Don’t Leave Home Without ‘Em

Kids Playing in the Pool

Since our kids don’t know how to swim yet, inflatable pool rings turned out to be a godsend on our trip to the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain outside Tucson, Arizona. Easy to pack and only $1.50 each, they gave the kids confidence to paddle all around and me comfort knowing they had some help.

Blissed out girl in the pool
Webster’s called, they want to use this picture next to the definition of “bliss”
Relaxed Pool Boy
Happy and relaxed kids… priceless

Best buck fifty ever spent.

The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain

235 Foot Waterslide into the pool

Nobody will be surprised to hear that The Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain is a beautiful, luxurious destination because well, it’s a Ritz-Carlton. What is surprising, however, is that on top of living up to its posh reputation, this particular Ritz-Carlton is incredibly kid-friendly. From the spacious casitas to the welcoming restaurants, a water slide, wading pools, and fun kid programs, families will be delighted at the options.

First, the room:  We stayed in a one-bedroom casita with over 1,100 feet to spread out in. Besides the comfortable queen beds and soothing neutral decor, one of the best features was something they never advertise, a huge walk-in closet where our suitcases, shoes, and everything else could be stowed. It was wonderful to not trip over sandals and kids’ backpacks every time we crossed the room.

Ritz-Carlton walk-in closet
If only I had the foresight to take a picture before we made ourselves comfortable…

A small patio with a table and two chairs surveyed the desert landscape and provided a lovely place to relax and appreciate the view, the warmth of Arizona, and the quiet of this location approximately 45 minutes outside of Tucson.

View From Our Casita, A Saguaro Covered, Rocky Mountain
The view from our Casita

There were 5 dining options and we enjoyed three of them. My favorite meal was at the centrally-located Ignite where we sat fireside, listened to soothing mystical flute echo around us (there is a live performance every evening at sunset) and watched the (almost) full moon rise.

Flute player
A flute player performs nightly at sunset
Using Telescope to Look at the Moon
Using the telescope to watch the flutist
Sara using telescope to look at the flute player
Getting a closer look at the moon

Although it felt a little strange to order sushi in the desert, that’s what I was craving and their inventive rolls with a slight Southwestern kick were extremely good. The kids’ menu was the same at every restaurant offering all the usual kid-friendly suspects (mac and cheese, pizza, grilled cheese, etc.) but with an upscale flair (no bright orange sauce on the macaroni, for example). The kids were happy with these options and I was grateful for once that my kids don’t read yet — as far as they were concerned, fruit and vegetables were the only options for side dishes and those were generous portions. But don’t feel bad that they missed out on French fries; they still got dessert (sundaes most nights and cookies with whipped cream once) which was also included in the $10 kid’s meal price.

The best breakfast deal was at Core, the hotel’s elegant signature restaurant, where kids 5 or younger can enjoy the lavish buffet for free (be sure to mention your children’s ages to your server). Dinner at Core was also very good but with squirmy kids, we preferred Ignite where the kids had a little more diversions to keep them occupied. We had a casual lunch at the near-poolside Turquesa Latin Grill one day also. Sitting outside, beneath the bright yellow blooms of the Palo Verde trees, and watching people stroll to and from the adults’ pool and flames flicker in the numerous fire pits was lovely.

Kid's Menu
A special page on the Kid’s Menu where kids can collect stamps from around the property

Speaking of pools, we loved that there was a separate adults only pool so we knew our kids were welcome at the other one. A 235-foot water slide shoots into this absolutely remarkable oasis. Only 4 feet at the deepest point, there is also one area that is only 1 foot, 1 inch deep and another just a foot and a half deep, perfect for kids not yet swimming and delightful for parents as well. This is where we spent most of our time and this is what our kids are still talking about.

Kids heading to the pool
Heading to their favorite place
Coming down the waterslide
Rushing down the water slide
Our Girl in the Pool
Just the right depth for kids
kids in the pool
Happy Kids in the Pool
Poolside Sprinklers Shooting From the Ground
Fun Sprinklers Shoot From the Ground Beside the Kids’ Pool
Kids Playing Cards with Daddy Poolside
Semi-private cabanas are also available to rent

The other most-talked-about activity was geocaching. For $60, a family borrows a high-tech hand-held GPS for the day. Along with the GPS comes a map and insulated lunch bag with cold water and trail mix so adventurous families can search all around the property for 6 hidden treasures. Our 5-year-old son was especially interested and stuck with it despite getting slightly over heated and needing to take a break in between searches, one with Dad and one with me.

Boy studying GPS
Figuring out the GPS
Geocaching Boy with Red Treasure Box
Finding Treasure
Just about to open a geocaching box
Geocache Treasure
Collectible arrowheads and clay coins to take home as a wonderful memento
Geocaching beside huge Saguaro Cactus

This activity actually turned into really nice one-on-one time for everyone. Sara and I did some artwork while the boys geocached then later when William and I went searching, Daddy and Sara played hide-and-seek in the room (yes, the casitas are so spacious that she actually couldn’t find him a couple of times).


When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Our Car on the Tow Truck

At least a dozen Bob’s Red Mill products grace the shelves of our pantry.  Steel cut oats, buckwheat flour, gluten-free pancake mix, and garbanzo bean flour to name a few. The company’s founder, with his glasses, silver hair and beard also reminds the kids of their dear Grandpa (affectionately known as BaBa). That resemblance plus our appreciation of his fine products has made Bob a welcome face in our home. When I found out that the Bob’s Red Mill factory is located just outside of Portland and they give tours daily (M-F) at 10am, it sounded ideal. Besides once touring the Tillamook Cheese Factory, the closest my kids have come to understanding what happens in a factory is reading Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day. Touring Bob’s factory seemed like a great opportunity to help the kids understand where their food comes from and what it takes to turn stalks of wheat into a bag of flour.

Our plan was to first stop at the Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store and Visitors Center for breakfast then head over to the factory. The plan came to a screeching halt (quite literally) when my slightly old but otherwise well-cared-for car died right in the middle of the Milwaukie Expressway. Thankfully we were already in the left turn lane at a light as cars were speeding past at 55mph but my car simply stopped and wouldn’t start up again. Kind locals didn’t even honk at us but I was still unnerved with my Mom and her dog in the front with me and both kids in the back and not sure what to do. Glancing to the side of the highway and down a hill, I saw three guys outside of an office building — they were my best hope at that point. After hollering to ask for help they quickly drove up behind me with hazard lights on and proceeded to push my car out of the busy intersection. By this time my girl could sense my nervousness and was starting to cry. Strangely, having three guys run while pushing our car snapped her right out of it and her tears quickly turned to laughter. Gotta love her quirky sense of humor, especially at a time like this.

If not for the kindness of strangers, this story could have turned from bad to worse but once our three heroes got our car into a safe place we were able to walk to breakfast at Bob’s Store to figure out our next move. (Sorry no photos of the Bob’s restaurant, I was a tad bit distracted. It was just OK, by the way, not really worth a trek to Milwaukie unless you plan to stock up on Bob’s products and/or take a factory tour, something we didn’t get to do but still hope to someday.) While we were munching on stacks of pancakes, I got a call from a car repair place. Not only did those nice guys help us move the car to safety, they researched mechanics in the area and had one call me directly. Did I mention that they were my heroes?

After talking to the mechanic, we called a towing company and were told to look for a big rig with flames on it. Could we have custom-ordered anything more appealing for a 6-year-old-boy? I think not. To make a long story short, we piled ourselves and the cooperative little Happy Dog into the noisy (“awesome”) tow truck, got our car loaded (also “awesome” according to the kids) and went to the repair shop only to find out that my timing belt had broken. This is not a quick fix or an affordable fix. Oh, and did I mention that this was the week that my husband was on a business trip on the other side of the globe and therefore not reachable? So many things were not going our way on this day yet we were safe and everything was getting figured out so we were grateful for that.

Auto Shop

Finally, once the car repairs were all lined up, we rented a car and made the 3+ hour drive home. Along the way, the kids couldn’t stop talking about the tow truck, the repair shop, and those nice guys who pushed us off the highway with their bare hands (Portland’s incredible OMSI plus other museums and staying in a really nice Hotel room were now ancient history compared to the excitement of our day).

Now that the car is fixed, back in our garage (thank you, kind husband for driving back to retrieve it), and paid for (also thank you for going to work every day, kind husband) it’s easy to see all the teachable moments along the way:  Keeping calm in a stressful situation, understanding the mechanics of a car and all the possibilities of engine failure, looking on the bright side, and gratitude for everyone’s safety (and awesome flame-decorated tow trucks). It’s days like this one that are remembered forever.

Do you have a travel fiasco story that you’d like to share?

Laughing Planet Cafe

Portland offers a fabulous mix of healthy living, inventive cuisine, and eclectic fun. One of our favorite restaurant stops was at the Laughing Planet Cafe where they put the FUN in Portland’s Funky.

Bright artwork and old Godzilla movie posters, retro toys in a display case, and plastic dinosaurs scattered around on the tables provided ample fun for the kids and a cheerful atmosphere for all of us. Nutritious whole-foods are the specialty here and the modern-Mexican menu features inventive burritos, quesadillas, and salads plus plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian, and/or vegan options. The lack of mac and cheese and French fries on the kid’s menu was impressive, in fact the kid’s menu here is one of the healthiest I’ve seen. Of course, my kids still wanted a cheese quesadilla but pairing it with beans and guacamole for dipping made it relatively nourishing.

There is a casual outdoor seating area with picnic tables behind the cafe if you’re in the mood to dine al fresco (and it’s not too cold). Consider stopping here on your way to OMSI, it’s not too far out of the way.

Lunch and Dinner served daily, 3320 SE Belmont Street, Portland, OR 97214, (503) 235-6472 (there are also 6 other locations in Portland, 2 in Eugene, and 1 in Corvalis, see their website for more information).



OMSI is Out of This World

OMSI sign

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland is truly amazing. We didn’t have nearly enough time to see everything but general admission to the main sections of the museum provided ample interaction, entertainment, and learning for all of us. If you have more than just one day to explore, you’ll also want to check out the Omnimax giant 5-story-screen theater, multimedia Laser Light shows or vivid high-tech presentations about stars and space in the Planetarium. You can also tour a real Submarine in the water (the USS Blueback is parked in the Willamette River), or experience a Motion Simulator for an additional cost.

Options for Admission Prices
OMSI Submarine tour

We started in the Turbine Hall where you can witness the power of rocket propulsion, earthquakes, electricity, and more. Multiple interactive exhibits give kids a chance to harness that power for themselves, starting with a water rocket and air-propelled shooting bottle.

Water Rockets
Water Rocket
OMSI air pressure rocket

Holograms and fiber optics are displayed and explained in a room off to one side while another area offers hands-on physics experiments including a hair-raising static electricity ball.

Hair-raising Static Energy
Controlling a real robot

Kids can play Connect Four with a real robot or test their speed in performing very specific actions compared to the abilities of a robot.

Next we experienced the feeling of an earthquake in a small house that shakes and rattles when you press a button or build your own structure to test whether it will withstand a shaker.

In the Earthquake House
Building a tower to test the stability in an earthquake

There are too many exhibits to list them all but we also loved the boat building station where kids build a variety of boats then test their speed and the Inventor’s Ball Room where pipes can be connected in infinite ways to send balls flying in every direction.

Building boats to test their speed
Inventor's Ball Room

As if there wasn’t enough to keep us engaged on the first floor, we headed upstairs for more interactive fun and learning.

Escalator Ride
Learning About Nanotechnology
Learning About Consuming and Burning Calories

Who knew that information about calories and nanotechnology (separately) would intrigue a 3 and 5 year old so? OMSI knew and they executed all of it beautifully. There were places to jump, spin and balance to show the way the body uses calories and enlargements of the body using marbles to show the way nanoparticles can move into the bloodstream. Several exhibits highlighted the intelligence of animals then the kids got to see some up close in the Life Sciences room.

"Is This Thinking?" Yes
Bird Brain exhibit with Crows using tools
Using The Powerful Microscope

One of the halls was closed during our visit (they were taking down an exhibit and putting up a new one) so there is usually even more to explore.

For us, the Science Playground designed for kids ages 6 and younger was the perfect way to end our visit there. A little more low key than the other areas, we all enjoyed winding down pretending to be squirrels searching for acorns, using a pulley to move bean bags, playing with blocks, and sifting and moving some sparkly sand in a big sandbox area.

Pretending to Store Nuts for the Winter
Pulley Play
Playing with Sand
Playing in Sand that Sparkles

Extra Fun:  Before or after your visit, check out OMSI’s great interactive activities online

Food & Snacks: Fuel up before you dive into this wonderful interactive world, you’ll need your energy. Food and drinks are available at the OMSI Cafe or Galileo’s Coffee Bar but I doubt my kids would have been able to sit still for a meal once they were there. We opted to drive a little bit further South, into the Belmont neighborhood for a healthy and hearty lunch at the Laughing Planet Cafe, totally worth the slight detour.