• US Travel

    Maui Vacation

    Kamaole Beach Park III {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Aloha!

    We spent most of our Hawaiian vacation in Maui. We mainly wanted to relax and do fun family related activities, and Maui is great for that.

    In Maui, we rented a two-bedroom condo located in Kihei. We had a great location, right across the street from the beach. The condo worked well for us because both bedrooms had king beds. Most condos I looked at had a king in one bedroom and two twins in the second bedroom. This one had a bedroom upstairs in a loft area, with a king bed and a private bathroom. The other bedroom was downstairs, as was the kitchen and living room area. Another perk was the lanai. Technically, both bedrooms had private lanais, but they looked back toward the condo complex, whereas the lanai off the living room was large and looked out toward the ocean.

    Sunset from our lanai {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    We arrived in Maui on a Wednesday afternoon, and didn’t do much that day. We found the condo, unpacked, went out to eat dinner, and enjoyed a relaxing evening. In Maui, a rental car is necessary, so we booked a car for the week so could explore the island.

    On our second day we picked my mother and stepfather up from the airport, they stayed an extra night in Oahu. After getting everyone settled in the condo, we decided to go shopping. Well, my mother, Gavin, and I went to a quilt shop for her to shop fabrics, and the guys (Michael and my stepfather) went to a brewery. After that, we stopped at the Kihei Kalama Village for shopping and dinner.

    Friday was spent at the beach and ended with a luau. We walked across the street from the condo to go to the Kamaole Beach III and spent the day there. Friday night we went to the Old Lahiana Luau. It was a fun experience, and something we all enjoyed.

    Old Lahaina Luau {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Dressed for the Old Lahaina Luau {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Roast pig at Old Lahaina Luau {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Old Lahaina Luau {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Old Lahaina Luau {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Saturday got off to a rocky start. That was the morning the missile alert message was sent out. So, we saw that on our phones, and tried to verify if it was real or not. We never panicked or anything. I did try calling a couple of police stations, but never got through – guess we weren’t the only ones calling. We turned on the local news because the national news wasn’t reporting anything, and the local news announced it was a false alert, so we went back to drinking our morning coffee and enjoying the view. It was still a little while before we got phone alerts that the first message was an error. Anyway, we never really did anything that day. I went for a long walk by myself down the beach. I walked along Keawakapu Beach, Mokapu Beach, and Ulua Beach. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed a nice, long walk along the beach.

    Gavin at sunset {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    On Sunday, Michael, Gavin, and I went to Lahaina. We did a whale watching boat trip, walked around town, and had lunch. It’s a great town to walk, and had plenty of restaurants and shops. Also, there was a big harbor there, and a lot of the boat tours left from that harbor.

    Gavin whale watching {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Whale watching {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Whale watching {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Monday morning was a very early start. We got up really early to drive up to Haleakala National Park to watch the sunrise. It was a beautiful sunrise, but Gavin did not like it. He was sleepy, and it’s really cold, so he wasn’t having it.

    Sunrise at Haleakala {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    That afternoon we drove over to Big Beach, also known as Makena Beach and Oneloa Beach. It’s the widest beach we went to. There was a serious shore break, so swimming was a little more dangerous on this beach than some of the others we visited.

    Big Beach {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Michael and Gavin at Big Beach {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Tuesday was our last full day in Maui, and we drove over to Paia. We wanted to visit somewhere on the north side of the island, and this town seemed like a good choice. We walked around town, visited some shops, and ate lunch. On the way out of town, we stopped at Hookipa Beach. We parked the car, and Michael and I walked a little on the beach while Gavin waited in the car with his Honey and Pappaw. This is definitely not a swimming beach, but there were some kiteboarders out. This is also the only place we saw sea turtles.

    Hookipa Beach {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Hookipa Beach {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Wednesday was our last day in Hawaii. We flew from Maui back to Dallas. Another long travel day. We were all exhausted when we got home, but had a great time in Hawaii.

    Gavin playing at beach {Maui} | rainerlife.com

    Maui sunset | rainerlife.com

  • US Travel

    Honolulu, Oahu

    Aloha!

    We went to Hawaii to celebrate my birthday. I turned the big 4-0, and wanted to take a trip to celebrate. Since I had never been to Hawaii, and beach vacations are always relaxing, a Hawaiian vacation sounded perfect. We stayed on two islands, Oahu and Maui. This post is about Oahu, and a second post will be about our time in Maui.

    Waikiki Beach | rainerlife.com

    We traveled from Dallas to Honolulu, Oahu, and stayed in Honolulu for three nights. We arrived on a Sunday evening, so that day was a long travel day. My mother and stepfather traveled with us, so them and us (Michael, Gavin, and me), were all exhausted.

    We didn’t have anything scheduled for our first day in Oahu. I figured we would be tired from the long day before, and not up for too much activity. So, we walked over to Waikiki Beach and checked out the beach, had a leisurely lunch, and did a little shopping.

    Waikiki Beach | rainerlife.com

    On our second day, we went to Pearl Harbor. We went in the afternoon, and had plenty of time to see the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Bowfin submarine and museum. We didn’t go to the USS Missouri or the Pacific Aviation Museum. We didn’t want to schedule too much, since we were traveling with a three-year-old.

    Pearl Harbor | rainerlife.com

    USS Bowfin submarine at Pearl Harbor | rainerlife.com

    USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor | rainerlife.com

    We had fun sightseeing in Waikiki, but only spent a couple of days there. I’m glad we spent some time in Honolulu because Pearl Harbor was special to see. Most of our trip was spent in Maui, where we spent a week.

  • US Travel

    Quick Trip to Houston

    Early in May, we took a quick trip down to Houston. Our main reason for going was to take Gavin to visit NASA. He is really into space stuff right now, and we thought he would enjoy seeing the Houston Space Center.

    We spent three nights, and did a different family activity each day. The first day, we arrived in late afternoon. After checking into the hotel, we drove over to the Kemah Boardwalk. The second day we spent at the Houston Space Center. On the third day, we visited the Houston Zoo. We drove back home on the fourth day.

    Kemah Boardwalk
    It’s been years since I visited the Kemah Boardwalk. It’s still a fun place! We walked around the boardwalk and had dinner while watching the boat traffic. Gavin’s too young for the rides, and we’re not big shoppers, so we’re happy walking around, people watching, and grabbing a bite to eat. We ate at The Flying Dutchman. We were able to get a table outside, so we had a good view to watch the boat traffic. It was a Sunday, and there was a lot of boats coming and going.

    Gavin & Darinda at Kemah Boardwalk | rainerlife.com

    Space Center Houston
    Our main reason for going to Houston was the Space Center. It was great! Gavin had so much fun! The Space Center had lots of interesting and informative exhibits. We arrived early – just before they opened. The Space Center opened at 9:00 and we wanted to have plenty of time to see everything.

    NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Tram Tour – Astronaut Training Facility
    We started the day with the a tram ride around the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Space Center offered two tram rides, red and blue. We opted to start with the blue tram first. That tram tour visited the Astronaut Training Facility and Rocket Park. Since it was early, and not their peak time of year, there were only four of us on the tour… and our little family were three of the four! The tour guides seemed to like the small group and visited a little longer, giving us more information than they probably normally have time for in a packed tour. The tour goes to Building 9, a huge warehouse that houses all sorts of equipment the astronauts use to train before going to space. Plus, it’s where a lot of new tech is being developed. It was really interesting to see! The tram tour then went to Rocket Park, where a Saturn V rocket is on display. It was amazing to see a rocket up close like that, and Gavin thought it was fun to see.

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Gavin at Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Building 9 at NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Warehouse for the Saturn V at the NASA Johnson Space Center | rainerlife.com

    Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    Gavin & Michael at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    Gavin at Rocket Park | rainerlife.com

    After the tram tour, we walked around the Space Center. There are a lot of exhibits to see! The exhibits we saw were Space Center Plaza, Mission Mars, Starship Gallery, Independence Plaza, International Space Station Gallery, and Astronaut Gallery.

    Space Center Plaza
    This the the main area we first walked through once we arrived at the Space Center. On our visit, this area was set up with a lot of hands on activities geared toward children. Gavin was too young for it, but Michael and I walked around with him and showed him what some of the activities were and how they worked.

    Mission Mars
    This is a newer exhibit for the Space Center, and contains a simulated Orion capsule and a Mars rock you can touch. There was a lot of information in this area, and unlike the other areas, it has more on new tech and NASA’s journey to Mars. This was one of Gavin’s favorite areas.

    Starship Gallery
    This area of the Space Center is like a museum and contains some cool artifacts, such as a Gemini V, Lunar Roving Vehicle Trainer, the Apollo 17 Command Module, the Skylab 1-G Trainer, Mercury 9 “Faith 7”, and the Lunar Samples Vault, which includes a moon rock you can touch. I enjoyed this area, but it seemed to be too much for Gavin. He was looking every which way and kept running from one thing to the next.

    Independence Plaza
    This exhibit was very cool! This is a replica of the shuttle Independence, mounted on top of the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft. You can board both the shuttle and airplane. I think Gavin would have enjoyed this more if he was a little older. He didn’t seem to connect that he was walking around on the shuttle and airplane. We took the elevator up to the shuttle instead of the stairs, so when we got off the elevator, he was suddenly in the shuttle. I don’t think he really made the connection that it was the shuttle we had been walking under.

    International Space Station Gallery
    This area is also kind of more like a museum, and contains artifacts from the space station and interactive displays. There were some interesting things in this area, but we walked through a lot without doing much since it was geared toward older kids and adults.

    Astronaut Gallery
    The points of interest here were the Gallery Wall (photos of every US astronaut who has flown to space) and various space suits. Some of the space suits were Pete Conrad’s Apollo 12 suit, John Young’s escape suit, a shuttle launch entry suit, and the Orlan suit. This was a big open area and didn’t take too long too walk around. Actually, I walked around here while Michael and Gavin went back to the Mission Mars exhibit since Gavin was wanting to see that again.

    Tram Tour – Mission Control
    Later in the day, we went on the red tram tour. Actually, it was the last tour of the day, so we were on the first and last tram tours. Anyway, the red tram tour visited Mission Control and Rocket Park. I was the one that really wanted to go on this tour. Gavin wasn’t all that interested in it. The tour goes to the viewing room of Historic Mission Control. Everything is straight out of the sixties… because it hasn’t been updated, since it’s a historical site. It was cool to see Mission Control where so many important NASA missions were monitored, including nine Gemini and all Apollo lunar missions. After visiting Historic Mission Control, the tour went to Rocket Park. Since we had seen Rocket Park earlier in the day, we stayed on the tram to head back to the Space Center. Multiple tram tours were running at the same time, so trams rotated through Rocket Park to pick up visitors and take them back to the Space Center. That’s a great feature, since we were able to spend as much time as we wanted at Rocket Park in the early part of the day, and skip it later in the day.

    We spent a full day seeing the Space Center, and we didn’t do everything they offered. We had a toddler with us, so we took our time, skipped a couple of things, went faster through some exhibits, and slower through others. Plus, we must have gone through the Mission Mars exhibit at least three times. The must-see things were the tram tours and the Independence Plaza.

    The Space Center does have a dining area that sold different foods, like pizza, burgers, salads, and sandwiches. We ate a leisurely lunch of pizza, which tasted okay and was overpriced. Typical for this type of place.

    The Space Center had two gift shops, one large and one small. Of course, we bought a few things for our space loving little boy. His biggest delight was a space suit and a helmet. We bought them after lunch, so he wore them the rest of the day. He looked adorable all decked out in his space suit, plus he had so much fun wearing it and running around looking at the exhibits.

    Houston Zoo
    We went to the zoo on a Tuesday afternoon, which it turns out is a free time to visit the zoo. That means it was crazy busy! Parking was the worst part, but once we found a spot it wasn’t too bad. The zoo was crowded, but we still saw everything we were interested in seeing. The zoo is large, with lots of great exhibits, so we spent a few hours walking around. The Children’s Area was great, and Gavin had a lot of fun in that part of the zoo.

    Gavin at the Houston Zoo | rainerlife.com

    Hotel
    Staybridge Suites
    We stayed at the Staybridge Suites near NASA. It was a convenient location for NASA, and Kemah wasn’t a far drive. It took a long time to drive to the zoo, but Houston traffic is terrible, so it takes a while to get anywhere. The hotel staff was very friendly, and the hotel was clean. They were doing construction, but we knew that ahead of time and it wasn’t a problem for us. The construction did close off some of their parking, and twice we grabbed the last spot in the lot… and one of those times was only because a car left, freeing up a spot. We booked a one bedroom suite with a king bed. I wanted a suite so we could close the door if someone, like Gavin, wanted to sleep, but Michael and/or I wanted to stay up. For this trip, it worked out well for us. We didn’t do much outside of the room, but we did enjoy the breakfast each morning.

    Restaurants
    We ate breakfast at the hotel and grabbed lunch at wherever we were visiting (Space Center and Zoo), but we did go out to eat in the evenings.

    The Flying Dutchman
    Seafood resturant located at the Kemah Boardwalk. The food was good, the service was great. I had the shrimp & crab cobb salad, which was huge and no way could I eat the whole thing, but it tasted good. Michael had a steak. It’s always a risk to order a steak at a seafood restaurant, but he figured he’s in Texas, so maybe it would be okay. He said it was good, so I guess he was right. For Gavin, we ordered grilled shrimp. We had them hold the seasoning on his shrimp so they wouldn’t be too spicy, and he seemed to like them. We sat outside near the water and watched the boats while we ate, which was fun for all of us. A good dining choice while visiting the Kemah Boardwalk.

    Bone Daddy’s
    A BBQ joint in Webster. The food and service were good. I had the burnt ends with skillet beans and potato salad. Michael had hot link sausage and brown sugar ham with potato salad and mac and cheese. We both shared food with Gavin, so he had some of everything, except the hot link sausage because it was really spicy. We enjoyed the food and casual atmosphere.

    J Henry’s Draughthouse
    A family-friendly pub-like restaurant in Clear Lake. We wanted to try a place with a good beer selection, and Michael found this one listed online. We started with the soft pretzel appetizer, which is always a good choice with beer. For dinner, I had the beer glazed fish tacos, Michael had the chicken & sausage spaghetti, and Gavin had a cheeseburger. The food was good and the beer selection was great. Most of the beers were from Texas, and they had several beers we hadn’t tried. It was a good place to go for finding new beers to try.

    We had a fun, short family trip! I think Gavin had fun at the Space Center, which was the main part of the trip. So glad we were able to take a few days to get a short vacation in this Spring.

  • US Travel

    Okaloosa Island

    Enjoying the beach {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    I love the beach!…. so, when we wanted to plan a family vacation, of course I opted for the beach. We considered other options, but the Emerald Coast won for a couple of reasons: 1. it was something we would all enjoy and 2. we could make the drive in a day (a really long day, but a day).

    Michael & Gavin in the water {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Gavin playing in the sand {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Gavin in the pool {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    We rented a condo at Pelican Isle through VRBO. It was a one bedroom condo located on the first floor, directly over the pool.The condo was very nice – the one bedroom had a king bed, and enough room to set up Gavin’s Pack ‘n Play for him to sleep in. The bedroom had a bathroom with a tub, and down the hall was a second bathroom with a shower. In the hall, between the bedroom and bathroom, were built-in bunk beds. We didn’t use the bunk beds, but it would be a great space if you had older kids. Next to the hall bathroom was a washer and dryer that came in handy. The kitchen, dining, and living area all flowed together. Off the living area was a balcony with a fantastic view. It was perfect for our family.

    Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Our condo at Pelican Isle {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    Pool at the condo {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com

    View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
    View from our balcony

    View from our balcony {Okaloosa Island} | rainerlife.com
    View from our balcony

    We stayed for a week – arrived on Sunday and left on Friday. Our days were pretty much the same each day – beach in the morning, followed by swimming in the pool, lunch at the condo, naptime, and an early dinner out. We did walk out on the Okaloosa Island Pier one night after dinner. It was fun to watch all the activity with people fishing, and several were catching fish.

    Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
    Okaloosa Island Pier

    Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
    Darinda and Gavin on Okaloosa Island Pier

    View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
    View from Okaloosa Island Per

    View from Okaloosa Island Pier | rainerlife.com
    View from Okaloosa Island Pier

    It was a relaxing vacation for all of us. We all enjoyed hanging out at the beach and swimming in the pool. Gavin had fun with his first trip to Florida – see videos below for him laughing at the waves and playing in the sand.







  • US Travel

    Road Trip to Colorado {Part 2}

    We recently went on a road trip to Colorado. On our trip, we stayed in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Colorado Springs, and Boulder. Road Trip to Colorado {Part 1} was about our time in Texas, while this post is about Colorado.

    COLORADO
    Colorado Springs

    Hotel
    Drury Inn
    We stayed two nights at the Drury Inn in Colorado Springs. The Drury Inn is located north of town, just off of I-25. It was a good place to stay, plus it’s a fairly new hotel.

    Location: Good. North of town, off of I-25.

    Our Room: We stayed in a king suite (room 425) on the fourth floor. Originally, we were in room 405, but it had an odor – like someone had burned incense in the room – that set off Michael’s allergies. Soon as we walked in he started sneezing. The front desk was very helpful and were able to move us to another room. It was a large, clean two room suite and we had plenty of space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The bedroom had a king bed with four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, dresser, TV on dresser, closet with hangers and luggage rack, phone, clock radio, and iron and ironing board. The living room had a sofa with ottoman, a desk with a lamp and chair, TV on a dresser, chair, floor lamp, two tables with lamps, trash can, and a small table. The area between the rooms had a counter space with a coffee maker, ice bucket, and disposable cups. The cabinets under the counter had a microwave and mini fridge. The outlets were in good locations. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool.

    Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor/outdoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We used the pool one afternoon – it was rainy out, so we stayed in the indoor pool side, and it was nice. There was also an indoor hot tub. We ate breakfast at the hotel both days. It was the best hotel breakfast of the hotels we stayed at during our trip.

    Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly. The staff at the front desk was helpful when we needed to change rooms.

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Drury Inn (Room 425) in Colorado Springs | rainerlife.com

    Food & Drink

    Colorado Brewing Company – We ate dinner here on a Sunday night – the first night we were in town. It was located near the hotel. They offer beers unique to their restaurant, so we wanted to check out their selection. The beers and food were okay, but the service wasn’t very good.

    Trinity Brewing Company – We had lunch here on a Monday. We arrived just after they opened for lunch and sat at an outside table. They had a great craft beer selection. We shared a sampler of beers and had sandwiches to eat. Glad we tried this local brewery while we were in town.

    Trinity Brewing Company | rainerlife.com

    Cheddar’s – We ate here on a Monday night – the second night we were in town. It was also located near the hotel. Typical Cheddar’s restaurant – good food, good prices, and the service was good.

    Sightseeing

    Garden of the Gods – We spent a morning checking out the Garden of the Gods. We stopped at the visitor center to get a map of the area and look around the gift shop. We then parked near the Central Garden Trail, which is a concrete path, and walked around for a while. It’s a stroller friendly path, and offers a lot of beautiful sights. It was crowded while we were there – it’s a popular place to visit. If you go, get an early start to find a parking spot and beat some of the crowd.

    Michael & Gavin at Garden of the Gods | rainerlife.com

    Garden of the Gods | rainerlife.com

    Boulder

    Hotel
    Best Western Plus
    We stayed two nights at the Best Western Plus in Boulder. The Best Western Plus is located in town, just off of US-36.

    Location: Good. Off US-36, near main roads and some restaurants.

    Our Room: We stayed in a king suite (room 216) on the second floor. It was a clean, good sized room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed with five pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, chair with ottoman, a desk with a lamp and chair, floor lamp, coffee table, dresser, TV with remote, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, closet with hangers and luggage rack, bar area with sink, mini fridge, coffee maker, ice bucket, and trash can. The outlets were in good locations and the nightstand lamps each had an outlet on them. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, lotion, mouthwash, shave cream, shampoo, and conditioner). The room had sliding doors that opened onto a small balcony. The balcony had two chairs and not much of a view – construction was going on in the lot next to the hotel, but it was nice to sit outside and have a drink at the end of the day.

    Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, outdoor pool, guest laundry, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool, but it looked nice. We ate breakfast both mornings – it was good, a better than average hotel breakfast. This is the only hotel that I used laundry facilities – two washers and dryers were available for guest use on the first floor.

    Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was very friendly.

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Best Western Plus (Room 216) in Boulder | rainerlife.com

    Food & Drink

    West Flanders Brewing Company – We ate lunch here on a Tuesday afternoon. This brewery and restaurant is located at Pearl Street Mall. It was fairly busy, and the food, beer, and service were all very good.

    West Flanders Brewing Company | rainerlife.com

    Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids – We ate lunch here on a Wednesday afternoon. This brewery and restaurant is located in Longmont. It’s a favorite brewery, so we wanted to check it out when we were so close. The beer, food, and service were all very good.

    Oskar Blues Home Made Liquids & Solids | rainerlife.com

    Sightseeing

    Pearl Street Mall – When we arrived in Boulder it was too early to check into the hotel, so we decided to go to the Pearl Street Mall and have lunch. We ate and then walked around visiting some of the shops.

    Estes Park – We drove up to Estes Park after having lunch in Longmont at Oskar Blues. It was a beautiful drive, and it was nice to be in the mountains. When we arrived in town, we parked and walked around a bit. After visiting a few shops, we got back in the car and drove around town and up to the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was getting late, so we didn’t drive around too long before heading back to Boulder.

    Rocky Mountain National Park | rainerlife.com

  • US Travel

    Road Trip to Colorado {Part 1}

    We recently went on a road trip to Colorado. On our trip, we stayed in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, Colorado Springs, and Boulder. This was the first time Gavin experienced long car rides and he did great. We tried to stop every couple of hours for a break. Some days we spent more time traveling than others, but we managed to see and do everything we wanted while on the trip.

    TEXAS
    Wichita Falls

    Hotel
    Days Inn & Suites
    We stayed one night on the way to Colorado and one night on the way home. Days Inn & Suites in Wichita Falls is located right off US 82, so it’s a convenient location when passing through town. We booked a king bed room on the way to Colorado and a king suite on the way home. Since it was a good place to stay while passing through town, we ended up staying at this same hotel on the way home.

    Location: Good. On Kell Boulevard, off US 82 and near restaurants.

    Our Room: On the way to Colorado, we stayed in a king bed room (room 315) on the third floor. It was a clean, good size room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed and four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, sofa, coffee table, a desk with a lamp and chair, closet with hangers and luggage rack, TV with remote, floor lamp, mini fridge, coffee maker, dresser, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, trash can, and a safe. The drip coffee maker had 4-cup pot and coffee packets were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, two body towels, one hand towel, two washcloths, one bath mat, three paper cups, ice bucket, and toiletries (soap, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool. On the way home, we stayed in a king suite (room 217) on the second floor. It was a little more roomy, and had one more chair than the other room. It was in a noisier location though – it seemed to be located above the swimming pool, so we could hear lots of activity going on under us.

    Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool or fitness room, so not sure about those. We ate breakfast at the hotel the first time we stayed. It was a basic continental breakfast – bagels, muffins, waffles, cereal, coffee, and juice.

    Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly. Shortly after we got to the room, they called to make sure everything was okay.

    Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

    Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

    Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

    Days Inn & Suites (Room 315) | rainerlife.com

    Food & Drink

    Backporch Drafthouse – We ate dinner here both nights we were in town. It was located near the hotel. The food was good and they had a great craft beer selection. The first night we ate here, we both had burgers. The second time Michael had a chicken sandwich and I had nachos. The food, drinks, location, and service were all good. I would eat here again.

    Sightseeing

    The Mane Event – We didn’t really sightsee while in Wichita Falls, but we did drive around and see a few of the painted fiberglass horses.

    The Mane Event (Painted Horses) in Wichita Falls | rainerlife.com

    Amarillo

    Hotel
    Sleep Inn
    We stayed one night on the way to Colorado and one night on the way home. Sleep Inn in Amarillo is located right off I-40, so it’s a convenient location when passing through town. We booked a king suite both times we stayed here. Like in Wichita Falls, this was a good place to stay while passing through town, so we ended up staying at this same hotel on the way home.

    Location: Good. On I-40 West and near restaurants.

    Our Room: On the way to Colorado, we stayed in a king suite (room 103) on the first floor. It was a clean, good size room and we had space for the pack ‘n play and our luggage. The room had a king bed with four pillows, nightstands with lamps on either side of the bed, sofa, coffee table, a desk with a lamp and chair, closet with hangers and luggage rack, TV with remote, floor lamp, mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker, ice bucket, dresser, phone, clock radio, iron & ironing board, and trash can. The coffee maker was single serve and coffee pods were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations and the nightstand lamps each had an outlet on them. The bathroom had a walk-in shower, sink, toilet, hair dryer, four body towels, four hand towels, four washcloths, one bath mat, and toiletries (soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner). The room air conditioner worked well and kept the room cool. On the way home, we stayed in another king suite (room 203), but on the second floor. The rooms were exactly the same, down to the same artwork on the walls.

    Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, indoor pool, fitness room, and free breakfast. The Wi-Fi was good – didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. We didn’t use the pool or fitness room, so not sure about those. We didn’t eat breakfast at the hotel, but I walked down the second time we stayed there to get some juice. It looked like a standard hotel breakfast.

    Service: Check-in was quick and the staff was friendly.

    Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

    Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

    Sleep Inn & Suites (Room 103) in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

    Food & Drink

    Big Texan – We ate dinner here on a Saturday night. This is a popular restaurant on old Route 66 known for the “free” 72 oz steak – if you can eat it under an hour, then it’s free. While we were there, someone did complete the challenge. We ordered steaks, but weren’t up for trying the challenge. This place brews their own beer, so we were able to try some news beers we wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. This was a fun place to try, but I don’t think I’d eat here again. It’s a big tourist spot, with lots of advertisement in and around Amarillo. Even our hotel room key card was an ad for this restaurant. It was busy when we were there, but the food was just okay, though some of the beers were good.

    Big Texan Restaurant in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

    Hofbrau Steaks – We ate dinner here on a Thursday night. This restaurant was located near the hotel, so we went here because it was convenient. We both ordered steaks. It was fairly busy when we arrived, but the food wasn’t impressive. This restaurant chain has several locations around Texas, but none in the area where we live.

    Sightseeing

    Cadillac Ranch – We stopped here on the way to Colorado. We walked out to see the cars, but we weren’t there long. It was a Sunday morning, and there were lots of people around. A few people had brought spray paint and were decorating the cars. Unfortunately, this place was littered with trash. We were there on July 5, and there were lots of fireworks on the ground, plus spray paint cans all around the cars. There was a dumpster by the gates where people come and go to get to the cars, but it was overflowing. Not sure if it’s always like that, or if it was because it was a Sunday morning after a holiday. Also, be aware of snakes – they were in and around the cars. This is an iconic old Route 66 sight, and it’s free, so it’s probably always got a crowd of people.

    Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo | rainerlife.com

    Palo Duro Canyon – We went here on our way home from Colorado. It’s located near Amarillo, and we figured we had time to drive down and see it. The canyon was beautiful, and we enjoyed driving around and seeing it. The daily entrance fee was $5 for adults and kids are free – it was well worth the $10 to see some beautiful sights. First, we stopped at the Visitor Center to learn more about the canyon. We then drove down in the canyon and rode around, stopping occasionally, to take in the beautiful scenery. We bought burgers at The Trading Post in the base of the canyon and found a picnic table in the shade to sit and enjoy lunch. We were there on a Friday and it was fairly busy. The trails were closed due to rain that had passed through earlier in the week, but lots of people were driving around and we saw some people set up in the camp areas.

    Palo Duro Canyon | rainerlife.com

    Our time in Wichita Falls and Amarillo was short because our focus was on getting to Colorado, and then on returning home. I’ll write a separate post about our time in Colorado.

  • US Travel

    Galveston, TX – First Family Vacation

    Galveston | rainerlife.com

    We took our first family vacation last week. We drove down to Galveston and spent a few days relaxing.

    I’ve been wanting to get away for a short trip with Gavin to see how he handles traveling. Since our anniversary was last week, we figured it was a perfect time to get away for a few days. We drove down on Monday, taking our time on the drive and making a few stops along the way. We arrived in Galveston a little after 3:00 pm, checked in the hotel, and unwound from the drive. When we felt refreshed, we took off walking and did some shopping and had dinner.

    Tuesday morning we relaxed at the hotel, then headed to Moody Gardens. We went to the beach in the afternoon. It was Gavin’s first time at a beach. We didn’t stay long, but we all got in the water and lounged on the beach. After the beach, we stopped at the hotel pool. Since we were already in our swimsuits, we figured why not check out the pool? It was Gavin’s first time in a pool, and he did great – he splashed the water and had a big ‘ole time.

    We left to head home on Wednesday morning. After checking out of the hotel, we drove around to see more of Galveston. We took our time on the drive home, making several quick stops.

    THE DETAILS

    Hotel

    Doubletree
    We stayed two nights. We booked a room with two queen beds with full beach view balcony ($110 per night). Normally, I prefer to book a room with a king bed, but this was a last minute trip (booked the hotel the day before we left), and I wanted a room with a balcony and a view of the Gulf of Mexico. This was what was available.

    Location: Very good. On Seawall Boulevard, near the beach, restaurants, and shopping.

    Our Room: We stayed in room 314 on the third floor. It was an average size, clean room. Our room had a private balcony with a view of the pool and the Gulf of Mexico. The room had two queen beds and three pillows per bed- the bed was comfortable. The room included a desk and chair, nightstand between the two beds, wardrobe with hangers and luggage rack, tv with remote, wall lamp between the beds, lamp on the nightstand, minifridge, coffee maker, dresser (3 drawers), phone, and a safe. The coffee maker was a Keurig and four coffee pods were provided, along with disposable cups and cream and sugar packets. The outlets were in good locations, and USB plugs were also available. The bathroom had a tub/shower combo, sink, toilet, hair dryer, 4 body towels, 4 hand towels, 4 washcloths, 2 drinking cups, and toiletries (soap, lotion, shampoo, and conditioner). The temperature in our room fluctuated a lot during the night. The thermostat was sat at 69°F, but our baby monitor displayed the temperature from 69-73°F.

    Amenities: Free Wi-Fi, pool, fitness room, restaurant, bar, and room service. The Wi-Fi was good – I didn’t have any problems connecting and it worked fine for us. The swimming pool was great, and wasn’t crowded while we were there. We didn’t use the fitness room, but it was in a separate building and looked nice. We never ate at the hotel, so not sure about the food. We did get drinks from the swim-up bar while we were in the pool. The bar had a good selection of drinks with typical bar prices.

    Service: Check-in was a breeze, and they gave us free cookies. My only complaint was we didn’t have any housekeeping service. We stayed two nights (Monday and Tuesday), so our room should have been cleaned some time during the day on Tuesday. After our day out and about, we returned to a room that hadn’t been cleaned. As we were leaving the hotel to go eat dinner, I stopped at the front desk and asked them to have someone clean our room. We were gone a couple of hours, but our room was still not cleaned when we returned. I called the front desk and again requested service. After about 30 minutes, I called again and said never mind about the cleaning, but we need more towels and coffee. About 10 minutes later we got the items requested. It was about 10:00 pm by then, so I wasn’t too happy with the service.

    Not sure I would stay here again. The location was great, we arrived to a clean room with a good view, and we enjoyed the pool and swim-up bar; however, the service was lacking. We got a reasonable price since we booked last minute, but I wouldn’t pay more than we did for the hotel. It comes down to service. If we had gotten better service, I would definitely recommend this hotel.

    ***UPDATE*** – After our vacation, I completed a survey Doubletree had e-mailed us asking about our stay. I mentioned my issue with housekeeping services. The manager e-mailed me to apologize and said it was discussed at the staff meeting. Also, a partial refund was issued to us. This tells me that the management is concerned about how the hotel is operated and how the guests feel about their time there. If we plan another trip to Galveston, I would look at staying at Doubletree again. I want to like this hotel.

    Food & Drink

    Bubba Gump – We ate dinner here on Monday night. The restaurant was located at Pleasure Pier, which was closed on Monday, so the restaurant was the only thing open. Good for us because it wasn’t busy. We sat in the upper outside seating area – there was an elevator to use. It was a good meal – we had the Shrimp Shack Mac & Cheese appetizer, I had Lt. Dan’s Drunken Shrimp and Michael had Shrimp New Orleans. For drinks, we had the Lt Dan Pomegranate Punch (me) and beer (Michael). I also had the key lime pie for dessert. It’s vacation! I get dessert, right! Gavin was asleep when we got there, but when he woke up I fed him two pouches of baby food. After that, he was happy. The food, drinks, location, and service were all great. I would eat here again.

    Brick House Tavern & Tap – We stopped here for a late lunch (around 2:00 pm). We had the meat and cheese board as an appetizer. I had the Brick Grinder sandwich and Michael had the Chicken & Waffles. I don’t know if we weren’t that hungry or if the portions were large, but we both needed a to go box. They had a good beer selection and offered a hand pulled cask beer. Michael ordered the cask beer, which tasted okay. We sat outside and enjoyed the wonderful weather. The service was great, and I would eat here again.

    Fish Tales – We had our anniversary dinner here. Gavin fell asleep on the walk here and slept until we got back to the hotel. Apparently, we had worn that baby out with our activities. Anyway, we had the crab stuffed mushroom appetizer, I had the broiled seafood platter and Michael had the ribeye. I had the Hammer Head (basically a Hurricane) and Michael had beer. The food and service was good and we had a great evening. Once again, we dined outside. This restaurant did have an elevator for us to use since we had the stroller with a sleeping baby, so we were able to get to the second level smoothly. I would eat here again.

    Sightseeing

    Sam Houston Statue – We stopped here on the way to Galveston. Gavin needed to eat and get out of his car seat for a litle while. We saw a sign for the statue and visitor center and decided to check it out. It was a great place for us to stop, and we enjoyed walking around.

    Sam Houston Statue | rainerlife.com

    Moody Gardens – We went to the aquarium, rainforest, and paddlewheel boat ride. One thing that I didn’t think about was school field trips. We went on a Tuesday, and it was packed with school groups. The buses were lined up out front when we arrived. We hurried in to try and beat some of the crowds, but it was still very busy. We saw the aquarium first, and that’s where all the school groups were. We didn’t have any problems with crowds in the rainforest or boat ride. Gavin did great and seemed to have fun. He liked the aquarium the best – he especially liked the seals. He got a bit fussy on the boat ride, which was the last thing we did. He was fighting a nap, and as soon as we left, he fell asleep. There were quite a few families with strollers while we were at Moody Gardens. It’s family friendly and the exhibits can be entertaining for adults and children. I thought that it was a little overpriced, but we had a great day. A day pass for one adult is $60, but you can buy individual tickets too. If you’re doing everything there, then the day pass is a good value. We bought individual tickets because we knew we wouldn’t do everything. When we arrived, we only bought aquarium tickets, but since we had fun with that we decided to do a couple more things. Ages 3 and under are free, so it didn’t cost anything for Gavin.

    Moody Gardens | rainerlife.com

    Beach – We went to the beach near the hotel. We weren’t planning on staying too long, but we enjoyed our short time on the beach. The beach we were on was clean and wasn’t crowded.

    Gavin at the beach {Galveston, TX} | rainerlife.com

    Davey Dogwood State Park – We stopped here on the way home. Once again, Gavin needed to eat and get out of his car seat for a bit. We saw a sign for the park and decided it would be a good place to stop. We parked at a picnic area to take a break, and then drove through the park. It was a nice park, and had lots of picnic areas.

    Overall, this was a fairly inexpensive vacation destination. We did pack sandwich fixin’s and water for the trip. We stopped and fixed sandwiches for lunch on the drive down and on the way home. We chose to eat out while in Galveston, so our food & drink expenses were higher because of that. For sightseeing, we mainly did free things (Sam Houston Statue, beach, hotel pool, and Davey Dogwood State Park), so Moody Gardens was our greatest cost on activities. As I mentioned above, we got a reasonable price on the hotel. Our only other expenses were gas and shopping. We’re not big shoppers, but I did want some souvenirs. I ended up buying a Christmas ornament, a charm for my bracelet, and some clothes for Gavin (t-shirts and a tropical print outfit).

    Gavin did great on his first vacation. He was teething, so he woke up on the first night and was fussy for a little while, but otherwise he was his usual happy self. We took his pack n’ play for him to sleep in at the hotel. Packing for traveling with a baby wasn’t too hard, and now I’m more aware of what he really needs and what we can do without. Really, we didn’t pack much that we didn’t use – mainly had extra baby food, clothes, and diapers.

    It was a wonderful family vacation, and I’m so glad we took a few days off to travel together.

  • US Travel

    Fredericksburg, TX

    Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg
    The Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg is a replica of an earlier public building that served as a church for all denominations, fort, school, and town hall.

    We recently made a trip down to Fredericksburg, and had a great time! It is one of the places that we had talked about visiting, but never made plans to actually go. We decided a trip during the week of Valentine’s would be fun, and started making plans.

    We stayed a couple of blocks from Main Street, so we were able to walk to a lot of the places we went. We stayed in a small house (Adams Travis House) that was perfect for us. Really, we didn’t spend much time in the house because we spent a lot of time out and about around town. Being close to Main Street was great because we could walk to a lot of the shops and restaurants.

    One of our first stops was the Fredericksburg Brewery to try their brews. We did samplers of all their beers, and were really impressed. We especially liked the Fritztown Brown Ale, Not So Dumb Blonde Ale, and Peacepipe Pale Ale. Afterwards, we walked another block to Auslander for an excellent dinner. Another restaurant we really enjoyed was Der Lindenbaum (Note: it’s cash only). We went on Valentine’s evening for an early dinner. It’s a smaller restaurant and we didn’t want to wait, so we opted to dine earlier than we normally do.

    Relaxing on the front porch of the Adams Travis House.
    Relaxing on the front porch of the house we stayed in while visiting Fredericksburg.

    One day we visited the National Museum of the Pacific War, and it was a really great museum. I love visiting museums, so this was a top spot for me. It took us a while to go through the George Bush Gallery (main museum), and then we walked around the grounds to see the Memorial Courtyard, Plaza of Presidents, and Japanese Garden of Peace. We also walked through the Admiral Nimitz Museum, but that didn’t take very long. In all it was a little more than half day thing for us.

    Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead at the LBJ State Park.
    Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead at the LBJ State Park.

    Another day we visited the LBJ State Park & National Historical Park. That was a lot of fun, and we saw more than I had planned on seeing. I knew about the Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead (living history farm), which was the main reason I wanted to go, but I didn’t know about some of the other things. The park is a working ranch, so be aware of the livestock that roams the grounds. We stopped at the visitor center and got a CD for the self-guided tour (free, just return the CD when you finish). Then we drove the the park listening to the CD and learning more about the history of the area. We did stop at each of the sites (one-room Junction School, reconstructed birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, Show Barn, and Texas White House). The Park Service offers a tour of the Texas White House ($3 per person) that we took. They’ve modeled the house as it would have been in the 1960’s during Johnson’s presidency, not during the 2000’s when Lady Bird passed away. All-in-all, it was a great day trip. It’s about 15 miles east of Fredericksburg, so a short drive, and with all the stops we finished mid afternoon.

    Wineries. So many wineries in the Fredericksburg area. We did visit two, Woodrose Winery and Grape Creek Vineyards. Both are located on Highway 290 east of Fredericksburg. Honestly, we were a bit disappointed in Woodrose. While the ambiance was good, the wine wasn’t great. They do a table top service, which was nice because the other wineries don’t offer that. They also have a sweet golden retriever that laid near our table and occasionally stopped by to be loved on. We tasted all of the wines they offered, and several of them had too much sediment. Our favorite wines at Woodrose were the Texas Port, White Merlot, and Sea Breeze. For Grape Creek, the ambiance was okay, and the wine was good. They had a nice bar to walk up and taste their wines. We each had a wine tasting and also enjoyed a glass while sitting on their outdoor patio. Our favorite wines at Grape Creek were the Grand Rouge, Bellissimo, and Cabernet Blanc. We did not have time to take a tour of any of the wineries, which would have been a lot of fun and added to the experience. Maybe next time we’re in the area we can make a tour.

    Another stop along the way (or rather slightly out of the way, but close enough to go see) was Luckenbach. Not much to see during the day. Maybe if you go on a Friday or Saturday night when they have live performances. But now we’ve been to Luckenbach… where everybody’s somebody. It was worth stopping by, and is about a 15 minute drive from Fredericksburg.

    Longhorn Cavern State Park
    Entrance to the Longhorn Cavern.

    Our last detour was on the way back home. The Longhorn Cavern State Park was another slight detour, but well worth it. We got there just in time for the last tour of the day. It was a fun tour, and I think that both the science and the history of the cave were really interesting. For instance, science-wise I enjoyed seeing the different geologic formations and the hibernating bats, while history-wise I learned it had been used as a speakeasy during Prohibition and was a Civilian Conservation Corps project during the 1930’s, who did a lot of the work that is what you see today while on the tour.

    All-in-all, we had a great vacation. We got to go to new places and try new things. There is much more to see in the area, and a trip back would be a lot of fun.