January 7, 2018

What Young Kids Like At Science Museum Of Minnesota

On our recent weekend in the Twin Cities, I flip flopped in deciding whether we should go to a children’s museum or a science center. You can’t really go wrong with either place when your kids are 6 and 8. So, we opted for The Science Museum of Minnesota.

Full disclosure: I chose the Science Museum of Minnesota because I wanted a “Stranger Things” shirt. Not for my kids’ enjoyment. J/K (not really, I wanted that T-shirt). Also, our tickets were complimentary so I can review.

Science Museum of Minnesota

Here’s what our kids – both in early grade school – enjoyed at Minnesota Science Museum:

Sportsology

This new addition to the museum was a favorite of the entire family. The kids had simulated races against athletes and T. rex, measured their reflexes, and studied their soccer moves on video. It’s a well-designed space, and a lot of fun.

The only “athlete” the kids could beat in a footrace –
the gopher.

Dinosaurs & Fossils

Dinosaurs capture the imaginations of young kids. There are real fossils on display and replicas, as well as a small area with puppets that appealed to my youngest. Don’t skip seeing the Triceratops – it’s one of only four real Triceratops on display in the world.

One of the few Triceratops fossils on display in the world can be found at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Experiment Gallery

This one has a lot of hands-on fun things to engage the little ones (the museum says “Please do touch”). Both kids enjoyed playing with the wave tank, and they liked the opportunity to build things.

The Mississippi River

Climbing up to the top of the Charles E. Towboat was fun for both kids, who got a kick out of pretending to control the boat while soaking in the view from up high. I nearly dismissed this area, but I’m glad the kids pushed to explore it.

Both kids loved playing with the solar system table.

The Collectors Corner is another neat spot: We saw kids trading rocks for other real objects like a fossil or minerals. If you think of it, have your kids bring along a natural object for your next visit.

Science Live

My youngest enjoyed watching the show on the Science Live stage. She got to be one of the selected participants for the program. To see the list of shows on the schedule, visit here.

First time at Science Museum of Minnesota

This museum is quite large, so if this will be your first visit, I recommend the helpful First Time Visitors page. I, of course, did notice this page until after our visit, but it has a lot of good tips (ie. you can bring your own food in to eat, or eat at one of the cafes).

How much time to spend

We allotted just over two hours for the museum since we had a long drive home. You’ll want more time than that. If you’re including a movie at the Omnitheater, you’ll need a minimum of three hours (if you’re fine skipping some exhibits).

If you go

Science Museum of Minnesota

Where:120 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, Minn.

When: Check hours here

Cost: Adults, $18.95; children (4-12) and seniors, $12.95; children 3 and younger; FREE. FYI: Expect to pay for parking.

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Want to plan your own Great Minnesota Weekend?You can get some inspiration from my Holiday Weekend In Minnesota and Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List now, or check out these upcoming posts:

Christmas at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis

Where To Stay Near The Twin Cities

 

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Want to read more about another great, kid-friendly science center in the Midwest? Check out this post about Science City in Missouri.

January 3, 2018

5 Things To Know About LEGOLAND Discovery Center

You’d think after nearly a half-dozen visits to Kansas City with the kids, you’d think we would have gone to LEGOLAND Discovery Center by now. We have a son that’s really into LEGOs. We finally made it to the Crown Center attraction this winter, and here’s the takeaway from the experience.

Disclosure: I was provided complimentary admission to visit LEGOLAND Discovery Center so I could write about it.

5 things to know about LEGOLAND Discovery Center

1. LEGOLAND Discovery Center is not the same thing as LEGOLAND.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centers bill themselves as smaller versions of LEGOLAND, but having been to both, I’d say that’s a bit of a stretch. They are owned by the same company, and they are similar in that:

  • Both are inspired by the blocks and feature a ton of really amazing LEGO sculptures
  • Both have rides.
  • You can build things at both.

LEGO Merlin at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City.

By their nature of being indoors, Discovery Centers are much smaller than LEGOLAND theme parks. The good news is that the lines are way more tolerable than LEGOLAND theme park lines. In fact, we had no wait for either ride at LEGOLAND Discovery Center KC.

Have reasonable expectations and you’ll enjoy the experience.

2. The rides shouldn’t be your main draw here.

Before visiting the Kansas City LEGOLAND Discovery Center, I had a friend tell me there were two rides there and her kids only wanted to go on those rides over and over again. So, I assumed they were super cool. Well…I guess LEGOLAND San Diego set some high standards.

As Merlin’s Apprentice Ride spun around, you could control the height of your seats by the speed of your pedaling.

The rides in KC are indeed good rides for kids, particularly for the early elementary age or younger crowd. Older kids may be bored. But don’t discount a good target shooting ride. If you ever played Ninetendo or Playstation, you’ll probably enjoy the Kingdom Quest.

But do not assume these rides will be like LEGOLAND theme park rides. Remember the whole “indoor attraction” thing? These rides are on the small side.

3. Don’t skip the 4D cinema.

It’s tempting to think a 10-minute movie is skippable, but don’t do it.

Glasses on and all ready for the 4D movie to begin at LEGOLAND Discovery Center KC.

It’s pretty entertaining getting “sneezed” on by a dragon in a movie or feeling the snowfall you see on screen.

4. Expect to spend about two hours here.

How much time you spend at the Kansas City LEGOLAND Discover Center depends on a few factors, including just how into LEGO detail work your kids are, how easy you can get them out of the climbing area, and whether your kiddos need a nap.

My daughter did not want to leave the play area inside LEGOLAND Discovery Center.

We spent less than two hours here since we had a long drive home, but I could see it lasting longer. Take into consideration some of the daily programs there, and whether or not your kid is prone to riding rides over and over again.

Your kids will likely run pass some pretty cool things, like MIniland, that you may want to linger in to see the exquisite detail of things. The Miniland in KC was pretty impressive.

The Miniland inside LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Kansas City has quite a few KC landmarks made out of LEGOs, as well as this interactive race car track.

5. Get down and build alongside your littles.

It’s tempting to sit down and watch, but things get a whole lot more enjoyable when you get down and build with your kids. I designed my own square for a wall quilt and helped my son build a race car. There are 10 building areas at LEGOLAND Discovery Center. Good times, and good memories, for sure.

There are 10 areas where families can create LEGO structures, including one with earthquake tables and a race car track to test out your engineering skills.

If you go

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Kansas City

Where: 2475 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.

Cost: $15 to visit if you purchase online in advance; in-person tickets will cost at least $4 more per person. Kids under 2 are FREE.

TIP: LEGOLAND Discovery Center is right next to SEA LIFE Kansas City Aquarium, and you can usually purchase tickets together for a better price.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Kansas City is near a lot of great attractions around Crown Center. Here’s a family guide to Crown Center.

* * * * *

Want more KC family vacation ideas?

Our WinterFest visit was part of a 24-hour trip to Kansas City, packed with a ton of fun, great food, and beautiful sights. Be sure to read all about our adventures:

24 Hours In Kansas City With Kids

Tips For WinterFest At Worlds Of Fun

Kid-Friendly Indoor Activities For KC Winter Getaways – Jan. 11

 

Looking for more things to do during the holidays? Here’s a post with 15+ fun things to do in Kansas during the holidays and a KC Holidays Bucket List.

If you have a little more time for your visit, check out fun things to do in the winter with kids in Kansas City or see what family-friendly activities are near Worlds of Fun.

* * * * *

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Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

 

December 30, 2017

10 Beautiful Midwest Destinations For Families

I’d like 2018 to be a year of beauty and wonder for my kids. The good news is that you don’t have to travel far to encounter some truly beautiful or unique places. There are so many beautiful Midwest destinations! Here are a few of my family’s favorites so you, too, can have a year of beauty and wonder with your family.

I’m stilling brainstorming where we may go in 2018, so I’d love your suggestions! Where in the Midwest should I go with my family for beautiful sights and wonder-inducing experiences?

 

Botanica, The Wichita Gardens

The Monster Trees might have been my favorite part of all Botanica Wichita.

Where: Wichita, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Obviously, being a botanical garden, things are going to be beautiful. Must-see pretty spots at Botanica include the koi pond and Chinese Friendship Garden.

Why kids will like it: You must take the kids to the whimsical Downing Children’s Garden to see the Monster Woods, musical maze, the familiar storybook character statues. and, being Kansas, the yellow brick road.

Read more about this kid-favorite destination!

 

Clear Lake

The view from the top of the carousel at Clear Lake’s Fourth of July celebration.

Where: Clear Lake, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: Like most Midwestern lakes, there’s a beautiful of the sky reflecting on the water and the serene appeal of quiet, lapping waves on a shore. But, the bonus with Clear Lake is that it’s a getaway without being far from modern conveniences. The town of Clear Lake is literally right at the water’s edge.

Why kids will like it: There are a couple beaches to choose from where kids where it’s shallow enough for littles to enter the water safely. My kids particularly remember Clear Lake for its Fourth of July festival…and the chance to stay overnight in a yurt.

Want to stay in a yurt? Here’s a post about the only yurts in Iowa you can stay in. 

 

Coronado Heights Park

Coronado Heights Park has a structure that looks strikingly like a castle to young children (and grown ups with big imaginations).

Where: Lindsborg, Kan.

Why it’s beautiful: Coronado Heights sits on a sandstone bluff looking over flat pastures. The beauty is the view, yes, but also the stark contrast of an ancient-looking castle set on the plains.

Why kids will like it: The castle, obviously. It’s not really a castle, but go ahead and let them believe there was once a small, medieval castle just northwest of Lindsborg.

Bonus: Don’t just visit the park and miss out on the charming town of Lindsborg. The town wears its Swedish heritage with pride, and it’s utterly charming to visit.

We tacked on a visit to Coronado Heights during our weekend trip to Wichita. Read about that stop here!

 

Ledges State Park

We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

Where: Madrid, Iowa

Why it’s beautiful: This park is an unexpected treasure in the middle of Iowa. The walk along the sandstone gorge carved out by a tributary of the Des Moines River is unforgettable.

Why kids will like it: Playing in the water is a big draw, but part of the fun, too, is Canyon Drive, a route that passes through the sandstone gorge and is often partly submerged under water. The bigger the splash, the better.

 

Loess Hills

They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

Where: Western Iowa and Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: We’ve hiked a few trails in western Iowa’s Loess Hills, and each have had their own unique beauty about them. Trails along these unique formations can sometimes lead to rolling hills or steep bluffs, and have views of prairies or forests. You’ll find them along the eastern edge of the Missouri River flood plain.

Why kids will like it: This is Midwest nature at its purest.

Here are three hikes in the Loess Hills to consider!

 

Missouri Botanical Garden

The Japanese Garden at Missouri Botanical Garden is 14 acres with bridges, waterfalls and peaceful nooks.

Where: St. Louis, Mo.

Why it’s beautiful: This huge botanical garden has a space that appeals to everyone, but the most beautiful, to me at least, is the 14-acre Japanese Garden. It’s peaceful with its path around the lake, and everywhere you look, you see pure beauty.

Why kids will like it: The kids enjoyed feeding the Koi fish at the Japanese Garden and looking for turtles around lake. However, you’d be making a huge mistake if you skip the seasonal Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden. It’s a lot of fun (pack their swimsuits).

They don’t call this place one of the most beautiful gardens in the U.S. for nothing! Read why here.

 

Smith Falls

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

Where: Cherry County, Nebraska (nearest city is Valentine, Neb.)

Why it’s beautiful: Located in Smith Falls State Park, this 63-foot waterfall is the tallest in Nebraska. You don’t forget the first time you ever see this waterfall.

Why kids will like it: You hear the waterfall before you actually see it, which thrills children to no end. The fun part is that you can stand under the water, if you dare (it’s very cold no matter the season, and the water hits you pretty hard).

Bonus: Getting to Smith Falls from Omaha is half the fun – you drive through the beautiful Sandhills of Nebraska. Plus, most people opt to canoe the Niobrara River to Smith Falls State Park, which in my opinion, is another beautiful thing to experience.

Get Western Nebraska road trip inspiration to visit Smith Falls here!

 

Sylvan Lake

Where: Black Hills, South Dakota

Why it’s beautiful: Sylvan Lake is found within Custer State Park in South Dakota, which is itself, a truly unique and wonderful destination. Visit Custer, and make sure Sylvan Lake is on your list of stops. This gorgeous lake is a worthy destination for any family, either for an easy hike, water sports, or a waterside picnic.

Why kids will like it: The trail around lake is mostly easy, but there are some more challenging points that kids love. This is a spectacular spot to immerse yourself in nature.

Get inspired for a Black Hills road trip starting with this post!

 

Table Rock Lake

Jumping into Table Rock Lake to cool off in the summer.

Where: Stone County, Missouri

Why it’s beautiful: Table Rock Lake is a reservoir in the expansive Ozarks region of southern Missouri (and expands well into Arkansas). I particularly enjoyed Table Rock because it offered an peaceful escape from the frenzy of nearby Branson, Mo.

Why kids will like it: Water sports and small cliff jumping is a big appeal here. If you plan ahead, you can rent a houseboat to extend your stay on the water.

Toadstool Geologic Park

Nebraska’s own Badlands, AKA Toadstool Geological Park.

Where: Harrison, Neb.

Why it’s beautiful: This is Nebraska’s own Badlands. It’s off the beaten path, and much smaller than South Dakota’s Badlands, but park is just stunning to hike.

Why kids will like it: I suspect they like it because they’re imagining they’re on the moon. At least, that’s why I liked the park. Please note: The trail can be challenging for young children, and seriously panic-inducing for parents who bring their young children. Hike with care.

Read some Western Nebraska road trip inspiration in this post!

* * * * *

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December 26, 2017

Where To Stay Near The Twin Cities

Our recent Minnesota Holiday Weekend adventure was spread out over three cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul and Roseville. We needed a hotel near the Twin Cities so we decided Roseville’s location made a perfect home base for our explorations. Think of the cities as a triangle with Roseville be about equidistant from the others. Our visit was hosted by Visit Roseville, who put us in the ideal hotel for traveling families: Residence Inn.

Family-Friendly Features

My favorite part of this hotel is the layout. We had a two-bedroom suite, with two bathrooms, kitchen and living room.I’m not going to lie: After spending a full day together, it was nice to give everyone their own space once back at the hotel.

The suite at the Residence Inn in Roseville had two identical rooms, each with its own full bathroom, and a living room connecting the two. It’s great for families.

I once (briefly) worked at a Residence Inn, so I’m familiar with the spread they have for complimentary hot breakfasts. Families with picky kids can still find food to eat before beginning their own adventures.

The lobby and dining area at the Residence Inn is spacious with a lot of natural light.

The dining area is inviting, with a fireplace and cozy nook.

If you’re here for longer than a weekend, consider making use of their complimentary errand-running services to get food to stock your room’s fridge.

Suites at the Residence Inn in Roseville have a refrigerator, oven and microwave, which we didn’t use for our busy week, but would be handy for longer stays.

By far, the big hit at the hotel for my kids was the pool and hot tub. There’s also an exercise room if you’re feeling motivated.

We managed multiple trips to the pool at Residence Inn during our busy weekend. There’s also a hot tub that you can’t see in this picture.

There’s an outdoor patio and basketball court for to enjoy when the weather’s nicer. Visiting in December didn’t stop a group of boys from a pick-up game of basketball while we were there.

Affordability

We were surprised at the affordability of this hotel. While we received a complimentary stay so I can write about it, we did check out rates for a room like ours.

While it’s tempting to want to stay downtown and walk to attractions, the appeal of this hotel is its affordability, spacious suites, and free parking. Plus, we found none of our destinations were a long drive (see all that we visited in this post). And it’s near a Walmart for any of those emergency trips to buy toiletries your left at home.

If you go

Residence Inn by Marriott Minneapolis St. Paul/Roseville

Where: 2985 Centre Pointe Drive, Roseville, Minn.

Website

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Want to plan your own Great Minnesota Weekend?You can get some inspiration from my Holiday Weekend In Minnesota and Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List now, or check out these upcoming posts:

Christmas at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis

What Young Kids Like At The Science Museum Of Minnesota

December 20, 2017

Staying Near Country Club Plaza in KC

One of the most-visited areas in Kansas City is the beautiful Country Club Plaza. There are few trips we make to KC that don’t involve a stop there.

Until recently, we’ve never stayed near there, though. If you’re looking for a hotel near Country Club Plaza, here’s what we found at Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza. It’s within walking distance to great shops and a ton of restaurants. Disclosure: Our stay was complimentary for this review.

Holiday Inn Amenities

We were in Kansas City for a quick holiday getaway, and we wanted to stay somewhere near some of our key activities like ice skating at Crown Center, playing at LEGOLAND Discovery Center and Science City, and hopefully, getting some shopping done. So, we opted for a hotel near the Country Club Plaza. It was nowhere near our third destination of the trip (Worlds of Fun).

The lobby at the Holiday Inn in Kansas City was welcoming. You can’t see it, but off to the side was a Christmas tree for the season.

Traveling to big cities, parking can be costly. A great perk at Holiday Inn near Country Club Plaza is the complimentary self-parking. Having it underground is a bonus, especially in the winter.

My family includes two young kids so one big thing is a requirement for hotels: A pool. This Holiday Inn has one, but alas, it’s outdoors and open seasonally. To keep the kids occupied, you could check out an Xbox Connect or board games.

There’s actually a year-round outdoor pool in Kansas City, and I highly recommend it for families (read about it in the Sheraton Hotel review here). It’s not within walking distance of the Plaza, though.

Another nice amenity is the free wi-fi access at the hotel.

Holiday Inn Rooms

The Holiday Inn near the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City had really comfy beds that were perfect to fall into after a busy day.

You can bet after a day of ice skating and strolling around Worlds of Fun’s WinterFest, the family was beyond tired. Our room at two double beds with the coziest pillows ever. The blackout curtains insured the kids slept in for as long as they needed.

Our room overlooked the pool courtyard, which I imagine would be nice other times of year. During the winter, there isn’t much to see.

Free Dining

I didn’t get a chance to dine at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant, but for families on a budget, here’s the deal: Up to four kids ages 11 and under eat free any time of the day in any Holiday Inn® on-site restaurant.

Walk to the Country Club Plaza

The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City is stunning any time of year. The architecture is beautiful. However, around the holidays, the KCP&L Plaza Lights at night add an extra “aww” factor to your visit. The Plaza Lights run Thanksgiving through Jan. 14 from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. daily.

It doesn’t get much more Christmas-y than this photo of the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City. Photo courtesy Visit KC

There are several other events at the Plaza besides the Plaza Lights. You can get event details here.

One more tip: If you’re looking for a great breakfast choice, eggtc. is a KC staple with a location less than a mile from the Holiday Inn. It’s very family-friendly, but you want to get there early to beat the local rush.

 

If you go

Holiday Inn Country Club Plaza

Where:

Book a stay!

 

* * * * *

Want more KC family vacation ideas?

Our WinterFest visit was part of a 24-hour trip to Kansas City, packed with a ton of fun, great food, and beautiful sights. Be sure to read all about our adventures:

24 Hours In Kansas City With Kids

Tips For WinterFest At Worlds Of Fun

5 Things To Know About LEGOLAND Discovery Center

Kid-Friendly Indoor Activities For KC Winter Getaways – Jan. 11

 

Looking for more things to do during the holidays? Here’s a post with 15+ fun things to do in Kansas during the holidays and a KC Holidays Bucket List.

If you have a little more time for your visit, check out fun things to do in the winter with kids in Kansas City or see what family-friendly activities are near Worlds of Fun.

* * * * *

Get Travel Inspiration Delivered To Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

 

December 14, 2017

Christmas At American Swedish Institute

While everyone’s flocking to the beach when the weather gets cold, I’m taking the family up to Minnesota for fun holiday weekend. One of the reasons I chose the Twin Cities area to explore is the American Swedish Institute. It’s not because I’m Swedish (I’m only partly), it’s because the place is a castle.

Or looks like one. Doesn’t matter. I knew it would be a hit with my castle-obsessed son.

As luck would have it, we visited on the first weekend of December when ASI was hold its Julmarknad, a Christmas market with live music, Swedish treats, make ‘n take crafts, and lots of shopping opportunities. Disclosure: Our visit was complimentary so I could write about it. 

Julmarknad at American Swedish Institute

We tried the Swedish pepparkakor, a ginger snap cookie. The tradition is, if you tap the cookie in the middle and it breaks into three pieces, your wish comes true.

From the beginning, the Julmarknad was not like any other holiday festival I attended. As we waited in line to enter, we were given some gingersnap cookies called pepparkakor and told about the tradition of Wish Cookie. If you end up with three pieces, your wish would come true. Meanwhile, we learned about a huge Swedish horn.

Then we were swept inside with all the others. There’s a lot to see and do at the Christmas market. I should’ve had a better plan of attack, but I just wanted to soak it all in.

My son adding a wish to the display during American Swedish Institute’s Julmarknad.

My kids enjoyed the activities, like making a Lucia crown and the trying the fiskdamm, a little fish pond game where they won a bag of candy. They reluctantly met Tomte in the mansion salon, as well, since he too had candy. Tomte is a mythical Nordic creature associated with Christmas, and may be a little frightening to the uninitiated. They survived and got their candy.

Tomte may have frightened my kids, but he gave them candy, so they didn’t hold a grudge.

Another fun stop for families is on the third level of the mansion: Ulla’s Bakery was a kids play area. The play area is there year-round, not just for this festival.

We cruised through the castle mansion, and eventually made our way to one of the halls where they had a bake sale and were serving glögg (mulled wine), for an extra fee. My daughter opted for the safe choice of chocolate chip cookie, while the rest of us tried the kringla.

Fest! Merry Mansion

My photos don’t do the Turnblad Mansion justice. It’s beautifully decorated for “Fest! Merry Mansion” which runs through Jan. 7, 2018.

You missed the weekend for the 2017 Julmarknad, but if you hurry, you can still see the mansion exquisitely decorated for Christmas. “Fest! Merry Mansion – Nordic Holidays” exhibition is open until Jan. 7, 2018. Rooms in the Turnblad Mansion are decked out in displays of customs and traditions from the five Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland.

Don’t skip walking around outdoors to see the mansion. You won’t find lights strung up all around it, no, but it’s a pretty castle to see (in my kids’ words).

The American Swedish Institute is inside the Turnblad Mansion in Minneapolis.

 

If You Go

American Swedish Institute

Where: 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis, Minn.

When: “Fest! Merry Mansion – Nordic Holidays” exhibition is open until Jan. 7, 2018.

Website

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Want to plan your own Great Minnesota Weekend?You can get some inspiration from my Holiday Weekend In Minnesota and Roseville & Twin Cities Bucket List now, or check out these upcoming posts:

Where To Stay When Visiting The Twin Cities 

What Young Kids Like At The Science Museum Of Minnesota

 

Get More Family Travel Inspiration

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