Push Away the Screen: Staycation on Clearwater Beach

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! Smile  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 Smile

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. Undecided 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! Yell 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!

Push Away the Screen: Staycation at the Gaylord Palms Resort

Recently my family had the opportunity to Push Away the Screen and spend 2 nights and 2 full days at the beautiful Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. We had been once before, back in 2009 for their winter ICE Festival, but we had no idea what other amenities the resort offered.

Upon check-in we were told that we would be staying in a Ground Level King Suite with an adjoining Queen Suite. Say what?? Traveling with a family of 5 usually means that we are crammed for space and overwhelmed with "kid clutter" every where, but not on this trip!

There was no way I could even get one room in the camera shot, so I didn't even bother! And besides, we weren't there to spend time in our room, we were there to relax and unwind with our family while being active and pushing away the screen.

We arrived at the resort around 7:30pm and we were hungry and the kids wanted to swim. We all quickly changed in to our bathing suits and with a map in hand, Ronin led us to the Cypress Springs Family Fun Water Park! On our way to the pool we passed through all sorts of beautiful gardens that had us excited to explore when the sun came up!

Once at the pool the kids were disappointed to see that the water slides were closed, but I had warned them in advance that they wouldn't be open on the evening when we arrived. I think they must have thought I was joking. But what did keep them entertained was Madagascar 3. Yes, we were there to #pushawaythescreen, but with a Dive-In Movie, we made an exception and the kids frolicked and played, stopping every few minutes to catch a glimpse of the movie.

I stayed with the trio and James went off to find us some food. He came back with take-out from Wreckers Sports Bar. A wonderful Cesar salad for him and I, and fish and chips and chicken tenders for the trio. The Cesar salad was made by the dressing. It had to have been homemade. It was SO GOOD with a lot of garlic. Yum.

After a quick dip in the pool, I was ready for an adult beverage so I wandered over to Wreckers (which was the only spot open at this time of night) and got us each a libation. The beer was for me. Wink

Upon our return to our room we had this lovely welcome tray and note waiting for us! The Gaylord Palms motto of "Consider it Done" certainly rang true for us this entire staycation, and this bit of personalization was the icing on the cake.

They also stocked our fridges (yes, we had 2) with sparkling water Smile The kids were very excited for a fun Saturday at the pool, so went right to sleep.

We woke up and since we had reservations to eat Villa de Rosa for buffet dinner, we opted to not eat buffet for breakfast and headed to the Java market for a quick bite to eat. We wanted to be at the pool soon after opening! It's uncanny how James and I think alike for on this morning we both ordered a Greek salad...FOR BREAKFAST! The kids each had a breakfast sandwich. We ate in the St. Augustine atrium, and then James decided he needed a nap, so while he went back to the room the kids and I headed to the Cypress Springs Family Water Park.

You must show your room key, and give your last name when you check in at the park. Apparently it is quite common for locals to try to get in to the pool area on the weekend. When we checked in we were informed that we had a POOLSIDE CABANA!! SWEET! We were given towels, our cabana number and headed down to Cabana 17! I knew James would be quite happy to learn we had a cabana because he is quite sun sensitive! And I was right! He spent quite a bit of time in the shade reading It Starts With Food. Our cabana had a fridge stocked with water, plus 2 chaise lounges, and a dining table with 4 chairs. We also had chaise lounges right outside our cabana.

The kids had an absolute blast! They participated in poolside games! Ella did the hula-hooping contest (see Haley in the water cheering her on!!) and came in 3rd place.

And all 3 of them did the cannonball contest and Haley placed 2nd overall! Very proud of my big splashers!

 

The games took place on the top of every hour beginning at Noon. From 10-Noon my gang just had a blast going down the slides and swimming in the pool!

 

 

And James enjoyed the slides too! Look at that splash he made!

And you better believe that I enjoyed myself as much as the kids did!

But in typical Florida fashion, the storms rolled through at 1:45pm and closed down the pool. We hadn't eaten lunch yet, so we headed back in to the resort to the Key West area (where our suite was also located) and let the kids have a bite to eat at Sunset Sam's. We sat in the sailboat, had a few drinks, and the kids snacked on calamari. If you look closely you can see James in the left side of the photo!

It was pouring rain outside, and though we were inside, it felt like we were outside. It was amazing! The kids had so much fun exploring and before we knew it, it was time to head back to our room to get ready for dinner.

I brought along a great selection of dresses from Gwynnie Bee and decided to wear this one! I loved it. It was so comfortable, and the colors really popped!

Along the way we had time to explore all of the different eco-systems represented in the resort. The Florida Everglades was Ella's favorite! Ella loves snakes and this was her "I'm excited to see snakes" face.

And we walked though a brick area that had the name of every Florida county of them! We took our pictures next to the three that hold the most meaning for us! James is from Tampa so that's Hillsborough County, I'm from Venice, so that's Sarasota County, and now we live in Land O' Lakes, so that's Pasco County.

Then we were off to dinner! We were greeted warmly by the hostess, shown to our primo view table (which might have been located next to a quick release gate for children to easily depart to go explore the St. Augustine fort??) and the manager came over, introduced himself, shook my hand, and informed me that if there was anything we wanted to eat that we didn't see on the buffet, to please let him know and he would have his staff make it! Talk about the Consider it Done motto coming in to play again!

They had amazing healthy opitions, and here's a sneak peek of my plate(s). Yes, I ate too much. And I drank too much. But it's fine. It's not something that happens often, and I enjoyed every bite and have not one ounce of regret! Both of those plates went in my belly. Tongue Out

An alligator feeding happened at 6:30pm pretty close to where we were eating, so the kids and I hopped over there really quick, saw the show, and on the way back we ran in to Po!

 

And I'll be darned if it doesn't look like I am sporting a bicep!

We explored a bit more after dinner, but went to bed pretty early. I had to go and charge my phone, so went out exploring while the family was in bed and look who I ran across!

We had an amazing Saturday, and got to sleep in a bit on Sunday! The kids didn't wake us up until close to 9am! We did pretty much the same thing as the day before! Had breakfast at Java, James went to take a nap, the kids and I went back to the pool, got our cabana again, and just played until the rain closed the pool down at 3pm. That worked out perfectly because we had a late checkout at 4pm, so we came back to our room, took showers, packed and left.

Having a Staycation at the Gaylord Palms is more like a vacation! We never left the property! There was no need to go anywhere! We had plenty of food options, entertainment options, and of course the pool.

If you are looking for an amazing family getaway, I HIGHLY recommend that you check out the Gaylord Palms.

You can follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest!!

Be sure to check out their webpage or social media channels for great promotions and of course their upcoming ICE show which this year will feature FROSTY the Snowman! I sure hope that they invite us back again because we sure loved being guests at the Gaylord!

Have you ever done a Staycation at a local hotel? What did you like best about it?

Push Away the Screen: Top 5 tips for Adventure Island

As summer vacation draws to a close, I had the amazing opportunity to Push Away the Screen and take my kids to Adventure Island.

Adventure Island is a 30 acre water park full of ways for you to have fun with your family while keeping cool!

From thrilling slides like Gulfscream and Riptide to the more laid back areas Splash Attack and Fabian's Funport, there is guaranteed to be something for everyone in your family!

My family really enjoyed the Rambling Bayou, a Lazy River offering a relaxing trip around the park, while riding on an inflated inner tube. You float through a  misted rainforest and a flowing waterfall. We did this "ride" both with and without tubes. My son enjoys "running" through the river, swimming, and being pushed by the current. With a maximum depth of 3 feet it's a great way for him to practice some of his swimming skills, and when he's tired, he can float on his back and be pushed by the current.

We also enjoyed a few "family style rides." The Calypso Coaster (which can be experienced by single or double riders) is a high speed open flume ride with twists and turns that dumps guests in to a 3' pool at the end. I rode this with Ronin, and my girls rode together. There were a few other family rides as well, but we didn't get the opportunity to experience them all on this visit as the park was very crowded and my gang is not much for waiting in lines.

Having been to Adventure Island a few times each summer (except for this summer, we only made it once) I have my top 5 tips to share with you!

  1. BRING YOUR OWN FOOD! Adventure Island allows guests to bring a 15X15X15 cooler in to the park. I was able to pack lunch and snacks for my gang. This meant we were able to steer clear of the typical theme park food, and eat our healthy foods! I also brought in my own chilled bottled water and that certainly came in handy!
  2. WEAR WATER SHOES! Not flip-flops, but real water shoes. I wore my Merrell River Glove Water Shoe and it was great! Lightweight, but kept the hot sand and pavement from bothering my feet! The ground at Adventure Island is very hot for my feet, and the bottom of the Lazy River can be hard on feet, too. My kids didn't want to wear their water shoes, and while they didn't complain there were quite a few times when they were hopping from one foot to the other due to the hot ground.
  3. GET THERE EARLY!! Getting to the park at least 15 minutes BEFORE it opens is key to finding your perfect spot to set-up for the day. Yesterday the park opened at 9:30am, and we arrived at 9:37am. By the time we had our bags checked, and picked up our tickets it was after 10am, and we high-tailed it to try to find a spot in the shade and we were lucky enough to find a place tucked in the shade of some oak trees. We managed to snag the last table and it wasn't much later that I noticed people setting up towels on the grass. Getting there early also means you can get on some of your favorite rides without much of a wait. As I mentioned earlier there were quite a few rides we didn't get the opportunity to experience simply because the lines were too long, and having a special needs child often means we physically can't wait in those long lines and Adventure Island doesn't offer a special needs pass like Busch Gardens.
  4. KNOW WHEN TO LEAVE!! Growing up in the Sunshine State, I've become pretty awesome at predicting summer storms. Even though it was only 2:45pm, and the skies over Adventure Island were blue and shining, I could see something brewing off in the distance, so I told my gang it was time to pack up. They weren't happy with me, but went about doing what I asked. By the time we got to the car it was 3:15pm, and we started our drive home. Within 5 minutes it began to sprinkle, but by the time we made it home we were in a full-out downpour, which eventually turned in to a severe thunderstorm complete with a tornado! So be smart when playing outside. Know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Tongue Out
  5. RELAX! With more than 50 lifeguards stationed throughout the park, roving security, ample life-jackets, it's a great opportunity to just let go and have fun with your kids. I'm not telling you to let the non-swimming toddler experience the wave-pool on their own, but you can allow your kids to be kids, and just enjoy watching them having a blast!

 

Have you been to Adventure Island, or any other water park? What tips do you have to share??