Category - Travel

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REVIEW: Bledsoe State Park (TN)
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REVIEW: Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (Charleston, SC)
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REVIEW: Nashville’s Adventure Science Center
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REVIEW: Wilderness At the Smokies Resort (Gatlinburg, TN)
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REVIEW: Disney’s Disability Access Service Card

REVIEW: Bledsoe State Park (TN)

On Thursday I attended the last of a series of ceremonies marking the end of school. I ended up with one best smiler, one super reader and one fun friend. Say what you will about unnecessary pomp and circumstance but my kids’ teachers nailed it with their awards. We had a great year of school with tons of progress, growth and achievement. IEP meetings for Lola were smoother this year and there were less hurdles all around. We are better at advocating and anticipating her needs. The year went by so quickly compared to the year before. In fact, it went a little too quickly. Next year we will have a 2nd grader, two 1st graders and a mother’s day out preschooler. Liam is almost four, and while he loves being the baby of the family, he seems less and less my littlest everyday. I feel like I’m approaching the stage where I blink, and instead of awards for super reading my kids will be accepting diplomas.

Entering into the “big kid” stage definitely has it’s advantages. They pour milk, clean rooms and even lay out their outfits for the week. Life feels much less chaotic than the “Four, 5 years old and younger” category we lived in for awhile. Those new advantages were definitely tested this weekend when we headed out for our first of many family camping trips.

I was super excited to get the kids and head out so we checked out of school a little early and hit the road. We made reservations at Bledsoe State Park because it’s conveniently located just 30 minutes away. I’m an ambitious mommy so I told Calvin to just meet us there after work and planned to set up the site with the help of my four small ones. This actually went pretty well minus the excited youngest who wanted to run off and explore every 4 seconds. Bledsoe is a great little state park. They have excellent hiking trails, some that run along the water, and nice wooded campsites. The bathrooms are also clean and heated which was very nice on cold mornings. The Goodbye boys didn’t frequent the bathrooms often, as they were more interested in the bathroom freedoms the woods provide.

The days were spent hiking, relaxing, preparing camp meals, riding bikes and playing games. Man did the kids ride their bikes. Liam even conquered two wheels. And that’s the thing about family trips and memories. I love that we can look back and say “remember when Liam rode a 2-wheel for the first time?” And we will, because it was a big event taking place in the simplest of times. This may be the reason I’m obsessed with becoming a camping family. I grew up camping and I loved backpacking in college. Some of my clearest family memories come from campfire circles or hiking trails. And as I watch the kids grow and gain independence, the moments where my almost 8-year-old holds my hand for a moment while we walk toward the water will become increasingly rare. Camping also builds character. It creates a need to work together. Gathering wood, setting up camp, cleaning up after meals and making sure nothing is left to draw animals. We were also lucky enough to hit early tick season in Tennessee. (insert emoji that displays a completely stressed out mom face) I cannot handle ticks. Read WebMD, they are tiny killers on the loose. I picked them off the kids and dog regularly. I’m still checking necks, ears and crevices because they were THAT BAD. Another memory right??

We have a few more camping trips planned this Summer. Hopefully there will be less ticks. Hopefully. We are all genuinely looking forward to more challenging hikes, longer stays and more adventure. And for those of you who have yet to take the plunge I’ll continue to blog about camping gear and what made life a little easier in the great outdoors. And for those of you who have non-camping significant others… just buy them some cool hiking shorts, it will change their whole outlook. It worked for me!

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REVIEW: Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry (Charleston, SC)

Disclaimer: The folks at the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry very kindly provided our family admission for this review. As always, the opinions are my own.

Keeping with tradition, the Goodbye kids and I hit the road over Spring Break and trekked down to Charleston, SC. How we love the Lowcountry! We had the opportunity to check out a new adventure on this trip, The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry. The Museum has 9 very hands-on exhibits: The Art Room, Medieval Castle, Garden, Water Room, Pirate Room, The Market, Raceways, Infant/Toddler play space, and an outdoor area and Fire truck.

My kids, who range from 3- 7 1/2 years old, chose the Water Room, Raceways and the Medieval Castle room as their favorite activities. Raceways (ramps and golfballs!) and the Water Room are both very sensory experiences with water to touch, sounds to make and active play. And we loved seeing the poster for Water Missions International featured in the Water Room.

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The Pirate Room and Medieval Castle allowed the kids to really get into imaginary play. I thought we would never leave the castle!

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The Market gave the kids a chance to live out their desire to scan, bag and shop at the grocery store. ALL BY THEMSELVES. They were delighted to discover that the scanner actually worked, along with the cash register and payment system.

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The Outdoor area and Art room were interactive and fun as well.
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The Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry was a great experience overall. The kids were able to explore Lowcountry history and culture while participating in lots of sensory and imaginative experiences. If you are in the Charleston area, or visiting with kiddos this should definitely make your list of things to do. We can’t wait to visit and play again!

Parents of children with special needs, disabilities or sensory issues:
The best areas for Lola were the raceways, water room and the market. The Art Room workers brought her mounds of play dough and cookie cutters which was great. She enjoyed de-stressing a little and just taking a break from all of the movement. The museum is very accommodating, even providing a sensory friendly time twice each month.

Lola had some trouble with the medieval room. Lots of steps and low ceilings, places where ducking or crawling are necessary but I think with a little more lighting or color to identify the steps (I have already e-mailed this suggestion to the kind staff at the museum), she and others could navigate a little better. The Children’s Museum is open before hours from 10:00am -12:00pm the second and fourth Sundays of every month for children with special needs and their families to visit the Museum for FREE. Children are able to explore and play in the Museum without the crowds and over-stimulation. How about that! If you’re interested, registration is required, click here for more information.

 

REVIEW: Nashville’s Adventure Science Center

During the snowpocalypse charade that happened this month we found ourselves with days upon days off school. Once the roads were clear and school remained closed the goodbye kids and I really started to lose our minds.

To avoid total meltdown we loaded up in the van and headed to Nashville’s Adventure Science Center. I haven’t taken the kids in years and I was excited to see many new attractions and experiences. Our daughter Lola is legally blind and isn’t always able to fully participate in museum or center settings. We did not find that to be the case with the Adventure Science center. There were many instances were information was projected in large print and the hands-on activities were plentiful.

The large play structure that takes up the entire middle (and three floors!) of the Science center allowed the kids to explore music, sound, texture and even crawl and climb their way through the human body. My children were literally crawling through the chambers of the heart, talk about Kinaesthetic learning! This was huge for Lola, instead of struggling to look at a diagram or picture of a spine she was able to climb down one.

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The kids also enjoyed the woodworking area. They were free to choose their own materials and build whatever their minds could think up. They loved the the opportunity to use real tools and feel creative independence. Best part? You get to take your creations home!

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There is so much to do and see at the Science center, I’m barely scratching the surface here! After woodworking we enjoyed the planet/space area with LARGE scale planets and solar systems as well as a chance to experience walking on the moon. Then we headed upstairs and went through the digestive system. Just be prepared for the real-life sounds that accompany that experience. My kids found them to be excellent and hilarious.

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The Adventure Science center has a great membership plan. It was $100 for our family for an entire year. This was both affordable and cost-effective for us. The membership cost was actually less than the cost of 2 visits for our entire family. We have already made a second visit and discovered even more things to love about the Science Center. An additional membership perk was the access to free or discounted admission to 300+ science and technology centers around the country. For more information on the Adventure Science center click here.

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REVIEW: Wilderness At the Smokies Resort (Gatlinburg, TN)

It seems so appropriate, on this very snowy day, to share what we did on the last Nashville snow day. We Nashvillians aren’t really snow people. So after enduring days of school cancellations and snow and ice accumulation the kids and I jumped at the chance to get out of town once the roads were cleared. We live about 3 1/2 hours from Gatlinburg/Sevierville so it has definitely become our weekend getaway choice whenever the opportunity presents itself. There is so much to do and see as a family. We have our favorite spots like the Donut Friar, located in The Village Shops, and after this trip we have a new favorite place to stay, Wilderness at the Smokies.

Wilderness at the Smokies is a water park resort. They have both an indoor and outdoor water park area. The indoor water park area features 3 raft style water slides, a wave pool, regular pool, toddler water play area, washout mountain kids water play area (our favorite!), surf rider and a huge indoor/outdoor hot tub. The kids and I enjoyed swimming in and out of the hot tub area while the snow fell on our heads.

We left daddy at home during this spur-of-the-moment “cure our winter blues” trip and while it felt a little crazy managing the four with water around we still had a wonderful time. Because our kids ages range from 3-7 we spent most of our time at the Washout Mountain attraction. It has two kid friendly slides, waterworks, climbing structures and exploding geysers. I was able to position myself at the front while my kids ran wild. It was very safe for all of them. Wilderness does furnish life jackets so we took advantage of those as well.

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Special Needs Accomodation: When booking our room, the staff placed us in the same building as the indoor water park. This allowed us to stay in the building and have a shorter commute to the water park. This was huge! Lola had a great time on on the Surf Rider attraction. Because Lola could not see the boundary lines or navigate if she were to fall off the board they positioned a staff member on each side of her. I was so pleased to see them happily accommodate her and empower her to do the same activities as her sighted siblings.


We stayed in a studio suite and really enjoyed the rustic styling of the room. The ceilings are super high and there is a small kitchen area located in each studio suite. This made the room really functional for us as a family. The resort also has dining options and an arcade area. We did leave the resort one morning for our donut run and a trip to the outlets, which are super close, but it’s definitely a place you can just park the car and stay awhile.

The best thing about traveling alone with four kids to an indoor water park in the winter? They are so tired by bedtime from all the splashing and swimming that everyone sleeps solidly through the night. I didn’t hear a peep and got a great nights sleep! Bliss.

We can’t wait to head back to Wilderness at the Smokies and tackle the big slides and outdoor water park with daddy. It’s such an affordable getaway, as the water park tickets are included in the nightly room rate. If you are ready to cure your winter blues check out their spring break specials, because at this rate it’s still going to be snowing when Spring break rolls around in a couple of weeks.

 

REVIEW: Disney’s Disability Access Service Card

  • Hollywood Studios Light Display
  • Carribean Beach Resort
  • Frozen!
  • Mine Train!
  • Gaston's Tavern
  • Tusker House Breakfast
  • Everest

After one year of planning, making reservations and saving money our family made a grand visit to Disney World. We knew this would come with some challenges so we did our best to plan ahead, especially where Lola’s needs were concerned. She really had a great week and we were impressed with how the Cast Members (Disney employees) responded to her.

We were given a Disability Access Card, which I will refer to as the DAS card. This is a new system for kids and adults who aren’t able to wait in lines without great distress. Lola’s blindness and sensory issues make waiting in line very difficult, meltdowns etc. Trust me, we did the 40 minute wait for Buzz Lightyear without the DAS and it was a quasi-disaster.

The DAS card is basically waiting in line while out of line. To acquire the card you simply stop by the customer service area at the front of the park, explain the disability and why it makes lines difficult. We were asked very little questions and it was a very smooth process. They took Lola’s picture and printed out a little card with her name and photo on the front.

To use the card you simply hand it to the cast member at the front of each ride and they write a return time on the card. The return time is the current wait time minus 10 minutes. So if the Mine Train wait was 70 minutes our return would be an hour later. We were able to ride other rides with short wait times, eat a meal, take in the Christmas decor or rest a little. We also utilized fast pass so DAS wasn’t necessary with all rides. The cast members were always friendly and although the pass was only for 6 people they had no problem allowing more family members to ride with Lola. We were also allowed to sit in the very front for events like the Frozen Sing Along.

In addition to finding success with the DAS card we also found the characters and cast members quick to pick up on Lola’s extra needs and respond appropriately. For example, the characters recognized Lola’s need to get super close and to touch their costumes. They would take her hand and put it on their nose (Mickey) or bend down toward her face. We typically didn’t mention her eyes, but it was clear they realized that her experience needed to be slightly different.

Lola was also chosen to take part in a few shows. We were hesitant at first but once we informed the cast members they were sure to guide her and give her extra cues, no problem. Lola even played the part of the Beast, dancing with Belle as the story was told.

IMG_0538We had a great week at Disney, celebrating our family and spending time with extended family. We hope to return again in a few years to relive all the fun and excitement. Despite the changes to the disability system I still give Disney a thumbs up in this department.

All Content © Erica Ho, Goodbye Normal