Water Country USA: The Ultimate Summer Family Vacation

Underwater-photography-kids-GoPro-Hero5We hope you’ll find some helpful tips to plan the ultimate summer family vacation at Busch Gardens VA and Water Country USA.

A trip to Busch Gardens VA was already on our family bucket list.  It’s a popular family destination for New Yorkers, whether traveling by car or by plane.  So when we had the chance to experience Water Country USA (just down the road from Busch Gardens), we knew it would be a memorable way to mark the official kick-off to summer!

After a fun vacation, full of whipping down water slides like an exploding-mom-cannon, hearing chants of “ONE MORE TIME!” on repeat, and waiting at the bottom of rides for my super-enthusiastic kiddos, we have a few helpful tips to share.

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UNLEASH YOUR INNER CHILD: When my kids immediately expressed their love for the Nitro Racer freeway, I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as I hightailed it up the line and then came sliding down like an out-of-control belly-down-mom-torpedo.  And the kids continue to talk about the funny expressions and noises that their dad made while rafting together down the adrenaline-packed rides (“He was more scared than we were!!!”).  In our experience, the kiddos love to see their parents let loose and dive head first into fun.  While many of the rides can accommodate for all four of us, there were plenty of times when my husband and I playfully argued about who could go first.  Bring your inner child; the rides are that much fun!

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Map Out a Plan: With a ton of thrilling rides and attractions, it’s great to have a plan. Our do-not-miss favorites include Big Daddy Falls, Aquazoid, Hubba Hubba Highway, Colossal Curl, Nitro Racer and more.

Our kids are on the cusp of being tall enough for many of the thrilling rides while still appreciating the kid-friendly attractions for ages nine and younger.  If you have little ones, there’s plenty of areas designed for their fun at Kritter Korral, H20 UFO, Cow-A-Bunga, and many others.

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GO FOR THE QUICK QUEUE: The option of purchasing Quick Queue will grant you access to short lines and even shorter walks to the top of a few rides. Although your day will certainly still be a blast sans Quick Queue, the passes spit our kids out of the bottom of their favorite rides faster than we could have imagined.

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DINE IT:  With a bunch of delicious dining options, our group consensus led us to Tex-Mex at Hot Spots Cafe.  The kiddos went for chicken tacos, while my husband and I filled up on salads.  The kids will never let a promised vacation-treat be missed, and there are so many fun options for dessert, other than what I assumed they’d go for (ice cream!). Also, don’t forget to purchase a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated.

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RENT A CABANA:  Elevate your park experience with your own private shaded area to settle in, store your belongings, hydrate and relax.  A cabana rental comes with a private attendant, locker rental, two drinks per person and even towels to take home as souvenirs.   Even though the park is packed with ample loungers and locker rentals, there’s nothing like having a central (and private!) VIP spot to rest sun-tired bodies after the important work of splish-splashing down water slides.

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GRAB A SOUVENIR: While we’re big on choosing experiences over things, allowing the kids to select a small souvenir is a fun way to add to the vacation memories. In addition to every possible water park necessity, all of the shops are filled with fun trinkets galore.  The kids each chose a goodie from Wipeout Gifts and Apparel.  This is also the spot to grab a new suit and cover-up if you need one! They’ve got you styled with options from Roxy, Quicksilver, Salt Life, and more.

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Get in the Picture:  Special vacation memories quickly become an important part of our collective family story.  And while I’m often on the other side of the lens (like a lot of parents), family photos are important! Our trip to Williamsburg VA is certainly one for the memory books. We can’t wait to return!

Win It! The generous team at Busch Gardens VA wants to set your summer off to a fantastic start with a $100 VISA Gift Card Giveaway for one lucky winner.  Entry is simply: Just leave a comment on this post telling us what you’re looking forward to this summer and follow the official rules below.

Entry Instructions:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post (let us know what you’re looking forward to this summer!).

2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#Sweeps” and “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post. Example tweetEnter to win a $100 VISA GC #sweeps via @MarinoBambinos & check out Water Country USA travel tips #SweepstakesEntry http://www.marinobambinos.com/2017/07/water-country-usa-the-ultimate-summer-family-vacation/

3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from SheKnows via the sweeps@sheknows email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 7/13-9/30/2017

Be sure to visit the brand page on SheKnows.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

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Family Travel Tips for Parents on the Go

We just returned from an exciting trip with Disney World and Disney Cruise Line, and can’t wait to share the incredible things that will soon come to Disney parks! Since this was a work and play trip combined, I remembered a few helpful family travel tips for parents on the go, to help streamline the process of traveling with kids.

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  • If Capable, Have Kids Carry Their Gear

I can’t stress enough how important it is to begin this step early!  Whether you’re heading to the beach or getting on a plane, help teach kids accountability by having them carry their backpacks or push a small carry on suitcase through the airport.  Keep the size and weight manageable and stick to this expectation on every excursion.

  • Pick your Mom (or Dad) Bag Wisely

During my hunt for a reliable bag, I couldn’t believe how many brands decided to omit external pockets designed to hold water bottles. I’ve learned to keep my electronics and expensive camera lenses far away from liquids, and have found a solution in sticking with diaper bags.  All of our favorite bags (find great tips on finding the perfect diaper bag here!) are super stylish and modern and in no way scream baby bag! And best of all, they offer, secure places to store large water bottles, stash away valuables, and even tuck in camera lenses.  We need solid compartments galore with comfort and functionality.  I’ve also often gone for neutral colors so my husband can carry the bag when needed.

  • Print and Color Code Calendars

As much as we try to rely on digital calendars, there is nothing like having a clear and concise calendar in a visible spot to keep the entire family informed. On our recent trip, I was required to be in different places than my husband and kids on most days.  A color-coded calendar allowed the kids and my husband to see exactly what was expected of me, and where they’d find pockets of free time along with scheduled family events.

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  • Clear Compartments are your Friend

When a nine-day trip required two hotel changes and a switch to a cruise line, our packing game left something to be desired.  I did, however, pick up an assortment of clear travel pouches from a local discount store.  Having things visibly organized helped a ton! From medications, make-up, electronic chargers, my daughter’s hair accessories, to sunblock and more – not having to search for things saved time while on vacation.

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  • Plan For the Last Day

The final day of vacation is always a drag as it’s time to pack up, head to the airport and face reality! My husband and I gave each other a look when we passed the exact spot in the Orlando airport where we experienced total family chaos just nine months prior, as we tried to rearrange suitcase weights and find warm clothes for the kids. We learned from our mistakes and laid out the kids’ travel clothes the night prior, also packing everything away as concisely as possible. TIP! If you’re leaving a cruise ship, skip the breakfast and order room service the NIGHT BEFORE. As long as the Thermos top is tightly secured, your coffee will be piping hot in the morning, AND you’ll save precious time getting your family off the ship.

Hope these tips are helpful and have fun on your next adventure!

This post is sponsored by Quidsi.  However, all opinions and travel tips are my own.

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A Weekend in Connecticut

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Midsummer feels like a whirlwind of activity, and we’re choosing to see that seasonal glass as half-full. There’s still a ton of gloriously spontaneous weeks to enjoy – and like previous summers – we like to take off on micro-adventures with minimal planning.

Connecticut is truly a gem for family travel, and I’m not just saying that because it’s my home state. Whenever we head back to visit my mama, I think about how it’s such a lovely spot to explore.  And so we decided to make a mini-vacation out of a weekend (on a whim), complete with a hotel pool – which equals guaranteed happiness for a six and eight-year-old.

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Our days were filled with letting the kids loose in my childhood backyard, visiting a local park, enjoying home cooked meals (and tasty restaurants in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square), checking out the historic Bushnell Carousel – and people watching droves of Pokémon Go players on the lawn of the capitol building. That said, thunder and lightening challenged all we sent out to do, but the messy weather was definitely combated by our comfy stay at Homewood Suites by Hilton in Farmington CT. Unlike the hotel hub of Hartford, we appreciate the ease of being able to park our car in the enclosed lot, and adore the comfortable room layouts while traveling with our children.  Naturally, the kids went bananas over the pool  – and all of the yummy options at the complimentary morning breakfast – while the adults praised the separate living room area for the early morning risers to indulge in coveted cartoons!

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My husband was the one who suggested this trip  – and Hilton’s TravelMANager makes the vacation planning straightforward and simple when staying with Homewood Suites or Home2 Suites by Hilton.  He’s even planning our next getaway and taking advantage of their 25% savings on weekends!

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We may have had to alter our plans but the comfort of our weekend digs allowed us to embrace the unexpected summer storms and enjoy the pleasures of cozying up indoors as a family.

Thank you to Homewood Suites by Hilton for hosting us.  Opinions, as always, are my own.

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Kalahari Resorts Trip Giveaway!

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Did you all catch our story a few months ago about our family trip to Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Pocono Mountains? The entire family is obsessed (adults included!).  So much so that the kids continue to talk about our time at Kalahari.  As Pennsylvania’s largest indoor waterpark, Kalahari is seriously a blast for all ages and the sort of memorable fun for the entire family. We’re so excited to partner with this incredible family vacation destination to giveaway a trip to one lucky family!

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With impeccably clean African themed grounds, lazy rivers, fun waterslides, a designated kiddie area, spa, Flow Rider, adults-only swim-up bar, mind-blowing entertainment center, incredible dining options and so much more – Kalahari is truly a blast for all ages. And the comfortable, spacious room accommodations provide great respite for passing out after a solid day at the waterpark. Which you absolutely will do!  Check out all the details of our family travel story – where we tested out all that Kalahari has to offer.  We can’t think of a better place to beat the heat this summer!

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Win it! Enter to win a one night stay (which includes two full days at the waterpark!) for a family of four to Kalahari Resorts and Conventions in the Ponocons.  Enter via the rafflecoter below. Best of luck and thanks for visiting.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winner chooses stay between Sunday-Thursday dates. If needed, the winner may add two additional guests for $25 per person.  Prize expires within one year of issue date. 

This is a sponsored post.

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Where Dreams Come True: A Walt Disney World Vacation with Disney SMMC

If there was ever a time that I was desperate for uplifting news, it was the day that the invitation to the 2016 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration came in.  In-route to face the hardest days of my life, I had happy news to carry with me.

We had happy news to carry with us.

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Kids are natural joy-spreaders. This superpower is hardwired into the very core of their beings.  Heading with my husband and super-excited children to the most magical place on earth, while clinging to their joy, was indeed enchantment personified.

“The greatest natural resource is in the minds of our children.” ~ Walt Disney

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We visited Disney as a family once prior, two and half years ago.  And this recent trip was certainly elevated by staying on Disney Resorts property for the first time.  As guests at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, we experienced the ways in which everything fits together so seamlessly while vacationing on Disney property.  From our Magical Express pickup to utilizing the intuitive MagicBand system, all while being in a short walking distance to Epcot, the magic carried through our charming stay at the resort.

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While I attended the #DisneySMMC conference, my husband had a day alone with the children at the Magic Kingdom.  Nearly every text that he sent me was wrapped in glowing superlatives and exclamation marks, which is definitely not his usual tone in communication!  He was thrilled to be off creating a cherished day with our littles – while I had an inside view of what’s to come to Disney.  From inspirational speakers, sensational performances and early looks into movies including “Finding Dory” and “Alice Through The Looking Glass” – my family was completely blown away by the #DisneySMMC experience and the intricate attention to detail that is synonymous with the Disney brand.  We’re excited to continue to share more stories with info gleaned from the conference, including the introduction of a new, resilient, and strong female character- Princess Elena of Avalor – Disney’s first Latina Princess.

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Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Image via Disney’s Memory Maker gifted to conference attendees. 

During our stay, we hit up every park from morning till closing, and once again, Walt Disney World treated us in ways that we want to emulate. In a place of long lines and children pining for their turns on rides – every cast member we encountered was patient, kind and helpful; while making each child feel incredibly special.

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In just one week, we collected what felt like a lifetime of memories. I imagine that I’ll always remember the children’s wide-eyed wonderment as we stepped onto Main Street USA, where music plays, parades float by, and the scent of fresh cookies streams throughout the warm Florida sky.  Our long list of treasured moments is filled with riding my favorite whimsical ride (it’s a small world) as a family, holding hands through elaborate parades, thrilling rides, and spectacular fireworks. In a place where childhood dreams are built upon seeing Cinderella’s illuminated castle, meeting beloved characters and watching Tinkerbell fly through the night sky – we now understand why some families make Disney a repeat pilgrimage.

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The timing and circumstances surrounding our Disney vacation will forever carry tremendous meaning.  According to our five-year-old, this particular trip came to fruition because “Disney and heaven talk to each other.”

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Perhaps, he’s right.

 

A photo posted by Monica (@marinobambinos) on

Thank you to the Disney Social Media Moms team and Walt Disney world for having us at the year’s DisneySMMC. We are grateful to have been included.  As always, all opinions are my own.

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A Couples Pocono Getaway To Mount Airy Casino Resort

With back-to-back weekend getaways in Pennsylvania’s storied Pocono Mountains, I think that we may have figured out the secret sauce to travel in parenthood. Embark on a vacation with the kids and the following weekend book one without themMy husband and I smiled as we passed the signs for the family-friendly waterpark that we took the kids to the weekend prior – but were elated as we pulled up to the picturesque Mount Airy Casino Resort for a much-needed couples getaway.

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Located just 90 minutes outside of NYC, we first dropped the kiddos off at the grandparents in New Jersey and then zipped into the Northern Pennsylvania Mountains in no time.  When I stepped into the Four-Diamond property, I felt as if I had entered an alternate universe.  A massive fountain and lavish decorations adorned the sprawling entrance, and our luxe room offered the sort of respite that my husband and I needed.  Amidst a vibrant nightlife, and the hum of dinging slot machines, there were no signs of heart-shaped hot tubs and shag carpeting reminiscent of the old Mount Airy Lodge – well-known during the era of Pocono-bound honeymooners.

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After checking in we high-tailed it to our dinner date at Guy Fiere’s Mt. Pocono Kitchen for delicious American cuisine in a casual atmosphere.  Celebratory drinks and flavorful food were in order!

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With palettes hardwired for Italian fare, the highlight of our dining experience took place at Bistecca by IL MULINO.  With Abruzzo’s cuisine’s local seafood, hand-crafted pasta, farm fresh vegetables, and an extensive wine list, we were well taken care of in every aspect.

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Escaping to the full-service spa was an absolute dream for a Signature Massage with essential oils. After leaving the lounge positively rejuvenated from the massage, steam and rain shower, I met my husband at the 84° Get Wet Pool for perhaps the only kids-free swim we’ve had in years! Now in-season for outdoor access with a pool-side bar and private cabanas, it’s an ideal place to lounge, have fun and catch some sun.

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Since we’re not big gamers, the biggest surprise came on the casino floor.  Albeit smoky, we never expected to find ourselves emersed in late-night fun, high-fiving other guests in collective excitement when we all emerged as winners. We also caught a Chicago cover band at Gypsies Lounge where we had a blast belting out tunes.  We both apparently knew all the lyrics!

Mornings were met with trips to the onsite Starbucks, indulging in decadent room service, and walks around the serene and lush property.

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In this getaway, we found glimpses of the dynamic of our relationship before the kiddos came along.  And we remembered the importance of prioritizing our time alone, to relax and live together in those moments of fun.  Thank you, Mount Airy, for hosting us!

Resort and all accommodations provided for editorial consideration. Opinions as always are my own.

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