to do dishes or poison ourselves with plastic. I think Mother Nature would understand.
The next day found us up early and excited for the beach after a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns and turkey bacon. Score another point for the stovetop inside the warm RV.
We packed our beach gear and set out.
One great thing about camping at this campsite is that your parking pass for the campground is also good for the beach parking lot. Try to get to the beach on the early side, as the lot fills up fast and you have to wait in a line of cars until the current occupants call it a day.
Tip #4: Bring a surfboard or boogie board
One reason we love San Onofre State Beach is because it has the best and longest wave in Southern California. It’s the perfect place to learn to surf or just ride the ocean for what seems like forever. We specifically like a section of the beach called Old Man’s.
Costco has reasonably priced foam boards which are perfect for beginners and you’ll find this beach sprinkled with them.
The waves were perfect the first day, small and long. All the boys went in and loved splashing around.
Tip #5 Bring a wetsuit and booties
If you’re going to surf or boogie board, then you should probably bring a wetsuit and a pair of booties to protect your feet from the small rocks in the shallow parts of the beach.
We forgot ours.
The boys brought their spring suits, which are wetsuits with short sleeves and pants legs, but we all forgot booties. It kinda sucked. The boys handled it ok but mommy has sensitive feet (or she’s become a wussy) and didn’t love having to navigate through those slippery, pointy little rocks. You can rent a wetsuit for $15 a day through a surf shop like Rip Curl and even a surfboard which is what Lori did.
We spent the day headquartered at the beach.
Went into the water when we felt like it.
Even mommy got into it!
But it was Kaleb who really impressed.
This is the boy who 2 years ago wouldn’t even get in the water.
And now he rushes it!
We had an epic day at the beach…..
…but all good things must end. We weren’t sad though because we still had our campsite to look forward to!
I have said before that camping people are notoriously nice. The boys made friends with a man who was camping with his family at the site next-door. At first I wasn’t so sure this was a good idea so I stayed around to watch. Then, I made sure they all knew they couldn’t go into anyone’s RV alone and after a while I realized that despite all the media portrayal to the otherwise, there are still nice people in this world with no hidden agenda (I still kept an eye out though;)
Tip #6 Bring Bikes
It’s not just for boys. Kids love to explore and there isn’t a safer place to do it than around a campground. It really is like a little village where everyone looks out for each other.
Plus the mommies finally got a break when they could relax…
…and make some dinner. This night’s menu was organic hotdogs, veggie burgers, salad and s’mores!
After all that fun, I was super happy to climb into my warm bed.
The next morning, we were up bright and early, ready to head back to our favorite beach!
The boys put on their beach uniforms.
And we headed out for another day of adventure. Today the tide was super low and after battling the rocks enough times (and gathering some toe injuries along the way), the boys decided to explore the tide pools created by the receding water.
After another long and fun day at the beach, we went back to our campsite and loaded up on more s’mores, wine and chocolate (oh yeah, there was a dinner in there too but this time we just got Mexican because there was a drive-through restaurant next door to the surf shop where we had to return our wetsuits and surfboard – the mommies had earned a break!)
The night flew by…..
Sadly, the next morning we had to load up our gear to head back home.
As we were getting ready to leave, the boys rode back to us, bike tires blazing, to tell us they had discovered a blind cat in a sewer and could they have some food to feed it?
Success! The “blind” cat succumbed to their entreaties to eat and he gobbled up the remainder of my lox and salmon jerky. I think this cat had a good day.
We were determined, despite how tired we were, to squeeze out every possible moment from the beach which had also become our friend’s favorite. Even though our camping passes expired on this third day, they were still good for beach parking thus saving us $15.
We discovered the waves were a bit bigger on our final day.
The boys went in but soon gave up.
So they did other things to get their energy out before riding in the car for two hours.
Tip #7: Bring a camera
It was time to go home and although the overall beauty we all experienced during the three days of camping lies more in our hearts than in these words or pictures – it will be through these pictures that we will be able to relive our experiences.
Sometimes pictures speak louder than words so I’ve made this cute, little 6 minute video to walk you through replanting your Tower Garden.
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Before children, camping was an adventure. We got dirty. We drank during the day. We slept on the dirt with only a thin layer of stuffed polyester protecting our bodies from the rocks. We cooked on grills powered by fires we painstakingly built from twigs and newspapers. We powered through the day and talked around the campfire late into the night. S’mores.
After my first son, Kaleb was born, I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to do it while practicing Attachment Parenting which involves: nursing on demand (=no sleep) and still enjoy the sun and the waves that had become the staple of our annual surf camping trips. It just wasn’t going to happen. And then it did. We rented a luxury RV, something I said I’d never do, ridiculing it as glamping (glamour camping) instead of actual ‘set-up your own tent, shower under cold water in under 3 minutes and bring a huge cooler full of food that you hoped wouldn’t spoil in the 3-5 days it would be under the blaring sun’ kind of camping.
It was actually pretty great. I got to sleep with my baby in an air-conditioned, quiet bed while the rest of the crew did whatever they wanted in the outside world. Kitchen, refrigerator, private bathroom with a hot shower. Plus all the regular camping stuff we loved. So it was settled, that’s how it would be and that’s how it’s been the times we’ve gone camping since.
Last week, though, we got invited to go camping at the Kampgournds of America KOA Ventura Ranch campsite. The promised accommodations listed a Deluxe Cabin. This would be a curious departure from our newly redefined rough and tumble camping days aboard a mobile palace. Plus, we usually
glamped camped at the beach and this site was about half an hour inland.
OK, so let’s talk about the location. First of all, who knew there was a secluded paradise nestled between a couple ghost towns only an hour’s drive from Los Angeles? Well, maybe not ghost towns but we definitely felt like we were crossing into another world (picture the movie Deliverance),
as we all craned our necks to look out the side window when we drove by a deep ravine that housed what appeared to be the remnants of a mobile home and bulldozer. My kids asked if anyone lived there. I said I didn’t know. I couldn’t see how they’d come and go if they did.
When we arrived at the site, we picked up our keys and got a glimpse of what awaited us for the weekend.
They directed us to a cabin that looked like it had very little to do with camping except for the magnificent surroundings in which it was set.
Camping essentials awaited.
The boys couldn’t wait to explore and luckily we brought their bikes.
The thing about camping is camping people are really friendly. It’s not like the real world. In this world, it’s easy to meet new people and connect in warm and fuzzy ways.
Something unique to this camping site, though, was the preponderance of peacocks strutting around.
They really were everywhere.
Kaleb decided he would try to make friends with them too.
They may have been turned off by his assertive nature.
We later learned that the peacocks have been there for generations. The land used to be owned by the Chumash Indians and the Chief visited the Australian Head of State back when they still lived on the campground land and it was a custom back then – by the Australians – to gift peacocks to all new relations established between countries. So that’s how they got there and I thought it was pretty cool that they’re still there!
Our weekend schedule was packed but the first item on the agenda was creating s’mores by the campfire and we didn’t want to miss that so we had to tear ourselves from our explorations and get some grub on.
Daddy took the lead.
Then it was time to meet the other members of our group over an old fashioned s’mores cookout.
After all that sugar, it was time to go to bed because we had a full day planned for tomorrow.
Once we were able to wrangle the jumping jellybeans into bed, they settled nicely into their loft beds.
While Mommy and Daddy sat on the porch with a glass of wine….
The next day everyone was excited to hit the rock walls after breakfast. For $10, visitors are able to scale the walls and gently return to Earth only to go again.
The boys must have gone up and down 20 times each.
Mommy made it to the top – once. Almost.
There’s also a track around which you can ride peddle carts.
Next it was time to take our (my) tired arms and create a memorable souvenir: a tie-dyed KOA t-shirt.
This was a fantastic project we got to take home and proudly wear our creation around town. After lunch, it was time for a little excitement: zip lining.
There are two platforms from which riders can
plummet zip down. The first is 800 feet long and the second is 650. Riders speed along at 25 mph. It costs $15 for the first line and $25 for both.
After strapping on their gear, the boys were ready to go. Riders must be 70lbs. to ride alone but they can go tandem if they don’t meet that requirement.
There are 485 KOA campsites around the country. Some of them are franchises that are privately owned. Ventura Ranch KOA owner, Scott Cory, loves his work and spent the weekend helping guests in a variety of activities. This Saturday afternoon, he spent hours on the hot platform strapping people safely onto the zipline.
Cory has a wonderful imagination and wants to turn the whole campsite into a nature wonderland for kids and families. He took this once dilapidated, mostly abandoned, county campsite five years ago and has already made it an escape for city families. He’s got even greater plans to expand his vision. He wants to extend the length of the zip line ride. He’s building more teepees and deluxe cabins and tents by next season since they’re always so busy. He’s also in the works of adding two new water slides to the pool area by 2018.
Mommy got to go too!
Next in our turnstile of activity, we got to go mining for gems in the KOA kampsite quarry…..or rather mining station.
Mining is free but you have to buy a bag of goodies buried in sacred sand to participate. Those vary between$7-$25.
First you dump the contents of the bag into the sifter.
Then you submerge the pans into the water to let the water uncover your treasures.
After cashing in on our treasures, we decided to commence our new life of leisure by exploring the various nature paths surrounding our campsite (er, cabin). We heard about the lovely Big Foot Trail and found a clue on how to get there.
We knew we’d be going on the Big Foot hike later with the group but we decided to see if we could find him on our own first. The trail led down to the river bank, which of course, led to the discovery of rocks, which of course led to the activity of throwing them.
Along the way we passed by some of the other cool accommodations available to guests.
There is a row of super deluxe cabins which were first featured on the TV show, American Dream Builders.
It was a contest to see who could design the cutest little space.
Corry bought the cabins after the shows aired and now rents the spaces out for weddings and to high-end glampers.
But back to our hike. We had had a really rough week as a family before we arrived on our retreat. Getting away from it all couldn’t have come at a better time. There really is something about Mother Nature that soothes and brings out the best in everyone.
We saw a cute little playground after our hike and the boys found what appeared to be a stranded spaceship. So we had to check it out.
They went on a short space mission.
That night, after dinner, we went with a bigger group on an actual search for the legendary beast, Big Foot.
We did actually find him but for some reason, as luck would have it, my camera wouldn’t take snap his picture, so you’ll just have to take our word for it.
Finally, the kids couldn’t stay awake another minute and mommy was yawning after our full day but we couldn’t leave without using the firewood they had provided.
There is a store onsite in case you forget some glamping essentials but no butter for your corn. So if you forget that, you’re out of luck.
This was a great trip and such a short drive from our house, it was nice that the kids weren’t trying to kill each other or whine through the last hours of the usual drive because it only took us about 45 minutes to get there on a Friday night! Bonus points!
We had to say goodbye to all our new friends after breakfast and before Knox was even done swallowing his food, he was already asking when we could come back.
So do you camp? A survey released this year called the 2016 North American Camper Report says more of us are. More than half of us are millennials, 18% are African-American and 11% are Hispanic. What’s your favorite part or memory you treasure? Let’s go camping!
Recently, LA Parent offered my family a trip to the Grand Opening weekend at the Great Wolf Lodge in Garden Grove, CA. Even though I had never heard of this family resort, I was pretty confident we’d have a great time: a weekend away ~ not rushing from kid’s sport to sport, no cooking, no cleaning? Twist my arm.
All I knew was that it was an indoor water park. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that. I’m a water person and I love thrills so naturally, I love water parks but I feared weird smells and gross germs could fester in an indoor environment. Still….we were excited to get away.
We arrived and received swag bags with Paw Passes to experience the entire resort, which apparently had a lot more to offer than just the water park. We also got these cute little pink wristbands that have RFID chips embedded so they acted like room keys, passes to the waterpark and allowed you to buy anything on the resort simply by waving your hand. Who wouldn’t like that?
The boys loved their room, which included their own private little Wolf Den.
And their very own bunk beds.
And after fighting Friday gridlock on the 405, Mommy and Daddy loved our champagne welcome!
The boys couldn’t wait to get into the water park! Who are we kidding? Mommy couldn’t wait either!
The indoor park was much bigger than I imagined it would be. There were 12 slides, some big enough to accommodate several raft sizes. The temperature was a cozy 84 degrees….and at my age, I also appreciated not having to hide from the sun as my baby oil slathering days are long gone. No hats to keep track of, no chasing the kids around with sunscreen……I started to see the benefits of this crazy indoor water park idea…especially as we were experiencing a rare SoCal rainy day outside (imagine if we had planned this extensive outdoor weekend only to be thwarted by the rain…).
At Fort Mackenzie young explorers could find adventure crossing suspended cargo nets, aiming water cannons at passerbys
and barreling down tree top slides. There’s also a giant bucket that dumps 1000 gallons of water after a sequenced crescendo of beeps alerting those below to……
Much too quickly it was time for dinner but the kids were okay leaving since they knew there would be some forbidden fruit at the buffet to look forward to and by forbidden, I mean tons of sugary desserts which is a no go in our house. I was already cringing on the inside to what I anticipated would be a fried food fiesta and an oasis of sugary hell.
But the dinner buffet was actually very impressive. A few vegetarian options and many exotic vegetable preparations as well as some succulent cuts of meat, seafood and original chicken preparations.
And of course, there was the promised dessert. I let them each choose one and they both went for a cupcake that looked very tempting actually.
In addition to the Loose Moose Family Kitchen, which is buffet style dining, the resort has four other restaurants. Lodge Wood Fired Grill, is a little fancier and offers some gourmet style options but is still casual, after all it’s an indoor water park resort. Another is a grab and go, of the pizza and burgers variety, called Hungry As A Wolf and smartly situated by the arcade. Finally, two are located inside the waterpark, Grizzly Jack’s Bar and Grill, a full service restaurant, in the small section of outdoor space the resort holds and a more limited selection of fast food can be had at Bucket’s Incredible Craveables. There’s also a Dunkin Donuts some, like me, might find essential for staying caffeinated to keep up with the kids and a wicked little shop called Bear Paw Sweets and Eats for those who are planning on doing extra Boot Camp classes next week.
The GWL offers kids a daily roster of activities, depending on the season. Daily, there is yoga and arts and crafts. Seasonally, there is Howl-O-Ween in October and Snowland in December.
You can also find furry little pals, Wiley Wolf and Violet Wolf, roaming around the hotel.
The kids gathered in the lobby after dinner to enjoy a tale where the fuzzy creatures were part of the action, which always makes a tale more enjoyable. (This is a nightly event)
At the end of story time, we ran into some friends, the Prince family, who were also invited to family media weekend. This was great because any weekend with friends makes a weekend way more fun.
The Paw Pass around Howard’s neck allows access to areas around the resort. Guests could buy them to gain access to a set number of bundled activities which saves money instead of paying for them individually.
One of the activities both families enjoyed immensely was called MagiQuest. MagiQuest is a type of digital, fairytale scavenger hunt around the hotel. You start at the MagiQuest gift shop and select a magic wand that is programmed with your player name and vital stats (obviously a marketers dream machine 😉
Then you pick one of the many available quests and off you go to fight monsters, find magic crystals and save pixies.
Deposit your goodies at one of the video portals scattered all around the hotel and fight virtual battles as you progress through your journey.
There’s also an option for the younger guests to try their hand at mini adventure by joining the Clubhouse Crew, a scavenger hunt created for the littles. They start by picking pieces to put together a stuffed animal character in the same way that Build-a-Bear is born at
Then the nice Wolf people help them fill their new friends with stuffed animal fluff.
These are the cuties that lead younger guests on a much shorter quest through a smaller portion of the hotel.
That night we uncovered another little GWL secret. What we thought were just adorable little animal decorations in the kids Wolf Den, actually came to life and sang songs when you pointed that magic wand at them.
Everyone really did actually enjoy the surprise. Although, I bet, if our kids were any smaller, we might not enjoy that surprise, say at 3am, if they decided to see if the animals would wake up then.
The next day, we had breakfast with the Prince family and learned about the afternoon tour Kim and I would
have get to go on.
Our friends, Morgan and Justin, who live locally also joined us. Although the water park is open to hotel guests only, people can join you by paying for a $40 day pass. You can request an equal number of day passes to the number of people staying in your room. We decided to test out the waterproof pouch the hotel provided on one of the raft rides.
I swear all that screaming equals fun!
Then my brave boy decided to try out the Wolf Rider Wipeout, which is an artificial endless wave where people can surf or boogie board until their little muscles give out….as long as they can stay balanced or hold on!
Well….there’s always next year but daddy did pretty good!
OK, I sped that up for brevity’s sake but he did pretty good! The lady who took us on the media tour said she had never seen a grown up actually surf, only teenagers and kids – lower center of gravity and all – so I think my honey has earned his pat on the back.
Speaking of media tour, Kim and I left our lovely families to continue exploring all the available activities at the Great Wolf Lodge resort – all so we could share with you. Aren’t we sweet?
First we were taken down “Main Street” where all the other attractions of the resort await. There is the Howl at the Moon glow in the dark mini golf.
There is also mini bowling at Ten Paw Alley, which we did find time to do and it was really cool. Perfect for pint sized bowlers.
There is also a spa for kids, perfect if you have girls – which I don’t.
There is also the Northern Lights Arcade which allows you to win tickets for toys you will soon throw away and candy that you will try to throw away when your children aren’t looking.
There’s also the Howly Wood XD theater that acts like a virtual ride/video game. It’s great because the whole family can play at the same time which really is a blast (literally as you’re shooting zombies etc.).
Kim and I were treated to lunch, along with the other media guests, and heard the Executive Chef, Chris hammond discuss the careful approach all the resorts bring to their food selection.
We found out Hammond’s wife reads a blog called 100 days of Real Food and the mom blogger ripped the food apart at a Great Wolf Lodge she visited. Hammond read the blog post and realized she was right. They needed to cater to people with food allergies and had to offer more healthful and tasty options. As a result, I was thrilled to find out!, they removed corn syrup from all their food products and their ketchup, as well as many other foods, is organic. They use non-GMO foods (hooray!), offer many gluten free options (including the fried chicken!) and seek out locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.
They understood that 1 out of 4 guests have allergies to tree nuts (!) so they don’t serve any products that contain them on their premises. Also, a chef will walk any guest with concerns about allergies down the food menu and address specific ingredient concerns. Now that is thoughtful!
And what’s more thoughtful is they know not every guest cares about eating organic or non GMO so they kept the menu prices the same even though their source costs had increased!
I finally got back to the water park to observe the other attractions like the America Ninja Warrior style obstacle course at Chinook Cove perfect for adventurous souls to navigate.
There were also cute little animals floating around to swim on.
And for the athletic-minded, there’s a basketball court.
Since I was Facebooking the entire experience (because really, unless you see it on Facebook, did it really happen?), I had friends posting questions about our trip. My friend Diana has a one year old girl and two older boys and wondered if there would be anything for her little one to do. There is a toddler area
and there is also this small outdoor area that is suitable for toddlers as I kept having to wait for them to walk by so I could get this picture and right behind me is an outdoor bar. Plus the resort offers the free use of floaties and lifejackets so really, they could go wherever there aren’t height restrictions.
We had to rip ourselves away form the water park to enjoy a mock-tail happy hour for the media families invited. I told the kids we were going to a party and they were okay with that since, of course, we still had another fabulous day of water extravaganza to look forward to and who doesn’t love a party? Plus they planned to go back to the water park after dinner since the it stays open until 9pm. Plus you know they were all about the desserts which are always part of any good party and they were not to be disappointed.
And the Lodge was so sweet to provide a visit from Wiley Wolf and a balloon artist who handed out his crafty creations.
For dinner we went back to the buffet and again were not disappointed!
The boys got to go back to the water park after dinner so we did that for a while. Then mommy and daddy went back to the room for a nightcap and some room service snacks while the kids slept in their cozy Wolf Den.
The next morning, after breakfast, we decided to pack since we wanted to stay longer at the water park and didn’t want to come back to the room to do it later. The resort lets you stay at the water park until it closes, even though check-out is at 11am. We loaded all our stuff in the car and brought what we’d need to be comfortable at the waterpark and a change of clothes for the trip home. There are lockers but we just kept our stuff in our chairs since everyone was so friendly and we were feeling so good.
There is a very thrilling ride there called the Wolf Tail. We passed it on our way to tamer experiences. The rider steps into what appears to be a vertical coffin and the door shuts automatically and suddenly, a trap door opens and the poor sap is released to a straight drop through an enclosed slide. No way, I thought. I’m a mom and although I like little spikes through my comfort zone, this would create a huge hole and after all, my kids need me in one piece and I have that tricky back and……my son Kaleb wanted to do it.
Well, there was no avoiding it then.
I grew up going to amusement parks with my family and riding all the rides by myself or with my little brother while my parents brought a newspaper and read at a nearby bench. It felt lonely and I always wished for that big person to hold my hand and revel with me as I walked through my fears. I want to give that to my boys so I do everything with them. (Although I hope they don’t become X-game competitors or big wave riders because at that point, we may have to part ways).
So we stood in line. I consoled myself that there were young girls doing it. If they could do it, I could too! The line was long enough for us to really think about what was about to happen.
Finally we were almost at the front of the line! I wanted to go first but I wouldn’t be able to film Kaleb if I did, so my warrior stepped into the chamber of doom.
OK, it was my turn…..curious to know what goes on in that death trap? Watch on….
All I can say is I did it, my hands were shaking, my heart was thumping but if the line wasn’t so long, I would have done it again!
Finally, we showered in the locker rooms and changed into our clothes. The boys kept asking why we couldn’t just live there. Everyone had a great time and weeks later, they still ask if we could go back. I’d say that’s a big hit and since the hotel room price includes waterpark passes, it’s actually affordable and convenient. And those are the makings of a great family vacation.
And in case you are worried about the circulating water like I was, here is a pretty nifty graphic that explains the painstaking process of filtering and recycling it.
I’m not really a zoo person. I want to get excited about the animals and the obscure, rare anacondas crawling around the other creepy bugs ~ but I know if I actually encountered those things in the wild, I’d probably step on them. Or throw something at them since I’d probably be too busy screaming to get close enough to do that. Plus, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about those undercover expose’s of how these poor captive animals get abused. Or maybe that’s the circus but regardless, now I have kids and for them, I’ll pretend to be excited. I want them to be excited about nature and wildlife. I want them to grow up and feel a sense of responsibility to protect and preserve as much of that natural life as possible so the corporations don’t take them all away.
So when I got an invitation from LA Parent to attend a private showcase of some exhibits accompanied with behind the scenes zookeeper tours, I really did get excited. Excited enough to drive from Agoura Hills to the LA Zoo on a Saturday morning to be there by 8:30. But they were kind enough to feed us breakfast first so that was one thing I could cross off the morning to do list.
We started with introductions from the zoo president, Karen B. Winnick, and zoo director, John R. Lewis that talked about the programs we could expect in the near future. Santa and his reindeer came in December, of course, for a Reindeer Romp. It’s actually a good opportunity to use your kid’s interest in Christmas to learn tidbits about the real animals who will be visiting the zoo starting December. We’ll have to keep it in mind for next year. There will also be a promising sounding nighttime event called LA Zoo lights in December. I’m sure we’ll be schlepping back there for that too because animals at night surrounded by lasers and light shows sounds too good to pass up.
But what is coming up soon is the Big Bunny Spring Fling from March 25th to March 27th 10am-4pm. All Bunny activities are free with paid zoo admission, except for Bunny photos, of course, but they promise those will be affordable.
But back to our zoo day.
The first exhibit we visited was the Harbor Seals. I guess these are the guys you see around the ports swimming around the big cargo ships. Apparently, many of them are blind because they get cataracts in the wild…maybe from all the ocean pollution?….and the ones that get injured or are obviously impaired, get brought to zoos and live in the lap of luxury surrounded by admiring children and fed a daily diet of sardines and fried calamari. No. Probably not fried but it sounds yummy to this Russian girl! Not so much to her American hubby. Jessica, the keeper who takes care of these guys said, Alfred the current occupant is blind but uses his whiskers like fingers to “see” what’s around him. Alfred’s offspring were also born with vision problems but because they were lucky enough to have access to the great vets at the zoo, their vision was restored after cataracts surgery. Jessica thinks of these guys as her babies since she doesn’t have any babies of her own. At least she’s not getting up in the middle of the night to change diapers or nurse them, but that’s sweet that she’s so fond of them.
Then we visited the Meerkats who resembled flashers as they warmed their bodies in the morning sun.
Did you know flamingos are born grey and white? I didn’t either. They turn pink from eating shrimp and carrots.
They also lay conical shaped eggs so they don’t roll out of the nest.
That seems so practical. I wonder why the other birds don’t do that? Oh wait……
Tomistomas are in the crocodile family so no one is cuddling up with them. I thought the most interesting thing about them is they grow their entire lives. They may not be the perfect pet but I feel the sprinkles of a good children’s story here….maybe something to do with a bathtub…..
There’s only so much my five and seven year old can take since they’re not picturing bathtubs and catastrophes with runaway animals….so we got to the gorillas just in time.
Turns out gorillas are vegetarians. We arrived at feeding time and got to see their healthy array of leafy greens, fennel, and onion being thrown over the wall to them. They walked around clutching their prizes and sat in the shade to devour their goodies. Their bulbous bellies leave plenty of room for all the gas that is produced by their diet. Momma would be proud of their healthy choices (though she might not be able to sit in the same room for too long!)
One cutie pie walked around with his blanky covering his back. He would stop every so often and cuddle with it like a typical toddler. Such a sweet, little 400 pound marshmallow!
Finally, we visited what promised to be the Elephant Enrichment Center. Now, when I think of elephants, zoos and circuses, I think abuse. Maybe it’s the over sensationalized mainstream media looking for stories – but I don’t think so. I think throughout history, those floppy eared pachyderms have gotten pretty worked by those taking advantage of their sweet natures. Read Water for Elephants if you don’t believe me.
But this experience promised to be different.
We joined a crowd of people mutely watching what appeared to be an elephant in the midst of getting a pedicure.
Well. I waited and watched and listened to the keeper telling us about how important it was to get the mud out from between the elephants hoofs and how the keepers meticulously washed the bottoms of their legs and scrubbed them clean and it reminded me that I hadn’t had a pedicure in quite some time and I put that on my list of things to do in the near future.
These elephants didn’t look like they were being abused so I left feeling reassured and longing for a foot rub.
Next we visited the lions because you can’t go to the zoo and not see the lions.
Since we were on our own at this point (the tour had ended with the gorillas) there wasn’t anyone telling us any nifty facts about the lions so I tried to read the signs attached to the enclosures to educate my children, who at this point were more concerned with the water guns being sold by the vendors lining the paths around the zoo. Come on! I was trying to make up in volume what they lacked in enthusiasm for lion trivia. I finally had to use the water pistols as leverage to maintain calm until my wild animals reached the exit. Everyone made it out alive and they wanted to come back. I call that success.
It sounds like science fiction. It has words attached to it that sound like another language. Words like mudra, mantra and pranayama. But it’s actually an approach to healing that is rooted in ancient history and modern science.
It’s called Na’am Yoga and its unlike any kind of yoga I’ve ever practiced and I’ve been practicing for over a decade. It combines movement (mudra), sound (mantra) and breath (pranayama) to move mountains within the body and mind, promoting healing far beyond the reaches of conventional Western medicine.
The Na’am Yoga LA center offers classes for everyone, the physically healthy individual as well as the one with specific health challenges. They are a non-profit because they offer free sessions targeted to promote healing for people who’ve experienced set backs such as strokes, diabetes or cancer. They even offer a Friday class for those on the autism spectrum.
I sat in on the class tailored for those on the spectrum and felt the floor shake as the kids pounded on it, combining musical beats with movement and joy. Instructor Eugene Pisareuski helped release any tension the kids may have held in their bodies by guiding them through sharp exhalations and beautiful mantras. The room resonated from a chorus of their declarations that “I am love to all. I am peace to all.” They filed out after class with soft faces and laughter.
One parent, Kate, thinks it works. She said her two adopted, autistic sons have participated in the Friday class for two years. “I wish they could do this everyday.” She said the class left them calmer and they sleep better. Her sons, Nathan age 22 and Michael age 8, she explained, come from traumatic backgrounds on top of the autism they must navigate. “This practice centers them and that’s a definite plus.”
Executive Director of Na’am Yoga Los Angeles, Jane Mirshak said there are many different paths to healing but this one “opens your heart and makes you happy. When you are happy, you can deal with stress.” And doctors believe stress is the cause of many diseases.
Mirshak said there is much research on sound and breath and it all gets incorporated into Na’am Yoga. The sound redirects energy throughout the body, the movements and pressure points stimulate healing in both body and brain, then breath promotes relaxation.
“Whatever ailment someone is experiencing,” said Mirshak, “we could design a routine to specifically address it.”
Many of the teachers with whom I spoke found Na’am Yoga after seeing the positive results of someone they knew who was practicing it while also battling disease. Even Kate is now training to incorporate the technique of Harmonium, a healing tool created by Na’am Yoga founder, Dr. Michael Levry, for use in her home. According to the Na’am Yoga website, Dr. Levry discovered the secrets that inspired Na’am Yoga through the teachings of spiritual gurus in India.
Excited by this new discovery, I quickly shared the news with my parents. My father practiced yoga for years until two strokes left him unable to perform many of the moves in a typical yoga class. Since beginning his new practice of Na’am Yoga, his caretaker tells me he’s happier and wakes up excited to start the day. Na’am Yoga, it turns out, is good for everyone in the family, even if you’re not the one practicing it.
A shorter version of this post originally appeared in LA Parent Magazine