MetamorFit

Jenny Hodges. Tampa Librarian. Book Lover. Slow Runner. Mom to Irish Triplets. Living and Traveling in the Autism World.


24. December 2013 14:04
by jennifer
4 Comments

Push Away the Screen: Wild Wonderland at Lowry Park Zoo

24. December 2013 14:04 by jennifer | 4 Comments

Disclaimer: My family was provided with tickets to experience Wild Wonderland at Lowry Park Zoo. All opinions are my own.   We arrived at the zoo promptly at 6:20pm. Wild Wonderland was scheduled to open at 6:30pm, so we waited in line for a short bit, got our tickets, and then we were instructed to go wait in a pretty long line for entry in to the zoo. I noticed on the ticket vendors sign that they were Autism Friendly and certified through CARD so I asked what that meant at the Zoo. I know what it means at Busch Gardens, but had never asked about services at the zoo before. She told me that they had a special map and all rides were disabled friendly. It was at this time that I asked her if we could somehow avoid that long entry line because we had an au-some little dude with us that doesn't do well in lines and it would make our visit start off so much more enjoyable. She agreed and let us in through what Ronin called "the golden doors." Upon entering the park, we were greeted by a wonderful light display and festive music! We quickly asked for directions to the Ice Slide because we wanted to knock that out of the way ASAP to avoid what we knew would be really long lines! We stopped for the #TampaTrio to take a quick photo at Zoo Blvd. And yes, that's a Tampa Trio sign that Ella is holding in her hand. We scurried through the beautiful lights and ended up in Wallaroo Station, where we noticed that there was no ice slide, so we took a look at our map and realized that the slide was on the total opposite end of the park. We made a quick pit-stop at the penguins and then began the trek over to the slide! But along the way we got side-tracked by reindeer!! While we were waiting in line to see the reindeer, we saw fireflies!! Haley was so excited! She loves fireflies and was just thrilled to see them in Florida! The reindeer were really cute. I couldn't snap a good photo of them since they were feeding behind two rows of fencing. One had lost an antler due to shedding and that was pretty cool to see. When we came out of the exhibit the kids had the opportunity to touch and feel a real reindeer antler! And then they each got a turn to be a reindeer. And off we went to find the slide! And find it we did. It wasn't open when we arrived at 7:06pm. So we decided to wait in line rather than get out of line and come back. The kids entertained themselves by playing in the sand gravel in the back lot. Lots of parents were telling their kids to stop, but not me. LOL. As long as they weren't throwing it or eating it, more power to them. FINALLY after waiting what seemed like forever, they opened the slide. And more waiting ensued. But they got a turn and said it was worth the wait! Here's a video of them coming down the slide! They jumped in the bouncy house and then we walked over to see the stingrays and manatees. They always enjoy sea life. The manatee exhibit was super cool, but what they enjoyed more than the manatees were the snakes! They had a HUGE rattlesnake that was very active and moving all throughout its cage. Yikes! I didn't want to snap any photos out of respect for the snake, but trust me when I say that it was HUGE. Then we decided to walk back over to the other side of the park and see some of the African animals, but along the way we got sidetracked by the merry-go-round. And to make it even better, we were first in the group to board, so each of the trio got the animal that they wanted. SWEET! Finally we made it to Africa where they got to feed the giraffe!     It was $3 each kid for 2 pieces of Romaine lettuce. $9 for 6 pieces of Romaine lettuce. But it goes for a good cause, so whatever. We went and had a quick visit with the cute Pygmy Hippo and tried to see the Cheetah (no luck...we'll be back for that one!!) and they had lots of beautiful displays set up!   A quick glance at my watch showed me that it was after 9pm, so it was time to start heading back towards the zoo entrance. Along the way we came across the beautiful Frozen Forest an icy winter wonderland full of glistening ice, snow and more! Dozens of beautiful Santa's were on display! And they even had a flying Santa! The kids and I had a great time exploring Wild Wonderland at Lowry Park Zoo. There were some exhibits that we didn't see, like Santa. My gang doesn't believe in Santa, so they had no desire to wait in line to see him, and we did some of the other rides at Zoo Boo and we really didn't want to wait in any more lines (sensing a theme here?? Lines are super hard for us with an autistic child.) We will certainly be adding Wild Wonderland to our annual Christmas traditions. It's a great way to get out, be active, and Push Away the Screen. Wild Wonderland is open select nights through December 30th. Check their website for more details.   

22. September 2013 18:53
by jennifer
12 Comments

Push Away the Screen: Staycation on Clearwater Beach

22. September 2013 18:53 by jennifer | 12 Comments

We recently celebrated my husband's birthday. I recalled our fun time fishing out on a charter boat with Hubbard's Marina, but while we were out at the beach, we took the opportunity to spend 2 full days and 2 nights at the Holiday Inn and Suites on Clearwater Beach. We live close enough to the beach that we can easily make it a day trip, but having Irish Triplets means that I have to bring A LOT of gear when we plan a day trip. Being able to stay overnight makes is so much easier on all of us! I decided to make it feel more like a vacation by picking the kids up early from school!   But first I had to go to CrossFit and do my WOD, then come home for a quick shower, take Matthew to the kennel, pack up the cooler, our suitcases, and the truck! Whew! I was a busy mama! I picked up the trio and they were bouncing out of their skin, they were so EXCITED!! We started our drive over, and gave daddy a quick phone call when we passed by his office. It took us about 90 minutes but soon we were driving over the Causeway to the Beach!! The kids quickly said "oh we've been here before!" Apparently they remembered the ONE time we met a friend at the playground at Clearwater Beach in 2009! Ronin spotted the sign for the Holiday Inn and we told the parking attendant we were checking in, and he directed us to the front luggage drop off area. We went inside where we were very warmly greeted by front desk personnel. I wish I remembered the gentleman's name that helped us because he truly was a gem. This is when I also learned that at the Holiday Inn KIDS EAT FREE!! And boy did we sure love that! We got our room keys, I unloaded the gear, the gentleman loaded it up on a luggage cart, and I moved my car to guest parking. We would be staying in a Family Suite. The family suite contained a large bedroom with a king bed and twin bunk beds that connects with a living room area that has a queen sleeper sofa. The children's area had its own TV and vanity area. And...we had 2 full BATHROOMS!! We also had a microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker, hair dryer, iron and ironing board (I don't iron at home, I'm sure as heck not going to iron on a staycation!!) When I opened the door and went inside we were greeted by a lovely note and swag  We had 3 beautiful towels monogrammed with Clearwater Beach, 2 Jimmy's Fish House t-shirts (Jimmy's is the on-site restaurant), and the kids each got a bag of tokens for the arcade! There was also a bunch of sand toys, and a gift certificate for the restaurant. The kids immediately wanted to head down to the pool and I was happy to oblige, but first we had to unpack, and I had to call James to let him know our room number. That seemed to take forever with 3 kids that were more than excited to get to the pool! Finally we began our descent from the top floor down to the pool area. On our way we stopped by Hollie the Dolphin. There are dolphins like this all over Clearwater and they even have their own Facebook page. We were playing around having a good old time when James called that he had arrived!! He met us at the pool, and together we went up to our room. He was hungry (and so was I!!) so we decided that it was a good time for us to change and head down for dinner. We decided to take advantage of the kids eat free deal, so we went to Jimmy's Fish House. As it turns out, when kids eat free they don't have to order off the kids menu. That worked out pretty well because my gang loves good healthy food and they were turning their noses up at the mac and cheese and chicken tenders that were on the kids menu. We all split 3 orders of calamari. One was the Firecracker Calamari which was flash fried with hot and sweet peppers sauteed with kalamata olives. It was SO GOOD!!! My main course was Seared Ahi Tuna Salad and it was out of this world! We ate dinner and just hung out around the restaurant, watching the boats come in and out of the pass. The trio loved it when a pirate ship came through right at sunset!   After the sun set we were pretty tired, so we headed back to our room and called it a night. It was nice for the kids to be able to go to bed while James and I could hang out in the living room and watch TV while we continued to unwind from a long work week. We woke up on Saturday morning, showered and again went down to Jimmy's for breakfast. They offered an all-you-can-eat buffet. They had cereal, bagels, eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, french toast, muffins and a beautiful fruit salad. With their kids eat free deal, the 5 of us got to eat breakfast for $18!! That's a deal!! We had scheduled our fishing trip to Hubbard's Marina for later in the morning, so we only had a few hours before we had to leave. We thought it might be nice to head to the beach. We walked out the back by the pool and realized we couldn't find the beach. I had to ask someone how to get to the beach and that's when I learned that while the Holiday Inn is Gulf front, it is not beach front. We had to walk 3 blocks down the road to get to the public access beach. Under normal circumstances this would not be a big deal, but with the trio, suddenly it was. We decided to check it out anyway. James and Ronin popped in the Gulf for a quick foot wash. The kids really wanted to stay for a little while, but James and I were not prepared. We had no cooler. We had no beach chairs, no umbrella. And those 3 blocks might as well have been 3 miles when you have 3 kids and those 3 kids require a lot of gear. The adults didn't last long, so we promised the kids we'd head back and spend our time at the hotel pool. They agreed. It was around this time that Ella started complaining of a rash on her leg. A very bad rash that was only on one leg and it was itching her horribly. James took Haley and Ronin back to the room and Ella and I walked to the local Walgreens to buy some benadryl and anti-itch cream (long story short...we find out she had shingles!!) We came back, spent some time at the pool, and then left for Hubbard's Marina. We were gone all day and when we got back to the hotel it was nearly 9pm. We were all tired, and smelling of fish. Thankfully with the 2 full bathrooms we were able to all get showered and cleaned up without incident. And we all crashed. Sunday morning we hit the buffet for breakfast and then went back to the pool. It was at this time that Ella (who was also still itching quite badly but not complaining) discovered something that looked like a little beach behind the Duval Ballroom which is part of the Holiday Inn property. James was napping in a lounge chair so I decided to take the trio over and see what we could see! Sure enough there was a small beach and we were able to get right in to the water and we did some exploring in the water!! We found all kinds of shells, saw a big blue crab, and schools of pipe fish! Somone on a jet ski also hollered that there was a manatee out further in the channel, but it was too deep for us and I didn't want to take any chances being out too far. We continued to wade along the seawall when we came across the back of our hotel. We had noticed this shark from the pool area, but from the water we could see that it said Jimmy's. And James' nickname is Jimmy so we thought it would be a perfect chance for a photo opportunity! I love this photo of my Irish Triplets. They are happy, they are laughing, they are smiling, they are full of joy. And before we knew it, it was time to check out and head back to our part of town. James left before us so he could go to the grocery store and make sure that we arrived home to a nice meal. I packed and took all our luggage down and began the check out process. Check-out was interesting. I noticed on our bill that we were charged for one movie and 2 hours of video games?? Say what!!?? We didn't watch any movies or play any video games! I asked the kids, and they assured me that they did not watch any movies (remember they had a TV in their room, but they were never alone for that length of time where they could watch a movie) but Haley did confess that she played 10 MINUTES of 2 different video games while I was in the shower on Saturday morning. I disputed the charges. I don't think kids should be allowed easy access to a feature that requires payment. There should be some sort of prompting for a code or SOMETHING! And since she played 2 games, that's why I was charged for 2 hours. Each games allows for one hour of play. The total for the movie and the video games was over $40! Thankfully the front desk staff removed those charges and Haley got a nice talking to from me, but she swears that the screen did not indicate that there was any charge for the games! Pros: Beautiful pool, big comfortable room, fridge, microwave, 2 bathooms kids eat free, friendly attentive staff. Cons: Long walk to the beach when you have a large family that requires a lot of "stuff." Our balcony view overlooked the roof of Shepherd's Hotel and Bar. It would have been nice to have a waterfront view. If I leaned over the railing I could see the Intracoastal, but I didn't want to give my trio any ideas! And of course, the ability for kids to order video games without any security measures put in place. I still sit here shaking my head that had I taken a longer shower, she could have done some serious damage. And I'm still not sure about the movie. Wouldn't surprise me if she clicked on a button by accident and got charged for a movie. Overall we had a fantastic stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites on Clearwater Beach, and would certainly return!

9. September 2013 19:15
by jennifer
2 Comments

Push Away the Screen: Staycation on Clearwater Beach

9. September 2013 19:15 by jennifer | 2 Comments

Living in the Sunshine State, surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water means that my family is very lucky. Why? Because, we don't have to travel far to play on Nature's Playground! My family is excited to Push Away the Screen and head to Clearwater Beach to celebrate my husband's 43rd birthday! I have a fun weekend of activities planned for us. We'll be staying at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites. As I've mentioned before, traveling with a family of 5 often means that we are over-run with kid clutter. At the Holiday Inn we'll be staying in a Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman","serif";} King Kids Suites.  The bedroom area has a king bed and then a partial wall and behind the wall where there are twin bunk beds for the children.  Ronin will likely sleep on the floor. He likes to sleep on the floor. We will also have a complete separate living room area. We'll have a fridge which I totally love because that means I can bring some of the healthy foods that we like to snack on. The hotel is located right on the beach AND has a beautiful pool area! We'll also be just a few minutes walk from Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach! I've never been down here before at Sunset, so I'm really excited to see some of the festivities!! Besides the pool, the beach, and Pier 60, we'll also be going DEEP SEA FISHING with Hubbard's Marina! This will be the FIRST time my trio have been on a fishing charter! We've been fishing dozens of times as a family, but only from the shore or dock. Ronin went out once with my Uncle Bobby on his boat and had a blast, but all 3 on a boat fishing...this is going to be a FIRST!! And Hubbard's provides everything; rods, bait, deck hands, and I can bring my own cooler, so again the food choices are all in my control. We're all really excited!! And Matthew will be heading to the Dogs ~R~ Us Hotel, for puppy camp!! He just loves it at Dogs R Us! I can't wait to come back and share our cool pictures with you all!   Have you ever been deep sea fishing?What's the biggest fish you have ever caught??