A Look Back to Family Travel 2011

Although we are a few days into 2012, our recent family trip to Keystone resort is still fresh in our mind, the first ski experience on one of the best family ski resort in Colorado. So to keep up with our tradition, we have our review post looking back to our family travel last year. It was a fun year!

January: Snow in Atlanta

Atlanta Snow 2011 Snow Tubing

It’s not often or should I say NEVER that Atlanta metro area will get seven inches of snow in winter. So it was a real big treat for our kids to enjoy snow tubing (home-made style) at our own backyard. The snow storm in Atlanta shut down the whole city a whole week. For adults, the cabin fever started to set in but for kids it was like an unexpected winter break!

February: Indoor Water Park fun

Wilderness at the Smokies Tube Slides

We went up to Sevierville, Tennessee to help celebrate our friend’s birthday. An indoor water park at Wilderness in the Smokies is a great year round fun where kids (and adults) can enjoy swimming, sliding, surfing and more in the heated environment even in the middle of winter.

March: Mickey Memory with Disney Social Media Mom

Disney Grand Floridian Carriage

This month we drove down to our familiar vacation spot in Orlando to attend the Disney Social Media Mom 2011 where we learned, laughed and connected with bloggers. It was our first time staying at the Disney’s Grand Floridian Spa & Resort and it was an experience we won’t easily forget. Mr. Z also experienced a big kid ride and hooked on the roller coaster now!

April: Fun in Atlanta at Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium Atlanta

In Spring, we stayed close to home and enjoy local  attractions in Atlanta like the Grand opening of new Dolphin Tale show at the Georgia Aquarium, the beautiful day at Piedmont Park for the Dogwood Festival

May: Birthday Celebration at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Disney Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest With Kids

This year we took another trip down to Orlando to celebrate Mr. Rojo’s birthday at the Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. We hardly stayed at the Disney’s resorts previously because our family has a timeshare in Orlando but year 2011 we stayed in not just one but two property! And I have to say I understand why people keep going back year after year!

June: Summer fun in Seattle & Vancouver

Seattle With Kids - Waterfront

Our big summer trip this year was a two weeks trip to Seattle and Vancouver. It was a business/family trip combo. I attended TBEX 2011, the Travel bloggers conference, in Vancouver and we also enjoyed family vacation in Seattle.

July: Family Reunion in the Ozark & Side trip to St. Louis

St Louis with Kids Enjoy the Arch view

Our first family reunion was planned at the YMCA of the Ozark. It was wonderful for kids to meet and play with their cousins. We also took a little detour to visit St. Louis, MO. A fun day but not nearly enough to discover this gem in the Midwest.

August: Back to School

Summer time flew by when you had so much fun. Before we knew it, the kids were back in school. Yes, here in Atlanta we go back to school in August!

September: Myrtle Beach on Labor Day

Myrtle Beach with Kids: Kayaking with kids

Now, that kids are in school, we have to work around school holidays and take advantage of every holidays we can get. So we planned a short break during Labor Day weekend to visit Myrtle Beach. What a fun place for the whole family! We found that Myrtle Beach is not just a place for fun time at the beach or various family entertainments like MagiQuest but we could also enjoy nature like Kayak tour.

October: Fall Family Camping

In October, we had our first fall family camping trip with a group of our friends at Redtop Mountain Park. It was beautiful even though a bit too cold for this tropical girl. Kids, on the other hand, had no problem with the cold temperature at night when they had the whole park to explore. The water in the lake was too cold for anyone of us to dare going in. But we knew it will be a great place to camp again in the summer.

November: Legoland Florida

During the Thanksgiving break, we went to visit the recently opened Legoland Florida. Mr. Z was beyond happy to be able to ride in EVERY SINGLE ride at his height. Miss J loved being a big kid who could take her little brother on the ride without us. Ah!! A theme park where kids rule!

December: Ski & Snow at Keystone Ski Resort

Ski With Kid - Keystone Ski School near Denver

Our last but certainly not least family trip of the year was one of the memorable one for our whole family. It was their first time on ski and my first time learning to ski. One word, AMAZING trip! We certainly enjoyed our whole experience during our trip to Denver & Keystone. This will certainly be a place we would love to revisit again in the future.

Wow! I didn’t realize how much we have traveled this past year until I started this post. It certainly has been a blessing for us to be able to continue our love of travel and adventures. We are thankful for the opportunities we have been given and hope we will continue to be able to travel as a family in 2012. Here to more travel in 2012!

Tennessee With Kids: Family Indoor Waterpark Resort @ Wilderness at the Smokies Sevierville

Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort

In February, we escaped the cold winter in Atlanta for a quick getaway and thawed ourselves at the fun, family-friendly indoor waterpark resort at the Wilderness at the Smokies Sevierville Tennessee.

I have been checking out and stalking the website for quite some times but have yet to pull the trigger to stay there. It was our friend’s birthday celebration and they invited us to stay with them. So we couldn’t say yes fast enough.

The Wilderness At the Smokies Sevierville TN Hotel & Waterpark Resort

Wilderness at the Smokies Lobby

The resort is located in Sevierville about 20 minutes from downtown Gatlinburg. It’s a great location for family in Atlanta to enjoy a quick getaway on the weekend or holidays. With a short distance from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, family can enjoy nature at the same time as the fun in the waterpark. The resort comprises of hotels, indoor waterpark, outdoor waterpark (seasonal) and timeshare units.

The check-in process was smooth and rather uneventful. One note for family is that you can opt to check in early which allow you more time in the waterpark with extra charge for $50. So I guess it’s up to you to decide whether extra 4  hours is worth the $50. In our case, we only stayed for one night so we decided to pay extra $50 to give us extra time in the waterpark.

Plenty of Room for Multi-Families Vacation

Wilderness at the Smokies Bedroom Bunkbed

We stayed at the one bedroom deluxe unit at the River Lodge building which connects to the Wild WaterDome indoor waterpark and Lake Wilderness outdoor waterpark (which was closed for the season).

The room layout is designed with multi-families in mind with one bedroom with 1 king beds and partial wall and another bunk bed. Kids couldn’t get enough of climbing up and down the bunk bed. With in the bedroom itself, there is also sofa bed, small fridge and a microwave.

Our group of 3 families stayed comfortable in this one bedroom deluxe with plenty of room to move around. The kitchen and dining room area was a big plus for family vacation with kids. We were able to cook dinner and have quick breakfast at our room to save money.

Wilderness at the Smokies Living room

In the living room area, there is a murphy queen bed and sofa bed for more people in our group. What I like most is the screen that you can use at night to give more privacy during night time.

Fun Time in the Wild Waterdome Indoor Waterpark

Now, I know what you want to know most is the indoor waterpark. Here is the deal. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation where you can read your book by the pool, then I would say look for somewhere else. But if you want to find a resort where kids will enjoy a full fun day and say ‘this is the best day ever’ to you multiple times a day, then you are in the right place.

Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark

There is no mistake that the Wilderness At the Smokies resort is a family destination seeing from the rows of minivan parked in the parking lot. We went there during the holiday break so the waterpark was quite crowd. But based on my friend who visited the resort a few times in the past, she said this was not at all crowd!! Hmm.. I don’t know if I can take any more people in this space.

The whole indoor waterpark was under the see-through roof so you still get plenty of Sun. Don’t forget to put sunscreen on even though it’s indoor.

Great Fun for Kids of All Ages

Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Toddler Area

With many different sections and features within the Wild Waterdome indoor waterpark, kids of all ages can enjoy the fun. For the toddler and younger kids, the Flying Squirrel Play Area provides the safe area with 2 kiddie slides, bounce/swing tree and teeter totter

Wilderness at the Smokies Wave Pool

The Great Wave is definitely a favorite for the whole family especially the dare devil ones. It reminded me of the Surf Pool at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon waterpark but in a much smaller scale.

Wilderness at the Smokies Tube Slides

However, Miss J surprised me when she went on all 3 tube slides – the Storm Chaser, the Runaway Canyon and the Trail Twisters. Mr. Z was just a couple inches under the limit to ride the Storm Chaser so I guess we will have to go back again for him to experience that thrill ride.

Safety First

Wilderness at the Smokies Lifeguards

The safety measure inside the waterpark was prominent. There were several lifeguards around the park area. But I wouldn’t dare to leave my kids alone just because of how easy it was to loose sight of them in the crowd. Plus there is really no security measure to check-in or check-out of the waterpark area.

Wilderness at the Smokies Floating vest

For kids that still learn how to swim, there are plenty of float jackets available for them at the entrance of the waterpark and at the other end of the waterpark.

It was a great weekend for us to spend with our close friends and celebrated their birthday. Kids truly enjoyed the fun in the water and didn’t want to leave at all. I know we might want to go back and visit again in summer to check out their 2 other outdoor waterparks.

Family Tips:

  • Don’t forget to put on sun screen for kids. Even though, it’s indoor waterpark, the roof is see-through so it means you can still get plenty of sun.
  • The room configuration allows for sharing the room with other families to make it more affordable.
  • The cost of the room includes the waterpark admission. So the price might seem high but if you add the cost of typical waterpark admission, it is fairly affordable.
  • Most room has full kitchen so you can save by preparing your meal at your room.

Check out other travelers photo at Delicious Baby – Photo Friday.

Water Fun at Wilderness at the Smokies

Wilderness at the Smokies with Kids

Miss J enjoyed her water roller coaster ride of Trail Twisters Tube Slides at Wilderness at the Smokies, an indoor-outdoor waterpark resort in Severville near Gatlinburg, TN.

It’s a great family resort. Stay tune for more detail review of the hotel and the waterpark.

Check out other travelers Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Fun Time @ Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Gatlinburg With Kids: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Last year (Gosh, it feels weird to say that when it was just a couple months ago), when we visited Gatlinburg, we also had a chance to visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.

Now, living in Atlanta with the world’s largest aquarium, I tend to be a little snobby at the other aquarium. What could be there that I haven’t seen already. But EVERY TIME I always surprised at how much fun both our kids and us enjoying the visit.

The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

This time was no difference. After a great day which started with hearty breakfast and great walk in the nature, we were a little bit tired, so I didn’t know how much we would be able to keep up the energy. Luckily, the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies opened late during the holidays. We were able to take a quick break at our resort at Holiday Inn Club Vacation before heading out to the aquarium.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies Jellyfish

Just like most aquariums, we followed the path in the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies to view various types of sea creatures. But what I like most about the Ripley’s Aquarium is various stations inside that allows kids to explore more at their own pace in the Discovery Center.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies Fish

Mr. Z loved to get up close and personal with Nemo & Dory inside this bubble tank after he bounced from touching the sting ray, played the interactive games and jumped on the play area.

The Penguin Playhouse

As we walked around the aquarium, we rounded up to probably the best part of this aquarium. The Penguin Playhouse where kids (or adults) can crawl inside the tunnel that will lead you to the middle of their exhibit.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies Penguin J

We literally came face-to-face with them. I bet they were wondered what kind of animal are we.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies Penguin

Many of them even tried to peck Mr. Rojo and the kids while they were inside.

We had a great time there and the aquarium is the right size that doesn’t overwhelm kids. Plus with many open space for kids to roam around, even during the holiday season, we didn’t feel crowd at all.

Family Tips:

  • There is a locker that you can rent to keep your coats or other personal items. It makes visiting and chasing after kids in the aquarium much easier.
  • We went there a bit late so we didn’t get to see the penguin swimming around inside the penguin crawl tube. So plan your visit during the day might give you more chances to see penguin in action.

Check out other travelers photo from Delicious Babay – Photo Friday.

Disclosure: Thank you Holiday Inn Club Vacations Smoky Mountain Resort for hosting my family over the weekend and providing us with complimentary attraction tickets and expense card. This post is based solely on my experience and my opinion without any outside influence. I will not write about a place we will not visit ourselves.

Gatlinburg With Kids: Not Your Typical Outdoor Store @ NOC’s Great Outpost

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost StoreShopping and family vacation go hand in hand like an identical twins brother. No matter how much I try to limit the amount of retail shopping in our trip to Gatlinburg, we couldn’t resist a quick visit to local store.

There are plenty of shops in Gatlinburg to satisfy a wide range of customers from tacky souvenir shop, local artist store, restaurants and normal chain store. But one of the store that stood out on our weekend trip to Gatlinburg is the NOC’s Great Outpost.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) Great Outpost

The NOC’s Great Outpost is located at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The log cabin style store stands tall and is a great place to visit with kids during a trip to Gatlinburg!

The store also provides various guide trips, activities and information. At the Great Outpost Basecamp, they can help you with the trip planning whether you want to do it yourself or with a reputable guide. It’s a great resource for any visitor to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store FireplaceOnce we walked through the front door, a two story fire place was lit and warmly welcoming visitors to just sit back and relax. A great alternative for anyone who is not up for a retail therapy. But for us, there was no stopping for a little adventure inside this huge outdoor superstore in the Smokies.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store Swing ChairMiss J enjoyed her time in testing out the swinging chair, one of many outdoor products and equipments inside NOC’s Outpost. The Great Outpost reminded me a lot of Bass Pro Shop but more for the outdoor activities than hunting and fishing.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store Santa BearDuring the Christmas time, kids could take a picture with Santa Black Bear on the sleigh.

Fun Free Things to Do for Kids (and Adults too)

We took our time walking around this multilevel store from bottom to top. Each level is packed with all kind of products for your outdoor activities. BUT, it’s not just a store. There are other fun activities for kids.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store Kids AreaIn the children section, kids can have a little escape from their parents in this little nook where it’s a bit too small for me to get inside. But it’s a perfect size for kids to sit back and enjoy a quiet time with a book or play around.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store Swinging Rope BridgeOn the top level, Mr. Z and Miss J couldn’t have enough of walking (ok.. maybe with a little bit of running as well) back and forth on the swinging robe bridge in the middle of the store.

Gatlinburg With Kids: NOC Great Outpost Store Rock ClimbingIt was also a perfect spot for them to check out a rock climbing and cheered on other kids.

In the end, surprisingly we didn’t buy anything. So I will have to say this is one of the best place to find free thing to do with kids in Gatlinburg.

Check out other travelers photo at Photo Friday.