Smaller Castle. Bigger Kids. Still Disneyrific.

Five years ago on our first ever long distance trip road trip (Route 1) we took the kids to Disney World. We had a fabulous time and the kids were the perfect age for enjoying the Magic Kingdom. Since then they have asked if we could return for a second trip, especially High Five who was only one and 1/2 at the time. So, we made a compromise that if we were ever near Disneyland we take them for a visit.

Our most recent road trip through California, Nevada, and Arizona brought us withing close proximity of Disneyland and it was time to make good on our promise. So, on what was supposed to be a relatively “non-crowded” Monday for Disneyland we spent 12 hours exploring the park and comparing it to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.

Overall we had a really great time. However, as many people had warned us Disneyland is no Magic Kingdom and at the end of our visit we understood what they meant. First of all the park was crowded and stayed that way all day long. In fact it seemed to get worse in the afternoon and evening as yearly pass holders dropped in after school and work. In addition the staff at Disneyland are not at the same caliber as Disney World. During our visit we only interacted with a couple of staff members who were courteous or helpful. The rest were snippy, seemed bored with their jobs, and some were even rude. However, the biggest difference that we found was in Fantasyland. At the Magic Kingdom we had a blast in Fantasyland and found the ride lines to move smoothly and the area a great place for young children. In Disneyland the ride wait times in Fantasyland were 20 to 45 minutes long throughout the entire day. The area was crowded, the rides super packed together, and overall it lacked the Disney magic that other park areas have.

Even though there were some disappointing parts of Disneyland all in all it was still a great place to spend the day. Now that the kids are older we were able to take advantage of the more thrilling rides and didn’t have to worry about strollers, nap times, or stopping to rest. Instead on this trip we spent a great deal of time in Tomorrowland where we rode Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Star Tours multiple times. Star Tours alone is worth the large sum of money that it takes to get into Disneyland.

To our great pleasure the Younger Fives also really loved Big Thunder Mountain, which was also a favorite of ours when we were little. The whole family loved the ride so much that we rode it three times and would have ridden it more if the lines were shorter, or we could have gotten more Fast Passes. Just like when we visited Disney World the Fast Pass system definitely made our day much more enjoyable and helped us plan our visit.

Unfortunately there were no fireworks or parades on the day that we visited. However, we did get to watch Mickey and the Magic Map at the Fantasyland Theatre. The show was pretty good and even though the kids would have rather seen Fantasmic! it was still enjoyable. Overall our visit to Disneyland was a success. The kids enjoyed themselves and we didn’t have to make a return trip to Florida. This will probably be our last Disney trip as the Younger Fives are older and into more thrilling rides. However, it was nice to be able to let them experience a little bit of Disney magic one last time.




The Fives’ 5 Favorite Rides and Slides at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari

For a very long time now we have wanted to experience the thrill of a water coaster and traveling back across the country this week provided the perfect opportunity. We only had to alter our return route a bit south to spend the day at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari home to two of the top rated water coasters in the United States. The extra miles were definitely worth it as the water coasters were truly an amazing experience! As a bonus we were also able to ride a few regular roller coasters and introduce the Younger Fives to two new amusement park rides that they absolutely loved. Since the camera wasn’t a practical accessory at the water park we have included videos of our five favorite attractions at Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari.

1. Wildebeest – Rated the world’s #1 water park ride, Wildebeest does not disappoint! Thrilling yet at the same time gentle this water coaster is so much fun for the whole family.

2. Mammoth Water Coaster Riding the world’s longest water coaster is so worth the drive to Indiana! The ride on Mammoth gets you totally soaked and as the tube twists and turns you have no idea what is coming up next. The best part is that the six person tube allows you to enjoy the ride with the whole family.

3. The Voyage Voted the #1 wooden roller coaster in the nation, Five String and Five Ball were lucky to catch one of the last rides of the day on The Voyage. They both came away with huge smiles and wind blown hair declaring that this was hands down the best roller coaster they had ever ridden.

4. HallowSwings The flying swing ride was always a favorite of Five Spice’s when she was younger and the Younger Fives took to it just as fondly. The 48″ height limit was a bit of a barrier for High Five, but luckily his baseball cap and the fact that he is very sneaky about standing on tip-toe got him past the ride attendant. We would definitely put one of these in the backyard if we ever won the lottery!

5. Mayflower Usually know as the Pirate Ship this classic boat-swing ride is another that we wanted to introduce the kids to. It is such a blast and only gets scary on the very last swing making it a fun thrill ride for younger riders.

10 for 10

Ten hours of reading for 10 hours of roller coasters and attractions at Silverwood Theme Park? When we heard about Silverwood’s Reading is the Ticket program through our local homeschool organization, it sounded too good to be true. But sure enough, K-8 students (homeschool and public school) have the chance each spring to earn a free ticket to the amusement park for reading 10 hours over the course of several weeks. The Younger Fives wasted no time in getting through their time requirement in a matter of days, and then the hard part came, waiting for the park to open for the season.

We chose the first weekend in June for our visit, the start of the longer hours and the water park opening. It’s safe to say we made the most of our day. The Younger Fives went on all the rides they were tall enough for, including some pretty serious thrill rides. Between hopping back and forth between adult and kiddie-sized coasters, we enjoyed the lush flower and plant life throughout the park and found plenty of shady, calm places to recharge. Five String and Five Spice didn’t hold back either and tried out some rides the kids weren’t quite ready for yet.

After several trips on every ride within the park, some clear favorites emerged…

Paratrooper – Longest, most enjoyable ride of any attraction. High and fast enough to be exciting, but not  jarring.

Frog Hopper – Rising and falling in the lap of a colorful frog. What’s not to love?

Roaring Creek Log Flume – Classic log flume with a big plunge at the end. Bystanders can deposit quarters to soak riders as they pass, which we learned the hard way.

Corkscrew – Great introduction to looping coasters. It was Five of Heart’s first trip up-side-down.

Also, some honorable mentions for Tremors, Tilt-a-Whirl and Scrambler. The latter two were boycotted by Five String due to his refusal to go on spiny rides and have the world rotate for hours afterwards, but the rest of the Fives thoroughly enjoyed both the rides themselves and the feeling of superiority.

By the time our 10 hours passed and 8 pm rolled around, we all were ready to call it a day. While we chose not to check out Boulder Bay (the water park) due to temperatures in the 50s, the weather held out and we had much more sun than originally anticipated.  The true mark of a successful day was when we asked the Younger Fives if they would come back again tomorrow for another round, and they all exclaimed “Yes!” in unison. Fortunately, for the Older Fives (feeling jolted and exhausted from experience), the tickets were good for only one day.

Choose Your Own Family Adventure: A Day at Playa Mia Beach Park



The kids’ smiles widened as they looked over the map. “We get to do all this today?!”  they asked in disbelief. This was the wonderful start to our amazing day at Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort and Water Park.


Cozumel has its fair share of beach clubs and beach resorts along the western coast, and we spent a good amount of time upon arriving here figuring out which ones would be best for our family. As we had been planning to visit a water park before our abrupt departure from Merida, Playa Mia caught our attention due to its kids’ water park, water slides, paddle boat and kayak rentals, along with its prime beach access. We liked that all these activities were included in the admission price, compared to other beach properties that have free admission but expect you to keep buying round after rounds of drinks and food, and make you pay for all the extras.





We decided to arrive right at the beach club’s opening to try to make the most of all the recreation options, and that ended up being a wise decision. We had a lot to keep us busy, starting with the Buccaneer’s Bay Kids Pool. The Younger Fives had a great time splashing in the shallow water, climbing and sliding down the pirate-themed elements, and running through the water spraying at them from every angle. While more geared to kids 5 and under, Five of Hearts didn’t mind being a few years older than the rest and really enjoyed herself as well.


Before long, Five Ball and Five of Hearts spotted the towering water slide behind the kids’ pool and were determined to give it a try. After checking in with the lifeguards, and explaining that both kids were good swimmers, they got the green light to climb the stairs and zoom down the water slide. They didn’t have much competition for the slide, a fact they took advantage of by sliding down again, and again, and again.


It took a lot of coaxing, but we eventually got High Five out of Buccaneer’s Bay and the other Fives away from the water slide to relax in the Oasis Pool. The crystal clear water was very inviting, and Five Ball put his recently acquired swimming skills to good use by following his siblings as they crisscrossed the pool trying to make their way all the way around and back to where they started.



Soon the beach and Caribbean called to us, and we headed to the watercraft area to take a paddle boat and kayak out for a spin. The staff was very friendly and safety-conscious as they ensured we all had a properly fitting life jacket and helped us get the vessels into the water. The gentle waves made getting around an adventure, but even with the Younger Fives at the helm we had no problems staying in the enclosed area or making it back to shore.


We (at least the Older Fives) needed a little break next, so we walked down the beach to the enclosed swimming area and let the waves lap at our feet as the kids played in the surf. The swimming area is also just inshore from the Floating Park, and we watched as others bounced on the floating trampoline and ascended the Giant Aquatic Iceberg. We had read some reviews that getting out there was a bit of a chore, so when the kids asked about giving it a try we were a bit hesitant. However, we had to admit it did look like a blast, and we found out from the staff that kids were welcomed out on the Floating Park as long as their parents accompanied them. Nothing stopping us now, we were all fitted with life jackets and headed out for the short swim ahead of us.


Photo from Playa Mia (alas, our camera is not waterproof)

Having the life jackets on was great, as we could more or less drift and not have to worry about treading in the water. The kids were not content to drift, however, and they soon zoomed ahead and were pulled up onto the Floating Park by an awaiting staff member. We had the entire floating playground to ourselves and lost all track of time as we bounced on the trampolines, climbed the inflatable iceberg, zoomed down the slide into the water, and raced on the obstacle course. For something we were not even planning on doing, this turned out to be our favorite part of the day. When we eventually and reluctantly swam back to shore we were certainly tired, but the smiles stayed on our faces even after we were back on firm ground.


We quickly noticed everyone gathering in the dining tent, and finally became aware that some dark clouds were making an appearance, albeit briefly. Taking it as a sign, we moved our backpacks into the tent as well and had lunch. As our admission included the buffet, we scanned the buffet line and were pleased to find quite a few vegan options. We soon were ravenously enjoying chips and salsa, fruit salad, and french fries as the staff conducted several games inside the tent and gave away prizes to keep people’s minds off the rain.


By the time we finished lunch the clouds passed, and we decided to wrap up our day back at the Oasis Pool / Buccaneer’s Bay / water slide area. The kids still had plenty of energy for pirate ship water canons and Twin Twister water slides, but the Older Fives were content to lounge in the pool and unwind. We had the good fortune to get the kids eventually back into the main pool for some more family swimming and relaxing in the submerged lounge chairs. As the time of our departure crept up there were some minor meltdowns, but we took that as a sign of a day well spent. We managed to keep our eyes open for the cab ride home, but it was certainly an early night to bed after all of our adventures that day.


Fives’ Facts about Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort
* Getting There: We caught a cab from San Miguel, and the official rate for the trip is 170 pesos for 4 people. Checking out the Official Cozumel Taxi Rate document in advance helped up keep track of what we should be paying.
* Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
* Admission Cost: Day passes start at $30 for adults, $25 for kids 4-11, and kids under 4 are free. This includes access to the beach, all the pools, non-motorized equipment rentals, and the Float Park. Other passes include buffet and open bar options.
* Not To Miss: The Floating Park and non-motorized water toys (paddle boats, kayaks, water bikes)
* Social Responsibility: We were impressed to see several areas around the resort that were being restored to their natural state, including a mangrove area. We also learned Playa Mia has partnerships with local charities and uses a state-of-the-art sewage treatment system to reuse water and keep the surrounding Caribbean clean.

But No Elephants: A Day at Mérida’s Centennial Park


From tigers to train rides, playgrounds to paddle boats, Mérida’s Centennial Park (located at the corner of Calle 59 and Avenida Itzaes) is an outstanding family-friendly experience for those traveling on a budget. And that is saying something for a city like Mérida, which is known for its wealth of free cultural events and recreational activities for families with children.

Centennial Park really has it all. It is best known for the zoo located within (free admission), with a variety of birds, monkeys, reptiles, and large cats, but to Grandma Tildy’s relief, no elephants. We tend to avoid zoos, but the chance to observe some of the Yucatan’s native animals close up was too tempting an opportunity to pass up. The zoo, though, is only a small part of what Centennial Park has to offer. The rest of the park is made up of a large playground, picnic areas, several ponds where families can rent boats, a bike path, and plenty of vendors and equipment to rent (such as bikes). The biggest attraction (after the animals) is the popular train that runs around the whole park. The line at the “train station” can get pretty long, but it is a great opportunity to relax and take in all the park’s sights.

Fives’ Facts about Centennial Park
The park opened in 1910 as a place for the public to enjoy trees native to the region.
* The train started running in 1962.
* The Century Tree (Arbol del Centenario) was planted in 1910 and still thrives to this day (despite being blown over in a hurricane).
* The park hours are 6:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Tuesday through Sunday.
* The park is closed on Mondays and on some holidays.