Summer Fun Family Checklist

The school year has finally ended and the kids are amped for summer! You may have trips planned, but a family bucket list can help fill those lonesome summer days. Feel free to use this bucket list year after year, or create your own. Either way, you will be creating those fun summer memories you and your family will remember for years to come!

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Experience Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island rich in history, culture, friendly people… and we can’t forget delicious cuisine! If you are unsure what to expect or contemplating whether you should visit the island (since the destruction from hurricane Maria) than read on! My answer is simply – YES! Here are my reasons why and what you can expect.

Support

Many parts of Puerto Rico were without electricity, water, food and other supplies when hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island September 20, 2017. With slow federal response the island is doing its best to go back to normal. Our tourism helps the island tremendously. When speaking with many of the locals they want all of us to know that Puerto Rico is still a beautiful island open to tourists. Many of the popular tourists locations such as Old San Juan are in great shape and ready for your arrival.

No Passport needed!

For some this is not a big deal as you may already have one. However, when traveling with a large family buying passports in addition to vacation expense can cost you a hefty penny. Once everyone has their passports the world is your oyster. But, if are anxious to travel somewhere exotic and tropical in the meantime visit our beautiful islands that are part of the United States; Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Hawaii.

 

Plane tickets & Car rental

Our tickets were a reasonably priced roundtrip for about $300 in January. Not bad at all to visit paradise. There are some tips you can follow to find the best days and times when to purchase tickets by reading my previous article Travel tips for the SMART consumer Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport is one of largest airports in Puerto and most closest to the popular city Old San Juan. The airport was clean and well organized.

car

Other important takeaways:

If you arrive after 10:30 pm the airport was pretty empty. You can expect most of the restaurants and bars within the airport to be closed as well. No worries though! There will be plenty of delicious places open when you leave the airport to start you on your adventure!

The car rental kiosk at the airport closes at midnight. There is also only one kiosk open for renting with all companies that time of night. Renting a car is the same process and same companies that you find here in the United States (Enterprise, Hertz, Budget).Your current auto insurance policy with full coverage should cover you while in Puerto Rico. The roads and highways looked no different than your typical drive in the United States. There were a few toll roads depending on what part of Puerto Rico you are visiting. In some areas you could definitely see the devastation from the hurricane, but overall the roads were safe to drive on.

Puerto Rico does offer ride sharing if you decide not to rent a car. Unsure about the parking,  we caught an Uber a few times when heading into Old San Juan. Our Uber drivers were friendly and very knowledgeable. It was interesting listening to how they and their families survived hurricane Maria and how they were doing today with the recovery. Each driver we had said they were thankful for people visiting the island. Every bit helps including our tourism! (By the way there were a few large paid parking garages in Old San Juan)

Where to stay?

Most hotels will cost you $220 a night and up depending on what you are looking for. We decided to book our stay with Book VIP and stayed at the nearby beautiful Wyndham Hotel. However, if I could go back in time I would have decided to stay in an Airbnb in Old San Juan. For the same price you can stay in the city near all the action of night life, restaurants and have a local experience in beautiful architecture.

dorado

If you would like to splurge and experience a true island resort type of stay I highly recommend The Ritz Carlton in Dorado, Puerto Rico. Located on a beautiful golf course and beach, this resort is very top notch and exclusive. You can also purchase real estate or stay in a beautiful villa.

Cuisine

monfongo

Coming from someone who does not eat pork or beef, my Puerto Rican food was still delicious! The islands most popular dish Mofongo (typically made with fried green plantains) is mashed together in a pilon which consists of a wooden mortar and pestle, with broth, garlic, olive oil, and pork cracklings or bits of bacon. It can also be made vegetarian with carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli. I also had a delicious chicken dish paired with homemade hot and fruity hot sauce. Just devine!

Hanging Out

We woke up early to Uber into Old San Juan. We were told on the weekends go into  town early enough before the cruise ships come in. Our first stop was finding a coffee shop to enjoy the islands espresso with a hint of Grand Manier. Eager to get out of a warm rainforest down pour, we stumbled upon Café Berlin. Café Berline was  perfect! Great espresso, beautiful décor, vegetarian dishes, and very friendly staff.

After we left Café Berlin it was still raining so we stepped into one of the local mom and pop shops to purchase a durable umbrella for only $5! We step out onto the cobble stone lined streets to explore Old San Juan. Here were some of our favorite places:

 

haitian

Haitian Gallery

367 Calle Fortaleza

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

A must see for beautiful, unique art for well over 30 years. Don’t forget to venture upstairs for more.

cigar

The Cigar House of Puerto Rico

257 Calle Fortaleza

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

Purchase cigars or chillax in the beautiful cigar room. Enjoy full concierge service which includes a backroom tour of the most exquisite cigars. Enjoy a cognac at the table while you blow one back.

umbrella

The Colorful Umbrellas

Fortaleza Street

Beautifully colored umbrellas decorate the sky of this popular street.

 

pigeons

Pigeon Park “The Parque de las Palomas” (Bird Watching area)

Calle de Tetuan, San Juan Puerto Rico 00901

Whoever thought you could find such peace sitting amongst birds?

 

monastary

The Monastery Art Hotel & Suites

250 Calle de Cristo

San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

One of the most beautiful places to stay in the Old San Juan District. Close to nightlife,

monuments and museums.

lady pizza

Bari Handcrafted Pizza

Calle del Cristo #154

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

Delicious oven baked pizza (try the artichoke heart!). Beautiful open garden setting, delicious espresso, music (Bob Marley was playing!), friendly staff.

 

names

Los Yeyos la Casa del Mofongo

353 Calle San Francisco

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

Great tiny bar that serves great food and best Mofongo on the Island. Be sure to write your name on the wall in marker before you go!

 

fort2

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

501 Calle Norzagarary

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico 00901

A Historical landmark citadel from the 16th century named in honor of King Phillip II from Spain. Bring your walking shoes to explore this beautiful site.

San Juan has so many beautiful things to see and do. This is the type of place where you don’t necessarily have to plan. On a typical weeknight you could hear and see live music playing in the streets. Enjoy!

mom

If you would like help planning your next relaxing vacation try travel designer www.travelroute365.com

Want to plan it all yourself? We like Book VIP

 

 

 

 

NYC with Kids

Kids. From the moment they come into our lives they bring new situations and adventures.

I can honestly say that I have delightfully experienced many things and met many new people in my life thanks to my girls.

This past weekend’s trip to New York City was no different.

My oldest daughter, who is 15, was invited to play string bass at the world famous Lincoln Center in NYC with her schools Chamber Orchestra.

What an honor and what an opportunity for all of us to finally take a bite out of the Big Apple…..with KIDS!

As a mom, the thought of traveling to NYC with little ones (4 and 7) makes me a little uneasy. We have only traveled through Manhattan by car a few times a year to drop off my step-children who live in Queens. I was overwhelmed just watching the hustle and bustle from the car.

I would stare out the window thankful that my kids were safely strapped into their car seats – peering their eyes above the brim of the window. And my husband taking on the honking and numerous fender benders that we nearly missed inch by inch as we made our way through the city.

However, we survived New York City! Not only did my daughter’s school place in the competition, but we all grew from the experience.

Here are some cool pics and tricks to help you out if you are considering heading out to the city that truly never sleeps.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Newark, New Jersey to save money before heading into the big city for the weekend. You can save big and it’s only a 20 minute drive away. Great cocktails, ambiance, and kids eat free!

The food trucks making their way through traffic in true New York fashion.

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We choose The Watson Hotel on 57th St. so we wouldn’t have to walk too far with the little ones. It was about an 8 minute walk to our event at Lincoln Center. It had some of the least expensive parking at $37 a day, and the rooms were clean and decent. The prices for rooms were fairly inexpensive as compared to other hotels in the city.

newyork2

The premise of our trip! My daughter playing string bass (far left standing) at Lincoln Center. Her schools Chamber Orchestra placed second runner up (third in the nation) and received the honorable Forte Award for most distinguished group. Good news parents: there is an upscale snack bar in the lobby that serves sandwiches, chips, fruits, and cocktails. Perfect breather that your kids will definitely need in between performances.

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We made reservations at The Colesium Bar and Grill. We choose this restaurant based on location (an 8 minute walk from Lincoln Center), a diverse menu that both adults and children could find something they would like, and they were okay with kids eating there. The prices were a little high for bar priced food, but the food was very good.

Next, we headed underground in a glass elevator which was located in the middle of a sidewalk. The elevator took us to an underground mall and food eatery called TurnStyle. The kids went to the well know Dillon’s Candy Store full of a candy emporium!

newyr4

We were anxious to hit up Times Square, but getting there was a 20 minute walk. Not good for the little one’s unless you have a stroller. It was also freezing so Uber and Lyft was a MUST! The cost was inexpensive $8 to $12 for a 7 seater vehicle to fit my entire family. We waited less than 10 minutes going and coming back.

Stepping out into Times Square was like stepping into a fish bowl. Wall to wall people. Hang on to your kids and enjoy the lights, sights and people watching.

newyork3

The Statue of Liberty and other characters were dressed to take photos with eager tourists, but BE AWARE! They want your money. $20 to be exact for snapping a photo with you.

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Hold on tight to your children! My daughter and I got caught in the middle of another NY traffic jam!

 

Inside the NYC subway near Times Square.

nyc2

I had no idea that it was similar to an airport. There were places to eat, small shops and loads of people hanging out. There was live music to watch and people dancing. You buy your tickets ($2 to $4 range) and wait to hear what gate you need to to be at to jump on the train.

If you enjoy a nice beer/cider you are in luck! They have beer/cider on tap in the subway. A small to large costs $6 to $8. You get a cup to go and are free to walk around with it.

I felt more comfortable than I thought I would be waiting at the Subway Station with kids in tow.

nyc3

 

 

Call it cliche but we wanted to experience all the “New York” like things. On a short walk from our hotel we found Morningstar Restaurant for breakfast. They served lunch and dinner . A cute typical neighborhood New York diner. The food was great, the staff was super nice, fast and accomadating.

A Yummy New York bagel sandwich with turkey bacon, scrambled egg and cheese. This won my kids heart. I enjoyed a coffee with many selections of Brandy to go inside! Morningstar Restaurant.

newyrk5

 

 

Key points to consider when traveling with kids:

1) Google the address and area of your stomping grounds. I always investigate the area with Google Earth when planning where we will stay and where we will go. It helps to familiarize yourself with the area. Many things look better on a website than they do in person.

2) Map the distance between certain attractions you plan to visit. Everything can seem appealing to visit, but may be further away from where you thought. Mapping out the distance between each location will save you so much frustration!

3) Visit the websites of each city, attraction and hotel. Websites are a wealth of information. You can find reviews from recent visitors and events that are going on during your visit. That gives you a step up on visiting as a well informed tourist.

Enjoy your Family Time!

 

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Kids’ Corner: Breakfast Popsicles

After school the other day, my girls ages 5 and 7 asked when we were finally going to use the popsicle molds that had been sitting in the cabinet. After a long day at work and envisioning their excitement in the morning, I gladly said “Sure, why not?”

And so, my girls and I grabbed a few fresh fruits (I snuck in a few vegetables), pulled out the blender and began our healthy creation. This idea not only was quick and fun to make, but they were healthy enough for the girls to eat in the morning for breakfast!

Imagine telling your kids to go grab a Popsicle with breakfast! You can! Here is what we used, but honestly the possibilities are endless. Most importantly the containers are recyclable. This makes the healthy Popsicle’s become a normal healthy staple in the freezer. You never really need to buy boxed popsicles again. What’s really in those “healthy” popsicles anyway?

The following recipes are clear of artificial dyes and additives. What these popsicles are full of is loads of vitamin C and healthy sugars.

 

Breakfast Popsicles (version 1)

1 banana

1 mandarin orange

Half cup of blueberries

1 small carrot

1 cup of Almond Milk

 

Throw all fruits and almond milk into blender. Blend for approximately 10 seconds or less for more fruit chunks. Pour into popsicle molds and let freeze overnight.

poscicles

 

(makes approx.. 4 popsicles)

 

Breakfast Popsicles (version 2)

6 chunks of watermelon

2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon

Half cup of cherries

A few kale leaves

1 cup of freshly squeezed organic raw orange juice

Throw all fruits and orange juice into blender. Blend for approximately 10 seconds or less for more fruit chunks. Pour into popsicle molds and let freeze overnight.

(makes approx.. 4 popsicles)

girls pop

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Tips for the SMART consumer

Traveling with family any time of year will cost you a pretty penny. Planning ahead and selecting alternatives to your travels can save your household hundreds, and in some cases even thousands of dollars. The larger your family gets the more important this “strategy” becomes. Here are some of my favorite traveling tips that has proven to be a great benefit to saving money.

Book VIP

 Book VIP is an extremely affordable way to vacation. Not only do they offer down payment options for your trip, but they offer trips to some of your favorite destinations such as Punta Cana, Vegas, and Orlando. In my investigating pricing for my family trips they are my number one way to book travel. When you have a large family like I do, not having to pay for everything up front is always a sure win! To learn more about Book VIP or book your next vacation click here: Book VIP.

EXPEDIA TIPS

Expedia has become my first choice in selecting pricing for hotels, flights and car rental for several reasons:

PROS: Expedia allows the customer to choose from a wide variety of hotels and car rentals across the United States without paying any costs upfront. Book your car or hotel in advance and select pay at hotel at the very end of your purchase. This is a great help for families who may not have access to credit cards or enough money to pay for hotel fees up front. It allows the planner to proceed with checking off their travel “to-do-list.”

CONS: You will have to place a credit or debit card on file, but you can cancel your booking up to one week in advance at most locations. Some of the “high end” hotels require you to pay at least one night in advance. This is a small CON as I have never had any issues with placing my card on file and cancelling.

 

DRIVING VS. AIRPLANE TIPS

If you have a large family like mine, traveling on an airplane can seem like a pricey luxury. More than likely, you will save hundreds and hundreds of dollars travelling by car. As I mentioned before, I always start my planning by searching on Expedia. Although I know my chances could be slim on finding discounted seats for my large family, there are those rare instances there (depending on the location) might be some discounted rates. In comparing the difference in price between driving versus airplane, let’s take a look at some simple math.

A family of five flying to Florida round-trip costs $348 per person bringing your total to $1740.

A family of five renting a van to and from Florida costs $650. Don’t forget to factor in gas (approximately $500) the total comes to $1150 or $230 a person.

So far you have saved about $590!

There may be times that absolutely calls for airplane travel such as traveling oversees or traveling from east coast to west coast. In those instances here are a few tips that could help:

Airfordable  is a fairly new alternative to affording your airline tickets. For a small fee you simply search for your airline tickets on your favorite airline website or search engine. Upon selecting your flight, upload your screenshot to Airfordable during the booking process. Make bi-weekly payments up to your departure date. And no worries, your rates are locked in!

Southwest Airlines has a superb credit card that racks up points towards your airfare. Friends and family alike have raved about receiving airline tickets for free or little to no cost. More info: (put site)

A final tip: Timing when purchasing airline tickets is also super important in getting the best deals. According to Airlines Reporting Corporation,  the best time to purchase airline tickets is at least 7 to 12 weeks out. The only exception would be holiday time travel. Purchase those tickets as soon as possible!!

 

AIR BNB VERSUS HOTEL TIPS

I recently began tweaking some final touches to my family’s summer trip. One factor of the planning that always seems to be an issue is finding a large enough hotel room. This room must be large enough to accommodate everyone (which is really code for: teens MUST have their own room, the kids ages 5 and 7 have their own space, and of course the parents need PRIVACY). Some of my favorite hotels over the road that can accommodate for large sized families are Sonesta Suites , Comfort Suites , and StayBridge Suites.  If you notice a trend the “code word” is : Suites.

Nonetheless, there are times when the city that you are traveling to have no hotel “suites” around. If you are not interested in purchasing two hotel rooms at a time, I highly recommend giving Airbnb a try! Airbnb began back in 2008, but its popularity of allowing travelers to live like a local across the World has risen. The average stay per night at any given time ranges in 500,000 area.

Not long ago as I searched for a hotel large enough to accommodate my family, I booked two rooms on Expedia totaling $350 for one night. Uncomfortable with the price, I decided to try a search on Airbnb. That search not only saved me $150, but my family and I will be staying in a full 3 bedroom house, on a Christmas Tree Farm! Savings and adventure! You can’t beat that!

 

GAS TIPS

Guzzle, guzzle! When traveling by car there is no way to avoid a fill-up. So, what can you possibly do to help ease those high priced fill-ups?

My first suggestion before you hit the road is to check gas prices at GasBuddy.com. You can search by city, zip, and State.

Next, you may luck up and find a bed and breakfast or hotel such as Choice Hotels  that offer a free gas card just for booking with them.

Upon reaching your destination do not forget about good old fashioned local transportation (i.e. bus, train, bike) to get around on. If you are unsure of where to locate alternative transportation try Rome2Rio. The site will actually will help you plan your transportation of choice simply by putting in your destination. It will provide you with cost and travel time no matter what city you live in.  And then there is also good old Uber and Lyft which will provide you with a lower cost, less formal alternative to a taxi. Refer a friend a get a free ride!

Lastly, here is a list of the BEST CREDIT CARDS FOR GAS. Buy the gas and rack up the rewards!

 

FOOD TIPS

A bulk of your trip expenses will come from hungry bellies. Little and big ones alike will want to snack and drink in between breakfast lunch and dinnertime. When traveling by car or plane try these simple money saving options:

Avoid filling up on drinks and snacks at gas stations or airport kiosk’s by stocking up on chips, fruit, juice boxes and water bottles ahead of time. Our favorite places to stock up without going deep into your pockets are Costco, Dollar General and Trader Joe’s.

Cut your fast-food stops in half by prepping sandwiches in the car and storing them in a small cooler. If you are rushing to catch a flight, have the family eat in the car on the way to the airport. That way, they aren’t wanting expensive food stands once they reach the airport.

Here are a few sandwich ideas that have proven to please everyone in my family:

Mama Sophia’s Turkey Bacon Breakfast Biscuits (Makes 8 to 10 sandwiches)

1 to 2 cans of biscuits (large size)

1 pkg of turkey bacon

1 pkg of cheese (we use Colby Jack slices)

Prepare according to the instructions. Wrap in tinfoil. The biscuit’s and meat won’t spoil easily and when the kids awaken from the first break stop, just hand ‘em out the bag. Simple Simple. Add some fruit and a water bottle or orange juice that you packed and there you have it. Breakfast on the go!

Cost to prepare sandwiches: $12 versus Cost at McDonald’s Breakfast $4+ per person for a family of 5 $20

Savings $8+ for Breakfast!!

 

Mama Sophia’s Grilled Spinach Chicken Wraps

Prepared baked, grilled, or fried chicken

1 pkg of Spinach Tortilla Wraps (or Plain/Gluten Free)

1 pkg Spinach leaves or romaine lettuce

Cheese optional

Condiments of herb mayo, mustard or ranch

You can substitute meat with your favorite deli or veggie meat. Or, pack on some extras veggies! Add some chips, fruit and favorite drink.

Your smart planning just saved your family $21 on lunch! Based on $7+ per person for a family of 5

I hope you and your family save some bucks with my tips and spend the leftover savings on something new and adventurous!