October 12, 2017

Direct Flights From Omaha

This fall, Frontier Airlines announced it will be adding more direct flights from Omaha, with new destinations being Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Fort Myers (Florida). The flights won’t start until spring/early summer 2018.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

An even more recent news came from American Airlines last week, who announced it would add a direct flight next year to Philadelphia. The airline already has nonstop service to Chicago; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Los Angeles; Miami; and Phoenix.

I love this news of more non-stop flights from Omaha. I try to avoid layovers when traveling with the kids. I’ll gladly pay more for a direct flight.

You don’t have to pay more, though. Allegiant Airlines is a budget airline with direct flights from Omaha to sunny destinations, too. I’ve tried that airline a couple times, with a mixed result. Here are my tips on what to expect when flying Allegiant Air.

Cocoa Beach is about an hour drive from Seminole County, Florida, where the Orlando Sanford International Airport is located. There is a direct flight to Sandord/Orlando via Allegiant Airlines.

But it can be done, and flying on one of these low-cost airlines makes for memorable trips! Read about my quick trips to Tampa Bay and Orlando flying with Allegiant. If you’re schedule is flexible, you just can’t beat the price.

Direct Flight Options From Omaha

Thinking back to those Florida trips makes me all wistful for winter vacation to a warmer city. Nothing is planned. Yet. But a travel blogger can dream. It doesn’t have to cost much. CheapOair has roundtrip fares for under $199. You can search flights here.

Here are a few of the warmer destinations with direct flights from Omaha that, I think, would be a great escape this winter:

Fort Myers, Fla.

Las Vegas

Miami

Orlando

Phoenix

Punta Gorda, Fla.

San Diego

San Francisco

Tampa

Here’s the complete list of direct flights from Omaha:

Atlanta

Charlotte

Chicago

Dallas

Denver

Detroit

Fort Myers, Fla.

Houston

Los Angeles

Las Vegas

Miami

Milwaukee

Minneapolis/St. Paul

New York City

Orlando

Phoenix

Portland, Ore.

Punta Gorda, Fla.

Salt Lake City

San Diego

San Francisco

Seattle

St. Louis

Tampa

Washington, D.C.

This list only involves flights out of Eppley Airfield in Omaha. The direct flight map was last updated Oct. 4, 2017. To see any updates later, be sure to check here.

 

Where would you fly directly to if given the chance this winter?


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September 5, 2017

Visiting Grand Ole Opry With Kids

You can’t pass through Nashville and not visit Grand Ole Opry. It’s just not done.

My family was on our #ohmyepicroadtrip this summer and our path led us through this great Tennessee city and I had one stop, and only one stop, that I insisted we make.

Grand Ole Opry. 

The entrance to the Grand Ole Opry is one big photo opp. Bring your camera.

We did it. With tired kids who’d been in the car for several hours. We received complementary tickets so I could tell you all about the experience.

Here’s why you have to visit the Grand Ole Opry…even with kids:

  1. Everyone is in awe – The Grand Ole Opry is the radio show that made country music famous. If you’re a fan of country music, you kinda have to make a pilgrimage there. But if you’re not, you still get goose bumps there. It has that kind of power. Even performers get a little starstruck by the building. When Aaron Lewis was on stage, he admitted to being overwhelmed by the venue, in spite of having performed to far larger crowds.
  2. Variety of music – Country has a big umbrella and I wouldn’t lump most of the performers we saw on the night we attended into that broad category. My favorite performer, the lady I was most excited to see when I read the lineup, was the award-winning bluegrass star, Rhonda Vincent. The lineup thoughtfully balanced the variety, scattering hit-makers of today’s country radio among gospel, Western swing and what my father-in-law calls “Country Western,” the performers your parents grew up listening. Each play about three songs and most chatted a bit between songs. It is a live radio show, after all.

    My favorite performer of the evening was Rhonda Vincent, a Grammy-winning bluegrass singer.

  3. Snacks – When going anywhere with kids, this is important. Popcorn and a little heartier fare like pizza and hot dogs are available, as well as beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The prices, like it is at any concert venue, are more than you’d expect.
  4. Celebrities – You never know who’s going to be in the audience or a special guest on the show. On our night, a well-known race car driver was there. The likes of Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Stevie Wonder, and John Fogerty are among the list of famous people appearing there.
  5. Tours – I’m disappointed that our road trip was off-schedule and meant that we had to miss the afternoon tour of the Opry. This place has a storied history, and you can choose three tours to learn more about it, as well as visit Ryman. FYI, if you want to be on stage when that famed red curtain rises, book the VIP Tour.

 

About bringing children to the Grand Ole Opry

The Grand Ole Opry is family-friendly.

I brought two young children to the show and you may be wondering if it’s good for kids.

Totally. It is a radio show, so there isn’t much of a chance of hearing anything inappropriate, if that’s a concern. And you can come as you are. Some people dressed up a bit, others wore jeans.

BUT.

It’s an evening show and if you have small children who get tired easily, you may have to weigh the pros and cons of bringing them. Grand Ole Opry shows start at 7 p.m. My youngest was 5 and she started to get antsy and cranky before intermission. 

Expect the show to last about two hours, including the intermission. On the night we were there, there were four performers in the first half, and four in the second half.

FYI: Any child younger than 4 does not need a ticket as long as they can sit on your lap.

 

If you go

Grand Ole Opry House

Where: 2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, Tenn.

https://www.opry.com

 

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary tickets to the Grand Ole Opry so I could write about it. I was not paid to write this post. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Opry With Kids

 

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July 17, 2017

My Outer Banks Bucket List

We’re headed somewhere I’ve never been to this summer: The Outer Banks of North Carolina. I’ve never been to that part of the country, so I’ve been excitedly making a wish list.

Let’s be honest: Being land-locked in Nebraska, it’s tempting to just write “BEACH” and be done with it. However, I’ve found a lot of fun things to do in OBX. If time and money were no concern, here’s a bucket list of everything we’d do there:

Hang Glide

We’ll probably head to the largest sand dunes on the east coast: Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head. Maybe I’ll be brave enough to try hang gliding (or if I chicken out, we could just fly kites).

Crabbing

What is more coastal than that? There are charters where families can go crabbing and/or shrimping, literally catching their dinner and having a totally and hands-on experience. This is definitely something new to us Midwesterners.

 

Climb a lighthouse

Check out the view from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse are open in the summer for self-guided climbs.

See wildlife

There are a lot of options in North Carolina to view wildlife. If we’re feeling like getting a workout, we could head to Pea Island Refuge and take a guided Interpretive Canoe Tour or try a  paddle tour into the heart of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. I’m pretty sure we’ll visit Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge anyway, since my kids are excited to do the red wolf howling on the trail.

And, you probably heard of them, but there are also wild horse in the area. I’m hoping we catch a glimpse of some.

Pirate Site-Seeing

My son is obsessed with pirates right now. There’s a very good chance we’ll do quite a few things on this four-day Blackbeard itinerary. For sure, we’ll head to Ocracoke, site of Blackbeard’s last stand, where we’ll find a pirate-y shop and Blackbeard museum called Teach’s Hole. I hear that island is quite lovely to explore, so we’ll check out the village and beaches, too. The Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach was named “Best Beach in America” by Dr. Beach in 2007. Beaufort looks like another pirate-y place we’d love, especially the NC Maritime Museum and Port City Tour’s The Legend of Blackbeard walking tour. A little more kid-oriented is Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks, and my kids are determined to go on their pirate ship.

Beach time

I’m looking forward to visiting a few beaches in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This is a shot of Coquina Beach at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

There are outfitters to rent body boards, surf boards, SUP boards, kayaks and who knows what else to add some more activity to our beach days. We’re staying an a vacation rental that provides beach gear like that.

Watermelon Festival

I love seeing what special events coincide with vacation. In the case of our great road trip, will be in the Outer Banks during the Watermelon Festival. Sounds like good summertime fun!

 

H2OBX Water Park

There’s a new water park in the Outer Banks called H2OBX. After the fun the kids had at their first visit to a water park, they’ve become fans of water slides and wave pools. This place looks exciting!

Horse ride on a beach

I think a horse ride anywhere is a great addition to trips, but imagine the view and the peaceful feeling of a leisure ride along a beach. Of course, this would have to wait until the kids are old enough.

Cruise with a dune buggy

This sounds like so much fun. I tried scooting around town on a golf cart once while on a vacation, and the looks of the Outer Banks buggies make me think this is a lot faster.

 

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The Wright Brothers National Memorial is in Kitty Hawk, NC. Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

How could we go to the Outer Banks and not visit Kill Devil Hills to see the Wright Brothers National Memorial, commemorating where the first controlled heavier-than-air flight took place? The memorial allows visitors to walk to the First Flight Boulder and Flight Line, which mark the location where the Wrights first flew. The memorial is undergoing quite a bit of construction, but it sounds like by Fall 2018, there will some new interactive exhibits worth checking out.

Free fun

Many towns in the Outer Banks have weekly events in the summer, like Duck, where they have interactive performances for children on Tuesday mornings, a family-friendly film that night, a free magic show on Wednesday mornings, and live music on Thursday nights.

Elizabethan Gardens

An aerial view of Elizabethan Gardens in the Outer Banks. Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

I don’t know what it is about gardens, but my kids love visiting them on vacations. This one looks particularly beautiful, and on some weekday summer mornings, there’s a themed kids activity included with admission.

First Flight Adventure Park

This one may or may not appeal to my kids, but I have an adventurous spirit, and the ropes course looks like fun. Challenging, yes, but way fun.

Satisfy the sweet tooth

More than a few people have mentioned Duck Donuts once they heard I was going to the Outer Banks. Photo courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

What’s summer without ice cream and treats? I’m thinking we’ll stop by Forbes Candies, for sure. And, I’ve heard lot of good things about Duck Donuts.

Roanoke Island Festival Park

Knowing my kids, they’d love visiting Roanoke Island Festival Park for one major reason: Touring a 16th-century sailing ship. Ok, not a real ship from that long ago, but a representation. The park and cultural center shows visitors what 16th century settlements were like, with costumed characters to greet you and answer questions. The ship, Elizabeth II, is only one area in the park with re-enactments and hands-on activities for kids; there’s also Settlement Site and American Indian Town. We’d have to stop at the Adventure Museum while there, as well.

Getting there

Check flights and package deals at Cheapo.com, where they have roundtrip flights for a ton of destinations for less than $199!

Your turn!

What should be included on this bucket list for the Outer Banks? Share your favorite restaurants, beaches, attractions, etc. I’d love all the tips you can give!

 

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I love a good bucket list to inspire travel! Check out some of of the other destination bucket lists here.

 

March 23, 2017

My Favorite Disney Off-Day Ideas

If you’re spending more than one day at a park at Walt Disney World, you’re going to need an off-day.

For me, a Disney off-day needs to be not-at-all related to Disney, so I wasn’t interested in the nearby putt-putt offerings, the Disney water parks, or Disney Springs. When I need a Disney break, I need to completely get out of the Magic Zone.

Read on for my favorite Disney World off-day ideas.

These are easy day trips from Orlando, some require more driving than others. You’ll need a car to get to them (and bring money for tolls).

Disney World Off-Day Ideas

Disney Off-Day Beaches

Get an early start to your day and drive to the coast from Orlando to hit a beach. On the Tampa Bay side, we visited Fort Desoto, Treasure Island, and Clearwater Beach. My favorite, by far, was Fort Desoto. The waves were gentle, the sand was powder sugar soft. It was less touristy with no hotels on the waterfront, but that also meant less dining options. Shell hunting was a lot of fun here. We rented two chairs and an umbrella for $16. Well worth it.

Distance: 100 miles

 

Treasure Island and Clearwater Beach are in more populated areas, which is good and bad depending on whether or not you like touristy beach areas. Clearwater Beach is a great choice, and it’s home to a restaurant we really liked, Frenchy’s.

Distance: 90 miles

 

Treasure Island had bigger waves, which is a plus for some, but the sand consisted of crushed shells and it hurt to walk on.

Distance: 95 miles

 

On the east coast of Florida, you can visit Cocoa Beach. This was a family favorite. The waves were big, but not too big, for small children, making boogie boarding a fun activity.

Distance: About 65 miles

 

Disney Off-Day Adenture

Head to North Orlando for two very memorable activities with the kids.

Kids as young as 4 can do the ZOOmAir Treetrop Adventure Park low-to-the-ground zip line course at Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. Adults can do a more challenging one. Plan on at least an hour.

While you’re there, you might as well visit the zoo! There is a fun splash garden there, so pack a swimsuit. For more details, read my posts about the Central Florida Zoo and ZoomAir Adventure Park ziplining.

Distance: 40 miles

 

A word of advice before you set out on an adventure in Florida: Bring a swimsuit. Marisa from Adventures of Tampa Mama told me that useful tip before our first Florida visit. She wasn’t kidding. It seems you can’t go to any attraction in the state without encountering a splash garden.

 

Wekiva Island is a exotic gem in the middle of a city. We canoed with the kids, stopping at Wekiva Springs State Park, which has a water hole where a lot of people were swimming.

We were short on time, and so we skipped the swim and hiked a little. Keep in mind, this is Florida and you’ll spot native wildlife there. Keep a respectable distance from animals and you’ll be fine.

I recommend packing snacks and water. It gets hot and if you’re not used to paddling, you’ll get tired. You also have the option of kayaking or trying standup paddleboards. For more details, read my post about about Wekiva Island.

Distance: 35 miles

 

There are so many airboat opportunities within about an hour or so from Walt Disney World. We visited Black Hammock Adventure, where we got to ride an airboat at dusk.

It was also a place where the kids got to hold a baby alligator and, rather morbidly if you think about it, taste fried alligator. (It was delicious)

Distance: 35 miles

 

Disney Off-Day Animals & More

Some of our favorite places to visit in central Florida had mostly indoor activities. Head to MOSI, the Museum of Science & Industry, for hands-on learning for all ages. There’s even an outdoor ropes course. Read about our visit to MOSI here.

Distance: 65 miles

 

Florida Aquarium in Tampa is popular with kids for good reason. The sting ray touch tank was memorable. Bring a bring swimsuit for the kids because the splash garden is amazing there. Read my post about the aquarium for more details.

Distance: 70 miles

 

In Clearwater, young Winter the dolphin fans will want to visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It’s a different kind of aquarium than the Florida Aquarium – think: marine hospital.

Distance: 90 miles

 

Get even more ideas by reading My Adventure In Central Florida and Two Days in Tampa Bay With Kids.

 

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February 16, 2017

My Isla Mujeres Bucket List

I’ve been told some stories about Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

That’s it’s so small, visitors and locals use golf carts to get around.

That if you time your visit right, you can swim with whale sharks.

That you mostly spend your vacation days sitting on a beach.

Isla Mujeres sounds pretty idyllic. I’m headed there soon, so I made a big wish list of what I’d like to do if time and money weren’t an issue. Truthfully, I will just be sitting, reading, and sleeping most of my vacation. But, if I do get up and find myself a golf cart, here are some other things I’d go do (Disclosure: this post has affiliate links):

Swim With Whale Sharks

Statue of a whale shark on Isla Mujeres (which is probably how close I’ll get to seeing a real one since I’m not going during the season you’d find them in Mexico). Photo by Kirt Edblom on Flickr.

This is on the bucket list, but I know full well I won’t be doing it. Wrong time of the year. If you want to swim with these gentle giants, you need to visit between June and September.

Chill at Playa Norte

Isla Mujeres is about 5 miles long, so it’s entirely possible that I will be at Playa Norte daily without much of a hassle. It’s the most popular beach on the island.

Explore By Golf Cart

You’ve got to love a vacation destination that’s small enough to explore that all you need is a golf cart. Photo by Shinya Suzuki on Flickr.

While we plan on getting around the island by bikes most of the time, it sounds so fun to rent a golf cart and zoom around the island.

Eat. A lot.

It’s a small island but it is loaded with good restaurants. A lot specialize in fresh seafood because, come on, it’s an island. Among the ones that rank high on travel lists and get featured on blogs a lot are Ballyhoo Restaurant & Margaritas, Mango Cafe and Lolo Lorena. Lolo Lorena sounds like an especially unique dining experience. I also have Bastos Grill, Greenverde, Ruben’s and La Lomita on my list.

Try Mexican Specialties

While on the topic of eating…Yucantan has some noted foods that I want to try, including a citrus roasted pulled pork specialty that originated there called Cochinita pibil. I read about it here, a post about Mexican food I’ve never heard of before, including fruits like nance fruit and guaya fruit (which sounds trick to eat), and cheese-stuffed street food called marquesitas.

Underwater Museum

The surreal-looking sculptures that create a reef in an underwater museum in Mexico called Museo Subacuatico de Arte. Photo by Andy Blackledge on Flickr.

There’s a surreal-looking sculpture garden off the island is not only beautiful to see while snorkeling or diving, it’s also functional by contributing to the reef structure and growth of coral. I’d love to see the Museo Subacuatico de Arte, plus learn how it helps keep the environment healthy for marine life. More information here.

Shop The Women’s Beading Cooperative

This place looks like a nice place to purchase homemade gifts to bring home.

Visit A Turtle Farm

The island has a sanctuary for sea turtles called NAME. Here, they have a hatchery and regularly release the hatchlings to sea.

Zip Line Over Water

You can zip line over the ocean on Isla Mujeres. Photo by Grisha Levit on Flickr.

How often do you get to zipline over an ocean? Garrafon Natural Reef Park offers that experience on Isla Mujeres.

Find The Recycled Bottle Island

There is a man-made island found on Isla Mujeres that’s kept afloat by recycled plastic bottles (it’s called Joyxee Island or Joyxee Island II). A quick tour can be arranged. Sounds like the sort of oddity I need to see while on vacation. Here’s the Trip Advisor page on it.

See Mayan Ruins

You can find incredible ruins in Mexico, and for the best preserved, I know we need to go to the mainland. Isla Mujeres does have some remains of ruins, though. Being on the east side of the island, they’re said to be important in that they’re the first to have the sun hit them each day.

Sea Kayak

Our little hotel has some kayaks available for guests to use, so why not try sea kayaking? Since this is a bucket list post, I’d like to imagine we’d have a guide who’d take us to gorgeous locals. The likely scenario, though, will be that Mr. Wonderful and I will strike out on our own and we’ll get tired 5 minutes into it.

Find A Cenote

Mexico is known for cenotes, underground, water-filled caves. There aren’t any on the island, so if I were to swim in one, I’d have to go inland. There are a few on the Yucatan, so who knows? Someday I’ll find one.

What should I add to my Isla Mujeres bucket list?

 

February 6, 2017

4 Tips For Large Group Dining At Disney World

Traveling to Walt Disney World with a large group can be a wonderful thing, and wonderfully frustrating thing.

When it comes to a large group dining at Disney, it pays to plan ahead (especially if you go over the holidays).

Large group dining at Disney World is possible, but not always easy.

Here are some tips to make sure your large group can enjoy a meal together:

1. Plan ahead

If at least one member of your party is staying on Disney property, he or she can make a reservation at 180 days in advance. Read blog post by WDW Prep School has a great list of restaurants at the Disney World that can accommodate large groups (and includes max size of groups). It helped me plan our trip!

2. Speak with a person to book it

My Disney Experience app does allow booking a fairly good-sized group – I’ve been able to book for 10 people. If you don’t have the app, get that on your phone pronto.

I’ll wait.

Got it? 

When we tried to get a table for 36, we had to speak with a person.We used the app to book three separate, staggered reservations at Maya Grill at the Coronado Springs Resort. When we arrived early, we asked the restaurant staff to seat all of us together. They could accommodate us since we were the first reservations at the restaurant.

If you’re planning ahead of time, though, it’s even better to call to set it up (407-939-5277). Keep in mind that our reservation was right when the restaurant open – any later and it wouldn’t have helped.

Note: I would not recommend Maya Grill for large groups.

3. Be ready to reserve a meal at an odd time

Even when planning 180 days in advance, some of our reservations had to be made for atypical dining times. For a party of 16, we got a reservation at Be Our Guest at the Magic Kingdom, we had a reservation time for 11:30 a.m., but for the Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot at Epcot, our lunch for 11 people was at 2:30 p.m.

4. Group size could change the experience

We had a large party reservation for 16 people at 50s Primetime Café at Hollywood Studios. I’d heard great things about the experience there. There’s a lot of humorous interaction with the waiters. But, it was lost when our waitress tried to get the orders of 16 people.

Granted, part of the problem was that two of the families in our group didn’t speak English as a first language, and maybe the sass was lost of them.

Recommended restaurants

Disney Restaurants for Groups

Here are three restaurants where I had a good experience dining with a large group. Keep in mind, we were traveling with younger children, which may or may not be a detail that you are also taking into account.

– The Quick Service restaurant Be Our Guest at lunchtime was efficient and spacious enough for us to find tables next to each other, even for a group of 16. On the Disney dining plan, it is one Quick Service Credit per person. Reservations are a must.

– The Storybook Dining lunch at Akerhaus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot was wonderful for meeting princesses. If you’re on the dining plan, it is one Table Service dining credit. Our group of 11 was seated together. The food was great.

Chef Mickey’s at the Disney’s Contemporary Resort accommodated a group of seven together. It is a buffet and rather hectic, but it’s another great character meal. We were there for breakfast. If you’re on the dining plan, it is one Table Service dining credit.

– I would not recommend Maya Grill at Coronado Springs Resort for a large group. Our entire party, 36 of us, had a dinner there and it was a three-hour comedy of errors. On the positive side, we were able to make a reservation there just the day before and we were seated all together.

What are your favorite Disney restaurants? Would you recommend them for groups?