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Family Camping Trip 2018 - Ontonagon, Michigan

Lake Superior Baby Buns.jpg

In the U.P. a cabin is called a camp, a term that describes not so much a place but rather a way of life. Camp life is simple. There is no electricity, no running water, no cell service and it takes upwards of 45 mins to get there from the nearest town, Ontonagon, MI. There are flashlights and coolers filled with ice. Lots of bug spray. Piles of firewood and an outhouse. 

At Camp Whiskey Hallow, the camp my Dad and brother built with and for family and friends, time is spent hanging out on the porch, fishing, watching meteor showers at night, reading a good book, snacking, drinking (lots of canned beer) and taking late night saunas. There's kayaking, 4-wheeling and this funny little ATV that goes on land and in water called an Argo. It's the bumpiest ride in the world. 

Our daily schedule revolves around two things. First, preparing and eating meals. There are usually two meals a day: breakfast and dinner that are separated by heavy snacks in between. Breakfast is always huge. We're talking waffles, French toast, eggs Benedict with slices of Spam because we're classy like that. And if you pay close attention the breakfast almost always includes remnants from dinner the night prior.

Dinner can be anything from burgers and brats on the grill with homemade fries to the annual Low Country Boil which is seafood galore! This year Jason and my sister-in-law Rachel prepared a slow roasted corned beef roast, something I've never had, and it was quite tasty. 

The second thing that drives our days is my Dad's list of projects. Camp is his forever project and there is always something to be done. Whether it's chopping wood for the sauna or grading the trail, he's good at putting us all to work. This year's big project was finishing the wood siding on the gable above the porch roof. It ended up taking longer than expected and filled two full afternoons. Jeff doesn't mind the work - it's good break from his usual work at the office - but I personally had a hard time sitting still with my air-cast boot! I ended up reading most of the time while the kids napped, or didn't nap because of the nail gun against the side of the cabin wall while the guys worked. But alas, the gents got the job done and were rewarded with more Bud Light and a steak dinner.

In other parts of the week we spent time on Lake Superior with friends. The water was certainly colder than  Lake Bella Vista back at home, but the temps were in the 80s and the chill down was welcomed. And besides, the kids don't care how cold the water is. The beaches there are lovely and includes lots of privacy. It's peaceful. It's pretty bizarre to look down the beach in either direction and be the only folks in sight. And not many boats either. 

Twice we stopped by our favorite bar in town: Stubbs. I should probably mention there are only two bars in Ontonagon, Stubbs and The Shamrock.  Stubbs has walls filled with 'stuff.' Taxidermy, neon signs, old photos, hornets nests (common decor in those parts), fishing poles... plenty to keep the kids busy with discovering new treasures. They pour stiff drinks, make a mean frozen pizza and it's a great place to run into old friends. 

Visiting Ontonagon is a Smith Family tradition and one we continue to honor. Family vacations are tough to come by these days and we're grateful for the time spent together last week. 

To read more about our camping trips to the U.P. check out the Ontonagon Travel Series

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Disney World, Kladder Family Vacation 2018

Disney World Castle Family.jpg

This summer the Kladder Family really amped up our level of quality time together with an eight day trip to Orlando, Florida. The whole crew of us: 10 adults and six kids ranging in ages from one-year-old to Grandma and Grandpa really did the whole 'trains, planes and automobiles' in real life. The automobile was actually a 15 passenger van, and there was a tea cup and river boat raft in there somewhere as well, but you get the picture. 

Natalie had the time of her life at Disney and watching her interact with the characters was entirely too much fun. She especially loved Tinker Bell and because of her affiliation for the Disney Junior cartoon series Sofia the First she was super smitten with Princess Elena of Avalor. If you follow along with my Instagram feed you'll likely recognize Natalie's purple amulet necklace she never takes off. As the story goes, Princess Elena was stuck inside her magic amulet (Natalie's purple necklace) and so you can understand why she was very excited to meet her. I think after her visit to Disney, Santa is now likely chump change, which is ironic because Santa is the one who gave her that necklace. 

The week long schedule included two travel days, three park days and three days together poolside. Grandma and Grandpa rented a giant house in a resort community through Airbnb, just a short 15 minute drive from the park. The house was great! Not only did it have enough bedrooms for everyone to really spread out but it also had it's own pool (which we were in nonstop) as well as the clubhouse pool which boasted it's very now lazy river, zero entry kid pool and water slides. We grilled hotdogs, played games and soaked up the Florida sun.

Our three park days included two days in Magic Kingdom and one day in Animal Kingdom. Jeff, who's very good at planning vacations/travel was in charge of mapping out our park schedules and fast passes. It was a challenge to create a schedule that would work for our entire group of 16 and even with our three-hour-rain-delay we hit in Animal Kingdom (that we all blamed him for!), he really delivered. I always depend on Jeff to lead our travel and this was no different. 

And while Jeff's success in leading was no surprise my expectations in doing Disney with a one-year-old where ill calculated. Packing our double stroller with two adjustable seats for reclining was a game changer (I saw those Disney strollers available for rent and they were crap) but what I didn't expect was that Thomas wouldn't sleep for more than 30 mins each day in the park. And we couldn't blame him, it was incredibly hot - even his mini fan couldn't keep him from sweating. Jeff and I spend some extra time one on one with Thomas (and Natalie a few times) because there are height requirements for most of the big rides. On the negative side it meant missing a lot of the rides with the rest of the family but on the plus side I got to do some extra shopping inside the air-conditioned gift shops and found some adorable diamond Minnie Mouse earrings for Natalie. I also know where both the Starbucks are located after treating myself to multiple iced coffees a day! 

Perhaps years from now when our kids are older we'll go back to Disney for round two. And in thinking ahead to that trip, this is as good a place as any to record and share some of those helpful tips and tricks.

Disney Travel Tips & Tricks 

  • Book your fast passes 30 days exactly from the day you'll be in the park. If you're going multiple days, you'll have to log on multiple times. Hint: if you say on the Disney property you'll have access to the system 1 hour before everyone else. 
  • Get a turkey leg at Magic Kingdom. They are $12, salty delicious and can feed an army!
  • Sunscreen yourself and your kids (with nothing less than 50 SPF) BEFORE you get to the park. Save yourself from rubbing lotion onto your almost immediately sweaty body. 
  • Bring your own stroller. The ones at the park are gross. Think your kid is too old for a stroller? Think again. Our niece Emma is 8-years-old and we found her riding in the stroller just as much as her younger cousins. I would also recommend bringing a stroller for your stuff (bags, snacks, purchases, etc.). 
  • Pack snacks. Ones that don't melt. There are plenty of things to purchase in the park but having quick items for your kids (and yourself) are nice. Think Clif Bars (probably not the chocolate chip ones) and Goldfish Crackers. Also, suckers! Suckers were a big hit while waiting in the longer lines with the kids. 
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Jeff and I both purchased these Crocs on Amazon before our trip (yes, we had matching shoes and yes they are Crocs!) that were really comfy. We also didn't worry about them getting wet - which sometimes happen on the water rides. I wore mine with those no show socks. They worked great. 
  • Make dinner reservations. This was one thing we did not do that I wish we had. Apparently you have to book them closer to 6 months out from your visit time. I think if we ever go back we'll definitely book a character dinner. 
  • Bring refillable water bottles. There are plenty of water fountains and bottle filling stations around the park. Jeff's brother also brought Camelbaks for his crew that doubled as back packs. They said they loved them. But save yourself the cash (and waste) of the plastic bottles you can purchase in the park by planning ahead. 
  • We got the kids this little mister fans from Meijer before the trip. They were just as much a toy as they were good for cooling them down in the stroller and in line. Word of warning, Natalie had hers for less than 2 minutes and somehow managed to get her hair wrapped around the spinner. So maybe give them to your kids with a little instruction like: don't put the fan in your hair. 
  • If you're considering a family trip to Disney and have younger kids, we'd recommend waiting till your youngest is at least 4-years-old (or at least tall enough to get on the bigger rides). That said, we can attest first hand how neat it was to watch Natalie, who's three, believe in all the magic Disney had to offer. To her, it was all real. Which would certainly differ from an older kid's perspective. 
  • Instead of staying on the Disney property, we rented an Airbnb about 15 mins from the park. It was WAY cheaper and extremely nice. A quick search on Airbnb.com will show you countless options for neighborhoods that are designed for family trips like ours to Disney. Having a home base and 'off days' from the park were so fun and even allowed for us to take breaks between busy park days. 
  • And before you go, download and get to know the Disney App. Jeff used it constantly during our visit to monitor wait times and rebook fast passes. It was awesome. 

All in all, our family vacation was a big success! I know visiting Disney World is not something everyone gets to do, let alone make the trip with their entire extended family. A big thank you to our parents.

On the way to the park one morning I asked Jeff's Dad if it felt, "weird to have his entire family in the van he was driving." It reminded me of the completely ridiculous scene in Billy Madison when the entire O'Doyle Family drives off the side of a cliff in their woodie station wagon to their deaths. It made me giggle. Not sure Dad had the same feeling. Love you guys!

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5 Family Friendly Breweries in Grand Rapids

 Photo Credit: James Richard Fry 

Photo Credit: James Richard Fry 

Grand Rapids is known as Beer City USA as well as a fantastic place to raise a family. It should be no surprise that our list of breweries is extensive, but what about meshing the two: family + brewery? Here's our list of top 5 family friendly breweries taking into account kid friendly atmosphere, menus and spaces. 

HARMONY EASTOWN

Harmony is a personal neighborhood favorite of ours with the biggest reason being how family friendly they are. This summer they will open their new addition including a larger outdoor patio that is completely fenced in - the fence is extremely helpful because of the busy Lake/Wealthy intersection just near by. They don't have a kids menu, however, they have wood fire grilled pizzas and if you go on Tuesday night they run a $6 cheese pizza special. The staff are accommodating with crayons, coloring books and high chairs, and they're happy to accommodate with cups (with tops) of chocolate milk. 

 Photo Credit: Harmony Brewing

Photo Credit: Harmony Brewing

VANDER MILL Grand Rapids 

Vander Mill is a cider mill rather than a brewery but one that completely deserves to make our top 5 list. Vander Mill offers another great outdoor patio space worthy of roaming kiddos. There's a bit more space with grass and trees where they can stray a bit further without disturbing other patrons. They offer a great kids menu including homemade Mac n' Cheese and Chicken Fingers with Fries that are sure to win your crew over. Vander Mill does have high chairs and the usual crayons and coloring sheets, but they also have yard games on the patio when it's open. And parking is easy at Vander Mill so you don't have to worry about walking far from car to front door. Last, they have a fantastic brunch menu as well on the weekends! 

CITY BUILT BREWING

City Built is a little slice of Puerto Rico right here in Grand Rapids. On their menu you'll find lots of plantains, spice and tacos! Sure, they offer a pleasing kids menu complete with the ever favorite cheese quesadilla, but it's the adult menu that's one for the record books. It's anything but your usual brewery sandwich. City Built got super thoughtful and has a designated kids area with a few buckets of toys and a chalkboard. It's fantastic. 

BREWERY VIVANT

Speaking of designated kids area, Brewery Vivant has an outdoor (yet indoor?) kids area located inside their sun porch that's open air. What's great about this? It's all closed in, has a sandbox, playhouse and little table and chairs for them to hang out at while you hang out just inside. At Brewery Vivant they're all about the kids by supporting the local charity Kids Food Basket - for every kids menu purchased, Brewery Vivant donates 5 meals to local kids in need. They've got a great kids menu (made from scratch Mac n' Cheese) and some fantastic beer - Big Red Coq anyone? 

Brewery Vivant Kids.jpg

PERRIN BREWING COMPANY

Perrin is one that's large enough and loud enough where bringing the family is totally acceptable. They have a great outdoor patio (completely enclosed) that's ideal for sitting with kids and plenty on their menu to chose from including sweet potato fries - my kids fav. And for all those Moms (and Dads) out there looking for a little 'me' time, Perrin regularly offers what they call 'Bend & Brew' on Saturday mornings which includes yoga followed by a free beer! Check them out. 

Perrin Brewing Bend and Brew.jpg

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