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.
A shorter version of this article appears in Yogi Times.
I thought I was tough. I was sporty and strong in the unremarkable gym sort of way. When I took my first yoga class, it was a level 2/3 on a VHS tape. A measly level 1 beginner class didn’t sit well with my self-image but I wanted to learn the poses before I did them in front of people. I grunted and groaned and fell all over my living room then put the tape away for about a year. I needed yoga on so many levels back then and had no idea why.
Since then, I’ve embraced the journey through many phases of my practice and even started attending retreats and yoga festivals. Last year, I discovered the Shakti and Bhakti Festivals at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center and they lifted my practice and awareness to a whole new level. Bhakti Fest was started as a promise fulfilled by founder Sridhar Silberfein to his guru, Swami Satchidananda when he introduced the holy man to the largest crowd ever assembled on American soil at Woodstock in 1968. Silberfein said someday he would gather just as many people to practice yoga and sing Kirtan music but in a spiritual, drug and alcohol free environment and forty years later, he did just that. Shakti Fest is Bhakti’s sister festival and translates to mean a celebration of the feminine divine. Since Shakti Fest is always held around Mother’s Day, it’s the perfect excuse for a girl’s weekend or a chance to introduce yoga to the family since kids under 12 are free. So far, though, I’ve always taken the girl’s weekend option.
Both times after my festival experiences, my body felt clean and strong and my mind felt connected to those around me, despite the fact that we were all so different. I was sure that everyone needed yoga and I began to wonder if the reason the yoga masters continued their practice after so many years was a key to the secret of its power. So, I decided to ask.
There are three yoga halls at the Joshua Tree festivals, only one of which is indoors. When the sun is still nestled between the desert hills, Yoga Hall 2 isn’t as hot as it later becomes. The sky is dazzlingly blue and the cotton clouds encourage hope that the temperature will stay on the mild side. The morning brought us beautiful Hemalayaa.
She was all sparkle and shimmer radiating from a grounded spirit. Her energy commanded we discard our perception that we are all somehow divided and unite in our beauty no matter what we looked like. At the end of her class, we were all dancing, as a Kirtan band played behind her on stage, with her recipe to discovering our creativity and discarding our baggage through Kundlini-dance yoga. There was screaming involved and it could have felt weird outside of this spiritual haven but on that day, for a few minutes, we sparkled right along-side Hemalayaa. I asked her later why she does yoga and she said, “So I can show up every single day. So I can get rid of the B.S. and get to the Bhakti.” Bhakti, according to some websites, is the essence of love and devotion. The theme of her class was transformation; getting rid of what’s blocking you through breathing, dance and movement to get to your full potential “like we were six years old again.” Her tip to beginning a practice: “The journey of yoga is a vast one with many layers and places to find depth and connection with oneself as well as the divine…Find many teachers, not just one. Find your mentors, teachers and guides, to be in your fullest, richest experience of life.” You can experience the magic of Hemalayaa at Shakti Fest in her classes (with Live music by DTO of Buddha Music Group) Saturday May 13th and Sunday May 14th at 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm
One thing about both Shakti and Bhakti Festivals is they are very popular. If you want to take a class with a well known yoga teacher, you have to have a strategy. Sometimes your strategy doesn’t work out and you’re forced to find another class and fortunately the festival is full of them. That’s how I discovered Yogrishi Vishvketu.
Blue skies threw the sun’s heat soaked rays around the dessert’s open air studio. We gathered on our mats trying to find spots hidden from the blaze above. Sand dunes, with pockets of sprouting cacti and joshua trees, greeted us as we relaxed into our spaces. We were back at Yoga Hall 2, though the “hall” was comprised of a music stage and an overhang covering the practice area with a translucent fabric. My girlfriends and I had no idea what to expect, so when a little man in monk’s garb appeared before our group and started to talk about making little bee noises, we just went with it.
Yogrishi’s soothing voice, coated in a sweet Indian accent, chuckled between irreverent words. He told us that the moan we make when we are in pain and the moan we make when we are in pleasure are almost identical. In yogaspeak, making this sound is called a mantra. Yogrishi says this sound sends a signal to the mind for healing. I actually found myself trying to adopt this into my practice for weeks after his class. He spoke about the true path to happiness and told stories like the the one about the bunny and the cockroach who are both looking for it. I decided true enlightenment has to include humour. He told us true love has to be based on truth. “What is real can never be taken away and what is unreal can never be kept.” I asked him at the end of class, why he does yoga. He responded, “To be normal,” and he laughed. Realizing I wanted more, he elaborated: “To continue to be normal and continue to be connected to my higher self, to be compassionate.” Well, I loved that and after I got home I looked up his ashram in the Himalayan Mountains and dreamed of going. He holds a PhD and is the founder of Akhanda Yoga, which is a holistic approach to yoga that includes teachings and meditation in every class. His tip for beginning a yoga practice: “Pay attention to your breath.” Personally, I think that’s for an advanced practice. He is coming back to Bhakti Fest on September 7, 2017.
Besides yoga, the Bhakti and Shakti Festivals are full of things on which we wanted to spend money. Vendors from around the world brought outfits we wouldn’t find on racks in Big 5, foods that nourished our body while making our senses jump for joy and jewelry that is priced far below the uniqueness of it’s quality. We took time to explore their offerings between classes and lectures. Fueling our bodies with clean nutrients for an entire weekend, elevated our moods which contributed, I’m sure, to our shift in consciousness. When you feel good physically, your mind is more open to process new experiences.
There is a staggering amount of workshops and lectures held throughout both festival weekends. Presentations range from creating sacred relationships to removing the blockages that past experiences have caused us. There are workshops on chanting, healing and dance. Gender divided sessions in the Women’s Lounge and Men’s Tent address topics of a more private nature that become a forum for discussing our collective, more personal experience. We wandered into a workshop on Tantric Sexuality that involved staring into the eyes of a stranger for the longest minute of our lives and the feathery touch of rose petals. We sat in on a talk by Radhanath Swami who told ancient stories about devotion and overcoming obstacles.
Each left our brains buzzing pleasantly with the gift of exploring ideas that we didn’t have time to think about in our real world.
We ate our meals in the courtyard in front of the Main Stage where musicians performed from morning until late into the night. We brought beach chairs and left them with the understanding that others are free to use them until we need them again. I had never appreciated Kirtan music because it always felt foreign and disconnected from my experience but with the great variety suddenly available, I was able to appreciate some of the artists. I bought a CD by Sean Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band to listen to while I worked.
We finished our yoga day with a journey into the world of Mas Vidal, master yoga teacher and ayurvedic practitioner who has just written a book on both called Sun, Moon and Earth: The Sacred Relationship of Yoga and Ayurvedic.
With the fading sun and the darkening sand dunes as his backdrop, he walked around us while we froze in poses of his choosing, head clean-shaven, imposing, toned figure wrapped in genie-styled, peach colored pants and a black tank top. He shared about life from his empowered perspective. He told us “Bliss is your birthright” and it sounded fair so we believed him. He told us, as we held chair pose far longer than normal, that initially our environment is more powerful than our will but then our will becomes more powerful than our environment. He shared a tip about our most natural action, our breath. In Ayurvedic medicine when you breath in, your stomach should go out and when you breathe out, it should go in but, he explained, when people have experienced trauma, they do the opposite. I tried to see what my natural inclination was but it was to hard to tell since I was judging myself.
I asked him, after he sang to us at the end of our strong class, why he practices yoga. “I do yoga to realize my spirit is one with all of existence,” he answered. His tip for someone about to start a yoga practice: “Make it simple, make it convenient. It should work easily into your lifestyle.” He also recommends spending time with someone who already has a yoga practice so you could learn from them and have a partner to share your discoveries.
Both Mas Vidal and Hemalayaa will be back in Joshua Tree for Shakti Fest, Mother’s Day weekend, May 12-14. They will be joined by many yoga teachers including Mark Whitwell, Shiva Rea, Kia Miller and Saul David Raye. Musicians from all over the world like Trevor Hall, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das will add a soundtrack to the festivities. Gurus and Swamis will join the gathering as workshop speakers to share the wisdom of their experiences and save us the heartache of having to learn their lessons the hard way. Reverse osmosis water will be available to all with a refillable bottles.
There is on-site housing and camping but we’ve always rented either hotel rooms or houses through Homeaway or Airbnb. It’s nice to be immersed but it’s also nice to get away.
The beauty of the yoga and music festivals is that they allowed us to explore many more teachers and styles than I was willing to commit to financially at home. It exposed us to music, food and a culture outside of our suburban bubble. It opened my mind to possibilities I didn’t have time to think about as a busy mom, classroom volunteer and in between chores writer.
Shakti and Bhakti Fest is the opportunity to wake up and come back to ourselves. It’s also an opportunity to give back since part of the ticket prices are distributed between five charities. For more information or to join us there visit http://shaktifest.bhaktifest.com
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,
donning their ears and racing off to seek soggy adventures!
After our last foray into the Great Wolf Lodge, many have asked what the appropriate ages are for the different activities there and what are some of the restrictions.
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.
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.
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.
There is also a Palms Cafe similar to a Starbucks or Coffee Bean and an R Bar that we did not go to.
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.