a lovely family vacation…san miguel de allende

Our family was in need of a vacation, we all have had a lot going on the past few months and it has been hot and muggy in Los Angeles. It’s too hot to be outside and being cooped up in the house with little kids is no fun at all! It was time to escape summer in Los Angeles! Leo had a week off of preschool so we thought it would be the perfect time for a Mexican getaway.

I had read about San Miguel de Allende on travel sites recently and a few friends have been and raved about it, so we figured… why not?  After five nights there, I have to say I am absolutely in love with the town. San Miguel de Allende has a rich history, the Spanish colonial town has retained much of its old world charm with narrow cobble stone streets (don’t bother to bring a stroller if you go) and centuries old buildings in El Centro, or the historic core of the city which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though it has a small village vibe and everything is essentially walkable, SMA also has big city amenities like fine dining and art galleries.

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Lenny and Lucy walk down a cobble stone street in El Centro

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Leo and Lucy pose in front of an 18th century door

I had read many times that the population of SMA is about twenty percent American and Canadian retirees who flock there because of the low cost of living, excellent medical care and low crime rates. Because of this I expected more of a tourist trap vibe in the town. While we certainly met a few of these retirees on our trip, the town does not have touristy feel of the other Mexican destinations. Unlike Cancun, Los Cabos or Sayulita, American dollars are not accepted and most people do not speak English. Luckily, my wonderful cousin Carla came with us who speaks Spanish and I was able recall a few basic verbs and numbers from high school.

The landmark of the town is the Parroquia, or Parish church, a beautiful tall Spanish Gothic revival church made of pink sandstone with the accompanying Jardin that serves as the main town square. San Miguel is known for its festivals and parades, I would love to experience Independence Day or Dia de Los Muertos there. Even without at major holiday happening, on the weekend we were there there the Jardin was filled with excitement; wedding marches, Mariachi bands, a blues festival and a military band competition. A lot going on and a ton of fun for the kids.

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The Parroquia

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Dancers in front of the Parroquia

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Lucy and her new kitty in the Jardin

We were amazingly fortunate enough to use a friend’s home at the Rosewood San Miguel de Allende. The property is gorgeous with lush gardens, great restaurants, beautiful pools and most importantly, Rosebuds; a drop off kids clubs with activities for potty trained children that Leo LOVED.

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Leo relaxing in the kid’s pool

The hotel is centrally located and right down the block from Parque Juarez, the largest park in the city with an amazing playground and gardens for the kids to explore.  Most mornings we would grab coffees and pastries and head to the park to play for an hour or two.  Our go to spot in the mornings was Cafe Rama. The art gallery and cafe has a wonderful vibe, amazing egg dishes and coffee and pastries to go.

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Breakfast at Cafe Rama

One of our favorite activities was visiting La Esquina, the Mexican folk toy museum in town. They have three floors of the coolest hand crafted toys. There was really so much to take in at the museum which is filled with new and vintage toys, dolls, rocking horses and the coolest moving toys that were so fancy I would probably never let my children play with them.

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Lucy takes in La Lucha Libre at La Esquina

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Leo plays with a very cool dinosaur racing toy I wanted to take home

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Handmade dolls and our little doll

San Miguel is known for it’s food scene. We didn’t get to partake in many of the highly reviewed restaurants because our children are pretty terribly behaved around dinner time. We did have a lovely meal on the terrace at La Posadita, which has a a beautiful view of La Parroquia.  They also had a spinach and cheese burrito appetizer which was the perfect dinner for the kids, likely the only vegetables they ate the entire trip.

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Carla and Lucy at La Posadita

Lenny and I were able to sneak away for a little shopping and lunch one afternoon and we tried Jacinto 1930 which we really enjoyed. The menu is sort of a Mexican fusion concept, or at least I think it was… I thought I knew a lot of food words in Spanish until I looked at their menu. We both ordered yummy spicy tequila cocktails and shared a composed salad and their version of chilaquiles with burrata which was exceptionally tasty.

The design of the space is beautiful,  I love the contrast of the bold ceramic tiles and modern copper fixtures set in a the historic building which was designed to look stripped down to its supporting walls. Jacinto 1930 is part of a larger complex which holds a food hall, pastry shop, clothing store, book shop, art gallery, and wine and cocktail tasting rooms. One of the more upscale complexes in San Miguel.

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Jacinto 1930 Entrance

We took the kids to Hecho in Mexico for dinner the first night. The casual restaurant has an outdoor courtyard and a diner-esque menu, i.e. a little bit of everything from Mexican to burgers and all in HUGE portions.  Leo and Lucy were squirming in their seats so I didn’t have a chance to take any photos but I stayed and got the check while Lenny and Carla took the kids down the street for ice cream and it was 600 pesos! That’s about 33 dollars for for three adults and two kids to have dinner and drinks- and yes, some of the drinks were beers. No wonder expats love this place.

We ate a lot of meals (and by meals I mean chips and guacamole) at the Rosewood where the food was excellent but I really wish that we were able to try more places in SMA.

Other than the occasional (or frequent, depending on how to you look at it…) toddler tantrum, it was a great vacation. There is so much to do (and eat) in SMA that I am sure we missed a ton of things in the five days that we were there. I can’t wait to go back and explore more.

xo, Lisa

 

 

 

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a lovely vacation… Legoland California

Thanksgiving is a great holiday, don’t get me wrong, but it is also exhausting. Because I am a compulsive planner, I start working on my menu weeks in advance so by the time the week comes around I have a timeline organized for the week that includes everything from shopping list for different stores (five this year) to what time to put the sweet potatoes in the oven.  After three straight days of shopping and cooking, our family needed a break!

We headed south to Legoland, California for two days of fun.

We decided to stay at the Legoland hotel which is right at the entrance to the park.  This was a good call. The hotel is set up for kids to have fun so their parents can relax.  If you’re a design snob, this may not be the place for you but I felt that there was a little something for the parents and a little something for the kids in each area of the hotel so it made it all really enjoyable. For example…

Your bed looks like a pirate ship (or castle or something else tacky depending on what floor you’re on), but the kids sleeping area is totally separate (and even has a TV, egads!)

There may be terrible polyester carpeting with lego bricks all over the hotel … but there are also lovely lego “flower arrangements.”

The food at the breakfast buffet may be mostly terrible, but it’s included in your room charge so you can leave quickly without paying a check when your kid starts melting down.

The main feature of the lobby is a giant pirate ship play structure… and it happens to have a bar right next to it.

Got it? Good.

legoland decor

The park itself was fun. Not overly crowded and the rides were great for a 4 year old… though Leo could have benefited from 1-4 more inches of height for a few of the rides.  He was rejected from the Lego version of the teacups, which was oddly the one thing that didn’t send him into a full-blow tantrum over our two day park visit.

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He loved the rides he was able to go on…including one roller coaster that totally freaked me out!

They also have a ton of areas for little ones to play in each section of the park which was great for little Lucy.

lucy legolandMy favorite part of the hotel and the park were all of the cool lego creations- from life-size Chewbaccas to the entire Las Vegas strip.  No photos of those so you will have to go check them out for yourself.

Now if you’ll excuse me… Hanukkah starts in four nights.

a lovely vacation… Disney’s Aulani

Our family was long overdue for a relaxing vacation and we wanted to take a trip to Hawaii. It’s possible that we looked at the websites for every hotel on every island before booking, this is my husband’s “leave no stone unturned” approach to vacation planning.  After much debate, we settled on Disney’s Aulani Resort on the island of Oahu. We went into it with the view that if Leo was happy, we would be happy.  As Lenny and I are in our 30s, we weren’t thrilled with the idea of Mickey Mouse crashing our vacation but we decided that we would give it a try.  It was awesome.  We were there for 5 nights and we barely left the resort… and we wish we would have stayed a few more.

A few things about the Aulani… The design of the hotel was much better than I expected. Mickey is there for sure, but it’s done in way that is subtle enough that you don’t feel like you’re on vacation in a toddler’s bedroom.  Check out the below photos of our bed and banquette in our room.  Can you find Mickey?
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There are a ton of room types at Aulani but we decided that the 1 bedroom villa was the right fit for us. Mostly because Leo goes to bed around 7pm and we wanted to be able to hang out and watch movies after he was sleep, having a separate space  for him at night really worked out.  Also, the room has a fully equipped kitchen, dining area, washer/dryer… and even a highchair, pack n’ play and step stool in the room!  Disney makes it easy to travel with children.  There are even little kid-height sinks in all of the hotels main bathrooms.

Now on to the fun stuff!  One of the best things about Aulani are the pools and beach.  There is so much stuff to do, Leo wouldn’t have been bored if we stayed 10 days.  There is a great lazy river, giant water slides, a water-jungle-gym sort of thing with two little water slides, a splash pad, two huge pools and a beach with beautiful sand and clear warm water and tiny toddler-safe waves.  Leo loved all of these things, he loved the beach the most and taking a kayak out in the ocean with his dad.  There are a ton of lounge chairs over looking the main pool areas, the ocean and on the beach itself.  We never had trouble finding a chair… of course, we were up at 6:30 every mooring and to the pool pretty much by 9:00 but I think that seemed to be pretty standard for everyone else who was traveling with kids.

The VERY best thing about Aulani is Aunty’s Beach House, their version of a kid’s club. This is fully-supervised child care with fun activities.  They are open from 9:30AM to 8:00PM daily and take kids 3 to 12 years old. We had to get in line pretty early, around 7:00AM, to sign Leo up for activities but he had a blast and we were able to enjoy a few calm mornings by the pool and even a toddler-free dinner (with Lucy in tow).  The activities included a little hula class, making “volcanos” and “space goo” and things like that. Most involve a character or two and most are complimentary; meals at the Beach House are eight dollars. You check your child in with your room key ID and an electronic wristband (kid lojack) and check out with room key and a secret password- it all seemed very secure.  The “beach house” itself is very cool with a ton to do, but has A LOT of media (it is Disney after all). We found that a full day at the pool and beach was too much for Leo, he just got too tired (cranky), so it really helped all of us have a better vacation when he was there a few hours a day.  This is what we did while Leo was in the kids club and Lucy was asleep in her stroller…. pure bliss…

IMG_3091If you’re kids aren’t quite three or you don’t feel like getting up at 7:00AM to sign them up for the beach house activities there are character-led activities around the property as well.  Pool parties with Goofy and “surf lessons” with Chip and Dale. Sorry this is not the best photo, but you get the idea…

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They have evening activities like firepit story telling and a “starlit hui” luau but they all happened after Leo’s bedtime so we, sadly, did not get to experience them.

Another nice thing about Aulani is the Disney PhotoPass program; professional photographers that roam the resort and take photos- even in the lazy river!  We ended up with about 100 pictures from our vacation which we purchased on a disc for 99 dollars, sure it’s a steep price but better than ruining your camera or iPhone at the beach or having to take it with you everywhere.

Now, for the so-so part.

The resort is pretty crowded.  Even the last week of February they were at 90% occupancy. We never had trouble finding chairs by the pool but sometimes walking around felt like a bit of a traffic jam.

The food at Aulani was just OK.  I became frustrated with the dining options at Aulani before we even got there when I called a week before our arrival to make dinner reservations and everything was booked! There is no cancellation policy for dinner reservations at the Aulani so it seems like everyone is making reservations that they have no intention of keeping.  We found ourselves rushing to get to our 5pm reservation because 5:30 wasn’t available… only to sit in a mostly empty restaurant.

If you are particularly health conscious this might not be the place for you.  There is a lot of fried food and a lot of sugary stuff shaped like Mickey Mouse.  There are two sit down restaurants and we really liked the ‘Ama ‘Ama, their ocean front restaurant which is a little fancier, but it was really hard to get a reservation.  The Makahiki buffet was great for the character breakfast… in addition to Mickey, Minnie and Goofy coming around the tables they have musical performances and get the kids involved in conga lines, etc.  Leo had a blast.

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The buffet dinner was expensive but the food seemed OK, unfortunately someone had a meltdown and I was not able to eat 50 dollars worth of crab legs or really try that much in the 10 minutes we were there for dinner.  But all of the other food is grab and go and pretty junky stuff- fish and chips, hot dogs, ready-made sandwiches… not the best.  There is a little shopping center across the way with sushi, pizza and “farm to table” restaurant that are all pretty good.

Another slightly bad thing is that Aulani is a Disney Vacation Club property i.e. timeshare.  We managed to avoid any sales pitches but we were invited to a few, there is a presence for sure.

Overall, it was a GREAT vacation and we will return when Lucy is old enough to enjoy it a little more.  Leo is already begging to go back.  Here are a few more photos from our trip… (just iPhone ones, not the 100+ from Disney that I still have to sort!)

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(Written over three-weeks, because that’s how long things take when you have a three year-old and a baby…)