Cool Down at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids, MI #ExperienceGR

Millennium Park_Entrance

Millennium Park, just a short drive from downtown Grand Rapids, features a 6-acre beach on a lake; a large splash pad; a trail network for walking, running, or biking; a boat rental area (kayaks, canoes, row boats or paddle boats); playground areas; and picnic shelters.

Millennium Park_Playground Entrance

Cool tunnel entrance to one of the playgrounds.

Millennium Park_Playground

Climbing Playground for Older Kids

Entrance to the park and trails is free, but there is a separate admission charge ($4 for ages 16 and up, $2 for kids 3-15) to enter the beach area and splash pad. The beach area has locker rooms, changing areas, a concession stand and picnic tables. You can also pack a lunch to bring along to Millennium Park – perfect for families!

Millennium Park_Beach

I visited the park with my family – my husband and myself, my teenage daughter, my toddler son, and my mom – and, truth be told, my toddler had never been to a beach prior to our visit to Millennium Park. I regret not thinking ahead and bringing along his sand pail from home, but he still enjoyed digging in the sand and walking in the water. He got a kick out of watching the tiny fish scatter when he walked through the water and I wish I had taken him to a beach sooner. My teen, of course, just wanted to lay out and catch some rays.

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We also visited the splash park where my son spent most of his time at the water table. There were numerous sprinklers, buckets, and sprayers at the splash pad, but he preferred to splash around at the table. I liked that there were plenty of beach chairs around the perimeter of the splash pad for the adults to sit and watch their kids play, and an employee guarded the entrance to prohibit kids from wandering away.

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Bottom line, we enjoyed our time at Millennium Park, a relaxing oasis located just minutes from the heart of Grand Rapids. We’ll definitely be back the next time we’re in town – and next time we’ll be sure to remember the sand pail!

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to Millennium Park in order to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100 % my own.

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This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

There’s Lots to Do at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI #ExperienceGR

One of the biggest surprises for my family during our trip to Grand Rapids was the John Ball Zoo. We had no idea we’d have such a great time, and even see some animals we’d never seen before! My family – my husband and I, my teenage daughter, my toddler son, and my mom – spent about 3 hours at the zoo, and only wish we had more time to explore more.

John Ball Zoo_ExperienceGR

The John Ball Zoo, just a short drive away from the downtown area of Grand Rapids, is a smaller zoo with a surprising number of animal exhibits. Admission to the zoo in the summer is $8.50 for ages 14 and up, and $6.50 for ages 3-13 (admission prices vary during the off-peak season). There are a number of concession stands throughout the zoo, as well as picnic table areas.

One of the neat features of the zoo is the Idema Funicular, a train-like vehicle that can take you to the highest point of the zoo (or back down near the zoo entrance). It’s a great way to quickly move from one side of the zoo to another, although you won’t see any animals on the ride. There is an extra charge of $3 per person for a one-way ride.

Photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo on Facebook

Another unique feature of the John Ball Zoo is the number of “adventure” opportunities offered. You can take off on a zip line ride ($6 per person), navigate a ropes course ($6 per person), ride a camel ($5 per person), and touch some stingrays and sharks in a small pool ($1 per person). I really wanted to try the zip line (an item on my bucket list), but both my husband and teen had no intention of trying it with me.

Photo courtesy of John Ball Zoo on Facebook

Some of the exhibits here seemed too close together to me, but that didn’t take away from our experience at all. One of our favorite exhibits included the Pelican Pier, located near the entrance of the zoo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pelican in real-life, and I was mesmerized by these beautiful birds.

John Ball Zoo_Pelican

My toddler loved the Aquarium, where he got to play with a penguin. It was so cute – the penguin would follow him from one side of the tank and back. He got a kick out of his interaction with the penguin, and we all did too!

John Ball Zoo_Penguin

Red’s Hobby Farm, the children’s zoo at John Ball, was another family favorite. Both of my kids got to pet some sheep and goats!

John Ball Zoo_Children's Zoo

We also enjoyed watching a zoo keeper interact with a grizzly bear, watching a mountain lion pace back and forth in his habitat, and watching the monkeys playfully interact with each other.

John Ball Zoo_Grizzly Bear

John Ball Zoo_Mountain Lion

John Ball Zoo_Monkeys

Overall, I’d say that my family would definitely revisit the John Ball Zoo the next time we’re in Grand Rapids. A new tiger exhibit, set to resemble their natural habitat, should be completed in 2014 and it’s a great reason to bring my family back next year!

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the John Ball Zoo in order to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100 % my own.

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This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

Unexpected Surprises Around Every Corner at the Grand Rapids Public Museum #ExperienceGR

 

GR Public Museum_Logo

On our last trip to Grand Rapids, my family visited the Grand Rapids Public Museum.  Honestly, we had no idea what to expect from a “public” museum. Public documents?  Records?  We were clueless.  But after doing a little research, I knew that everyone in my family would find something to love at the museum.

GR Public Museum

We stayed at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, and the Public Museum was located just across the street. Admission at the museum is $8 for adults and $3 for kids 3-18. The museum also features other, temporary exhibits for an additional charge. You will also pay an additional admission for a carousel ride ($1), and the planetarium ($3).  There is a café on property that is generally open during lunch hours (from 10am – 3pm). The museum features 3 levels, all accessible via elevator.

GR Public Museum_Interior

Bonus: The museum also has an interactive QR Code feature where guests with smart phones can scan QR Codes found throughout the museum to learn some additional information about the object or image on display. Very cool!

GR Public Museum_QR Codes

My toddler found something he loved almost immediately after stepping foot in the museum…letters! The Collecting A to Z exhibit features an “I Spy” discovery hunt where you can look for things in the museum’s collection that start with letters of the alphabet. “A”, for example, is for Automobiles and “Z” is for Zoology. Near the entrance to the museum is a beautiful display with all the letters of the alphabet, and my toddler was immediately drawn to it. He enjoyed finding letters all over the museum and it was a great way for him to get involved – at every letter, he would ask us what it stood for. He learned so much during our visit!

GR Public Museum_Alphabet

The museum also has GIANT games to play on the first level. My daughter and I had a pretty competitive game of Connect 4 going on, and there was a huge chess set, bowling, ring toss, and other fun games for the family to play together.

GR Public Museum_Games

Some of the other exhibits my family enjoyed included the Streets of Old Grand Rapids (I liked the old bicycle with the HUGE wheel)…

GR Public Museum_Bicycle

the Planetarium (my son LOVES the solar system and can probably tell you more about it than I can)…

GR Public Museum_Planetarium

the Habitats exhibit (a favorite for my husband and my mom)…

GR Public Museum_Habitat

and the Carousel.

GR Public Museum_Carousel

My daughter and I rode the carousel like a bunch of kids and had a fun time. My daughter also liked the big ship simulator where you turn a huge ship’s wheel to navigate the ship and collect supplies to reach your final destination. It was a fun & interactive game and we got a bit of help from one of the museum’s employees.

GR Public Museum_Big Ship Simulator

Overall, we enjoyed our experience at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. The vast variety of exhibits are sure to keep everyone entertained. If you’re planning a visit, block out at least 2-3 hours. There is so much to see here and everyone in the family will learn something new, I’m sure!

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the Grand Rapids Public Museum to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100% my own.

The inside scoop on everyday travel with kids.

This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

Kids will Love the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum! #ExperienceGR

The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is located in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, and just a short walk from other attractions in the area. I knew my toddler would love the activities there, but had no idea that my teen would have a good time there too! (I was just as shocked as you probably are by reading that.)

GR Childrens Museum_Exterior

My family visited the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and the museum opened at noon. Admission is $8.00 for ages 1-64 and $7.00 for ages 65 and up. Children under 1 are free. There was a bit of construction going on at the intersection where the museum was located when we visited, but I noticed a few open parking spots right out front. Upon entering, there is a fairly large closet area where we were able to park our stroller. They do not sell food items here and I didn’t see an eating/snack area either. You could, however, rent a room for a birthday party.

Our first impression of the museum was that it was MUCH larger inside than we thought it would be. The two-story museum features some permanent exhibits, along with some rotating ones to change it up a bit. Some of my toddler’s favorites were the Construction Zone area where he built a foam “brick wall”, the bubbles exhibit (because, what kid doesn’t love playing with bubbles?!?!), the train table (always a favorite), the alphabet carpet squares, and hanging apples on the apple tree.

GR Childrens Museum_Adventures in Balance

GR Childrens Museum Trees

GR Childrens Museum_Apple Tree

GR Childrens Museum_Alphabet Tiles

GR Childrens Museum_Bubbles

Surprisingly, some favorites for my teenage daughter were the Mom & Pop Store (she relived the times when I used to take her to children’s museums), the Wee Bank (where I determined that she should NEVER work for a bank because I asked to withdraw $1,000 and she proceeded to give me the money WITHOUT asking for identification… LOL), and the Play Day Café where she was the waitress and I was her customer. I thought she would be bored to tears here while her brother played, but she surprised me by making the most of it.

GR Childrens Museum_Car

GR Childrens Museum_Store

One aspect of the museum that I couldn’t take my eyes off of was the bee exhibit with REAL, LIVE BEES! I was fascinated because I have never seen so many live bees before. My whole family tried to locate the queen, with no luck. The elusive queen was nowhere to be found. We all thought that it was really cool to see a bee colony in action – though we were thankful that they were all behind the glass!

GR Childrens Museum_Bees

Overall, we enjoyed our time at the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum immensely. If you’re visiting the Grand Rapids area with kids, I’d put this attraction at the top of your list. Kids of all ages will find something to do and, chances are, will learn something new too.

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100% my own.

The inside scoop on everyday travel with kids.

This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

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Soak in the Beauty at The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan #ExperienceGR

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 132-acre botanic garden that has both indoor conservatories and outdoor gardens. One area of the property, Sculpture Park, contains more than 200 sculptures dispersed throughout the grounds. For those planning a visit, the park is open daily with $12 admission for adults over the age of 14, $9 for students and seniors, $6 for kids 5-13, and $4 for kids 3-4. My family – my husband and myself, my teenage daughter, my toddler son, and my mom – visited the park as our last stop before heading home from our road trip to Grand Rapids and spent about 3 hours here. I regret not visiting the park sooner, as I felt we missed so much during our short time there.

Frederik Meier Gardens Greenhouse

Frederik Meier Gardens Entrance

After entering through the main building, the first exhibit you see is the Tropical Conservatory inside the large greenhouse. We saw banana trees, cacti, carnivorous pitcher plants, and other tropical plants. We then walked over to the gorgeous Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. I love how there was a child-size gate to enter through too.  It felt very Alice in Wonderland to me – and kids loved going through over and over.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Childrens Garden

My toddler spent a lot of time at the Great Lakes Garden where he launched boats from one of the great lakes to another on the tiered water table.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Water Play

There were numerous opportunities to learn about the plants in the Children’s Garden, with some areas even allowing you to use your senses to learn about the plants. Our favorite was the Touch section where there were four different plants with varying textures to touch – the fuzzy leaf was interesting to feel.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Touch Section

And to continue with the whole Alice in Wonderland feeling I had – there’s the white, err, bronzed rabbit!

Frederik Meijer Gardens Rabbit

We then ventured to the Sculpture Park to head to the Waterfall. The sculptures were larger-than-life works of art – most of them very unique, and all of them beautiful.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture 1

Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture 2

Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture 3

The waterfall was breathtaking with lily pads and even a bunch of koi fish in the pond.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Waterfall

Probably the best part of our visit to the park was the lunch we had in their Taste of the Gardens Café. Seriously, probably one of the better meals we’ve had in a long time. The food was so fresh and delicious, I felt like I could eat there every day. My son had the peanut butter & jelly kids meal, while the rest of us chose sandwiches that were served with a fresh salad. I had the Calder City Pulled Pork Quesadilla and it was divine. Tender chunks of pork and pepper jack cheese, served with a honey chipotle sauce drizzled on top. A little spicy, but just how I like it.

Frederik Meijer Gardens Quesadilla

Again, I wish we had more time to spend at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, but I figure that it’s a great reason for me to make a return visit since we still have so much to see.

Disclosure: My family received complimentary admission to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in order to facilitate this review, and I was not asked to provide a particular point of view. All opinions are 100% my own.

The inside scoop on everyday travel with kids.

This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

Classic Comfort and Elegance at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Michigan #ExperienceGR

I’ve been thinking about our next family vacation more and more lately.  We had some fun adventures last year and can’t wait to do it again!  Last summer, my family  ventured to Grand Rapids, MI for a weekend stay.  The whole brood came along for the ride – my husband and myself, my teenage daughter, my toddler son, and my mom.  Naturally, with the varying age groups in my family, we look for vacations that offer something fun to do for all of us (which is much harder than it sounds!).  On our trip to Grand Rapids we stayed at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel located close to many major attractions in the downtown area.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

Hotel: My first impression upon entering this hotel was “Whoa!”  I was immediately impressed by the décor and grand chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  The Amway Grand Plaza Hotel first opened as the Pantlind Hotel in 1913.  Since then, a 29-story glass tower was added to the building and the hotel still maintains its old-world charm, combined with all the modern amenities.  The inside is definitely classy and elegant – I almost thought that my toddler would somehow destroy it! LOL  But we did see other toddlers (and even some babies) at the hotel too.

Amway Grand Plaza Addition

Here’s the addition to the Amway Grand Plaza hotel.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Interior 1

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Interior 2
When I learned that access to the pool wouldn’t be available during my stay at the Amway Plaza, I was a little bummed.  The photos looked great on the website, but unfortunately, due to maintenance being performed on the pool area we had to walk the Skyway to the JW Marriott to use the pool.  My kids look forward to a little pool time whenever we’re on vacation so we took the 5 minute walk to the neighboring hotel.  I was disappointed with the Marriott’s pool area as the floor tiles were VERY slippery, making it easy to slip and fall.  Also, towels weren’t immediately available (it took more than 20 minutes after another guest called to get towels sent to the pool area), and there wasn’t a locker room area we could use so we changed in a bathroom.  Not exactly the pool experience we had in mind.  But again, this was at the JW Marriott pool that was available for us to use.

Room:  We were fortunate to secure two adjoining rooms – one with a king bed and the other with 2 queens.  This worked out great for my family since my husband and I, along with my teenage daughter, could watch movies late at night without disturbing the toddler that was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel does not have a movie pay-per-view service (or the ability to check out over the television) so we had to stop by a nearby Walmart to purchase some DVDs (and a cable to connect to the TV) to watch movies on our portable DVD player.  No biggie, but a staff member did tell me that they were looking into this option for the future.  The room was very clean and I did not notice any stains or rips in the upholstery.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Room Beds

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Room Chair

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Room Desk

One of my favorite aspects of our room stay was the information (and chocolates) provided with turn-down service.  A small sheet of paper with the weather forecast for the next day was a really nice touch.  I also liked the fact that the hotel offers free WiFi to guests, as we needed it for my son to view content on our tablet.  My family’s favorite aspect of our room stay was definitely the soft and plush mattresses and pillows.  They were heaven!

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Turn-Down Service
Room Service: Like all room service options, the items on the menu are a bit pricey.  We opted for room service on our last morning at the hotel out of sheer convenience – we didn’t want to have to get out of the room early and come back to pack up before check-out.  I’m so glad we ordered in!  The food was delivered within 30 minutes and we had a FEAST!  Pancakes, eggs, bacon, fruit, yogurt – I felt like we tried it all!  And it was all delivered at the perfect temperature and was simply delicious!  My only gripe with our room service was that we were shorted a set of silverware so my husband and I had to share until another set was delivered.  But the food was so good that I overlooked that a bit.

Location:  My entire family loved the location of our hotel.  We were within walking distance to some major attractions like the Grand Rapids Public Museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and the Grand Rapids Public Museum.  Seriously, all within a 5-10 minute walk from the hotel.  And that’s not even mentioning all of the great restaurants within walking distance too!  The location of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was just perfect for exploring the city of Grand Rapids.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Room View 1

Aren’t these views gorgeous?!?!

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Room View 2

That’s the Grand Rapids Public Museum – just steps from the hotel!

Restaurants:  There are a total of 8 restaurants on the hotel property – from breakfast and coffee, to a deli for lunch and steak for dinner – the Amway Grand Plaza hotel can cater to a wide variety of cravings.  Personally, having a Starbucks in the building was a huge perk for me.  One of my biggest peeves when visiting a hotel or resort is cruddy coffee in the morning.  Thankfully, the Starbucks was just a short walk from our hotel room.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Starbucks
We also dined at Cornucopia for breakfast (oatmeal, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches) and lunch (salads, paninis and pizza).  There was plenty of seating available, but we opted just to take it back to our room.  The food was good, but we mostly enjoyed the convenience.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Cornucopia

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Cornucopia Menu

Cornucopia’s Menu

We had one “fancy” dinner at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the property.  Going in with a toddler, we were a little apprehensive because we thought he would be too loud and disturb other guests.  The service at the restaurant was so awesome that they sat us in a louder section of the restaurant and checked in every so often to see if we were doing alright.  The food at Ruth’s Chris was so delicious and we enjoyed getting to spend some family time together at a nice restaurant.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel Ruth's Chris
Overall:  Our stay at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was pretty great.  I do wish that they had more amenities available to children, but I would definitely recommend this hotel to any family wishing to visit the Grand Rapids area – the location alone can’t be beat!  We enjoyed our Grand Rapids trip so much since there are so many amenities in the area that appeal to varying age groups.

Disclosure:  My family received complimentary accommodations in order to facilitate this review and I was not required to state a particular point of view.  All opinions are 100% my own.

The inside scoop on everyday travel with kids.

This review originally appeared on Trekaroo!

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