Sourdough Blueberry Scones

Ingredients:
-2 cups corn meal
-2 cups flour (I use bread flour because its always what I have but all purpose or pastry flour is fine too)

-1/2 cup sugar
-1/2 tsp salt
-16 TBS butter (2 sticks)
-3/4 cup sourdough starter (I never measure this so a little more or a little less is okay. I think I always have a lot more)
-4 eggs
-2 tsp vanilla
-2 cups blueberries (frozen are easier to work with. I also don’t measure this so add more if you want!)

Directions:
-Preheat oven to 350* and line a large baking sheet or 2 small baking sheets with parchment paper.
-In a stand mixer bowl mix together all dry ingredients (corn meal, flour, and salt)
-Cut up butter into cubes or slices and add to dry ingredients. With paddle attachment cut the butter into the mix until it crumbles.
-Mix in sourdough, eggs and vanilla. You will have to stop and pull all the dough off the paddle and mix again to make sure all the sourdough gets mixed in.
-Add blueberries and mix until well combined. If you want them to be really purple keep mixing until some of the blueberries get smashed in and color the dough.
-Flour an open countertop and roll the dough out into a long rectangle about 2 inches thick. The dough is extremely sticky so flour your hands and rolling pin too.
-Once you have your rectangle rolled out to about 2 inches thick, use a bench scraper (or knife or whatever you have) to cut each triangular scone. Scones are traditionally shaped like triangles but there’s no law saying you can’t make them any shape you want. If your kid wants dinosaurs, by all means, cut them into dinosaurs!
-Lay them out on your parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 350* for about 30 minutes. They may take a little longer if they’re all on one sheet. The bottoms will just be turning golden when they’re done.

Baby Registry Must Haves

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what should I put on my baby registry?” or “what are your must have baby items?” I’ve had 5 babies at this point, 2 at the same time, so it makes sense that this would be a common question as I have definitely had my fair share of baby items.

I love baby gear! I thoroughly enjoy researching things like carseats and strollers. I love to make spreadsheets with all the specs on the carseats and strollers I’m trying to choose between so I can pick out the absolute best one. The best part is Andrew and I are very much alike in this category and he enjoys going through my spreadsheets and helping me make decisions.

What do you need for your new baby? Less is more! You don’t really NEED much, but as someone who does also enjoy buying fun baby gear, I’ve created this little baby registry of my absolute favorite items! A little disclaimer, some of these links are commissionable to me, it doesn’t cost you any extra, but it helps support my family and I really appreciate it!

  • Grovia All In One Cloth Diapers. I love Grovia’s organic cloth diapers. There is an upfront investment with cloth diapers but long term gains especially if you have more children later on, the savings are really seen with the second child.
  • Abby & Finn Diapers. A&F diapers and wipes are my personal disposable favorites. You can save money by signing up for a monthly subscription.
  • Abby & Finn Wipes
  • Cybex Aton M Infant Car Seat. This infant seat has a cover that comes all the way down to protect baby from sun, wind, rain & strangers. Most importantly it has a front anti-rebound bar AND a rear anti-rebound load leg.
  • Diono Radian 3RXT All In One Car Seat. The work horse of all car seats. Can be used from birth through school age. Goes from rear facing to forward facing and then on to a high back booster. With a 10 year life-span this is the only seat you will ever need for your child. Bonus points that it is one of the narrowest car seats on the market so you can fit 3 across in one row in all vehicles that have a full size backseat.
  • Babyzen YoYo2 Travel Stroller. This stroller is super light weight at under 13lbs and folds up small enough to be carryon luggage on airplanes. Although slightly larger than the GB Pockit that can go under a planes seat, the YOYO is sturdier and thus nicer.
  • Baby Jogger City Mini Double Stroller. The best double stroller on the market. Don’t be fooled by the single line doubles that sit in front of each other because they look narrow. Front/back double strollers often have to be taken apart to be folded or fold up into a giant bulky contraption. The city mini double folds quickly and completely flat, it is also narrow enough to fit through any standard doorway.
  • I don’t have an experienced recommendation for a single stroller as I had twins first so I have never had a single.
  • Wildbird Ring Sling. Ring slings are the perfect carrier for newborns who are too small to go in a soft structured carrier. Ring slings can also be folded up really small to fit in your purse or diaper bag which makes them ideal for traveling.
  • Lillebaby Complete All Seasons Carrier. This soft structured carrier allows you to carry baby in several different positions and also has a mesh panel for when its hot.
  • DockATot. This one has become controversial but its a must have for me personally.
  • Dr. Brown’s Glass Bottles. I like Dr. Brown’s bottles because of the air valves in them which helps keep air out of the baby’s belly. Gassy babies are not fun babies. These bottles are glass which I strongly recommend because plastic is highly toxic and especially putting hot breastmilk or formula in a plastic bottle creates a perfect environment for the plastic chemicals leaching into your baby’s food. These bottles come in several pieces due to the valve so they are more of a pain to clean but once you get used to it you won’t mind. Especially if your baby is not gassy and therefor not fussy!
  • Boon Grass Drying Rack. I love this bottle drying rack. It’s so convenient for letting all the bottle pieces dry on your counter. Don’t forget to clean underneath the mat inside the tray though!
  • Breast Pump: If you are nursing and staying home with your baby, you do NOT need to pump. Pumping can create an oversupply of milk which can cause a number of problems. I also do not recommend using the Haaka if you are staying home with your baby for the same reasons. It may seem harmless but the suction seal created does encourage let down and milk production on the side you aren’t using which in turn tells your body to make more. Over supply can be difficult for you and your baby. If you have an under supply pumping can help you increase production. I have exclusively pumped and exclusively nursed multiple babies so if you have more questions or specific questions related to pumping, please send me a message!
  • Boppy Pillow. Whether your nursing or bottle feeding, the boppy pillow is so useful! In those very early newborn weeks its super helpful at positioning baby to eat. As baby gets bigger it can be used as a lounger and then to help baby learn to sit up.
  • Burp Cloths. Spit up happens! I always keep a burp cloth in my diaper bag because you never know when a baby is going to spit up, it could be hours after they last ate, their tiny tummies can be very sensitive.
  • Baby Bath. This is my favorite baby bath ever! It’s so easy to use and keep clean. The ones that go in the sink often float up and are difficult to keep baby positioned in. This baby bath is cheap and fool proof. Make sure you keep a warm wet wash cloth over baby while you’re bathing so they stay warm.
  • Bouncer. All of my babies have loved a bouncy seat. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on one. This cheap fisher price one has served us well. I have yet to have a baby who liked a swing and although I have a Mamaroo, 5 kids later and none of them have liked it…
  • Stokke Tripp Trapp High Chair. This is definitely a splurge item, but to me it’s very worth the cost. The tripp trapp is a European high chair that really is a long term investment. I would also recommend purchasing the newborn set that allows your baby that can’t sit up yet to sit with you at the table. Once your baby outgrows the high chair part you can remove the infant pieces and it becomes a chair. Both the seat and the leg rest are adjustable to basically any table height and can even accommodate an adult.
  • White Noise Machine. Babies have spent 9 months in your belly listening to the sound of your heartbeat, your belly growl, your voice, and all the blurry outside noises. Silence can keep them startled and awake so a white noise machine is helpful to give your baby some background noise that is familiar. Any simple, cheap, white noise machine will work even a fan in your room will do the job as long as it isn’t blowing on baby.
  • Bassinet. I prefer to cosleep but if I wasn’t going to do that I would definitely have a bedside bassinet. Even the AAP (which I really don’t recommend using them as your source of accurate information…) recommends that babies sleep in the same room as their parents for at least the first 6 months of life.
  • Glider/Rocker. A good comfortable rocking chair/glider is a must! Choose a location that you think you will be in with baby the most. For me that is our bedroom and I have a glider that reclines that is so nice! Many many hours have been spent with me and a baby in that chair.
  • Muslin Swaddle Blankets. Swaddling blankets are so useful! They’re great covers for breastfeeding, draping of the carseat when getting in and out of the car, light blanket for baby in the carseat or stroller, wiping up spit up, they are just so useful!
  • Love To Dream Sleep Sack. This is my favorite sleep sack! It keeps babies arms up by their faces in their naturally preferred position, allows their legs and hips to move freely and keeps them feeling tight and secure. My babies have loved these and are great sleepers.
  • Nose Frida. Snot happens. This is way better than a suction bulb.
  • Humidifier. Great for stuffy babies during dry winter months.
  • Play Mat. Sometimes baby needs to be confined to a safe space so you can do things like shower, cook dinner, etc, but when possible it’s best to let baby explore their surroundings on their own. Most cost effective way to do this is to just lay baby down in the floor on a blanket, but I really love these little play mats and think they’re worth buying!

I’m sure I have forgotten some things, but I’ve done my best to exhaust my memory on what our most used baby items have been. If I left something out that you think is a must have, leave it in the comments!


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8 Brain Benefits to Learning a Second Language

The benefits of learning a second language are plenty. Understanding and learning all the aspects of a language—like phonetics, writing, and speaking—is a hard task for your brain, proving them to be the ultimate brain workout. 

Improving your overall brain health is one of the many outcomes of learning a new language. In fact, it’s one of the most practical, effective, and enjoyable ways to resist aging, expand your intelligence, and sharpen your mind!

Decades ago, people believed that being bilingual or multilingual had negative effects on a person, leading to confusion, inability to multitask, and cognitive impairment. Today, studies show that second language acquisition is quite the opposite and prove the importance of learning a language. 

In this article, I answer the following questions:

  • What are the brain advantages of speaking more than one language? 
  • How is it possible to gain the benefits of learning a language? 

Read on to discover the brain benefits of learning a second language as a child or as an adult. 

¡Aprendamos de los beneficios cerebrales de aprender un segundo idioma!

Let’s learn about the brain benefits of learning a second language!

This Is Your Brain on Language

The human brain is magnificent. With more than 100 trillion neuronal connections and impulses that travel at 268 miles per hour, nothing in the known universe is more complex than your brain. 

Several distinct regions in the brain form an interconnected network to make language comprehension, expression, and learning possible. As you actively study a second language, these areas light up and strengthen their connections, resulting in a healthier, more robust brain. 

Your brain on language promotes faster responses, better adaptation, and more competent cognitive function. 

According to specialist in language educational products, Dan Roitman,“As a language learner, you’ll not only become a more conscious thinker and listener who can communicate clearly and think creatively, but you’ll also gain the most significant benefit of multilingualism: a broader, more global perspective.” 

Are you ready to reap the benefits of learning a second language?

Learning a Second Language: Children vs Adults

A second language is any language you learn that isn’t your first or native language.

People used to think that only children could learn a second language successfully thanks to their sponge-like brains. Luckily, decades of research have proven this to be untrue. 

It’s easier for a child to imitate the phonetic sounds of a new language, but as an adult, you have the capacity to follow a disciplined learning routine, implement complex grammar structures sooner, and reap the brain benefits of learning a second language. 

Scientists are determined to prove the brain benefits of bilingualism. Considering that our brain function starts to decline in speed, memory, and execution at age 25, it’s pretty clear that it’s an excellent idea to learn a second language in adulthood! 

How long does it take to learn a new language? Depends on the language you choose. According to the US Foreign Service Institute, it takes around 480 hours to learn Spanish.

See also: 200+ Beginner Spanish vocabulary words (free PDF)

In the following list of benefits, we’ll explore the rewards that children receive at an early age for learning a second language as well as the benefits for adults.

1. Better Executive Functions

Benefits and improvements are evident in people as young as seven months old. Agnes Kovacs led a study in the International School for Advanced Studies, where babies were exposed to two languages at home. They showed more executive functions—such as memory and self-control—than babies in a monolingual household. 

As a child, functions start to evolve and so do the studies that follow. According to another study, bilingual 5-year-olds answered faster and better in memory games. 

2. Creativity and Achievement

The cognitive development in children and teenagers who are bilingual or multilingual have shown benefits of learning a second language, such as being more creative and doing better on tests. 

A study conducted in the US and the UK during the World Wars showed that bilinguals at a young age weren’t focused, performed poorly in school, and had confusion or developmental delays. Scientists even thought that the exposure to more than one language could lead to a split personality and other mental illnesses! 

Hence, the word spread that it was a terrible idea to learn a second language. Scientists later discovered that this study was flawed, as the subjects probably had PTSD due to trauma. The myth wasn’t debunked until the 1960s when doctors conducted more controlled research.

See also: Learning a second language boosts cognitive function

3. “Feel-Good” Chemicals in Your Brain

One of the benefits of learning a second language is the unleashing of “feel-good” brain chemicals. Students were shown to have less stress and more self-confidence, self-esteem, and better self-image according to the National Education Association (NEA).

4. Problem Solving and Cognitive Flexibility

During the same study by the NEA, they realized that bilinguals scored better at solving problems and memory skills, as well as listening aptitudes and cognitive flexibility—which is another term for “adaptation.”

See also: 10 Spanish audio lessons for beginners

5. Metalinguistic Awareness

Bilingual children show abilities when it comes to associations and the abstract parts of a second language. They can understand better how consonants or vowels have different phonetics in different languages. 

6. Math and Verbal Aptitude

Students who have studied a second language for at least four years get better scores on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). They rank better than their monolingual counterparts, specifically in math and verbal aptitudes.

7. Prevents Mind Aging

According to scientists, learning something new leads to increasing volume in gray matter which leads to neuron stimulation and creation of new neural pathways. That volume points out the quantity of neurons and dendrites—neuronal branches—that we have. 

This implies that you have more cells, therefore information and impulses can travel faster. This way, our brain gets used to more activity. It is called “neuroplasticity” and it’s what children have when it comes to learning new skills.

On the other hand, white matter is the fat that covers the connections between neurons. Thanks to it, information travels efficiently around your brain. One of the benefits of learning a second language is that those connections become stronger according to a study.

A study involving intelligence tests showed that elderly people could outscore their younger selves even after only one intensive course week of exposure to a foreign language. 

See also: 

8. Prevents Mental Illness

A new study conducted by York and Baycrest University, published in the paper reveals a game-changing fact. The people that participated in this study—ages 65 to 75—showed cognitive and brain improvements even without becoming fully bilingual. 

With only 16 weeks, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, scientists started seeing differences and positive results. After this, evidence points that one of the main benefits of learning a second language is that it has a protective consequence against mental illnesses like dementia. 

In fact, 35% of dementia risk can be erased by adding lifestyle changes to our day-to-day lives. Monolinguals are more prone to dementia than bilingual or multilingual people. 

See also: 

8. Prevents Mental Illness

A new study conducted by York and Baycrest University, published in the paper reveals a game-changing fact. The people that participated in this study—ages 65 to 75—showed cognitive and brain improvements even without becoming fully bilingual. 

With only 16 weeks, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, scientists started seeing differences and positive results. After this, evidence points that one of the main benefits of learning a second language is that it has a protective consequence against mental illnesses like dementia. 

In fact, 35% of dementia risk can be erased by adding lifestyle changes to our day-to-day lives. Monolinguals are more prone to dementia than bilingual or multilingual people. 

See also: 

Learn Spanish!

The benefits of learning a second language enhance memory, increase sustained-focus, help you with mathematical and verbal functions, compensate for damage, raise your cognitive reserve, help you cope and adapt faster, and lower the risk of mental illnesses.

One of the best languages to learn, based on the amount of people who speak it, is Spanish. Learning Spanish involves interlocking levels of brain functions that promote intellectual health. Other benefits of learning a second language include getting to know other cultures, connecting with more people, going abroad to study or retire, and having once-in-a-lifetime experiences outside your comfort zone. 

One of the best methods of learning a new language is by engaging in conversation with native Spanish-speakers. You’ll speed up your learning process with the help of Homeschool Spanish Academy. Tailor your Spanish package to suit your needs and interests and enjoy individualized sessions with a certified, native-speaking instructor. Check our affordable pricing and flexible programs. Try it out by signing up for a free trial class today!

Author Information

Nicole Canún
Freelance writer, content creator, and marketer. Proudly Mexican. Been to 30 countries. I love learning from different cultures and trying their cuisines. Obsessed with Asia. Fluent in Spanish and English, not so much in French.

Disney World August 2021

A month late is better than never, right? One of the only farming season vacations we plan in advance is the first week of August. This is the best week of the farming season for us to leave even if it isn’t raining because the crops are getting ready for harvest and requiring less attention. It also happens to be our 4th child Belle’s birthday week since her birthday is August 1. So every year for the last 3 years we have gone to Disney World for Belle’s birthday.

This year we stayed at Disney’s Riviera Resort in a 2 bedroom villa. These villas are amazing! They can sleep up to 9 adults and feature a stocked full size kitchen, dining table, living room, 2 full bathrooms, and a full size washer & dryer. The main bedroom has a king size bed. The living room has a queen size Murphy bed and a twin size Murphy bed. The second bedroom has 2 queen beds.

View through the main living space

Here’s a little secret about the Riviera resort: when choosing rooms you are given the option of a standard view room or a more expensive preferred view. Standard view rooms are on the front of the resort and have views of the parking lot and bus stop. Preferred view rooms are on the back of the resort and have views of the pool and Skyliner. So it sounds obvious that the more expensive preferred view rooms would be a better choice but not necessarily. The secret is that the standard view rooms face Epcot so you can see the Epcot ball from them and watch the Epcot fireworks at night. I’m not one to splurge on a better view when we aren’t in the room much so we have stayed in 3 separate standard view rooms at the Riviera in different room categories and on different floors and all of them have had Epcot views and I’d rather watch the fireworks from my room than look at the pool anyway!

If you’ve been following us for a while you might remember that we stayed at the Riviera as soon as it opened and it left a bad taste in our mouth. Since then the resort has worked out some of its opening kinks and has become one of our favorites and we’ve been back 2 more times. I do think it has one of the best pools on property for small children. Yach/Beach Club gets all the credit for its massive pool but it’s lacking in a great splash pad. Riviera has an awesome splash pad for the littles and a big slide in the main pool for everyone. As long as your kids can go down the slide alone there is no height restrictions on the big slide. Even my 2yo loves to fly down it and she has no problem doing it alone. Actually on this trip Belle turned 3 and ditched her life jacket and started swimming all by herself without it even going down the slide! My only complaint with the Riviera is still the Skyliner. It is not open early enough to make it to other Skyliner resorts for breakfast reservations and it is frequently shut down due to weather. This is no fault of Disney’s, they can’t control the weather, but it rains every day in Florida in the summer and when the Skyliner has to be shut down every time it rains that means it’s down for hours daily. We actually only rode the Skyliner twice the entire 8 days of this trip because it was closed all the time. The good news is when the Skyliner is down there are buses running but buses do take longer and are crowded and chaotic.

Something we love about the Riviera that keeps us coming back is their rooftop restaurant Topolino’s Terrace. Topolino’s has a character breakfast with Mickey, Minnie, Daisy & Donald. Oh and the sausage hash is back! It was removed from the menu for a while but it’s back now and is so good! Topolino’s is also great for dinner. Reservations are really hard to get at anytime of the day but always check regularly because people seem to cancel a lot last minute! They also have a very small walk up list that can usually accommodate one or two parties but you have to get there as soon as they open! We were able to get on the walk up list for breakfast twice and dinner once during this stay!

For Belle’s birthday we always spend the day at Magic Kingdom and have dinner at Be Our Guest. It’s our favorite MK park restaurant and since she loves Beauty and the Beast it’s a must for us! In the past we have always ordered her Mickey celebration birthday cake ahead of time and linked it to our reservation because they have limited quantities at each restaurant each day but they are no longer doing this. Now you just tell the hostess when you check in and hope they still have some left. I personally was very irked by this new system but thankfully they still had a cake for us that evening.

There are still no fastpasses at Disney right now (they’re coming back this fall as a paid service) so the lines were incredibly long. Since we are Annual Passholders, come regularly and had 8 days on this trip we were in no rush to cram in a bunch of park time and since the lines for everything were so long and that’s really hard to do with littles, we actually only spent half of each day in the park and half of the day in the pool. This worked out really well for us and the kids really enjoyed it.

La Hacienda at Epcot
Epcot World Showcase
Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom
Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom
Japan Pavilion Epcot
Dumbo at Magic Kingdom
People Mover at Magic Kingdom
Navi River at Animal Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Hollywood Studios
Africa Pavilion Epcot
Topolino’s Terrace

For the first time in years we do not have another Disney trip on the books. Our Annual Passes expire in September and we don’t plan to renew them. We will be back to Disney next year for sure but since it’s harvest on the farm now and we have other plans for this coming winter it would be next spring before we’re able to go again and paying for an AP for 6 months that we wouldn’t use just doesn’t make sense. So it’s see ya next year Disney for us!

Orange Beach & New Orleans July 2021

Every year for our annual beach trip we stay somewhere along the gulf coast between Gulf Shores, AL and Panama City Beach, FL. Where we go and stay largely depends on where we have hotel points at that point in time so that we can stay for free!

This year instead of going to the beach we planned a trip to Universal and then another trip to Disney so we were going to skip the beach. It sounded like a good idea in theory but when it came down to it after our Universal trip everyone still wanted to go to the beach so when the farm got a big rain we headed out! Unfortunately since it was so last minute all of our hotels we had points for were completely booked. We barely found a condo available at Phoenix V in Orange Beach, AL.

Phoenix has several different condos in this area and they all range in amenities such as pools, lazy rivers & splash pads. Phoenix V has an indoor pool, outdoor pool and a small splash pad area. There are also beach loungers, chairs and umbrellas for rent on the beach. This is a large condo building and the pool area is not big enough for the amount of people staying here. It was extremely crowded. The building itself was in pretty rough shape too. Our specific rental unit was nice and had been taken care of but the entire condo building and pool area needed some tlc. Also, there’s 4 elevators for the entire building and at rush hours like the evenings you could be waiting 30+ minutes for an elevator!

We stayed at the beach for a couple days then decided to drive over to New Orleans, LA which is less than 2 hours west. We love New Orleans and try to make it down there every year. For this trip I was able to use our Holiday Inn points to get our rooms free. We stayed at the Holiday Inn French Quarter which has an excellent location on Dauphine Street.

We weren’t planning on going to New Orleans or anywhere but the beach for that matter so we didn’t have our strollers with us. New Orleans is a lot of walking so we stopped at a Target and grabbed 2 umbrella strollers before we got into town and they were well worth the purchase!

As soon as we checked into our hotel we headed over to the Gumbo Shop to eat. Gumbo Shop is on Saint Peter street and one of our favorite French Quarter restaurants. After eating we were on a mission to find stuff for our new house so we hit up every single antique store in the French Quarter and made some awesome purchases. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of everything we bought like the old wooden bi-plane toy and large airplane picture for our youngest’s bedroom.

Mainly I wanted to find the Bevolo lighting store and we were successful with finding exterior lighting from them for our house. Bevolo hand makes gas lanterns that are seen all over the French Quarter. You can custom order lanterns for residential homes and they will ship them to you. I’ll discuss these more when we get to that part in our house process but we decided to go with all gas lanterns from Bevolo for the entire exterior of our home. They are stunning and I can’t wait to see them!

New living room light fixture
Copper gas lanterns from Bevolo

The next morning we got up early and headed back home. Unfortunately Cafe Du Monde didn’t open for several hours after we were already gone so we didn’t get to have coffee and beignets before leaving. On the way home we saw a random road sign for the Mississippi Petrified Forest so we decided to stop and check it out. This ended up being a great stop on our trip. It was a nice break from the car for the kids. They were able to run around and play for a while before we got back on the road.

A lot of the path around the petrified forest was paved but even the parts that weren’t we didn’t have any trouble pushing our cheap umbrella stroller around and we were even there after a big rain. There’s even a nice little campground there if you needed a break from driving and wanted to stay the night.

We only had one night in New Orleans and a goal in mind to hunt for house stuff but for future reference for anyone else you can easily spend days there even with small children. New Orleans has a really great aquarium, zoo and butterfly garden. For older kids you can take history tours around the French Quarter and Garden district that are full of interesting information and sights. For adults I highly recommend a haunted history tour through the French Quarter. The haunted history tours are done at night and they’re so interesting!

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

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