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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL

318 Spring Creek Rd
Rockford, IL 61107
(815) 229-9390

May 1st - October 31st the hours are:
Monday-Friday: 9am-6pm
Saturday & Sunday: 9am-5pm

Admission: $8/adult; $7/senior (62+); $6/child; free/children under 5; free/Garden Members

When you enter, head the desk to your right to pay and get your map. I highly recommend picking up some fish food while you're there (especially if you have kids with you). Trust me, you'll use it! In fact, think about getting a couple bags.
I should also point out that the restaurant is also located in this building. It just opened and I have not tried it, but know that it's there. I believe they serve breakfast and lunch.

Follow the map around to different areas. The gardens are so beautiful. There are little hidden areas with chairs located all around. We spent only an hour or two here because the forecast showed rain. However, if you are one that enjoys peace and quiet or a little meditation time, you could spend all day here.

Please note, while this place is mostly wheelchair and stroller friendly, I would only suggest this if you absolutely need to. I wasn't sure how entertained my son would be so I brought the stroller in case he got bored. For the most part, he really liked it because there was a waterfall and all the fish. However, since I brought the stroller, for the parts that aren't so stroller friendly, like the back half of the pond strolling garden, I ended up carrying the stroller which was not particularly enjoyable.

Overall, this is a great place to visit if you're in the area! It's absolutely beautiful! Here are some photos from our visit:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

State Farm Park in Bloomington, IL

To view an image larger, click on it.

The one and only downside to this entire place is that you have to be an employee (or an employee's spouse or child) in order to gain entrance to this park.

State Farm Park Guest Policy states:
Sunday-Thursday, before 4pm: Two guests per family or single employee (not per cardholder).
Friday-Saturday & Holidays, before 4pm: No guests are allowed (single employees may bring one guest at all times).
Daily, after 4pm: Two guests or one family unit are allowed per family or single employee (not per cardholder).


Pool Hours:

June 8 – August 16:
Tot Pool: Daily 10am-8pm

Adult Pool: Weekdays:
Lap Swim – 6am-9am
Day Camp – 9am-Noon
Open Swim – Noon-8pm
Lap Swim – 8am-10am
Open Swim – 10am-8pm

August 17 – September 7:
Tot Pool: Weekdays:

Adult Pool: Weekdays:
Lap Swim – 6am-9am
Open Swim – 4pm-8pm
Lap Swim – 8am-10am
Open Swim – 10am-8pm

Holiday Hours: Labor Day, September 7
Lap Swim – 8am-10am
Open Swim – 10am-8pm

Miniature Golf Course:
Spring and Fall Hours: April 4-May 22 & August 17-September 27
Weekdays: 4pm-9pm
Weekends: 10am-9pm
Summer Hours: May 23-August 16
Daily: 10am-9pm (Open until 10pm on Friday and Saturday)

Disclaimer: All of the following information and opinions do not come from State Farm. This is all based on personal experience.

If you are an out-of-town State Farm Employee, you can still visit here! You need to contact headquarters before traveling to Bloomington and they can send you guest passes for you and your family during the time that you are visiting. My sister, a State Farm agent, did this last year.

As you pull in, you will be greeted by a person at the gate. There, they will check your passes and then you will be allowed to enter. Here, you can see directions to the pool:

Here is a map of State Farm Park:

You can clearly see the pool and all the different courts. I marked where the mini golf course is. Off to the right, there is a frisbee golf course. The area in the middle is a large open grassy area where they have soccer goals during the summer. As you drive around, you will find 3 different playground areas plus many covered picnic areas. There are fountains in the ponds and during certain times, you can even fish in them.

Here is the pool:

I have labeled all the main areas of the pool. In the middle of the lazy river near the splash pad (that has little spouts of water that come up about 2 feet all over – perfect for the smaller children under 1, although many older children like to play here also), there is a jetted pool with an infinity drop area and a jetted pool with waterfalls.

There are two entrances to the lazy river. The pool with the 2 medium slides is about 2.5 feet that grows to 3 feet and then 3.5 feet. Flotation devices are allowed in this section of the pool.

The lap pool area is just used as a deeper pool during open swim times. No flotation devices are allowed in this section of the pool. The tot pool has a slide at the top of a treehouse-type structure. There are lots of different ways for kids to spray themselves and others and children under 4-feet will love this area. The splash pad has much larger spraying items than the one in the middle of the lazy river.

There are quite a few lifeguards (about 10-15) that look out for all the kids and adults swimming, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still watch your children. Sometimes, they seem a little strict and some of them will tell you something is against the rules that you've been doing for a year prior, but they're mostly high school students, so you just move on.
The main building that you go in to get to the pool is where you will find the locker rooms (to the left after you enter) and the concessions (to the right). The concessions area is amazing. There is a TV that is normally playing kids movies. If it's not, you can always ask and the employees will turn on a movie. There is a nice indoor seating area and a large outdoor seating area that looks out over the pond. There is a fireplace that separates the two areas. The outdoor area is covered, but there are still seats in the sun. You can feed the fish off the outdoor deck area. As for the food, I personally think it's pretty good. They have chips, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, fries, chili cheese fries, fruit cups, veggies, funnel cakes, etc. And the prices are fairly decent. Sodas are $1 (no matter what size you get). This is a great place to stop. I believe this is also where you would go to buy other things too (like a towel, swim diaper, goggles, and a couple other items).

The mini golf area is very cool, too. You sign in at the entrance to the course (employee name, your name, and number of people playing). This is also where you get your club, ball, and score card and pencil if you choose to keep score. There is a putting practice area if you have to wait behind another group to go to the first hole. After the first 6 holes, you can choose to go straight and just do 9 holes or go to the left and do the full 18. The 9 hole course is handicap accessible. We always have a great time playing here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Legoland Discovery Center: Chicago (located in Schaumburg, IL)

While this is not technically located in Chicago, it is pretty darn close.

First, I would suggest buying your tickets in advance online. They are cheaper this way. You could easily save $10 or more for a family of 4.

As soon as you arrive, you will want to get your picture taken in front of the green screen. There are 4 different choices for backgrounds that they can change out at the counter if you decide to buy the picture (Lego Movie, Lego Friends, Falling Legos, and something else that I just can't remember). We had a large group with us (9 people) so this made for a great souvenir!

After you gain admission, you walk through Miniland Chicago. It's interesting if you've never seen any of the minilands before, but we had a very excited 5-year-old on our hands that wasn't very interested in this so we pretty much bipassed it. Then, you go through the dark, Jungle Expedition. It's a great place for some pictures.

Then, you will come to a room where kids can build things and there are some large Lego things to take pictures with.

Next is Kingdom Quest Laser Ride. It's very fun! And I had a blast completely kicking my family's butts! Each cart holds 4 people and each person is armed with a shooter. You then shoot at different objects like bats and other random things trying to up your score. A picture is taken toward the end.

The only other things downstairs are the picture desk and the Lego shop after you exit. So your next thing to do is take the stairs or elevator up to the second floor. The first thing we did was go to the Lego 4D Cinema. They show the same 3 'movies' that are shown in all the other Legoland places. There is a countdown clock by the theater telling you how long until the next show. The best part about waiting in line is that they have a large Lego board on the wall to build on.

Then we headed over to the Factory Tour. It was horrible. The guy that did the tour was horribly annoying. My belief is that this tour would not be so terrible if the group that was allowed in at one time was much smaller. There were about 20 children and just as many (if not more) adults all crammed into this one little room. The children crowded everything and my son didn't get to press any of the buttons or really see anything. My suggestion is to only take the tour if you go on a day where there aren't many people there.

We had signed up for the Lego Master Builder Academy, but never ended up attending. From everything I had read, you build something (a spaceship this time) and that's it. You don't get to bring it home. However, you can buy it. We saw it for sale at the snack counter so we bought it and built it at home. I think it was only $5.

While we were there, there was a flying attraction called Merlin's Apprentice Ride. Guests must be 36 inches to ride with an adult and 48 inches to ride alone. However, I have recently learned that a new attraction is coming! It is called Pirate Adventure Island. It is coming June 27th, 2015. It is a distinct possibility that Pirate Adventure Island will be replacing Merlin's Apprentice Ride.

Then we got a snack (a large cookie and a drink). There were also a couple Lego things to take pictures with.

We also did the Lego Racers: Build & Test. It was pretty cool. You just look for some wheels in the crash bin and then walk over to the Lego building area. Once you've made your car, you can race it on the track. However, I noticed that a lot of kids cars crashed instead of raced. Oh well, it was still fun.

There are a couple more places that we didn't visit: Lego City Construction Site and Duplo Village. However, my sister did walk over to the Duplo section with my 1 ½-year-old nephew and she said that there were some large kids in the section that nearly knocked over their son so they left. A couple minutes later, a worker asked how their day was going and they mentioned the incident and the employee apologized and said they would take care of it right away. The Duplo section is for children 5 & under. This is for the safety of the younger children so please don't take your older kids there!

They also have Birthday rooms. There were at least 2 birthdays going on while we were there. This would be fun.

I bought 2 pictures (the group picture and the one from the ride). I believe it was $18 for both of them. You receive both in print form and a digital copy (a code for download later).

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Travel: Making dinner in a hotel with tin foil and an iron

Are you staying in a hotel with only a mini fridge and a microwave for longer than just a couple nights? Are you trying to save some money and not eat out every night? Do microwave dinners make you cringe?

Well, that was our thought on our vacation last fall. We did have some microwave meals and sandwiches and chips and clearly we ate out a couple times. Anyway, we did our best to come up with an idea. We tried to be creative, and decided to take advantage of the iron that was in our room. We ended up making 2 different meals this way (grilled cheese and quesedillas).

First, you need to buy your supplies. You will definitely need some tin foil no matter what you're cooking. For grilled cheese, you will need sliced cheese, some butter (which we swiped from the free breakfast at our hotel), and bread. For quesedillas, you will need mexican shredded cheese, chicken (we got the carving board packaged lunch meat), and some salsa (for dipping of course).

Grilled Cheese:
Tear off a large piece of tin foil, butter your bread, and put the cheese between it. Place it off to one side of the foil, then fold the foil over the sandwich. Put the iron on top of the foil. Peak in the foil and make sure your sandwich is done on this side and when it is, flip the entire foil/sandwich over and cook the other side. It's quite easy.

This is made the same way. Tear off a piece of tin foil a little larger than your tortilla. Put your cheese and chicken (or whatever you decide to put in it) on one side of your tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and cover with the foil. Put the iron on top of the foil. Peak inside and when the quesedilla is done on this side, flip it over and cook the other side.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Legoland Florida

1 Legoland Way
Winter Haven, FL 33884
(877) 350-5346

Once you arrive, you will find a parking place (assuming that you drove here). Take a picture of the lot area so that you remember where you parked. Nobody likes losing their car.

Your first photo op happens before you even enter Legoland. I definitely recommend taking a picture with this sign and sending it to all of your loved ones to make them completely jealous!

Before you enter, they have a sign to the right telling you what is closed during your visit. Definitely check this out so that you aren't disappointed. We found all the rides to be really fun and just enough excitement for our little guy. Miniland was very impressive! While we had an amazing day, I definitely wouldn't suggest bringing kids over 10 or 12 or kids who don't LOVE Legos here. They won't appreciate it and it will be a waste of your money. We didn't do everything and we still spent about 7 hours there!

The first thing we did was head straight to the back of the park and go to the Jr. Driving School. It's for kids 3-5 and the regular driving school is for kids 6-12. The most disappointing part about this activity is that you can only get a 'drivers license' if you go to the regular driving school and not the jr. version. I had thought about lying and saying that our son was 6 (he had just turned 5). But by the time we were done with the jr. version, there was a fairly substantial line forming at the regular one.

Then we headed over to rescue academy. This is definitely more intense for the adults or older children than it is for the smaller kids. You have to pump a handle to get the vehicle moving and race another family. Then, you pump this other thing after you get to the end and the kid aims the hose and then you get back in the vehicle and pump back to the beginning. It was not the most enjoyable experience for me, but our son seemed to like it.

Then my husband and son went to the boating school. They seemed to enjoy it. It was very cute.

Now it's time for roller coasters man! We started off with Project X! It was a great first coaster for the day. I really liked it. Now, keep in mind that I am a plus-sized person and I pretty easily fit into this one so if I can do it, you can do it.

Plus, we got this gem of a picture from it!

Then my husband and son went on Coastersaurus. It's a wooden old school coaster that my son really seemed to like.

Next is the Safari Trek. I find this to be a very serene little ride. Only one adult is allowed per car. You can have 1 child and 1 adult per car though. My son and I rode this one while my husband sat back and took pictures. There are some really cool animals that are all made out of Legos.

Then we went to Lost Kingdom Adventure. It was so much fun. You try and shoot as many things as possible and try to beat the scores of the rest of your family members.

Then we headed to Royal Joust. My son liked it. Please read the sign carefully! This is for small children that must be over the age of 3, I believe. I saw lots of people that became very upset because they read that children needed to be over 36 inches, but completely ignored the age requirement and then were sent away because their child was too young.

We ate at Castle Burger. I actually found the burgers to be above par. I really liked them.

Our next coaster was The Dragon. I was pretty excited about this one. The beginning part of the ride goes fairly slow while you go through this area that has castle related scenes made of Legos (of course). I really liked it. Then, you go to the outside part of the ride that is more like an actual coaster.

Then my son and husband went on Merlin's Challenge. It looks like this tiny little coaster that goes around in circles. It goes really fast so my son really got a thrill out of it. This ride is meant for pretty small people. Kids have to ride on the inside. And it's very tight for normal-sized adults so it's not the most comfortable thing.

There are 3 shows playing at the Fun Town Theater. My son's favorite was the Chima movie. We also saw the Clutch Powers one. Both were very entertaining. I especially love the 4D effects they have. There is also another show, but my son wasn't interested in seeing it so we skipped it.

We also rode the carousel. It was cute. My son really wanted to ride on the top level. All the horses were Lego horses, but other than that, it was the same as a normal carousel.

We rode the Island in the Sky. This was a nice time to just take in the sights and relax. It moves very slow and rotates twice while it rises high in the sky.

Then we went to Miniland USA. My biggest problem with this area is that it's out in the open with no chance of shade so it's very hot. This made it kind of unpleasant so we ended up going through it very quickly. It was still very cool and very impressive, but the last thing I want to do on a hot Florida day is stand in the sun.

Don't forget about the Star Wars section though. It's just past the Miniland area. My husband absolutely loved it! Plus, there are amazing life-sized Lego things you just have to take pictures with.

Then we headed to Chima last. This seemed like the best option because it's the only wet ride and we really didn't feel like walking around all wet all day. My son loves Chima so this was a great section that he was looking forward to all day.

Overall, our day was great! We loved going here. This was our present to our son for his 5th birthday and I think it was definitely worth the 45 minute drive from Orlando. It made a great extension to our trip. The only thing we really missed out on while we were there was the photo op with any characters. I'm pretty sure there was one with one of the Chima characters, but we never found where that was. Bummer. Oh well. Here are some other photo ops we found: