May 2010
14

Puerto Rico : Arrival

Friends, the word I have been using to describe our trip to Puerto Rico is… “magical.”

I don’t know if Declan is just getting old enough to handle things better, or we are just learning to do it better, or if we’re just lucky, but first Ireland, and now Puerto Rico – we’re on a roll.

Clearly the magic ingredient for us is mixing up exciting excursions + downtime. We had 4 major days where we did “exciting” things (for which you’ll get ALL the details, DON’T YOU WORRY) and the other days were relaxing by the beach and pool. We even had an evening that involved a few hours of kid TV that maybe not *all* of us appreciated as much as Declan – but, again, for us, the key word to harmony on vacation is BALANCE.

Declan was definitely overwhelmed at points. Heck, Bryan and I were overwhelmed. They don’t call Puerto Rico “The Island of Enchantment” for nothing.

Puerto Rico One - 07

Just a few overarching thoughts first…

Ease of Travel

Flights
Dudes. It was SO easy to get to Puerto Rico. Like I mentioned in my prep post, you do not need a passport. I have been so surprised how many people do not know this. YOU. DO. NOT. NEED. A. PASSPORT. TO. GO. TO. PUERTO. RICO. And we read that Declan needed his birth certificate, but they never once asked for it. No customs. The only minor inconvenience was a USDA scan on the way back for tropical poaching, same as you when return from Hawaii.

Money
Currency was easy, seeing as it is US DOLLAR. ATM’s were plentiful – and here’s a great tip from friends who have been burned: Whenever traveling off the mainland, only get money from a *bank* ATM. Apparently this a real source of theft around the world right now… hooligans setting up real-looking, but crooked, ATMs.

Language
Everyone spoke English. We traveled pretty much every tourist destination on the east side of the island, and 99% of the people we encountered spoke better English than I do. Sure, when we were more rural, we met a fisherman who didn’t speak English. But he let us play with his net, so I forgive him.

Safety
Puerto Rico is in transition. Up until recently, it has been a powerhouse in pharmaceutical manufacturing. For various reasons, they are shifting the economy, and tourism is emerging for sure. But they have a ways to go, and some parts of the countryside definitely needs a bit of cleaning up, much like what we have seen in other Caribbean trips. This can be a little off-putting, the clash of highs and lows – but in general, we felt very comfortable. In fact, many people went out of their way to be extremely friendly, to make us very welcome.

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The Resort

Relationship
I also mentioned in my intro post that this was a partially sponsored trip for us. The Rio Mar Wyndham Beach Resort was kind enough to provide our accommodations while we were in Puerto Rico, and we thank them heartily. This relationship worked out perfectly for us, allowing us to stay at a resort we were very interested in to begin with, and have the freedom to control the rest of our vacation ourselves.

Location
The Rio Mar Wyndham is located right on the beach, about 10 minutes west of Luquillo, and about 10 minutes north of El Yunque Rainforest. It is about 30 minutes west of Fajardo, the launching point for most snorkeling and Bioluminescent Bay adventures. To top it off, it is about 45 minutes east of the airport, a very easy drive. Speaking of, I suggest you rent a car when visiting Puerto Rico – the cost was about twice what a cab from the airport would be for the whole week and well worth it. Although we only visited the east side of the island, we were ALL over the east side.

Accommodations
The resort is HUGE. So, if you want a small bed and breakfast, Rio Mar is not for you. There is a golf course (we didn’t use), a casino (we didn’t use), a country club (we didn’t visit), a spa (I wish I would have visited)… but trust me – we made full use of the beach front, the pools (there is also an exclusively-adult pool available), the hot tub, and the multiple restaurants on site. Basically, we were still discovering little corners of the place up until the last day. I can say without a doubt I would consider visiting Rio Mar again.

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Arrival Day
Our first afternoon in Puerto Rico was about getting our bearings. We played on the beach, had churrasco for dinner, and watched my glasses fog up from the humidity. Our four main “big” excursions over the week were to the BioBay, El Yunque Rain Forest, snorkeling, and driving the southeastern Rt. 901 coastal scenic highway to Mauanbo. I can’t wait to share all our adventures with you.

To check out all the photos from our
first day in Puerto Rico,
click here.

In the meantime, check out my filthy and hilarious son.

Puerto Rico One - 13

May 2010
04

GUEST POST: Have Kids, Will Travel

Jason, also know as @meatflag on Twitter, is one cool dude. He is good friend here in Colorado and not only do our kids get along famously, they have the gumption to present at Podcamp together. And whatever Jason says about being organized when traveling along, let’s all remember that HE is the one who videotaped himself falling on the DIA escalators. Truth.
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Have Kids, Will Travel
by Jason Janelle from LilBiker

When Aimee asked me to write a guest post my first reaction was excitement confusion. I mean has she read my blog? It’s a travesty of inconsistent posts filled with my thoughts on computers, photography and kids. OK, maybe it has to do with our common interest in those last two. Well I’ve never written a guest post and I am honored to be asked so let’s begin torturing you, the reader.

With the Greeblemonkey clan headed down to Puerto Rico, I am reminded just how challenging it can be to travel with kids, especially young ones. When I travel on my own I am a machine of organization, I know where my stuff is, I know where I’m sitting, I move with purpose. I end up staying quite calm due to the OCD amount of organization involved. When I board the plane I’m out of the aisle, bags in the overhead bin, ass in the seat. My kids, however, don’t seem to enjoy the hurried walk through the airport filled with purpose. Why should they? An airport is kind of an amazing place filled with new people, shops, sometimes trains and, eventually, an airplane ride. I mean, now that I’m sitting here typing it ( in an airport ), how can I not get excited? The end result of a trip to the airport is amazing. You. Get. To. FLY!

Flying with kids, while amazing, isn’t always easy. The first time we flew with my daughter, K, she was 6 months old and we were all going to Hawaii. That was when I learned that something 1/10th my size could have 10 times as much luggage. After the car seat, stroller, and playpen/crib there was somehow a full suitcase of clothes and that’s just was just for the baby. It was like all those years of traveling light were some sort of gift and the luggage gods wanted their sacrifice. About 1 hour after we left the San Francisco airport K was sleeping peacefully and the airplane did a 180 and the pilot explained to us that the long range radio wasn’t working and that we would be headed back to San Francisco. As we went to land, the plane changed direction again and we were redirected to L.A. After 3 hours sitting on the plane it was determined that the plane could not be fixed and that we would be spending the night in L.A. K was an angel through the whole thing. The trouble came with all that luggage. By the time it was hauled off the plane, loaded into to the van, pack mule’d up to the room, and the crib set up there was only 3 hours until we had to wake up, break it down, and take it back. We did make it to Hawaii and it was wonderful to see my little girl playing on the beach.

The next time K and I flew was to Florida to see my parents. This time it was a year later, just her and I, no more crib and by now I’m a pro at the car seat, what could possibly go wrong?. The flight out was great and the trip was wonderful. It was on that trip that she fell in love with horses. It was also on the flight home that the skill I had finely tuned for business trips became my kryptonite for flying with kids. While doing cross country business flights I trained myself to fall asleep as soon as the plane took off. On the flight home the plane took off and I felt the sleep coming on. I fought it as hard as I could but the sleep was coming. I got K set up with water, a snack, and a movie and let her know that I might ( would ) fall asleep. And then two things happened. First, I fell asleep. Second, I was shocked awake buy the ice cold bath my man parts were taking. The water that I had set up for K had “somehow” spilled on me. Refreshed and a little cleaner we finished the flight home, wide awake.

The last time we flew with the kids was, oddly enough, to Puerto Rico for vacation. This time we had both kids, K and R. Queue the car seats and infinite luggage and bright and early we headed to the airport. It was so early that I had just enough time to grab breakfast for everyone and bring it on the plane with us as we boarded. My hands full, I threw the food into the seat, the bags into the overhead, strapped the car seats to the plane and the kids to the car seats. Flustered, tired, and under-caffeinated I plopped down into my seat. Plopped down onto the large orange juice that I placed in my seat. Orange juice proceeded to soak my pants and seat as well as pour down my leg. The airline stewards did what they could to help but the fact was that I needed to sit down and would be sitting in OJ for the next 4 hours. Puerto Rico turned out to be worth every minute of it. The El Yunque rainforest is beautiful and swimming in the middle of the night in the bioluminescent pools was an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life.

So yea, flying, traveling, living with kids is an adventure. One I wouldn’t trade for the world.

NOTE: K and R are not my kid’s real names, they are the online pseudonyms that we use for them until they are older.

Apr 2010
29

Travel Planning Tips: Puerto Rico with the Family

I have mentioned that we are heading to Puerto Rico this weekend for a week-long visit, yes? After the past few weeks of craziness at work and home, and turning FORTY, I can’t tell you how much a couple Piña Coladas on the beach is calling out to me. It is whispering, “Aimee, come see us! We know it snowed in Denver this week, the sun would like to have a chat with you! A big, big sunny and warm chat!!!”

By the way – did you know Piña Coladas were invented in Puerto Rico? It’s true.

And since we had so much fun sharing our Ireland experiences, after we get back – I will have a bunch of tales to tell about this trip too. Until then, I have a ton of guest posts lined up. And I will be tweeting while there too.

Because, that is the first thing we checked. Cell service. Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, AT&T has no roaming charges or extra fees for service. It will be like we are connecting from Milwaukee. A Milwaukee with beaches (we are staying very close to Luqillo Beach) and rainforests (also close to the El Yunque rainforest) and bio-luminescent bays (an hour away) and did I mention PIÑA COLADAS?

OK, I am kidding about the Piña Coladas. (Kinda.) The thing about this trip is all THREE of us are going, the 7 year old included, and it will definitely be a family adventure. I have been researching my booty off and I am so looking forward to the mix of activities we have found – cool stuff for Declan AND cool stuff for us.

So, I thought I would share. Here are some random things I have learned as we have been preparing to go.

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Travel Planning Tips: Puerto Rico with the Family

PASSPORT
Hey, remember how Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory??? This means YOU DO NOT NEED A U.S. PASSPORT TO TRAVEL THERE. Unless you go out of the country on your way, of course. Only driver’s license or birth certificate. Honestly, this is how we zeroed in on Puerto Rico in the first place. We let Declan’s passport lapse after Ireland (dummies) but still REALLY wanted something tropical. No offense to Florida (remember, I went to college there, I love Florida), when I say tropical – I mean *exotically* tropical.

TIME OF YEAR TO GO
High season in Puerto Rico is the same as the rest of the Caribbean – Thanksgiving through Easter. Part of the reason we decided to go in early May was to catch the end of the season – but miss the rainy / hurricane season, which kicks up in mid-summer. Yes, this timing forces us to take Declan out of school for the trip – but we felt the experience was worth it. And when we notified his principal, she asked if she could stow away in our luggage.

COST
This comes back to what I mentioned above – cost on the edge of season is cheaper, yahoo! We are finding that our budget for this trip is (or would be, see disclaimer below) similar to, or even less than, the cost of doing a week at Disney. Of course this depends on time of year, where you stay, etc. But we have been pleased with what we have seen thus far. Bonus: ability to use US dollar.

FLIGHTS
Depending on where you are coming from, you may not be able to get a direct flight into San Juan, and Puerto Rico’s largest airport. We could not from Denver. But we noticed that most of the flights flew through Chicago. So, we are splitting the trip on the way there and spending the night with a friend. The costs were the same, and it’s like getting an extra mini-vacation!

WEATHER

Again, primetime being December – March, we are expecting a little bit of rain and LOTSA heat. Better than the SNOW we had this week though.

ELECTRICITY
No adapter needed. Puerto Rico is on 110 volts AC.

NATIONAL PARKS PASS
The El Yunque rainforest is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system. Which means, you guessed it! You can use your National Parks Pass there.

WATER
From what I have read, tap water is safe as Puerto Rico follows the same water treatment standards as the US. However, the general consensus seems to be, it is also safer to ask for bottled water when chugging after hanging on the beach all day. [Mmmm. Beeeacccchhhhh.] Also, when we visit Mexico, we bring some Pepto Bismal – um, just in case – and we plan to pack some for PR as well.

BUGS (& YOUR HEALTH)
With all that humidity, there are bugs. Specifically mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carry disease. In this case, dengue fever. Whenever you travel, it’s a good idea to check out the CDC Travel Alerts page, just to see what is going on. For dengue fever, the best offense is a good defense – so we have hella DEET bugspray and even a bug repellent treated sun safe hat for Declan.

SUN SAFETY
Have I mentioned my company builds health education web sites? Clearly (see above), we DO sun safety, so YES, I have packed about 50 tubes of sunscreen. We are PREPARED. No sunburn’s gonna ruin our vacation.

TRAVELER SAFETY
Bring a first aid kit. I *always* do. Mainly because *I* always cut myself on something. As far as crime in Puerto Rico, from what I have read and hear, it is similar to other Caribbean areas in that if you follow the same safety rules that you do on the mainland (don’t flash money or jewelry), you should be fine.

FUN WITH KIDS
We learned from Ireland that a nice mix of “our stuff” and “his stuff” was in order. No need to pack every day with excursions, we are really looking forward to some days of just relaxing poolside. [Mmmm. Piñaa Colaaaadaaass]. Also, loading movies on the iPod was a total WIN WIN for some parent Declan chill time. We have never done a kid’s camp at a resort before, so I am interested in checking that out (and hearing any feedback you might have) – but the great thing about a FAMILY vacation is spending time together.

I can’t wait to do it.

Any other advice for travel to Puerto Rico?

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Blogger Disclosure: This trip was partially sponsored by the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort. They are graciously providing accommodations for my family while we are in Puerto Rico.

Jan 2010
27

Winter Park Wrapup + 4-Pack Pass Giveaway!

Over MLK day weekend, my family and I were lucky enough to be hosted by Winter Park resort, as part of a group effort from Colorado Ski Country USA to show off how families can have fun at resorts all over Colorado.

From the get-go I was honest with them about my lack-luster skiing abilities. I mean, seriously – have you SEEN the Terror On The Mountain video? Grace, agility + snow are not words meant to be in my vocabulary.

Luckily, Winter Park has a bunch of other activities for people like me, so Bryan and I did a snowshoe tour while Declan entered his very first day EVER at ski school. (More on that later).

WinterPark2010_19

Bryan has been trying to get me to go snowshoeing for YEARS, he was always the more adventurous one of us.

WinterPark2010_25

What I learned? I LOVE SNOWSHOEING. It was perfect for me. Tromping around in the snow, requiring pretty much zero skills other than the ability to walk like a duck, and taking photos of nature? PERFECT.

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We even saw a porcupine sleeping way up in a tree.

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And here, you can turn your head sideways for the closest thing we got to “Terror On The Mountain Part II.” I think it’s an improvement at least.

After all this snow plowing, we had lunch in the newly-finished village area next to the ski slopes of Winter Park. And I have to tell say – THANK YOU WINTER PARK, for this addition. Because while WP is so close to Denver (an hour and a half), the one other time we had been there, I was frustrated with the lack of restaurants, and particularly the lack of retail near the resort. They now have a nice balance. Sure, they definitely maintained the small-town feel that WP is so famous for – but it’s a nice step into the next century.

WinterPark2010_06

Speaking of the next century and whiz bangy stuff. Remember how Declan was in ski school all day?

WinterPark2010_10

Well, he also had a *GPS tracker* on him, which I know was for safety and all, blah blah blah, whatever, what WE loved was we could log-in on the Flaik (“flake”) website when we got back to the hotel and SEE exactly where he had been on the mountain (actually a ton of places, see below) and how fast he was going (not very).

And as I mentioned above, we were much happier with our dinner choices this time around. A few restaurants have exported from Denver, like Cheeky Monk and Lime, plus comfort food from Doc’s Roadhouse and several other places we didn’t have time to try over the course of the weekend. [Next time.]

WinterPark2010_27

The next morning was all about TUBING. If you have never been, you cannot go to Winter Park and skip TUBING. Have I mentioned we love TUBING. You can probably see in my header right now that we enjoyed the TUBING. But here is one extra special cute-as-hell photo of Declan to convince you. That we like TUBING.

WinterPark2010_50

Oh, and a video as well. Of the TUBING. And the CACKLING. What is up with the CACKLING?

There are *two* TUBING places, one family-owned, the original, which is the first you see and one is Colorado Adventure Park, which is the one we went to this time around and has more things to do. But, I would say both are great, and they exist on the same hill. [So pick whichever has the shortest lines, basically.]

In between all this extracurricular fun, Bryan did manage to get some snowboarding in, and I rode up and down the lifts, taking photos. By the way, people like getting their photo taken on lifts.

WinterPark2010_36

And here comes the part where those of you paying attention to the news will know that I pay attention to the news as well. Intrawest, who has a deal with the City of Denver (the real owner of Winter Park, making it truly “Denver’s Resort”) for operations over the next 50 years is in a bit of trouble. As in they also own Whistler-Blackcomb in Vancouver, the site of the Olympics next month, and plan to auction off *that* resort DURING the big event. Seriously. This was all announced 3 days after we got back from Winter Park. Folks here in Colorado are calm (as we usually are) – but I couldn’t help emailing my rep at Winter Park and offering to auction off *her* resort right here on this blog. Seriously. [She laughed, but declined.]

Now. To bring this all full-circle. For those REALLY paying attention, you will remember that Declan was actually *conceived* at Whistler-Blackcomb on a ski trip on Feb 8, 2002 [Yes, I *do* know the date] – almost exactly 8 years ago. ALSO, you may have heard the screaming in Denver yesterday when it was announced that our very own Editor-in-Mile-Highness, Amber, is headed BACK to Vancouver to cover the Winter Olympics! SERENDIPITY, PEOPLE! The Circle of Life! I feel like holding Declan up like Simba! [And I am really sure Winter Park is THRILLED they picked me as their Colorado snow mama right about now.]

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OK, Aimee. Focus.

What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah! Fun in Winter Park!

The other cool new thing up there is the Fraser Valley Rec Center. Brand new, with huge pool, huge slides inside the pool, and just one huge rule: NO CAMERAS. OK, there are more rules, but that was the one I heard about within 5 seconds of taking my camera out was: NO CAMERAS. I managed to sweet-talk my way into getting a shot or two anyway.

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So, net-net?

Clearly we had a great time. We’ll be back. We liked the convenience of the village, the convenience of their new concierge-esque Custom Delivery Service (as in, for $29 for 4 people, they bring your boots, rental and lesson paperwork and lift tickets to you, NOT KIDDING), the convenience of walking across from the hotel to the slopes, the convenience of having Declan in ski school while we did our thing… can you see convenience is big with me?

WinterPark2010_01

And hopefully we’ll make is convenient for you to get there too. Winter Park is giving away a family 4-pack of tickets through the Mile High Mama’s site. Contest deadline is February 15th, so get over there.


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OK, and also, I really had to let you know about all the FREE stuff going on up there every night of the week as well. Oh, and if you are ever going up for some TUBING, you know who to call.

WINTER 2009-2010 FREE ONGOING FAMILY ACTIVITIES

MONDAYS
ICE-SKATING LESSONS
TIME/DATE: Saturdays – Wednesdays, December 19 – mid-March, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo

TUESDAYS

ICE-SKATING LESSONS
TIME/DATE: Saturdays – Wednesdays, December 19 – mid-March, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo

WEDNESDAYS
ICE-SKATING LESSONS
TIME/DATE: Saturdays – Wednesdays, December 19 – mid-March, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo

THURSDAYS
KIDS’ NIGHT OUT
TIME/DATE: Thursdays, December 17 – April 8, 5:30 – 8:30pm
LOCATION: Kids’ Ski & Ride School – Blue/Green Rooms

DISCO SKATE NIGHTS
TIME/DATE: Thursdays, January 7 & 21, February 4 & 18, 6:00 – 8:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo

FRIDAYS

COWBOY SING-A-LONG
TIME/DATE: Fridays, December 18 – April 10, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Gazebo

MINI RAIL JAM SERIES
TIME/DATE: Fridays, January 15 – March 19, 4:30 – 6:00pm
LOCATION: Bouncer Terrain Park near Discovery Center

SATURDAYS

FIRESIDE STORY-TELLING
TIME/DATE: Saturdays, January 9 – March 27, 3:00 – 4:00pm
LOCATION: Discovery Center Plaza

ICE-SKATING BLADE CAPADES (GAMES)
TIME/DATE: Saturdays – Wednesdays, December 19 – mid-March, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo

MEET WINTER PARK WILLIE
TIME/DATE: Saturdays, December 12 – April 10, 4:00pm – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Gazebo

SUNDAYS

FREE ICE-SKATING LESSONS
TIME/DATE: Saturdays – Wednesdays, December 19 – mid-March, 4:00 – 5:00pm
LOCATION: Village Ice Rink & Gazebo
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P.S. If you need to see ALLLLLLL the Winter Park photos, here is a slideshow. I warn you. There are a bunch of us TUBING.


*cross-posted at Mile High Mamas today

Sep 2009
30

Finding My Mission

You might have noticed we went to Ireland recently. If you don’t know me in person, imagine an impish grin as I write that.

BECAUSE I HAVEN’T STOPPED TALKING ABOUT IT, RIGHT????

The truth is, while we try to travel as often as we can, this trip was big for us. Not just in scope. But in terms of doing it exactly as we wanted to. It. just. worked. out. The weather, the timing, the places, the people – everything JUST WORKED OUT.

We absolutely had the luck of the Irish.

And as you have seen me posting for weeks, I took thousands of photos. I whittled those thousands down to hundreds and organized them into sets. And FINALLY, I cut those hundred down to ONE group of my very best shots from the trip (below). Honestly, I had been holding off on the very last one, because that meant I was DONE.


(be sure to hit the “embiggen” icon in lower right after it starts playing for full screen viewing)

But that is silly, because, for once I really feel like I captured our adventures. Now when I look at these photos I will relive this vacation over and over again. Every sight, sound and smell.

Even as the trip was charmed, our luck kept going when we returned. Last weekend, I attended an all day seminar with two National Geographic photographers, Bob Krist and Ralph Lee Hopkins.

Mind, meet blown.

Hand, meet ache. (After scribbling an entire notebook of new ideas in an 8 hour time span.)

But one major thing I came away with was mission. Not a fake mission, mind you. Nothing I am going to lie about when I finally get the courage up to ask locals if I can take their picture instead of doing it on the sly – but a real mission that is important to me – even if it is only just like every other mission I seem to be on lately: to document our lives.

The purpose is what is important, what guides you, and turns a snapshot into a photograph.