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.

Update: Giveaway closed.

This is a sponsored post.

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Family Fun At Kalahari Waterpark, Resorts & Convention Center in the Poconos

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I didn’t think that I was the waterpark getaway type of mom.  Or at least not the sort of parent who views chasing children around in her bathing suit, while flying out of massive waterslides like an exploding mom-cannon, as a legitimate vacation.  Boy, was I wrong.  After a long weekend adventure, just two hours outside of NYC, at Pennsylvania’s largest indoor waterpark, Kalahari Waterpark, Resorts & Convention Center, set in Pocono Manor, the entire family (yes, adults included!) can’t wait to plan our next trip back.

We knew that we were somewhere special as soon as we pulled up to the sprawling African-themed property. A Kalahari vacation is indeed magic; here’s why:

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Waterpark + Family Entertainment Center

With a massive 100,000-square-foot, indoor waterpark boasting a retractable roof, several raft and tube waterslides, a designated little kiddie area and so much more; it’s difficult to adequately capture the playful utopia that is Kalahari.  The resort truly offers something for everyone.  The little ones find fun in Tiko’s Watering Hole with mini slides, swings, water play tables and a pint-sized lazy river.  The Lost Lagoon features a pool for shooting hoops and adults even have their own kid-free spot at the Thirsty Turtle Swim Up Bar.  We all enjoyed the indoor/outdoor hot tub, and my eight-year-old daughter was lucky enough to experience one of the resorts newest offerings in both Mermaid Swim School and FlowRider private lessons. It’s also important to note that the resort is immaculately clean and new! We noticed repeated water checks and tons of staff assisting in keeping everything in order.  Our entire waterpark experience was elevated with private cabana access featuring comfy chaise lounges, a flat screen TV and security safe, food service and other convenient amenities. To say that the entire family had a blast is truly an understatement!  Pinning for the twist and turns of the big waterslides, my husband and I took turns shooting down the slides with our daughter, while our little guy couldn’t get enough of the splash areas and mini slides.  The entire family had so much fun gliding down the lazy river together without a thought of what was going on outside of the resort.

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This was our first experience in an arcade of this magnitude (30,000-square-feet!).  The children’s eyes widened with wonderment as they racked up tickets to redeem for special trinkets through a kaleidoscope of colors and lights.  I’m fairly certain that my husband had as much fun in Kalahari’s Family Entertainment Center as the kiddos did.

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The Food

With nine dining options including three full-service restaurants to grab and go cafes, there’s extensive family-friendly dining options for everyone.  We found our personal favorite in Brandberg, a classic tavern with a modern twist featuring excellent food, one-of-a-kind drinks and a fresh and savvy wine list.  On Saturday mornings, Brandberg is transformed into an interactive breakfast party at Kenya’s Surprise Birthday Character Breakfast including a dance party with Kalahari’s characters. The kids also enjoyed having a go at candy apple making at the the Last Bite, where their homemade fudge is out of this world!

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Accommodations:

With 457 guest rooms and suites, we experienced Kalahari from a ground level Two Room Family Suite, including two separate attached rooms with a king size bed, two queens size beds, two full bathrooms, a fireplace, queen size pullout sofa and backyard patio area.  The ground level placement was key for quick entry to the waterpark and arcade.  And we appreciated the convenient wristband system allowing access to our room and facilities. The children adored the many thoughtful Kalahari touches including animal safari configured towel placement in their rooms, and milk and cookies at night. And we all loved the convenience of two showers! After evening story time with Kenya in the lobby, we looked forward to collapsing into the comfiest of beds to start our adventuring bright and early.

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With visions of holding my little boy’s hand down waterslides, more “again mommy!” pleas than I can possibly count, and all around wholehearted family fun, we are truly grateful for the collection of memories added to our family story.

All aspects of this press trip were provided by Kalahari for editorial consideration, however, opinions, as always, are my own

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A Manhattan Weekend

There’s no way that we’d abandon family getaways just because the fluidity of summer is over.  At the start of a new school year, we may not have sunny-season spontaneity  – but we do have staycations!  And vacations in our own magnificent city allows us to better appreciate all that New York City has to offer.

On the first official after-school Friday, we barreled down the subway steps, with bags in hand to enjoy a long weekend at the beautiful Omni Berkshire Place. Located in the heart-of-the-city, with access to everything, and a unique Omni Sensational Kids Program to make tiny travelers feel special (hello milk and cookies room delivery!).

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“Look at at these goodies!” the kiddos, declared upon receiving backpacks at check-in.  We could have lingered in our luxe 5th Avenue Corner Suite all evening amidst newfound comforts and the fun contents of sweet new packs – but we had city adventuring to do.

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Just a few blocks away is The Sony Wonder Technology Lab.  It’s one of our favorite FREE activities to explore with kids in NYC.  The interactive exhibits merging technology and creativity make for really neat learning experiences. The kids mixed beats with a virtual Alica Keys and learned how sensors and cameras sense body movements to control characters in the Motion Capture Digital Studio.

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We spent the good portion of Saturday meeting lemurs, snakes, grizzly bears and more at the  Central Park Zoo. It had been a while since our last visit and seeing wildlife in such proximity never ceases to blow our minds. We were all quite taken with the animal rescue stories – including that of bears Betty and Veronica, rescued from Montana and Yellowstone National Park after becoming too bold in their interactions with humans.

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Although the evening forecast held a possibility of rain, we couldn’t miss the annual Feast of San Gennaro.  We hopped the subway, just steps away from our hotel right down to historic Little Italy.  The streets were brimming with spirit and all things Italian, and the kiddos stayed up way past their bedtimes taking it all in.

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After a delicious dinner (including my favorite stuffed artichoke!), we hopped back on the subway for a short trip “home”.  Upon arriving to a torrential downpour, we appreciated our comfortable accommodations more than ever.  Hot showers, ample room to unwind and disintegrating into dreamlike beds provided the perfect antidote to our long day traipsing all over Manhattan.

Sunday was filled with leisurely time in Central Park, shopping on 5th Avenue and visiting The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Again, all in convenient walking distance from the Omni Berkshire Place.

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Nestled between 52nd Street and Madison Avenue, The Omni Berkshire Place’s convenient location also provides what felt like a sound-proof barrier to the typical urban-soundtrack expected in New York City.  My husband and I kept mentioning how quiet and peaceful it was, late at night into the early mornings. I loved escaping to their state-of-the-art fitness center and also enjoyed getting up before everyone else to jog on a practically empty Madison Avenue.

The convenient location and ways in which the Omni prioritizes family travel quickly made it among our favorite city spots to stay.  The bedroom in our 20th-floor corner suite had two double beds with the option of using a pull-out couch in the living room area.  We’re grateful for the warm welcome and imagine that the children will remember the rich experiences added to our family story and the little luxuries that make hotel visits so incredibly memorable in childhood.

A photo posted by Monica (@marinobambinos) on

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Special thank you to the Omni Berkshire Hotel for the hosted stay. Opinions, as always, are my own.

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A City Staycation

Summer Monica, my husband coined, in response to my perpetual pleas to adventure and travel as a family as much as possible.  There’s something about the fleeting summer months that stir up a strong sense of wanderlust.  The children aren’t bound by school commitments, and the beautiful temps lend way to spontaneity in plans.

We took off for a beach vacation the day that school ended – igniting our favorite season in the best way possible.  Since that time, my husband’s business is busier than ever and on most nights he’s not home to tuck in the kids, or join us to catch the local beach sundowns that colored our summers past.  So when an opportunity arouse for a sponsored Marriott staycation in the heart of New York City via Influence Central – we were certainly up for the getaway.

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Determined to tackle the weekend like consummate tourists we mapped out the best ways to celebrate childhood, experience culture and famous city spots relatively close to home at the Marriott’s East Side location. Beginning in Central Park, the kiddos were elated to spot the kaleidoscope of colors approaching Victorian Gardens.  We had never been so early on a weekend, when rides were met with no lines and requests of “one more time!” were always met with “yes!”.

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A first for us all was a visit to the Top of The Rock, where the choppers fly so incredibly close, even the tiniest of tourists can see the passengers waving.  I let myself get over the barrage of selfie-sticks to feel the palpable collective excitement buzzing through that iconic spot way up high in the sky. We took in unobstructed views of New York City landmarks unlike we ever had before and enjoyed walking around Rockefeller Center’s greatest hits including the massive LEGO store.

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Family art days are always a priority, and there are so many incredible opportunities to nurture creativity here in New York City.  We took another walk through the Guggenheim’s Storylines exhibit and finally made our way to the Cooper Hewitt where we all had a go at designing wallpaper in the Immersion Room.

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Despite all the fun we had traipsing around the city, I suppose that we all would have been content simply hanging out at our comfortable digs at the Marriott.  The children certainly made themselves right at home in lightning speed.

A photo posted by Monica (@marinobambinos) on

The sophisticated family-connect rooms elevated our hotel experience with ample space (two rooms and bathrooms!) met by a connecting door. Since the kids are little, we chose to keep the adjoining door open – and when they awoke like clockwork on their super-early schedule the TV in THEIR room (complete with Netflix!) was a parents’ saving grace.

From Aruba to Connecticut we’ve stayed at several Marriott locations, and their East Side location proved to be a gem in this city saturated with hotels.  We indulged in an amazing dinner at 525LEX Restaurant & Lounge located inside the hotel and looked forward to collapsing in the comfiest of beds after walking all day.

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The staff made us feel like true vacationers and the amenities like free WiFi, a great gym, healthy breakfast and business center allowed us to take care of the details that we couldn’t neglect over the weekend.

The ways in which experiences are contextualized in the minds of my children is what the crux of family travel is all about.

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Upon tiny notes that fill up books that tell our family story.

Special thank you to the Marriott East Side Team (including manager Daniel W.) and Influence Central for the hosted stay. 

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Family Glamping at Firelight Camps

When are we ever going to sleep in a tent, mama?” my seven-year-old pleaded after sifting through shoe-box photos from my New England childhood.  There’s something about the impending end of the school year that stirred up a sense of adventure in all of us –  but I was unsure about my overall confidence in successful family camping. Adjusting rocks under sleeping bags and schlepping all the proper gear perhaps just isn’t my speed anymore.

So when we were invited to go “glamping” (aka glamorous camping) at Firelight Camps, in Ithaca NY, we couldn’t wait to experience this rising travel trend.  We’d get to sleep in a tent with luxe amenities and be immersed in the outdoors – without roughing it on our own in the dirt.

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Located on the lower grounds of La Tourelle Resort & Spa, our large canvas tent (#15) came equipped with elevated hardwood floors, a king-size bed with 300-thread-count-linens, a private balcony, personal lanterns, mesh screening, and serious safari style.  A bathhouse, showers, and central lounge tent are just a short walk away with complementary locally-inspired breakfast and wine hour in the evenings. From girls glamping getaways to family summer camp experiences, and primitive pursuits Firelight Camps offers so many ways to experience an unforgettable fill of the outdoors in serene comfort.

We didn’t realize how badly we needed a family escape – disconnected out in nature – until we were in the midst of it.  With a direct path to the picturesque Buttermilk Falls State Park, we spent the majority of our time wandering around the property, and off in the trails admiring the lush forests, waterfalls and gorge-laden beauty of the Finger Lakes.

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I suppose that I went into this trip excited to teach the children about my love of nature with experiences gleaned from my childhood and time spent living on Oahu.  But as life often goes the kids are the ones who guide and lead us.

They remind us to stop and look up.

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And take as much time as needed to explore and pause and collect our thoughts.

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The beauty in this trip was found in the simplicity of being together, unplugged.

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And watching excitement over new discoveries and experiences.

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S’more-making experts by visits end.

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We had great conversations with our fellow glampers around the campfire well into the evening hours.  Over glasses of local wine, we made instant friends – meeting people who also found humor in my husband’s poncho.

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At night, we returned to our tent with a lantern in hand, admiring nature silhouetting on our massive canvas walls.  We laughed until our bellies hurt after I lost my cool over an Olympic-sized daddy long legs.  While the kids told stories of big hawks, jumping frogs and walking through real-life waterfalls.  Cocooned in our tent, we fell asleep to the tranquil sounds of the wind whistling through the trees and the hum of an epic downpour.

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Elevated camping indeed.

 Accommodations provided by Firelight Camps.  Content and opinions, as always, are my own.

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