El Matador State Park, Malibu, California

A Beautiful Morning at El Matador Beach in Malibu

“The best way to pay for a lovely moment is to enjoy it.” – Richard Bach

After spending three glorious days in San Diego, it was time for us to head up the coast and check out LA. I haven’t been to LA in years and thought it would be good place for our children to experience. Unfortunately our timing couldn’t have been worse as it was New Year’s Eve weekend meaning everyone was off enjoying all the sights and beaches. Traffic was horrendous, the crowds at Santa Monica Pier and Beach were insane and even our excursion to the stunning Griffith Observatory ended up being stressful due to the swarming crowds and congestion.

After the relaxing, serendipitous past few days watching sunsets and playing on the wide open beaches in San Diego, LA felt like a madhouse for the kids. They were both cranky and miserable, seeming to take after their mother in not liking crowds. Everything we did ended up being filled with complaints and irritation but I guess I couldn’t blame my children. As a LA rookie, I had no idea that traffic could be so bad and that the city was so spread out. It took hours to cut across and there was nothing worse than sitting in wall to wall traffic when one of the kids was hungry, grouchy or had to use the bathroom.

It took two days to realize that we would need to come up with a better system for navigating the city and also find a little bit of peace and solitude for me and the kids. That meant finding a beautiful, relatively uncrowded area where we could relax but did not take hours to reach. At first, I thought I was dreaming that we could truly find such a place but after a little research on Google maps, I realized that our hotel in Agoura Hills was not far from several amazing State Parks. In fact, the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach in northern Malibu was only about a twenty-five minute drive away without traffic. We were in luck!

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and set off early to explore El Matador Beach, one of three separate but distinct beaches that make up the Robert H. Meyer Memorial State Beach. Our drive took us through the winding, lush valley which ended at Pacific Highway 1 along the coast.

We arrived at the small parking lot atop the bluffs of El Matador State Park a little past ten o’clock and gratefully got one of the handful of parking spots in the tiny lot. At first sight, I knew we were in for a very special morning. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun was warm and bright and best of all, the tide was rolling in. Soon it would be low tide and we would get the added bonus of seeing El Matador’s tide pools!

El Matador State Park, Malibu, California

What a place for a picnic!

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Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

An Afternoon Birdwatching at the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

“Every ending is a beginning. We just don’t know it at the time.” -Mitch Albom

For our very last day in Costa Rica, we decided to take a full day tour to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, a remote wetland known for its incredible wildlife, located about 12 miles south of Los Chiles and near the Nicaraguan border. We arranged for our guide, wildlife specialist Odir Rojas to pick us up at our hotel early in the morning to avoid the high heat and humidity of the afternoon. We also knew that the kids would rather spend the day at the pool instead of doing another long tour so this was our compromise.

Our two-hour drive to the refuge took us north through beautiful lush Costa Rican countryside, passing through tiny farming pueblos (“villages”) and along many gravel roads. Apparently most tours that leave from La Fortuna don’t go all the way into the reserve but only on the edge. Since we were staying in Rio Celeste and had our own private tour, we were able to go all the way in. It was definitely worth the effort!

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

Heading out to the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge, passing through beautiful farmland.

The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is wetlands area consisting of a vast network of marshes and streams that drain into the Lago Caño Negro during the wet season. Given its unique ecosystem, the reserve is world renown for its excellent bird-watching especially the many species of migratory birds that seek sanctuary in this magical place. It is very remote and there are no public facilities at refuge, only a small family owned farm where we met our boat driver for the tour and were able to use the toilet.

I confess to being a bit surprised by the lack of development at the reserve but by this point nothing should have surprised me. It is rural, local tourism at its finest and thankfully there has been little adverse impact to this fragile ecosystem caused by tourism. The refuge remains hard to reach, off the beaten path and undeveloped. It is a true treasure.

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Odir parked the Four-Wheel Drive in the shade under a tree. We were the only ones there. A young Tico walked up to greet us and we followed him a few steps to the river to board our boat.  We had the entire boat to ourselves so we were able to move around and get pretty close to observe wildlife. Our driver was very good at spotting birds from a distance and would cut the engine so we could quietly glide in without disturbing them. 

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Tubing in Rio Frio, Costa Rica

Tubing Down the Rio Frio in Costa Rica

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. –  Jawaharlal Nehru

We decided on a whim to do something different and spend the afternoon tubing down the Rio Frio in Costa Rica. It wasn’t the first adventurous thing we had done since we were there. We went canyoning and zip lining in the jungle near Manuel Antonio. However, that adventure actually ended up feeling tame after our experience tubing down the Rio Frio.It was by no means the leisurely gliding down the river, enjoying the beautiful scenery go by. Instead, it ended up being a pretty wild and crazy thrill ride. We honestly had no idea what we were getting into when we signed up to go with our guide Wilson who had spent the morning with us touring Tenorio Volcano National Park. I guess that is what made the whole experience so memorable.

We met Wilson after lunch for our forty-five minute drive to the river. Along the way, we picked up his son as well as his partner who would be our river guide and safety man along the two-hour ride. We stopped briefly at the “Abrol de la Paz” (the tree of peace), perhaps the biggest tree I had ever seen in my life, and took some pictures. I didn’t catch the type of tree but it had to be hundreds of years old. It was magnificent!

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We drove over bumpy gravel roads, passed a few cowboys along the way and ended up at our destination, a fenced in pasture and farm with grazing horses. There were no tourist signs, no buildings or anything in sight except the endless gravel road and the barbed wire fence. It was nothing like I had expected or conjured up in my head.

We got out of the car and Wilson inflated our tubes and grabbed us helmets. I looked around us a little confused. We were in the middle of nowhere and there was no river in sight. Wilson signaled to follow him. We ducked under the barbed wire fence, and began walking through the grassy pasture avoiding cow dung and snakes along the way. It felt like a moment out of an odd dream or a movie. We were lost in translation, not really understanding why we were hiking through a private farm carrying inner tubes and wearing our bathing suits, to get to the river. Apparently Wilson has a deal with the owners who let him use his property to do his tubing tours. We were the only guests.

Tubing in Costa Rica

Driving down the gravel country road to our tubing launch

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

Tubing in Costa Rica

Inflating the Tubes

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

Setting off to find the river

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

Walking through the pasture avoiding manure and snakes

Rio Celeste, Costa Rica

Getting ready to launch

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Tenorio Volcano National Park/Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio, Costa Rica

Exploring the Rio Celeste at Tenorio Volcano National Park

We met out guide Wilson early in the morning at our hotel and were on our way to Tenorio Volcano National Park. Although the park is only about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel, the Rio Celeste Hideaway, we drove and in the end it was a good decision due to the high heat and humidity that day.  It was overcast and had just rained that morning leaving a thick humid mist to the air and lots of mud.

Wilson recommended we pay the $4 to rent a pair of mid-length plastic mud boots and despite the discomfort it ended up being an excellent decision. The trails were slick in fresh, thick mud and my new hiking shoes would have been ruined had I worn them. The only downside was the boots were too big, a bit cumbersome and needed knee-high socks to avoid rubbing. I clumsily walked last in line during our three hour hike but at least I saved my shoes.

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Tenorio Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio) was created in 1995 and encompasses over 18,400 hectares of rainforest and cloud forest as well as the Tenorio Volcano itself. Although the volcano is no longer active, there is still a large amount of volcanic activity present. There are hot springs and bubbling water within the river where the volcanic gases are released way below the ground.

The prize possession of the Tenorio Volcano National Park is the Rio Celeste “Blue River” that meanders through the jungle. As you hike along the trail, you can visit a spectacular waterfall as well as see where two rivers converge to create the celestial blue Rio Celeste, a natural phenomenon.

As we entered the park, the first thing Wilson pointed out was the green walking trees which are endemic in this park. They can live in water because it passes through them and a special sap drops off the ends for animals and birds to eat. Although they don’t actually walk the trees do move a small amount each year.

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Rio Celeste Hideaway, Costa Rica

Our Costa Rica Family Adventure: Rio Celeste Hideaway

“The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness”. – John Muir

After two absolutely fantastic days in Arenal, it was time to head to our last destination for our week-long family adventure in Costa Rica: Rio Celeste. We had heard about the Rio Celeste Hideway, a gorgeous resort tucked away within the jungle surrounding the Rio Celeste, from a good friend of mine who spent a year living in Costa Rica with her family. This part of Costa Rica is not as well known however the Rio Celeste is world famous for its magical technicolor turquoise waters. The color of the river is like nothing I have ever seen anywhere on earth. It is so brilliantly blue that it looks surreal or like something out of a Disney movie.  Just to see the Rio Celeste is worth the drive north.

We rose early on the farm not sleeping too well due to the rumbling of the guests above us. I didn’t realize how paper thin the floor was at our Air B&B rental until a family of five arrived the night before. Unfortunately every movement above us was amplified and it sounded like they were playing musical chairs all night with the furniture. I made a mental note to write in my review to not stay in the bottom unit unless you wear ear plugs.

We left Parrot Hill Ranch after breakfast and drove back to La Fortuna to drop off the rental car. We would not be needing it for the rest of our trip as we had a driver picking us up for the short 2 hour ride to Rio Celeste. We were happy to leave the car and not have to worry about driving anymore. (Our route below: We traveled from E to F).

Our route

We drove through the lush green countryside of Northern Costa Rica passing pineapple farm after pineapple farm. Our driver Alfredo told us that Costa Rica is now the top exporter of pineapples in the world supplying over half of all pineapples imported to the US. Alfredo said that ten years ago the land was filled with cows and pasture for them to graze on. Once farmers realized that they could make more money in pineapples the farms were converted over and pineapples became the largest exported agricultural product in Costa Rica. Concerns about poor labor conditions and environmental issues have left a bittersweet taste to Costa Rica’s pineapple industry. I must confess that Tico pineapples are amazingly juicy and delicious though. Just like their coffee, they are something special.

Our drive took us through many small towns, farms and tiny roadside markets. As we approached the long drive up the hill to our hotel, Alfredo pulled over and bought us some fresh coconut milk to try. The farmer opened it on the spot and stuck a couple straws inside for us to drink. Its creamy watery taste hit the spot.

We arrived at Rio Celeste Hideaway just in time for lunch. Since we would not have a car for the rest of our stay and we were staying in a fairly remote location we were beyond pleased that the food at the resort was absolutely delightful. We always had service with a smile, and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the gorgeous open-air restaurant. Besides standard American fare, they also served Tico food and I enjoyed my rice and beans each morning with eggs and fresh sour cream.

The Rio Celeste Hideaway is built within the verdant thick rainforest that surrounds Rio Celeste and borders Volcan Tenorio National Park. It is a spectacular place! There are 26 spacious, beautifully appointed casitas (little houses) that literally are tucked up into the jungle. Each casita is decorated immaculately with hand-carved wood furniture, high-pitched ceilings made from sugar cane, open-air showers and a large balcony jutting out into the jungle. There is nice pool with a swim up bar, a hot-tub, game room, and their own little hiking trail that leads you to the “blue river” (Rio Celeste). It truly is a gem of a find. I fell in love with this place and wish we could have stayed longer than three short days.

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Mistical Hanging Bridges Park, Arenal, Costa Rica

A Day Exploring Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. – T.S. Eliot

After our horseback ride and lunch, it was time for our next adventure: A two-hour guided tour of Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park with a naturalist. The trail is about two miles long, and follows a footpath through the innermost parts of the rainforest as well as passes high up through the jungle canopy over 6 hanging bridges (the highest one being 148 feet/45 m above ground) and four lower bridges. You can do the walk without a guide however having a trained eye and a professional naturalist was amazing as we learned a ton about the diverse flora and fauna in the area and saw lots of interesting things we would have missed on our own.

We met our guide, Gustavo at the entrance and were on our way. As we were walking, Gustavo told us a little history about the park. The park was built on the property of the Castillo Rodriguez family who had inherited this pristine land from their family.  Wanting to share its immense value and beauty, the land owners formed a partnership with Los Puentes Colgantes de Arenal to develop the land with the mission of preserving this unique ecosystem while also opening it up for sustainable tourism. Construction on the park began in 2000 and Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park was opened in 2002 with complete transfer of management back to the Castillo Rodriguez family in 2014.

Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Arenal Costa Rica

The view of Arenal Volcano at Mistical Arenal Hanging Bridges Park is fabulous

Mistical Hanging Bridges Park, Arenal, Costa Rica

Heading to the start of the trail

As we left the beautiful gardens surrounding the entrance of the park, we were mesmerized by the almost deafening sound of cicadas. Unlike where we live, cicadas live year round in this part of Costa Rica thanks to its ideal climate. Gustavo told us that after the cicadas hatch from their shells, they live for only 5-6 weeks and it is a 9 and 13 year cycle. That is why they lay eggs all the time since it takes so many years to hatch. The magic of nature never ceases to amaze me.

While we were walking, I stopped to ask Gustavo about the importance of colors. Many of the most brilliant colored insects in Costa Rica are poisonous (such as the “Blue Jeans Poison Dart Frog) and the brilliant colors are a warning to predators or else a way to attract them. Flowers also have an interesting role in colors. For instance, the Heliconia flowers which are common throughout Costa Rica are fuzzy and look like a bird of paradise. Most people mistake the large, red pieces as the flowers. However, the small yellow parts are the actual flower and the red part is a modified leaf. It is a natural way of attracting pollinators.

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Parrot Hill Ranch, El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

Our Family Costa Rican Adventure: A Stay at a Farm near Arenal

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  -Roald Dahl

As we inched up the gravel road at a snail’s speed, we admired the sensational beauty of our surroundings. Lake Arenal was off in the horizon, and the farm was surrounded by lush, thick jungle. The sounds of birds and a group of dogs greeted our arrival while a group of distant howler monkeys warded off their turf with their deep throaty howls. The masterpiece of all however was the piercing view of Arenal Volcano. It was literally right in your face begging not be ignored. As we unpacked our bags, we knew that this was going to be one place that we would never forget. A place of dreams and fairytales. A place of magical mystique.

El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

Heading up the gravel road to the farm

El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

Lake Arenal beckons

Parrot Hill Ranch, El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

The mighty omnipresent Arenal Volcano is literally right in your face

We had found the Parrot Hill Ranch through good friends of ours back home in Minneapolis who had stayed at this remote Air B&B property back in February. They have children the same age as ours – 10 and 12- and informed us that the farm was quite a memorable, unique experience. It was an opportunity for the kids to fully integrate and immerse themselves with Costa Rican life and stay at a very different kind of lodging on a working farm. I secretly liked as well that this is the way to travel sustainably. To support the local community and get a taste of their culture. It would not at all be luxurious like our last place however it would certainly be unique.

El Castillo, Arenal, Costa Rica

Our Family Costa Rican Adventure: Drive to Arenal

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac 

We rose early on our last morning at Manuel Antonio not really wanting to leave but ready for our next adventure. We had planned a morning sloth tour at the Tulemar property before heading north to Arenal. We were grateful that we had forgone the idea of driving ourselves and instead hired a driver again from Morpho Vans to take us there. Our driver was to meet us immediately after the sloth tour and it was going to be another very long day on the road again.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Morning breakfast on the veranda of our villa at Tulemar

The sloth walk is one of the benefits of staying at Tulemar as it is only offered to guests of the property. Over the course of 90 minutes you have the opportunity to see a ton of sloths, monkeys and birds right in the heart of Tulemar’s own private reserve. The sloth walk is offered every day except Tuesdays at 9 am and books up fast given its popularity. The tour begins up at the top of Tulemar and meanders down the steep road towards the beach.

Each sloth walk is hosted by a Sloth Institute Researcher who carries binoculars for guests to get an up close view of both two and three-toed sloths. Over the course of the next hour and a half we saw a total of 12 sloths including a few babies. It was a cool experience but nothing could ever beat our private tour at Manuel Antonio National Park. Still, I’m glad we did it.

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By 11 am, our driver Juan Carlos was waiting with a 12-person van for our family of four. It ended up being a good thing that we had an extra large van given how carsick we all were on our five-hour bumpy, winding drive from Manuel Antonio to La Fortuna. Little did I know, I’d be using the entire back row to lay down and try to sleep away the Dramamine and the feeling of unease. (On map below, we traveled from B to D, a total of over six hours).

Our route

The drive was long and arduous yet fascinating given how much the landscape and topography changed. We left the hot tropical jungle of Manuel Antonio, passing through the beach town of Jaco and then headed north to the mountain town of San Ramon and the cloud forest near Los Angeles where we were engulfed in misty cool fog. It was such a dramatic difference from where we had just been that it seemed unimaginable that we were only about three hours away from where we left that morning.

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Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Off to a Great Adventure: Arriving in Manuel Antonio at Sunset

“Every sunset is an opportunity to reset”. – Richie Norton

Exhausted and achy after 13 hours of travel, we finally arrived at our hotel in Manuel Antonio. It had been an extremely long day, especially for the kids, but we were all in high spirits to finally arrive at our much-awaited destination. I had been wanting to go to Manuel Antonio ever since I first visited Costa Rica in 2011 on a volunteer trip. A group of fellow volunteers had went for a weekend but as a mother of young children, I could not afford to be gone any longer than a week. I had to go home despite a deep unfilled wish of seeing it.

Fast forward 6 years, in the midst of planning our 9 day family adventure in Costa Rica that long seeded desire to visit Manual Antonio National Park arose from hibernation and a little voice kept telling me I had to finally go see it even if it would require a significant amount of time spent in the car driving. As I mentioned in my past post, we flew into Liberia Airport in the north of the country and to reach Manuel Antonio required a long five hour drive down a one-way highway snaking in and out of little beach towns. Yet I had my heart set on seeing Manuel Antonio so the plan was made to get the long drive out of the way immediately on the front end of our trip. I can thank my husband for his wise thinking.

Our route

The entire drive down to Manuel Antonio I secretly wondered if I would truly be satisfied by visiting. I had just spent a week in the remote, undeveloped Osa Peninsula in January and literally had the place to myself. Its raw, untouched beauty and lack of mass tourism made it a paradise on earth and supported my mission to travel responsibly by engaging in sustainable, ethical travel. Manuel Antonio would be quite different as it is known as the first ecotourism destination in Costa Rica so the area has suffered over the years with mass tourism, overdevelopment, and unsustainable practices that have negatively impacted the culture, environment and wildlife of this magical place. A complicated feeling of guilt mixed with pleasure swirled around inside my head.

When we arrived in Quepos, the bustling town located right outside of the park, it was clear that it was nothing at all like Puerto Jimenez in the Osa Peninsula. Street after street was packed with souvenir shops, restaurants and an overwhelmingly amount of tourists. My stomach dropped in initial disappointment yet I should not have been surprised based on all I had read.

We drove the 4 1/2 miles (7 km) through town, constantly avoiding cars and people, climbing up the lush green rain forested hills of Manuel Antonio. Resort after resort dotted the tiny road with gates and security guards and pristine landscaping. I confess it was beautiful yet a stark difference between the tiny town of Drake Bay in the Osa whose sweeping views of rainforest and jungle are unobstructed.

We pulled into the gates of our resort and were relieved to finally be there. After much research and careful consideration, we decided to stay at one of the best resorts in town, Tulemar Vacation Rentals. It would be a far cry from my cheap, local lodging in the Osa and would not exactly follow my mission of staying and supporting local travel. Yet it would have some clear advantages over some of the other choices in the area. First, we would have our own private villa with one large bedroom, a large balcony and a kitchen. Second, we would be in walking distance to all the restaurants so we did not need to rent a car. And lastly and perhaps the most essential is that the resort has its own private beach and park reserve. Unfortunately the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio are very small, overcrowded with hardly a place to relax. Having our own beach away from all the crowds to relax and unwind sounded amazing. I just had to fight with that little voice inside my head reminding me I was staying at a gated compound instead of at a locally-owned ecolodge. (Side note: After thinking about this issue extensively, I contacted Tulemar via email with a list of questions about their sustainability practices. I got some excellent information which I will share in my next post on Tulemar). 

We checked in, and loaded our luggage into one of Tulemar’s vans to bring us to our Villa. I naively thought we could walk but the complex is huge and the roads throughout it are extremely steep. So steep that my calves ached walking to and from the beach (you can of course take the van but I preferred to walk). It is also quite large with lots of different accommodations and even a few privately owned homes. I hadn’t expected it to be so big! There are even a few different pools within the complex depending on your need (a family, adults only, and the sunset pool).

We reached our villa just as the sun was beginning to make its initial descent. We walked out on the large balcony and were rewarded with an astounding view of the jungle and sea below. It made our long day of travel completely worth the effort.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals

The view from our balcony

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The balcony is huge with a couch, dining table and best of all a hammock with an unbelievably gorgeous view.

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

The view

Tulemar Vacation Rentals, Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

My favorite place of all – the hammock

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And So It Begins…Our First Epic Family Trip to Costa Rica

“May your adventures bring you closer together even as they take you far away from home.” – Trenton Lee Stewart

Planning our first big family adventure was no easy feat. Despite my Type-A personality, usually when I travel solo I just sign up for a trip and go. I rarely do any pre-trip planning except for the bare minimums. Traveling without everything planned in advance feels much more adventurous and liberating for me. It is the one or two weeks of my life that is not confined to a strictly organized schedule, and as the trip unravels there are often many unexpected delights that make it even more pleasurable.

This style of on the fly planning however was obviously not going to work for an eight-day family trip driving all over Costa Rica. Instead, it required a fair amount of pre-trip planning and organization. My husband and I had to nail down all hotels, transportation and daily excursions beforehand especially since we were traveling during high season. Luckily, I have three friends who had already done the trip with their families so I basically was able to hijack their itinerary with a few tweaks here and there. As always, I bought a travel guide and we researched online perusing TripAdvisor and other resourceful sights to make this trip as easy and fun as possible.

A surprise for later…family shot at Arenal Volcano.

We knew that we didn’t want to just go to an all-inclusive resort and stay on the beach for a week. Instead, we wanted adventure and we wanted to see as much of the country as we could squeeze in. During my past visit to the Osa Peninsula, I learned that driving in Costa Rica is no easy undertaking. There are relatively few roads signs, addresses are unusual, and most roads are unpaved requiring a 4WD SUV with GPS so you don’t get too lost (even with GPS you often find yourself going the wrong way!).

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Universal Studios Orlando

#UniversalMoments at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

“I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” ― J.K. Rowling

Suddenly you are soaring with the wind against your face, at breakneck speed, diving up and down in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. For a few moments in time, you feel like you are Harry Potter, Hermione or Ron racing on top a broomstick inside of their magical world at Hogwarts. You race through Hogwarts castle, nearly escaping evil wizards and creatures on every side, then you are out on the Quidditch field having the game of your life. For those short breathless minutes on “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey“, you feel like you are part of Harry Potter’s exhilarating, enchanting world.

I honestly never dreamed I’d be into a theme park yet our day spent at Orlando’s Universal Studios revived the imaginative child within me, and I enjoyed myself equally as much as my two kids. I’ve always been an avid reader and ever since my children were little, Harry Potter and his magical world has been a big part of our lives. My husband first read all seven brilliant books by J.K. Rowling to our son Max when he was just learning to read. Then, both kids read the entire series of books in one month flat inspiring me to pick up and read them too. After reading the first few pages of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone I was hooked and lavishly read the remaining books as fast as I could. 

Rowling’s phenomenal creation of the magical world of Harry Potter blows me away. I confess to once trying to write fiction but giving up after a year of roadblocks and frustration. Being a good writer is extremely hard yet Rowling has the gift. She is truly a genius! Not only has she created a wonderful collection of books, Harry Potter’s world has also made it to the big screen as well as theme parks for those who want a taste at the wizarding world.

Universal Studios Orlando

Sophia getting ready to enter Harry Potter’s Wizarding World

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter spans two theme parks – Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida – at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida. It opened in 2010 and has been greeting eager Potter enthusiasts ever since. Besides Harry Potter, Universal Studios also is home to several other themes including Marvel Studio Hero Island, Toon Lagoon, Jurassic Park, The Lost Continent, Seuss Landing, and the newly opened Skull Island. But for our family, we spent the majority of our time checking out Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, truly our favorites. 

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the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon with Kids

“A Land to Inspire our Spirit:  Grand Canyon – one of Earth’s most powerful, inspiring landscapes- overwhelms our senses. Its story tells of geologic processes played out over unimaginable time spans as a unique combination of size, color, and dazzling erosion forms: 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Our responsibility as good stewards is to pass on this gift, pristine and preserved, to future generations”.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon is arguably one of the most amazing geological masterpieces in the world and there are endless ways to explore her spectacular beauty. As an avid hiker, the way I wanted to see and experience the canyon meant on foot however my plans had to be altered when we decided to bring our two children along.

A visit to the Grand Canyon is wonderful at any age and thankfully the National Park System thought the development of the park out with this idea in mind. Whether you are an avid hiker, a senior citizen or a family, there are endless ways you can experience the Grand Canyon.

We planned our visit for two days in October when most children are in school and tourism is busy but not overwhelming. We flew to Tucson where my parents live and spent a few days there before heading out on our road trip north. Getting to the Grand Canyon involves a bit of driving and we split our trip by spending a day in Sedona before driving the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon.

We chose the small, touristy town of Tusayan as our base which is located about a ten minute drive from the South entrance of the Grand Canyon. There is not much there except for hotels and not so great restaurants yet it is convenient and our lodging was nice. If we do it again, which I hope we do, I would choose to stay at one of the many great places in the Grand Canyon. There are plenty of little cafes and restaurants and even a nice grocery store that serves wonderful, economically priced hot food. These hotels book up a lot faster than in Tusayan so it is probably best to reserve your hotel at least six months in advance and much earlier if you are going during summer high season.

We arrived at our hotel late on Monday night with only time for dinner and winding down before our big day exploring the Canyon. Our room at the Best Western in Tusayan was quite nice and even fit a cot for my ten-year-old son. I was surprised to see so many Europeans at our hotel. Given the time of year, the tourists at the Grand Canyon were mostly adults and not the van-loads of kids like you’d expect. It was quite an international crowd which I always enjoy.

We rose Tuesday morning to chilly temperatures around 39 degrees F, had breakfast and left for the Visitor Center at the Grand Canyon. Since it wasn’t high season, we had no problem parking in the main lot and left our car there all day as the Grand Canyon has an excellent shuttle service bringing you around to the main lookouts.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

There are tons of Elk at the Canyon. We saw them in the mornings and evenings.

We began our day with a short documentary film on the formation and history of the Grand Canyon, right at the Visitor Center. It was excellent and highly informative plus the kids loved it. We also grabbed a Junior Ranger Activity Book for the kids to fill out and complete during our time at the Grand Canyon. The Guide contains all sorts of learning activities which is an excellent way to keep young children engaged and interested in their visit.

the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Grand Canyon Junior Ranger Activity Book is a great way to educate and entertain children at the Grand Canyon.

Adventure Travel Arizona TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking United States