Saturday, January 26, 2019

Kid Friendly Vegas - It's possible! Our January Family Trip

Vegas is normally not a destination that comes to mind for family trips.  And while it is not an ideal place to take the kids, there are plenty of things to do that aren't adults-only or involve gambling.  This past week, we took a trip to accompany the husband who was to attend a work related conference and thankfully has an incredibly understanding employer that allowed us to tag along on the trip.

Driving up the first night to our hotel - New York New York

We stayed at the New York New York Casino & Hotel for a total of 6 days and 5 nights and got to squeeze in some family time and a ton of fun activities for the kids:

1.  Shark Reef Aquarium at the Mandalay Bay.  This was the most fun the kids had during their trip, and a definite must-do family activity in Vegas.  We got to the aquarium pretty late in the day after sleeping in a bit (we were trying to keep the kids on Hawaii's sleeping schedule), but there was no wait in line to get tickets.  At the time there was a convention at the Mandalay so it was pretty crowded but the aquarium was surprisingly not too busy - I can imagine the weekends or holidays would be a different story.  Tickets were $25 for adults, $19 for the kids (for a deal on tickets go to for a $5 discount per ticket - sign up for the Ebates cash back option and you will get an additional 3.5% back on your purchase on!) and there are optional packages/experiences that are also available.  Our favorites were the stingray touch pool, the sharks at the shipwreck exhibit and the piranha tank.  We spent about an hour and a half here with most of our time at the shipwreck which is near the end of the exhibit so it was well worth the cost of admission.

Golden Crocodiles

The kids loved the Komodo Dragon.  He kept "winking" at them.

The piranha tank has a rail to make sure kids can't stick their fingers inside.

This is the stingray touchpool.  The guide there instructed us to gently touch using just our pointer finger.

My favorite at any aquarium - the jellyfish.  These are moon jellies.

The last part of the aquarium - the shipwreck, full of sharks and two tubes for entry and exit, that sharks can swim over/under.

2.  Tournament of Kings at the Excalibur.  Also a huge hit with the kids and understandably so, with the incredible pyrotechnics, action packed jousts, real horses, Merlin the Wizard, audience participation and lots of cheering/heckling.  Although the loud explosions and noises were a bit much at times for Cooper (if your child is sensitive to this, I recommend headphones), we made sure to anticipate as much as we could and he still enjoyed the theatrical aspect of the show.  Dinner included tomato soup, a cornish game hen, broccoli, potatoes, and an apple turnover for dessert - all to be eaten with your hands - with one complimentary refillable beverage (cocktails optional, and light up cups for the kids that you can take with you).  Although the food was mediocre at best, and the slight hint of some off putting smells from the fog machine and horses make it difficult to round up an appetite, the whole point of the experience is the show.  There is an optional "Dinnerless Admission" which is allowed for only 8:30pm showings, but it would be worth it to me to opt out of that meal and eat beforehand, especially if you've got kids who are picky eaters.  At the moment there is a Groupon deal that allows for a $59 ticket vs. the usual $73.12. 

Dinner at the Tournament of Kings

Servers come by regularly to refill drinks and take orders for cocktails.  Emma enjoying her own virgin strawberry daquiri.

3.  Madame Tussauds Wax Museum at the Venetian.  At first glance we weren't really impressed - there are a lot of celebrities the kids don't really know about and some adult-themed exhibits like the scenes from Hangover movie.  However, there are plenty of photo ops and at the end, a Marvel exhibit with Captain America, Spiderman, the Hulk and Nick Fury.  Admission starts at $16.99 per person online (we paid at the door, and it was about $3 more per adult ticket).  The Marvel portion includes a 4D movie which requires the use of special 4D glasses and does have some water/air special effects built in to make it seem you are in the middle of the action while the avengers battle their enemy.

The Hulk at the Marvel exhibit - this was the last one of the Wax Museum and there is a 4D movie experience here.

4.  Hersheys & M&M Store on the strip.  The Hersheys store was in our hotel so we visited often for chocolate treats (there's also a Hersheys smores stand upstairs).  The M&M store was nearby and we stopped there while on a quick stroll of the nearby stores on the strip.  This is 4-story monster of a store and on the 2nd floor you can pick from a variety of M&Ms to fill up a bag or a cup with whatever M&M your heart desires.  The kids were overwhelmed with excitement and jumping around like they had just won the chocolate lottery.  The 3rd floor offers a quick 10 minute 3D movie that plays every half hour, which is worth experiencing especially for the kids!

The M&M store - on the 2nd level you can fill up a bag or cup with a variety of M&M flavors and colors to choose from!

5.  Marvel Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N. at the Treasure Island.  This was another big hit with the kids, and the adults.  If you are a Marvel fan then this an absolute MUST as you are able to see and take pictures with actual props from the movie and all of Ironman's suits, test your strength in the Hulk's lab or fly like Ironman with your vision!  At the end you help the avengers fight off Ultron and become an official agent. 

There were plenty of interactive opportunities for both kids and adults.  Here the computer tracks your eye movement and then allows you to control where Ironman goes with your eyes. 

Cooper posing with one of many Ironman suits displayed.

Captain America's motorcycle from the movie.

Hulkbuster Ironman

6.  Adventuredome at Circus Circus.  The kids spent time here with their cousins and grandparents and though I cannot personally speak to this experience, judging from the pictures and their excitement sharing with me what they did, this is an easy yes if you're deciding on kid-friendly activities to do in Vegas.  An all day pass is $19.95 for anyone under 48 inches tall and $33.95 for anyone over.  Toddlers less than 33 inches tall are free with a paying adult.  The price is quite reasonable considering the options available to you as long as the park is open (Sunday 10am-9pm, Mon-Thurs 11am-6pm, Fri/Sat 10am-midnight).  Some attractions do require an additional fee.

7.  Gondola Ride at the Venetian.  This was a relaxing way to escape from the hustle and bustle of the mall at the Grand Canal Shoppes.  The kids really wanted to try so we did it despite the steep price.  At $29 per person (shared gondola, max of 4 per ride) I do think I'm still on the fence about whether it's worth it, as it is a very short trip and you're basically just going through the mall (there was no outdoor option at the time because it is too cold but I've read the indoor is better overall anyway).  Our gondolier was a fantastic singer and sang some Disney songs for the kids, but the views were basically passersby and mall stores.  Please excuse my upright videotaping as most of this ended up on my social media stories!)

8.  Fountains of Bellagio.  Everyone knows about the infamous fountain show offered every 15-30 minutes at the Bellagio hotel.  We made the quick trek to the Bellagio from the Caesar Forum Shoppes so the kids could see this spectacular musical show.  They were in awe of the shapes and colors that moved effortlessly to the music.  It was well worth the brief moment of cold outside, and we would gladly do it again on a future trip.

9.  Arcades.  It seems almost every hotel offers some kind of kid-friendly arcade, and we were able to try out the ones at our hotel (New York New York), the Excalibur and the California Hotel (this one was extremely small but occupied their time just enough so I could play a few slots).  The Excalibur and NYNY had decent sized arcades, both with ticket-accruing systems (actual tickets for the Excalibur and cards for the NYNY).  These were easy time-sucker activities to occupy the kids while one of us sneaked off to the casino - just make sure to bring ample hand sanitizer and cups to hold quarters at the Excalibur.

10.  Fremont Street Experience.  This is an easy must-do/see in Vegas.  A free light show starting at 6pm in the evening, going about every hour, that the kids really got to enjoy the second time we attempted to watch the show (the first, we were not as prepared with the way we were dressed and it was freezing/windy outside, a shock to our Hawaii-adapted bodies).  In between the light show and souvenir shops there are people that whiz by above on the Slotzilla zipline.  My daredevil daughter whispered to me she wanted to try that, and I told her she needed to wait until she was much, much older.  I think the adrenaline rush from the Adventuredome may have gotten her hooked on the wild rides!

In between all the activities were lots of down times in our room, either with naps or coloring or ipads.  Our room at the New York New York was quite spacious and with a roll away bed provided the perfect sleeping situation for the kids.  We had a close view of the roller coaster at the hotel and we were conveniently located on the 3rd floor, just footsteps away from the elevator and spa/pool (although swimming outdoors in Vegas in January is simply an insane thing to consider).

As for the food, Vegas offers quite the variety.  We especially enjoyed Bruxie (chicken and waffles), Il Fornaio (breakfast & Italian) , America for breakfast (all you can eat pancakes), Shake Shack (the most delicious burgers, fries, and shakes) and Gallagher's Steakhouse.   This was the first time we got to try the well known In-N-Out Burgers!

Bruxie's Chicken & Waffles, Nutella/Banana/Cream Cheese Waffle Sandwich and Chicken Strips + Fries for the kids.

This was a must-try for us, our first time having an IN-N-OUT Burger/Fries.

Hands down, my favorite burger was the Shack Stack at the Shake Shack.  Plus they have grape soda which the kids tried for the first time and are now obsessed with.

We would have liked to have visited the following places, but did not have the chance:

-Container Park.  This is a huge outdoor shopping park with a huge treezone and playhouse for kids located in downtown.  Probably a better choice for warmer months.

-Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden at the Mirage (also outdoors)

-More Shows (Michael Jackson's ONE, Jabbawockeez).  Cooper is a huge MJ fan and would have loved to see ONE, and Emma loves to watch anything to do with dancing.

Some general tips based on our experiences:

-If you're traveling during the winter months, bring at least one heavy jacket for the kids and lots of easy to layer clothing.  A friend of mine gave me some of her HotHands hand warmers she had leftover from her own Vegas trip and they turned out to be very useful!  We used up almost the entire supply we brought with us.  It's also an easy way to occupy the kids' attention while waiting for the next cab, shuttle or Uber outside.  They were fascinated with how it worked, and in our experience, they lasted for a long period of time.  Oddly, they are only mildly warm at first then in about 15-30 minutes they warm up quite a lot!

-If at all possible do not waste time on photo ops taken by the venue - they are almost always overpriced and mediocre at best.  The only time we purchased the photo was at the Tournament of Kings because we were able to take a picture with a fully costumed "King."  And even then, we were questioning whether we should ($40 for ONE picture, $90 for the set.  Yikes.)

-Reduce static electricity by putting fabric softener sheets in the kids' jackets or spraying a Static Guard on your shoes/clothes before going out.   Here's an article about reducing static electricity from Style Me Pretty that also includes a recipe for homemade Static Guard.  This may seem like such an insignificant thing to worry about, but for the kids and even for myself, we were constantly concerned about getting shocked.  I wish I had remembered to bring some bounce sheets or had known about Static Guard ahead of time.

-For those of you coming from rather humid environments like us, don't forget to bring ample moisturizer and lip balm, including separate ones for your kids!  You don't think much about this until your kids complain about their dry, cracked lips.  I was a little under the weather for the beginning of the trip so it wasn't an option to share mine.  I ended up having to find a drugstore to buy extra for the kids and husband.  If you have one for each with labels it makes it so much easier to keep track of!

-Download Uber ahead and scope out drop off/pickup areas for each hotel you visit.  Though we had a minivan to drive to our destinations, there were a lot of times we would need to get around without that available to us so we Uber'd it everywhere.  Normally wherever there is a valet area there is also uber/rideshare available with obvious signs.  If you are concerned about safety you can also send your information to another party and they can follow/see at all times where you are going.  If you don't feel safe using Uber then there is also the monorail which takes you to plenty of spots on the strip and is very reasonable priced.

-This might seem like an obvious thing but for us, we weren't aware that if your room lacks a refrigerator, more often than not you are able to simply request one by calling the front desk.  This made it much easier to stock beverages and fruits for the kids so we weren't tempted as much to binge on strictly junk foods, and we were able to save a little on food and snacks.

-Check the players' club wherever you are staying and sign up so you can get additional discounts on food or shopping at the hotel or hotel partners.  The MLife at the New York New York affords you some discounts at certain stores/food establishments and also gives you points for qualifying restaurant purchases or admissions to shows.

-Before buying admission at the attraction, google it ahead and get the best price possible - you can save so much more by doing this.  We waited until the last minute because we weren't sure what plans other family members had made and this ended up costing us more money on many attractions.

-Beware the street "characters" on the strip or in Downtown who offer to take pictures with you or your children (there were lots of kid-oriented characters walking around to get your kids excited so you then feel obligated to take a picture), they will expect money and ask for a tip.

-Have fun, and don't let minor hiccups or bumps get in the way of enjoying your vacation.  It's easy to focus on all the worries or concerns of traveling with little ones, but don't lose sight of the main reason you are there in the first place - to enjoy each other's company and have a good time.  No inconvenience or negativity is worth replacing the joy of being with your family and making memories together. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

2019: new goals, new plans with The Content Planner

This month I've been reflecting upon 2018 and why it wasn't the best for me in multiple aspects of my life, and I came up with a list of what I could have improved.  At the top of the list:  Too many plans and not enough actual planning.  It's easy to come up with goals, but not so simple when planning the details of how you hope to achieve those goals.  My mistake was in doing less of the latter, and while some personal hardships came into play, I could have anticipated and also adapted better to those obstacles.

Planning and organization is essential for me to keep my life in order - juggling between a full time job, being a mom and keeping up with blogging, social media and crafting was overwhelming to say the least.  Actually writing something down on paper, and organizing those thoughts into specific steps is quite a different thing compared to haphazardly typing a quick note on your phone.

Enter the Content Planner by Kat Gaskin!  For a little back story, I had already purchased one for 2018.  Excited and ready to take on the world of blogging and social media, I went for it!  The beginning of the year looked hopeful with both big and small achievements.  Then some other factors came into play.  My health wasn't great to start, and it only declined as the months went on.  I looked at my planner less, I wrote less, posted less, got distracted and eventually almost gave up on everything.

Photo credit:  Kat Gaskin

I felt discouraged.  Like I had failed, and I considered giving up on all of it. One evening Emma asked me why I looked so exhausted and sad after my usual work shift, and said "but mama, why don't you do your happy things most of the time instead?"  I asked myself the same question and realized, I wanted to set a better example for both my kids to show them that giving up on your dreams is simply not an option.   That's when I received an email from the Content Planner about their new 2019 version, and it felt like a reminder that I should keep going.

Despite what I did not complete in 2018, I am still proud of what I was able to do, and wrote down my achievements at the end of the planner.  It felt good to see what I had accomplished.  The Content Planner is so motivating - each month you have an entire page titled "A Place for My Dreams" with a motivating quote at the bottom.  The last page of my previous planner had the following quote: "Success looks different for everyone.  Be positive and proactive and get out of your comfort zone."  This hit home for me.  I ordered the new 2019 planner, and last night immediately upon receiving it in the mail, got to writing down my goals for the month:  blog post ideas, social media posts, deadlines for collaborations, companies on my radar.  I felt like my dreams had been revived!  The Content Planner also provides stickers for reminders with easily recognizable logos for social media - Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.  Each month there is a space to write down business growth for social media outlets and weekly wins to maintain positivity.  There are also spaces for the theme of the month, what you will or won't do and weekly goals.

Photo credit:  Kat Gaskin

The Content Planner also provides notable dates for holidays and marketing dates with hashtags.  This is perfect for social media!  No need to Google those anymore, as the planner tells you when it is #worldkindnessday or #nationalteachersday, all organized by date for easy reference!  At the end of it all is a space titled "My Plan to Take Over the World" and "Let My Imagination Run Wild."  I have so many creative ideas and putting them down on paper makes them that much closer to becoming reality.

Photo credit:  Kat Gaskin

Kat Gaskin, the creator of the Content Planner, also provides regular inspiration and tips for someone who is looking to grow their business with social media, with an upcoming #planherchallenge - a 7-day series with a daily exclusive video to help you come up with a marketing plan along with proven strategies to increase your reach.  The challenge starts January 21, so make sure to subscribe!

Photo credit: Kat Gaskin

And if you need more inspiration, read about Kat Gaskin's story.  She is a self-made entrepreneur who started out with her aspirations and a lot of hard work and persistence, and has become a successful girl-boss in her own right.  Just reading her page on the Salty Pineapple is motivating, and I feel ready to take on my goals with my 2019 Content Planner.  I've got big plans, but lots of planning to do, and 2019 will be a year of no blank pages!  And as it says right at the beginning of my planner: "Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential."  I'm ready to take on the world!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas Dinner at the Aulani

This year to avoid the headache of cooking post-Christmas-Eve-festivities, we opted to try the Christmas Dinner at the Aulani Hotel & Resort.  There were several options to choose from, ranging from dinner at the 'Ama'ama, Makahiki and one in the Kaiona ballroom so we opted for latter as that event offers photo ops with Disney characters throughout the night. 

We chose the dinner that started at 6pm, arriving about 10 minutes earlier for check-in.  Prior to checking in, we took some pictures at the popular spot on the balcony with a view of the pool and Aulani volcano.  The kids put on their special 3D printed Mickey ears and got to posing. 

There was already a small line forming near the entrance of the ballroom.  The host signed us in and explained to us they would be able to seat us after we were done purchasing tickets for our alcoholic beverages and taking pictures on the lawn.  The lawn was beautifully set up with lanterns and tables for people to sip on cocktails and mingle. 

Before going inside, we took a few pictures without characters, then they announced Donald and Daisy were going to show up and the kids' eyes lit up and they were so excited to see them!  If you are a guest of the hotel, there are photographers here who will take your PhotoPass.   After picture taking, we headed to the ticket table to purchase our beverages.  I opted for the festive Merry Berry Martini. 

Upon being seated we noticed to our delight we had our own table, which seemed to be the case for all families/groups who reserved a spot for the dinner.  I wasn't sure when booking if this would be the case, but it appeared all tables were for groups/families who reserved together.

The dinner was buffet-style with an ample variety of dishes.  It was hard to choose but our favorites were the prime rib and shrimp cocktail.  The kids LOVED the kids' offerings (there was a separate table of corn dogs, chicken strips, fries, mozzarella sticks and mac and cheese).  They were especially excited about the desserts table!

After dinner we ran back out for another photo op with Mickey and Minnie complete with Christmas backdrops, then went back into the ballroom for our "second round" of desserts. 

Throughout dinner was a live musical performance by two very talented musicians/singers who sang traditional Christmas music as well as some well known Disney songs.  Our absolute favorite was the Disney song medley including songs from Frozen, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. 

The best thing was simply spending time with my family, seeing their beautiful, happy faces and making precious memories.  We reminisced about our first Disney trip, talked about how much fun we had on our staycations, and made more of those happy memories together. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Craft Pantry: DIY LOL Surprise Doll Gingerbread House

The LOL Surprise toy trend seems to have exploded during this holiday season, with a variety of new series and dolls including the Bling Series which turns the LOL doll into an ornament.  I thought I would combine the LOL and the resin crafts I've been doing to make my own LOL doll themed gingerbread house to display or hang as an ornament.  And since Neon QT is one of my favorite ones, this one in particular will be Neon QT themed!

Here are some LOL doll gingerbread houses themed by specific dolls that I've made so far, including the latest Neon QT that I made using resin and decoden:

LOL Surprise Resin Gingerbread House mama sahrang
Kitty Queen, Bon Bon, Neon QT and Splash Queen

Main materials for the house:

-Epoxy Resin (two part resin, I use primarily Art N Glow as they give me the best results and have the least amount of odor/VOCs and use code MAMASAHRANG10 FOR 10% OFF)
-Glow in the dark powder (to make it glow in the dark since we are doing a Neon QT theme) - I also use Art N Glow for my powders 
-Glitter or whatever other flakes you want to add into your resin (I used iridescent flakes for this house in particular)
-Resin dye (I use ones from Sophie & Toffee, which is a great place to get all kinds of supplies related to resin crafts)
-UV resin to put the pieces together and a UV light
-Acrylic paint
-Holographic or iridescent film (I used this to make the neon colors I used "pop" more with the film as a background 
-Popsicle sticks to mix resin
-Gloves (non latex recommended)
-LOL Doll Planar pieces (I've seen them both on Wish and Ali Express)

Supplies needed for your resin gingerbread house

Trace the edges of the gingerbread pieces with your marker onto the film.  Here I used vinyl film but would actually recommend a flat, thinner film so that it is easier to add to the resin.  Cut the pieces so they fit into each piece without leaving too much of a border.  Decide ahead what colors and glitter/flakes you want for each piece.  

I used vinyl for this activity but I would recomnent sticker sheets instead that are flat so it's easier to place in your resin without curling.

Trace out the shapes and cut within the lines so they don't show, and the shape will fit properly in the mold.

Mix the epoxy resin.  If you aren't familiar with epoxy resin, it is a two-component mixture involving resin and hardener mixed in a 1:1 ratio (for most epoxy resin, some, however, are different ratios so double check the instructions on the product).  When mixing epoxy resin, always wear gloves and make sure you are working somewhere that is well ventilated and on a table that is covered in case you get resin in your work area.  I use plastic clear cups and pour equal parts resin/hardener in separate cups, leaving enough space to mix after adding one component to the other.  Thoroughly mix resin until you see no streaks (try not to stir so vigorously as this can introduce too many bubbles).  

Split your mixed resin into separate cups depending on what colors/glitter you want to add, and mix again.  Pour your separate mixtures into the mold how you want them.  Add the matching film pieces to each part carefully, trying not to introduce too many bubbles.  This is where I wish I had used flatter pieces, since the curled ones kept curling up during the curing process and ended up staying that way when cured.  It takes about 24 hours for a full cure so keeping the edges down involves lots of babysitting, so a flatter, thinner film may be a better option.

Mixing resin

Carefully place the vinyl in the resin and do this slowly so as to create the least amount of air bubbles.

After the pieces have been placed, I pour another layer of resin.

Allow the resin to cure for at least 24 hours before pulling them out.  

Some pieces still curled up but these are easy to fix with the deco gel later.

All the pieces pulled out of the mold!

Once all parts have been cured and are ready to go, use UV resin and a UV light to attach them, making sure to wear gloves during this step as well.  I started with the front/back pieces attaching them with UV resin to the sides, then the roof pieces.  There may be some slight spaces in different parts of the house, but this is easily fixable with decoden later to act as a frosting.

Time to put together with UV resin!

After attaching the pieces to make your house and fully curing in a UV light or in sunlight, paint the accents using acrylic paint and glitter glue.  This is where you can get really creative!  I also used UV resin to mix with dyes and glitters to "paint" the windows and door frame with.  In an LOL Splash Queen house, I used silver seashells and seahorses as accents on the windows and doorway.  

Add your accents with acrylic paint or UV resin.

Another option is to use DAP caulking (easy to find at Home Depot) and mix some glow in the dark powder and neon paint for a "frosting" look.  For a more "edible" look, I added bright colored faux sprinkles.  For more information on how to make your own fake whip or decodel/decogel, simply check out some youtube videos and search for "DIY decoden" to come up with basic tutorials.  I especially like this one for making decogel out of silicone.    

LOL Surprise Dolls Neon QT Decoden Resin Gingerbread House mama sahrang
Neon QT is one of my favorites!  This one glows in the dark.

You can choose to make an ornament out of it by simply adding a loop through the top with a drill or by leaving a space, or keep it a display and make an LOL holiday village, adding more decoden for a snowy effect - the possibilities are endless!  Happy LOL Holidays and hope you enjoy this DIY Craft Pantry activity!  Comment if you have any questions about the process or want to share your own cute LOL houses!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Japan Candy Box Unboxing - Halloween Edition

We have been doing a lot of unboxing videos lately, mostly because the kids enjoy making them and exploring the goodies they get from different boxes!  This time around, they were especially thrilled to try out the Japan Candy Box.  This box is full of tasty treats and candies from Japan, and come from the same company responsible for Kawaii Box, which was also one of our favorites to try.  Make sure to check out our video below, and leave a comment/give a thumbs up!

There were so many delicious goodies in this box, but hands down Emma's favorite was the Coris Mizuame DIY Flavor Change Candy.  This came with three different colored translucent sticky "gels" that you mix into one uniform "candy gel" and come together to create one unique flavor.  Ours ended up a sweet and tart mixture that ultimately was grape soda flavor!  Cooper's personal favorite was the Marukawa Witch Color Change Gum that turned his whole mouth a bright red bloody color, perfect for Halloween!

The kids having a blast trying the Monster Stamp Candy - Stamp and Lick!

These boxes are a steal at $19.90/month (only $17.90/month if you commit to 12 months), with free worldwide shipping. 

And because Japan Candy Box is so generous they are willing to giveaway one FREE box to one lucky winner!  All you have to do is follow the instructions below:

Mama Sahrang Japan Candy Box Giveaway

Hope you like our video and wishing all of you the best of luck with the giveaway!  Hope you all have a super sweet Halloween!
Sunday, October 7, 2018

Zenpop Stationery Pack Unboxing

Please check out our unboxing of the Zenpop Stationery Pack from September 2018 - Emma and I were impressed with each item we received in our box, and had so much fun trying them out!

Zenpop is a Japanese subscription box company that offers several types of subscription boxes - Sweets, Ramen, Beauty and Stationery (Also a mixed Ramen + Sweets pack).  Emma chose to try out the Stationery one as she loves to draw (Zenpop so graciously offered one in exchange for our unboxing).  All boxes cost less than $30 per box with price breaks based on how many months you buy at a time.  Surprisingly, international shipping is FREE which is a huge bonus!

Zenpop also holds regular giveaways to win a free box, so make sure to check out their website, and follow their instagram, facebook or twitter to get updates on their latest giveaways!  
Sunday, September 9, 2018

Exploring the Jurassic Valley at Kualoa Ranch

My deep fascination for movies goes all the way back to my childhood.  It's hard to forget that feeling of enchantment while watching Labyrinth on the big screen at the Hawaii Cinerama when it was still in business in 1986.  I was in awe of the magical place I entered, escaping reality and diving into a world of fantasy and mystical creatures.  It was the start of a deep love affair for me, one that has followed me through adulthood.  It seemed only natural our kids would love movies also, and there's something inexplicably joyful about watching your child's eyes light up in awe as they see something they've never seen before, or feel a new emotion from a well-told story on the silver screen.  We are truly a family of avid moviegoers, excited to watch old and new movies together while sharing in the exhilaration that comes with discovering stories and places.

I can still remember watching Jurassic Park for the first time in my youth with my close friends.  I sat there in wonder of how real the dinosaurs looked, and felt the booming of the majestic, symphonic music in my chest as I watched the brachiosaurus stand up on its hind legs to graze on some leaves.  It was one of the greatest moments in film history, and one of my personal favorites.  When we first introduced the movie to Cooper, I wasn't quite sure how he would take it, but he ended up falling in love with that scene, just like his mom.  Cooper is a huge fan of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, and asks to watch the movie regularly, repeating the names of the dinosaurs excitedly each time.  We knew of a tour at the Kualoa Ranch that offered up the opportunity to see the Indominus Rex Pen up close, even allowing access to the control room that was used to film the pivotal scene when we are first introduced to the genetically cloned dinosaur.  We could not pass up the opportunity so we promptly booked the tour for our family this past weekend.

mama sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch
A panoramic view of Jurassic Valley.

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Gyrosphere Loading Dock Movie Site
This scenic picture was taken from the site where the gyrosphere loading dock scene was filmed in Jurassic World.

When we arrived, the kids weren't really aware of what was happening.  They remembered Kualoa from a previous visit (we did the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour which does not include many of the Jurassic World filming sites) but had no idea we were going to see the Indominus Rex pen.  When we broke the news to Cooper, he was literally shouting like he had won the lottery and jumping around with excitement.  Our tour guide, George, who the kids quickly called "Uncle George," delighted at Cooper's excitement, was happy to oblige.  You could immediately sense he was very passionate about his job educating patrons like ourselves about Kualoa, its history, and all the famous movie scenes filmed there.  

Mama Sahrang Kualoa Ranch
A T-Rex photo op in the waiting area.

After the initial roll call, we boarded our bus and started on our drive.  George spoke of the history of Kualoa, and how it belonged to the same family for over many generations.  He mentioned how Kualoa was initially slated to become a sugar plantation, but ended up being a cow farm, and eventually, a popular spot for movies and shows to film.  He also pointed out bunkers located in different parts of the ranch grounds (from the WWII era) and eventually dropped us off at our first stop, Battery Cooper, a military facility that served as a coastal defense program.  At Battery Cooper, we got to hear about how it was built around a tunnel design with its better protection and advantageous gun positions.  This site now serves as a movie museum of sorts, with scenes filmed here for many famous movies, including Karate Kid, Jumanji, Tears of the Sun, and also TV shows like LOST and Hawaii 5-0.  George also shared with us a brief lesson of the meaning of Ahupua'a and we learned a bit about Hawaiian history and culture.  

Mama Sahrang Battery Cooper Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Battery Cooper Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang LOST Dharma initiative prop Kualoa Ranch Battery Cooper

Mama Sahrang Battery Cooper Kualoa Ranch TRex animatronic

The kids also got to see an animatronic T-rex at the end and sat in a Jurassic Park vehicle for some photos.  The view of Rainbow Beach was amazing and the photo ops were plentiful!  We took some time scene gazing as ATVs whizzed past (we will have to try the ATV tour when the kids are older).  

Mama Sahrang Battery Cooper Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang LOST Hawaii Five-O Kualoa Ranch Battery Cooper

Mama Sahrang Jurassic World Battery Park

Next stop was the start of Jurassic Valley, where Jurassic Park, King Kong: Skull Island, 50 First Dates, Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were filmed, as well as films currently in production like Midway and Triple Frontier, starring Ben Affleck.  The view driving up to the valley was breathtaking - gorgeous blue skies with magnificent mountains and lush green grass.  It was obvious why this place was the perfect backdrop for so many movies.  

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

It was during this time George took us to the famous giant tree branch/log used in the original Jurassic Park where we took more photos and video to appear as if raptors were chasing us.  The kids really enjoyed this part!  We loved how he took the time to do these fun things for the kids and even did one of everyone fleeing from a T.Rex.  It was a great way to engage the tour group and make it fun for all of us.  He then took us to see the place where the gyrosphere loading dock was filmed (most of the CGI was added to a bare platform with a scenic view of the mountains).  Shortly following, we drove to where Owen Grady of Jurassic World was running from the lava after the volcano had exploded on Isla Nublar, and Cooper was happy to re-enact that scene himself.  The control room prop was actually still standing there (the control room where the Baryonyx tried to attack Claire and Franklin), and surprisingly turned out to be made of wood, not concrete and steel as it appeared in the movie.  

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Control Room Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic World Movie Site Kualoa Ranch

One of our favorite areas was the skull and bone "graveyard" full of props from movies.  The kids really enjoyed this area, and the bones were mostly made of foam and easy to lift and take some fun pictures with.  

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch Horseback Riding

Mama Sahrang Jurassic Valley Kualoa Ranch
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Finally, after all the excitement, it was time for the centerpiece of the tour, the Indominus Rex pen.  I have to admit, even I felt like a little kid full of anticipation as we drove up to this impressive beast of a compound.  It was everything we'd hoped for and more!  The kids' jaws dropped as we noticed the scratches Indominus left behind on the massive walls, and Emma's eyes grew big as she noticed the room up top from which Claire gazed out in the Jurassic World movie.  The room did not disappoint - the vantage point came at us right out of the movie and it felt like we were transported into Jurassic World at that moment.  This was by far, our most memorable part of the tour.  

Mama Sahrang Indominus Rex Pen Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Indominus Rex Pen Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Indominus Rex Pen Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Indominus Rex Pen Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Indominus Rex Pen Jurassic World Kualoa Ranch

It was almost as if I could hear the theme song for Jurassic Park playing in the background as I gazed out at the home of the Indominus and the imaginary world of dinosaurs.  The same stillness I had felt in that theatre years ago settled in my chest and it was a quintessential nostalgic moment.  

We continued our tour and headed towards the Native Hawaiian Fishing Pond, where the Mosasaurus ate the shark in the first Jurassic World movie.  On our way, George pointed out the spot where Blue was shot.  Once at the pond, we saw the spot where Chris Pratt filmed the scene where Claire asks Owen to inspect the new attraction, and where the Hukilau Cafe from 50 First Dates had its home, amongst other movie scenes from Snatched and Tears from the Sun.  Cooper carefully looked over the pond to see if he could spot a Mosasaurus in there, and when a few fish darted to the top to create a ripple, it almost looked like there might be one under the surface.  This would be our last spot of the tour.  

Mama Sahrang Native Hawaiian Fishing Pond Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Native Hawaiian Fishing Pond Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Premier Movie Sites Tour Kualoa Ranch

Mama Sahrang Premier Movie Sites Tour Kualoa Ranch

We headed back to the drop off point and along the way spotted some cattle, wild boar and a macadamia nut farm on the property.  We reluctantly got off the bus and said our goodbyes and thank you's to George and left with some unforgettable memories of dinosaurs, giant gorillas, green jungles and prehistoric aquatic creatures.  As soon as we got home to rest, we played Jurassic World and watched the movie with a brand new appreciation.  It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.  

Tips for Kualoa Ranch:

1.  Plan to book at least a month in advance.  Spots fill up fast!  We booked ours over a month ahead. 

2.  Bring bug repellent.  Especially if you tend to carry a giant bulls eye target on your body for mosquitoes.  This is the case for my daughter and I - mosquitoes can't get enough of us.  Kualoa does have a store that sells some, but it is a lot more expensive than just bringing your own.  

3.  Give yourself ample time for the drive, and be on time!!  I cannot stress this enough.  The website said to plan to arrive an hour ahead of your scheduled time.  We did not heed this warning initially and miscalculated our drive on the first reservation, and actually missed our tour the first time.  That was a very sad day for all of us.  And while normally, Kualoa does not allow a credit or refund when you miss your tour, they so graciously offered us a chance to re-book.  

4.  Wear covered shoes, as you will be walking a lot in muddy areas and grass often frequented by cows, and some areas were mine fields for poop mounds, so wearing sandals or slippers is not a great idea.

5.  Use the restroom beforehand as there are very few opportunities to use a restroom while on the 2.5-hour long tour.  

6.  Dress light, as it gets pretty humid and hot!  Thankfully our tour bus was air conditioned which allowed for some cool-down time between visiting sites.  However some of the tours use an open air bus so it can get pretty uncomfortable.

7.  Don't forget to bring your camera!  This seems obvious but the whole tour is full of photo-ops.  It would be a shame if you had a mediocre one on your smart phone, or none at all for that matter. 

8.  Bring water and snacks.  Although we did get our own mini "craft service" in the middle of the tour of kettle corn and water, if you have kids, it would be a good idea to bring cold water and some snacks.