Staycation/Vacation Reviews of Hotel Palomar, Ritz & Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch Resort in Scottsdale

One cool thing I do for this blog is review hotels and resorts.  So a few months ago, I booked a mother-daughter getaway and we tried out three different properties in one fun filled weekend.  Our big splurge was the Ritz Carlton, then we headed over to the new Hotel Palomar in downtown Phoenix and we ended our fun at the Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch Resort & Spa in Scottsdale.  The upside of coming to Phoenix during our hot season is that the hotels and resorts cut their rates a lot, so take a look and then book.  Find a weekend and treat yourself! Here are pics from our adventure and our review of each place…

The Ritz Carlton in Phoenix in the Biltmore Area 

The Ritz Carlton is a luxury hotel in a great location in the Biltmore area of Phoenix.  ritz phxI was able to splurge because with our American Express card we were able to take advantage of a promotion that gave us the room, two dinners and two breakfast entrees all for around $300.  The food is amazing at the Ritz.  dinner ritzI highly recommend the salmon if you ever dine there.  My daughter’s spaghetti was yummy, too.  And the breakfast was just as tasty the next morning with a delicious breakfast burrito for me and hot cocoa for my girl.  Yes, we like to eat when we vacation, so the fare at the Ritz was a real treat.  We opted for room service and the property restaurant, called Bistro 24, looked very inviting, although not to my tween daughter who thinks room service is the best invention ever.  I so agree!ritz bkfastWe never made it out to the pool, but after I saw this picture, from the hotel’s website, I wish that we would have…ritz pool

We decided to save our pool time for the resort that we would hit on day #3.  We wanted to take advantage of the cool location of the Ritz, so we went to the AMC dine in movies that is just a 5 minute (or less) walk from the hotel to see the cool Gravity movie with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  If you haven’t gone to a dine in movie, I recommend it.  I was able to have wine brought to my seat and my girl enjoyed a smoothie as you can see in our photo, that is a little dark since we were in the theatre…movie smoothieAfter our movie, we enjoyed going back to our nice room with the view of the Biltmore with the Camelback Mountain backdrop.  It was perfect and the next morning we walked through the underground walkway to shop and eat at the Biltmore.  win viewOn our way, we got to see a bride and groom posing for pictures.  They were having their reception at the Ritz.  My girl loved that!  After we left the Biltmore with shopping bags and full bellies from the yummy Zinburger restaurant, we checked out and ventured over to the very cool Hotel Palomar, where we were treated to a super cool room by a good friend of ours (lucky us)!

Hotel Palomar in downtown Phoenix

Although this picture is from the Hotel Palomar’s website, I would swear this was the room that we stayed in because it looks exactly like our awesome room that we spent night #2 of our hotel hopping staycation….palomar room

As you can see, we loved our room and posed proudly as we got ready to head out to the super cool CityScape mall where the Hotel Palomar is located.  We were clad in our new clothes from our earlier fun shopping trip at the Biltmore.  
in room
I chose a 60s inspired outfit to match the retro look and feel of the Hotel Palomar as is evident when you step into the funky and fun lobby…palomar lobby…and the staff were fun and friendly, as you can see here when the front desk clerk challenged my tween in a hula hoop contest right there in the hotel lobby…

hula hoopWe loved the Hotel Palomar and we highly recommend it as the perfect downtown Phoenix place to stay.

We were then ready for a different kind of hotel for our last night of hotel hopping, so we went the resort route and checked into the Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch Resort & Spa in Scottsdale.

Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch Resort & Spa

This resort didn’t disappoint, especially at check-in where free margaritas are given to guests checking in. The prickly pear rita was a nice and tasty surprise.  Here it is pictured on our room’s balcony which had a comfy set of table, chairs  margaritaand lounge chairs for desired outside dining.  That evening we went to the resort’s restaurant called SWB, A Southwest Bistro and the table side prepared guacamole was scrumptious.  Eating by the fire pit was a nice treat. patio

After dinner, my tween asked for her favorite pastime, smores!  kiteat smoresThe resort delivered with a delicious kit and I must admit that I had two of those tasty treats myself.  To our delight the fire for marshmallow roasting was located in front of the Gondola boats, which I hadn’t realized the resort offered to guests.  So we took a lovely ride and our captain also happened to be an opera singer, so he sang beautiful music to us as we relaxed and rode along the waterway under the stars.  opera singerCheck out our relaxing boat pictures.  I definitely recommend this….

She wasn't really asleep, but it was truly that relaxing!
She wasn’t really asleep, but it was truly that relaxing!

 

Two thumbs up for the Gondola ride.
Two thumbs up for the Gondola ride.

We saved my daughter’s favorite attraction for last and that would be the pools and waterslide that the resort offers.slide galThe pools are nice and the slide is high plus the resort offers a sandy beach entry for the kiddos, too.  Very nice indeed.slide at gaineybeach entryWe give our weekend hotel hopping a big thumbs up!  Have you ever hotel hopped?  What is your favorite hotel?  Tell us in the comments section and remember to check this blog under the travel section for a lot more hotel reviews from places like Vegas, Washington DC, Flagstaff and more.  Happy travels….or happy staycation! us in boat

 

Our Review of the Family Fun Arizona Grand Resort & Spa

If you are looking for a family friendly super fun place to get away from the heat, check out the  Arizona Grand Resort & Spa in Phoenix.  This review was written two years ago when I took my girl and her friend to check it out.  It remains one of our favorite staycation getaways.  I am running this review again since we are now on summer break and I will run some of my other resort/hotel reviews this month, too.  So before you book, read on to learn all about what to do, what to eat and how to fully enjoy The Arizona Grand!  And do keep in mind that this review is two years old, so some things like the televisions I mention have since been updated. Happy Summer!

The Arizona Grand sports a 7 acre water park complete with a lazy river and very tasty Prickly  Pear margaritas for Mom and Dad!

The Arizona Grand sports a 7 acre water park complete with a lazy river and very tasty Prickly Pear margaritas for Mom and Dad!

 

 

My girl and her friend at our recent stay at The Arizona Grand resort.  Great summer rates there this time of year!

My girl and her friend at The Arizona Grand resort. Great summer rates there this time of year!

 

The resort’s website describes the property like this…

AAA Four Diamond Arizona Grand Resort is the leading Arizona family vacation getaway and Southwest meetings destination. The 740 suite hotel and conference center offers an 18-hole golf course, athletic club, spa, salon, a 7-acre water park, seven unique dining venues and 117,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space.

That is all right on and the 7-acre water park will have your kids entertained all day long, but do beware of our powerful sun rays here in the Valley of the Sun.  I recommend not letting your kids play all day at the water park because even with sunscreen, they can finish the day sporting a bad sunburn.  So come and play at the resort’s Oasis Water Park, but do proceed with caution and with a healthy dose of sunscreen that needs to be reapplied throughout the day.

Our personal experience with the resort was very good.  I did have a few complaints that included outdated and small TVs in the room and an $8.50 room charge fee for a hot cocoa order that turned out to be a pot of hot water and several Swiss Miss packets.  However, upon calling a very nice manager named Darrell, he let me know that updated flat screen TVs were on order and he refunded my hot chocolate charge.  He told me that he appreciated my feedback and would share my request for real hot cocoa, complete with whipped cream on the side and minus the lumpy powdered packets, as a potential future menu change.  I greatly appreciated his ear and quick response, so kudos to the resort’s management!

To share the rest of our experience, take a look at our pictures…

I love the resort grounds layout of the rooms.  Most areas have ample parking right outside your room, so valet parking is not needed, which saves money.

Here the bellman takes the girls to our room.  I followed in my car and found a nice spot close to our room entrance.  We never needed my car again since the property is nicely laid out with attractions in walking distance.

Guests can also be shuttled over to the property’s restaurants, spa, golf course and more.  So getting around, while not needing our car, was nice and easy.  The resort offers so many activities and delicious dining that there is no need to leave the Arizona Grand which really means that you truly get away from it all.  I like that!

The exterior of the rooms are shown behind the girls.

The exterior of the rooms are shown behind the girls.

The Arizona Grand website describes the rooms like this…

At Arizona Grand Resort, luxurious over-sized, two-room suites provide intimate, residential-style comfort. Each of the 740 suites at our Phoenix hotel has been designed to reflect the natural comfort of the warm Arizona desert.

I found that to be true and I love how every room includes two rooms.  Many resorts require an upgraded room rate for a spacious 2-room suite, but this is standard at the Grand, which is nice for families who need a little space.

Our room included nice french doors that lead right out to the Oasis Water Park.  For families that want to partake in the pools and slides, this is a great option.

Our room included nice french doors that lead right out to the Oasis Water Park. For families that want to partake in the pools and slides, this is a great option.

This is our view on the other side of the french doors.  The building pictured is the entrance to the water park, so the close proximity was terrific!  If you want a room close to the water park, ask for the Camelback building when booking your reservation.

This is our view on the other side of the french doors. The building pictured is the entrance to the water park, so the close proximity was terrific! If you want a room close to the water park, ask for the Camelback building when booking your reservation.

Pretty view of the Oasis Water Park pool area with a healthy amount of tubes for all.

Pretty view of the Oasis Water Park pool area with a healthy amount of tubes for all.

 gals

water slide

The resort has plenty of kid friendly menu items and yummy fish tacos for me.  We enjoyed our poolside lunch.
The Oasis Water Park offers a good menu with lots of kid-friendly choices.

And fish tacos for me!

As far as good food and fun goes, the resort's popular western-themed restaurant called Rustler's Rooste is a great experience!

As far as good food and fun goes, the resort’s popular western-themed restaurant called Rustler’s Rooste is a great experience!

The super fun slide that runs down the middle of the restaurant and close to the country music stage is great fun for the kids!

The super fun slide that runs down the middle of the restaurant and close to the country music stage is great fun for the kids!

With steaks, fabulous fried chicken, even fried rattle snake (not for me, though!) the food is plentiful and although not gourmet, it is satisfying.

With steaks, fabulous fried chicken, even fried rattle snake (not for me, though!) the food is plentiful and although not gourmet, it is satisfying.

Complimentary cotton candy was a nice surprise for dessert!

Complimentary cotton candy was a nice surprise for dessert!

We also tried the appropriately-named "Cow Pie" dessert which house coffee ice cream under a scrumptious hard-shelled layer of chocolate and on top of a yummy cookie crust and my girl enjoyed the classic hot fudge sundae.

We also tried the appropriately-named “Cow Pie” dessert which house coffee ice cream under a scrumptious hard-shelled layer of chocolate and on top of a yummy cookie crust and my girl enjoyed the classic hot fudge sundae.

We left with the girls adorned by the balloon figures that the restaurant’s talented balloon artist made for them and we stopped by the eatery’s gift shop to purchase two darling stuffed horses that sold for under $10 each.  We loved our fun and tasty experience at the Rustler’s Rooste!

On Day 2,  I surprised the girls with a spa treatment because the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa offers a fun treatment for girls aged 6 to 11 called The Pretty Princess Package.

Surprise spa services for the girls!

For $80 your little girl gets a manicure, a pedicure and a beautiful hair style that includes curls and a princess tiara.  I think $80 is a good value for three different services.

The girls loved it, but if I do this again, I will ask to skip some of the pedicure steps since the girls found that part to be long, tedious and a little uncomfortable on their tender feet.  In the future, I would ask that they bathe and massage the feet, and paint the toenails, but skip the trimming, filing and buffing.  Take a look at the pictures to see the spa fun they had and to see their after photos once the very talented hair stylist named Cheryl finished the styles…

Hair stylist pro working her magic on my girl. This is the before shot…
After and both the girls leave with stunning styles! Thanks Cheryl!

 

 

 

The girls leave the spa happy and so very pretty princess-like!
And if you come to spa for some mom alone time, without the princesses, there is a nice deck for total relaxation.
And a nice fire pit for the cooler winter nights we get in Phoenix. Come, relax and enjoy!

Overall we were very impressed with our stay at the Arizona Grand and the resort has some great summer rates right now.  There are rules and restrictions, so be sure to visit the Arizona Grand website for all of the details.  Happy Summer everyone!

***No compensation was provided for this travel piece.  The opinions about how much I love this resort are 100% mine. 

Why I Love Living In Phoenix….Even In The Sizzling Summer!

This and the other beautiful desert photos were taken by my cousin, Terri Lynn...who by the way...told me that she loves visiting Phoenix in the summer!

This and the other beautiful desert photos were taken by my cousin, Terri Lynn…who by the way…told me that she loves visiting Phoenix in the summer!

Manic:  The school year, especially during these hectic last few weeks when finals hit, year end performances are scheduled and more.  It truly makes my head spin!

Managed:  The summer because my kids’ schedules slow down and I can catch my breath and relax a little before the busy school year starts up again.  That is definitely part of the reason that I don’t mind summer here in hot AZ.  However, I actually liked it even before I had kids and this crazy busy life that comes with being a mom.  And you know what?  I liked Phoenix in the summer back when I was a carefree teenager living here, too.  And now as an adult, I appreciate it even more.

And April is Keep America Beautiful Month, so when Tiffany of Dropcam asked me to write an article about what makes my slice of America so wonderful, I readily agreed to share why I absolutely love calling sunny Phoenix, Arizona my all time favorite home (and I have lived in a lot of places).

Want to know why there are people like me here in our 112 degrees and up summer weather temps who are hot, but happy?  Read on and then tell me if you still think I’m crazy? [Read more...]

Have You Seen The Fancy Remodeled Holiday Inns?

I was recently invited to tour one of our local Holiday Inn properties at the “Change Your View” event that was located at the Holiday Inn Phoenix Airport North.  As you can see, we had fun at the event and the remodel has me excited to stay at a Holiday Inn on my next trip.  My fellow reviewer, managedmoms.com team writer, Julie agreed.  We like the new changes.  The fantastic remodel has been implemented at Holiday Inns across the nation and we are impressed!

I took our managedmoms.com team writer, Julie with me and posing in a fun photo booth was part of the remodel celebration festivities!

I took our managedmoms.com team writer, Julie with me and posing in a fun photo booth was part of the remodel celebration festivities!

If you are planning upcoming travel and want to stay at a nice place for a good rate, you have got to check out the new and improved Holiday Inn properties.  Here are a few pictures of the remodel that we got to tour.  As you can see, the new lobby is hip and updated.  It is also spacious and very comfortable.

 

new lobby
new lobby hd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also thoroughly enjoyed the new bar with the modern lighting and extensive cocktail menu.  It is a welcoming, comfortable and spacious area….
cool hd bar [Read more...]

Our Hotel Hopping Hula Hooping Weekend

Last week was Fall Break for my kids.  Some folks, who live outside of Arizona, have asked me what the heck Fall Break is and I answer with the fact that my kids start school on August 5th.  With such an early school year start date and with the absence of snow days (thank goodness), here in sunny Phoenix, our kids get a week off in October for Fall Break and a week off in March for Spring Break.  It was a much needed break!  Since the school year kicked off in August, both of my kids have taken on a mountain of activities that include travel hockey, high school golf, honors classes, student council, broadcast club, show choir, dance and more.  Plus after recovering from a sprained ankle and a virus that hubs and I shared, we were more than ready for a break.

Hubs took our boy to the big UT vs OU game in Dallas and they had a big time, especially since the Horns won! jack ut horns game 2013So since my girl and I stayed behind, we decided to have a little fun ourselves.  Once the weekend hit and I was done with my busy work week, we ventured out and hotel hopped for three days in a row.  It was very fun and it gives me the opportunity to review three different properties for you to consider when you want to take a staycation or have friends or family coming to town that are looking for a place to stay.

We chose three very different properties to pitch our tent during our three day hotel hop.  Our big splurge was the Ritz Carlton, then we headed over to the new Hotel Palomar in downtown Phoenix and we ended our fun at the Hyatt Regency Gainey Ranch Resort.  Here are pics from our adventure and our review of each place…

The Ritz Carlton is a luxury hotel in a great location in the Biltmore area of Phoenix.  ritz phxI was able to splurge because with our American Express card we were able to take advantage of a promotion that gave us the room, two dinners and two breakfast entrees all for around $300.  The food is amazing at the Ritz.  dinner ritzI highly recommend the salmon if you ever dine there.  My daughter’s spaghetti was yummy, too.  And the breakfast was just as tasty the next morning with a delicious breakfast burrito for me and hot cocoa for my girl.   [Read more...]

Travel: How We Saved On Luxury Perks & Beware of These Surprising Charges

Believe it or not, we actually saved money flying home in first class a few days ago.  We also figured out how to get a free room upgrade at our hotel, get a few rental car fees waived and we were able to enjoy a late checkout, too.  Read on to see how we saved money on some very nice extras on our recent trip to Texas.  I also tell you about some unexpected fees so that you will know to look out for these extra charges the next time you fly.


Airline Savings Ideas & Surprising Fees to Know About Ahead of Time:


kids moneyOne thing we do every year is save up our membership awards points on our American Express card.  We redeem them every summer for our airfare.  We usually travel with these points on either Southwest Airlines or on US Air.  This year we took US Air and we were able to get three of our four tickets paid for with our AMEX points that are converted into frequent flyer miles.  Be warned though….it wasn’t exactly free!

AMEX has a ticketing charge of $39.00 per passenger so we still paid  $156 in fees for tickets that we thought would be free.  Since three of our four tickets would have been over $1,000 (tickets were $436.80 a piece), then the $156 is still a lot less, but just be aware when you are trading in travel points that you may still incur ticketing fees, so remember to budget for unforeseen fees.

To lower your airfare price search, always book as much in advance as you can and travel on the airline’s slowest days, which tend to fall on Saturdays and Tuesdays.  You will usually pay more if you book on a Friday, Sunday or Monday which are usually high traffic days.

[Read more...]

Travel Alert: Protect Your Family From Bed Bugs

Manic:  Summer travel is fun, but it can be manic for the Mom (or Dad) doing the planning.  So much to do, packing, budgeting, planning  plus the worries about sunburn, bug bites and don’t forget the dreaded and very unwelcome bed bugs that can come home with you.  Ugh!

Managed:  Decided to welcome Jim LaBrie’s, owner of Bug & Weed Martkind offer to write a guest post for managedmoms about how to protect our family from these dreaded and unwelcome potential pests….the evil bedbug.  Here is what Jim has to say about the issue…

Jim says:

shadesGoing on vacation? Make sure you take the necessary steps to avoid bringing  bed bugs back with you!  Living in Arizona during the summer is often too hot to handle. As a result, many people choose to spend the summer traveling to cooler destinations where they can beat the heat. While traveling, bed bugs may be something you never think twice about, but it is crucial to be aware of what or who may be stowing away in your suitcase when you return home. Travel is considered one of the major causes for the spread of bed bugs.

Facts about Bed Bugs:

*They can be found in every state in the U.S. except Alaska

*One pregnant bug can lay 500 eggs

*Bed bugs are the fastest growing pest problem and the hardest to get rid of

*A bed bug will travel 100 feet to get a blood meal

*They can live up to a year without a meal

 

What’s the deal with Bed Bugs?

The most common bed bugs only feed on human blood and other warm-blooded hosts.  Bed bugs can conceal themselves in tight cracks and crevices, which is why bed bugs are often found in bed parts such as mattresses and box springs. Bed bugs also thrive in temporary habits such as backpacks and under the seats in cars, buses and trains. Although bed bugs do not transmit diseases, their bites can become red, itchy welts.

But don’t cancel your next family trip, just know there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from bringing home any unwanted guests.

 

How can you prevent bringing bed bugs into your home?

  • Before packing your bags, pre-treat luggage and purses
  • Pre-treat your car if you are taking a road trip
  • When you check into your hotel room, place suitcases in the bathtub
  • Never put your suitcase on the luggage rack (bed bugs like to hide in vinyl webbing)
  • Pull back bedspread and check sheets for dark spots
  • Pack bed bug detection strips to place under leg of bed and between headboard and mattress
  • Pack an LED flashlight

 

What should  you do if you discover bed bugs:

  • If you are staying at a hotel room immediately report it to the manager and find a new hotel
  • If you are staying with a relative and find bed bugs, check into a hotel
  • Don’t panic.  There is no need to throw everything away
  • Spend the money and use the best mattress protectors on all beds (you do not need to throw away your mattresses)
  • If you think you or someone in the family was exposed to bed bugs, remove clothes, put shoes in the garage, bag everything up and immediately wash and dry, and treat suitcases
  • Do not move to another room in your home, this will spread the bed bugs
  • Beware of professionals that claim they can eliminate bed bugs for less than $400 per room
  • Know that you can safely treat rooms, furniture and mattresses yourself, with the proper materials, but plan to spend approximately 2 hours on each infected room

 

Bed bugs are not dangerous and to our knowledge they do not carry diseases, but they are one of the most difficult and costly pests to eliminate. Practicing prevention when you travel is the first step to take in order to avoid the problem altogether; but if you do find yourself one morning with bites on your arms or chest, take action immediately.

About our guest writer:

Jim LaBrie is a father, a grandfather and the owner of Bug & Weed Mart, a do-it-yourself retail store that specializes in bug and weed prevention, with five location. To learn more about pest prevention and protection you can visit www.bugweedmart.com or on the Bug & Weed Mart Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammy Museum Visit Is Part 3 Of Our Show Choir LA Adventure

If you followed part one of my Hollywood adventure with my daughter’s show choir and if you read part two, then you know that I promised another post with yet another cool place that we got to visit in LA.  This one is really cool, especially if you like music and watch the Grammys every year.  Our show choir got to visit The Grammy Museum and we really enjoyed it.  With four floors of exhibit space, there was a lot to see and a lot for our kids to do with all of the interactive exhibits.  This picture shows a wall that wraps around with information and pictures that takes museum visitors through the history of the Grammy Awards with interesting facts, historic pictures and more…grammy

The tour took our group up to the fourth floor first and we worked our way down from there.  The fourth floor exhibit includes a cool section called Crossroads and this big interactive table is filled with facts, pictures, songs and the history of over 100 different music genres.  crossroadsThere is also a Songwriters Hall of Fame and unique artifacts from the different genres of music like blues, jazz, rock and more.  I liked the Stevie Ray Vaughn display since I used to enjoy his outstanding guitar talents and music when I was going to college in Austin.  He was truly a gifted musician and his loss was a big one for folks in Texas and in the musical world. 
vaughn
Speaking of musical cities, the fourth floor also housed a giant map with information about the different music meccas across our nation.  That was interesting and gave the kids a connection between geography and how music influences our culture.

The tour then took us down to the third floor, which was my favorite because I love to watch The Grammy Awards every year.  This area is the official awards area with everything you want to know about the Grammy Awards, the history, fun facts and more.  The giant Grammy replica is a perfect photo op, as you can see in this picture of me and my two show choir mom friends….
moms in museum
There is also a wall that honors Grammy legends Elvis (of course), Miles Davis and Neil Diamond.  I especially liked the Grammy Telecast area that gives museum goers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a Grammy awards show.  Here is the official Grammy envelope that held the 2008 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance nominees….envelopeDo you remember who won that year?  The answer is Amy Winehouse.  I did remember that one, but any other detail that you want to know from the very first Grammy Awards show in 1959 until now can be found in this museum.

Another wonderful area housed on the third floor is the Roland musical instrument exhibit that allowed our choir kids to experience different instruments hands on and even make music together.  My girl enjoyed the drums and her fellow show choir member got down on the guitar.  It was so cool!bandguitarI also enjoyed the Michael Jackson exhibit that houses some of his most memorable wardrobe pieces that took me back to my youth because I could picture him wearing these pieces in several MTV videos.  At that time MTV was a new exciting invention that hit during my teenage years.  The exhibit also shows the original sheet music from the “We Are The World” song and much more.Michael Jackson partAnd speaking of elaborate costumes, there is also a musical fashion area that shows some of the coolest and most outrageous ensembles worn by the music stars.  Do you remember who wore this one….celoAt first, I thought Cee Lo Green…but it was Elton John and I was reminded that Cee Lo and others that have come after Elton have been influenced by Mr. John in more ways than one.

For our choir kids this museum was a musical history lesson, a fun star-studded visual exhibit and a tribute to music and how it shapes our lives and influences our culture.  I highly recommend a visit to the Grammy Museum.

I will have one more post of our Hollywood adventure in a few days with several other spots that I highly recommend you put on your LA/Hollywood to see list.  So stay tuned for that.

Our Local Version of Glee Took 1st Place in Hollywood!

show choir groupManic:  I thought that manic would be a word that would appear in my article about traveling with my daughter’s middle school show choir to Hollywood last month.  I was wrong.  There truly weren’t any manic moments, if you can believe that.  It went that smoothly!

Managed:  Everything!  All went so well and the trip went off perfectly.  I must give credit to the amazing Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre (ACT) directors who worked with Kathy Jones from the L.E.A.D. tour group.   Our ACT directors, Michele, Melissa, Bailey and Abby knew exactly what they were doing with the talented tweens from the moment we boarded the bus for our 7-hour journey to Hollywood up until the moment that the exciting trip came to a close five days a later.

And the kids were terrific!  They had amazing energy and nailed each competitive performance.  Behind the scenes, they were respectful, courteous and well-behaved as we went from one exciting Hollywood place to the next.  It was awesome.

And the icing on the cake….our Treble Makers Show Choir took 1st place in the national competition that consisted of 67 show choirs from around the nation!  I am a proud and happy show choir mom.  Congrats to our kids and to the directors.

Read on to see the cool places that were on our itinerary and if you plan a trip to Hollywood, you will learn about some interesting spots that are not to be missed that we got to experience.  This article is part 1 and I will have more Hollywood stops to see in part 2 of this journey that I will publish next week.  Now back to day one…

Our show choir bus left Phoenix bright and early on a Sunday morning and we arrived in Hollywood seven hours later with a little bit of time to unpack and head out to the choir’s first competitive performance.

Hollywood

Our first Hollywood stop was Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum that sits right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the active Hollywood Blvd.   The kids performed right out front and underneath the big welcoming sign that they had on display for us.  under signThat was very cool!  And they had a big crowd cheering them on, which was a terrific Hollywood welcome for us desert folk.dancingwelcome signAfter they wrapped their first set, they stood proudly posing for pictures and they deserved to be proud.  post poseThey were fresh, focused and performed a sharp and beautiful set of dancing and singing.  And they weren’t done yet.  Next up was a tour of the cool wax museum and then yet another competitive performance at Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood after that. Meryl StreepMy girl’s idol is Meryl Streep, so she was thrilled to pose next to Meryl’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds.  And her gal pal, who is crazy about JT was thrilled to find his likeness to stand with, too.  JT

And my favorite wax museum pics are just too much fun, don’t you think? wax musAnd I can’t forget her improvised conversation with the great Jack Nicholson.Jack NicYep, Madame Tussauds was loads of fun, so if you go to Hollywood, check it out and you will also see a lot of characters outside the building, too.  And after all of that excitement, it was time to go perform at Hard Rock Cafe Hollywood.  The kids were still going strong and gave an outstanding performance at the restaurant.  Hard Rock stageAnd the audience was just terrific, clapping and cheering and commenting to each other how good this Phoenix show choir was on stage.  The choir directors and us parents were very proud indeed.  audienceIf they only knew that these kids had been up and at em and traveling since 7am that morning, they would have been even more impressed.  By this time, it was close to 8pm.

And they weren’t done competing yet because the next day they would perform at Universal Studios.  universal signStay tuned for that and for the rest of our Hollywood adventure in my post that will run on Monday.   Make sure to look for it because I will show you a couple of Hollywood attractions that you will want to know about.  In the meantime, I’m wishing our amazing Ahwatukee Treble Makers Show Choir a huge congratulations for taking the very coveted 1st place!

How We Survived Our Disneyland Trip Gone Bad

Manic:  Seconds after checking into the Disneyland Hotel, discovering that my kid needed to go to an Urgent Care pronto!

Managed:  Read on to see how our mother-daughter Disneyland trip turned into a mother-daughter tale of illness, an urgent care run, a children’s hospital visit and more….and read on to see how we handled it and got about half of our trip money back!  There are definitely a few lessons learned here and a few helpful travel tips in our tale.  First here is the story and then I’ve got a few tips on what to do ahead of time in case this ever happens to you, so that you are prepared and so that you don’t lose a lot of the money that you spend when a Disney package is booked…

Our Unexpected Story: 

me and lexi in Hollywood 2013To celebrate my girl’s straight A report card and grade school graduation, we planned a last minute trip to Disneyland.  Since we were to already be in the LA area for my daughter’s amazing show choir competition and trip (that fun post is coming), we decided that we would stay four extra days for some Disneyland and California Adventure Theme Park fun.  We never made it to either park.

Believe it or not, seconds after this check-in picture was taken, my smiling girl was standing quietly with tears rolling down her cheeks because she was in so much pain.

Believe it or not, seconds after this check-in picture was taken, my smiling girl was standing quietly with tears rolling down her cheeks because she was in so much pain.

 

 

 

 

Starting to feel like she was in Dizzyland instead of Disneyland as the virus took hold as she sat down in the lobby teacup seat.

Starting to feel like she was in Dizzyland instead of Disneyland as the virus took hold as she sat down in the lobby teacup seat.

Instead we spent our first day in a nearby urgent care facility, followed by a trip to a local pharmacy for the antibiotics that were prescribed for the urgent care’s diagnosis of Tonsillitis.

That night and the following day we stayed holed up in our hotel room with orders of chicken noodle soup and my frequent runs to the downstairs gift shop for items that included a thermometer, children’s Advil, ginger ale and anything else that might give my girl comfort.  The pretty bed that lights up with an illustration of Disney fireworks made her smile and that was a good thing because her entire trip was spent in that bed and in medical facilities.

All the beds at the Walt Disney Hotel come with the cool illuminated head board on the bed.

All the beds at the Walt Disney Hotel come with the cool illuminated head board on the bed.

Although we had a nice view of Downtown Disney right out of our hotel window, neither one of us desired a Disneyland visit at that point.

Our view from our room of Downtown Disney.

Our view from our room of Downtown Disney.

I craved sleep and my girl longed to be out of pain.  Even the Advil wasn’t doing much to calm her burning throat.  Urgent care had tested her for Strep, but the culture came back negative.  So all we could do was take the antibiotic and wait it out.  She was able to sleep some of the time, but she mostly tossed and turned in pain.  sickShe was much too ill to travel home at this point.

The Walt Disney Hotel was terrific and full of compassionate employees.  Having witnessed her tears at check-in and our quick run to grab a cab, they gave her a signed Mickey Mouse picture in an envelope that was stamped “Get Well” and later that day, they sent up a free DVD movie and a Mickey Mouse doll with more get well wishes.  disney giftThat made us both smile.  Our room also gave us a nice nightly view of the Disneyland fireworks show, so the bright lights in the sky made us smile again when the stunning show lit up the night sky around 9pm that evening.  fireworks

So we finished watching the fireworks in our robes and then I gave my girl a night dose of Advil and off to bed we went, but sadly we were up at 4am and she was in extreme pain.  Running the shower helped because the steam felt good to her, but not much more could give her relief.  She was such a trooper, never once complaining.  Her only concern was that she was worried that I was going to get this mean virus, but thankfully, I never did catch it.

My wonderful mother-in-law (who is also a very gifted nurse) had been on the phone with me frequently and she recommended that I alternate Tylenol with the Advil, but wouldn’t you know, no Children’s Tylenol could be found anywhere on the Disneyland Hotel property!  The nice staff worked hard to find us a delivery service and several hours later, one was found.  So I advise that if you go to the Disneyland Hotel, make sure you have any potential meds on hand that you may need.

By that afternoon, she was so sick that I found her lying on the bathroom floor, a little lethargic and in complete pain.  I was getting quite concerned at this point.  Because I was posting our situation on Facebook, our many supportive friends were following our story, cheering us on with well wishes and leaving comments with advice.  It was the comment left by my friend, Kelly that had me dialing our doctor back home.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?!

Once my doctor’s nurse called me back, she could hear my girl in the background.  The scary coughing sounds alarmed her enough to recommend that we go straight to an ER, not an urgent care.  My next call was to my mother-in-law who calmed me down and recommended a visit to a local children’s hospital.  The next Facebook comment,  from my friend Melissa, recommended the chidlren’s hospital in Orange County, so off we went.  At this point, my poor girl was not only in constant pain, but could keep nothing down as well, so I worried about her becoming dehydrated.

As we passed Goofy and other characters in the hotel hallways, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone and not Disneyland.

As soon as we arrived at the Orange County Children’s Hospital, I knew that we were in good hands.  The kind staff took my girl immediately back to triage and I soon followed.  After three thorough examinations by the nurse, nurse practitioner and the physician, it was determined that she was quite ill with a pretty bad virus.  Since it was a virus, they had us stop the antibiotics that the local urgent care had put her on and they gave her some pretty amazing and strong painkillers.  She had tearfully (and quietly as she had no voice left) rated her pain a 9…and this is a kid who doesn’t mind shots, so she has a high tolerance for pain.  Once she finally fell into a deep sleep (which hadn’t happened in two days) they let us stay in the room and they walked me to their hospital pharmacy to obtain more painkillers and an inhaler (that was needed since the doctor could hear wheezing).  my poor babySeveral hours later, they surprised us by paying our cab fare back to the hotel.  That was so nice!  They also gave my girl jello, crackers and Gatorade.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to keep that down, but at least she was finally out of pain.

Back in our hotel room, she told me that she felt like steak.  That was her body craving the sodium that it needed since she hadn’t been able to keep anything down and had been so feverish.   So we ordered room service and settled in for another night of living in our hotel room 24/7.

The Disney Hotel doesn’t offer movies for purchase on the TVs since they want to keep all movies G-rated and that would be impossible to do with an in room movie order service.  Although that was frustrating since we were trapped in our room by this pesky virus, I’m sure it saved us quite a bit of money since we would have been buying movies to pass the time and get her mind off of her pain.  So we had no choice but to watch the tourist channel that shows all of the fun rides and theme park attractions that we were missing. When my girl looked at me and told me in a quite whisper that none of that even looked fun, I agreed and decided that if she was up to it, we would fly home a day early the next day.

Just before bed, I received such a lovely surprise! Since I had decided to share our daily illness journey on my Facebook page, one of our amazing theatre families, the Lanouettes had been following our story and decided to send us a sweet gift.  sweet giftThey called the hotel from Arizona to have a beautiful platter of scrumptious cheese selections, crackers, olives, yummy walnuts and a beautiful bottle of red wine sent to our room to cheer  us up.  That definitely lifted our spirits!

Even though we were up again most of the night, sitting in the hotel bathroom to get the shower steam for my daughter’s congested chest, we both felt strong enough to make the journey home the next day.  Since our flight is only one hour long, we decided that home sweet home is where we wanted to be.  You know your kid is sick when she tells you that she doesn’t want to stay extra days to recover and then do Disneyland….she just wanted to go home, bless her heart.

Still washed out, but strong enough for our early flight home.

Still washed out, but strong enough for our early flight home.

So home we went!  It broke my heart to see my girl finally break down in tears when she reached her Daddy’s arms back in Phoenix.  She had truly kept it together, both in LA and on the journey home.

Today we have been home for two days and she is better, but she isn’t completely healed yet.  This virus, that she picked up on the streets of Hollywood (since we had been there for 5 days first) really did a number on her immune system, so I am grateful for the excellent Orange County Children’s Hospital ER that took such good care of her.  Now that you have read our crazy story, here are a few things that we did right and some things we learned to do better when planning future travel.  And if you ever plan to go to Disneyland with your family, read these tips to prepare for the unexpected…

Our Lessons Learned & What We Did Right:

*My first lesson learned is to think long and hard about overbooking my child when it comes to planning future travel,  We had just come off a very busy school year end with the completion of a huge project that kept her busy until the due date, intense rehearsals as we neared the show choir competition date and a week full of graduation celebrations and visiting family.  Three days later we boarded a bus with 17 other singing middle schoolers bound for Hollywood.  Hollywood was a huge success and the 5-day experience was packed with performances, museum and studio tours, a dance workshop and more.  My kid was a busy bee from sunrise to sunset and yet I planned for us to keep on going once the show choir portion of the trip ended.  The next time around, I will take it one trip at a time and I will consider what her calendar looks like the weeks before the big departure.  In other words, rest before you go even though you will be busy packing, celebrating and organizing.  Plan some down time before departure time. 

*Buy travel insurance!  This is a big one!  If I would have purchased the $50 travel insurance package, I would have got all of my Disney money back.  Fortunately, I did get our $500 3-day park hopper for two ticket package back because the front desk literally witnessed my girl being rushed to Urgent Care moments after we checked in.  Be aware that they are usually nonrefundable, so keep that in mind.  I was also able to persuade the Disneyland Hotel to refund our last night’s stay that we didn’t keep, since we flew home early. After a lengthy phone call to the Disney travel department and a lot of begging on my part, they did refund our last night’s stay and we made sure that we were checked out by noon, so they could rebook the room.  The supervisor I spoke with told me that they rarely refund any part of the Disneyland Hotel package and that I was quite lucky that I was getting anything back.  I promised her that I would spread the word to buy travel insurance and the next time we purchase a Disney package, I will be buying the travel insurance!

*If you are going to Disneyland in LA,  fly in and out of Orange County.  I say this because I can’t tell you how grateful I was that I paid a little bit extra to travel out of Orange County because it is only a 20 minute cab ride (in good traffic) from Disneyland.  The airport is also very nice, not congested and easy to get around in and since my girl was so washed out by the time we went home, that calm environment was what we needed to keep on going to finally get us home.

*Pack a kids sick kit!  Fortunately, the hotel gift shop had children’s Advil and a thermometer, but children’s Tylenol was no where to be found on the property.  Since it was just the two of us, I was NOT leaving her behind on the property to cab it over to a local pharmacy to get some Tylenol.   Fortunately and finally (this took several hours), the helpful hotel employees did find us a delivery service that brought the Tylenol and some Gatorade (also not sold on the property) to our hotel.  Advil can be rough on a sick tummy, so needing to alternate to Tylenol was crucial during one stage of her illness.

*If staying at a Disneyland Hotel, bring DVD movies from home.  As I mentioned, our hotel had no in room movie service, so I sure wished I would have packed some DVD movies.  Even healthy kids need some down time from all of the Disney excitement, so pack some movies for your room’s DVD player, which is provided.  You will be especially glad that you did if you end up with a sick kid while on your trip.

*The minute you know your kid is sick, tell the hotel.  I was glad that the front desk knew right away because they were understanding about my refund requests, they were helpful providing me with nearby urgent care, hospital and pharmacy locations and they sent my girl several sweet surprises during our sick room stay.

*Use Facebook!  I decided early on to share our daily experience on my private Facebook page because we had just left my girl’s show choir group and they wanted to know how she was doing.  It also kept me connected and calm as the hours trapped in our hotel room by the illness waned on and hours turned into days.  And the best surprise was the overwhelming amount of support, well wishes and encouraging words shared on my page that truly kept me going.  Plus I got some very helpful advice from friends who were following along and wanted to help.  My friend, Kelly urged me to call our doctor back home and I hadn’t thought of that.  Making that call is what told me that my girl needed to get to the ER.  Another friend, Melissa let me know that the Orange County Children’s Hospital was a terrific place to go and that made our decision on where to go easy when it came to grabbing a cab and getting to the ER.

So that is my tale and those are my trip tips when a vacation goes bad!  Do you have any crazy travel stories?  What are your best tips?  Share in the comments section.  Boy, is it good to be home :)