Universal Orlando Resort July 2021

Even though we visit Orlando, Florida multiple times a year, I haven’t been to Universal Studios in a long time. We have skipped it for the past several years mainly because our kids just aren’t big enough. Before I go any farther with this post I need to throw that disclaimer out there. Universal Orlando Resort is great! There are so many things we loved about all the parks and our resort, but if your kids are under 44″ tall I would just wait. At the time of this trip our kids were 5, 5, 4, 2 & 7 months. The baby and 2yo could do two rides and just a couple more for the 4yo. Even Seuss Landing which is designed just for kids was a bust for the baby and there was still a lot of rides that our 44″ tall 5yos couldn’t ride. If you’re a group of adults or have kids that are middle school and up, Universal is awesome!

Universal Orlando Resort consists of 2 theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay water park, 8 hotels and City Walk which is an outdoor shopping and dining district.

For this trip I chose Royal Pacific as our resort. There were a few reasons why but the main one is because it’s a “Premier” or top tier Universal Resort which means you get Express Unlimited Passes included! Express Unlimited Passes are a paid for pass that allows you to skip to the front of the line. Unlike the Disney FASTPASS system, Express Unlimited allows you to skip the line as many times as you want on any attraction all day long and you don’t have to book time slots (there are only a couple rides that don’t do express pass) Since I did a lot of waiting around with the babies Express Passes were absolutely necessary so that Andrew & the bigger kids didn’t have to wait in lines and I didn’t have to wait long on them to get through! Express Passes are pretty pricey though, the ones we had sell for $120 per person per day and that adds up quickly! The great thing about staying at one of Universal’s premier resorts though is that they are included in your room. It was much more cost effective to upgrade to a nicer resort than to stay somewhere cheaper and buy the express passes separately. Not to mention the resorts are nicer, more conveniently located to the parks and have better amenities.

Royal Pacific resort is a beautifully South Pacific island themed resort. It’s about a 5 minute walk to both theme parks and City Walk and it’s about a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to Volcano Bay. Royal Pacific also features several restaurants, bars, and dining experiences such as the Despicable Me character breakfast and the Wantilan Luau. The pool area has a large zero entry pool, small kiddie pool and a big splash pad.

Royal Pacific lobby area
On the walking path between Royal Pacific & the parks

We started our trip off at Islands of Adventure which in my opinion is Universal Orlando’s best park! IOA features Universal’s newest roller coaster, Velocicoaster, which just opened in June. This is unlike any coaster you’ve ever been on! Other thrill ride fan favorites here include The Hulk & Hagrid’s. For our family though Seuss Landing is here at IOA and it’s so cute for the little kids! We aren’t Harry Potter people but I know most everyone else is so I can’t leave off the entire Wizarding World of Harry Potter and all the butterbeer stands! We had lunch at Circus McGurkus inside Seuss Landing. This is an adorable quick service restaurant that the Seuss Trolley ride goes through. That night we had dinner at Confisco Grill inside IOA. The food and service was excellent, I highly recommend the Pad Thai!

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Our second day we spent at Universal Studios. Universal Studios is the original Universal Florida theme park. It has fan favorites like Transformers, The Mummy & E.T. Unfortunately there is even less for small children at this park than there is at IOA. We had dinner at Lombard’s Seafood inside the park and it did not disappoint.

I’m a huge fan of water parks and was most looking forward to our day at Volcano Bay. Volcano Bay is a water park done right! You never have to carry a tube around and you never wait in line! All ride tubes are sent to the tops of the slides on belts so you don’t have to lug them around. When you enter the park you are given an electronic wrist band that looks like an Apple watch called a Tapu Tapu and this is how you virtually wait in line. You simply walk up to the ride your want and scan your band then your band will tell you when it’s your turn to come back to the ride. While you wait you can go do anything else in the park! Even though our kids weren’t tall enough to ride any of the big water slides this still allowed Andrew and I to take turns riding because we didn’t actually have to stand in line to wait! Volcano Bay has a special area for babies and kids under 48″ tall called Tot Tiki Reef and Runamukka Reef. TTR is a little splash pad with 2 small slides designed just for babies and toddlers and RR is a larger play area with 5 bigger slides. These areas were a huge hit with our kids. The 5,5,4&2yos could all go up to and down the big slides by themselves and the baby enjoyed playing in the splash pad area. There is only one entrance and exit, no deep water and lifeguards everywhere so it felt very safe!

After our day at Volcano Bay we headed over to Big Fire American Grill at Universal’s City Walk. This restaurant has table side s’mores which I knew would be a hit with our kiddos!

We had one “extra” day on our trip so we decided to go back to IOA for a little bit that morning and then go back to our resort to play at the pool. After some pool time we walked back over to City Walk for dinner at Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium. It is a chocolate factory so their specialty is milkshakes and desserts but they have really great food too!

Universal has an airport shuttle service called the Superstar Shuttle. It was quick and easy to get on the bus at the airport and they picked us up and took us back for our return trip. Our bus actually broke down on the way back to the airport to go home and we were stuck on the side of the road but they immediately sent another bus to pick us up and our poor driver was so nice and handled it well.

I was overall impressed with everything Universal Orlando Resort has to offer and I really look forward to going back when our kids are a little bigger!

Painted Desert & Petrified Forest – June 2021

I’m sorry I’m really late on this post. In all honestly I simply forgot about it. Our visit to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in northern Arizona was part of our Sedona & Grand Canyon trip. You can click on each of those links to read about those.

The Painted Desert & Petrified Forest National park is about 2 hours east of Sedona just outside Holbrook, Arizona. We had flown into Phoenix picked up a rental car and drove 2 hours north to Sedona which was our main base for this trip. There are two entrances to the park and we decided to start at the I-40 entrance and drive down through the entire park to exit at the other end on Hwy 180.

The northern half of the park where we started is the Painted Desert. We parked the car at the start of a short mile long trail that goes around the south rim of the canyon. The views are amazing! On the way back to the car we moved a little more into the desert and off the rim so the kids could really see the terrain and ecosystem. Lorelei even spotted a jackrabbit.

Once back to the car we followed the road south to the other half of the national park which is dedicated to the Petrified Forest. The petrified forest is made from trees that were exposed to so much water and sediment they turned to stone.

We exited the national park from the opposite end from where we started so that we made sure we saw everything. This is a really great national park for everyone because you can really get out into the desert for adventure or you can stay in your car and drive from one end of the park to the other without missing anything so there’s definitely something for everyone’s comfort level.

Before heading back to Sedona we stopped in Holbrook to eat at Tom & Susie’s diner. This is a diner in the old Route 66 and it was sooo good! To top it off there’s an entire case full of pies made fresh every day! This was a nice littke unexpected pit stop for us!

Briar enjoying some sweet potato fries and pie!

The Grand Canyon – June 2021

With international travel being quite cumbersome these days due to covid we have done a lot of domestic travel over the last year. Our most recent spur of the moment trip took us to northern Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. We chose to stay in the central location of Uptown Sedona, Arizona and you can read all about that HERE

We had one day to visit the Grand Canyon and for us that was enough. Since our 5 children are all under the age of 6 they aren’t big enough to hike below the rim so one day on the south rim was enough for us to check out all that the Grand Canyon National Park has to offer.

We left our house in Uptown Sedona a little before 7am and headed 2 hours north to the South Rim entrance of Grand Canyon National Park just outside Tusayan, AZ. When we arrived there was just a short line of cars at the gate. It cost $35 per vehicle to get in and they are not accepting cash at this time so make sure you have a credit or debit card to use.

Once inside the park we headed straight for the main visitors center. The actual visitors center is closed right now but the coffee shop with bike rentals and gift shop were both opened were the shuttle buses. You can take the shuttle buses to all the main lookout points or you can use the paved trails to walk to them. Walking is obviously the better way to go because you get to take in all the speculator views. The South Rim Is extremely stroller & wheelchair friendly, all the walkways are paved paths.

Thanks to the stranger who took our pic even though the kids wouldn’t smile for her!

There’s a market near the campgrounds that is a grocery store, deli & serves hot food. There’s also a full service sit down restaurant across the parking lot. Oh and a post office so be sure to mail some postcards to your family and friends! We stopped in the market to grab a quick lunch!

After lunch we headed over to the small museum and observatory to take in a some more views from a different location along the rim before making the 2 hour drive back to Sedona.

There are plenty of clean restaurants and water bottle refill stations located all over the park for guests. I keep seeing in the news that the national parks have been extremely crowded over the past year but this has not been our experience at all. Actually I felt like the Grand Canyon National Park was quite empty but then again we’re very used to peak summer crowds at Disney!

Uptown Sedona, Arizona June 2021

With the farm work caught up and a week of rain in the forecast one Friday afternoon in June I frantically searched for cheap flights to anywhere for the next morning. I would like to say this doesn’t happen often, but the rumors are true; if it rains, we leave. Due to the nature of our business we don’t typically get to plan trips unless it’s the middle of winter. We are very much limited to a few hours notice. “Hey let’s head to the airport tonight!” is not an uncommon phone call for me (Kayla) to get from Andrew on any random day.

If you’ve followed us for a while you may remember that we have airline companion passes with Southwest and American which means free flights for at least one of us and we are extremely savvy airline rewards points accumulators with multiple airlines. I really should do a post about that because we very rarely pay for flights because of it. This allows us to travel a lot and a lot of flexibility, but that’s for another day.

I went through all the mainland USA options I could come up with until finally settling on flying into Phoenix, Arizona mostly due to easy nonstop flights. Before I did anything else I booked our rental car because they have become pretty scarce these days due to rental companies selling their fleets during COVID. It’s especially hard to get a car big enough for 7 people. On the plus side COVID has made the rental car companies up their car seat game. Once again we got brand new still in the packaging carseats.

Waiting on our rental car

Based on what we wanted to accomplish during this quick trip we decided to head 2 hours north of Phoenix to Sedona. We rented an amazing house on AirBNB in Uptown Sedona that was absolutely perfect for our trip! It was conveniently located 2 hours from the airport, 2 hours from the Grand Canyon & 2 hours from the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest. This ended up being an excellent central location for all our activities. Even better is the adorable town of Uptown Sedona. Sedona is a pretty well known town in northern Arizona and it’s quite large. Uptown Sedona is an area just outside of the hustle and bustle that they have created as a little boutique town. Everything is within walking distance and the streets are lined with adorable little shops and restaurants. The first thing you’ll notice besides the amazing red rock mountain views is the mobs of pedestrians and lack of traffic. Coffee shops, bakeries, hamburger joints, Mexican restaurants, and upscale eateries line the streets so there is truly something for everyone!

Our rental house was called the The House of Views Uptown and it certainly lived up to its name! With 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a huge kitchen/living area and a pool this house was perfect for us! Not to mention every single room had an amazing view of the red rock mountains all around! Nestled up on a hill in a quiet upscale neighborhood, I would highly recommend it to any family!

Master bedroom view
Side Patio
Chipotle down the street was perfect for our late first night
View from the driveway

We grabbed espresso and breakfast at the Pink Cafe every morning. The staff there was so friendly! There’s several other breakfast locations but we were up and gone by 6-7am so we needed grab & go.

Outside the Pink Jeep Tours building
View from the Pink Cafe outdoor seating

There are a ton of restaurants in Uptown Sedona ranging from casual to upscale. Our Airbnb rental had a binder that listed all the local restaurants in it and it was super helpful! The fancier places fill up quick and reservations are highly recommended. Our first dinner we chose The Vault Uptown. Our server was awesome, the views were great and so was the food! The next night we had dinner at The Hudson which is a little bit hidden at the back of a shopping center but it was packed in there so people obviously had no problem finding it! The Hudson also boasts wonderful views and exceptional food!

The Hudson

Uptown Sedona is such a cute little town it’s a destination in itself! Especially if you’re kid free there’s lots of great spas in the area! It’s also in such a great location for all that northern Arizona has to offer. You can read about our trip to the Grand Canyon HERE. More posts to come about our trip to the Painted Desert & Petrified Forest!

Disney World February 2021

We had so much going on in February this year I could have sworn I already wrote this post, but here it is late April and apparently I never got around to it.

We originally had our yearly February Disney trip planned for the first week of February but we decided to go to Hawaii instead. After being home from Hawaii for a few weeks we were missing Disney a little bit so we decided on a last minute quick trip for Andrew’s March 1 birthday.

For this trip we stayed at Disney’s Yacht Club resort. We have visited this resort many times to eat, but never actually stayed there. The Yachtsman is one of our favorite restaurants as is breakfast at Cape May next door at Beach Club and Trattoria Al Forno across the boardwalk at The Boardwalk Inn. Unfortunately due to COVID the Yachtsman and Cape May are closed right now. This was a huge bummer but with our 40% off passholder room discount right now it was still worth it to check out Yacht Club. One of my personal favorite perks to all the boardwalk resorts (Yacht Club, Beach Club & Boardwalk Inn) is that they are all within walking distance to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. For us with 2 double strollers the buses are such a hassle and we would much prefer to walk! This is one of the main reasons we love to stay at the Contemporary resort so that we can walk to Magic Kingdom. The short walk to Epcot from the Boardwalk resorts also makes it extremely convenient to finish off your park days at one of the great restaurants at Epcot and have a leisurely stroll back to your room. Make sure you have park hopper tickets to do this though!

The highlight for many people staying at Yacht Club and Beach Club is their pool area, Stormalong Bay. Yacht & Beach share this pool but it is truly massive and since people staying at other resorts are not allowed in, it’s not too crowded. You will need a magic band/room key to a Yacht or Beach Club room to get in. There is a huge pirate ship slide, smaller kids slide, a shallow sand bottom pool, zero entry sandy beach area, lazy River, a large regular pool. My only real complaint with the pool area is that there’s no splash pad with slides or water features for the littlest guests, although the shallow sand bottom pool is truly only ankle/knee deep on an adult so it’s considered the kiddie pool. Also, the pool area is really huge. It’s completely fenced in but you can’t just turn your kids loose in there because you will never be able to see them especially if they want to go to the pirate slide they have to go out of the gates for that. I much prefer the smaller fenced off splash pad area at The Riviera Resort for really little kids. You can see my post and pictures of it HERE. We still enjoyed our time at Stormalong Bay though and the pool attendants were amazing! The sweetest women were serving drinks and food and the guys when you enter will find you seats, towels, and life jackets for your entire family. One of the major positives to Disney resorts is that they provide pool towels and life jackets in all sizes from the smallest of infants to the largest adults, no need to cram your suite cases full of your own!

As soon as our plane landed and we dropped our bags off at Yacht Club’s bell serves desk we headed straight to Epcot for a quick gaze around the World and then to dinner at Chef’s de France. Our food was wonderful and the kids tried escargot and loved it! I guess if you went in with an open mind and didn’t understand it was really snails you wouldn’t have any preconceived notions about it since it doesn’t actually taste bad haha!

The Yacht Club has a really great restaurant called Ale & Compass that we had never tried before. It’s a full service restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch & dinner. They have an amazing apple caramel French toast that I had pretty much every morning! You need reservations which you can make on the app but they do have a walk up wait list that you can also join from the app if there are no reservations. We added our names to the wait list one evening after leaving the pool around 4:30pm and they called our table at 5:30. It was perfect for us because we went back to our room to shower quick & put on clothes then our table was ready downstairs.

We only stayed for a few days on this trip so we had a full day for Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom & Hollywood Studios. We made it to Epcot a few nights for dinner and were able to get our favorite rides in during those times.

Briar, Baby #5, was 4 weeks old when we took him to Disney for his first trip. For this trip he was 3.5 months and he was so much more into it. He was so curious, watching everything, and taking in all the sights. He will be 9 months old when we go back and I can’t wait to see his reactions then!

The crowds are definitely back at Disney! Florida has never restricted Disney on capacity but they have self-restricted. Right now they are reported to be allowing 50% capacity which doesn’t sound like much but that’s actually what a normal pre-covid park day is like. Since there are no longer fastpasses the lines for all the rides are pretty long and because they’re spaced out 6ft apart they wrap around all over the park and really crowd the sidewalks. This is a really negative aspect to Disney right now, the congestion from the socially distanced lines. It’s extremely counterproductive too because they have the lines spaced out but they’re so long they’re out into the main walk way areas so the sidewalks are elbow to elbow congested with people passing through and people waiting in line.

I’m extremely hopeful that these minor hiccups are almost behind us and our beloved Disney will return to normal soon! In the meantime we are going to check out Universal Orlando Resort soon! Andrew & I haven’t been since we were kids because our kids haven’t been tall enough to do anything there but our oldest 3 are finally at the lowest height limit so we are going to see what it’s like so stay tuned!

If you need help planning a Disney vacation at any Disney destination (Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani Disney Hawaii, Disney Cruise Line or Adventures by Disney) please send me an email! I would love to help you and my services are free! I can also help you with any other travel desires! My email is kayla@teacuptravelco.com

Disney’s Aulani Resort- Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii

I’ve been wanting to stay at Disney’s Aulani resort in Hawaii for a long time now. We are huge Disney fans and even though we travel to Walt Disney World multiple times a year we’ve never made it out to Aulani. We spent 10 days in Hawaii in February 2021 so I finally got to stay at Aulani! Because of all the covid restrictions we decided not to spend our entire trip there but we did stay for a few days to really get a feel for the place. Unfortunately all the restaurants were closed, no luaus and no character meets. When Aulani is fully open though I highly recommend it! You can also book it through me as your travel agent 😉

We stayed in a beautiful 2 bedroom villa that sleeps 9 people. With 2 separate bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a full size kitchen & dining area and full size washer & dryer this 1,125sf villa is super spacious and perfect for large families & extended families. Aulani also has an even larger 3 bedroom villa, smaller 1 bedroom villas, suites and of course standard size hotel rooms. Something for a family of every size!

Our main reason for spending a few days at Aulani was for the pool and splash pad area! Our rental house for the rest of our stay was on the beach but didn’t have a pool and our kids really enjoy swimming. Aulani did not disappoint! There are multiple pools to choose from! There’s a large family pool, a pool with a big slide, a quiet pool, a lazy river, and a giant splash pad! With 5 kids age 5 and under we spent almost all of our time at the splash pad. The beach are of Aulani is great too. It’s set on one of the coves in Ko Olina which are shallow water coves with big rock wave brakes so it’s a perfect calm area for babies, toddlers and little kids to splash around and swim in.

A really cool feature at Aulani is the reef. It’s a large outdoor tank full of reef dwelling fish that you can snorkel in. Kids need to be old enough to swim on their own with a life jacket on but there isn’t an age limit. Our two 5 year olds and our 3yo had a blast while I watched from the windows with our newborn and 2yo. Honestly though our 2yo would have been just fine to go too!

Once everything is open at Aulani it’s definitely a great vacation spot! We would have loved to have done the Polynesian luau there and the kids would have enjoyed seeing the character. Most importantly though, we just wanted the restaurants to be open! We will have to put it on our list to go back!

Oahu Hawaii February 2021

Once Hawaii reopened for tourism flights there were still incredibly cheap and thanks to our endless amount of Southwest points they were actually completely free for us! So pretty much a no brainer to head to Hawaii! There were lots of hoops to jump through first though and I go into detail about them HERE and because of those hoops we spent the first several day of this trip in Northern California which you can read about HERE

As soon as we landed in Hawaii and got approved for our quarantine exemption we picked up a rental car and headed to Marriot Beach Club Ko Olina. Our Airbnb house wasn’t going to be ready until the next day and we knew the kids would enjoy the pool at the Marriot resort so we took advantage of our Marriot points and stayed one night there for free. I’m glad that it was free because it was horrible! Don’t get me wrong, our 2 bedroom villa was spacious and beautiful but there were some crazy COVID restrictions that we weren’t prepared for! You had to make reservations to be in the pool and you could only be in the pool for 2 hours a day. Yep, 2 hours for the whole day! The pool reservation spots filled up too so if you didn’t make them a day in advance you may be out of luck for pool time! We weren’t able to get pool reservations for the pool with the slide but we were able to get them for another pool. The beach was accessible without reservations and it’s a really nice shallow cove that’s protected by a rock wave brake so great for little kids.

The next morning grabbed breakfast at Eggs n Things which is right next to the Marriot and Disney’s Aulani resort. They had awesome breakfast food and we ended up eating there twice.

Next we headed to Pearl Harbor. We had been told by multiple people that we would not like Pearl Harbor but Andrew is a huge WWII history buff so it was definitely a must do for us. Unfortunately everyone was right and we were really disappointed in Pearl Harbor. I’ll let you make your own decisions about it but it did not live up to the high hopes we had of it being a great memorial for all the people who lost their lives there. Fortunately our kids didn’t understand and they thought it was great. We also picked our own pearls at Pearl Harbor!

After Pearl Harbor we drove across the island to Haleiwa where our Airbnb was. Haleiwa is an awesome little surfing town with tons of restaurants and food trucks. Bad news though, our Airbnb was awful! I mean really awful! It had the beautiful views that were pictured on the listing but it was so dirty! We definitely couldn’t stay there so I immediately got on the phone with Disney’s Aulani resort to get us a couple nights there and Andrew found us another house to rent for the rest of our stay! Side note: I did message the Airbnb host about the dirty house and encouraged him to go look at the property himself since he uses an outside cleaning service. He did end up driving over to the property the next day and refunding our money! You can see the picture below the house had an amazing location in Haleiwa right on the beach!

I’ve been wanting to go to Disney’s Aulani resort for a long time now so this was a good excuse for me to get a few nights there! The splash pad did not disappoint for our kids! They loved every second of the splash pad and the pool areas! I’m actually going to dedicate a post just to Aulani because there’s lots of info packed into it!

Finally we got to our new Airbnb, got settled in and really got to dig into Oahu for our last 5 days! Our new Airbnb house was amazing! Seriously spectacular! It was right on a completely isolated sandy beach, huge and sparkling clean! It was the perfect island home base for us and we spent many afternoons just enjoying the beach and each other. We even got to watch a pod of humpback whales from the back deck 2 different days!

We decided to check out Waimea Falls one day. It had rained a lot the day before so the water was pretty muddy and freezing but it’s an easy hike to the falls and actually an all paved trail, we even saw people with strollers. The other waterfall we wanted to visit was closed due to the heavy rains because it’s more rugged terrain.

We really enjoyed the food in Hawaii and especially all the food trucks! We had some of the most amazing food from the food trucks on the side of the road! We also enjoyed all the chickens everywhere! The kids felt right at home with the chickens wandering around while we ate!

Of course we had to visit the Dole Plantation because it’s something everyone says you have to do on Oahu but it was a major disappointment. May not be to most people but as farmers ourselves we saw a lot of stuff that shocked us.

Our last day on Oahu we hiked up Diamond Head Crater which is an old volcano. This hike is intense. The path is rough, narrow and steep with a set of steep stairs at the very top. It’s not shaded and hot too so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring water. The views at the top are amazing though! Perfect views of Waikiki beach and Honolulu! We made it to the top wearing a baby and a toddler and with 3 other little walking so you can do it too! There’s a great little park at the bottom with bathrooms, tables, shade and a food truck!

Our Hawaii trip had a lot of hiccups but overall we enjoyed it. Oahu is very very commercialized and touristy. Next time we visit Hawaii we will definitely try Maui!

Northern California January 2021

Seeing the massive coastal redwood trees in Northern California has been on Andrew’s bucket list for quite some time now. When we were able to score cheap flights to Hawaii from San Francisco but needed a few extra days to get COVID tested, we decided this was the perfect opportunity to make a pit stop on that trip!

We flew into San Francisco the last week of January and picked up a rental SUV. We brought with us Briar’s infant car seat and the twins booster seats but rented 2 full size car seats for the 2 middle girls. Thanks to COVID renting car seats has been even better than before! The past 3 times we have rented car seats they have been brand new still in the box and plastic packaging! We spent a few hours in San Francisco seeing the sites like the Golden Gate Bridge and we also had to stop by City Health Urgent Care to get our COVID tests done for Hawaii. You can read all about how to get into Hawaii HERE

From San Francisco we headed north to our AirBNB rental in a tiny little town called Trinidad, CA. This town completely stole our hearts! It’s right on the pacific coast with a beautiful harbor and pier full of crab fishing boats and a nice sandy beach! The town itself has several little restaurants and coffee shops. Due to covid regulations everything was open for take out only but we still enjoyed every bit of it! Our rental house was spectacular with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and it sure helped that the host was wonderful! Him and Andrew exchanged numbers and struck up quite a friendship. The pictures posed below are from the backyard of our rental house.

The main reason we chose this house, aside from is fantastic views and amazing living space for our large family, is because of its location. Trinidad sits just outside the Redwood Forest National and State Parks so we took a full day to explore the forest and we’re not disappointed! The amazing size of these trees just blew our minds!

Between our house and the park entrance pretty much in the middle of nowhere we found a little wood carving shop on the side of the road. We stopped in and chose a giant slab of redwood for the man to carve our name into. He carved it and shipped it home for us so we didn’t get to see it until weeks later but it turned out perfect! For dinner that night we also discovered that the kids love clams! The devoured and entire bucket full of them!

The next morning we needed to head back to San Francisco for our early flight to Hawaii the following day, but since we had all day we decided to start our journey at the beginning of California’s famous scenic Highway 1 and follow it all the way down the coast. This route is not for the faint of heart! I repeat, if you are scared of heights or cliffs, don’t do it! I barely made it through this part of our journey. All of Highway 1 terrified me! The road just crumbles off giant cliffs into the ocean and I’m not even exaggerating, there are multiple places where the road has actually fallen off into the ocean and they are repairing it. The cliffs are insanely high and the road is nothing but 90 and 180° curves around them. I honestly was scared and it was hard for me to enjoy the beauty of the scenery because of it. Oh to be a blissfully ignorant child in the back seat.

Before we made it to the beginning of Highway 1 though we started through the scenic trail of the giants detour which definitely lived up to its name!

Just before dusk we made it to a beautiful beach right outside San Francisco and stopped for a little fun before heading to our hotel by the airport for the night. We loved our short time in Northern California and highly recommend the beautiful town of Trinidad! I can’t imagine how fun it is there in the warm summer months and without COVID!

How to Get a Hawaii Quarantine Exemption

Hawaii’s fragile economy relies heavily on tourism but as a small group of islands with limited healthcare availability they have really struggled with choosing between health and sustainability and oftentimes those go hand in hand.

Hawaii reopened for tourism in late 2020 after being closed for over half the year, but not without limitations. At the time of this post, February 2021, the state of Hawaii currently requires all visitors to adhere to a strict 10 day quarantine OR apply for a quarantine exemption. I’m going to walk you through how to get the quarantine exemption. We just got back from a wonderful 7 days on the main island of Oahu with exemptions for our entire family of 7.

First things first, plan your trip! You will need to know your hotel/rental, dates, and flight info to apply for your exemption. Best to book things that are refundable or you can at least get a credit for if you need to cancel last minute. I don’t work for or even know anyone who works for Southwest Airlines but if you’ve read any of my travel posts before then you know we fly with Southwest a lot! Southwest has super cheap nonstop flights from California to Hawaii right now, I’m talking like $99 cheap! Or if you’re loaded up on points like us they may even be free! The best thing about Southwest is you can cancel or change your flights up to 5 minutes before departure with no penalties and they’ll either give you a full cash credit or a full point refund. Cant beat that!

You need to go to the Hawaii Safe Travels website and create an account. Each person in your party over the age of 18 will need their own account. For example Andrew and I had our own accounts and I put all of our kids on my account. Once you have created an account you need to fill in your trip information. The website is pretty straightforward on what you need to fill out. You will also need to upload a selfie of each person on the account, you’ll see where to put it!

TESTING! This is the most difficult part of getting an exemption. The state of Hawaii requires each visitor 5 years old and older to provide a negative COVID-19 test done within 72 of the departure time of your final flight to Hawaii. The catch is that Hawaii will only accept tests from certain approved testing facilities. You can find a complete list of Hawaii approved testing facilities HERE A lot of these locations require appointments and fill up quickly. You also need to keep in mind that results can take over 48 hours to come back so don’t wait until the last minute to take your test. I’ll provide a sample timeline below. Once you have received your negative test results you need to upload them in PDF format to your safe travels account. They must be uploaded before you board your flight to Hawaii! You should also have a paper copy or at least a copy on your phone, they actually looked at our paper copy too.

24 hours before departure to Hawaii you will need to log back in to your safe travels account and fill out the health questionnaire then you will get a QR code.

That’s it! Safe travels account with trip info, 72hr negative covid test from an approved facility, 24 hour health questionnaire, you’re off to Hawaii!

Upon landing in Hawaii you will have your temperature taken as soon as you deplane then you will be directed to the screening area. When you arrive at the screening area someone will scan your QR code to bring up your safe travels account. For us she also asked to see the paper copy of our covid tests even though we had uploaded all of them ahead of time. Then she approves our exemption and sent us on our way to baggage claim. Overall the entire process at the airport for our entire family took maybe 5 minutes.

After your exemption is approved it will show up in your safe travels account. You will need this to show your hotel when you check in. It looks like this and as you can see mine also lists all of our kids.

Below I’m going to show you the timeline we did everything in so hopefully it makes more sense!

January 20- Create safe travels account for myself & kids, create safe travels account for Andrew (everyone over 18 needs their own account). Make appointments for covid tests at approved testing facility.

January 27- Fly to San Francisco. 3:30pm take covid test at City Health Urgent care in downtown San Francisco. They are well versed in Hawaii travel so make sure you tell them you need the approved test for Hawaii travel. We had results back in about 36 hours but they estimate it taking 48 hours.

January 29- COVID results back & negative. Upload results for all travelers into the appropriate safe travels account. Andrew had his own account and then I uploaded my test and the kids tests to my account. Kids age 5 and older need tests so the twins needed tested but our younger 3 did not.

January 30 9:30am- fill out health questionnaire in safe travels account

January 31 9:30am- Depart San Francisco on nonstop flight to Honolulu.

As you can see we took our covid tests about 66 hours before our flights so that put us within the approved 72 hour window but still gave us enough time to ensure we had results back.

I know this is a lot of information and it’s complicated so feel free to ask me questions, I’m happy to help!

January 2021 Wrap Up

If you had asked me back in the summer what January 2021 would look like I would have said that life would be back to normal, but here we are still living in this crazy COVID mess. I am thankful our run ins with COVID have been minimal and we have largely continued to live our lives as normal as possible. Not being able to travel outside the US has been a major bummer for us, but we have spent the last year going wherever we were allowed which has mainly consisted of Florida to the beach and Disney World a lot! We were also able to squeeze in an amazing trip to Northern California once they lifted their 10 month long lockdown and then a trip to Hawaii once they opened back up for tourists. I’ll make separate posts for both of those trips, they’ll be worth the read!

By far the biggest thing that happened in January 2021 is Andrew and I got baptized! Years ago after Andrew & I moved back to his hometown we searched for a church home for years but never found anywhere we really felt was right for us. Over 2 years ago we ended up deciding to go back to a church in our college town that we knew we loved even if it meant driving 45 minutes one way every week to get there. We haven’t looked back since. Andrew & I both grew up going to church and were baptized as children but really felt called to rededicate our lives to Jesus and be baptized again as adults. We are so thankful for our church family. The drive is so worth it with how much we are growing spiritually and our children are engrossed in learning the Gospel here.

We spent most of the month of January playing and learning. Our baby #5 is growing and changing so fast! He started really socially smiling and cooing at us this month. Everyone loves on him and caters to him so much! We are all soaking up his newborn days as they’re just about over.

We have a few more plans for next month before we have to really dive in to this year’s farming season so stay tuned!

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