Saturday, December 13, 2008

"The Cupcake Place" (Common Ground Coffee & Cupcakes)

I've stopped in many times w/ the kiddos since this place opened. Not because I'm craving the cupcakes but because it's a nice kid-friendly place to get a treat. The toys aren't anything to 'write home about' save for their two rocking horses- one big and one small- which are just perfect for my 4.5 and 1.5 year old kids. I've actually managed to have a one hour conversation w/ a friend there thanks to those rocking horses!

The cupcakes are much better than what I'd make at home but I don't find myself dreaming about them. Of course I still love to eat them-LOL! I like to get a mini-cupcake for $1 because I don't feel quite so guilty eating something so unhealthy. I also get a mini one for the kids, who, inevitably just eat the frosting. They have Cafe Vida coffee, which I've found it to be prepared ok. For the kid-friendly aspects alone, this place is worth going to. The owner is friendly and always seems happy to see us and genuinely seems happy to see the kids, too.

kispot rating: 2.0

Choreographed light show at a house

We just saw a fantastic light display at a home right here in Renton! If you're familiar w/ the Highlands area, it's just a few blocks down from the Safeway. I don't know who these people are, but they have found a great way to spread the holiday cheer. Check out their website, w/ all the details you need, here. (Notes: The website says the shows start at 5 p.m., but when we were there, the radio said 4:30 p.m. The website also says the show is 15 mins. long but the radio there said 10 min. ) Our family was having too much fun enjoying the show to keep track of the time but there were three separate segments and a narrative from the Charlie Brown Christmas movie. We actually watched it twice through b/c the kiddos didn't want to leave. I won't say too much about it b/c I don't want to spoil the fun for you but seriously, pack up the kids, drive on over there, and check it out! And thank you Surace Family!

kidspot rating: 1.5 (couldn't give it a 1.0 b/c the only places that can get a 1.0 must also have a kid-friendly bathroom and of course this is a private home and you can't go in; if you do find yourself there and your kids 'gotta' go" , though, remember that the Safeway is nearby...)

Free pics w/ Santa

Here's what came in a flyer to my house: "Visit Santa in Downtown Renton at his house at the southwest corner of S 3rd St and Wells Ave S on Fridays and Saturdays from December 7 - 22. Enjoy free downloadable pictures with Santa on Fridays from 5 - 7 pm and Saturdays from 1 - 4 pm. Stroll the streets of downtown to shop and enjoy the festive storefront window displays. Sponsored by the Downtown Events Committee. For more information, contact Toni Nelson at 425-226-6124."

So we went down to the Piazza today w/ the kiddos and saw Santa. Poor guy was basically in an unheated decorated shed but you know, the pics were free, so we had to check it out. We went at around 2:45pm today and there was only one person in front of us (sure beats the mall lines!) The santa was just ok- fake beard and painted white eyebrows but my kids didn't seem to care. A nice lady took a bunch of pics and didn't seem annoyed that we'd also brought our own camera. She then gave us some free coloring pages and a postcard w/ info on how to retreive our free pics. I wasn't able to see them today but the card does say it can take up to 48 hours. What's a little weird to me is that the pics are out there for all the world to see. I'm very private about stuff like that, you'll notice I never even use my family's names on this site in fact, but I know I'm probably just slightly more paranoid than other people and supposedly after 60 days the pics are viewable anymore so I'm not going to stress over it. I'll report back when the pics are up and let you know whether I think they turned out. After seeing Santa, we stopped by the "cupcake place", a review of which is forthcoming.

kidspot rating: 2.0

UPDATE: Ok so the pics are online now. I swear the gal snapped the camera at least 10 times but there are just 4 pics of our family. I figure they just left out the really bad ones, which is fine. It's still a little weird to me that anyone can see the pics but whatver. They gave us a postcard when we left that said what number our pics are. When you go to the website, you just scroll through the images until you find the one(s) w/ your number. Of the four, one actually came out pretty decent. Better than the ones hubby took w/ our camera so I can't complain really. The background is not that impressive though- Santa's chair is in a corner and so you see that behind him. There are some holiday-themed decorations painted on the wall but it's not like the pics are centered or framed around anything in particular so it's kind of odd. Still, it's free and my kids aren't crying in in the pic so that's good enough for me! Oh and one more thing, it appears that they've got more than one Santa there. The other guy has a real beard (grayish white and kinda' short) but still fake hair.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Arena Sports Coupons

I have a few coupons here for Arena Sports. First person to ask will get them- just email me. Here's what they're for: (1) Lil' Kickers Free Trial Class (not valid for currently enrolled Lil' Kickers), (2) TNT Technical & Tactical Free Trial Class (not valid for currently enrolled TNT participants), (3) Birthday Party Fun (save $20), and (4) Fun Zone Indoor Inflatable Playground (free one day pass). There is no expiration date on any of them.

I can't speak to all of their programs or even their main facility but the Lil' Kickers soccer program takes place throughout the greater Seattle area. Our son did one of their classes two summers ago at the Mercer Island Community Center and I was extremely impressed with the coaches- they learned all the kids' names quickly; never ran out of enthusiasm or praise; and encouraged kids who were a little behind the pack by hanging back and doing the "drills" alonside them so they didn't feel alone. The younger kids' programs are non-competitive but the kids do learn soccer skills while engaging in some wonderfully creative games.

We were thrilled to learn that the class locations have expanded and you can now take them at the North Highlands Neighborhood Center right here in Renton. While the facility is nowhere near as gorgeous as the one on Mercer Island, we loved the shorter drive, especially last fall, when we also had a little baby in tow. Our son has now taken three classes and I was impressed with the program consistency among coache; I have yet to see a coach I didn't like.

While the cost is much more than we prefer to pay, I have not seen a children's sports class that matches the caliber of Lil' Kickers through Arena Sports.

kidspot rating: 1.0

Update: So I just found out that Lil' Kickers is no longer being offered in Renton- bummer! The next closest location is now Mercer Island, which is actually not more than a 30 min. drive at the time of day that they have classes and is a very beautiful facility. Bring your coffee, drop off the kids, and sit in the lobby overlooking Lake Washington!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Renton Harvest Festival

Come join me at the Renton Harvest Festival this Saturday, Oct. 11th. This family-friendly event takes place from 10am-4pm at the Piazza in downtown Renton. There will be music, pumpkin decorating, and craft vendors, including yours truly! I am excited to showcase my Uppercase Living business in my first "public appearance". If you come to the festival be sure to stop by my booth and say "hi"- you can even enter to win a raffle prize from me! Festival admission (and my raffle contest) are FREE.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Renton River Days!

We've been going to Renton River Days since our son was 2.5 years old (he's now 4.5) and it has made such an impression on him that he talks about it all year long! Our whole family has a really great time there. Most of it takes place at Liberty Park, which is in the downtown area. The event technically starts on a Fri. but there are smaller events leading up to it. On Wed. 7/23, it's "Kids' Day", where there are free craft projects, entertainment events, bouncy houses for the kids to play on, and face painting!

The main event runs from Fri. 7/25-Sun. 7/26. We love walking around the merchant area (this year it's been changed from merchants selling pretty much anything to only merchants who sell handcrafted items) and the watching the entertainment. I appreciate that my kids can dance and move around all they want without bothering anybody and that they get to experience a variety of musical genres (including country, blues, disco, dixie jazz, and celtic). It's also just so nice to hang out on a picnic blanket on a warm summer day/evening. The event organizers are always pretty good about setting up tents, too, so you shouldn't have trouble finding shade.

Of special note are the Parade on Sat. 7/26 and the "Rubber Ducky Derby" on Sun. 7/27. For the derby, they release thousands of yellow rubber duckies into part of the Cedar River. Ok, that sounded dumb when I wrote it out, but really, it looks pretty cool. And it's actually a raffle of sorts 'cause you can "buy" a ducky beforehand for a chance to win a prize. The money goes to local charities. See a full schedule here.

During the main event (Fri.-Sun.), there's also a small selection of food booths there. It's no "Bite of Seattle" but what's there always meets our needs. Note that the food booths are not up yet for the Wed. (Kids' Day) event, so be sure to pack a lunch! (There have been hotdogs for sale in the past but as I recall, they run out pretty quickly).

The main bathrooms are over near the Skate Park and they also usually have portable bathrooms in a few strategic places. (I had to mention bathrooms because we now have a potty-trained kid!) I also appreciate that they have a sink and (if I remember right) hand sanitizer right outside the children's petting zoo- gotta' do our best to keep those germies away!

kidspot rating: 1.5

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Great Wolf Lodge!

My family recently got back from a mini-vacation (2 days, 1 night) at Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound (near Centralia), WA. Admittedly, it's not in or even very near Renton (it's actually about 75 mi. away!) But I promised a bunch of people I'd give a "full report" of my family's adventure and hey, this is my blog and I can write about whatever I want! ;-)

There's a lot I could write about this place but the bottom line is: It's great! As a "family destination resort", it's definitely kid-friendly. Those of us who went were my husband and our two kids (ages 1 and 4) and my husband's brother, wife, and their kids (ages 5 and nearly 8), and a family friend (an adult).

So what exactly is there? Well, it's basically a huge indoor water park connected to a hotel. But really, it's oh so much more. It also includes a spa, kids' spa, interactive live-action game (called Magiquest), arcade (similar to the kind at ChuckECheese), teen "club", and a younger kids' "club". I would venture to say they've got something for everyone.

THE LODGE: The Lodge itself was very nice with a Pacific NW feel to it- lots of wood paneling and a nature-themed decor, with art/statues of wolves and bears, and chandeliers made of (real? replica? I still don't know...) antlers. It's very large with several living room like seating areas (sofas/chairs around coffee tables). Three times a day there's an animatronic show at the clock tower and in the evening there's a free storytime that takes place there. Each morning there's a free event for kids (the "Wolf Walk") in which someone tells them some facts about different animals (such as wolves, bears, moose, etc.) and then the kids do a little craft (we made an origami wolf). These were both enjoyable activities although it was hard to hear the show/person talking because of the high amount of ambient noise in the lodge. NOV. 2008 UPDATE: We did the "Wolf Walk" again and it was a little different from the last time we went (learned some new animal facts) but we did the same origami wolf as last time. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: We always attend the 8pm show/storytime and it's packed... get a spot on one of the sofas by "camping out" at 7:30pm. "Wolf Walk" was again a little different but basically the same format and we did the origami wolf again.

THE WATER PARK/LOCKER ROOMS: The Water Park is huge (56,000 sq. ft.) and is well set-up to meet your family's needs whether your kids are young or older. We spent most of our time in the little kids' area, where the water level starts at 0'0". There were two kiddie slides and lots of permanent water toys that allow your kids to spray and pour water from buckets and other fixtures. (In many ways, this area reminds me of the play area at Henry Moses Aquatic Center in Renton.) The resort had plenty of free lifejackets available in a variety of sizes for your kids to use. We started out in the water with the kids but felt comfortable after a time allowing them to play there while we watched from just outside the pool. The set up in that area is such that if you're sitting at one end, you wouldn't be able to see your kid at the opposite end, so we did end up walking along the pool to keep careful watch but that was fine. They did have lifeguards actually in the water watching the kids, but of course we don't expect other people to responsible for our young ones. The rest of the park also includes a wave pool, water play area w/ basketball hoops and permanent flotation features, hot tub, multi-level "fort" with two slides, and three more slides including one that involves riding a 4-person raft down a total of 6-stories for the brave of heart! The website made it sound to me like these were all separate areas but really everything's all in one very big place. All in all, I would say that park was well-attended by lifeguards, though we did notice that height restrictions didn't seem strictly enforced so again, parents, please watch your kids. The park includes a locker room with a few individual shower stalls and free soap. There are also free towels for your use while there so there's no need to lug around your own towels. No hairdryer in the locker rooms but there is a changing table and family shower area in the back. There's a concession stand inside the park if you get hungry and we also saw people bring in their own food (though there's a sign when you enter saying not to). Lockers (somewhat on the small side- I'm guessing maybe 12x14"?) are available for day use ($5 fee, $10 refundable deposit). NOTE: The entire lodge is open to anyone but the Water Park requires a wrist band, which you can only get if you're staying overnight. FEB. 2010 UPDATE: They now do random bag searches for food when you enter the water park- best to leave food in your car/room. FEB. 2011UPDATE: They are now checking kids' heights as you enter the water park and giving a separate color-coded wristband to ensure height restrictions are enforced. Lockers are now $10 with a $10 refundable deposit.

THE SPA/KIDS' SPA (Scoops): I didn't experience this this time around but I can tell you that a 1-hr massage is $95 and includes a foot-soak beforehand. I'm not sure what they're thinking with the kids' spa, though- a kids' manicure is $45!

MAGIQUEST: There is no mention of this on their website but after we checked in we noticed lots of kids with "Potter-esque" magic wands. As they flicked their wands towards lodge decor, "magic" happened. Our 4-yr old was thrilled to see a fake raccoon swing back and forth and "talk" (the mouth didn't move but you heard sound through a speaker) when he saw another kid use his wand. On investigation, we learned that the wand is $15 and game play (good during your entire visit) is $10. "What!?!", we thought, "No way are we buying a $25 toy that only works in this resort!" In the end, we relented, but it turned out to be great fun and here's why... turns out it's not just a clever little remote control that makes loge decor move and talk. It's actually part of an interactive game, pretty much a high-tech scavenger hunt. When you buy the wand and activate it you also get a booklet filled with rhyming riddles that challenge you to find various things throughout the lodge (all located on the first 5 floors). It ended up being something that our whole family enjoyed (although it did involve a lot of walking, which got pretty tiring). The computer system remembers where you left off so you can continue the game next time you visit (a brilliant marketing ploy, I know!) and you only buy the wand once. It's not surprising, but I feel I must add that the Magiquest store sells more than just wands so be prepared for your kid to ask for the various other accessories they sell... I'm proud to say that we resisted buying any of them (this time, anyway!) NOV. 2008: We did the "Magiquest Game" again (for a $10 activation fee) and, just as we'd been promised, the computer remembered where we'd left off. Our son is now a "Master Magi" and looks forward to our return when he'll defeat the dragon. FEB. 2010 UPDATE: Don't know if it was available before and we didn't know about it, or if it's a new thing, but apparently you can get a Magiquest wand ($15) and they'll turn it on for free. Game play is $10 but if you just want your kid to be able to wave around the wand and make things light up/turn on, it's free. Our (now) 3 yr. old wanted her own wand this time. Yes, I know it's not cheap for something that only works at the Lodge but this was our 4th time back and we plan to return again and again. As an aside, if your kids like to dress up beware that the Magiquest store has a tempting assortment of wizard robes and fairy wings, etc. and I've noticed more and more kiddos dressed up as they walk around the Lodge- consider bringing stuff from home to stave off requests for new dress up clothes! Oh, and our son defeated the dragon- woohoo! FEB. 2011 UPDATE: This interactive game is now referenced on their website but lacks a lot of details. The price of game play has gone up to $13. The price of wands as gone up to $17. An add-on "adventure" has also been created called COMPASSQUEST. For $15 you get a "compass" and 9 new quests. The compass is really just a toy that looks like a large compass and has a computer chip in it- I really think for that price they should also stick a real compass on there! Anyway, our now 7 yr. old bought it with his own money so I'm not complaining. At least $13 for game play includes both products (wand and compass). They're also selling belts now, too- black or pink- for $15. Includes clever little holders for a wand and a compass. Even the XS was too big for our kids' tiny waists but we were able to slide the straps into the different holders and make it work well enough.

THE FOOD: It was fine but overpriced. At the Bar and Grille, it was about $10 for an okay and somewhat small hamburger; another $1.50 if you want fries instead of chips w/ that; another $2 for soda. The kids' meals are about $6; another $1 for a soda. The biggest problem w/ that place was the over one-hour wait (we were told it'd be 45 mins.) When we were seated, the hostess told us our wait "wasn't long at all" since the usual wait time is 1.5 hrs. (if that's so, why did she originally tell us 45 mins.!?!) Our waitress said they are expanding the restaurant to solve this problem. At the Buffet, it was about $14 for adults and $8 for kids over 3 for breakfast. The food was fine but I always feel like I have to eat way more than I normally would to justify the cost of a buffet for that price. We didn't eat dinner there but it's about $17 for adults and $10 for kids. Our buffet did include drinks and we were even able to take our coffee to-go when we left. There's a Pizza Hut in the building, where it was about $6 for a personal pan pizza and $12 for a medium pizza. There's also an ice cream place where it was about $3 for a single scoop in a waffle cone. There's a Starbucks in the building (long line in the morning), where the prices seemed on par with what I'd pay in Renton. As an aside, we were surprised at how low the tax was on everything (3%). Turns out the resort is on tribal land so that's why the tax is lower. FEB. 2010 UPDATE: I didn't check but I'm sure the restaurant wait time is not so bad anymore. Still probably only ok food though and still overpriced. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: Pizza Hut medium size pizzas (the only size they sell besides the Personal size) are $14. Ice cream at the sweet shop is about the same. I'm not sure about the Lodge-run restaurants cause I didn't check this time but I'm sure prices went up a bit. One nice thing, though, the restaurant now sells pizza and it's cheaper than Pizza Hut! $13 for a large one-topping pizza. We brought our own drinks and even a salad kit so that's all we needed for our dinner (plus ice cream for dessert, of course!) Call-in the order or stop by then come back and pick it up in about 20 or so mins. There's another off-site option, a place called "Burger Claim". It's basically in the same parking lot so you could easily walk. Burgers were good but we paid $25 for dinner for our family of 4. The kids' meals were small and didn't include a toy (which is most of the reason why my kids even want those meals). The burgers (and quantity of fries) that hubby and I had were huge and if we ordered from there again we'd split it. Or we'll just hit McDonald's instead. We prefer bringing most of our food but do like to run thru the drive-thru on our way home.

THE TEEN CLUB (Gr8Space): It's another $10 to get into this place but if I were a teenager, I'd definitely want to go. As a parent, I think I'd be ok w/ my teen hanging out there because it had two large windows that anyone could see into, the entrance door was wide open, it wasn't very dark inside, and it's in a high-traffic area (near the ice cream place and just outside the water park). It had lots of chairs, a dance floor, computers, and DJ playing hip hop music. I think they may also play movies and/or video games there are different times. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: I didn't check but considering all the other prices have gone up, these probably have too.

THE KIDS' CLUB (Club Cub): It's free to join this club (which really just means they're happy to take your kids' name, birthday, and your address/email address in exchange for a free dinner coupon to be used in your child's birth month and keepsake bracelet) and there are a few free activities your kid can do in there. It's basically a craft/activity room, which includes some kids' toys and tv (that wasn't on when I stopped in). There are lots of crafts kids can do for about $3-15 each. I don't think I'd bother w/ the paid crafts but some free coloring pages or whatever we might do in the future. Kids under 12 need to be accompanied by an adult. NOV. 2008: You don't realize how much ambient noise is in that place until you go somewhere a little quieter like the Kids' Club. It was a nice place to get a little down time. There were some books, board games, a play house, a play shopping cart, and computer with the same kid's software that's at the Fairwood library (i.e., learning games). So there's more there than crafts. The employees were friendly and didn't "push" the paid crafts. For free, kids can color, cut, or glue stuff, and our son was content with that. Our daughter could spend an entire day pushing around a kid's shopping cart if you let her, so once she saw that, we were all set. FEB. 2010 UPDATE: We got a coupon for kids' color-your-own tshirts so we did actually do a paid craft this time. The shirts were unique (said "Great Wolf Lodge" on them and had a picture of their mascot and water slides) and the kids liked coloring them. Probably wouldn't have gotten them without the coupon though. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: Well now that the kids know about the tshirts they wanted them again! They did actually wear their old ones a lot in the last year and have outgrown them even. I noticed the lowest prices on items are $5 now and looked more closely at the crafts- some of them really are just Dollar Store type things (like a paint-your-own sun catcher). But the tshirt design was different and the kids contributed some of their own money towards them (shirts are $15 ea). NOTE: The lodge schedule we got when we registered was not current- you might swing by the Cub Club on arrival for a current schedule and grab a price list while you're there, too...

THE ARCADE (Northern Lights): We managed to avoid this place. Not that I have anything against it exactly but it's another place to spend more money so we stuck w/ playing the Magiquest game instead. I did find out that the it's like a very nice version of ChuckECheese... basically, there are games you play for 1-2 tokens each and then get tickets from it. You then use the tickets to "buy" prizes. I heard the prizes are nicer than what you get a ChuckE's and required fewer tickets. Tokens are 25 cents each. NOV. 2008 UPDATE: Couldn't avoid it this time... the lights and sounds were just too tempting for the kids (heck, even I at least wanted to go in there- they use a blacklight, fun!) Two rounds of tokens, bought over two days, cost us $10. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but the kids did seem to win more tickets than they do at ChuckECheese for each game played and the available prizes really did seem nicer as well. So we were happy with that experience and thought it was a good value. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: Got suckered into spending $20 there this time... I love a "deal" and they were running a special where you could get 12 extra tokens when you paid for 80 tokens. That was probably more than we needed but we still had fun and got some ok toys, not sure if they were really worth $20 though...

The ROOM: My family stayed in the King Suite (one king bed and a pull-out sofa), which included a good sized fridge (free to use), coffeemaker, and hairdryer. We got the grand opening rate of $179. Normal rates for that room (one of the cheapest in the hotel) appear to be about $249-329. Honestly, I don't think I'd pay more than $179. Considering the price of gas and all the other things you end up having to buy (food, locker, activities, etc.), more than that is too much to justify just for "fun". I did notice that there are rates as low as $179 again starting in Sept. NOV. 2008 UPDATE: This time our stay included "just us" (me, my husband, and our now 4.5 year-old son and 1.5 year-old daughter). We again found a reduced rate, though this time it was $189. To find a deal, check the "Deals" tab on their website but also just go into the reservation section and start clicking dates on the calendar. Generally, staying on a Sunday through Thursday night will be the cheapest unless it's the week of local school breaks (including summer break, of course). In my original post, I forgot to mention that the rooms also have a microwave- that makes all the difference if you're planning to bring your own food. We did bring our own food this time- sandwich makings for lunch and bagels and yogurt for breakfast as well as snacks and drinks. We enjoyed a "planned splurge" on pizza for dinner, eating it in the main lobby at one of the several sitting areas. Although there is free coffee in the rooms, we also got Starbucks to go with our breakfast. And we shared a large ice cream after dinner. It took a little more planning and meant lugging in another bag, but bringing much of our own food really made a difference for us on the final cost of this mini-vacation. FEB. 2011 UPDATE: Now that our oldest is in school I can see why you might not get the cheapest rates available... in order to avoid missing school we had to go over mid-winter break and of course prices are higher when you go during popular times. Our rate for a Family Room (two queens and a pull-out sofa) was $239. I'm pretty sure I saw $179 rates on other days so do look around. Takes a little time (have to check each date individually) but it's worth it. Brought out own breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks again, so that helped a lot. Seems that rates are pretty much holding since they opened but everything else has increase.

FINAL ANALYSIS: We will definitely be back to this place but only when we can get the lowest rates. We will also bring more food of our own and may consider a trip down the road (about 1/3 mi. to either the Dairy Queen or McDonald's) to save on food costs. Overall I'd give this place a kidspot rating of 1.5. (To get a 1.0, it would need at least one footstool in each of the bathrooms or at least one lower sink for kids to reach-- yes, I'm a very picky grader!)

PS: In case you're wondering, the water park is open only to hotel guests though "day passes" are available on a limited basis to friends of hotel guests.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (FEB. 2011): You can now sign up for coupons to be sent to your mobile phone via text. Do it when you get there and some decent coupons will start coming in. To use them you just give the cashier your cell#. Pretty cool. Finally, on the day of check-in, the place was MUCH busier than we've ever seen it (probably because we were there over mid-winter break for a lot of local schools). The line was so long that employees actually started bringing around trays of free chocolate-covered strawberries and wrist bands for the water park. It was a great way to keep people happy while waiting in line (we were also encouraged just to go swim and come back later for check-in).