Figuring out where to stay when traveling to a popular tourist destination like Gulf Shores can quickly become overwhelming, especially if this is your first visit. There are a ton of factors to consider, and of course, everyone’s situation is unique. What kinds of amenities are offered? How far away is it from the places we want to visit? Luckily, for those traveling to Foley, Alabama with the intention of going to The Parks at OWA, I’m going to share exactly where to stay and what the OWA hotel in Foley is like so that you can experience less stress in your planning and enjoy your vacation!
(We received a sponsored stay from TownePlace Suites at Marriot in Foley in exhange for an honest review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. For more information, please read our Disclosure Policy.)
OWA’s TownePlace Suites by Marriott
One of the best perks about staying at the official OWA hotel in Foley, Alabama is that it is just steps away from The Park at OWA, Downtown OWA, and the Foley Sports Tourism Complex. If you’re traveling with young kids (or even if not), it is a huge bonus to be able to walk five minutes back to your hotel room, whether it’s to grab snacks, put the kids down for a nap, or just enjoy some downtime.
The TownePlace Suites by Marriott OWA hotel in Foley offers some awesome amenities to make a family trip less stressful and more enjoyable. For instance, each room comes complete with upgraded kitchens full of dishes and cookware and full-size appliances. When my own children were younger, this was a neccessity to help with washing bottles and deliver on the never-ending requests for snacks.
Additionally, the suites offer an indoor pool, which can offer some relief for unplanned rainy days, an outdoor firepit with views of Downtown OWA, and a 24/7 fitness center.
Those traveling with furry friends may also be pleased to hear that the OWA hotel in Foley is pet-friendly.
For us, one of the main selling points was the free, hot breakfast spread offered each morning. Not having to get fully packed up and ready to search for a breakfast place with toddlers can help avoid some hangry meltdowns!
However, those looking to go out and eat also have the option of walking a few feet to any of the restaurants located at Downtown OWA as well. For late-nighters and items needed after-hours, the hotel also has a small convenience section located near the front desk.
The OWA hotel in Foley offers studio, one or two bed, or one-bedroom suite options. Those who opt for a studio or one-bedroom suite will find that it also includes a pullout sofa as well.
As mentioned previously, each suite also includes a kitchen with full-size appliances. It is perfect for carrying back leftovers from one of the many restaurants available at Downtown OWA or stocking up to save some money on your trip!
Overall, rooms here are clean, spacious, and convenient.
Currently, the hotel at OWA in Foley does not offer the most spectacular of views, although some rooms may include views of the fountain, Downtown OWA, or The Park at OWA. However, for others, this may be subject to change. The Park at OWA is expanding and undergoing construction, but will have exciting new features and attractions in the future.
The Nearby Area
If you’re planning to visit The Park at OWA, Downtown OWA, or the Foley Sports Tourism Complex, the OWA hotel in Foley is the place to stay. Most notably, it is so nice being on-site to so many great attractions. However, there are still plenty of other things to do nearby as well!
If you’re looking for shopping, the Tanger Outlets are located just 2 miles from the hotel. Nearby Gulf Shores, Alabama is less than 10 miles away and one of the hottest tourist destinations in the country. Outside of the beautiful beaches, there is also the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, Foley Civic Center, and plenty of golf coarses, attractions, and restaurants nearby.
Have you visited OWA in Foley, Alabama yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Located just minutes from the beautiful coast of Gulf Shores, this family-friendly destination is packed with activities and experiences that everyone will enjoy. Owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians tribe, OWA combines modern attractions with a timeless feel. The Park at OWA in Foley is beautifully designed with a convenient layout. Additonally, although it currently operates with plenty to offer, there are plans in the works for even bigger possibilities coming in the near future. I’m sharing reasons why we love visiting OWA, as well as insider tips to make the most of your trip!
(We received complimentary passes from The Park at OWA in exchange for an honest review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. For more information, please read our Disclosure Policy.)
1. OWA in Foley is more than just an amusement park
Although the 14-acre Park at OWA in Foley does boast an impressive amount of theme park attractions, there is even more to discover right outside the park gates.
Covering a massive 520 acres in total, this family-friendly destination includes the Downtown OWA area, with shops, restaurants, and plenty of unique experiences and events, the Foley Sports Tourism Complex, the centerpiece lake with nightly light show, on-site hotel within walking distance, and an island.
Just take a leisurely stroll down the streets through Downtown OWA to the entrance of the park, and it’s easy to see why it was named “Attraction of the Year” by Alabama’s Tourism Department.
Once inside the Park at OWA in Foley, you’ll be treated to even more surprises. The Park has a line of old-school carnival games, including ring toss, balloon pop, ball in the basket, whack-a-mole, and more.
My toddler was thoroughly entertained by fishing while his big sister rode some of the big kid rides.
Tip: Carnival games are cash-only! However, if you forget to bring cash, there is an ATM located at the end of the row of games.
There is also a retail store conveniently located at the front entrance. While it houses the traditional amusement park souvenirs, you can also find reasonably priced necessities that you may have forgotten. I’m looking at you, moms of littles. This includes sunscreen, swim diapers, wipes, and snacks and drinks.
However, one of the gems for our family was the Wacky Waters Splash Pad. On a hot, summer day in the Gulf Coast, this is the perfect place to cool off from the blazing sun.
Tip: Kids cannot get back on any of the rides until they are completely dry, so plan accordingly & bring a change of clothes!
Parents, there are also three covered cabanas here free of charge. They are generously sized and offer a perfect view of the 10,000 square feet of the interactive splash pad and your littles while enjoying the shade.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that they are free?
2. There is something for everyone
Don’t be fooled by the park’s seemingly modest size. There really is something for everyone here.
We traveled with my tall, roller coaster loving six-year-old, and more timid, two-year-old toddler who barely meets any height requirments, and both had plenty of things to do!
OWA in Foley boasts seven thrill rides for those who love to go fast, upside down, or take on new heights. Rollin’ Thunder, the park’s signature ride, features a 55 mph coaster complete with a 90-degree vertical drop into a water-splash effect and four inversions. Here you’ll also find the epic Wave Rider, which is one of only three rides of this style in the country.
Tip: Don’t miss out on Rollin’ Thunder, which was ranked the #8 top roller coaster in the U.S. in 2017!
However, there are still plenty of family-friendly rides and attractions for tots, toddlers, and those who prefer a milder attraction. This includes the iconic spinning tea cups ride, Southern Express, a smaller, gentler roller coaster, a flying carousel, and much more.
3. It’s all in the details
First impressions, you’ll notice that the Park at OWA in Foley and Downtown OWA are insanely clean. No joke. The park, which initially opened in 2017, is in pristine condition. Like, eat off of the ground clean. I don’t know about you, but I can appreciate this anywhere I’m spending money or taking my kids.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is an insane amount of bathrooms, including family bathrooms. Whether you need to change into dry clothes after spending time at the splash pad, or just need a quick restroom trip, you never have to venture more than a few feet to find one.
Traveling can be such an awe-inspiring, eye-opening adventure. If you’ve hung around the blog long enough, you know that our little family loves to travel and hopes to inspire others. However, it doesn’t come without its share of stressful and even downright dangerous times. Kevin Heath said, “Wherever there is a human in need, there is an opportunity for kindness and to make a difference.” I’ve asked travel bloggers to share random acts of travel kindness that they’ve experienced from around the world. Inspired by own heartfelt story, these true travel tales will restore your faith in humanity. So grab a box of tissues, and read on for some uplifting and inspiring travel stories.
1. Stranger on a Plane
This occurred just after my daughter’s first birthday, in 2014. We were military dependents, slowly making our way back to the U.S. from our temporary home in South Korea. In a seriously misguided effort to save a few hundred dollars on our return flights, I booked a trip that took us from Seoul, South Korea, to San Francisco, California, across the States to Washington D.C. for no apparent reason, back to somewhere in Michigan, before finally landing in Chicago. (Seriously, never again).
Before the trip, I felt relatively confident I could handle it no problem. At the last minute, the military extended my husband’s orders. This meant he had to stay behind in South Korea, and I would be flying alone. However, my toddler was already a frequent flyer thanks to the military lifestyle. I thought I had it handled.
I didn’t realize that I would have to retrieve my baggage when we arrived in San Francisco. There was no way of knowing I would have to lug all of our bags, her stroller, carseat, and carry-ons, back through security by myself. Or that my daughter would be teething at the time and scream through most of the red-eye flight leaving Korea while weary passengers glared at me as I desperately tried to calm her by walking her up and down the aisles.
Tip: If you see someone traveling with young kids and you’re able to help, please offer. They may not accept, but will be grateful you did!
By the second leg of our journey, it had been over 48 hours since I’d slept. I could barely keep my eyes open. I mean, exhausted. Unfortunately, my daughter slept through our harried airport fiasco. On the next flight, she was a tiny energizer bunny.
If I wasn’t so tired, I could have cried the entire flight. Instead, I found myself next to a military officer, maybe a few years older than myself. The first kind stranger I encountered on my journey shared that he and his wife had been stationed in Italy. He told me about their own children, and how he imagined his wife might have gone through something similar when traveling home alone with their kids to visit family.
Then, he offered to watch my rambunctious one-year-old so that I could get some sleep. At first, I objected. I wasn’t trying to pawn my baby off on someone else. As tired as I was, this was on me. Fortunately, he persisted. I think he knew I was lying to myself, and I finally agreed. As I began to finally cave in and drift off, I watched my daughter happily play a game on his ipad next to me.
I’m sorry to say I don’t know his name or anything about it. I have never forgotten this incredible gesture. In the years since then, I’ve tried to pay it forward. Any times I’ve seen someone in an airport who seemed to be struggling, especially those with young kids, I’ve offered to help. So, to the stranger on the plane that day in 2013, I was too exhausted then to put it into words but I hope somehow you know, that I am eternally grateful. Those seemingly small random acts of travel kindness meant a world of difference.
2. Stranded in India
My random acts of travel kindness story takes place in India. Catching public transport in India can be a challenging adventure, as I learned on my journey from Delhi to Kanha National Park where I was hoping to spot some tigers in the wild. My train departed Delhi 3 hours late and from a different platform to the one printed on my ticket. But this was only the beginning.
The second leg of the journey was a bus ride from Jabalpur to Kanha. But this time, the bus wasn’t late, it wasn’t coming at all. According to the ticket seller, it was held up at a police station somewhere on route.
That same ticket seller convinced me to jump on the already departing bus to Mandla. They promised that there would be a bus to Kanha from there. By the time I arrived in Mandla, the sun had already set. This town I’ve never even heard of before was lost under the cover of darkness. When I enquired about a bus to Kanha, I was assured there was not going to be one. Not today at any rate.
Tip: If you see someone who looks lost and you know the area well, don’t be afraid to ask if they need directions or help getting to their destination.
I was too mentally exhausted to start looking for accommodation. Instead, I simply sat at the bus stop feeling sorry for myself. And then, after about an hour, a man came up to me. He announced that the bus was leaving for Kanha shortly. Hardly believing my luck, I climbed into the empty bus. It wasn’t until it took off that I realized I was going to be the only passenger. The conductor, who was the man that approached me at the bus stop, collected my 30-rupee fare. For the next four hours, we drove in silence through the night.
When we finally arrived at Katya village on the outskirts of Kanha National Park, I was so grateful to the two men (the driver and the conductor) who sacrificed their evening to drive me across the state, that I offered them a generous tip. Yet, the conductor politely refused. Instead, saying: “You are a guest in my country, so I look after you.” This bus ride was perhaps the kindest thing a stranger ever did for me. And symbolized India for me. It can drive you mad with its ways and then stun you with the beauty of its spirit.
When I first started travelling, I was horrified by the number or people I was seeing in my hostels having suffered from bike injuries. I made a vow to myself that throughout my six weeks travelling in South East Asia I would not, under any circumstances, rent a bike. No way, safety first.
Two weeks before my time in Thailand was due to end I was walking down the street on a particularly hot day in Chiang Mai. As I passed by a motorbike I accidentally stood too close and the exhaust pipe singed my leg. I stood crying at the side of the road. A Thai woman saw me and walked me to the local pharmacy.
Tip: When you can, buy local! It helps support the community and the families who live there.
Once there, the pharmacy staff started applying this white ointment to my leg and told me it would take the heat out. When I asked them what this mystery cream was called they replied with one word: “toothpaste.” To this day, I still don’t know whether it actually worked or whether the shock of what happened lessened the pain. Either way, it’s a pretty funny story to share. Not only did I experience this act of kindness while traveling, I’ve been left with this crescent moon shaped scar that’s actually begun to grow on me!
One night during a business trip in Xiamen, China, I became very sick and was up all night. Luckily the Xiamen C&D Hotel I was staying in had an on-site doctor who came to see me early in the morning. She recommended I go to the hospital as she had limited resources to assist me further at the hotel.
I was terrified at the thought of going to a hospital in this part of China. Very few people spoke English and I was extremely weak. I would have to try and explain my symptoms with the risk of being misunderstood. Additionally, this meant standing in queues at the hospital with my energy level as low as it was.
To my surprise, the hotel arranged that one of their staff members accompany me to the hospital in a taxi. Her name was Echo. She had a very calming, kind, patient and respectful demeanour which I couldn’t have appreciated more at a difficult time like this.
Traveling to Paris, France had been at the top of my bucket list since I was a young girl. However, while there, we ended up taking a quick day trip to nearby Versailles. I was blown away by the contrast of simple, natural beauty and grandoise elegance found around the charming town. Since we’ve returned home, I’ve been experiencing some serious wanderlust to visit Versailles again and explore everything there is to offer. Until then, I’m sharing twenty breathtaking photos to inspire you to visit Versailles.
Tickets to the Palace of Versailles
The original Golden Gates were torn down during the French Revolution
Even the doors are beautiful. The kids are kind of cute too.
The Golden Gate of Versailles
The Royal Chapel
The War Salon
The beautiful painted ceilings inside the palace
The Royal Bedroom
There is just so much to love about the City of Love. It makes it easy to get lost wandering down the romantic, winding streets, browsing the famous artworks, and discovering some of the top cuisine worldwide. There are many reasons why Paris is one of the top travel destinations. However, there are hidden gems and can’t miss sites just beyond the historic capital. I’ve teamed up with some of the top travel bloggers around the world to create a list of the best day trips from Paris.
Best Day Trips from Paris
Whether you’re a solo traveler, visiting Paris with kids, seeking adventures, or looking to relax, France has it all. That’s why it’s so important to remember that there is more to the country than just it’s capital city. Luckily, there are several options to escape the bustling Parisian streets and explore more of the nearby region.
While there is so much more to discover, here are our picks for the best day trips from Paris.
1. Mont St. Michel
All of northern France is beautiful, however, Le Mont Saint Michel is a particular jewel. The imposing abbey rises out of the water, looking like something out of a fairytale – or perhaps a Hollywood movie. It’s a “pinch yourself” place. Best of all, it’s easily accessible, making it one of the best day trips from Paris.
Visiting Mont Saint Michel in a day does require a bit of planning and an early start, since it’s approximately 362 kilometres (225 miles) from downtown Paris. As Mont Saint Michel is one of the best day trips from Paris, however, there are regular buses and trains daily.
The trip takes about four hours each way, so it’s best to set off from Paris as early as possible in the morning. Mont Saint Michel gets crowded by the early afternoon, so the earlier you can arrive the better – it’s at its most beautiful when it is more deserted. The towering Abbey opens at 9 am, so leaving Paris on the first train around 7:00 am is a good idea. If you are driving, you can set off even earlier.
There is a bus that will take you from the Visitor’s Center to near the base of Mont Saint Michel, but you can also quite easily walk down the causeway, taking in the beautiful views. Once you’re on the island, a hodgepodge of narrow lanes takes you to the stunning Abbey.
Parts of the Abbey date back to the 8th century, although construction wasn’t completed until 1523, so it’s a mix of architectural styles. The Abbey also enjoys an amazing viewpoint back over the French coast.
After visiting the Abbey and taking in the views, there are plenty of souvenir shops and cafés to visit before returning back to Paris.
If you are interested in Impressionist art or love beautiful natural settings, Giverny is a must-see place during your time in France. This little village is about an hour from Paris and is where Claude Monet lived and worked for about half of his life.
The biggest attraction in this town is Monet’s house and gardens. As a lover of nature, Monet spent much time and money cultivating two incredible gardens—Clos Normond (the flower garden right next to his pink and green house) and the Japanese garden (connected to the main property by a tunnel). You will likely recognize the iconic Japanese garden from his water lily and Japanese bridge series of paintings that are now scattered across the globe in famous art museums.
Getting to Giverny is easy by train to the Vernon—Giverny station (45 minutes to an hour) or by car (1-1.5 hours). While taking a train is nice as it allows you to see the scenery, taking a car allows for maximum flexibility in seeing Giverny and the surrounding areas.
Whether you spend half a day or the whole day exploring Giverny and Monet’s gardens, you will depart from this beautiful slice of the French countryside with a sense of awe and an understanding of why Monet chose to dedicate so much of his life to painting his beautiful gardens! This is truly a beautiful place that brings Impressionist art to life.
Versailles remains one of the most popular and best day trips from Paris, and for good reason! Located just an hour from the capital, this charming town is home to the infamous Château de Versailles. From it’s golden gates, to the sprawling gardens, the palace has something for everyone. History buffs can walk down the Hall of Mirrors and stand in the extravaggent apartmets of the ill-fated Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI.
It’s easy to spend an entire day lost in the beauty of the Palace of Versailles, however, the city offers so much more. For adventurous day-trippers, the gardens and surrounding area has bikes for rent, rowing boats, walking trails, and segway tours. Families traveling with kids from Paris can enjoy Marie Antoinette’s hamlet, which includes fairytale-like cottages and small petting zoo.
Versailles also offers small cafes, shops, and brasseries that are typically more relaxed than some found in the bustling capital city. It also plays host to a wide variety of markets. For those who love the architecture and history with the famed gothic cathedrals may be interested visiting the Notre-Dame de Versailles. Also of interest is the Versailles Cathedral, which was initially established by Louis XV and withstood the turmoil of the French Revolution.
How to get to Versailles from Paris
Traveling from Paris to Versailles is inexpensive, simple, and quick. First, keep in mind that Paris is served by both the RER and metro lines. As the metro lines serve the city of Paris, you’ll be looking for the RER to get to Versailles.
Take the RER C line to the Versailles Château Rive Gauche stop. This generally will take an hour, give or take, depending on where you are located in the city. Upon arrival, the chateau is a short, walk of around ten minutes. There will be signs everywhere leading the way!
The D-Day beaches in Normandy are another one of the most popular and best day trips from Paris. If you want to see just one site in Europe about World War II then this would be a great one to do as it had such an impact on the outcome of the war. The landings took place along the Normandy coastline near the town of Bayeaux and there’s actually quite a lot of remnants of the war that can be seen.
There’s a nice town called Arromanches-sur-les-Bains where you can clearly see the remains of a temporary harbour that was built once the beaches were secured. This allowed Allied tanks and troops to enter mainland Europe. Of course, each beach is also filled with monuments to the fallen soldiers too and plenty of museums to fill in any knowledge gaps. If you can, visit St Mere Eglise. It was the first liberated town and has an interesting story about a parachutist getting stuck on the church. To this day, there’s a dummy parachutist on the church steeple to remember him and his story.
Travelling to Paris with kids? Mais, oui! What could be more magical than traversing around the City of Lights with little ones? There is so much to enjoy from the culture, to the renowned cuisine, breathtaking architecture, and amazing history. Although it’s often seen as a romantic getaway, there are lots of things to do in Paris with kids. Read on for the top spots and best tips for an unforgettable Paris family vacation!
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Planning Your Paris Family Vacation
A trip to Paris with kids is not your typical poolside or theme park family vacation, and that is part of what makes it so amazing. However, for those traveling to Paris with toddlers or young children especially, making this an epic and unforgettable experience may take some planning.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get young ones excited about going to Paris! Our little ones loved the familiarization with a place that they’ve gotten to know through treasured stories and movies. For example, we read a lot of the Madeline books and Eloise prior to leaving. On the plane, our children watched movies set in the famed city. Ratatouille and Leap are favorites in our home!
Older children might enjoy this scavenger hunt travel book. This keepsake guide takes kids through the major landmarks of Paris, searching for clues along the way. With amazing reviews and ability to keep even older adolescents entertained, it’s definitely worth checking out!
It also helps to buy your tickets for certain sites in advance. For our family, we tend to make an itinerary but wait to purchase tickets for attractions until we are there. When traveling with kids, you never know what can happen and sometimes the plans may change last minute!
However, if you are absolutely certain that you’ll be visiting that attraction, it might be worth looking into. Some sites in particular offer front of the line passes with advanced purchase. Any time reduced spending in line with toddlers or babies is usually worth it!
Things to do in Paris with kids
There are so many things to do in Paris with kids, and even France in general. This is our list of the top, must-do activities and experiences!
1. Eiffel Tower
Of course, the Eiffel Tower is one of the top things to do in Paris with kids. While we didn’t plan to make this a huge focus on our last family trip to Paris, we ended up there on multiple days! The Eiffel Tower is such an iconic landmark that even younger kids recognize it and have fun pointing it out no matter where you end up in the city.
It offers an exciting experience for everyone in the family. Whether they are climbing the stairs to the top, pointing out the sites from the breathtaking views, or running around beneath the tower, the Eiffel Tower is a can’t miss on any Paris family itinerary.
Tip: Strollers are allowed on the Eiffel Tower, but be prepared to take everything out and fold it up as it’s required on the elevator!
If you’re planning to stay for the day, spread out at Champ de Mars with a picnic. Oftentimes, there are live music and street performers at nearby Trocadéro. My little ones had a blast just running after the pigeons!
Don’t forget to check out the Eiffel Tower at night as well. After sunset, the Eiffel Tower lights up and that’s when the magic really starts.
Tip: In the summer, the lightshow starts late, after 10 PM. My kids didn’t make it!
If traveling with younger children, there are lots of nearby restaurants and cafes that offer excellent views of the Eiffel Tower so they can snack, rest, or hang out while you wait for a show.
If you’re traveling to Paris with kids, the Eiffel Tower is a can’t miss experience. It’s something you and your kids will never forget!
Paris has a certain, je ne sais quoi, that is pure magic. I believe part of that is the vintage, random merry-go-rounds sprinkled throughout the city. No matter how old you are, happening upon those old Parisian carousels can transport you straight back to childhood.
For those traveling to Paris with kids, riding at least one of the carousels is a must-do experience. For those with littles, the vintage rides set against the gorgeous city backdrop create memories that will last.
Although they can be found throughout Paris, our top picks include the Trocadero Carousel, adjacent to the majestic Warsaw Fountain, and of course, the Tour Eiffel Carousel, located just below the twinkling tower.
Heading to the Jardin des Plantes? Not only is the park itself one of the best things to do in Paris with kids, but it also has one of the most unique carousel experiences in the world. Here, children can choose from riding some extinct animals, including a triceratops or the dodo bird!
3. Notre Dame
While not typically thought of when considering things to do in Paris with kids, Notre Dame Cathedral was a hit with my little ones. Or, as my daughter calls it, “the church where Quasimodo lives!” Thanks to the magic of Disney and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the stunning gothic cathedral provided my children with the experience of bringing their own history and familiar characters to life.
Tip: Don’t be deterred by a seemingly long line. Ours had several hundred people but moved very quickly!
Besides the beauty of the church itself, there is some amazing history within Notre Dame. Religious families may also enjoy the opportunity to discuss the reverent history here. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that on the first Friday of the month, the Crown of Thorns is displayed.
Just outside, a small playground offers little ones the chance to get their energy out after being shushed in the cathedral. It’s also a great place to enjoy the views of the Seine River and watch the boats pass by.
While younger children may not be able to fully appreciate the reverent history and stunning architectural features of Notre Dame, it remains a magical experience and one of the best things to do in Paris with kids.
When we first moved to Alaska, I was confident about getting through their famously harsh winters. I had grown up in Chicago after all. Lake effect snow, winter vortex, sleet, icy roads, below freezing winds? I had seen it all, or so I thought. Because of this, I gave no thought to following the advice of the hardcore Alaskans, the ones who have lived here for decades in the icy Interior. That first winter, I ended up paying the price! In the midst of our second winter, with several feet of snow, only a few hours of daylight, and temperatures that dipped close to negative 50 degrees, I implemented the weird tips and tricks with my own family and watched it work firsthand. Whether you live in Alaska or not, winter can have negative effects on everyone. Read on to see what some of the toughest people do to help themselves and their kids beat the winter blues!
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What does it mean to beat the winter blues?
So, what exactly are the winter blues? Typically, this term is used to describe sadness, decreased energy, loss of motivation, and depressive symptoms that occur during the winter season. Clinically, these symptoms are to a lesser extent than what would be seen in a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Psychiatrists estimate that approximately 14% of adults in the United States experience the winter blues.
While more severe symptoms may require therapeutic treatment, Alaskans have utilized these methods to help beat the winter blues and combat the effects of long, harsh winters in extreme conditions.
1. Invest in a happy light
For some people, frigid temperatures, less time spent outside, and diminishing sunlight can leave them feeling sluggish, irritable, and unproductive. In Fairbanks, we receive just 3.5 hours of daylight on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
For this reason, many Alaskans and their kids regularly use a happy light to help beat the winter blues. Recent research shows that routine use of this intervention can drastically reduce the severity of symptoms seen in the more severe SAD cases.
In the winter months, most people in colder climates are apt to spending less time outside. This can lead to a lack of adequate sunlight, which is linked to Vitamin D deficiency. Research shows that a deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to an increased risk in higher rates of certain cancers, skin diseases, mood disorders, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, and more.
To help raise Vitamin D levels, try providing your kids with Vitamin D rich foods, such as fatty fish such as tuna or salmon, mushrooms, orange juice, egg yolks, and some dairy products including milk and cheese.
Vitamin D supplements are also available for children. Alaskans recommend beginning Vitamin D supplementation in late summer to fully combat the effects of Vitamin D deficiency. As always, ask your child’s pediatrician before starting them on a supplement.
Kids are full of energy and in the winter months, this can be more challenging in times when going outside is not an option. Take a tip from Alaska and schedule time for indoor activities where kids can run around and expel some of this energy. Going to the gym or an indoor play place, or signing up for lessons such as swimming, dance, or indoor sports can be great ways to give your kids increased exercise to help beat the winter blues.
In Alaska, they have conformed to this idea by bringing the outdoors inside. Indoor playplaces, soccer fields, and even an indoor waterpark in Anchorage are common!
Alaskans are notorious for breaking up the winter with a vacation. So much so that Alaska Airlines runs a special every October with discounted fares out of Alaska to California, Hawaii, Mexico, and more. Research shows that even the act of planning for a vacation can increase happiness levels.
So save those frequent flyer miles or look for great deals on flights, plan a small weekend roadtrip, and relax with your kids with a change of pace and scenery to help beat the winter blues.
Kids need socialization and this can be especially important during the winter when staying indoors can lead to cabin fever and the winter blues. Fairbanks is well known for having a tight-knit community, something that has helped generations since the first pioneers survive and thrive in the harsh climate.
It’s normal to feel like you want to hibernate in the cold, winter months. However, be proactive and help you and your kids beat the winter blues by scheduling playdates and family time. Board games, card games, crafts, science experiments, art projects, and more creative activities can help your kids keep their brains sharp and save your own sanity during these long winter days.
If symptoms of the winter blues in you or your kids continue or worsen, talk to your doctor or therapist about other changes that may be necessary to get through these winter months.
Do you have any tips to help beat the winter blues? Let us know in the comments below!
Instilling a sense of gratitude in children is vitally important in raising an appreciative child. However, it goes even further than that. Researchers have shown that practicing gratitude regularly has decreased rates of depression and stress, reduced toxic thinking, had positive impacts on heart health, and improved overall mental health, happiness, and well-being. Amazingly, studies have shown these effects can last well into adulthood. Teaching children can take some creative thinking to make a strong impression. Here are 25 inspiring and unique activities on gratitude for kids that you’ll want to start practicing today!
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Why Activities on Gratitude are Important
Activities on gratitude are so important. For children and adolescents, it means learning skills to help them cope with stressors in life, be more mindful, and create habits that can serve them throughout their lives. Better functioning, improved mental health, closer relationships, the reasons are endless. Yet, outside of Thanksgiving, a lot of well-meaning parents don’t make this a regular habit.
It definitely should be. Research shows that just 5 minutes a day practicing gratitude can increase long-term happiness and well-being by 10%. Considering that practicing gratitude and most activities on gratitude are free, there really is no downside here.
1. Identify the positives
It sounds simple, doesn’t it? If you want to teach your kids how to be grateful, help them name exactly what it is they have to be grateful for in life. How often do you do this with them now?
Include the little things that even many adults often take for granted.
Parents of younger kids can help instill this by making it a habit. No excuses here, this works for those with even the busiest of schedules. Ask them questions and process their responses, whether it’s in the car line at school, or at night before bed. If your child had a bad day, help them look for the positives in that situation.
You can make this into a game, take turns going back and forth, or if your family is religious or spiritual, you can do this through prayer as well.
2. Create a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude journals are an excellent way to encourage children and teens to identify and express gratitude and appreciation in a creative way. Younger children may also be encouraged to start making their own journals through drawing or artwork depicting blessings in their life.
To foster the creative elements of these activities on gratitude, the journal does not have to be a simple list of things that they are thankful for. Rather, it can include drawings, questions fostering deep thinking, photographs, and more.
Activities on gratitude for kids should be fun! Not only will this help keep their interest, but creative and interesting elements are more likely to stand out in their mind and be rememebered. That’s why playing a game is a great way to instill gratitude that is more likely to have long-lasting results.
One way to do this is through a game of Gratitude Charades. It can be played just like regular charades, but with a twist. Instead of having everyone write down answers to a category, have them think of different ideas related to gratitude. Here are some examples:
I am thankful for…
An amazing thing that happened to me was…
One act of kindness I witnessed was…
I feel so lucky that…
Be creative! Be sure to encourage players to write down more than generic responses. Responses that are thoughtful, specific, and unique will make for a great game! After everyone has written down their answers, collect them in a bowl and play!
4. Gratitude Bingo
Speaking of games, I created this awesome free printable game of Gratitude Bingo.
Just like regular Bingo, this version is full of things we can be grateful for everyday. It’s another fun game to help practice gratitude and promote discussions on being thankful and expressing this in our daily lives.
As a bonus, it can be played with younger kids to even older teens. Most people can get down with a good game of Bingo!
This free printable gratitude PDF includes a call card that can be cut into pieces and drawn and called out, and five separate playing cards.
5. Give them a job to do
Although it has turned somewhat controversial these days, don’t underestimate the importance of giving children chores, tasks, or something important to do within the household.
A recent psychological study confirmed what we already know. That giving children chores at a young age has positive, long-lasting results.
According to researcher Marty Rossmann, “By involving children in tasks, parents teach their children a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance, and self-worth that stays with them throughout their lives.”
In fact, the study, which took place over 25 years, reinforced that the best predictor of success in early adulthood was whether the individual completed household chores between the ages of 3 and 4 years old.
So hand your kid a mop, turn up the Whistle While You Work soundtrack, and watch their sense of gratitude and self-esteem blossom.
6. Perform random acts of kindness
One of the most effective ways to raising happy and appreciative children is by showing them the impact of doing for others. Helping others has been shown to increase happiness and well-being, give individuals a sense of purpose and satisfaction, and promote additional positive behaviors and self-esteem.
It also demonstrates to children that happiness comes from within. This is an incredibly important lesson in life. Sadly, many adults still don’t understand this concept. No matter what our situation in life, we can find happiness through practicing kindness to others.
Due to my husband’s career in the military, we were abruptly thrown into world traveling. When my daughter was only 2 months old, the Air Force handed my husband orders to Korea. Although completely unexpected, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since then, we have expanded our horizons and traveled around the world with both of our kids. In fact, inspiring others to do the same is one of the main reasons I started this blog!
There are several benefits to traveling with children, and teaching them gratitude is only one of them.
Children learn best through hands-on experience. Traveling can provide this through witnessing different cultures and ways of life. It shows that a lot of the thigns we complain about are trivial in comparision to other places. Traveling can deepen the respect for others and desire to help others in whatever ways we can.
Military nomads are familiar with this in a unique way also. Military brats (and spouses and servicemembers) learn very quickly through countless, frequent moves that the items that we can’t always take with us are not what’s most important.
8. Turn I Can’t into I Get to
The power of language is often overlooked. However, the very basis of cognitive behavioral therapy in psychology is the idea that our thoughts influence our emotions, and our emotions impact our behaviors.
Help children re-frame their thoughts early on, and it’s a skill that can get them through whatever life throws at them.
Whenever you hear them say “I have to” do something, change it into an “I get to” do this thing. The same goes for yourself. If you catch yourself saying something similar, change that thought and that statement. Remember that parental role-modeling speaks volumes louder than what we actually say to our kids!
I have to go to school today? No, I get to go to school today! How lucky am I to have access to education, resources, and a better opportunity for success one day!
See how that works? Now go and live it!
9. Create a gratitude jar
One of the most simple, yet effective activities on gratitude is creating a gratitude jar. It encourages youth of all ages to take the time to really think about what they are grateful for. That five minutes a day to spend practicing gratitude? This can be it right here!
Additionally, during difficult times, the jar is there filled with reminders that even on the darkest days, there is still so much to appreciate.
Since being named one of Oprah’s favorite things, the gratitude jar has exploded in popularity. You can even purchase this adorable gratitude jar for yourself, er, your kids.
However, don’t feel like you need to buy one. Any jar, vase, or mason glass would do just fine. Blogger Make It & Love It has free gratitude printables you can use to make your own DIY gratitude jar.
10. Write thank-you cards
Admittedly, when I was growing up, writing thank-you cards was a tortuous task. However, as an adult, I can appreciate the value that such a simple gesture can have on others. In today’s modern society, where receiving mail that isn’t junk is a rarity, it’s even more so.
Teach your children the importance of writing a thank-you card for gifts received, lessons learned, and the teachers and neighbors who have been there throughout the years. They may groan today, but they will thank you for it later. (See what I did there?)
Furthermore, thank-you cards or gestures can be extended to those who sacrifice for us through service. Military members, firefighters, police officers, are just a few of the everyday heros who deserve our gratitude.
Of course, volunteering remains a great way to instill appreciation and gratitude in children, while giving back to the community. Whether it is donating time, items, or money, volunteering promotes selflessness, generosity, and apprecition for what we have.
Unforunately, it is often overlooked outside of the holiday season despite being such a wonderful activity on gratitude. There are always charities and local organizations that would benefit from volunteers. Children may respond well to places that align with their own interests, such as an animal shelter for the kid who loves animals.
Volunteering can also be an activity that includes the entire family. This can increase parental-child bonds, create positive memories, and instill a sense of gratitude that lasts a lifetime.
12. Teach gratitude through reading
There is a reason why so many child therapists, including myself, incorporate reading into therapy sessions with younger clients. Children learn significantly through reading, and can remember more when it is told through a story mode rather than directly.
Looking for things to do in Destin, Florida? Sure, there is the beach, but the city is also home to the largest water park on the Florida’s Gulf Coast. Big Kahuna’s Destin is a great option for families with children of all ages. Home to water slides, wave pool, lazy river, and non-aquatic attractions, Big Kahuna’s attracts visitors and locals year after year. As a local family, we have had the opportunity to learn through our neighbors and visits how to make the most of your trip. Keep reading for top tips, money-saving ideas, and everything you need to know before you go to Big Kahuna’s water park!
Big Kahuna’s Destin
Opened in 1986, Big Kahuna’s water park is home to over 40 water slides, rides, and attractions. Today, it remains one of Destin’s most popular attractions, to both locals and tourists alike.
So, what exactly can you expect from a day at Big Kahuna’s?
Well, that partly depends on when you’re planning to visit. As with most things to do in Destin, if you’re coming during the busy tourist season, then you can expect long lines and lots of people.
Tip: If you can, book your trip after Memorial Day but before the end of the season. Temperatures are usually in the upper 90’s and the crowds are gone!
However, if you plan accordingly, Big Kahuna’s Destin can still be a great time, even on the busiest of days.
First, keep in mind that Big Kahuna’s water park is much bigger than it appears from the outside.
There are several different areas and play zones throughout the park. This means a lot of walking. With several stairs and bridges throughout the park, it can be tiresome with babies and toddlers.
Therefore, to maximize time spent having fun and minimize tiring yourself out from lugging everything around, it is best to determine the primary area that you think you’ll be staying.
If you’re not renting a cabana, choose lockers in this zone and store whatever you don’t need to be hauling around.
For the smallest of swimmers, the Tadpole Pond, Yellow Submarine, and Pirate Ship all offer shallow waters with smaller slides and fountains. These are conveniently located next to the wave pool and are all within sight of each other.
Toddlers, preschoolers, and younger adolescents might also enjoy the Crocodile Flats and Pleasure Island areas. Located near the front entrance, these zones have smaller slides and waterfalls with lower-depth pools.
Tip: The maximum height for Pleasure Island is 44 inches to allow little ones their own space to splash and play.
In addition to the many individual and family water slides throughout Big Kahuna’s, the park also offers a lazy river, wave pool, splash pads, and a river tube packed with waves and currents.
Big Kahuna’s in Destin also has a smaller, non-aquatic themed space called Adventure Park. Here, guests can find thrill rides and a mini-golf course. Typically, Adventure Park opens and operates later in the day than the water park itself.
Big Kahuna Prices
For the 2019 season, prices for entrance into Big Kahuna’s Destin are $45.99 for guests 48 inches and over and $35.99 for those under 48 inches. Guests under 2 years old are free. It is important to note that these ticket prices are for purchases made at the gate.
For those purchased online, the water park offers a discount. An even deeper discount can be applied for those purchasing tickets online two days in advance.
Cabanas are available for rent and have a maximum party size of 10 people per cabana. These shaded, private lounge areas include lockers, a server for food and drinks, and dining tables and chairs.
There are four areas in Big Kahuna’s water park where cabanas can be located. A full-day rental at any of these locations costs $125.99
Tip: This does not include the price of admission to the water park itself!
While this might be helpful if you’re traveling with a large party during peak season hours or planning an event at the park, in the off season with a small group, it’s just not necessary.
Additionally, it is important to note that Adventure Park, which is separate from Big Kahuna’s, has fees for each ride or attraction there.
Located adjacent to the water park, this small area of Big Kahuna’s is home to thrilling attractions that may be more appropriate for older adolescents, teens, and adults.
Currently, there are four thrill rides and attractions located in Adventure Park. While admission fees to Big Kahuna’s Destin will gain you entrance into Adventure Park, it will not cover the fees for any of the rides.
This includes the Cyclone and Sky Coaster rides, which both cost $14.99 per ride.
If you’re traveling to Florida, then it’s likely you’re planning to spend some time on the warm, sandy beaches that the Sunshine State is known for. Of course, one of the most memorable experiences at the beach is hunting for seashells. With over 1,300 miles of coastline, it can be daunting trying to figure out the best beaches in Florida for shelling, and likewise, for families. So, what are the best beaches in Florida for shells? And where exactly are they? To answer these questions, I’ve teamed up with some of Florida’s top travel bloggers. They’re sharing not only the best beaches in Florida for shells, but local hidden gems, rare shells, and local tips. Read on for everything you need to know before you go!
Best Beaches in Florida for Shells: What You Need to Know
While the laws and guidelines vary throughout state, country, and county, it is important to be aware of them prior to shelling.
In the state of Florida, seashell collecting is allowed as long as the shells do not contain a living organism.
There may be additional regulations depending on the location and type of shell being collected. For the complete guide to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s regulations, visit their website here.
Additionally, although it is largely accepted and legal, ethics should also be considered when shelling. Travel for Wildlife, a site dedicated to responsible travel, has a great guide to ethical shell collecting.
Remember that we share our beaches with other tourists, locals, and the wildlife who call it home.
1. Sanibel Island
Sanibel Island in Southwest Florida has one of the best shelling beaches not just in the country, but in North America.
Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Sanibel Island is just about three-hour drive from Tampa and makes a great weekend trip from the city. The curve shape and unique geography of the island has resulted in a variety of shells being continuously piled up on the beaches.
Shell lovers from all over the world visit here to add the beautiful and rare shells of Sanibel to their collection.
The beaches of Sanibel Island have about 300 species of shells and are a paradise for shell seekers and beachcombers.
We especially love the Lighthouse Beach. Here you will find the sand littered with shells of various colors, shapes, and types – some broken and some intact. Some of the popular shells on Sanibel Island include scallops, sand dollars, gastropods, and bivalves.
Sanibel Island is also home to Bailey Matthews Shell Museum, a museum devoted to the study of seashells and conches. A trip to this museum is must for seashell enthusiasts.
The museum exhibits beautiful sea shells found around the world, including the rare Junonia shell of Sanibel Island itself.
Tip: Sanibel Island’s best beaches for shelling include all Gulfside beaches.
Apart from the amazing Sanibel Island shells, the beach also has many wildlife refuge areas and is home to a variety of animals and birds, and is rich in hiking trails.
Located on the pristine Gulf Coast, Navarre Beach is a lesser-known beach paradise that remains one of the best beaches in Florida for shells.
Here, you’ll find white sandy beaches, crystal clear emerald waters, and miles of ocean without the crowds of tourists found elsewhere.
Thousands of seashells wash up on the shores of Navarre Beach every day. Additionally, the clear, calm waters make it perfect for spotting shells in the shallow waters.
Due to the fact that Navarre Beach, Florida is a hidden gem, the beach here offers plenty of shelling opportunities for everyone without the competition found elsewhere.
Best of all, Navarre beaches are also home to some of the most rare and beautiful species of shells in the state.
This includes the highly coveted Junonia shells. Other common finds here are sunray venus shells, worm snails, shark eye shells, tulip shells, scallops, the common American auger, and more.
Tip: Some of the best seashells at Navarre Beach wash up the morning after a storm.
Furthermore, Navarre Beach is home to a variety of wildlife, including sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and several species of fish.
Although it is a smaller town, Navarre is nestled between Pensacola and Destin, and offers plenty of activities and attractions nearby, making it an amazing destination for family-friendly vacations.
3. Marco Island
Growing up, everyone I knew was always talking about how the incredible beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel were the best beaches in Florida for shells.
While I agree that the shells there are definitely incredible and notewothy, it can be very difficult to find shells on those beaches. This is because so many people are there with the same goal as you: finding cool shells.
Did you know that most of the beaches along Southwest Florida’s coast have incredible shelling? My favorite hidden gem shelling beach is Marco Island’s Gulf-front South end.