Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point

Disclosure: As a #BloggingatCP blogger for Cedar Point my family stayed one night at the renovated Hotel Breakers and entered the park for free.  Food, travel and all other purchases were on my dime. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own.

I have lived in Ohio my whole life and an annual (or more!) trip to Cedar Point is a must. While I’ve been going there for decades I’ve always lived close enough to not necessitate an overnight stay. I recently learned that there is no reason to “need” to stay overnight when the accommodations are enough of an¬†attraction to stand on their own.

When Cedar Point offered me a stay in the newly renovated Hotel Breakers I very literally gasped at the offer. Hotel Breakers has always been the fanciest place to stay near Cedar Point. The U.S. National Historic Landmark¬†beachfront hotel has¬†been there for 110 years and has¬†always been “THE place” to stay when going to Cedar Point. In it’s heyday it hosted celebrities like John D. Rockefeller, ¬†Hellen Keller and many US Presidents. I said yes immediately and started counting down the days to our trip.

The reason I was invited was to see the new renovations Р2 years in the making and the largest cost project ever at Cedar Point. The results are stunning.

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With an indoor pool, outdoor pool, zero-depth entry splash pool with watersides and¬†the beach there is something for everyone. Plus each pool is watched by some of the most alert and attentive lifeguards I’ve ever encountered.

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The indoor pool was a good size, guarded and had plenty of chairs. Bonus Рit overlooks the lake! IMG_6192

They each got 2 trips down the slide before the thunder started rumbling, sending us inside. This pool has 2 very alert guards and is enclosed by a fence. The opposite end is zero entry and has all kids of splash/spray stuff. 

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Lots of room on the beach to enjoy the sun and sand.

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Of course, there are two more lifeguards keeping watch over the Lake Erie swimming area.

If dry activities are more your thing there is an arcade, fire-pits overlooking the lake, a bar with views of the beach, lots¬†of lounge chairs and rocking chairs . Plus tons of eating options including an ice cream shop serving delicious, local Toft’s ice cream, and a full-service Starbucks.

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With the storms keeping us inside, we had lots of time to explore the hotel. We found this great ice cream parlor tucked away near the doors to the outdoor pool area.

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When your kids are up before 7:00 AM no matter what, you are some of the first guests at the on-site Perkins restaurant

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View from Starbucks on Sunday morning.
Lake Erie was angry that day and the rain was pouring down.

Guests staying at all Cedar Point resorts get early entry into Cedar Point, discounted tickets, free shuttle service, and free¬†parking. From Hotel Breakers you can enter the park at the beach entrance – a 2 minute walk with no lines, no crowds. Due to the thunderstorms¬†the weekend we stayed we didn’t get to take advantage of these options but it would make for a very easy trip. Plus the early entry would mean getting to ride a number of rides before there are any crowds! That is worth a lot.

The rooms are playful with punches of red in the decor and the best headboards around. The desk chairs are so cute I was looking at the bottom to see who made them because I want to buy them for our kitchen table.

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A seagull nest was right outside our window and the kids checked on the bird constantly. 

But what really stood out throughout the whole hotel was the family-friendly attention to detail:

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The area near the front desk has tons of seating and the kids immediately started making faces in the fun-house mirrors on the wall. It made checking in so easy to have them entertained nearby. 

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The rooms have a dorm-sized fridge with a real freezer – an unexpected bonus – plus a microwave and shelves to stash snacks. I loved this set-up.

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This seems so silly but this drying rack in the bathroom MADE MY DAY. We are always draping wet suits and bath towels all over the bathroom when we’re at¬†hotel and they get in the way. I have been know to travel with those Command removable hooks just to have a place to hang wet swim gear. Having a¬†bathroom with plenty of hooks is a DREAM.

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We got to say goodnight to Snoopy, who was dressed for bed himself.

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The room had plenty of space for the 4 of us and our stuff. It was very comfortable. 

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I think she was excited to ride. Too bad the storms meant we couldn’t¬†go the following morning.

Mark and I also really enjoyed the attention to detail they took when renovating and decorating. As owners of our second¬†100-year old home we could appreciate the craftsmanship and care they took in the work of updating the historic Hotel Breakers. From the beautiful stained glass in the entry to the often-photographed rotunda. Everything was well done and well cared for. We also enjoyed the artwork – nostalgic photos of the park’s 145-year history.

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We went back to the park to ride 2 weeks after our stay and I found myself wishing we had booked a room for the night on this very hot day. Even so, we had a great time as always:

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After 2 Cedar Point trips with him refusing to ride anything but the CP & LE Railroad it was fun to watch him ride a few things this year.

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Checking out the view of Hotel Breakers from the top of the Giant WheelIMG_6336

She has refused to even think about riding the Gemini ever since her first time in 2013¬†that included the train stopping while going up the first hill. After a little bribery (I promised to ride the Pipe Scream with her) she conquered her fear and declared the Gemini “the best ride ever”.¬†
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Madman and I spent some time in the (air conditioned) Town Hall Museum in Frontier Town while Matilda and Mark rode the Mine Ride. It was there that we found this great Gemini photo set up.

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It was Matilda’s idea to recreate this shot to copy the artwork from the Hotel Breakers bathroom.

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THIS is how you end a 95 degree day at Cedar Point.
Which leads me to my #1 Cedar Point tip: ALWAYS bring a complete change of clothes, including shoes, for every person!

Garden Local with Petitti + a Giveaway! #ad

Disclaimer: This post is part of a Petitti’s¬†campaign. I was given a gift card to use for myself and one to give away in exchange for a post about my experience.¬†As always, my¬†thoughts are 100% my own. Since I was already a Petitti’s¬†customer, I was happy to be a part of this campaign.¬†

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Update: Congratulations to Jennifer – winner of the gift card!

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Last month Matilda and I were lucky enough to get a tour of¬†Petitti Garden Center’s Casa Verde, in Columbia Station. This massive greenhouse operation is where 98% of the live product sold at Petitti is grown.¬†NINETY EIGHT PERCENT! It means that every plant you buy from¬†Petitti is already acclimated to our climate (hello 80 degrees one day and 45 the next!) because they were grown from seed right here. In fact, Petitti is one of the only area growers that takes the plants through 3 stages of growing (in different greenhouses) before deeming them ready for purchase.¬†During high growing season they have as many of 100,000 hanging baskets at Casa Verde – it’s truly amazing to see!

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Casa Verde is also where they do things like mix their custom blends of potting and planting soils, and assemble and plant their beautiful planters that are ready for your porch.

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During our tour we got to hear Angelo Petitti’s story of how he immigrated to the US from Italy when he was 16, started his business and grew it to 9 stores plus a 32-acre greenhouse which employes up to 400 people during peak season. I have always known that Petitti was a family-owned operation but hearing his story and seeing the facility was eye opening. I always like to shop as local as possible and it was great to see “behind the scenes” of a robust local company.

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As part of the visit we were given a gift card to start our garden for this year (and some awesome Troy-Bilt garden tools – also a local company!). This past weekend Matilda and I were finally able to hit up the original Petitti Garden Center in Oakwood for our plants. We were after some tomatoes and herbs to fill our patio pots of for the summer. Our yard gets a lot of shade, the soil is a terrible clay, and our neighbor has a black walnut tree so growing veggies in the ground is nearly impossible. So we make due with a hodgepodge of pots on the back patio.

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Matilda picked what we were planting this year – lots of cherry tomatoes (the kids snack on these right off the vine when they are playing outside), some big heirloom tomatoes, cilantro, basil, rosemary and mint. She was also pretty excited to pick up several bags of Petitti’s soil since we saw it being mixed and bagged at Casa Verde. We added a bag of organic vegetable fertilizer and some compost to the cart before we checked out.

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Once we got home she declared the planting her project. With just a little guidance from me she filled up all 6 pots with soil and plants. She might have more of a green thumb than I do!

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Do you have a garden project you want to tackle? A black thumb you want to turn green? I have a $50 Petitti’s gift card to give away and it could be yours! To enter leave a comment about what you would buy with $50 at Petitti’s. For an extra entry tweet the following: I want to win a @Petittis gift card from @kakaty #Pettitis: http://wp.me/p3i9i6-Pa¬†

Limit 2 entries per person (one comment + one tweet). This giveaway will run until Monday, May 25th at 11:59 pm. Good luck!   Giveaway is closed.

In the Kitchen, Noodle Kid Style

When I heard that Jonathon Sawyer was releasing a cooking-with-kids cookbook I immediately went to Amazon to pre-order it. Last week Noodle Kids arrived and we were SO! EXCITED!

The timing was perfect with the long MLK Day weekend ahead. Matilda and I read through the book and she picked Roasted Chicken Ramen and Pho to make and made the shopping list. Of course with a list including things like bonito flakes and seaweed we headed to the always-fun Park to Shop in Asia Plaza. The kids love Park to Shop with all the amazing room of noodles, Hello Kitty items and, of course, Pocky (their favorite). We loaded up with all kinds of noodles, spices and sauces we headed home – dreaming of ramen that wasn’t instant.

On Saturday I made the broth – basically your standard chicken broth with the not standard (for me) additions of seaweed sheets and dried mushrooms. I always have a chicken carcass¬†or two in the freezer since we roast a chicken almost weekly, so this want’s an issue for us. You may need to plan ahead of you’re not in the habit of having a bone collection in your deep freeze. The house smelled delicious.

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Matilda had a friend over so I had the girls help me chop up the additions to the ramen Рtofu, a couple of left over chicken breasts, and green onions. While I peeled the 6.5 minute eggs and added the last ingredients to the the broth, they assembled little bowls of sesame seeds and bonito flakes and made our kitchen island into a ramen station.

IMG_1111(why is the friend cut out of the frame? because unless you are regularly posting pics of your kid on social media I won’t post pics of your kid, even with your permission.
I’m quirky like that.)

They each got to mix and match what the wanted (as long as they both picked something green to go in!) and made their very own custom ramen bowls. Her friend was a little hesitant, never having had ramen before, but she ended up having 2 bowls and even tried some tofu!

Yum!

Matilda’s verdict: “I’m so in love with this dinner right now!”

My verdict: it was amazing. And I was pretty darn proud of how close my bowl was to the picture in the cookbook (minus the styling and professional photog, of course):

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mineMy bowl – yum!

On Monday we made the pho – an all day process since the broth needs to simmer 8 hours and I forgot to do it the night before for overnight stock. Next to ramen, pho is Matilda’s favorite food so she was excited for this. Unfortunately this one didn’t knock it out of the park like the ramen. But I can hardly fault the recipe since I didn’t follow it exactly (i.e. I used 3 bones instead of 4 because that’s all the store had, I didn’t have a cinnamon stick so I added ground¬†cinnamon later. I also added some very thinly sliced beef because that’s how we like our pho). So this is operator error more than anything. It was still VERY good but wasn’t on the level of our favorite pho place. Which, honestly, is a pretty high bar. I will likely try this again when I have all the proper ingredients on hand.

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I can’t wait to make other recipes in this book over the coming weeks and months. The¬†Grilled Ramen and Cheese and the Little Ears with Kale (a from-scratch version of a house favorite:¬†orecchiette with sausage and kale) are the next two I plan to try.

In case you want to give Noodle Kids a try Рthe book is for sale in all Team Sawyer restaurants, on Amazon (non affiliate link above) and some local book stores.

*We are friends with the Sawyers however¬†I pre-ordered and purchased the book through Amazon myself. I wrote this post¬†because I am so thrilled for our friends and honestly, it’s a pretty kick-ass book. They have no idea that I’m writing this and I got nothing in return for doing so. What I’m trying to say is: yes, we know them; no this is not an ad. You should buy the book because it’s rad. (hey! I’m a poet!)

What the kids are getting for Christmas

I’ve asked for gift idea help on twitter and A’Dell¬†posted her gift list for her kids and I thought it was interesting and helpful so I’m posting mine here.

We typically do the want/need/wear/read categories for gifts but cut that back this year to just wear and read because¬†when you add in gifts from siblings and Santa and family it was just TOO MUCH. So,¬†here’s what they are getting…

(Editor’s note:¬†Amazon pricing is drunk as these prices are not what I paid. Photo sources: LandsEnd.com, HM.com, Amazon.com and lakeshorelearning.com. Links are not affiliate¬†links).

Matilda, age 8:
Wear Рflannel swim team pants, 2 long sleeved tees, another version of her favorite dress, and one Harry Potter tee I picked up on clearance somewhere a while ago.

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Read¬†–¬†2 Minecraft books

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From Madman – Crayola¬†Melt ‘N Mold Factory

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From Santa –¬†Crayola Maker Maker and a Chatster Interactive Doll (OMG, I’m scared of this thing). She also got an early visit from the big guy who brought her tickets to the Nutcracker.

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In her stocking-¬†hair chalk (as suggested by Marianne), and I’ll pick up some things from World Market.

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On her wish-list given to my family: swim team warm ups, DohVinci kit,¬†Charmazing kit, and¬†Crayola Virtual Design Pro (apparently Crayola’s marketing team did a terrific job with the 8 year old audience this year)

Matthew, age 4.5:
Wear – 3 long sleeved tees and shark socks

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Read РI went nontraditional here and instead of books got him some letter and number cards from Lakeshore Learning since he needs to work on those

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From Matilda – LEGO Junior Fire Emergency

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From Santa РGears! Gears! Gears! and LEGO Junior Police

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Stocking Р2 Switch and Go Dinos, and coloring books (thank you 60% off Cartwheel discount!)

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On his wish-list given to my family: any LEGO Junior sets (do you see a theme here?), MagForms, an Avenger hoodie, any Transformer.

Are you done shopping? Any exciting gifts this year?

HalloWeekends 2014 at Cedar Point

Disclosure:  I was invited to attend the #BloggingatCP HalloWeekends event.  Tickets were provided but food, travel and all other purchases were on my own.  As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I was not asked to post about my trip, but I am because it was fun. 

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Last year I had a newly-minted 7 year old who was finally tall enough to ride some roller coasters, but totally freaked out about all things Halloween. This year I have an almost 8 year old who wanted to take her BFF to Cedar Point for the first time. Oh how a year changes things. Matilda wasn’t scared of anything this year, and even posed for photos! I was shocked!

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Matilda’s birthday is next week so when I got invited to check out 2014 HalloWeekends at Cedar Point I knew it would be a fun pre-birthday celebration. We planned to go as a family like we did in the spring, but things changed and I ended up taking Matilda and her best friend, Audrey. Since it was Audrey’s first time to “the Point” the whole drive there was chatter about what they wanted to ride (Iron Dragon! Pipe Scream!) and what they didn’t want to ride (Witches Wheel).

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Like last year, it was a perfect weekend to go. Cool temps, lots of sun and light crowds. Our longest wait for a ride was under 10 minutes. It was perfect.

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Once we were in the park the girls warmed up with some of the midway rides – Dodgem cars, Cedar Downs and the Antique Cars. Then it was time for the big one – the Iron Dragon. I rode it with them twice then I bowed out as they rode it 3 more times in a row. They’d run down the exit, run through the line gates and sprint up the stairs. They tried riding in the very front, the very back and the middle to see what they liked the best (Matilda = front, Audrey = back).

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I finally got them to move to a different ride so we headed back to the new Pipe Scream. We didn’t ride it in the spring due to long lines but this time there was hardly a wait. It was really fun and different, but I was so woozy by the time I got off. The girls, of course, rode it a couple more times in succession. How they do that and not lose their breakfast is beyond me.

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After swinging through the back of the park and hitting more rides (the Wave Swinger was a huge hit, with multiple consecutive rides)¬†we worked our way back up to¬†the new¬†Chickie’s & Pete’s for lunch. I have to be honest here: the food and service were pretty poor.¬†There was nothing horrible about it, but our waiter took forever then never came back to check on us, and for the price the food was “meh”. Next time I’ll skip the table-service and stick to midway fare.

After lunch we hung around in Kiddie Kingdom for a bit to¬†take it easy. This was the magic of this trip… Matilda and Audrey are both about 50 inches tall. Tall enough for many of the bigger rides but still short enough for the kiddie rides. The did look kind of funny riding next to toddlers, but they giggled the whole time. We also stumbled onto¬†Howl-O-Palooza and the girls trick-or-treated through the rides and played in the foam pit (like a rave for kids – hysterical!).

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The day was winding down so we did one last loop through the park and the girls decided they wanted to tackle the Corkscrew – the first coaster in history to invert riders three times. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t ride it until I was 10 or 11! I rode with them the first time – they were behind me in a car – and I fully expected them to be freaked out at the end. NOPE – they burst out of their seat and asked “can we do it again?!”. They rode it 3 more times on their own. I was pretty proud! (maybe next year Matilda will tackle¬†the Magnum or Millennium Force?)

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Before heading back out to the car I stopped for my favorite Cedar Point food – cheese on a stick – and the girls played a few games and were each victorious.

Roller Coaster count:
Iron Dragon: at least 6 times
Corkscrew: 3 times
Mine Ride: 2 times
Pipe Scream: 3 times
Blue Streak: once (they weren’t fans).
Woodstock Express: 2 times – mainly for the in-ride photos

It was a pretty awesome day.

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You’ve got 6 weekends left to check out Cedar Point and HalloWeekends before they close for the year. It’s my favorite time of year to go.

A Day of Memories at Cedar Point

Disclosure:¬†I was invited to the¬†#BloggingatCP¬†blogger day at Cedar Point and my family entered the park for free. ¬†As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. See bottom of post for some Father’s Day offers.

Was Memorial Day weekend really 3¬†weeks ago already? How did that happen? Maybe it’s taken this long for me to recover from a weekend of pure fun. It all started Friday night when the ClassyChaos crew rolled into their old stomping grounds of NE Ohio. We hosted a little get-together at our house and as always this group of 7 kids got along like BFFs and laughed well into the night.

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After a later-than-usual night, Saturday dawned with perfect blue skies and 70-degree temps which meant the #BloggingatCP blogger day at Cedar Point would be amazing. We arrived shortly after the park opened and quickly met up with TeamSawyer who we caught on the brand new Pipe Scream.

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After that the kids scrambled over the other new ride for 2014, the Lake Erie Eagles.

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Since we were right there, we hung out in Camp Snoopy for a bit so the kids could do a few rides. Since it was the beginning of the season and a beautiful holiday weekend, lines were longer than I’m used to… but the kids had buddies to chat with no one got cranky. Before we knew it, it was time to eat¬†so we headed to the¬†#BloggingatCP lunch where we met up again with Pauline and her fam. We ate a delicious lunch while looking out over the lake. This reminded me of all the times as a kid that we’d pack a cooler with lunch and eat a picnic and eat in the pavilion at the front of the park. That’s one way to save a few bucks. Or you can get the new CP all-day dining plan which lets you get food every 90 minutes throughout the¬†whole day – what a sweet deal for an always-hungry teenager!

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After lunch the older kids took charge and declared it time to ride the water rides. Shout out to both Jeff and Jonathan who took the kids on Shoot the Rapids. Jonathan was the hero of the day when he agreed to take one for the team and ride Thunder Canyon, too. This ride gives you a 50/50 chance of getting completely soaked. You can probably guess what happened to Jon.

10346631_10152419635282674_6439873088178376276_nAbout 30 seconds before going under a huge waterfall. Photo by Pauline. 

 After that the kids took some time to visit the animals in the petting zoo (I had NO IDEA Cedar Point had a petting zoo!) And ride some of the smaller rides.

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By this time it was around 4 PM and Madman hadn’t ridden a single ride. He was more than happy to just hang out in his stroller and watch it all. So we decided to check out Dinosaurs Alive¬†which has 40¬†¬†life-sized animatronic dinosaurs. The area where the dinos are is the where the¬†Paddlewheel boat used to be. If you remember the¬†Paddlewheel you’ll remember the groan-worthy¬†jokes the captain used to make. I’m happy to say that along with all kinds of paleontological education, the lame jokes still exist.¬†DinosaursAliveJoke

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The C.P. & L.E. Railroad was the only thing he would ride Рbut he was happy 

It was a wonderful day filled with friends, fun and lots of laughs. Memories were made for all 7 kids and the grown-ups, too! We can’t wait to head back to “the Point” later this summer.

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Cedar Point is celebrating all fathers this Sunday, June 15, with great money-saving offers:

On Father’s Day, all Season Passholders can bring their dad (or a friend) to Cedar Point for just $19.99. Also this Sunday, when you buy one Meal Deal for just $13.99 plus tax, dad enjoys his meal for free (limit one free meal per group). Dads also get free admission to Dinosaurs Alive this Sunday!

All guests can still take advantage of the H2O offer where they can purchase a one-day Cedar Point admission ticket now through Sunday, June 15 and receive a FREE Soak City ticket! The Cedar Point one-day ticket for this offer is $39.99, a savings of $20 off the gate price and must be used by Sunday, June 15, 2014. For more details, log on to cedarpoint.com 

 

 

Castaway Bay Review and Giveaway

Disclosure: Castaway Bay provided one night of accommodations with water park passes, as well as four day passes to give away to one reader. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

Update: Congratulations to commenter #6 – Andrea! Please check your email!

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Confession time: While I’ve been to Cedar Point probably one hundred times in my life I’d never been to any of their water parks. In fact, I’ve never been to any indoor water park. So when I was invited to be part of an overnight at Castaway Bay as part of #CPMoms I jumped at the chance.

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Timing was perfect – right in the middle of (another) polar vortex and we were all itching for something different, something warm, something fun. The 82 degree air of the indoor water park was calling our name. We didn’t tell the kids where we were going so they were super excited when we pulled into the parking lot and they saw the three tube slides that snake their way out of the building. We wasted no time checking in and getting ourselves ready to hit the slides. We were given a¬†“Starfish” room with 2 queen beds, a closet, a mini fridge, a microwave, a small table with 2 chairs, a bathroom with a bathtub/shower, and a screened balcony with view of the frozen bay. The room was nice and was clean (and the fridge was great to have), but it’s nothing special. It’s a standard, if a little dated, hotel room. Castaway Bay also has suites with bunk beds and 2-room suites for bigger families.

But, you’re not at Castaway Bay for the hotel rooms, are you? You’re there for the WATER PARK! Which is why as soon as our bags were in the room and we grabbed some pizza we suited up and headed to the slides. And here is where I totally fail as blogger… because I didn’t take my camera with me into the water park and therefore I have no pictures. You guys, I’m so sorry. But the thought of chasing kids around the water with a camera just sounded like a disaster.

However, here is what I can report… the park is perfect for young families. Matilda, at age 7, was able to roam the park freely. Castaway Bay had plenty to keep her entertained without being enormous. She beelined for the wave pool and rode the waves for awhile before exploring the¬†Lookout Lagoon Family Funhouse. She spent a ton of time running up and down the stairs, going down the smaller slides and cheering as the giant bucket dumped 1,000 gallons of water over the whole structure. She finally found her way up to the top of¬†Rendezvous Run¬†water roller coaster that shoots you uphill using water jets. After her first run she was hooked! And I have to agree. Mark and I both rode this ride several times and it was really fun.

While Matilda was feeling all “big kid” and having free rein, Madman found his bliss in the Toddler Tide Pool. With a few shorter slides, water pipes and lots of room to splash he was a happy dude. And with the set up, it meant he was able to do what he wanted (go down the tandem slides over and over and over) while either Mark or I hung out near the pool edge keeping an eye on him. I honestly was worried about the logistics of wrangling 2 kids at a water park, but the set up of Castaway Bay gave us parents peace of mind. Neither kid could really get out of our sight at anytime so we were able to breathe easy. And it also meant that Mark and I could take turns checking out the bigger slides like the¬†Paradise Plunge and¬†Tropical Tube Slides.

This seems like a good time for me to give a shout out to the Castaway Bay Lifeguards.¬†They are trained as are part of Ellis & Associates National Pool & Waterpark Lifeguard Training Program. As a former guard myself, I know that Ellis guards are some of the best trained in the industry as they have very rigorous standards. Castaway Bay has received numerous awards of excellence from Ellis and the guards were attentive and friendly. I was completely at ease with Matilda and Madman going on all the slides and in each pool even if Mark or I weren’t right at their sides.

Fun at CB doesn’t stop when you leave the water park. We took a swim break to check out the arcade and later we did some crafts including decorate-your-own beach towels. We also got info on¬†Club Castaway but didn’t partake (the kids wanted MORE SWIMMING!). But in Club Castaway kids can sing¬†karaoke, attend a dance party with the Peanuts gang and even watch a Peanuts movie or have a bedtime story with Snoopy. There is a¬†Club Castaway schedule at the front desk and most activities are free. Mark, the coffee addict, wants you to know that there’s a Starbucks on-site, as well.

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Now that we’re no longer water park newbies we’ll definitely be going back to Castaway Bay to break up the winter doldrums. It was a perfect quick getaway (only 90 minutes from the eastern Cleveland ‘burbs!) and it was a much, much needed family break from being trapped inside our house. Even if we don’t go for the full overnight again this winter, it’s nice to know that it’s totally worth the drive for a tropical day trip.

And now the giveaway… Castaway Bay gave me 4 day-passes for one reader ($100 value!). Just leave a comment before midnight (eastern) on 2/12 telling me why you want to win.

Playing Tourist

My dear friend Pauline has always said you should play tourist in your hometown. And she’s right. Six years of living in Cleveland and we’re still discovering new things. We love to spend weekends exploring new parks, markets, restaurants and places. But a few weeks ago, we were able to have a fun overnight tourist adventure in Uptown thanks to the InterContinental Suites and Cleveland Botanical Gardens. See, they had a little contest on FB and Twitter and I won! So the weekend after Christmas we secretly packed a bag, put the kids in the car and told them we were going on adventure.

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Our first stop on this unseasonably warm Saturday was CBG for the Glow – their awesome annual holiday show. We took advantage of the daylight and explored the outdoor gardens. The kids ran off some energy on the paths before heading in to check out the array of gingerbread houses, indoor camping, dozens of Christmas trees and more. We’re frequent visitors of CBG and we love the Glow exhibit!

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After the sun started to set we got back in the car and said “I don’t feel like going home. Do you? It would be fun to not go home tonight!” The kids were a bit surprised. Well, Matilda was flabbergasted: “What!? We HAVE to go home! We can’t sleep in the car!”. After a discussion about how cold the car would be overnight we ended up at ABC Tavern for some dinner. Since it was only 5:00 we were basically the only ones in there. The kids loved all the open space, the juke box, and the bowling game.

IMG_0540Cheers to adventure in our own town!

After dinner we walked over to one of the newest Mitchell’s for our favorite dessert. Then strolled over to Constantino‘s for a few provisions.

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By this point Matilda was nearly beside herself. We had been out for almost 4 hours and Mark and I kept talking about stating uptown all night but she was adamant about going home. She wanted a bed to sleep in! She couldn’t sleep in the car! So when we pulled up outside of the¬†InterContinental Suites Hotel and Mark said “why don’t we just stay here tonight?” she was aghast: “I don’t have any books to read! I need my pajamas!” I smiled and as I pulled the packed bag out of the trunk and her eyes grew wide. “Are we really staying here?” she asked over and over.

Their¬†Director of Sales & Marketing, who set up our stay, put us¬†in an¬†suite¬†with an adjoining room for the kids¬†since they were not at full capacity that night. I knew¬†InterContinental’s were nice (I’ve stayed in other properties) but this was almost too much!¬†Mark and I were SHOCKED at our set-up. A full suite with living room, bed room and kitchenette PLUS an adjoining standard room (it was huge) with a king bed and other kitchenette. The best part is that we took up a full corner of the hall and had no neighbors we had to worry about disturbing.

The kids took no time to get settled in. They were on the bed, watching cartoons (we don’t have cable at home, so the TV as a luxury to them) and drawing on the notepads within minutes.

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Soon they had discovered the bathrobes. Once they were wrapped up Madman kept saying “I’m a king!” And Matilda just sighed, leaned back on the couch and said “this is the life” as she put her slippered feet up.

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They were thrilled to cozy up in bed and watch a movie. Something they only get to do on vacation!

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We all slept well, given that we were spread out across a huge area. The next morning after a delicious breakfast at C2 (also part of the prize package), we did some more serious lounging in the room before checkout. Matilda even took a bath, if only to wrap up in the robe and try out the phone in the bathroom.

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Nearly a month later and the kids are still talking about our surprise overnight adventure. I’m so grateful to¬†InterContinental Suites and Cleveland Botanical Gardens for providing such a memorable weekend. I can’t wait to do it again!

Have you ever done an overnight adventure in your town? Or just a surprise trip? We may do another one sooner than the kids think… (like tomorrow night! Shhh! It’s a secret!)

I have a blog? Or Christmas Wrap-Up 2013

Yes, I know Christmas was 23 days ago and it FEELS like it was 2 months ago. But whatever… I want to document what the kids got and what we did over our break. So let’s pretend I have my stuff together and this posted about 22 days ago.

We did our family holiday the weekend before Christmas so the kids basically were showered with gifts for several days. Matilda got a k’nex roller coaster from my parents. The box says age 7+ but there is NO WAY this thing would have been assembled without the help of my 16 year old nephew. It took him, a few adults and several hours for it to be assembled. The parts are many and tiny – even worse then LEGO. However it is very, very cool when assembled and running. Madman got a Tinker Toy set. Madman had played with our old wooden tinker toys when we visited my parents this fall so we knew this would be a hit. I’ve got to say this is the knock-out hit of the year. Both Matilda and Madman have been playing with them non-stop since they were opened.

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tinker toys

My sister’s family got Matilda a set of learn to draw books, HeadBandz and gave Matthew the Imaginext SuperMan Set. From my brother Matilda go Mario Kart while Madman got more Imaginext super hero stuff and a cool rocket.

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On Christmas eve they get to open presents from our dear friend “Aunt” Lindsay. She set Matilda up with great Kirsten accessories – mittens (with matching ones for Matilda), a mini doll for Kirsten and stockings for both stuffed with old-fashioned peppermint sticks and maple candy. Matilda was thrilled she got “pioneer” candy. Madman got a claw grabber which he went crazy over – “I am a robot” he would say as he tormented his sister with the claw. He also got a really great robot book.

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Matilda and Madman also get to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve… Matilda picked out a Spider-Man set for Madman, and he got her the¬†My Little Pony Equestria Girls Twilight Sparkle Doll*. Both were thrilled.

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This year Matilda’s big gift from Santa was a new bike. It was time for her to move up to a larger frame. After doing some research Santa decided that Giant was the way to go. But Santa is cheap and there was no way he was buying a $250 kids bike. Luckily Santa and Craigslist are BFFs and he found a Giant MTX 125 for less than half price. The “boys” and “girls” MTX are the exact same bike but in different colors. So Santa, being practical, got a graphite gray bike since it will eventually be passed down to Madman. Santa thinks ahead like that. He also put some fun reflective decals in Matilda’s stocking so she could decorate it herself. Result: happy girl on her new bike…

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Madman’s big gift from Santa was a crazy Hot Wheels track**, which Santa smartly got during a pre-Thanksgiving sale. Some additional cars in the stocking made this a big hit. That is after Mark put it all together. Santa should think more about assembly next year.

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Rounding out the Santa gifts… Matilda got a skirt, a mini pillow pet, and the Rainbow Dash Equestria Girl. In her stocking she found lip balm and a set of Magic Treehouse books, in addition to the decals mentioned above. Madman got the movie Planes, a mini pillow pet, a few books, and those hot wheels in his stocking.

From us Matilda got a Nurf Rebelle Bow (she LOVES it), Super Mario Brothers for the Wii and more books.

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We gave Madman a remote control car, clothes (which he literally threw over this shoulder, A Christmas Story-style), the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game (you guys Рthis game is awesome for preschoolers!), a Tegu set (I found a great deal on Woot!) and more books.

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Together they got an overnight trip to Maui Sands (thanks Living Social deals!) which we’ll do in February.

Whew! My kids are pretty spoiled! Luckily we did a decent cleaning out of toys before Christmas and donated some older things.

Adding this in just for myself so I remember things in the future… Christmas morning I had prepared cinnamon rolls using the Pioneer Woman’s recipe (I sent half of them to my sister’s house with my parents). Verdict: the icing was WAY too sweet. Will try it again with different icing. Also posting this photo here to record the tree and mantle:

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What was the big gift in your house this year? Can you believe Christmas was less than a month ago?

* Equestria Girls are a terrifying new spin-off of My Little Pony in which the ponies become these weird human-pony hybrids who attend high school… or something. Basically it’s an attempt to keep the little girls who loved MLP interested in the brand as they get older. Matilda has bought into it hook, line and sinker.

**Pay no attention to any of these prices because holy crap, Amazon prizing is crazy. I did most of my shopping before Thanksgiving and the prices were WAY LOWER then. Also, links are not affiliate, just there as an FYI.

The Nutcracker Tradition with Ohio Dance Theater (Giveaway!)

Disclosure: I was invited to a social media night, including a preview of the upcoming Ohio Dance Theater production of The Nutcracker but I was not compensated for this post. I was given tickets to a performance I am unable to attend, so I am giving away those tickets to one of you. As always, my thoughts are 100% my own. I only share events that my family plans to attend or has attended in the past, so I know they are worth the visit. 

I grew up going to The Nutcracker every year and it’s a tradition I’ve carried on with Matilda (when he’s a little older, Madman will join us). I just love the splendor of going to the theater during the holiday season. Not to mention that The Nutcracker is, in my opinion, a great introduction to ballet for kids – it’s got an easy to follow storyline, fantastic action scenes and a magical set. So when Ohio Dance Theater¬†(ODT) and the¬†Niche Parent Network¬†invited me to attend a preview night, I jumped at the chance to get a behind the scenes peek of my favorite ballet.

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I’m going to be honest: before I was contacted to attend this event I had never heard of ODT, mostly because I had limited my searches for shows to the downtown Cleveland area. Forgetting about the strong commitment to the arts in the college town of Oberlin was dumb move on my part because that’s where the critically-acclaimed¬†ODT has been since 1992. And it’s less than an hour away from my house…duh! Having a chance to see what they were all about was an exciting prospect. They have been putting on The Nutcracker for years and this year’s¬†lavish production includes a cast of 20 professional dancers, two trainees, two apprentices and¬†New York City Ballet Principal Dancer, Daniel Ulbricht will be a guest artist. We had such a great time at the preview – seeing a few dances, examining the costumes up close and meeting the professional dancers.

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Matilda and Life in Cleveland’s daughter were inspired to start dancing as soon as the ballerinas were done

Anyway, now I know better and will broaden my search for performances of The Nutcracker in the future, and I’m looking forward to attending other productions put on by this local professional dance company. The good news for you is this…I was given¬†two complementary tickets to attend any Nutcracker performance between¬†December¬†20-22nd¬†at the¬†Stocker Arts Center¬†and I want to pass them on to one of you!

To win the tickets all you have to do is¬†tell me in comments what your is your favorite scene in the Nutcracker or, if you’ve never seen a performance, tell me your favorite holiday tradition.¬†Bonus entry: tweet the following phrase and leave a comment letting me know you tweeted:¬†I want to see @OhioDance perform the¬†#ClevelandNutcracker¬†thanks to @kakaty. ¬†

One comment and one tweet per person (two total possible entries) winner will be randomly selected from comments on this post at noon eastern, Monday, December 16. Good luck!

If you want to see the Nutcracker with Ohio Dance Theatre performances run from Dec 20-22.  You can purchase tickets here.

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The Nutcracker is one of our favorite Christmas traditions. Thanks, Ohio Dance Theater!