Cliffs of Moher: A Must See for Any Ireland Vacation

When I started planning this trip, I pictured nights at pubs, beautiful views of majestic green mountains, and mornings of sausage, eggs, grilled tomato and baked beans. I also pictured the Cliffs of Moher. I pictured standing on the edge of the cliff, looking out into the Atlantic Ocean and just taking in Ireland in all her Glory. With Celtic ballads playing on my iPhone, if I’m being perfectly honest.

Feeding your belly near the Cliffs of Moher

Our first stop when we got near the cliffs was a lunch break at McGann’s Pub. It was a perfect Irish pub. The place had a lot of character and the food was delicious. It also had the added bonus of being less than 15 minutes away from the Cliffs of Moher. The only problem was that McGann’s was a huge tourist stop. This made perfect sense considering that the pub was raved about in every tourist book around. After all, that was how I found out about the pub. However, in addition to a stop for the individual travelers, it was also a stop for many tour buses. Fortunately, we were already leaving when a gigantic tour bus pulled up.

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher in County Clare

There’s no other way to say it, the Cliffs of Moher are amazing. If you are travelling to Ireland, the scenic walk along the 700-foot coastal cliffs should not be missed. The cliffs turned out to be slightly more commercialized than I envisioned. It was a little less standing on top of a cliff jutting out into the ocean and more of a walking trail located far away from the edge, with countless signs showing how dangerous going outside of the restricted boundaries could be. Go figure.

That being said, the cliffs are still absolutely worth your time to visit. Many tour buses do stop by the Cliffs of Moher (as evidenced by those that stopped at McGann’s Pub). However, if you have the chance, renting a car and driving out on your own is a great opportunity to be able to see the awe-inspiring views without a time constraint.

Be Safe People!

Careful! Falling People

There are signage everywhere about staying safe and warnings of what could happen if you disregard the signs. That being said, the Cliffs of Moher aren’t policed and it is easy to go beyond the designated boundaries in search of an epic selfie. While we were there, we saw a particularly nice, flat outcrop jutting into the ocean that looked like the perfect place to take a picture. We didn’t attempt the shot, aware of how dangerous it could be, but there was a young couple nearby who did think the photos from that vantage point of the Cliffs of Moher would be worth the risk.

Outcrop

To the dumbfounded stares of hundreds of visitors, we watched the couple head out to the outcrop to take pictures. They took turns standing and sitting near the edge while taking pictures of each other. And then it happened. The girl who had just been dangling her legs off the precipice started to get up and slipped. In abject horror, I watched frozen in fear as she started to slide off the edge. Her boyfriend / husband thankfully moved fast and dove towards her, catching her and pulling her back on the ledge. They sheepishly left the outcrop and I got to experience hearing what I can only assume was the word “idiots” muttered in multiple different languages.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Dingle: a Destination and a Journey

The road to Dingle

Is omitting certain truths the same as lying? You are probably saying yes, but I am hoping to get an exemption in this case. At the very least, Bryan has forgiven me for this omission (I think). Here’s the deal. There are two ways for us to get to Dingle. From everything I read, one road was very boring. Additionally, we’d be doing most of that drive on the way out of Dingle anyway. The other road was the only option I presented to Bryan, the drive through Conor Pass.

Driving to Dingle

Conor Pass was touting as having some of the most beautiful sights to see in all of Ireland. (Truth!) It was also only supposed to be done by the most skilled drivers as it was terrifying. So as I routed Bryan through Conor Pass, but not before I calmly mentioned that there was some difficult driving ahead for him but nothing he hadn’t already done. (I thought this was true! I was wrong.)

It started out a little treacherous but not too bad. We took a long break in order to take some pictures before continuing on. And then it got bad. And then it got worse. As in Garda (police) barreling down on us on the ledge of a cliff with no place for us to pull over. But after a furrowed brow (and perhaps a few gray hairs) Bryan showed he really was a pro at this manual car business!

Connor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula Drive

Here’s a shot of the two-lane road of Conor Pass road to Dingle. No, that’s not an optical illusion, that’s the width.

The Dingle Peninsula

Arriving in Dingle for lunch, we circled countless times before finding a tiny car park and a cafe nearby serving “the Dingle (hot) Dog.” After lunch we took a scenic tour around the Dingle Peninsula and our first stop the Dunbeg Fort. Now I’m going to come off as a huge cheapskate, but here’s the Fort…

Dunbeg Fort on the Dingle Peninsula

That’s the extent of it.  And to get any closer it would cost you 6 euros per person.  What on earth could be 12 euros better any closer? We didn’t think it would be so it was time to move on and see the rest of the Dingle Peninsula before making our way to Killarney for the night.

Dingle Peninsula

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Aillwee Cave: A Quirky Getaway in the Heart of the Burren

A Visit to Aillwee Cave

The Aillwee Cave website advertised a “30-minute stroll through beautiful underworld caverns, over bridged chasms, under weird formations and alongside the thunderous waterfall.” It wasn’t quite as grandiose as that advertisement would lead you to believe but the waterfall was pretty cool. The best part about our visit to the Aillwee Cave was just exploring the area, from the woodland trail to the delicious cheese shop.

Background information

In the 1950s, a man followed his dog into a cave opening in the side of a mountain, thereafter discovering the limestone Aillwee Cave. The tour for the public only shows a small portion of the cave. This stems from the fact that the rest of the cave was too small and dangerous. The most fascinating thing I learned from our tour of the cave was the discovery of black bear bones and bedding in the cave. After all, back bears have been extinct from Ireland since 1300.

Ailwee Caves in County Clare

The Woodland Trail and Farm Shop of the Aillwee Cave

The Aillwee cave also sells homemade cheese on their property so we went out in search of it. I started heading to our car to drive to the shop. Bryan, however, pointed out a “woodland trail to Cheese Shop” sign. Our unspoken motto of the trip was to be “active active active”, instead of our typical lazy couch-potato selves. Trek along the woodland trail it was.

The trail was gorgeous, tranquil, and just a little bit weird with random art pieces scattered throughout.

After spending some time wandering around the woodland trail, we finally arrived at the farm shop. I’m not going to lie, we sampled all their cheeses before picking up a slice for later, along with elderflower cordial and pâté. While the Aillwee cave itself was cute, the woodland trail and farm shop made this such a special stop.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park: A Perfect Trip Back in Time

The 15th century medieval Bunratty Castle and its charming 18th century village (known as the Folk Park) are not to be missed if you find yourself in County Clare, Ireland. Neither is the amazing medieval feast that you can sign up to be a part of.

Potcheen Time!

Our first stop upon arrive in the Bunratty area was a visit to Bunratty Winery. The best thing about this shop? They sell Potcheen (the original Moonshine) and Mead (an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water from ye olden days). Keep in mind this important note for anyone planning on enjoying Potcheen: “one does not enjoy Potcheen, one just tries not to black out from Potcheen”. Fair enough.

Armed with our alcohol, we made it back to our room at the Bunratty Castle Hotel and made a picnic out of our new liquid refreshments and some smoked salmon and cheese purchased earlier in the day.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park At Night

Embarrassingly enough, not long after our picnic we headed out to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park for a medieval times style dinner. I’ve always loved Medieval Times, but you know what beats that place hands down? Having a medieval style dinner in an authentic castle. It was truly the highlight of our entire trip. One additional perk of having dinner reservations at Bunratty Castle is access to the Folk Park. Surrounding the castle is an 18th century village, which closes earlier in the afternoon. However, once you give your dinner admissions tickets at the entrance, you have free reign to roam around the park until dinner.

Dinner Time at Bunratty Castle

When it was finally time to enter the castle for dinner, we were led up to a welcome reception and offered cups of mead to drink. Refreshments in hand, we were able to wander around while listening to music from a violinist and a harpist. Before long, Sir Patrick and his fair maiden collected us for dinner.

Dinner at Bunratty Castle turned out to be served in the former guard quarters. In the dining hall we sat on long wooden tables and ate with our hands. The food was delicious and we didn’t miss the utensils.

Soup in a Medieval Castle

After dinner the minstrels of the castle entertained us with singing, including my long-awaited favorite, Danny Boy. I had been dying to hear Danny Boy every night in the pubs but I suppose it would be the equivalent to waiting to hear Tiny Bubbles at a (kama’aina attended) luau.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park During the Day

In the morning, we headed back to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park to experience the place when it was truly open in the daytime. As mentioned above, the castle was from the 15th century. Anything that had been moved into the castle post 1600 was taken out when the castle started being shown to the public. There was even a dungeon that had previously been in use! Meanwhile, the folk park showed different abodes from the 18th century. This included landless paupers whom lived in their Lords’ stables as well as the wealthy original mansion of the inventor of HP branded ice cream (an Irish household name). Some places even had scones and soda bread for us to sneak a taste. Some had fires going and Bryan took it upon himself to make sure there was enough bog on the fire.

Bunratty Folk Park

We did spend some time looking for a shrubbery. Get it? The Knights that say Ni? Monty Python? Bueller?… It’s okay, Bryan didn’t laugh either.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Kylemore Abbey and Gardens: Worth The Trek

The fifth day of our 11th day jaunt through Ireland found us travelling through County Galway and taking time out to see the magnificent Kylemore Abbey, the beautiful walled Kylemore gardens and the breathtaking views of the Connemara.

Kylemore in County Galway

The Story Behind Kylemore Abbey

I didn’t know much about Kylemore before we stopped there other than it was gorgeous but the story behind it was quite romantic if not sad. Englishman Mitchell Henry built Kylemore as a castle and a private home. His wife had fallen in love with the Connemara area on their honeymoon. Sparing no expense, Henry built the 40,000 square foot, 70 bedroom castle for his wife. Unfortunately, she only got to live at Kylemore for four years before dying from a fever.

It was rumored that King Edward VII wanted to purchase the castle. However, he ultimately decided that the property was too pricey for a king. Yes, I will say that again. The Kylemore property was too pricey for a King! In 1920, the Benedictine nuns took over Kylemore and converted it into a school. Sadly, it finally closed one year prior to our visit due to monetary constraints.

The Walk to the Walled Gardens

While Kylemore Abbey was beautiful, it seemed slightly austere. The outside of the Abbey however told a different story. Against the backdrop of the Connemara mountains, the area leading from the Abbey to the Gardens were enchanting.

It was so exciting to come across interactive art pieces along our trek.

The Kylemore Gardens

An Irish donkey (or small horse, we couldn’t tell) welcomed us to one of the most amazing gardens we have every seen. At one point I thought we had made it through the entire garden only to find out we were only halfway through. Half of the Kylemore garden was a usable herb garden, prompting me to take hundreds of pictures due to great illusions of grandeur involving me and my future herb garden (spoiler alert: 7 years later I haven’t done a thing to make an herb garden).

Kylemore Garden in County Galway

I also found more of my new obsession… bog!

Kylemore in County Galway

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn about our travels from County Mayo to County Claire, via County Galway.

Temple House in Sligo: Live Like Royalty in the Country

When I turned thirty I planned a huge trip to Ireland. For the most part, I just wanted to drive around the countryside. I wanted to see its beautiful green rolling hills and get immersed in Irish culture. But there were a couple of specifics that I wanted as well. I wanted to sleep in an extravagant house. I wanted to run through fields in wellies and I wanted to stay at a place with animals. At Temple House in Sligo, I got my wish. Temple House, a grand manor house tucked away amid pastures, forest, and terraced gardens, was by far the best part of our 11-day trip. Click here for a link to the Temple House in Sligo.

What is Temple House?

Temple House in Sligo

The Temple House in County Sligo has been in the same family for over 300 years. When we were visiting, the house was under renovations and only six bedrooms out of 96 were in use. However, in the heyday of the manor, the entire place was so filled with life that a woman was hired with the sole task of lighting the fireplace in each of the 96 rooms. That was her only job because it would take her all day to do just that.

Directions

The one problem with the Temple House in Sligo is that the place is ridiculously hard to find. We learned that the best way to find anything in Ireland was to punch the GPS coordinates into the Garmin. Not the address. The GPS coordinates. That tactic saved the day every time, except for when we were driving to the Temple House. We must have searched for almost an hour before giving up and looking up our reservation email to call for help. And there at the bottom of the email, we found that help was already given. The owners had including a note that read:

The easiest way to find us is off the N17 (9 km from the Collooney N4 / N17 junction). Look for a brown Temple House sign 0.5 km south of Ballinacarrow.

Those instructions did the trick and we ended up finding Temple House soon after that. But if you think I’m being a tad bit dramatic, here is a picture of our GPS when we were finally headed in the right direction. The Garmin didn’t even think we were on a real road. Morale of story: follow the instructions in the reservation confirmation.

Getting lost in County Sligo

Touring Temple House in County Sligo

There was so much to do both inside Temple House and outside. The patrons of Temple House generously left out wellies for guests to use at their discretion. We quickly swapped our shoes for the wellies and went to explore the grounds. Besides running the bed and breakfast, the other line of work the family was in was raising sheep. We had a fun-filled afternoon making friends with the other inhabitants on the property.

The house itself was a treasure trove of antiques that we were free to explore as well. The upper right picture below shows a proclamation written by the many servants of Temple House in Sligo to one of the past owners, explaining how they all enjoyed working for him. The lower left picture below also shows their “honesty bar” policy where they request that you write down what you drank from their bar stock. I made pretty good use of their bar.

Eating at the Temple House in County Sligo

The package option that we booked at Temple Bar included dinner. The family had staffed a french chef that served the most amazing dishes. We went to bed full but still seemed to find room in our stomachs the next morning for our first authentic Irish breakfast.

The Irish Hospitality

Everywhere we went in Ireland, we met friendly faces and kind people, but the host and hostess at Temple House in Sligo were some of the nicest people of them all. Upon checking out they asked were we were planning on going. I mentioned we were off to Knocknarea and was going to be on our way when the hostess mentioned that it wasn’t the easiest place to get to and proceeded to provide very detailed instructions of how we should get there and where we should park.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Click here for the full itinerary of my big 3-0 celebration in Ireland. Click here to learn what I did in the days leading up to my stay at Temple House, as well as what I did once we left County Sligo.

Raddish Kids Challenge: 60 recipes, 1 summer

Challenge Accepted

I bought an annual subscription to Raddish Kids at the end of 2018. I loved the idea behind their monthly boxes. Think of it as a cooking class in a box. We tried out some of the recipes when we first got the subscription and had loved the dishes we made. Unfortunately, after a couple of months, the boxes started to pile up, unused. The problem wasn’t the boxes AT ALL. The problem was me. I love cooking but I hate grocery shopping and cleaning. I’m also a big proponent of the “work hard play hard” mentality. On the occasions where my family is free of obligations, I’d prefer us to spend the time outside the house. Queue Summer 2020.

As I’m sure it was for many of you, Summer 2020 was the summer where all my carefully made camp and summer school plans for Em disappeared overnight and new plans had to be thought up. One part of the plan? Make our way through every Raddish Kids box that we haven’t touched yet. A quick inventory showed that this equated to 60 recipes, various activities, and 3 months. We’ve got this!… I think.

Cooking Classes

What is Raddish Kids?

As I mentioned above, Raddish Kids is basically a monthly cooking class in a box. It includes three recipes, activities to do, conversation starters, and “kitchen tools”. In terms of the recipes, typically what we’ve received is a breakfast dish, a dinner dish, and a dessert dish. However, sometimes a side dish is substituted for a breakfast or dessert dish.

Each box has a theme to it. Sometimes Raddish Kids connects their box to a season. Our December 2018 box had Christmas-themed food while our December 2019 box had Hanukkah-themed food. Sometimes the boxes are culturally-themed. We’ve received Swedish, Moroccan, and Thai food boxes. Sometimes the boxes are topic-related, such as a musical themed box or a space themed box. Whatever the occasion, the activity and conversation topics will match the theme and the kitchen tool will be a necessary addition in order to make one (or more) of the recipes.

Raddish Kids: Zesting

What age range is a Raddish Kids box for?

Raddish Kids advertises itself for kids ages 4-14+. This is one of the great things about the monthly box set up; depending on how much “hand-holding” or independence work your child wants / needs, this cooking class can cater to a wide range of children. I don’t have any experience using this box with a teenager, or even a pre-teen, but in just 2 years there has been such a big change between working with Em as a 4-year-old and working with Em as a 6-year-old.

Our Raddish Kids Experience with a 4-year-old

We started with this monthly box when my daughter just turned 4. Em enjoyed the “classes” but her attention span didn’t last too long. She couldn’t read yet so I would point out the pictures in the recipe guide and explain what they meant. I would prep and measure all the ingredients. She would add it to a bowl, mix it all together, and call it a day. It was really fun to introduce her to cooking this way but I think the main reason we didn’t last too long was because of the amount of heavy lifted I did coupled with Em’s short attention span.

Please keep in mind, that’s just me. I’ll never be a great schoolroom parent. I’ve failed at most Pinterest projects I’ve started. But I have a lot of friends that rock that stuff. Friends that would love a program that would help introduce their pre-schooler to the ideas behind cooking. So if this is you, then go for it!

Raddish Kids: Mise en Place

Our Raddish Kids Experience with a 6-year-old

Fast forward almost two years and the entire process was so different. I still chopped up the produce and dealt with the oven and some of the stove steps but Em was busy the entire time measuring, mixing, and even taking a turn or 2 stirring items on the stove. Instead of the cooking class being a chore for me, Em would spend the entire class excited, asking what to do next. As for me? I would just sit back, taking pictures and barking out orders from my comfy chair. I can imagine just how easy it will be for me in a couple of years when Em can cut her own food and I don’t worry about her mistaking a tablespoon from a teaspoon.

So many learning opportunities!

I’ll admit, before my stint as a homeschooling parent I didn’t appreciate just how many learning opportunities could be gleaned from cooking. For starters, there is reading. As I mentioned, Em wasn’t able to read the recipes when she was 4-years-old. However, now as a fully-fledged kindergarten graduate, she attempts to read the entire recipe pamphlet every lesson. Her new strides in reading coupled with pictures in the kid-friendly recipe pamphlets definitely help her hone her reading skills.

Another big part of our Raddish Kids cooking lessons is math. Em’s kindergarten teacher was always recommending that we use “math talk” at home (e.g. incorporate math vocabulary into everyday conversations). It always seemed so forced when I would attempt math talk at home. But in cooking, it became so easy to do. For example, recipes calling for 3/4 C of a particular ingredient have led us down the path of discussing fractions. We’ve gone from using a 1/4 C three times to discussions on how we can also use a 1/2 C and a 1/4 C to reach the same answer.

One additional lesson stems from the conversation starter cards included with the Raddish Kids boxes. From time to time I do like to use the cards as they were intended, to start a dinner conversation. But if I’m honest, dinner times are pretty hectic. Therefore, what I’ve really loved using the conversation starter cards for are for writing exercises. In order to practice her writing skills, I’m trying to have Em keep a journal for the summer. The biggest struggle has been that despite being a very imaginative girl, she cannot seem to come up with topics to write about. So I’ve been dumping the conversation starter cards in a shoebox and having her pick a card to write about.

How does food from the Raddish Kids recipes it taste?

I’m impressed. The food is REALLY good. I call myself a foodie but there are dishes I don’t like, and so far, Raddish Kids has changed my mind on all of those unlikable dishes. For example, I’m not a huge fan of chili. I’m also not a huge fan of beans. And I’m not a huge fan of putting them all together in a big mixture of chili. The entire time we cooked Raddish Kids‘ chili dish I figured it was a waste that I hadn’t substituted the beans for something I liked a little more (and therefore would eat). Honestly, I only ate a bowl because I always make my kids taste everything before assuming they don’t like something and I was trying to be a good role model. Thank goodness I listened to my own rule because that bowl was AMAZINGLY good.

And I’m not the only one raving about the food quality. My husband is the one who turned me into a self-proclaimed foodie. He has high food standards. So high that (while he never said this out loud) I don’t think ever intended to try more than a bite of Em’s dishes, already writing them off as too pedestrian. We are only a couple of weeks into our challenge and my husband is already raving about the amazing chimichurri sauce she made. He wants to add it to his “recipe repertoire”.

Raddish Kids: Spring Toast

But if the Raddish Kids recipes are delicious, are they hard to make?

In a word, no. Take for example that chimichurri sauce that my husband is raving about. That sauce took less than 10 minutes to make. I know that for a fact because that was the day that I was trying to squeeze in our cooking class into a very hectic schedule. I ended up making it work by having her cook during the 10-minute breaks of her 4-hour zoom summer school class. We knocked out that sauce and had her back in her desk in front of her zoom classes before the class came back from break.

I will admit that we take some shortcuts. Sometimes the shortcuts are on purpose. Like the time the recipe called for making a pie crust from scratch. I applaud people that do that. I applaud Raddish Kids for trying to teach kids how to do that. But I have no interest in making my own pie crust. Needless to say, a store bought pie crust was substituted in place of the homemade version.

Another time I went the shortcut route was during our cranberry crostini class. This time I tried to follow the recipe exactly as stipulated. The recipe was part of the November box set, meaning that some of the ingredients were off-season and hard to find, especially during the pandemic. I searched high and low for fresh or frozen cranberries in three different grocery stores before finally going with cranberry sauce in a can and skipping parts of the recipe that called for making cranberry jam. I ended up walking Em through the rationale for skipping a couple of ingredients (namely sugar and orange juice) and finished that dish feeling like she learned even more than if I had told her to just mix the original ingredients together.

Job Well Done

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Coming soon will be a list of my favorite homeschooling programs and a review on Outschool in particular. If you want to follow along on our Raddish Kids journey, check out my Instagram account.

Brave New (Pandemic) World: A Trip to the Honolulu Zoo Post-Shelter-in-Place

During life pre-pandemic, I bought annual passes for my family to the Honolulu Zoo. I figured it was the perfect time in our lives to spend large amounts of time there. Elephants and lions roaming their paddocks still captivated my 5-year-old daughter. My 1-year-old son was now aware of everything around him and LOVED to be outside. And anything that can tire those two kids out was a win in my book. It was a definite “check” for a fun family outing. And then COVID-19 decided to rear his ugly crowned head and called out “checkmate”. Needless to say, our printed passes collected dust in the corner of my desk for the last couple of months.

Reopening day: June 5, 2020

This past Friday, the Honolulu Zoo reopened for the first time since closing its doors due to the pandemic. Friday also happened to be the first day of summer vacation for my oldest kid. As I’m sure it was for many of you, distance learning was a bear. I figured we could both use some well deserved celebrating out in the sun. I dusted off our annual passes and we went to check out what a “social distancing” zoo really meant.

Flamingos at the Honolulu Zoo
Obligatory photo of the first thing to greet you at the Honolulu Zoo, the flamingos.

Some things were the same as before the pandemic. A lot of things were noticeably different. There were some cons as can be expected, a mask in the hot sun was not a good time. However, there were definitely some major pros as well.

Things to know before you go to the Honolulu Zoo

Hours of operations

When the Honolulu Zoo reopened on Friday, it was for limited hours only. Their new times are from 10 AM to 2:30 PM from Wednesday to Sunday, with the grounds closing completely at 3:30 PM. (Check their website for more up-to-date information.)

Parking

Despite appreciating the later start time to my day, I was worried about parking. The parking lot for the Honolulu Zoo is a decent parking location for those wanting to enjoy Waikiki beach. And many people park there to do exactly that. (Note that I mean “decent” in terms of comparable costs to other locations in Waikiki. It still is $6 for 4 hours.)

We arrived at the Honolulu Zoo close to 10:30 AM. While we found ourselves in the part of the parking lot farthest from the entrance (and the beach), spots were still plentiful. This was clearly a nod to the 14-day quarantine still in effect for visitors, which has effectively stopped Hawaii’s tourism industry.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give is that you can add additional time to your parking meter remotely. A plus since you can only pay for 4-hours at a time. We spent about 3 hours at the zoo before deciding to head to the beach. While I still had 1 more hour left on my parking meter I paid again in order to cover the next 4 hours (thereby double paying for 1 hour). I figured that an extra $1.50 was worth having to pack up all our beach gear, after being there only 1 hour, in order to pay for more parking. I was shocked 4 hours later to get a text asking if I wanted to simply add more hours to my parking time remotely (albeit for a fee of $1.50, so it was a wash for me).

ProParking Text

Admission information

Even though we got there only 30 minutes after the Honolulu Zoo opened, there was a long line. The entrance to the zoo includes a “members” line” and a “non-members” line. However, both lines were open to anyone, regardless of membership status, in order to move the crowds along. I actually stood in the non-members’ line because it was closer to where I walked in from. Zoo employees were passing out new maps of the zoo to show the new walking trails and new-off-limit areas. While some areas continued to have two-way traffic, the key exhibits only allowed one-way traffic. If you don’t end up getting a paper map as you enter the zoo, fear not. A huge map is located right before the flamingo section (as an overlay to the original map) so you can just take a picture of that.

Honolulu Zoo Pandemic Map

Face masks

The rules state that you are required to wear a face mask if you are over the age of 5. The age differentiation was important to me because there was no way Baby L would allow a mask to be on his face for any length of time. That being said, It looked like every kid that was old enough to walk on there own was wearing a mask. (Great job Hawaii parents!)

The rules are slightly confusing because you’ll eventually get to a specific section of the zoo where wearing a face mask is mandatory. (I’m not sure what that means for the rest of the zoo that falls under the first rule requiring you to wear a mask in the zoo.)

That being said, there are three lawns (perfect to picnic on) which allow you to go mask free. You can also take off your mask to eat at the Plantation Cafe.

Social distancing rules for a pandemic world

The Honolulu Zoo now includes painted green dots at most of their exhibits. These green dots show families where they are allowed to stand to view the animals. This was a big plus in my book. While you have to wait your turn for a spot, once you get there, you have a prime view of the animals. Some exhibits, like the penguins and hippopotamus sections, allowed only a few families (3-4) in at once. Each family was given a green dot to stand on. While this did create long lines in some places, the good thing was they allow you to bypass exhibits if you prefer to not wait around for a green spot. Since the reptile section was a hard pass for both Em and myself, we got to “skip the line” at the Ectotherm Complex.

Social Distance Spots at the Honolulu Zoo

Unsure if you want to spend your newly found freedom at the Honolulu Zoo? I have 2 words for you: Baby Lemurs

During the height of the stay-at-home pandemic orders, I received an email from the Honolulu Zoo. The email announced that twin baby ring-tailed lemurs (an endangered species!) had been born. I completely forgot about that joyful announcement until we scored our exclusive green spot in front of the lemur enclosure. There I was staring at “Lemur Island” when a little head popped up and a curious baby lemur stared back at us with a modicum level of interest. I’ve been to a lot of zoos, but that might have been the most precious thing I’ve ever seen.

Baby Lemurs at the Honolulu Zoo

The COVID-19 Pandemic and the Animals at the Honolulu Zoo

One of the longest lines at the zoo was to view an Orangutan. The COVID-19 pandemic is a zoonotic disease. This means people can transmit the coronavirus to animals, especially apes and cats. The Honolulu Zoo was especially worried about those animals that share similar DNA with us. The lesson of the day for me (taught to me by the person manning the Orangutan line), was that human DNA was 97% the same as Orangutan DNA and 99% the same as Chimpanzee DNA. To be fair, I wasn’t a great biology student (or even just a good one), but that was pretty interesting to me.

Pandemic - A Zoonotic Disease

Temporarily closed areas of the Honolulu Zoo

The playground and hippo sculpture were both closed. A fact my daughter was NOT happy about. The Keiki (children’s) zoo, walk-in aviary, and all water fountains were also closed (so bring lots of water with you!). However, as previously mentioned, the Honolulu Zoo does allow you to be mask-free in the lawn areas and at the Plantation Cafe, huge plusses in this pandemic world.

Food options at the Honolulu Zoo

Plantation Cafe

If I was a more organized person I would have brought my own food with me. It would have been the perfect day to have a picnic on the lawn. Instead, I forked over money to eat over-priced food at the Plantation Cafe (albeit discounted over-priced food, thanks to my annual pass holder status).

The Keiki meal came with a soft drink option, animal crackers, and spam musubi. My daughter was in heaven. I opted for a hot dog and fries but cheeseburgers and chicken tenders were also viable options. Note: there are no self-serve condiment options. However, pre-packaged ketchup cups are available upon request.

We grabbed lunch right around noon and the tables were pretty empty. I think a lot of people opted to each lunch on one of the lawns since there seemed to be quite a few people buying lunch at the same time we were. Since you can no longer use water fountains, you can also buy bottled water at the Plantation Cafe.

Dippin’ Dots concession stand

Well played Honolulu Zoo, well played. Smartly located right ahead of the picnic lawn, a visit to the Dippin’ Dots cart was a highlight of the day. We were able to find a spot on a couple of tree trunk legs far away from others. Masks off and digging into our cold treats was a highlight of our day.

Dippin Dots

In Summary

As a result of waiting in lines to see some of the animals, we saw less of the zoo than normal. However, I would prefer it that way as having our own space to see the animals was pretty magical. Additionally, I’m not sure what exactly caused it, but I felt we got much clearer views of the animals we did visit. Half the time I’m at the zoo I feel like Jeff Goldblum’s character in the first Jurassic Park. You know the scene. Where he knocks on the camera/monitor to ask “now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?” This time the animals were right there.

The masks may be a pain to wear and hot, but if you are looking for something to do in this post-shelter-in-place pandemic world, the Honolulu Zoo is a great place to be.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024 or check out my review on the Funtastic KidZone in Pearlridge.

A 9-Day San Diego Itinerary – For the Trip That Wasn’t (Part I)

Here it is, in all its glory. Part I of my nine-day San Diego itinerary, covering Days 1 through 4. I spent the better part of a year writing this itinerary but I never took the trip. I spent a couple of hours (okay, who am I kidding, I spent a couple of days) wallowing over the time I wasted planning this trip before deciding to post the itinerary anyway. Here’s hoping that when all of this craziness is just a distant memory, my trip that wasn’t can help someone plan their own trip that was.

What am I going on about anyway?

For those of you that stumble upon this post months or years down the road, let me take you back to March 2020 and set the stage for you. Kids across the nation are being homeschooled and anyone that can is working from home, 3.3 million Americans just filed for unemployment, many states like my own are in a lockdown, and for some reason, toilet paper is very, very scarce. Oh, and did I mention the very contagious virus creeping (well… starting to sprint) across the nation? Welcome to Coronavirus: the US Edition.

Call me cocky or just plain stupid but I was still set on taking our family’s spring break trip to San Diego well into March 2020. My father had just canceled a riverboat cruise in Europe and a co-worker had just canceled his trip to Disneyland. But I was still going full steam ahead with my plans. I hadn’t left O’ahu in over a year and I was ready to see the world again, or at least see a delightful little town in California with a huge zoo (actually, two of them) and Legoland.

However, towards the end of the second week of March, I finally got a wake-up call. I realized it was time to throw in the towel and call it quits. So with that, I give you my warning. In full disclosure, I haven’t tried out any part of this itinerary to see if it would work or not, although I hope to someday. And if anyone has any comments on what they think would work or not work about my San Diego itinerary, I am all ears!

San Diego Itinerary: Day 0

The plan was to take an afternoon flight and arrive in San Diego late that night in order to start our vacation with a semi-good night sleep before our first full day in San Diego. We would have rented a car from the airport and made our way to our Airbnb in South Park.

San Diego Itinerary: Day 1

Finding a perfect local diner for breakfast

I had a couple of specifications for our first meal in San Diego. 1) walkable to our Airbnb. 2) Delicious (read: good yelp reviews). 3) Kid-friendly (read: very kid-friendly as the baby of the family turns into a monster when he’s not allowed to move around). Cue Big Kitchen Cafe. At the time I picked it, Yelp gave it 4 out of 5 stars with over 700 reviews. Pretty good for a diner! Open from 7:30 AM – 2:30 PM it could function as both a breakfast or a lunch haunt.

Visiting the New Children’s Museum

The first non-food stop on our San Diego Itinerary was going to be the New Children’s Museum. Part of the Gaslamp Quarter, this museum was designed to encourage children to think and play using hands-on exhibitions. Listed by some as being ideal for the 6 and under crowd, there seemed to be so many things that both 5-year-old Emily and 11-month-old Leo would love.

Photo Credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Further information:
  • Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
  • Free entrance for Leo, $15.50 for each of the rest of us
  • Included on the San Diego Go Pass
  • Address: 200 West Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
  • Limited parking in Museum garage: $15 (Fri – Sun), $10 (Mon – Thu)
  • Other parking options:
    • ACE Gaslamp Quarter City Square (421 4th Ave)
    • ACE Westfield Horton Plaza (324 Horton Plaza)
    • ABM Parking Services (352 2nd Ave) ~ 2 hour discount for Museum visitors with code 8792

Shopping for sustenance at Trader Joe’s

In my pre-child life, I was one of the biggest self-proclaimed foodies you’d ever meet. Even after I had Emily, I tried to keep it up. After all, I would be horrified if I didn’t raise mini-foodies. I think to some extent I have succeeded in turning Emily into a foodie. But it didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t happen by 11 months old (Leo’s age now). And Leo is A LOT more rambunctious than Emily was, meaning he is A LOT less capable of a fine-dining (or even casual-dining) experience. So when writing this San Diego itinerary, I decided to stick with fast food / take out options and dinners cooked at our Airbnb.

Photo Credit: Forbes.com

In fact, one of the things I was most excited about on this trip was shopping and cooking food from Trader Joe’s. The California-started grocery chain is noticeably absent in Hawaii. So, this was my chance to try out all the food that my mainland friends constantly rave about.

Return to the Airbnb for food, rest, relaxation, and unpacking

The baby in the family would definitely need a long nap every day, but after the previous day’s late flight, the entire family would probably need a nap on Day 1. So I planned to take it easy on our first afternoon in San Diego. My plans were to feed the family some of our newly purchased Trader Joe’s food and spend the afternoon relaxing at the Airbnb. Note: almost every day in my San Diego itinerary included going back to the Airbnb after our morning activity so that Leo could squeeze in a nap before any afternoon fun.

Dinner by a Top Chef in Little Italy

One of my husband’s and my guilty pleasures is watching Top Chef. We pick a team of 3-4 chefs similar to a sports fantasy league. If the Top Chef of the season ends up being one of the people on your team you win the ultimate prize, bragging rights for life. We take Top Chef very seriously in our household. Even though fourth season runner up and eventual all-star Top Chef winner Richard Blais was on Bryan’s fantasy team, he was a fan favorite to us both. We dreamed of getting a chance to eat his food ever since we watched those early episodes on Top Chef. Once we realized that his restaurant, The Crack Shack, was kid-friendly and in San Diego, it became a must-visit spot on our itinerary.

The Crack Shack in San Diego
Photo Credit: The Crack Shack Instagram Account (@getcrackshacked)

San Diego Itinerary: Day 2

Food prep time

Kidding. Sort of. My plan was to serve breakfast a la Trader Joe’s as well as prep lunches that could be brought along with us in a small cooler.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines has 2,000 acres of walking trails, stunning overlooks, and unspoiled beaches. There are 8 trails to explore in all, however with the little ones in tow I was interested in either the Guy Fleming Trail (a two-third mile loop listed as the best pick for families with young children) or the Discovery Trail (a half-mile loop near Torrey Pines Lodge that is doable for strollers and wheelchairs). The park is typically open from 7 AM to sunset and offers tons of parking, restrooms, and a gift shop. It seemed like the perfect way to see San Diego and do something healthy for a change.

My only big concern was the State Reserve’s rule that no food or drinks were allowed other than water. Obviously my husband, older daughter and I could survive. But could mini-monster handle it okay if he really wanted to eat and we were far away from food options? Probably not. Hence my decision to bring lunch and leave it in our car. I figured in a worst-case scenario, food wouldn’t be too far away.

Torrey Pines State Reserve: San Diego Itinerary
Photo Credit: sandiego.org

Belmont Park

After returning to our Airbnb for an afternoon nap for the kids and relaxation for the adults, my plan was to hit up Belmont Park. Known as San Diego’s beachfront amusement park and boardwalk, Belmont Park has free admissions and free parking. In looking into pricing options I found out that they have a “ride-as-you-go” option or the option to pay for an unlimited rides pass. I figured we could enjoy dinner at the park and enjoy a few rides before calling it quits for the night.

Photo Credit: Belmont Park Instagram Account (@BelmontParkSD)

San Diego Itinerary: Day 3

Wild Life Safari Park

After another Trader Joe’s breakfast made by yours truly, we were going to pile everyone into the car for a trip to the Wild Life Safari Park. Known as a 1,800-acre wildlife preserve that’s home to over 3,500 animals across 260 species from 6 continents of the world (with an emphasis on Africa), I was more excited to visit this place than the world-renowned San Diego zoo. Its flagship offering is the Africa Tram, which takes guests on a 30-minute safari across the park’s African Plains. In addition to the Tram, I was also excited about the goat petting zoo and the late afternoon cheetah run.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Perhaps one of the blessings in disguise about having to cancel our trip to San Diego is that the park has so many amazing options that are not age-appropriate for my children. I would love to experience the Roar & Snore Safari (read: sleep overnight at the zoo) but it is for families with kids 3+ years-old. The Caravan Safari, Cheetah Safari, and Ziplining Safari sound like amazing options as well. Click here for a listing of all the additional tours you can go on (for an extra fee). Maybe in my future San Diego itinerary, some of the above additional tours will get to be added.

Further information:
  • The park would have been open from 9 AM to 6 PM on 03/23/20
  • Address: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, California
  • Parking is $15 per car
  • Download the “San Diego Zoo and Safari Map” App before you go
  • Stroller Rentals are available – $14 for a single stroller and $18 for a double side-by-side stroller
  • Food is allowed to be brought in (but no large coolers) ~ I heard that the food options inside the safari park were not anything to write home about and was pretty expensive as well, so I had planned to make lunch for the family and bring it into the park for a midday picnic
  • Conservation Carousel: $6 for unlimited rides all-day
  • Playgrounds for the little ones can be found at Samburu Jungle Gym (African Woods), Tiger Trail Play Area (Tiger Trail), Savanna Cool Zone (Lion Camp), and Village Playground (Nairobi Village)
  • Bring Swimsuits or a second set of clothes for the kids if they are going to play at the Savanna Cool Zone waterplay area

S’mores on the Beach at Coronado Island

One of my bucket list items for San Diego was to enjoy s’mores at a campfire on the beach on Coronado Island. I thought it wasn’t meant to be when I looked into it and found that it was an offering at the Hotel del Coronado. A beautiful hotel to be sure, but one that I probably couldn’t afford. Disappointed, I was about to cross it off my San Diego itinerary when I found out that the Hotel del Coronado did not care if you were a guest or not.

Called “The Roast“, the Hotel del Coronado offers a 1-hour firepit on the beach for up to 10 people. While unlimited s’mores is no doubt one of the most popular items, they also offer a full dinner menu. I figured my family could make a night of it out at Coronado Island and so I ordered hot dogs, cheese and charcuterie, and edamame along with our unlimited s’mores. (I might have been really hungry when I placed our order.)

The Roast at Hotel del Coronado
Photo Credit: theresandiego.com

San Diego Itinerary: Day 4

Legoland

No San Diego itinerary is complete without a trip to Legoland. Our plan was to head up to Legoland first thing in the morning in order to avoid as much of the crowds as possible.

Things to know before we go:
  • Bring a swimsuit and change of clothes / dry fast clothes for Pirate Shores and the Legoland Water Park
  • Note: because we were going in March, I was planning on skipping the water park as I thought it would be too cold for us. However, if you are a little more accustomed to the cold than we are, spring break may be a good time to visit as the water park had just opened and wimps like me would still be staying away.
  • Download the Legoland California app before you visit. If you are less technology savvy, they also provide paper maps at the park.
  • To avoid all wait times you can purchase “Reserve ‘N’ Ride” for $35-$100 per person. The difference in pricing primarily relates to how much you want to reduce your wait. My plan was to see how busy the park was once I got there and purchase one of the “Reserve ‘N’ Ride” options once I saw what type of wait time my family would be up against.
  • It is cheaper to purchase admission tickets online in advance than at the gate
  • Parking is $25 or preferred at $35. Since the regular parking is only a row behind the preferred parking, it may not be worth it depending on how empty the park is.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Rides we can’t miss (but not baby appropriate):
  • LEGO Ninjango The Ride (located in LEGO Ninjango World)
  • LEGO Technic Coaster (located in Imagination Zone)
  • Lost Kingdom Adventure (located in Land of Adventure) *Note that Land of Adventure opens at 12 PM
  • The Dragon Coaster (located at Castle Hill) *Note that Castle Hill opens at 12 PM
  • The Royal Joust (located at Castle Hill) ~ This ride isn’t fast-paced like the others and is actually only for kids between 4-12 years old but I thought Emily would adore straddling a pretend horse trotting through a forest dotted with life-sized LEGO knights and other characters
  • Lego City Deep Sea Adventure: Submarine Ride (located in LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure)
  • Driving School or Junior Driving School (located in Fun Town)
    • Junior Driving School is for 3-5-year-olds while Driving School is for 6-13 year-olds. I thought it was pretty cool that at the end of the “school” the kids earn their own driver’s licenses
  • Coastersaurus (located in Explorer Island)
  • The Lego Movie World: A brand new world that was slated to open the weekend we were there (opening day was obviously been pushed back due to the Coronavirus pandemic)
Rides / attractions for the baby of the family:
  • (Imagination Zone) Duplo Play: Giant bins of Lego Duplo Bricks
  • (Land of Adventure) Cargo Ace: Kids become pilots on an airplane (Note: I included this since I didn’t know what milestones Leo would meet by the time of our trip. However, this attraction would have been out for Leo since you need to be able to stand on your own (which he currently cannot do).
  • (Castle Hill) The Hideaways: Multi-level play structure with different obstacles
  • (LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure) Submarine Ride (also touted as a “Can’t Miss Ride” by many)
  • (Pirate Shores) Swabbies Deck: water play in crystal clear waters
  • (Fun Town) Duplo Playtown: Interactive playground with farm, hospital, slides, pretend vehicles and a crawl-through maze
  • (Fun Town) The Baby Care Center
  • (Explorer Island) Dig Those Dinos: An interactive area that will allow kids to dig for “skeletons”
  • (Explorer Island) Fairy Tale Brook: An enchanting boat ride through a world populated by many childhood favorite storybook characters
  • (Miniland USA) Coast Cruise: Leisurely boat ride around the world of animated Lego Models
  • (Miniland USA) Coast Guard Build-A-Boat: Build a rescue boat and race it down a 42-foot long water trail
  • (Miniland USA) Model Shop: Watch Lego Master Builders at work
  • (Miniland USA) Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, Ferndale, San Francisco, Southern California, Block of Fame, Washington DC – a collection of American landmarks with more than 20 million lego bricks
Eating options that seemed well received by others:
  • Ninja Kitchen in LEGO Ninjango World. Options include:
    • Bánh Mì Vietnamese sandwiches on a fresh-baked baguette
    • Steamed Bao Buns, filled with crispy pork belly, lemongrass chicken or baked sweet chili tofu
  • Granny’s Apple Fries in Castle Hill – one friend told me she goes to Legoland just to eat this and every Legoland review I read raved about this.
  • Knights’ Smokehouse BBQ (note that there is outside seating only)
  • Garden Deli and Café in Pirate Shores
  • Fun Town’s Urban Kitchen in Fun Town. Options at this made-to-order buffet-style restaurant include:
    • Philly cheesesteak sandwiches
    • Oriental chicken stir fry
    • Extensive soups and salad bar
  • City Park Creperie at LEGO Friends Heartlake City
San Diego Itinerary - Granny's Apple Fries
Granny’s Apple Fries at Legoland
Photo Credit: Legoland

Quick fast food option for dinner… a.k.a. Why have none of the good fast food joints made their way to Hawaii?

I’m talking about you Chipotle (amongst others). After a full day at the park and no nap for Leo, the most energy this family would be up to was takeout from one of Bryan’s and my favorite chains that still hasn’t made its way across the pacific yet.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check back in next week for Part II of my San Diego Itinerary.

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other California-related information, read about how my family rode Rise of the Resistance multiple times at Disneyland on opening weekend.

Malouf’s Mountain: Glamping for Wannabe Campers

A couple of weekends ago, my family went on our first camping trip since moving to the 50th state. The night before we left was crazy, to say the least. Bryan and I raced up and down the stairs of the house packing up our SUV for our weekend getaway. We dusted off the gear that hadn’t seen the light of day in Hawaii. To be honest, our camping gear hadn’t been used since before I was pregnant with Emily. However, while it may have been a while since our last adventure, we did have A LOT of camping gear. This was all thanks to one of our favorite things to do in New York: camping (okay glamping) at Malouf’s Mountain.

Home Sweet Home at Malouf's Campsite

What is Malouf’s Mountain?

As their website will tell you, Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Campground, is a hike in, hike out, unique camping resort. Located about 1.5 hours outside of NYC in Beacon, New York, they really cater to those that don’t have a car or a house with storage space for camping gear (read: Manhattanites). However, since Bryan and I did have a car and enough storage space in our Connecticut condo, over our four years of frequenting Malouf’s Mountain we accumulated many items geared to giving us more of a glamping experience instead of roughing it.

Aerobed in our Tent
Yes… our camping experience came with an aerobed.

For people like us that don’t actually hail from the city that never sleeps, just park your car at the Beacon MTA stop for the length of your stay at Malouf’s Mountain. We never had any problems doing that. Once you park, call Malouf’s Mountain for a shuttle bus ride. (I’ll discuss more on shuttle bus pick up in the next paragraph.) Just note that the shuttle bus is probably also picking up people coming up from NYC on the MTA. Therefore, try to plan your arrival time with the arrival of the MTA from NYC so you don’t have to wait too long.

The Hike In / Hike Out Concept

In order to get to Malouf’s Mountain, you need to hike in and hike out. This is not as hard as it seems. Believe me, I’m one of the most out of shape people you’ll ever meet. If I can do it, you can do it too. Someone from the campsite will pick you up from the Beacon MTA train stop and drive you to the access point of your choice. There is a 30-minute hike option, a 2.5-hour hike option, and a 3-5 hour hike option. BUT, the best part is: you don’t have to hike with your gear. The campsite allows you to bring 1 backpack, 1 sleeping bag and 1 cooler per person. After you get dropped off at the starting point of the hike, the Malouf staff will drive all your stuff to the campsite for you. How awesome is that?

Hiking Malouf's Mountain

So which hike (or access point) should you choose at Malouf’s Mountain?

I haven’t tried the 3-5 hour hike so I can’t provide an opinion on that option, other than to say that you need to bring your own trail map (and be good at reading it). I have, however, completed the 2.5-hour hike once and the 30-minute hike numerous times.

Mountain Trail

The 30-minute hike

The first year we stayed at Malouf’s Mountain we opted for the 30-minute hike. It was hard (due to the steepness) but manageable and really did only take 30-minutes or so. That year, everyone else that was picked up from the Beacon train station opted for the longer hike. This included families with young kids. We were slightly embarrassed. So embarrassed that the following year I signed us up for the 2.5-hour hike.

The 2.5-hour hike

I knew that selecting the 2.5-hour hike was the right decision when we were picked up by the Malouf bus to take us to the hiking trail and the other campers there were all around our age and included a few marines (read: super in shape).  Then Dick (the Malouf owner) called out my name and gleefully stated, “You guys are the only ones signed up for the long hike.  Everyone else is doing the shorter one.” 

Um… say what?

So, off we went.  The hike seemed good for the first 5 minutes or so and then the straight-up-the-mountain hike began.  I had to break every minute or so.  But finally, at about the halfway point of the hike, we reached the top of the mountain and it was breathtaking.

Sights from Malouf Mountain

The second half of the hike was much easier (obviously, since it was all downhill). However, we still vowed that we would stick to the 30-minute hike going forward. And we always did. All joking aside, (although the hike was pretty tough for us), the main reason we stuck to the 30-minute hike after our 2.5-hour fiasco is that we got really lost. There are actually a lot of signs set up to help you navigate through the woods. We were just really bad at finding some of them.

The hike back down

No matter what hike everyone takes to get to the camp, everyone takes the 30-minute hike back down the mountain. On “check out” day, “guests” take all their gear down to the main meeting area of the camp. This is Malouf Mountain’s “lobby” so to speak. The “guests” leave their gear there for one of the staff to drive down the mountain. Then, sans bags, everyone hikes 30-minutes down the mountain to the meeting point. A shuttle holding everyone’s gear will meet all the “guests” that just “checked out” and will drive everyone back to the Beacon MTA stop.

What does a campsite reservation come with?

You have two campsite options to choose from: Primitive or Platform. In all honesty, in the four years we stayed at Malouf’s mountain, I never saw anyone stay at the Primitive site.

Welcome Rock at Malouf's Mountain
The “Entrance” to Our Campsite. The rock notated our site number and the box with the black flap was where our fire logs were (we had just grabbed all of ours which is why it is empty in the picture).

The Platform Site

The Platform Site gives you a LOT of items (included here). However, the three most important items were a tarp over your tent, a floor under your tent, and a gas stove with pots and pans for cooking. You can even request that you borrow a tent for an extra $12 a night. The first year we went we didn’t want to borrow a tent because we thought it would be really fun to set up a tent ourselves. I think the owners of Malouf’s Mountain thought we were crazy. And we were. Tent set up was not as easy as we thought.

The tent we brought and painstakingly put up ourselves was the same size as the tents provided by Malouf’s Mountain. Therefore, we figured we would save ourselves the hassle going forward and rent a text the next time. At least that’s what we thought at the beginning of our trip.

Malouf's Mountain Platform Site
Our little “baby” tent

By the end of our vacation, however, we realized that we wanted a bigger tent. At the very least so that our bags could be left inside the tent. We decided to dream big and decided we also wanted to stand up in our tent. So after that first year, we returned home and bought a humongous tent that we could put all of our bags in, stand up in, and even hang a lantern from the ceiling. That tent became our home away from home for our week-long stays for the next three years.

Platform site at Malouf's Campsite
Our super-sized tent. Harry Potter at the Quidditch World Cup here we come!

Yes, our tent was so prissy that it had a welcome mat.

Welcome Mat for Our Tent

The Primitive Site

As I said, no one ever stayed at the Primitive Site while I was camping. However, if you so choose to, it IS a good $30 cheaper. The Primitive Site comes with a picnic table, fire pit with grill and garbage can. That’s it. You even have to gather your own firewood versus the Platform Site where the lovely staff at Malouf’s Mountain delivers firewood to you daily.

The first year we went to Malouf’s Mountain there were several people vying for the few open Platform sites. Worried that we wouldn’t get a spot, I asked Bryan if we should attempt “primitive camping”.  His answer was, “Let’s be real.  I don’t think that’s going to work for us.”  He definitely had a point.

Malouf: Primitive Campsite

What do you eat?

The food options are one of the coolest things about Malouf’s Mountain. Before you show up at the camp you can order groceries from their pretty extensive list. The groceries will show up (vacuum sealed) in a cooler with ice. If you are there for longer than a couple of days, the staff breaks up your order to provide you different coolers every couple of days. This way you know you are only eating fresh food stored with fresh ice.

Since Malouf’s Mountain allows you to bring 1 cooler, we often planned huge meals around what we ordered. We would bring the non-perishable items up in our cooler for sides and / or appetizers. For example, to go with our 14 oz steaks, we often brought bread, garlic, olive oil, and corn to go with it. Yum!

While we loved, loved, loved the fire pit and used it to cook food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, one of the great things about the platform site was the gas stoves in the “kitchenette”. Especially for breakfast!

Gas Stove at Malouf's Mountain

What did you do for days on end at Malouf’s Mountain?

Relax! For us, two people with no kids (at the time), stressful jobs, and probably a little (read: a lot) too dependent on electronics, it was nice to just unplug and getaway. We took naps. We read books. We ate and drank.

Platform Site at Malouf's Mountain
We used the vending machine at the campsite to grab cold chasers and just brought flasks along with us, but a lot of people brought up cases of beer in their coolers.

We also talked about how much more active our camp neighbors were than we were. So if you are like our camp neighbors and need a little bit more excitement in your vacation, I did see a lot of other campers use their time on Malouf’s Mountain to go on multiple hikes.

We also were really excited to build fires in our fire pit.

S'mores at Malouf's Mountain
S’mores!

What about a bathroom?

Hallelujah! Lights, piping, hot showers! Let me tell you, outhouses are a deal-breaker for me. It’s fine for an event or a fair, but not for days on end. I used to be a peer counselor at a high school camp. I signed up to work in the kitchen every year even though I could barely cook. Why did I sign up for a job I could barely do? Because the students that worked in the kitchen were the only students that had access to a real toilet and shower.

Malouf’s Mountain has a lovely community house that includes men and women bathrooms, showers, sinks for dishes and a washer and dryer. While we never used the washer and dryer ourselves, we saw a lot of people that did. We did, however, trek down to the community house after meals to wash our dishes. Since the place was wired with plugs and electricity, this was also when we recharged our iPhones. We also trekked down to shower every night. There was a row of individual showers that locked, was wired with electricity and provided hot water in the pipe. It also included a small changing area next to the shower, similar to showers at a gym. Definitely my type of camping!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other New York City-related information, read about an amazing day at Spa Castle, our 6-day trip back to NYC with an almost-three-year-old, and my recommendations of can’t miss things to see and do in New York City and the best places to eat in NYC if you don’t mind a hefty price tag.