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Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

23 Jun

Family vacations for my crew are all about serious adventure, exhausting the kids, and having some new experiences along the way.  I strive every day of vacation to play hard and exhaust my kids physically and mentally.  I aim to stimulate their minds to total exhaustion.  At the end of the day, I hope that they are so tired and overstimulated that they forget to bicker and are forced into a sleep trance by 9 p.m. (which leaves me about 2 hours of quiet adult time to relax).  Flashing back to last summer, we took an adventure to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.  Hands down, this is the most beautiful place I’ve been so far, absolutely breathtaking.  Really this place had it all…plenty to explore, beautiful beaches, amazing people, and tons of adventure.

Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular National Parks in Costa Rica and thought by many to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  It sits on the Pacific Ocean, and it is where the jungle meets the sea.  The monkeys and lizards roam freely on the beach, giving an amazing show and entertaining travelers several times a day.  The beaches are great for surfing,  horseback riding was amazing, and the dining was fantastic.  While the kids would vote the playtime on the beach was the highlight, I think I vote the zip lining as my highlight.  I have to admit that seeing my middle schooler (that knows everything) a little frightened was a bit entertaining.  If you’re reading this Son, stop now.  You might not like the next picture.  Overall for family adventures, Manuel Antonio has it all.

The lodging options are endless in the Manuel Antonio area.  There are rustic hostels to elaborate villas.  Since I was traveling family style and watching a budget is always a concern, I found our dream vacation spot right in the middle. After many hours of research and planning, I decided on a private home in the Tulemar Gardens gated community.  Best decision ever.  The waves on their private beach were perfect and the kids loved the boogie boards and sand toys.  There were cocktails served on the sand and the monkeys were always around to entertain you during the day.  The kids were happy (and exhausted at the end of the day) and I was relaxed.

After a full day of fun in the sun, we settled in to our comfortable home to enjoy a dinner on the patio while watching the sun set.  Casa Panorama was truly a perfect spot for a family or group of friends. Whether we were preparing a great meal in the gourmet kitchen or sitting in the hot tub, this was the perfect home away from home.

So, families looking for a big adventure to exhaust your own little monkeys, Manuel Antonio has it all.  There was always somewhere to explore, waves to ride, and monkeys to watch.

WARNING:  I am not a professional videographer.  Actually, I’m a pretty crappy amateur videographer.   So, if you are prone to motion sickness, watch this at your own risk.  At least it will give you a visual of my monkeys being entertained by some real monkeys and amazing scenery of the jungle meeting the sea.

Traveling with Grandparents

5 Apr

Dedicated to all of the cool Grandparents out there willing to give the “multi-generational travel” thing a chance!




Vacationing with Grandparents can be a great way to spend quality time as a family and really create some fabulous memories.  Getting in quality time with family during crazy holiday visits, birthday parties, and normal routines is hard to come by in our fast paced lifestyle.  I am all about creating memories for my kids, since memories will stay with them forever.

Since our Grandma and Grandpa live out of state, our visits always include sleepovers.  We have spent several days together under one roof, without driving each other totally insane (insane, yes).  Our sleepovers are always at one of our homes, which means that someone has to plan and host.  When the visits are at my home, I’m busy with the daily routine, plus entertaining my guests.  Laundry, bills, cooking, and running kids here and there.  Hubby is busy with work and his iPhone never stops chiming.  The kids are distracted by their friends, the phone, homework, and sports.  All of the daily stuff plus trying to be a good hostess.  The Grandparents do great jumping into our daily routine, fill in where they can, yet are ready to step back out after a few days of the craziness.  We also try to make an annual visit to their world.  It happens to be a 55 and older Country Club community.  This is another story.  We roll in like a tornado and never slow down. When their perfectly organized and quiet home is invaded by 6 people (4 kids and sometimes a dog) it is quite the adventure and not much of a relaxing vacation for anyone.  Controlled chaos at best.  Need I say more?

So, on one of our “regular” visits we started talking about travel, my absolute favorite subject.  We have traveled together in the past…once.   That trip consisted of a little multi-generation camping trip.  I figured if we survived that without any major catastrophe, it was time to go bigger.  So it was decided (after a few glasses of wine I’m sure) to travel together again, go big, and really make it happen.  Costa Rica was a thought, I started planning, and we did it!  It ended up being great and accomplished exactly the goal…a great experience for everyone!

I have to credit a good part of the success to the Grandparents giving up control and trusting my love for planning travel.   We agreed on some dates, set a budget, they booked their flights, and showed up where I told them to go.  Perfect.  No stress in the planning!  Then while on the trip, they rolled with the punches.  They went on the tours I arranged and seemed to enjoy every minute.  They weren’t concerned about the kids making a neighbor crazy (like at their house) and I wasn’t worried about picking up the next big mess.  The kids loved the new and improved Grandpa and Grandma.  While the kids knew that their Grandparents would be meeting us, they were still thrilled.  The look on their faces when two familiar faces appeared in a very unfamiliar place was amazing!

I won’t lie and say that there wasn’t a couple (okay, several) times before our trip that I wasn’t sure if I made the right decision.  I worried if my kids would be too much for my parents and my parents too much for me.  I seemed to forget that being away from the real world and in a vacation frame of mind changes everything…for the better!  Relaxed Grandparents, stress free parents, and rested kids makes for an amazing visit.  This time away with the Grandparents allowed for some of the most amazing memories.  My kids will always remember the special time they each had with each grandparent.  No distractions and no real worries, unless you call where to eat dinner a stress.

While I am fairly new at planning this multi-generational travel, I feel really good about the couple trips we have shared .  I think I can consider it successful if we can’t wait to plan the next one!  Here are a few decisions we made that I felt were a big part in making our trip so amazing…

We traveled separately and met at the destination.  Dragging a retired couple though the travel sagas of our family, on planes and in airports, would have been ugly .  The stress of that alone could have pushed even the most most doting grandparent over the deep end.  We even chose to spend few days alone before meeting up.  Great decision.  My kids were all relaxed, adjusted, and had some great adventure stories to share.

We made sure Grandma & Grandpa were set up with some of their own space.  We rented a house with an attached studio apartment in Costa Rica.  It worked perfect.  They could escape for some R & R and it gave our family a little space as well.  We didn’t invite them along to be built in childcare, we wanted them to have a great time too!

I planned a couple activities to let the kids see that the older generation is not all boring.  Kayaking, boogie boarding, and zip lining.  Watching Grandpa zip line through the jungle was a mind blowing experience for my “cooler- than-cool” preteen.

This experience was able to to create some great memories and let my kids see a very different side of their Grandparents.  As a whole, it was awesome and we would do it again in a heartbeat.  The memories that were created will last a lifetime.  Now to decide where to drag Grandma and Grandpa next year!

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica

17 Mar

Costa Rica boasts a reputation of being an ultimate destination for adventure seeking travelers.  Being the Mom to 4 active, adventurous, and energy filled kids, I felt that this could make the perfect vacation.  Wow, was I ever right!  The only problem with Costa Rica is that there is so many great family friendly places to visit, it’s hard to decide.  I spent hours researching locations and took into account so many different factors.  I was seeking out an area that would keep our kids entertained and hoped to find a hotel that did not just cater to newlyweds or retired couples.  Also, the price needed to be reasonable, we are not really interested in tapping into our kids’ college funds to pay for a 3 night hotel stay.

After hours of research, I decided that my family would explore the Arenal Volcano region, while staying at the Los Lagos Resort.  La Fortuna is a small town about 3 hours from SJO and sits right at the base of the Arenal Volcano.  While the volcano was not currently active at the time, it was still a great sight to see.  The general area is filled with amazing and entertaining activities that kept the whole family busy.  We hiked through the hanging bridges, where saw amazing bugs, birds and reptiles (a dream come true for little boys).  We walked down several hundred steps to view the spectacular La Paz waterfall and even took a quick swim in the river .  Also in the area is the El Silencio trail where we were able see hear howler monkeys howling in the distance at dusk.  I have to admit it was a little eerie, but hey  it worked as a great discipline method for the rest of the trip.  We could just bring up staying the night in the jungle with the monkeys and the kids immediately did as we asked.  Yes, I do use bribery and false threats at times as my discipline method.  Fine parenting moment.

Los Lagos Resort ended up being the perfect base camp for our family.  It is by far, not the most luxurious hotel in the area, but it is not anywhere near a budget hotel either.  I’m always in search of hotels that have a good mix of people also.  I would go nuts at a hotel that was so full of kids where it felt like a daycare center, yet being surrounded by a bunch of honeymooners would be equally tough.  My goal of traveling with my family isn’t to scare every young couple out of ever procreating (and trust me, my family could have the potential of doing just that).  This hotel was the perfect mix of all types of people, exactly what I love.  The rooms were clean and the bugs were minimal in our room.  Remember, you are in the rainforest of Costa Rica.  There was an outdoor patio, so we could enjoy the morning with our coffee while the kids slept a little later each morning.  The room rates were reasonable and included an amazing breakfast buffet in the price.  We slept great each night and started off each day  with a full stomach!

While the rooms were great, the grounds of  Los Lagos were even better.  There were several hot springs at a variety of temperatures to explore, three watersides, all sorts of structures to jump from, and a swim up bar.  What more could I ask for?  They had a crocodile, frog, ant and  butterfly farm, as well as a hike from the property up near the volcano.  Part 1 of Costa Rica was absolutely amazing and we can’t wait to visit again.  As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida”!

Costa Rica by Land

24 Feb

This past summer, our family set out for a jungle adventure of a lifetime.  Off we flew to the beautiful and amazing country of Costa Rica. We couldn’t wait to see the monkeys, toucans and hopefully a few sloths.  Costa Rica has so much to see and so many incredible places to visit.  With a timeline of only 10 days, I planned carefully and settled on 2 different areas to visit.  Both locations were a bit of a distance from each other, but what’s a couple hundred miles?  I then had to make the decision if we would catch jumper flights or just hit the roads of Central America.  When traveling with 6 people, cost is always a consideration.  Also, I want to keep in perspective that trips with my kids are meant to be a learning experience as well.  So with little hesitation, I decided we would travel by land and make it an adventure while exploring the country.  Reflecting back, I am thankful that I at least had enough sense to hire a driver to to the driving.

The family loaded into a nicely air conditioned 12 passenger van and the bickering between kids began.  There were 4 rows and 6 people.  Really it’s simple math, each person can’t  have their own row.  Also, only 2 people can sit in the front row, not 4 kids.  This was the theme of every stop we made.  As for stops, we made a lot, so there was a lot of fighting.  Also, hiring a driver meant that we had another person in the van and they were in control of the driving.  It makes it hard for us parents to threaten to pull over and leave the kids on the side of the road, in the middle of a foreign county, to help stop the bickering. I knew things must have been bad when the tour guide moved to the back and politely insisted that my middle schooler sat up front with the driver.  So, we resorted to bribery of anything with sugar and it managed to keep the peace (somewhat).

We drove through amazing small villages & surf towns, near the highest elevations of Costa Rica, chatted with locals, and made our own sugar cane juice.  Our tour guide had binoculars and could spot wildlife out of nowhere.  It was amazing!  The kids observed the world around them and actually asked amazing questions through the teasing, crying, fighting, and spills. We were going to survive and maybe not totally lose our sanity…so we thought.  The last hour of the longest day ever (the only 200 mile day..haha), was the longest hour of our trip.  My 7 year old said, “I’ve seen enough damn toucans and I am DONE”!  (We can thank his wonderful language to his viewing of the Jack Ass movie on the redeye flight to CR as Dad slept peacefully).  As parents know, when one link in the family unit falls apart the whole thing can get very ugly.  We did arrive to our destination and didn’t leave any of our kids on the side of the road.

As the shock of the longest day ever wore off and the reality set in, I realized what we had experienced.  We covered the gound of one of the most beautiful places in the world.  My kids saw things they would have never seen from a plane.  I laugh about it now and I wouldn’t change a thing.  We created the most amazing memories with our family, but next time I think we’ll stay away from 200 mile drives!