Hiking In Pioneer Park In St. George, UT

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

Last summer, my family and I did a big family vacation with my husband’s parents and all his siblings and their kids to St. George, Utah.  With kids ranging in age from 17 to 2, finding an activity that everyone would enjoy was a bit of a challenge, but ultimately we decided on hiking.  St. George and the surrounding area is famous for its beautiful and unique red rock formations.  I’ve visited St. George more times than I can count, but hadn’t spent much time hiking the trails found all around the city.  However, we did find an awesome little place called Pioneer Park.  We had so much fun that we visited two days in a row and it was a real hit with everyone in the family.

Pioneer Park is located next to the Red Hills Desert Garden (also a great place for kids to get out and stretch their legs).  There are a bunch of smaller trails you can take and most are easy enough for smaller children to navigate by themselves or with some help.  (Mine were 2 and 4 at the time of our visit.)  The park isn’t too far off the freeway so its easy access makes it a great place to visit whether you are going to St. George to vacation or simply passing through and need to let the kids run around outside and get their wiggles out.

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

The portion of the park that we explored most with our kids is also referred to as a “mini narrows”, or small slot canyon, similar to those found in areas of Southern Utah.  A slot canyon is basically a crack in the canyon wall that is extremely narrow.  The entrance to this slot canyon in Pioneer Park is located near a parking lot and looks like a wide canyon with tall, sloping walls on either side.  There are nooks and crannies for the kids to climb into and take pictures.  If you walk farther in, you’ll be able to climb up some rocks to the beginning of the most narrow part of the hike. 

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

We had to help our kids as we climbed up this portion of the trail because they weren’t tall enough.  Either my husband or I went up first and then the other helped one kid up and then the other joined us.  I wouldn’t say it was dangerous, but red rock can be slippery so be sure to wear proper shoes (aka tennis shoes or hiking shoes).

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

Depending on your size, this may be as far as you go.  Some parts of the slot canyon are only 6 inches wide, so if you are claustrophobic, this probably isn’t for you either.  My daughter and I were able to make it through all the way to the top.  Once you make it to the top, you can climb back down on either side of the canyon to the base.  We hiked down both ways and found that the left trail took a bit longer, but was easier to hike for everyone, while the right trail was steeper and required a little more climbing and may not be suitable for younger kids.

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

All in all, I highly recommend Pioneer Park for people of all ages!  There is actually more to explore in the park than the “mini narrows”, such as some old buildings and other trails, but our kids had so much fun here that we didn’t venture around much.  I really like that this park is near the Red Hills Desert Garden because they have drinking fountains and nice, clean bathrooms to use.

Pioneer Park in St. George, UT is the perfect family friendly hiking spot for all ages.

And if hiking with your kids seems a little intimidating, or you’re just not sure where to start, you can check out this post I shared about 7 tips for hiking with kids!  (Plus, check out the giveaway from Nuby on this post running from today (6/8) to next Wednesday (6/15) at 11:59pm.)

Hiking with kids doesn't have to be a hard thing if you follow these 7 simple tips!

Where are your favorite places to hike with your family?

Planning a Day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Tips for planning a great day at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus the top 5 best attractions)

When my husband and I were planning our trip to Orlando, almost everyone we talked to asked us the same question, “Which park are you going to?”  I would have loved to hit up all of them, but time didn’t allow for that so we had to choose just one park.  If you didn’t know the title of this post, you might guess that we went to Magic Kingdom or Universal Studios. *wink*  But instead, we chose Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Why Hollywood Studios?

The biggest reason was because it was literally right next to our hotel, the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.  We didn’t have a car and the option to take a water taxi or walk the 10 minutes to the park was very appealing to us.  Plus, with only one day to take in an entire park, one of the larger parks would have been harder to get through and Hollywood Studios is the smallest of the Disney parks in Orlando.

Pre-Planning for a Day at the Park

We bought our tickets to the park before we left for our trip.  Ticket prices went up at the beginning of March and we didn’t want to pay the extra money.  Plus, it was really convenient to go to the Disney Planning Station at our hotel and have them give us our tickets there rather than waiting in line at the park.  A perk of buying your tickets ahead of time is that you can actually sign up for fast passes through your My Disney Experience website.  The catch is that you can only sign up for three fast passes and then you have to use all of them up before you can reserve more.  So we got fast passes for Tower of Terror, Star Tours and Toy Story Mania.  Fast passes go quickly, especially if you’re trying to get them the day you are in the park, or you might not get any at all.  Keep checking your My Disney Experience app to see if times happen to open up and you might get lucky.

Tips for planning a great day at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus the top 5 best attractions)

Planning for Weather

We visited the park in late March.  I checked the forecast before our trip and it showed an average of 80 degrees and partly cloudy.  The day we went to the park, it opened at 9am and it was still a little cool for my liking.  I wore a short sleeve shirt, capris and tennis shoes.  We brought water bottles and filled them up throughout the day to stay hydrated.  We walked a total of 9.5 miles, including back to the hotel for dinner and then back to the park in the evening.  I changed into pants and brought a sweatshirt with me that I got from Rad Swim.  They have the cutest swimsuits and coverups!  You can check out their website HERE.  (Note: I received the sweatshirt at no cost from Rad Swim but all opinions are 100% mine.)

Tips for planning a great day at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus the top 5 best attractions)

My Favorite Rides and Shows

Hollywood Studios is a pretty even balance between rides and shows.  This makes it fairly easy to switch between the two and fill up the time in between any of your fast passes with other rides or shows.  The longest we waited in line for anything we didn’t have a fast pass for was about 30 minutes which isn’t long at all.  I’ve listed my top 5 favorite rides and shows below (in no particular order):

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Tower of Terror – This was the very first ride we went on using our fast passes.  We only waited for about 20 minutes before we were loaded into the ride.  I went to Hollywood Studios for the first time back in high school when it was still called MGM Hollywood Studios and we rode the Tower of Terror then.  Everything was exactly as I remembered it, except I could have sworn the ride lasted for longer than a minute.  Also, Hollywood Studios is the only Disney park in the United States that has this ride, since the one at Disney’s California Adventure is being turned in a Guardians of the Galaxy ride.

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (starring Aerosmith) – If there is one roller coaster ride that has been ingrained into my memory for how fun and fast it is, it’s the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.  I wish we’d gotten a fast pass for this one instead of Star Tours because I would have like to ride it more than once.  It was the last ride we did before the fireworks show at the end of the night.  The roller coaster shoots you forward from 0 to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds and you experience 4.5 G as you enter the first turn (which is more than an astronaut experiences being from a shuttle launch).  I absolutely cannot help but smile and scream the entire time.

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Toy Story Mania – We didn’t have time to do the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland when we went a couple years ago, so I was excited to do Toy Story Mania this time around.  To be completely honest, I didn’t exactly know what to expect but it didn’t take long to figure it out.  My husband and I rode in a car together so we played against each other.  The only bummer was that they had some technical difficulties a couple of times during our ride so we had to sit and wait for them to fix it before we could move onto the next game.  My kids would absolutely love this ride and I can’t wait to do it at Disneyland the next time we go.

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular – While waiting to use our Toy Story Mania fast pass, we decided to get in the stand-by line for the Indiana Jones stunt show.  Having seen the show during my first visit to the park in high school, I knew what to expect because the show hasn’t been changed since they opened the park.  It is a huge set and it’s pretty amazing everything that goes on during the show.  They recreate scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with stunts and pyrotechnics.  It’s a really entertaining show and a fun way to get a glimpse into what a real movie scene might be like.

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (a fireworks show) – Originally, I had been looking forward to watching Fantasmic, but instead we got to see a combination fireworks and projection show.  They project parts of all the Star Wars movie onto the side of The Great Movie Ride.  There are lasers, fireworks, fog, searchlights and of course, the iconic soundtrack.  I asked a cast member what the best spot was to view the show and he told me on the corner of Sunset and Hollywood Blvd.  It was a great way to end the night.

A list of the top 5 attractions at Disney Hollywood Studios (plus great tips on how to plan your day)

Have you been to Disney’s Hollywood Studios?  What are your favorite rides, shows and food?

My Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

A little less than two months ago, my husband sent me a message that he’d been invited to go to a training event in Orlando.  Jokingly I replied, “Can I come?”  His response: “I can ask.”  As it turned out, I could come and the minute I heard ‘yes’, I was searching online for the best flights, calling family members to ask if they could watch our kids and dreaming of sunny Florida.  (I’m a planner, remember?)  Midway through the day I asked my husband if he knew the name of the hotel they were putting everyone up at: “Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort“.  Um, what?!  That’s right my friends.  We were going to be staying at a WDW hotel and I was doing a happy dance in my living room.

This post is sponsored by the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.  All opinions are 100% my own.

When I first pulled up to the hotel, it was nighttime and everything was lit up.  The hotel has 11 floors and has huge swan statues on the top of each wing of the hotel.  With the lights shining on the swans as well as the beautiful fountain out front, I knew I was in for a treat.  Walking into the lobby, it is bright and welcoming.  You can see straight through to the other end of the building where it opens out onto the grounds.  When I first was looking at the hotel’s website, I realized that the hotel is actually two hotels on the same property: the Swan and the Dolphin.  They share many of the amenities, such as the pools and other entertainment, but each one has different restaurants and dining options to offer.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

For the first two nights, I stayed in the west wing of the hotel in a grand deluxe king room.  It turns out that we were originally booked into a queen room, but we were able to switch to a king room that also happened to be wheelchair accessible so the bathroom was bigger and there wasn’t a sofa.  Our room had a balcony that looked out onto the grounds behind the hotel (facing the back of the Dolphin).  I had a great view of the little lake (Crescent Lake) and one of the pools and there were lots of palm trees close by as well.  The room was clean and bright, with a desk, TV and a mini fridge that included two complimentary waters (great for drinking and refilling at the parks!).

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

Our third night, we changed rooms and stayed in the east wing of the hotel.  Our view wasn’t as nice in terms of being able to see the grounds, however, we were able to look down into the courtyard area and it was a little more shaded.  We stayed in another grand deluxe king room that was almost identical to our first room but the bathroom was smaller and it had a sofa.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

Each morning for breakfast, we headed down to the Java Bar.  We don’t drink coffee, but there were really good muffins and pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) as well as fresh fruit, cereal, bottled smoothies and a few other basic breakfast items.  It was located towards the back of the hotel near the exit to the grounds and the water taxi, which made it really convenient to grab something and get on our way.  The only other place we ate at on the Swan hotel property was The Garden Grove Restaurant for a character dining experience, which I’ll be posting about later this week.  For now, suffice it to say that it was amazing!

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

The grounds of the hotel are absolutely beautiful.  When you walk out the back doors of the Swan, directly in front of you is a large walkway that leads to the Dolphin.  It is open in the middle with flowers and palm trees and flanked on either side with a covered walkway.  The walkway spans a portion of Crescent Lake where a water taxi comes by every 20 minutes or so to take you to either Epcot or Hollywood Studios.  On one side of the property are three different pools: two lap pools and one larger grotto pool with a waterfall and water slide.  There are also a few hammocks near the pools and on the beach.  We relaxed on the hammocks a couple of different times and it was soooo nice.  On the beach, they had a playground for kids and two or three volleyball courts, along with some loungers.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

On the opposite side of the pools was a bridge over the waterway and a path that led to Hollywood Studios or the Boardwalk.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to explore the boardwalk but we took the walking path to and from Hollywood Studios a couple of times and it was about a 12 minute walk.  I loved the option to walk or take the water taxi, especially at night when the park had closed and everyone was trying to get back to their hotel.

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

An overview of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Buena Vista, FL

One amenity that I found extremely helpful at the Swan was the option to have the hotel hold our luggage for us.  Because we had to change rooms for our third night, we didn’t have a place to put our luggage while we were at Hollywood Studios.  So in between when we had to check out at 11:00am and when we could check back into our new room later that afternoon, they held our stuff for us until our new check in.

All in all, our stay at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort was amazing.  Their proximity to the parks, especially Hollywood Studios and Epcot, made its location ideal.  The rooms were large and welcoming.  We loved the grounds and their list of amenities and services made our stay comfortable and hassle-free.  I would absolutely recommend this hotel for both families and couples.
 
If you are going to be traveling to Florida to visit any of their Disney theme parks or Universal Studios, definitely consider looking into the Swan and Dolphin to see if it’s the right fit for your family.

5 Quick Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

My family and I recently got back from our first family vacation to Disneyland and California Adventure.  We had two day park hopper tickets so we jumped around a little bit between parks.  This worked well for my family because it allowed the kids to experience both parks.  I also found that most rides at California Adventure had shorter lines and rides that allowed more riders so even if the line was a little long, it moved fairly quickly.  We didn’t spend as much time at California Adventure as we did at Disneyland, but there were a few tips I wanted to pass along for first timers.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

World of Color Fast Passes
You may have heard about the World of Color performance at California Adventure.  It is full of lights, color, fun special effects and is perfect for all ages.  When my friends heard I was going to Disneyland and California Adventure, they all told me to go to the World of Color because it was just that good.  They also told me to be sure and get a fast pass first thing in the morning because they go, well, fast.  I did as they said and picked up our family’s fast passes first thing on our first day to the parks.  The passes assign you a viewing location and a time to return–up to an hour before the show starts.  We had gone over to California Adventure around 6:30pm after leaving Disneyland since the park closed early for a special event.  I wasn’t too worried about finding a spot since we had our fast pass and we ended up going into the viewing area a little before 8pm and found a decent spot on the right side.  Basically the way they have the fast passes set up is that if you have one, you are assigned a viewing location and are able to get closer to the performance.  If you don’t have one, you have to find somewhere else to view the show that isn’t as good.

*Note: The World of Color fast passes do not count against your other park fast passes.  The fast pass distribution for World of Color is next to the Grizzly Peak fast pass machines.

**For more information on how fast passes work, visit DLR Prep School’s post here.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Radiator Springs Fast Passes
Another attraction you want to get a fast pass for is Radiator Springs in Cars Land.  We got ours right after getting the World of Color fast passes (around 9am).  When we left the park around 12:30p, the fast passes were gone for the day and if you wanted to ride the ride, you’d have to wait an hour or more.  I was definitely glad we got fast passes!

*Note: The fast pass distribution for Radiator Springs is not next to the ride like many of the other fast pass machines throughout the park.  It is next to the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” ride in Bug’s Land.

**Be sure to check where the fast pass distribution is for any given ride before going there, otherwise you could miss out.  The information is in the park pamphlet, which you can pick up at the entrance to the park or at other information booths throughout the park.

Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome Fast Passes
Yet another attraction you will want to get fast passes for is to meet Anna and Elsa.  This is the only way you can meet them.  They are not at Disneyland–only California Adventure and only with a fast pass.  They are located in Hollywood Land in the Disney Animation building.  The fast pass distribution machines are just outside the entrance and to the left (if you’re facing the entrance).  We had a 30 minute window in which to show up and once we did, we only had to wait 10 minutes.  That was shorter than our wait for any of the princesses in Disneyland!

*Note: This fast pass does not count against your other fast passes within the park.  You can hold fast passes for other attractions at the same time.

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Rider Swap
Disneyland has this great process in place for families who have some children who are big enough to ride a ride and others who are not.  We fell into this category.  My daughter is currently 42″ tall which is tall enough for most of the rides.  My son is only 33″ tall.  We wanted to go on a couple of rides he wasn’t tall enough to go on–Soarin’ Over California and Radiator Springs.  Obviously, either my husband or I was going to have to stay with our son while the other one rode with our daughter.

How to Use a Rider Swap: Let the cast member at the entrance to the line know that you’d like to do a “rider swap”.  They will give you a card on a lanyard that you will need to give to the person going on the ride.  They will then give the card to the cast member at the entrance to the ride itself in exchange for a little card.  Essentially, this card acts as a fast pass that allows the other person who was not able to go on the ride to get in without having to wait in the regular line.  In addition, they can take up to three people with them.  For example, if you have two children who are tall enough for the ride and one that is not, and those children go on the ride the first time around, they can go again when you redeem your rider swap card.  It’s almost like a super fast pass because it gets more people in to go on the same ride with only one pass.

*Note: While you do have to use the rider swap pass on the same day, you can use it at any time during the day.  You don’t have to go right after the other adult gets back with the kids.  You can go hours later, as long as it’s on the same day.  Pretty awesome, right?  (They also have rider swap at Disneyland.)

5 Tips for Visiting Disney California Adventure

Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta–Best Bang for Your Buck
Let’s face it: food at Disneyland and California Adventure (or any theme park for that matter) is expensive.  While you might choose to bring your own snacks in, snacks only go so far to curb your appetite.  If you are looking for good food and the best bang for your buck, go to Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta on Paradise Pier.  They offer a large plate of pasta for $10!  My husband and I each got a plate and shared it with our kids, who got their fill and we ate the rest.  We ordered the Spaghetti and Meatballs and the Chicken Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.  Sooo good!  (And while you’re there, fill up your water bottles with ice water for free!)  The pizza isn’t as good of a deal at $7-$8 for one slice, but it is fresh and it’s a decent sized piece.

What are your favorite tips to share with people visiting California Adventure?  I’d love to hear them!

Disney Countdown Chain

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Last October, we took our first family vacation to Disneyland!  It was so much fun and the kids loved it.  I hadn’t been to Disneyland in about 15 years so I was excited to go too!

Since this was a somewhat last minute trip, I didn’t have as much time to build my kids (mostly my daughter) up to it as much as I would have liked.  Like most kids her age–she was 3 at the time–she doesn’t fully understand the passage of time.  To help her with this (and to save my sanity!), I made a simple Disney countdown chain.  We’ve used countdown chains before to help her learn how time passes (see this post here), so I knew that making one again would be a successful way to count down to our trip.

Here is what you’ll need:

  • red, yellow, white and black paper (I used cardstock, but you could use lighter weight paper.)
  • scissors or paper trimmer
  • stapler
  • double-sided tape or scrapbook adhesive squares
  • printer or Silhouette machine
  • Disney stickers, die cuts, etc (optional)

To begin with, decide how large you want the top of your countdown to be.  Mine is about 8.5″x8.5″.  If you’re using a Silhouette machine, open up your Silhouette Design Studio and create the shape you want.  I just used a scalloped border I had in my library and then created a circle inside of it.  For the text, I used a font called “Waltograph” which you can get for free here.  I kept it simple with “Countdown to Disney”, but you could put whatever you like.

*If you do not have a Silhouette machine, just open up your document program, choose a shape (optional) and type the text in.  Then print it out and cut out the shape.

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Then I pulled out my cardstock.  I decided to stick with classic Disney/Mickey Mouse colors of red, yellow, white and black.  (You could easily make a Minnie Mouse countdown by using pink, purple, white and black and attaching bows to the mouse chains.)  I let my machine do the cutting and writing for me, but decided to color the words in to make them stand out better.  (If you wanted to add Disney stickers or die-cuts to this part, you definitely could.)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

For the chain, simply cut strips of paper out in each of the four colors.  The number of strips you’ll need will be determined by how long your family’s countdown is.  I only needed three strips of each color for a total of 12 strips.  Each of my strips is 2″x10″.

The only difference will be when you cut out the black strips.  If you want to have the “ears”, you will need to do one of two things:

  1. If you’re using a Silhouette: Grab the Silhouette file here, then save and open it in your Silhouette Studio.  You can then resize anything you need to before sending it to be cut.
  2. If you are cutting by hand: 
    1. Option 1: Grab the PDF file here, then save and open it.  You could put the paper into your printer (once it’s cut down to size) and then cut out the pieces using scissors or a paper trimmer. 
    2. Option 2: You could print out the document, cut the shape out and trace it onto your paper and cut out the strips using scissors or a paper trimmer.

*I also have the Silhouette file here and the PDF file here for the strips, “buttons” and bows (if you do a Minnie theme) if you don’t want to cut or trim those by hand.

Once you’ve got everything cut out, lay your strips out in this order: yellow, red, black, white.  If you look at mine, you can see that once it’s all put together, the order is important because it kind of looks like Mickey Mouse (yellow: shoes, red: pants, black: head, white: spacer).  Fun, right?

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

When you are putting the chain together, overlap the strips by at least 1/2″ so that you can staple them together easily.  For the black strips, be careful that you face the “ears” all the same direction.  After the chain is completed, gently fold the “ears” forward.  Place the “button” pieces (2 each) on the red chain.  Staple the top-most chain to the bottom of your big countdown shape and hang it on the wall!

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

This is a super simple project to make, but the finished product is absolutely darling!  I almost didn’t want to rip any of the chains off because it looked so cute hanging there on my wall.

Disney Countdown Chain--a simple and cute way to countdown to your Disney vacation.  (Free print files included!)

What does your family do to countdown to Disney or other family vacations?