Thursday, August 25, 2011

BP: Making The Commute A Little Better

Hooray for back-to-school! While I'm thankful to send my girls off to fill their brains with knowledge and let me get some sleep during the day, I'm less excited about the daily trips for preschool drop off and the increased traffic during morning and afternoon drive times.

I recently had the opportunity to attend an informational session with BP for their Commute Better program. Locals here in Columbus might have heard some of their commercials on the radio recently featuring tips on making the daily commute a little less painful as well as the Commute Better team out at local BP stations handing out commuter essentials.

A recent survey commissioned by BP said that eighty-six percent of Columbus drivers have a specific route they follow for their daily commute, even if construction leads to traffic jams on that route. I was a little surprised by that number, thinking these people must be recent immigrants to our fine city, because I was certain that most residents live by the rule that you need to know at least three ways to get anywhere in this city, since one of those routes will surely be closed or blocked.

Personally, I'm a master at alternate routes, making last minute decisions to take a side street or hop back onto the highway to avoid any stops in traffic. My husband is just as savvy - listening to us weigh the pros and cons of which route to take based on past history of traffic patterns and current traffic reports can be very amusing.

Tip: be flexible with your commute. Listen to the traffic report before you leave the house and plan accordingly. Leaving 15 minutes earlier than normal can sometimes make a big difference as well.

I also learned that not all gasoline is created equal, and that BP includes an additive called Invigorate that can help prevent damaging build-up in your engine or scrub away any current deposits that may be threatening the health of your vehicle. (And wallet.) Keeping your engine clean can lead to better gas mileage and fewer repairs.

Other useful commuting tips include mapping out your day to reduce the amount of driving between stops, avoiding school areas as much as possible during peak times, keeping your car maintained with regular oil and air filter changes, and keeping a basket of car toys to entertain your kids and reduce distractions.

My luncheon ended with receiving an awesome car organizer filled with everything I could think of to make my commute a little bit easier.

For more information on the BP Commute Better program, check out their website. Even if you're not in Columbus, the website has plenty of tips to make the drive easier regardless of location. 

Giveaway!

BP is sharing the love with one of you as well! I've got an extra car organizer available to give away to one lucky reader.


What's in it, you might ask? Well, beyond being the perfect size to place between two booster seats, this organizer has pockets to hold everything your kids might need, including drink holders! Also included is a travel coffee mug, a tumbler, umbrella, sunglasses, air freshener, tire gauge, hand wipes, sunscreen, band-aids, tissues, a flashlight, lotion, a notepad, pens, crayons and a coloring book. Oh, and a $10 BP gift card to help with gas while you're on-the-go.

To enter: you must leave a comment below sharing your best tip for keeping kids happy in the car on a long drive. How do you avoid the sibling fighting or the endless "are we there yet?" questions? Share your tip and be sure to leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner.

Entries will be accepted until September 1, 2011 at 11:59pm (Eastern Time). One winner will be randomly selected from all valid entries and contacted by email. Winner will have 3 days to confirm acceptance or a replacement winner will be chosen. US mailing addresses only.

Good luck, and stay safe out on the road!

Full disclosure: I was invited to a luncheon sponsored by BP and given a car organizer kit while there. I received no compensation for this post and giveaway, and no promise of a positive write-up was promised or expected. All opinions expressed here are my own honest opinions and, just because it's funny to say in a post about driving, your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lake Erie & Cedar Point, Day 2: A Getaway That Isn't So Far Away

Be sure to check out part 1 of our trip to Cedar Point and Lake Erie here!

While our trip to Cedar Point could have been a vacation in itself, we didn't want to waste our chance to see more of the area while at Lake Erie. So on Sunday we checked out of our hotel and took a short 20 minute drive to Port Clinton to see the African Safari Wildlife Park. This 100 acre park is home to more than 400 exotic animals that you can visit from the comfort of your own car. Never before have I been able to get this up close and personal with a wild animal!

This guy? LOVES carrots.

I've never been to a drive-thru wildlife park, so this was a new experience for all of us. At the gate we were given our free cup of food for the animals (you can also purchase more - trust me, you'll want to purchase more!) and instructions on how to feed them. The animals showed no fear and were happy to stick their heads into the car to check for more food.

 Hey there, got any food?

You have to have a firm grip on the feeding cups - some of the animals have learned the trick of pulling the cup out of your hands to get all the food for themselves.

Turns out, feeding the animals is a LOT of fun. How often can you say you had a bison's head in your car?

video


There's also a walking portion of the park, where kids can ride a pony or a camel, see a white alligator, and feed the fish. Educational animal shows are held daily as well.

Our next stop was the beach at East Harbor State Park. It was a gorgeous view. And thanks to Ohio weather, it was just as hot and humid as any Florida beach.


Cordy wanted to look for "treasure" so we spread out our blankets and walked along the shoreline, looking for anything that might wash up in front of us. The sand was amazingly soft and felt so good between our toes.

Beachcombers

The haul for their treasure hunt was a very shiny piece of a shell, two tiny round shells, a hard black rock that was either coal or petrified wood (I have no idea, really), and a small piece of "driftwood." Cordy declared the treasure hunt a success and we moved on to our next stop.

Cordy insisted I take a photo of the treasure.

Our final stop for the day was back in Sandusky at the Merry-Go-Round Museum. This museum houses an impressive collection of carousel horses and other animals, as well as an on site workshop for woodcarvers who specialize in making carousel animals.


Carousel cow, anyone?

Horses in various states of completion

All four of us enjoyed seeing the different types of animals that were created for carousel rides. Mira liked the cow and the lion. Cordy was a purist, preferring the horses. My favorite? The shark:

I bet the Old Spice guy chooses a shark when he takes a carousel ride.

A spin on the indoor merry-go-round was included with admission, and the girls loved one last ride before we needed to start the journey home.

She only looks nervous because I'm not holding on to her at the moment.

Our weekend vacation was just long enough for us to reconnect as a family and create some lovely memories without growing too tired of each other. More than once, Aaron looked at me and said, "I'm really glad we did this." So often we're all coming and going so quickly in our house that we forget to slow down and enjoy the company of our family.

I'm glad we took the time to get away without going too far away. Compared with a vacation to Florida or California, our trip to Lake Erie still contained all of the fun you'd find far away (beaches, amusement parks, etc) with less travel time and less expense. It was also fun to explore some of the exciting attractions we have right here in Ohio.

There were still more sights we wanted to see around Lake Erie, but that only gives us an excuse for a return trip, right?

Want to plan your own trip to Lake Erie? Visit the Lake Erie Shores & Islands website to start planning your own perfect vacation with lodging packages and discount savings available with the Shore Savings Card! When you're in the area, stop by one of the two Lake Erie Shores & Islands Welcome Centers for advice from their helpful staff, maps, brochures and discount coupons.

Another satisfied customer

Full disclosure: I was invited by Cedar Point and the Lake Erie Shores and Islands group to visit and experience all they had to offer. My family was provided complimentary tickets to Cedar Point, the African Safari Wildlife Tour and the Merry-Go-Round museum. All other expenses, including food, parking, gas, souvenirs, etc. were not included.

After Cedar Point, This Is Where You Want To Sleep

Our vacation to Lake Erie and Cedar Point was a two day affair, meaning we had to find somewhere to sleep for the night. I'm usually nervous when it comes to staying at a hotel with my children. Cordy is a poor sleeper, often waking for an hour or more in the middle of the night, while Mira is a light sleeper, waking to any little noise around her. There's a reason why they get their own bedrooms at home.

Cordy can also be very picky about her surroundings, feeling insecure and uneasy if a room doesn't feel "right" to her.

With help from the Lake Erie Shores & Islands group (thank you, Jill!), we were given a complimentary stay at the Best Western Plus Sandusky hotel on Milan Road. Built in 2005, it's one of the newest hotels in Sandusky and a short, easy drive from Cedar Point. It's near a large shopping area with plenty of restaurants to choose from, and several stores that carry whatever essential items you might need.

I've stayed in several Best Western hotels before, but none that had a lobby that looked this nice. I would love to steal this color scheme for my own living room.


All of the rooms are suites, with a microwave and tall mini-fridge, a flat panel TV with premium cable, and a work area that includes a desk, coffee table and sofa. Free wireless internet is also included - a must-have for someone like me!

Our room had two double beds with sheets that were perfectly white. I've seen a lot of hotel rooms, and I judge the quality of a hotel by the sheets. I was genuinely impressed with how new the sheets looked. I also appreciated that there was no giant comforter covering the whole bed - instead it was a thin comforter sandwiched between two sheets. Very warm, and more hygienic!

The whole room looked so clean, crisp and fresh...at least until my two girls jumped on the beds and got comfortable!


The bathroom was larger than I expected, with a beautiful countertop and large mirror.


Speaking of the bathroom, the only issue we had while there was in trying to figure out the shower. Look at this photo and tell me how you think you switch the water from the faucet to the shower:


The secret is pulling down on a ring around the faucet spout. It took a visit to the front desk for us to figure this out. Two higher ed degrees and I still can't figure out a shower! (Signs may be needed for this, in my opinion.)

We were exhausted from our day at Cedar Point, and quickly got ready for bed. Cordy appreciated the variety of TV programs available, and watched a little bit of Nickelodeon to help her feel at home. She liked the room and said the sheets felt so soft. It wasn't long before both girls were asleep. Cordy did wake up in the middle of the night, but other than Cordy's noise, we didn't hear anything from outside our own room. It was blissfully quiet and peaceful, which kept Mira asleep for most of the night.

In the morning, I went down to the breakfast room and was surprised at the large display that greeted me. Cereal, fruit, eggs, toast, waffles, biscuits and sausage gravy, cinnamon rolls and more were all available for us to choose from. We had a fantastic breakfast (try the cinnamon rolls - they're sooo yummy!) before checking out to continue our adventures around Lake Erie.

The Best Western Plus Sandusky is a 100% smoke-free facility with 89 guest rooms. The hotel includes a laundry and a game room. An indoor/outdoor pool is available for use at the adjacent Comfort Inn.

For the weary traveling family, this hotel offers ultimate comfort and style. The four of us had plenty of space in our room, comfortable beds, and the best hotel breakfast I've had in a long time. The next time we visit Lake Erie, we will certainly have this hotel at the top of our list for where to stay!
And the picky kid liked it, too.

Full disclosure: We received a complimentary stay at the Best Western Plus Sandusky in exchange for a review of their hotel. No further compensation was received. All thoughts shared here are my honest opinions, and as always, your mileage may vary.

Lake Erie & Cedar Point, Day 1: A Get Away That Isn't So Far Away

My family has never had a real "family vacation." Sure, we've been to Great Wolf Lodge a few times, but it felt more like a retreat than a full-out vacation.

Our reasons are ones that many families today probably face: finances are tight, so we need the best value for the money, and we don't have a lot of time off from work, so we don't want to waste a lot of time traveling. We need a vacation close to home. Of course, given the choice, we also wanted a vacation with fun and excitement, and I certainly wouldn't mind a little time on the beach.

Turns out, we can get all of that right here in Ohio.

We had the opportunity to spend this weekend up on the shores of Lake Erie and couldn't have had a better trip. Our work schedules afforded us just two days for a vacation, but those two days were so packed full of fun that they felt much longer.

Our trip started very early on Saturday morning with the drive up to Sandusky, Ohio, home to Cedar Point, one of the best amusement parks in the country. We arrived shortly after the park opened, with our first stop being the measuring station outside the gate. Kids can get measured once and are then given a wrist band to wear for the day so they know which rides they can and can't go on. (I wish every park used a system like this!)

Ummm...when did my little girl reach 48" tall? *sob*

Cedar Point has been voted World's Best Amusement Park for 13 years, and it's easy to see why. With over 150 rides, shows and attractions, there's something here for everyone and plenty of room to fit a lot of people! We were here for just one day, but you could easily fill two or three days in the park and the attached Soak City water park.

We spent a lot of time in Camp Snoopy, the children's area of the park, where there were few lines and plenty of rides appropriate for both of our girls.



But out of nowhere, my six year old with a sensory fear of new things decided she was ready for something larger, and begged to go on the Mine Ride roller coaster. Amazingly, she LOVED it! She then asked to go again, and soon a roller coaster junkie was born. She later rode the Gemini and then at the end of the day rode the Iron Dragon. (Which proved to be a bit too much for her, but she was tired by that point. I'll make her love that coaster some day - it's one of my favorites!)

 Cordy after her first roller coaster ride!

It was a hot, busy Saturday, so you'd expect long lines, but really there wasn't much of a wait to get on most of the rides. Sure, the newest and flashiest coasters had longer waits, but with two small kids we weren't planning to ride those. Thanks to such a wide variety of rides at the park, we had the chance to experience a lot of different spinny, whirly, stomach-churney fun throughout the day.

 Riding the racing horses of Cedar Downs

It was hot. Please excuse my sweaty face.

The girls also had the chance to meet and dance with Snoopy and friends. Cordy loved dancing along with the characters, and of course wanted a hug from Snoopy at the end.

Everyone loves Snoopy.

Saturday ended with Aaron winning stuffed animals for Cordy and Mira, and then a quick drive to our hotel for the night, where we ate dinner and all promptly fell asleep from happy exhaustion. (Be sure to check out my separate hotel review of the Best Western Plus Sandusky, too!)

That was just half of our vacation, though. Check out what we did on Sunday!

Full disclosure: I was invited by Cedar Point and the Lake Erie Shores and Islands group to visit and experience all they had to offer. My family was provided complimentary tickets to Cedar Point, the African Safari Wildlife Tour and the Merry-Go-Round museum. All other expenses, including food, parking, gas, souvenirs, etc. were not included.