In my 3-year-old's circle of friends, we are in the end stretch of "birthday season." It's been such a fun adventure exploring the different indoor play areas in the Seattle-area. I was especially excited to revisit the Seattle Children's Museum, located at the Seattle Center. The last time I was here, my oldest was 16 months old and wasn't interested in much at the museum. I was really looking forward to seeing what he thought now.
The tricky part is that we have been spending time at Kidsquest Museum in Bellevue, which is brand new and has a ton of windows. That made the Seattle Children's Museum look very dated and neglected. It's also located in the basement level of the Armory (formerly the Centerhouse) so there isn't any natural light.
However, I really appreciated the elements that represented Seattle. They have a winding train table that features not only the cities of the Seattle-area but also the Sound Transit stations. They also had a cutout of a Link Light Rail train at a pretend station. We also saw part of a City bus where kids could climb inside.
I think my favorite part of the Seattle Children's Museum is their Global Village cultural area. I love any exhibit that encourages children to explore the world and understand other cultures. It definitely could use a facelift, but I loved the interactive components. They feature the countries of Ghana, the Philippines and Japan. All three countries represented in this exhibit have a house, shop and mode of transportation for kid-sized exploration.
We went to their story time where a staff member read Rosie Revere, Engineer. I loved that it promoted STEM and was a story we hadn't heard before. But, my son lost interest after a few minutes and wanted me to read him a story about airplanes. I was impressed at the assortment of books they had available.
I also thought the mini Metropolitan Market. Usually, my son loves playing grocery story and has spent hours doing so at other museums and play spaces. I thought they had a great assortment of pretend food items, grocery carts and check stands that really scanned items. This day, he was all about the trains so it was a brief stop.
We spent our last few minutes at COG City. This exhibit area was renovated in 2014 and is all about cause/effect and the science behind motion. My son loved scooping up the balls and placing them in air flow pipes (the ones that were working.) He also had fun cranking the conveyor belt (with and without balls on it.)
Because there is more competition in terms of amazing children's activities in the Seattle-area, I'm glad that the Seattle Children's Museum is striving to enhance the experience of families. They are currently in partnership with the Museum of History and Industry on their Seattle Boomtown, Jr. exhibit. I got to see the facade, which is the beginning of what looks like an extraordinary exhibit, highlighting Seattle’s history. They are creating a place for children and their families to explore the boom of our great city. This “small town,” will feature a department store, a stable/blacksmith, barber shop, and even a school!
They are also working on the Marbleous Museum, which would be ticket separately from Seattle Children's Museum and target adults and older children. It would house one of the world's largest marble collections.
7 Tips for Seattle Children's Museum
My oldest is a transportation-enthusiast. We like to indulge him by adding in public transportation when the opportunity arises. So, when we heard there was going to be a lot of traffic at Seattle Center the same day we had an event to go to, we decided we NEEDED to ride the Seattle Monorail from Westlake Center to Seattle Center.
As I'm writing this, I can't stop saying "monorail" like they did in that episode of the Simpson's where they do a riff of the Music Man. It cracks me up because that episode made monorails seem like an old-timey thing, when in fact they are supposed to seem more futuristic. In fact, our monorail was launched as part of the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle as a transportation system for the future.
Anyway, we parked at Pacific Place (parking is only $6 on Sundays) and walked over to Westlake Center. There was lots of signage to catch the monorail, plus there was the MONORAIL right there. I love it when things are hard to miss. We took the elevator up to the platform. Since kids 4 and under ride free, I handed my son $10 and let him buy roundtrip tickets for my husband and me. The Monorail only accepts cash (so no ORCA cards, Debit/Credit, or Sound Transit cards.) He was excited for that responsibility!
And then we waited for the monorail to arrive. I think we waited 3-4 minutes and my son posed for about 50 photos as he anxiously waited the arrival of the monorail. And then in happened. The monorail raced into Westlake Station and we patiently waited for the passengers to disembark and for the crew to check the monorail. Then, the doors opened and we were able to select our seat.
The ride is very, very short. It's a total of 2 minutes. It was enough time for my son to get settled, look out the window, ask if he could have a snack for the ride, and spot the Space Needle. I thought everything looked fairly clean and no one lingered on the monorail.
When we got to Seattle Center, we stopped to look at the Monorail Man (AKA Trainus Prime.) It was a fun little exhibit! My son especially enjoyed his traffic light legs that lit up! He is made from used parts that are no longer suitable for their current monorail system configuration. Monorail Man was built with about $15.00 in scrap metal, which makes it especially impressive!
They also had a vending machine that sold Seattle Monorail merchandise, which I thought was cool. And they had a souvenir smashed penny machine, which is always a hit with kids! Plus there is a lot of fun stuff to look at from the Seattle Center platform.
6 Reasons Your Kid Should Ride on Seattle's Monorail
My family loves to vacation in Vancouver, BC. Each time we drive up, we pass the exit for Semiahmoo Resort and each time I tell my husband, "Hey, we should check out Semiahmoo sometime." So, we I had the opportunity to bring my family to Semiahmoo Resort & Spa for the weekend, I jumped on it! Semiahmoo Resort was just voted the Northwest’s Best Resort in the December 2016 issue of Seattle Magazine and now I know why.
The resort is located a bit off the freeway with lots of turns. Thankfully, there is plenty of signage along the roads making it really easy to find the resort. It was dark by the time we got there, but we could tell that the view would be really spectacular had we arrived during the daylight. We drove past a golf course before arriving at the resort. Again, there was plenty of signage to tell us how to get to the lobby.
As soon as I entered the lobby, I noticed that the air smelled like cinnamon tea! It was so yummy and comforting! The front desk staff were so incredibly friendly! We'd had a long day, so it was such a relief to be greeted so warmly. They got us set up very quickly and we were off to check out the digs.
We LOVED our room at Semiahmoo! We had the Waterview Deluxe Double Queen room, which was great since we had both kids traveling with us. They also provided us with a pack and play for our baby. We ended up using our DockATot instead because our baby was in the midst of his 4-month sleep regression (yes our vacation timing was impeccable.) I found the beds to be quite comfortable. They featured Simmons® Beautyrest Black™ Georgetown™ Plush Pillow Top bedding and we got as much rest as we could with the sleep regression going on.
The room also included ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Amenities) bath amenities, terry-lined bathrobes; hairdryer; Keurig K-Cup® brewing system; ironing board and iron; 42″ HDTV, functional desk/work area; room safes, micro fridge, USB power charging station; Digital Radio phone with charging extensions and WiFi. We were able to borrow an iPad charger from the front desk, which was immensely helpful! The clock was a bit bright and lit up the room at night.
The only thing that was missing was bottled water. I don't remember staying in a hotel in the past couple of years that didn't provide a couple of complimentary bottles of water. With the air being so dry, my husband and I were insatiably thirsty and so we relied heavily on the tap water.
Overall, I found our room to be very quiet at night. However, during the day when it was nap time, all we could hear was the sounds of little kid footsteps above us running from one side of their room to the next. It was a good reminder for us to opt for ground floors when we travel with our kids. Also the doors are quite loud and woke our baby anytime someone entered to left.
My son was ecstatic when he saw that the staff had brought matchbox cars and a playmat for him to use during our stay! I was thrilled because I hastily filled a Ziploc bag with some random trucks and trains and threw them in our suitcase, crossing my fingers that it would occupy him. They were the perfect addition to the playmat. Now that my oldest is 3 years old, I'm realizing how important it is to have things in the room to occupy him while we are tending to his brother or getting ready. I really hate using our iPad in hotel rooms for long periods, so this was a much better option for us!
The first night we arrived, we decided to check out their movie theater. Discovery Theater offers a 156” HD projector and 50 comfortable leather chairs. Our oldest had fallen asleep on the drive to Semiahmoo and was wide awake by the time we settled into the room. We got there about 15 minutes after the movie was supposed to have started. The seats are really comfortable and there was plenty of leg room. It turns out that the movie that was supposed to be shown that night was missing, so they brought some alternatives. Our son was starting to yawn, so we took this as our cue to head back to the room and settle in for the night.
Our first morning, we decided to try the Pierside Kitchen. I loved that we didn't have to walk outside at all. Semiahmoo is a bit of a maze inside, but they have tons of signage so it was really easy to find the restaurant. They had an extensive breakfast buffet that included fruit, pastries, meats, potatoes, pancakes, eggs, yogurt, cereal and more. Our server recommended that we do the buffet for our son because kids under 5 eat free. My son got some berry yogurt, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, a blueberry muffin and some eggs and he was a happy camper. My husband also did the breakfast buffet and raved about the cantaloupe and prosciutto as well as the bagels and lox. I wasn't super hungry, so I had the lemon pancakes which were tasty!
After breakfast, we decided to explore the resort a bit more. They had a nice veranda where we could let our son run around. The coolest thing is that we could see the Peace Arch border crossing into Canada! I've only seen while driving through the border, so it was pretty spectacular to see the line of cars slowly passing from one country to the other.
We got chilly pretty quickly (as we had not dressed for outside weather) so we hustled inside to explore. The lobby is quite spacious with lots of seating. We found a room that had a chest of board games and we decided to check it out. The family-friendly games included Apples to Apples Junior, Monopoly, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Jenga, Life, Pictionary Junior, Uno, Yahtzee and more!
My son tried out about 5 different games, including Candyland. We've only really done puzzles with him, so it was fun to hear him make up rules and use the board games to play in a different way. The room itself was quite relaxing as there were large windows overlooking Canada and the water in between.
I had the opportunity to get a tour of Semiahmoo, which was immensely helpful. We started in the Spa, which is the portal to the indoor/outdoor pool, hot tub, sauna, steam room, fitness center and more. I learned that they have an indoor golf simulator that should be up and running by the time this is posted. They also have a fitness center upstairs that features an indoor track. They also have a fitness room that offers classes (like Zumba and Pilates) throughout the day. The indoor tennis/basketball court is quite large and I was told it's the next area to be renovated.
We went in January, when the weather was a bit cold. However, we were told that in the Summer, they offer beach volleyball,croquet, corn hole, and soccer. Plus, the golf courses are open!
My husband and son went in the indoor/outdoor heated pool and I couldn't believe they lasted an hour. They grabbed a pool noodle and my son learned how to kick and propel himself around the pool. There were some other flotation devices available, as well.
I wasn't feeling very well, so my husband took both boys out for lunch at Packer's. We are big fans of oysters and he was thrilled to discover they offered kumamotos and kushi oysters. He says they were delicious! He also enjoyed the lamb burger. My son had the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and french fries. They were a hit with him!
Nap time came along and my husband stayed in the room with our sleeping kiddos while I headed to the Spa for a Hydrating Sea Flora Facial. I was warmly greeted by staff and given slippers and a key to the women's locker room. Once I had changed into the Spa robe, I headed to their relaxation area. There was a cozy fireplace, lots of comfy seating, plus they offered lemon water and trail mix. It reminded me a lot of the Spa at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C. I was fully relaxed by the time my esthetician came to collect me. She was very gentle and explained that SEAFLORA is a luxurious Organic Seaweed Skin and Body care line that is hand-harvested from the cold, clean Pacific Northwest coastline. I had never tried it before, but we've had a very cold, dry Northwest winter and my skin was not coping well.
The facial itself was immensely relaxing. I've had facials in the past at other spas and they always tell me exactly what they are putting on my face and why each time they put anything on me. I was surprised that after chatting for a bit, not explanation was given for what was happening. However, I was enjoying my child-free hour of spa heaven too much to really be bothered.
Afterward, I was told that I was welcome to use the steam room or sauna and take as long as I'd like in their relaxation area. I sipped on some lemon water and took some meditative breaths before opting to get dressed and check on my family.
The second night, we decided to check out the bon fire instead of the movie. I mean, how often can we go to a beach fire, especially in January? I wasn't feeling very well, so my husband popped our baby in our Tula carrier and took our 3-year-old out our back door to find the bon fire while I rested in the room. They told us they start the bon fires "at dusk" which really meant 8 p.m. Thankfully, there was enough interest that they started the fire around 7:30 p.m. When they got back, my son told me all about roasting marshmallows and how some folks put their marshmallows directly in the fire but he didn't want to do that. My husband chatted with the other guests at the bon fire and he had a great time! I heard a lot about s'mores the entire next day!
On our final morning, we opted to try out the in-room dining. The breakfast page was missing from our Hotel Directory but I was able to find it on their website really easily. I ordered the Eggs Benedict, my husband had the Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash and we ordered the Fresh Fruit, Yogurt and Granola kids breakfast for our son. The menu had mentioned that it could take up to 45 minutes for room service, however our food arrived about 15 minutes later. All of our food tasted great and it was really nice to take a leisurely morning. Our son likes to move around when he eats, so this was a great alternative to having him sit in the restaurant. The only thing missing was a spoon, but we managed just fine with a fork.
After breakfast, I took the kids out for a beach walk while my husband packed everything up. My oldest loved walking on the beach and throwing rocks into the water. He asked if it was okay for him to walk into the water since he was wearing his rain boots. He was elated when I told him it was okay and he cautiously got his boots wet. Then he threw a bunch of rocks one at a time into the water.
By the time we headed to our car, the rain started. It was a nice way to signal our trip was coming to a close. My husband and I were very thankful that we didn't need to deal with any ferries to get home. Plus, we had the option of hitting the Seattle Premium Outlets in Tulalip (had our kids been awake.)
Top 10 Things for Families to Know about Semiahmoo Resort & Spa
I received complimentary room, spa service and select meals from Semiahmoo Resort & Spa for review purposes.
My family became members at the KidsQuest Museum in Factoria more than a year ago because it was close to our house, my in-laws, and I could hit Target on the way to our car. When I heard they were moving to Downtown Bellevue, I was disappointed because that meant I couldn't just stop in while running errands. I was completely bummed. However, when I heard about all the cool new features, I figured we'd need to check it out.
Our favorite area of the old museum was the train table. I liked how the tracks were screwed to the table and the wall and there were plenty of trains for all the kids to play together. Our next favorite areas included the semi-truck and the water tables. We spent the majority of our time in those 3 areas.
Since we are members, we were invited to their members-only preview celebration. I brought my 3-year-old son and wore my 4-month-old baby in my Tula carrier. We arrived 20 minutes after they opened and the place was packed!
Let me start off by saying that the new museum is AMAZING! What's not amazing is the physical location. It's located on the North side of Downtown Bellevue next to Bellevue Library. They have about 20 parking spaces and some of those are reserved for donors. I received a map telling me all the places I could park near the museum, but when you're toting a baby and preschooler and have been advised not to bring a stroller, any distance is far. I ended up parking at Bellevue Library in the basement level of their garage because I couldn't find anything else.
When we entered, it was a bit confusing as to what was happening. No one gave me any directions as to where I could stash my diaper bag or where anything was located. It was a mad house. I ended up lugging my huge diaper bag around for about 15 minutes before I asked a staff member and she told me I could get a locker for $1. I was initially outraged that I'd have to pay to store something I could have easily put on my stroller (but didn't bring as a common courtesy) but I wasn't about to haul the bag everywhere we went. Later, I realized that there were a handful of cubbies underneath some bench seating but they were stuffed to the guilds by the time we arrived. They also had some coat hooks that were layered with coats.
The first area that we tried to explore was the On the Go Gallery. It was crammed with overflowing with kids and cardboard boxes and mail room carts, so we decided we might want to start upstairs and then head back down. This was a good move.
We ended up going straight to the train table and that's where we stayed for the first hour. I was itching to explore the other areas, but my son was more than content to stay put. Not only is is much larger than at the old space, but it has a gorgeous mural of Bellevue and Seattle in the background. And, the table features a Space Needle and Pike Place Market as part of the set. He would have stayed there the rest of the day if I hadn't encouraged him to check out the Bellevue Mercantile Co.
The Bellevue Mercantile Co. is a mini grocery store from back in the day. What I loved most about this exhibit was the signage around with info about Bellevue in the early 1900s. My son really enjoyed the ice cream cart, complete with cones and felt ice cream where he could make an array of ice cream cones for me to hold. When he ran out of ice cream cones, he started shopping for produce and waited in line to be rung up by a slightly older child who was working the cash register. She then informed an adult that she was the manager and sent another child to restock the shelves. It was a lot of fun to watch kids of all ages work together.
Another major feature of the Bellevue Mercantile is the large bean bin. Not only was this area usually swarmed with little kids who wanted to weigh the beans, but the kids ended up using the beans as a form of money for purchasing things at the store. There were beans all over the floor and I saw staff members constantly sweeping the floor. No one that I saw slipped because the beans basically crush when stepped on. This would be a great area for their kid-size broom!
I was especially impressed by Katarina, a staff member who took the time to play not only with my son but with a number of kids. She asked engaging questions as she roamed around and the kids seemed drawn to her. I also noticed helpful staff in the On The Go Gallery and Water Gallery. I didn't think the staff members interacted with the kids in the old location, so this was a pleasant surprise.
As soon as we left the Bellevue Mercantile, we headed straight back to the epic train table where he played for another 20 minutes or so. I finally pulled my son away from the train table and we headed back downstairs to find the Water Gallery area.
The Water Gallery is on the other side of the front desk and has tons of smocks for children. The area felt smaller to me, but I think it's because it was divided into separate areas. There was a quieter area tucked away that had a mirror, a squeegee and a spray bottle. Yes, it's an activity that teaches your kids how fun it is to clean windows. My son LOVED this area and did this for about 20 minutes.
It was nice to see an old favorite featuring PVC pipes and it was even better than my son could reach everything easily. What made this new was the bucket of water that dumped out once it was full. My son stopped to watch it several times. He only played here for a few minutes, but I think it's because it wasn't totally new. I'm sure he'll spend more time here when the newness of the other exhibits wears off.
When we finally made our way back down to the On The Go Gallery, things had calmed down a bit. There was an area for throwing paper airplanes (mainly used by adults who wanted something to do or a place to sit.) There was also a place set aside for matchbox cars. But, the main attractions were the new Semi Truck Cab (which has a CB radio, a horn and many fun buttons and knobs) and the package loading area. They have about 50 medium sized cardboard boxes for kids to cart around in mail carts, put through an x-ray scanner that shows the content, and then send up on a conveyor belt that drops the packages in 2 different locations. This area had the most energy as children quickly stacked packages on the conveyor belt and raced to pick up dropped packages. I felt like I was either in Santa's workshop or a secret kids division of the Amazon Distribution Center.
After the kids got tired of moving the boxes in this cycle, the kids decided that the boxes should be loaded in the Semi Truck. My son was on board with that and dutifully helped load nearly all the boxes into the truck, which made it crowded for the kids in the truck cab. I wasn't sure if that was something staff members had expected was going to happen, as I overheard someone commenting that of course kids would then load the packages on a truck for delivery. I then saw staff members unloading the boxes back to the mail room area, so I instructed my son that the truck was at it's destination and it was time to unload the boxes. He was only partly on board with that.
I ended up having to cart him away from the exhibit to grab my diaper bag and head out. We'd been there 4.5 hours and he still wasn't ready to go. We hadn't even seen the outdoor space, explored the Climber longer than 5 minutes, or the Art Gallery area, but we had to leave something for our next visit.
What's New at Kidsquest Museum
Since I was wearing my baby at the museum, one of the staff members came up to me to let me know about their nursing lounge in the Tot Orchard. She reassured me that I was free to nurse anywhere, but that they now have a dedicated lounge available. I checked it out and I was glad they had so many options for toddlers who want to stay near Mom if she's nursing. I liked that it was in the gated off toddler area so kids are also welcome to explore around in a safe environment. I ended up nursing my son in the Bellevue Mercantile simply because that's where my oldest was when my baby was hungry.
My Thoughts on the New KidsQuest Museum
My friend likes to collect memberships to museums. I always joke that if there's a new museum out there, she probably already has a membership there. So, when she told me she just got a membership to the Washington State History Museum (located a good 45 minutes away from our house) I just laughed and thought "of course you did." But then she invited my family to join them for their Model Train Festival and I totally got it.
We had been to the Model Train Festival at Pacific Science Center in Seattle last year and I was curious how it would compare. I love how much space there was at the History Museum to set up the displays and have room for people to move around them. They also had little step stools placed at strategic areas so kids could get a better view. All the train tables are set about 6 inches too high for toddlers to see (but the right height for the adult train enthusiasts who operate them.) If you are debating whether to take your toddler in a stroller or carrier, I'd go with the carrier so they could see the models much easier.
They had a whole floor celebrating the Kitsap train that runs on the second and fourth Saturday April-October in Port Orchard, WA. The volunteers were very friendly and the train ride looked perfect for our toddler. It reminded me a lot of the mini rail at Squamish, BC. We will definitely be planning a day trip over there next year.
They also had a room filled with trains that kids could play with. There was a large remote control train and track on the floor, 2 LEGO train exhibits on display, LEGOS for kids to create their own trains and a couple of wooden trains and tracks. The volunteers were incredibly nice and helpful! This room was a hit with toddlers and preschoolers.
The day we went, Santa was there for a few hours, so my toddler insisted we visit with him. We had already done Santa photos with 4 other Santas at that point (he's a major celebrity in our house) so we thought, "what's one more?" He was hands-down the best Santa we'd come across this year! Not only did he spend quite a bit of time talking with our toddler and us, but he did about 5 fun poses right off the bat.
Even without the Model Train Festival, it's a really cool museum. It reminded me a lot of Seattle's Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) with their exhibits about Washington's history and culture. I think it would be perfect for Elementary School aged kids because they have a lot of hands on exhibits. If we lived closer to Tacoma, I would get a membership every year (mostly for the train display) but also because there are a lot of things for kids to explore.
We had a great experience at the Washington State History Museum! I was surprised I hadn't heard of it before, especially since it's so kid-oriented.It's definitely worth the drive from Seattle and would make a great family field trip.
We will definitely be back for the Model Train Festival next year!
6 Things to Know for Babies + Toddlers
My toddler has a deep appreciation for trains. We've been fortunate to be able to explore opportunities to go on train rides here in the Pacific Northwest. Not only have I learned more than I ever thought I'd know about trains, but it's been a fun learning experience for the whole family.
This past summer, we got to experience the West Coast Railway Heritage Park up in Squamish, BC (just North of Vancouver, BC.) This was the coolest train museum we'd ever been to! When I heard they had a Polar Express train event, I was instantly intrigued and determined to head back up for it. I'm so glad we did!
One of the volunteers at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park suggested that we take the 4pm train because it would be light when we arrived and dark when we left. He also recommended that we wear our pajamas, just like in the book. I had high hopes of getting matching jammies for the whole family, but life got busy and I was just able to get fun ones for the kids. We arrived about an hour before our train ride so we'd have time to pick up our tickets from Will Call and head to the train station. They had lots of parking attendants assisting with parking across the street for $5. Since we had a 2-month-old with us, I took that opportunity to feed him before we ventured out.
It was very cold and rainy, so we hurried across the street and quickly picked up our Golden Tickets for the train ride. Then, we headed to the front of the train for a Polar Express photo op. There were only a few people ahead of us in line, so we were able to get some photos easily and then head to the train station. In the entry of the train station was a choir (all wearing pajamas and bathrobes) singing Christmas carols. They had two rooms indoors for guests to wait in (one for First Class and one for General.) We squeezed into the room for General admission and my husband took that opportunity to use the restroom before boarding the train.
A train conductor who was dressed the part asked a few kids near the door to help him announce "All Aboard!" and we all lined up to head to the train cars. It was so well-organized. We were greeted as we entered the train car and easily found seats. The conductors helped seat late arrivals so that families could sit together. The train conductor walked up and down the aisle chatting with families. We were impressed how well-kept up the train was from the seats to the windows. It was very comfortable.
There was a 10 minute delay (for which they apologized several times) and then we were off for our train ride. My toddler was so excited! As we started moving, the story of The Polar Express was read over the loud speaker. There were also elements of the movie (the Hobo, the little girl, the boy in the bathrobe, etc.) My toddler told me his favorite part was when the little girl asked him if she'd seen his ticket and to not tell the train conductor that she'd lost it or she'd be kicked off the train. He took her very seriously and we all shushed and said we wouldn't tell him.
The chefs came around with the most delicious chocolate cookie. It was moist and tasted like a brownie. My toddler gobbled up his entire cookie and begged for mine. The train conductor walked around at this point and punched our Golden Tickets. He punched an O for my son on his ticket, which was fun! Then, the chefs came around with hot chocolate, which again was pretty tasty. My toddler did end up spilling some on me and my diaper bag, but thankfully we had napkins to quickly clean it up.
Then, they passed out song books with 15 Christmas carols in them. My husband and I looked at each other hoping we wouldn't be singing ALL of them and thankfully the train passengers decided to just sing Frosty the Snowman. It was a fun way to end our train ride! The collected the song books and the announcer mentioned that this event was run mostly by volunteers and that this was their biggest fundraiser of the year. It was perfect timing, as our next stop was the North Pole which had some opportunities to donate more money.
The North Pole was inside the Roundhouse at the West Coast Railway Heritage Park and was filled with fun activities for the whole family! The mini train that we rode around the park in the summer was now inside and ran around Santa and Mrs. Claus. That was the first line we got into because it moved quickly and our toddler was just too excited. The mini train was decorated and did two laps around lots of holiday train decorations.
After our train ride, we headed to the Ice Cave, which was new this year. Inside, they had a bouncy house, a climbable train that is usually outside, mini golf and a train where kids could pull the whistle. Our son just wanted to do the whistle a few times and then head back in for another mini train ride.
We got in line to see Santa after the line had quieted down. It was a slow line, so my husband stayed in line while I took my toddler on the mini train one last time. My husband was able to wave at us as we passed him on the train. We spent the next few minutes chatting with other people in line and then it was our turn. It was cool because we had to cross the train tracks to get to Santa and wait at the Train Crossing sign (which is amazing if you are a 3-year-old who loves trains,)
Santa was at the end of his shift, but didn't make us feel rushed. We were able to get both boys on Santa's lap and then just our toddler on Mrs. Claus' lap. They didn't have a photographer, but they did have an elf who would take photos with our camera. We opted to just have the boys since they were in their Christmas jammies. Mrs. Claus gave both boys a silver bell (like the one from The Polar Express) and we were on our way.
At this point, everyone was cleaning up. We had been at the event for 2.5 hours and didn't even do all the activities. They had an area to write letters to Santa (and he will reply back), cookie decorating, wooden train building (for $10 donation) a curtained-off area to watch the movie The Polar Express and a whole area upstairs we didn't even see. Now we'll have more things to do next year.
The walk back to our car was tricky. It was really dark and the parking attendants were gone, so we had a hard time figuring out how to get to the parking lot without falling in puddles or slipping on the mud. Thankfully we had flashlights on our phones.
The drive back to Vancouver was a bit nerve-wracking. The Sea to Sky Highway is gorgeous during the day, but can be scary in the wind, rain and dark. It winds a lot. Let's just say the Road to Hana was much less stressful.
My husband and I were truly impressed how friendly the staff and volunteers were and we felt very taken care of throughout the entire event. It was organized beautifully! Not only do we plan on coming back for The Polar Express next year, but we are also curious how their Day Out With Thomas differs from the one in Snoqualmie, WA.
7 Tips for The Polar Express
As the weather in Seattle starts to get grey and gloomy, indoor play spaces become essential to maintaining a parent's sanity. While we are lucky to have so many options in the Seattle-area, it's always nice to try somewhere new that offers something different. My family lives in Renton Highlands, which is East of Seattle and South of Bellevue, so we are used to driving to find quality play areas.
I first heard about Discovery Playtown on Facebook several months before they opened. They had posted sketches of what they were planning on including and I was instantly impressed with their ambition. As time went on, they posted all their progress and I knew that we needed to head to Maple Valley (about 20 minutes from Renton Highlands) and experience this unique play space.
One of the first things I noticed is that kids must wear shoes at all times. This is actually pretty convenient, as you don't need to worry about bringing socks. My toddler's feet have been trampled on in the past, so I like that he can protect them with shoes. Plus, he rarely wears socks, so it's one less thing to remember as we head out the door.
The other thing that stood out is that you can come back later in the day. So, if you come in the morning, you can go home for lunch and naps and then head back to play in the afternoon. Or, you can run out to grab lunch and come back. It's a bit easier to pull kids away from this fun place when you can say that you'll come back after nap time.
What I appreciate most about Discovery Playtown is that it sets the scene for kids to create their own play. They provide costumes and props and leaves the rest to a child's imagination. This type of play encourages kids to play together, even if they don't know each other. I was impressed when I saw my toddler watch a group of older kids, figure out what they were playing and then joined in!
They also seem to have an area for everyone. There is a treehouse with a slide for more active kiddos, storefronts filled with hands-on activities and quieter play, an area for crawlers and (most importantly) places for parents to sit while watching their kids! There is also a small area with tables and chairs where you can feed your kids snacks or lunch. They sell a few products there and you can bring in outside food. There are a lot of food options in the shopping complex for grab and go food.
Unlike some other play spaces we've visited, it's really easy to spend hours and hours at Discovery Playtown because there are so many things to see and do. We've been three times and each time we've stayed longer than we anticipated. It's one of the few places where my toddler will play by himself or with friends and I can just supervise, rather than having to entertain him the whole time. Since I've been trying to foster independent play, this has been really helpful!
Even if Maple Valley seems like a trek for you, it's worth making a day out of it. We ended up heading to Black Diamond (about 8 minutes down the road) to explore their Train and get treats at Black Diamond Bakery. Then, my toddler took a solid nap on the drive home.
What to Know about Discovery Playtown
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I've spent the past month hearing my toddler ask me, "Are we doing the Santa Train today?" It's my fault, really, for telling him as soon as we purchased tickets. It also prompted questions about Santa. I told my son that Santa goes to everyone's house on Christmas Eve and brings them presents. My son's eyes widened as he inquired, "Santa is coming to OUR house and bringing US presents?" And when I told him we'd be leaving cookies out for Santa because he gets hungry visiting so many houses, he almost couldn't handle it. Oh, and this was all before Halloween.
So, when it was finally the day of our Santa Train, the whole family was excited! We'd been on many trains, but never one to see Santa. My husband and I brought my Mom, toddler and infant on opening weekend.
I'm a pretty upbeat person who can always find the fun anywhere I go. I just couldn't get over all the "bumps" of the event. My professional background is in non-profit event planning, so I was surprised how many things were poorly planned, especially for an event geared for families with small children. It was recommended to arrive 45 minutes prior to boarding time to get in line. That's already a long time with toddlers in the rain and cold. At our boarding time of 11am, we were told that the train would be 30 minutes late. There was no explanation or apology. That's when parents in line started grumbling and the kids started crying and melting down. It would have been nice if someone would have passed out hot cocoa and cookies to everyone in line as a kind gesture. My mom ended up taking our toddler for a walk and to run around a bit, which was very helpful.
When we finally were able to board, there were no assigned seats, so we ended up having 7 people crammed in a space meant for 4 people. We saw several couples taking up twice as much space but we felt uncomfortable approaching them to scoot over so our family could sit near each other. It would have been great if the train conductors could have helped facilitate seating.
Upon arrival in Snoqualmie, we realized we'd be standing outside in yet another line in the cold and the rain to see Santa. Because my group had a few adults, we were able to switch off so one adult could get hot cocoa and cookies. Had I been by myself, I probably wouldn't have been able to get refreshments until after we saw Santa in fear of losing my spot in line. They offered the refreshments in an old Red Cross train car, which was super cool! The cookie assortment consisted of chocolate chip, snickerdoodle and oatmeal raisin. My toddler had the snickerdoodle and enjoyed it. I got the chocolate chip and nearly chipped a tooth (it was like a hockey puck) and ended up throwing it away. I overheard some volunteers discussing how to get the right cookie dough consistency. Since we went opening weekend, I'm guessing they were still working out the kinks.
Our Santa experience was fabulous! They only had a couple of families in Santa's house at a time, so it was fairly quiet and kids didn't feel rushed. They had a table to set coats and bags, which was really helpful since we were all wet. The room was decorated beautifully and it was so fun to see the kids stand in awe in front of the Christmas tree. At the end, Mrs. Claus gave each kid a wooden top which was fabulously nostalgic!
As the train announcer reminded us that most people are volunteers, it sounded like he was trying to excuse the poor planning. The soundtrack of the ride back to North Bend was just kids crying because it was naptime. Had the train not been delayed 30 minutes, I think the timing would have worked better for most families. It also meant any families hoping to watch the Seahawks game missed the first quarter due to the delay.
I will say that my toddler had a blast and it lived up to all his expectations! He thoroughly enjoyed the train ride, walking around the stations and chatting with Santa. However, as much as I love holiday events, this will probably not be an annual tradition for us.
6 Tips for the Santa Train
The holidays are such a fun time, especially with kids. Our toddler was born just a few days after Christmas, so he was almost one before he experienced his first holiday season in Seattle! I really wanted to start some family traditions and I thought heading to Seattle to participate in their festivities would be a great tradition to start!
This year, we added a new member to our family and we were extra excited to include him in our holiday tradition! My Mom was also in town so we were thrilled for her to experience it, as well. We grabbed our double stroller, our winter coats and headed out to explore the holiday magic of Downtown Seattle!
Magic in the Market at Pike Place Market
We go on the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year because that's when Pike Place Market offers their Magic in the Market event. They usually have cookie decorating, caroling and other festivities. The coolest feature is free outdoor Santa photos with a retro truck! This is my favorite photo op of the year! We've never been able to stay to watch the tree lighting (darn nap times) but it sounds festive!
This year, the line took about 15 minutes and we met some friendly families in line. We even ran into our neighbor! It was easy to park our stroller off to the side and get photos of both our kids with Santa. This Santa is always really friendly and very personable, which is appreciated. His helper elf hadn't arrived yet, but seeing Santa was fantastic! My toddler was especially excited to grab a mini candy cane after the photos. Then, we took photos in front of the green truck and piled everyone back into the stroller to head up the hill!
Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
In addition to the Magic in the Market, we always go to the Fairmont Olympic Hotel for their Teddy Bear Suite. They transform one of their suites by having a designer create a new concept each year that features tons of furry teddy bears! Visitors are allowed to enter just a few at a time so they can get photos and explore the suite. As you leave, kids can grab a candy cane. In the lobby of the hotel they have their Festival of Trees. We enjoy walking around and seeing the unique themes of each tree. This is also a great place for a short rest and to feed babies/toddlers before continuing on.
This year, we were able to walk right into the suite without waiting in line. There was plenty of space to park our double stroller. There were only 2 families inside when we arrived. It was my Mom's first time there and she was in awe with the decor. I grabbed my baby and was excited to get photos with him. That's when I felt something wet. He had a blowout in his "nice" clothes and it got all over me, as well. Ewww. Thankfully, the Health Club was on the same floor and I was able to take him there to change his diaper, wipe him down and put him in his extra clothes (which were not as cute.) Then, I headed back into the Teddy Bear Suite and we got some lovely photos before going to the lobby to look at the decorated trees.
Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton
Last year, we added the Gingerbread Village at the Sheraton. The theme was Star Wars and my husband was giddy looking at all of the delectable creations. This year, my Mom built a gingerbread turkey and a gingerbread Santa train with our toddler, so he was much more excited to see the gingerbread creations. He kept asking to see a gingerbread train and we were both surprised to actually find one there. This year's theme is Harry Potter and the creations are truly magical!
After waiting in line last year for about 45 minutes to look at the gingerbread, we realized that we could have just walked to the backside of the display without waiting in line. Since we had a baby and a toddler with us (and we did this at the end of our festivities) we opted to skip the line and just look at the back side. The major drawback to doing this is that we didn't get to see a lot of the display. But, it was still really spectacular and it saved us a lot of stress. And we were still able to donate.
Carousel at Westlake Center
This year, we added in the Carousel at Westlake Center to our family tradition. Our toddler has been obsessed with riding a carousel ever since we rode them at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium a few months ago. I really wanted to take our toddler on it last year, but it was so cold out that we thought we should head indoors to warm up before heading home.
Since we had our infant with us in a stroller, I stayed with him the first time so my Mom and husband could ride with our toddler. He had such a blast that he insisted I ride with him. The rides are a suggested $3 donation to Treehouse, so it's was an easy sell for us to ride again. The staff were really friendly and accommodating to us.
Downtown Seattle Nordstrom Santa
My dream has always been to do Santa photos at the Downtown Nordstrom. The line is always really long and hasn't worked into our schedule. The first year we tried, it was an 8 hour wait! I think the best idea would be to stay Downtown the night before and have someone walk over to Nordstrom to get your name on the list and then bring kids over right before their time, so they are rested and fed and will be happy in photos.
When we got Downtown this year, we were elated to find that the line was only 3 hours long! It was our first stop because we hoped to get on the list early. My husband and I were literally dancing in the street because the timing was perfect! There were a couple of ladies who overheard us and exclaimed "Who would wait that long to see Santa!?!" We just laughed because it's exactly what we had hoped for! This gave us ample time to do the rest of our stuff and save Santa for the end of our day.
The staff was beyond fabulous! We were offered cookies while we waited inside and they had really yummy hot cider that wasn't too sweet. They only had 2 families at a time in Santa's room, which was really well thought out. When it was our turn, we got to chat with Mrs. Claus before heading to see Santa himself. It was nice because we were able to take photos with our own camera and the photographer even snapped a few of all of us! We also took some video to capture the interaction between our toddler and Santa. It didn't feel rushed and our toddler felt very comfortable with him. It was everything I had hoped it would be!
Marcie's Holiday Festivities Timeline with a Baby + Toddler
9:20 a.m. Got our name on the Nordstrom Santa List (told it was a 3 hour wait)
9:25 a.m. Looked for breakfast options and settled on Belle Epicurean at the Fairmont Olympic
10:30 a.m. Explored the Teddy Bear Suite at the Fairmont Olympic
10:40 a.m. Our infant had a massive blowout
10:50 a.m. After a diaper and wardrobe change, went back to the Teddy Bear Suite
11:00 a.m. Toured the Christmas trees in the lobby of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel
11:15 a.m. Walked to Pike Place Market
11:25 a.m. Got in line to see Santa at Pike Place Market
11:40 a.m. Got the text from Nordstrom that we could head to Santa's Lane
11:45 a.m. Took Santa photos and photos in front of the Pike Place Market sign
12:00 p.m. Arrived at Nordstrom
12:30 p.m. Finished photos with Nordstrom Santa
12:40 p.m. Nursed infant in Women's Lounge at Nordstrom
1:10 p.m. Rode the Westlake Center Carousel twice
1:30 p.m. Got Fisher Scones from the food truck
1:40 p.m. Arrived at Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton and headed to the back side of the display
1:50 p.m. Got in our car and headed home
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In my effort to explore fun places closer to home, I decided to gather up some Moms and toddlers and head to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA. I had been here on a field trip when I was in 3rd grade and that was the last time. I had heard good things from friends about it being small enough to see before nap time. So, we met up at 10am on a Friday to see for ourselves.
It took about 45 minutes to get to from our home in Renton. I followed my GPS, which took me all the way to Point Defiance Park. I saw signs that suggested left turns to get to the Zoo along the way, which I'm assuming brings people to back lots. Not knowing where I was going, I opted to take the official route. I followed the signage to the parking lots, picked a spot and looked around to see which direction people were heading. I didn't see much signage about where the entrance was.
When we got to the entrance, the line moved really quickly. We were asked if we wanted to donate $5 to support conservation efforts and get a small stuffed animal. We usually donate anyway to help non-profits or parks so getting to choose a stuffed animal was a lot of fun for my toddler! After getting our tickets, we went to the entrance and scanned our own tickets before getting through the gate. Being 8.5 months pregnant at the time, our first stop was the restrooms!
Our friends arrived a few minutes before us and were already in the Aquarium, so that was where we headed. Even though my toddler isn't a fan of touching sea life, we went into that area just to see what was there. I really liked that the steps up to the tanks were perfect for toddlers and I didn't need to lift mine up to see (which has been a problem other places.) After he had sufficiently looked at the starfishes and sea cucumbers, he went over to a large mural with flaps he could lift up. I wasn't able to focus on what the mural was about because I was so focused on the flap that featured a boy with a boom box and I wondered how old the mural was!
After we exited that area, there was a staff member set up in the corner with a projector of live plankton. She patiently showed the toddlers how to shine a flashlight on the microscope and how to look into the microscope. These were both skills previously unknown to our toddlers, so it was quite exciting! The stool brought the toddlers to the right height to fully experience this.
We headed downstairs, just past the large shark jaw that freaked out my toddler. Once I told him it was "just pretend" he was able to make a bee-line for the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs were two of those pressed penny machines. This intrigued the toddlers more than the exhibits downstairs, so we spent some time playing with the machines before deciding to explore the Zoo area.
The Zoo area was fabulous! It felt almost intimate as we were able to get pretty close to the animals (without being TOO close.) This was especially true for the exhibit with the Anoa and the monkey named Bobby. My son was simply mesmerized as we stood behind the floor to sky window and watched them interact with each other. Once a group of kids flocked the area, Bobby the Monkey started playing around and really hamming it up for the crowd! And the Anoa kept walking laps around the area and right in front of the window, which made the kids all erupt in "oohs" and "wows!"
After a good 15 minutes admiring Bobby and the Anoa, we headed to see the tiger. Again, it was handy that I didn't need to lift up my 30lb toddler to get a better look as he could see perfectly fine from tiered seating area. We opted to have a light snack while watching the tiger roam around. Then, we headed to see the elephant. There was a bench that wrapped around a tree so we stood the boys on the bench to get a better view of the elephant, who was eating. The boys decided that running around on the bench was more exciting, so we quickly moved on.
We also came across the Camel Ride area, which looked really fun! Kids have to be 3 years old and at least 36 inches tall. My toddler is 2 3/4 and I was tempted to say he was 3, but after carefully watching other kids on the ride, I realized that kids needs to be able to hold on tightly. No need to rush! I told my son we'd do it next year.
We took the roundabout way to the see the Arctic Fox and came across a Peacock next to the path! This was fascinating for the toddlers and when the Peacock decided to stroll down the path with us, it took a lot of coaching for the toddlers not to chase him. We followed him to the Arctic Fox and the toddlers were more interested in seeing where the Peacock would go next, but alas, he wandered out of sight.
The boys seemed done looking at animals, so we thought we'd check out the play area we found on the map. Of course, it was up at the top of the hill near the entrance, so we had to walk uphill the whole way. And our toddlers were physically pretty tired from running around the Zoo and they all wanted to be carried. Being very, very, pregnant, I wasn't up for that task, so it took us about 20 minutes to slowly walk to the play area.
We arrived at the Animal Avenue and were disappointed at the lack of interactiveness with the items there. It was a large space, which made the activities there seem really small. It took us about 15 minutes to realize it wasn't the main play area. Once we walked around to the other side (Magical Movement) we saw an area much more suited for our toddlers. The favorite item was the slide because at the top of the slide was an amazing view of construction vehicles. They also enjoyed going down the slides over and over again.
At this point, we'd been at Point Defiance for about 2 hours and it was lunch time. So, we headed to their Cafe to grab some food. I really liked the selection of items. I was a bit shocked that my total ended up being almost $18 for a sandwich, fries, soda and Goldfish crackers. Kids meal prices were better and I might just do that in the future, if we don't bring lunch.
My biggest complaint about the Cafe is that they put a shelf of toddler snack items right at toddler height near the cashier. This caused a huge meltdown when I told my toddler he couldn't have a bag of gummy bears for lunch and he ended up running off with the bag clenched in his little fists. This forced me out of line, having to chase him, ripped the gummy bears out of his hands and explain why that wouldn't be a suitable lunch option. Thankfully, I was with awesome friends who shared their food with him while I headed back to return the gummy bears to the shelf. Of course, by that time, there were about 20 people in line in front of me. Had I been alone with my toddler, we would have just left at that point. Waiting in the line and then waiting for my food cost about 25 minutes, which was a steep price to pay with a toddler on the verge of needing a nap.
But, I'm always a fan of ending adventures on a high note, so we made it a priority to hit up the Carousel before heading home. It was such a fabulous experience! For one thing, it only costs $1.50 to ride and if you are planning on just standing next to your toddler, you don't have to pay for yourself. The Carousel has lots of colorful animals and benches, so kids of all ages can enjoy. My toddler rode the Zebra and he was quite excited! He had such a good time that we decided to do one more time before heading home.
6 Tips for Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA
I'm a mom to a 3-year-old and a baby. We believe in traveling as a family as soon as possible and sharing our tips and tricks with other families!