Well Toto, We’re Not In Chicago Anymore

We recently had the opportunity to visit the Discovery Center Museum in Illinois, but being a busy family, we could not be everywhere at once. So we decided to have one of my college friends visit the museum and highlight the coverage below. Please welcome Erin from Home Everyday to the discussion.

There are children’s museums and then there are Children’s Museums.

Living in the Chicagoland area, I have access to several local area children’s museums, and many of them offer great exhibits with awesome hands on activities. When Justin asked if I would like to check out the Discovery Center in Rockford, Illinois I am not going to lie, I was feeling a little skeptical in the beginning.

My initial thought was, “I wonder if this museum will be worth the drive. I mean we have children’s museums in Chicago.”

Well, within minutes of entering the welcoming atmosphere of the Discovery Center located in the Riverfront Museum Park, I knew my family and I were going to have a great time!

The staff member who greeted us was extremely helpful and accommodating. She immediately asked about the ages of our children and tried to direct us to the areas that she thought would be most fun for our little ones (ages 6, 4 and 3).

We first made our way upstairs, where we encountered a Sports display that took my middle sons breath away. He loves all things athletic, so he was enthralled with the displays of sporting equipment and touch and guess the ball game. He was also enamored with the different science displays that were incorporated into the sports exhibit such as the tennis trajectory exhibit. My favorite part of the Sports exhibit was where we got to see what was inside every kind of ball. I don’t know why, but seeing a bowling ball cut in half was pretty amazing to me!

ES Discovery Center Museum 3

Once we made our way through that area, my daughter heard the sound of running water and sprinted toward her favorite part of any children’s museum: The Water Tables. As we are regular visitors to our local museums, she knew just what to do and grabbed a smock and got down to business funneling, squirting, splashing, and maneuvering the water. I will say, that while I would like to think that if you have seen one water table you have seen them all, this section of the museum even had some things I had not seen before. We loved the water shooters that were sectioned off and you could use to try and aim and get certain shapes to spin around and around.

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Once we were sufficiently soaked, we made our way to the pretend play area were there were several displays perfect for kids ages 2 – 7. There was a construction area, a train station with train, grocery store, pretend house complete with garage and car to repair! While it was hard to pull the kids away from this area, I assured them there was lots more to see!

ES Discovery Center Museum 1

We made our way to the exhibits below which included a view of an agricultural exhibit that included a real tractor safe for kids to climb and a display that allowed kids to try milking cows. As we wound our way around the halls and different displays, I noted how while my kids were having a ball, I was almost sure that older kids would have had and enriching time here too!

I live quite a distance from the Discovery Center in Rockford, so I know it will be awhile before we are back again, but my children had a blast! However, I have to say it was worth the drive! With Spring Break approaching it is the perfect day trip for any family looking for something to do, and it is located in the Riverfront Museum Park which also houses an art museum and a natural history museum. Also, for those looking for summertime activities, the Discovery Center has an amazing outdoor space.

As I said earlier, there are children’s museums and there are Children’s Museums. The Discovery Center is perfect for families with children of all ages, with plenty of hands on and enriching exhibits.

For more information about the Discovery Center, go to discoverycentermuseum.org. The Discovery Center Museum is located at 711 North Main Street, Rockford, IL 61103.

Erin Skibinski, a native to Chicago’s far South Suburbs, has enjoyed creating her online presence with two successful blogs, Home Everyday and ChicagoNow’s South of I-80. Erin has also become a regular contributor to Chicago Parent’s online community, and recently wrote a sketch that was part of the Mary Siewert Scruggs Works by Women Comedy Festival at Second City in Chicago. In between writing classes at Second City, Erin is addicted to DIY, cooking, and baking. According to her wonderful husband, she also spends a lot of time watching sitcoms, reading, and Pinning projects for him to build. She currently resides in the south suburbs of Chicago with her handy husband, and three adorable children all born in a span of 33 months (yes, she realizes this is insane). You can follow Erin’s posts or hilarity on Facebook or Twitter.

We were provided tickets to the Discovery Center Museum to facilitate our review, but all opinions are those of the author. Readers can Buy One General Admission and Get One Free– Not valid with other offers. Offer valid up to 3 free admissions.

“Friend”ly Tips on Going to Hawaii

A friend of mine from high school recently visited Hawaii for the first time, and I was curious what type of impact it would have on her as compared to other travel destinations. So please welcome Chrissy to the discussion.

I have traveled a great deal in my life, including all over the continental United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. I have done cruises, hotels, condos, resorts, campgrounds, you name it. But this past vacation we opted for Hawaii. People who have been to Hawaii kept telling me how unbelievable it is, how it will ruin you forever, blah, blah, blah. I mostly thought they were exaggerating about a really great vacation. I have been to the beach in the Pacific and Atlantic, and I really could not see how Hawaii would be so different.

Now, having spent twelve glorious days in Hawaii, I understand. Hawaii will steal your soul. I have been home for almost two weeks, and I am already plotting when I will go back. It is the first vacation since I was a kid that I actually shed a few tears when we were leaving, and I did not get that “good to be home” sense when I arrived back in Cleveland. Nope. It is not good to be home, it is good to be in Hawaii.

I strongly encourage you to add Hawaii to your bucket list and make it happen. The sooner the better. Here are some things I learned along the way in planning and going on this vacation.

Finding lodging in Hawaii can be a little overwhelming. It is almost like going to a foreign country, making it hard to know where places are in relationship to the ocean, airports, and common attractions, etc. Websites for house rentals are not as user friendly as say, going to the Carolinas. If you have never been to Hawaii, I would recommend using a travel agent.

I spent countless hours combing the internet, doing research and trying to figure out the best options and at the end of the day, I went with a travel agent.

Many credit card companies offer travel services and will let you use points towards your vacation, which is the route we went. American Express helped us choose lodging and really narrowed down our options making the planning process much less overwhelming. There is so much out there, it is hard to know what is a tourist trap and what is not, so having a person familiar with Hawaii really helped.

Oahu

We opted to spend one night on Waikiki beach as it is a popular Hawaii destination and it is close to Pearl Harbor, which was our reason for choosing Oahu as one of our islands. One night in Waikiki was really plenty for us.

CJ Oahu Beachhouse at Moana Surfrider
Dining on Oahu at the Beachhouse of Moana Surfrider

Honolulu is very commercialized and crowded. The beaches are packed from all of the resorts, there are tons of restaurants and shops, and it is almost like a beach version of New York City. Honolulu is fun to see and be a part of, but not if relaxation is your vacation purpose.

Waikiki is more about shopping, nightlife and restaurants – very fun for a little bit, but not a place I would want to stay for an extended period of time.

Pearl Harbor is grossly underrepresented online. It is shocking to me how such an important part of American history can be so poorly represented online. The National Park website gives you ticket options and allows you to make reservations, but does not tell you any information about its setup, so it is confusing to know what to buy and how much time you will need.

The Park Service can also only accept a certain amount of visitors per day, so it is possible that if you do not get your tickets in advanced, you will not get in! I tried calling the phone number given by the National Park for ticket reservation, but it rings to the mainland, and the women I spoke to had never been there, so she had zero information for me. It was frustrating. By the time we decided what we thought we wanted, the tickets were sold out – this was weeks before we even left for Hawaii, and we did not realize how quickly that would happen.

However, there are a great deal of tourist companies that get a handful of tickets each day to sell. This is what we ended up doing since the park itself was sold out. It was twice as expensive as buying directly from the park and they did not give us enough time to do everything the package included.

Essentially, what we think of as Pearl Harbor is a large oval shaped park. You walk into the middle, to your left are 2 small museum buildings (probably the size of your average Starbucks); one containing facts and information about what lead up to the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the second information about the aftermath of the attacks. Past that, is an area where they coral people taking the shuttle boat over to the USS Arizona.

The USS Arizona Memorial can only have a limited amount of people at a time and the only way to get there is by boat. You have to have a ticket and a time slot. Once you are over there, they give you roughly 15 minutes to see the ship and view the memorial inside.

On the right side of the park is the shuttle area for the USS Missouri where the peace agreement for WWII was signed and the USS Bowfin. The USS Bowfin is on site also. The whole park is fairly small, and as I said, there is a shuttle to the USS Missouri, it is at a separate location and takes about 10 minutes to get there from the USS Arizona. Our tickets included the boat over to the USS Arizona, with the audio headset tour and the USS Missouri along with a city tour of Honolulu.

We had 5 hours to do this and it was not even close to enough time. Even though the park is very small, there is a great deal of information to take in. Visiting Pearl Harbor is very emotional and somber, much more than I had anticipated, given I was not even alive until some 30 years after the fact. However, it is not an experience like the one you read about in history class or saw in the movie.

CJ Oahu Pearl Harbor
Moving Experience of Pearl Harbor

I was moved to tears many times and could easily have spent all 5 hours just at the two small museums. The USS Missouri could also be 5 hours by itself. It is a huge ship with a lot to see. I would recommend the tours offered on site, as it is a ship rich in history and you miss a lot if you do not have a guide.

We did not get to spend enough time at Pearl Harbor, and I would go back to both locations. Essentially, if you are going there, book your tickets as soon as possible and get the two-day passport offered by the National Park. It is your best option to see everything, and you will certainly need both days. I felt like we got cheated in this aspect as we barely had time to scratch the surface of the information offered.

Maui

In addition to one day in Oahu, we opted to stay on Maui for the remainder of the vacation. We were told that Maui was the most laid back island, and not overly commercialized, which was why we chose it as our primary location.

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Maui Coastline

There is so much to do on Maui, you could easily entertain your family just staying on that island for 12 days or more. Maui also has an “island life” feel about it. Everyone was extremely nice and easy going. It was not too crowded, but there was still a lot to do and see.

CJ Maui Mama's Fish House
Path to Mama’s Fish House

We wanted this to be a relaxing trip, so we did not want to spend a ton of time at airports hopping from one island to the next. Though the airports in Hawaii are small, they are standard airports and you will spend the usual amount of time going through security, baggage claim, etc.

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Maui Sands

We stayed in a condo as opposed to a hotel, which was really nice. Very quiet, a private beach and with having a kitchen – we did not have to eat out every meal. Food, be it from restaurants or the grocery store, is very expensive on Hawaii. We were definitely able to save a good amount of money by grocery shopping and cooking our own meals. The grocery store is still considerably more expensive than the Midwest, however there is a Costco on Maui, and the prices there are more consistent with what we are used to. Even though we had to buy larger portions, some things were still a better deal. The leftover, unopened food we had, we donated to the Maui Food Bank. All of the fire stations collect for the Food Bank, so it was an easy stop to make on our way to the airport.

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Maui Hiking to Waterfalls
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Maui Twin Falls

Maui is rich in history and culture. You can walk the shops of Lahaina and see the banyan trees and historic courthouse, hike the trails to the Twin Falls, drive up Haleakala, take the road to Hana, stop at Mama’s Fish House and so much more just on that island. It will be an experience unlike any you have ever had, and while it may seem nearly impossible to think about going now, once you’ve gone, it will seem impossible not to go back.

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See our Pearl Harbor post for additional information about the area.

Source: InACents

Review: Aquarium of the Bay

Several weeks ago I was excited to learn that a fellow travel blogger took advantage of the discounted admission to the Aquarium of the Bay promotion that we mentioned back in January. So I asked Chester from Relentless Financial Improvement if he would be interested in writing us a guest post reviewing the Aquarium of the Bay. Please welcome him in sharing his experience.

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No visit to San Francisco is complete without a walk through San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. This popular tourist spot is home to restaurants, sea lions, cable cars, shopping, street performers and various attractions such as the Aquarium of the Bay.

The Aquarium of the Bay is at the edge of Pier 39, located at Embarcadero and Beach Street. From the outside, this aquarium looks very plain and unassuming. However, once you enter this 50,000 square foot aquarium, you enter an underwater world filled with over 20,000 amazing aquatic animals, focused on species from the San Francisco Bay and neighboring waters. This facility holds 700,000 gallons of bay sea water in 300 feet of crystal clear acrylic tunnels you can travel through.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Outside Aquarium

The Aquarium of the Bay is divided into three main exhibits: Discover the Bay, Under the Bay, and Touch the Bay.

The first exhibit you are introduced to is Discover the Bay, which includes a collection of smaller tanks that display the marine creatures that live in the bay. Here you can see anchovies, Garibaldi (the California State Fish), moray eels, lobsters, fish in coral reefs, and more.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Corals

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Sea Anemones

Next, you board an elevator that takes you down to the lower level of the aquarium, where you go to the second exhibit: Discover the Bay. This is the largest exhibit in the aquarium.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Jellyfish 1

You are greeted by beautiful, pulsating groups of various jellyfish.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Jellyfish 2

Then you step onto a moving walkway surrounded by acrylic glass, which allows you to explore what it looks like to be a scuba diver in the deeper waters of the San Francisco Bay. You will slowly travel through 300 feet of tunnels to see hundreds of sea animals swim around and above you. You will be surrounded by various species of sharks, stingrays, sturgeon, and fish.

Here you will see a unique type of shark called the Sevengill, which happens to be San Francisco Bay’s largest predator. This shark has a peculiar blunt snout that you don’t normally see with sharks. While most sharks have 5 gill slits per side, the Sevengill shark has a unique set of 7 gill slits.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Sevengill Shark

Next you get to see a giant octopus up close. Be sure to watch all of the octopus videos, showing how intelligent and incredibly flexible these creatures are.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Giant Octopus

Touch the Bay is the last exhibit in the aquarium. Here you get a chance to touch different types of rays, skates, sharks, starfish, and more in shallow pools of water. In this part of the aquarium, you can also see some local land animals like snakes, frogs, and even an opossum (so random!).

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Touch tank

140216 Aquarium of the Bays opossum

The newest part of the aquarium is the Otter exhibit, which features 3 river otters. We did not see much here on our visit since all 3 otters were sleeping.

At the Aquarium of the Bay, there are also daily visitor programs like live presentations on otters, live shark feedings, as well as 3D movies in the Bay Theater. (Note: movie tickets are not included with paid admission to the aquarium)

One thing we didn’t realize until later was that your Aquarium ticket provides return privileges throughout the day. After visiting the aquarium, you can walk around the shops, see the sea lions on Pier 39, grab something tasty to eat, then come back and see more of the aquarium.

140216 Aquarium of the Bays Schooling fish

The Aquarium of the Bay is open 364 days of the year, only closing on Christmas day. The next time you find yourself strolling through San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, don’t forget to stop by the Aquarium of the Bay!

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Source: Relentless Financial Improvement. All photos ©Relentless Financial Improvement and used with permission.