Northeast

Smuggler's Notch in Vermont

We’ve wanted to visit Smugglers Notch for years.  And now, having just got back from 4 days at Smuggs, I have to say-that was one heck of a fun vacation in the beautiful mountains of Vermont! How much can you pack into one little vacation? The short answer- a lot! (by the way, my kids and I voted it to be one of our best driving vacations ever! And we travel quite a bit in the Northeast).
Smugglers Notch knows how to offer fun for all ages. I thought my kids would be a bit “old” to come here, but I was absolutely wrong. In fact, they were the perfect ages-15,13 and 9. After checking in and getting loaded up with brochures, activities guides and a Smuggs map my first thoughts were what do we do now? And which pool do we choose first? They have 8 pools with various water slides at each one. We made sure to hang out for a while at each one during our trip. Our faves included the mountainside pool and the more private pool for guests in the Northside community, but all were very nice!

What is there to do at Smuggs?
Smuggler’s offers free activities as well as fee based where you can pick ’em and choose ’em like an a la carte menu. You do need to book your paid activities ahead of time so you have an itinerary and to be sure they are not sold out.
Some of the FREE things to do:
Hiking.
Mini golf.
8 heated pools and 4 water slides, play areas, waterfall, river rapid tube ride and hot tubs.
Daily games on the green like human foosball.
Nightly events like the magic show we saw (I definitely recommend this, bring a blanket).
The fun Country Fair they have on Thursdays complete with games, prizes and vendors.
Playgrounds, basketball, shuffleboard, volleyball.
2 reservoirs with various water slides and water trampoline.
Rum Rummers’ hideaway with tubes, a water trampoline and water swing.
Bootleggers’ basin with zoom flume waterslide.
  • Also, their indoor fun zone area is currently under construction and being completely rebuilt. It’s scheduled to open in the fall. If it is the same as before, it’ll have ping pong pool, games, and inflatables- perfect for a rainy day or after a day outside hiking and swimming!
Some of the fee based activities:
Disc Golf
Llama treks ( I wish we did this one, but I did get to meet a sweet llama named D.J with 1 blue and 1 brown eye and super soft hair!)
Tie dye class for a keepsake souvenir shirt.
Mountain biking.
Ziplining and Arbor Trek treetops obstacle course.
Tree climbing.
Segway tours.
Flyboarding (My kids had a blast doing this!!)
Canoeing and kayaking.
Children’s programs and camps (these look really fun if you want to put the kids in and have some adult time for yourself or get a massage and have a quiet lunch). I did learn, however, that they are not as popular as they used to be. I’m hoping this is because more families just want to spend time together as a family.
Arts and crafts.
Tennis.
Rock wall.
Giant Swing.


Ok, so I have to mention some of our family favorite parts of the trip.
RUMRUNNER’S HIDEAWAY
A short 2 miles from the condos which you can get to by car or shuttle. Rumrunners’ hideaway is a beautiful reservoir where you can lounge on or jump off the docks, float around in a tube, rent a paddleboat or best yet- swim out to the water trampoline and try out your jumps and slides into the refreshing reservoir water! *Tip- bring lots of water to drink , sunscreen and towels. It’s a bit of a steep hike from the parking area.

ARBOR TREK
This is a ropes course in the woods complete with all the zip lines and suspension bridges to offer challenges to all skill levels. I could barely watch my son on ” the eliminator” yet he made it across easily. This was a HUGE HIGHLIGHT of my teens’ vacation!  They spent a good hour climbing and zipping (after the lesson and an easier course they have to master) and I know they’ll have great memories of it!  Kids 12 and under need a parent. Since I’m too chicken, I took my 9 year old to the tree climbing which was a load of fun too. It had at least 10 different trees and ladders to climb and kept him happy and challenged. The older kids did it too, after their ropes course time ended.
FLY BOARDING
What a COOL new  water sport this flyboarding is! Lessons run for half hour water time which is plenty to get a good feel of it. This is for ages 13 and up. If you have a teen, I highly recommend it! Our instructors were super friendly and helped the kids up with detailed supportive instructions and cues. And up they did go with my son reaching about 12 feet above the water and my daughter only a little less. Flyboarding is at a beautiful tranquil reservoir that you get to by resort shuttle in just a few minutes. There’s also a fun water slide and plenty of space to lounge or play. It was definitely the highlight of the trip for my teens! ( which is why Smuggs is great for younger kids but even better for teens!)
CHECK OUT THIS AWESOME PHOTO THEY TOOK and a VIDEO HERE!  
FLYBOARDING at SMUGGLER'S NOTCH
At the resort itself, Smugglers has many different styles of condominiums spread out on many acres and ranging from right in the heart of Smugglers village on the green to private and secluded areas. Starting at studios and going up to 5 bedrooms, there’s an option for every family. We had the most gorgeous condo ever! I  wanted to call back home and say send the cats, we’re staying! With a screened in porch, 2 gas fireplaces, modern fully equipped kitchen, huge master bedroom and bath and 2 other bedrooms, it was an amazing vacation home. Many units are available, so all you have to do is inquire on their site or in person.

On property, they have a few restaurants from fast dining like pizza to sit down dining. There’s a really nice general store selling everything from souvenirs to bread and frozen food for your kitchen. Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is on property too! We took the half hour drive to the Ben and Jerry’s factory tour and enjoyed a few hours there, which is a must do if you are visiting Vermont!
Another must see- take a short drive to Bingham Falls (about 15 minutes away) where you can hike down to the waterfall and swim in the cool (ok, slightly freezing) waters and just sit enjoying the sounds of the falls! This was a popular spot and we spent a good 2 hours there. One of my favorite trip memories.
If we had more time, I’d also take the hour drive to Burlington, right on Lake Champlain and check out that area too. It sounds lovely.
Are you a single parent? Let me add, that if you don’t know from my past posts, I’m a single mom, traveling with 3 kids and Smuggler’s Notch was a perfect trip for us. Every trip we’ve taken has been the 4 of us and if you read my other blog posts each place we went to was a great trip and very doable as a single parent, so don’t hold back and NOT travel just because you are a single parent.
Now, Vermont is beautiful in the summer, no doubt about that! But they keep things active all year and I’m sure it’s even busier in the winter for all the skiers and snow boarders. How nice that would be- to ski all day then come back to a cozy condo with a fireplace and hot tub, or into one of the restaurants at the Village Center. Check out the Fall and Winter pages.

MY TOP TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT TO SMUGGLER’S NOTCH:
1- Plan your activities. While I’m a “wing it ” kind of gal, this place needs some things scheduled, so look at the site, pick your favorites and book them asap!
2- Take at least 1 or 2 trips off property to the waterfalls or the village of Stowe or Burlington, if time permits. The waterfalls and hiking are free and Burlington sounds like a great little city to walk around right on Lake Champlain.
3- Save money by packing much of your favorite dry food from home ( breads, peanut butter,jelly, lots of snacks, cereals, juice boxes, oatmeal, etc). Buy frozen or refrigerated foods ( milk, eggs…) on your way as you are near the resort. The property does have a grocery store/general store where I found the prices to be mostly quite high ( over $7 for a box of cereal and $6 for a pint of blueberries!!?) but some items were priced ok (waffles, frozen chicken nuggets) so if you’re watching your cash, better to bring most staples from home. Then you can splurge on a meal out here and there if you choose.
4- Bring your big beach towels from home for the pools ( washers and dryers available)
5- Don’t miss out on all there is to do. If it’s free, do it. Join in the family and teen games that run throughout the day and night. When you check in, you get a schedule, so it’s easy to plan your day that way.
6-Download the Smuggs app and sign up for the free texts while there. You can grab the free shuttle that way, find out if an activity is going on, or cancelled, check hours of pool times,e tc.
7- Allow time to do it all! Try to book at least 3 nights. We had 3 nights but I wish we had 4 or 5.
8- Sign up for the family tie dye t-shirt so you can all go home with a SMUGGS t-shirt souvenir!
9- The road that goes through the NOTCH is closed from late fall to early spring. If you are traveling then, check your navigator and adjust accordingly. In the warmer months, it’s a steep and beautiful drive the kids will get a kick out of if you’re not from a mountain area, like us ( Long Island is flat as a pancake).
10- Bring sneakers, hiking shoes and more sneakers.  Flip flops too for summer at the pools.
You can get a free DVD, learn more about Smuggs and enter to win a free week on their site here!
I really can’t say enough about Smuggler’s Notch as a great summer mountain vacation.There’s plenty of action for the big kids. Smaller kids will enjoy all the slides and splash areas at the pools. It’s an easy drive for anyone in the Northeast, though we met people from Colorado and further places also. Finally, I’ll add, it’s not a cheap trip (hope you didn’t miss my money saving tip #3 above?), but neither is Disney and this is about the polar opposite of that (we went to Disney a few months ago, so I’m thrilled we got to experience both kinds of vacations). Family travel time-bonding, laughing and the smiles on the kids faces- is priceless. And oh, that fresh mountain air!











Stepping Stones Museum in Connecticut


I have to say, I figured my 6 year old would love Stepping Stones but just didn’t know about my older two kids who are 10 and 12. As we got out of the car, I gave them the little ” just try to have a good time and let your little brother enjoy it” speech. I added that they “might like the color-coaster thingie” I had seen on the Stepping Stones website.
Boy, was I wrong.
Color Coaster
The kids LOVED the color coaster. Especially my 12 year old. Well, I have to rewind and say that he is one of those kids obsessed with building things – a future engineer. He spends hours with his K’nex and was on the school robotics team. So I felt a glimpse into his future as he gazed at the Color Coaster and soaked in all the little complexities of it. So just what is a color coaster anyway? It’s like a giant ball track contraption with gears, lifts, levers and all sorts of paths that balls go around on. It has some hands-on interaction where the kids can lift a lever so they feel more involved in it. Even my 10 year old enjoyed and and of course, the little guy did.
Children's Museum Fun

When I peeled them away from there, with the word “water,” we headed into Energy Lab, the exciting, wet and wonderful exhibit which ended up being our personal favorite room in the museum.This room is a soaking wet mix of balls everywhere, water spouts, wind tunnels, basins, funnels, water rivers and lots of excitement. I really  liked the feel of this fun room and even got in on the action by tossing balls into the funnel with some other Moms and Dads (hey, we’re all kids at heart). We spent a good hour there before moving on.
Stepping Stones Water Activity

Making our way through the museum, we headed over to “Build it,” another exhibit with hands-on building,problem solving and inventing. And of course,  kids are learning more than they ever realize when they are doing all these activities.
Stepping Stones Activity
Next up was Healthyville, where kids got to peddle a bike, learn about body organs and various other senses. This was fun for me and anything “gross” is fun for the kids too (bodies are gross at this age, remember?) There’s quite a few hands-on exhibits here like learning how to floss on giant teeth and a pretend food station.
Stepping Stones Health Education
The traveling exhibit, until September 8th , 2013, is Dinosaur Revolution where we got to navigate a giant maze, testing our knowledge of these prehistoric giants along the way with a mini rock wall at the end too.
In the back of the museum is the multi-media gallery. When we peeked in, there were lots of tots dancing around to a song on the giant screen. My kids quickly ran out proclaiming it’s for babies as most of the kids were the 3 and under in the room at that time. However, there is a stage and this is where the museum puts on shows throughout the year. Later that day was a Japanese drumming show.
Outside was the Celebration Courtyard with giant foam blocks the kids can build and create towers or courses to walk on and climb over. We didn’t stay long because it was over 95 degrees that day but I did like that it had a giant cover over the area so you weren’t in full sun. Looks like they also hold special performances throughout the year there.
There’s a Tot Town inside for the up-to 3 year olds which made me wistful and wishing for little ones again. I miss those days but am enjoying the discoveries we make as the kids grow!
There’s a very cute little gift shop at Stepping Stones as well and I managed to pick up a few birthday gifts for my 3 summer babies. Lots of nice educational choices.
I definitely think anyone with kids and within a reasonable drive of Stepping Stones should make the trip. I’ve been to 4 children’s museums now and honestly wish we had gone to more. Time goes fast and pretty soon kids want to go to the movies and mall with friends and these family fun days will be sorely missed. Since I’m a Mom who is big on learning outside the classroom setting, children’s museums are just of the learning adventures I love and recommend to every family.
Stepping Stones Einstein Quote
If you’re headed to Norwalk, you can actually do the museum and the aquarium in one day if you need to. Head to Stepping Stones Museum as soon as they open at 10:00 and spend two to three hours there. The aquarium is a 2 minute drive away so you can go over there for lunch (a much better menu choice than the museum in my opinion , especially for adults) and then spend the rest of the day at the aquarium. Do check the IMAX theatre schedule first, since the movie is such a great part of the aquarium experience and is the largest IMAX in Connecticut.

Stepping Stones Museum for Children was generous enough to provide us with admission. All opinions and pictures are strictly my own.






Dutch Wonderland


We just got back from a very fun trip to Pennsylvania and spent the good part of one day at Dutch Wonderland. If you have kids under 10, you definitely want to make the trip to Dutch Wonderland for the day. I’d say the park is more for the 3-8 year olds but my 10 year old daughter said she still loves it and even my 12 year old found some rides he liked. And we ALL absolutely love the dive shows, which were a highlight of our day.
This was our 4th trip to Dutch Wonderland over the years. Located about 30 miles from Hershey, Pa, you can stop at Dutch Wonderland on the way to Hershey like we did. If you have kids of varying ages, between both parks, you can cover just about every size ride and show possible! They even offer combo tickets to save a few bucks on entrance.
Dutch Wonderland is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It’s a small enough park to do in 4 or 5 hours if you include some shows. And let me tell you, DO NOT MISS the shows at the aqua stadium. I was told The Adventures of the Frog Prince is a fan favorite -it’s VERY funny and if you sit up front, in the “soak zone,” the kids will love it even more. I think I enjoyed them as much or more than my kids.  Later in the day the Open Dive show features some very creative and unique dives while the divers goof around making it a casual, fun experience for all.
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Other shows, to name a few, include the new for 2013 “Decades of Dutch Wonderland” stage show, story times with Princess Brooke,  a star-studded parade and Fun -sation - a 50 year celebration with songs, dancing and audience participation. Young kids love these shows! If you have a little girl, she’ll love meeting the princess and the boys and girls all love meeting Duke the Dragon.
As for rides, my 6 year old went on just about every ride several times and was one happy boy!
My older 2  loved the roller coaster and flume ride, which we went on as a family. Who doesn’t love getting wet on the flume? The drop was just big enough to be scary (well, for me anyway) but small enough not to totally freak me out.
There’s even a small water park area called Duke’s Lagoon. It has a few small spraygrounds, mainly 3 areas, for different ages. The older kids will love the tube ride (bring water shoes or flip flops as they are required on this ride). Older kids may get a bit bored on the play areas but on a hot day, everyone loves to cool off, including this Mom who let her sons spray her down and stand in the area that gets dumped on!
One thing I really like at DW is that the park is just plain pretty and it’s got a very country laid back feel to me.  It’s nicely landscaped and shaded which I love. In the back of the park, over the river, you can often see cows grazing on the rolling farm fields. Plus it’s all walkable without getting exhausted.
Dutch Wonderland  also includes a game of mini golf with your ticket. There’s several dining options, both indoors and out and plenty of snack areas too.  DW is open daily in season and weekends through Mid- October. As they say, have a Dutch Wonderful Day!
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After a day at Dutch Wonderland, head over to Chocolate World or Hershey Park. It’s less than an hour drive.
*Disclosure- Dutch Wonderland provided us with admission to review the park for my TodaysMama readers.We were grateful to have this opportunity. All opinions and pictures are my own.

Hershey Park Insider Tips

1- If you are going to the park for just one day and you are coming into town the night before, definitely get the free preview where you can enjoy the park for over 2 hours the evening you purchase your next day tickets.
2- There is A TON of walking. Wear super comfortable shoes and pack a spare pair of lightweight flip flops for the water park area.
3- Head to the the park early, when they open, and make a beeline straight to the biggest coaster you want to go on or to the back of the park. Most people stop at rides along the entrance and they can jam up quickly.
4- Do not bring food as they will take it away when they inspect bags. You can bring one water bottle (sealed) per person as per their website but an even more convenient deal is to get the souvenir cup at around $9.00 and then refills on soda and lemonade, for the 2013 season, are only 99 cents. Even better, they will fill your cup, or any cup you have, with water for free. No $3 waters! How cool is that?
5- If you don’t have a stroller but don’t feel like carrying a ton of towels for your large family, just bring one towel. They have these really neat family dryers, large plastic box things (for lack of a better word) that you all can step into and for $5, you dry off — hair, clothing, even your towel. It’s a very cool (or should I say warm?) concept (why didn’t I think of that?)
6- If you really want to see it all, allow two full days at the park and explore it at a more leisurely pace. Include Chocolate World since there’s a lot to do over there as well.
7- Wear your bathing suit under clothing for less to carry.
8- If you have young kids, stop by the booth on your right after you enter the park to get a bracelet for them that you write your cell number on in case your kids get separated from you.
9- Have the kids measure up after they enter the park so they know exactly which rides they can go on.
10- Try to visit on a Tuesday through Thursday for lighter  crowds.
11- Stay into the evening as crowds tend to thin after 6 or 7 pm when the park is open until 10pm.
12- Don’t use the Hershey phone app instead of carrying a map since apps drain cell phone batteries fast.
13- Consider the meal voucher to save on meal/drink.
14- Plan on eating in the “off” hours of 2-4pm to save time.
15- Travel light. Hershey is a huge park and you don’t want to lug more than you need. Or rent a locker to store valuables and just carry a small bag or backpack so you don’t end up with a backache or sore shoulder.
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