Category Archives: Reviews

From Rocker to Soccer, could this mom do minivan?

Well….to be honest, I’m not sure what a rocker I really was. I did date a couple boys who were in bands when I was in college.

rinarocker-2

Does that qualify me? But I was never a crazy Courtney Love type. Well. At least not THAT crazy. Though that’s a pretty high standard.

courtney love
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
However, I am reminded here that we shared that 80s peroxided hair and bangs look.

Regardless, I did spend a lot of time at the beach….

silly beaches
silly beaches
….and thought I was pretty cool.

One thing I did not think was cool was minivans. Even today I think, to drive a minivan, is to pack it all in. Good bye good times, good bye spontaneous adventures, good-bye (semi) cool girl.

Yet, my kids have been begging me for a mini-van for years.  Begging. WTH?

I don’t understand. My surfer-girl SUV isn’t good enough for them? Didn’t they realize their mom would have to give up that part of herself that still believed she was edgy and young to drive that mini-van? Didn’t they know I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to that girl who still looked forward to the unknown and dreamed about the future with her girlfriends, all driving around, looking for parties and cute boys? No. No, they didn’t. All they know is they want to be comfortable while their chauffeur drives them to their myriad of activities.

Driver! To the ice cream store!!
Driver! To the ice cream store!!
Last week, Toyota offered to loan me a car to see if my back-to-school routine would be simplified with a brand new vehicle. Not sure our commute to school could get any easier, as we walk, but perhaps it could be more enjoyable as we do all the other things that little boys with active parents like to do. They gave me a choice of cars and my conservationist inclination was to try out the Highlander Hybrid SUV as that was on my short list when I bought my last car in 2009, my roomy and economical Honda Pilot. However, I thought of those doleful brown eyes, besieging me for that big box on wheels and I opted for the 2016 Toyota Sienna.

Turns out the gas mileage, which I thought would be dramatically different between the two models was actually closer than I expected. The Sienna minivan gets 18 city and 25 highway, while the hybrid Highlander gets 27 city and 28 highway. A difference, yes, but worth the extra ten grand for the hybrid? Not sure.

Has it really come to this?
Has it really come to this?
First thing I noticed was that the gadgets placed around the car were actually helpful.

easy access
easy access
I always wonder, in my actual car, if the light switch I move from one side to the other is 1)turning all the lights on all the time, or 2) just when the car doors are open or 3) turning them completely off. This takes one thing off my mind. And I love that I can open the side doors so conveniently and not have to remind my kids to watch the cars parked next to us!

More Good Stuff

I don’t have time to read an owner’s manual to operate a car and this one, I found, is intuitive enough not to need to do that.

The dashboard reminders are really helpful for a busy, distracted mom.

At least someone is paying attention to the details
At least someone is paying attention to the details
And when it comes to this…

oh oh
oh oh
It’s still got my back…..

toyota-sienna-29

We don’t want to have to have the kids pushing the car into a gas station now, would we? Though that would be a Facebookable moment.

On Day 2, while the kids were in school, I had an assistant help me test out the car.

It's roomy back here!
It’s roomy back here!
The third row folds down easily with one/two combo straps to make a lot of space in the trunk area.

Here, Lily is making sure the windows work properly.

Yep, I think they work
Yep, I think they work
On Days 3 and 4, I put on my official soccer mom uniform and drove the whole family (no Lily) to Kaleb’s soccer tournament. By this time the boys are in full crush mode with the car.

If they could write love letters to it....they would.
If they could write love letters to it….they would.
Knox: Say it’s great. Say it’s the best car that you ever went in.

I don’t know what it is about this minivan. It doesn’t seem that different from my SUV on the inside except that there is, actually, a whole lot more legroom everywhere. The leather seats were plush and cozy, really more like a recliner than a car seat.

Taking a snooze
Taking a snooze
There are PLENTY of cupholders. There are cupholders in cupholders. Which is perfect for when you bring friends and everyone is thirsty because they’re playing soccer in 100 degree weather.

It actually can seat a combination of 10 big and little people.

toyota-sienna-26
(don’t try this at home)

Make My Life Easier, Please

Some great mom perks include easy smartphone integration so you could listen to the music stored on you phone or a streaming device like Pandora. You can call all your peeps through a seamless voice command system.

The guidance system is fantastic. We were able to easily navigate to a coffee place when we had to arrive at the soccer tournament at the god-awful time of 7:30 on a Saturday morning. No owner’s manual required for any of it.

lots of options
lots of options
There is a great middle console that is enormous and could hide things in dubious neighborhoods while you run in to get your coffee.

camera? what camera?
camera? what camera?
There’s even a large section to drop your purse right below that middle console, instead of throwing it into the abyss of the backseat or the passenger seat (but you do have to take the purse with you so your car doesn’t get its windows smashed  in said dubious neighborhood).

The video monitor for your backseat theater includes a wide screen monitor, Blu Ray format, and wireless headphones.

We’re not big wireless people because of the uncertainty of developing brains and radio frequency transmissions being blasted into them, so we wouldn’t use this feature much. There is an option to plug in wired headphones and have a very similar experience, minus the risks but this one time, I let the boys go at it.

The climate control is also very easy to operate . In my Honda Pilot, I feel like we’re always guessing (after 7 years you’d think we’d just know) how to operate the backseat heaters and cooler to adjust the temperature to a different setting than the one we have upfront. In the Sienna, everything is clearly marked.

a no brainer
a no brainer
On the way back from the soccer tournament, we had to stop by the grocery store because we were out of everything. All three rows were still up and we also still had our chairs and umbrella in the back. Yet…..

plenty of room!
plenty of room!
the wide and deep trunk contained plenty of space for all our stuff. That was a huge improvement over my Pilot and would have come in very handy when I had had to choose between stroller and groceries back in the baby toting days.

The middle console has a very large flat area which is the perfect place to put your french fries when you can’t wait to eat them until you get home.

room for all the essentials
room for all the essentials

During the week, the minivan took me from Zumba

toyota-sienna-minivan
still not sure….
to date night with my husband at Dodgers Stadium and everywhere in between.

toyota sienna minivan
falling in love….
By the end of the week, I could really see the draw. Ego aside, this was a very practical and roomy car, which scores a fat 10 in the family department. My SUV may look cooler (to me) but you should have seen me this morning trying to cram my groceries into its back, with a bunch of my husband’s surf gear still there, even with only two of the three rows up. Irritation over my husband’s procrastination to move said gear for more egg space wouldn’t have happened with the minivan that left us last week.

bye bye minivan!
bye bye minivan!
Before it left, the kids had a few rituals they had to carry out to make the parting a bit easier……

 

Well. There you have it. In a nutshell, why we make those sacrifices for our kids.

 

Splashtopia! A Guide to Family Fun at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa and the Palm Springs area

I want to thank Elizabeth Hanson for this post about her family’s recent trip to Rancho Mirage, CA.

Photo provided by Elizabeth Hanson
Photo provided by Elizabeth Hanson

In August, my family and I had the awesome opportunity to go to the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage, CA. If you don’t know where that is, it’s right outside Palm Springs.

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.

slide into paradise - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
slide into paradise – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

Here is a fun video featuring the waterslide.

where being lazy can be fun - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
where being lazy can be fun – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
peaceful night - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
peaceful night – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

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 desert beach getaway - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
a desert beach getaway – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
kids wonderland - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
kids wonderland – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

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.
cool evenings - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
cool evenings – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
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.

There is also a Palms Cafe similar to a Starbucks or Coffee Bean and an R Bar that we did not go to.

photo by Elizabeth Hanson
photo by Elizabeth Hanson

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
outside wildlife - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
outside wildlife – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

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.

cheetahs living large - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
cheetahs living large – photo by Elizabeth Hanson
living desert cheeta
prowling – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

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.

tell me a story - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
tell me a story – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

 

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.

putting around - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
putting around – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

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.

taking off - photo by Elizabeth Hanson
taking off – photo by Elizabeth Hanson

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.

 

Overall Impression

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.