Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: Moozie's Play Cafe

We are big fans of all the places we go where kids can play and be kids and we can play and be kids with them, but we have a special love for locations that allow kids to be kids while we remain adults. This is one of the best reasons why we were thrilled to discover Moozie's Play Cafe in Turnersville, NJ.  We could sit and drink FREE! coffee (slowly, at our leisure) while still being able to see and interact with everything going on in the play areas.  It was wonderful (plus hours and hours of fun for children, of course!).

The play area is divided into sections called "pods" that each have a different theme (including the new and timely "Schoolhouse Pod") but are still open so that you can see into each one and toys can easily drift from one pod to another as imagination and creativity strikes. And with the types of toys all around (dolls, cars, blocks, costumes, etc), there is a lot of room for imaginative play.  The wooden indoor playground area for climbing, swinging, and sliding was very popular, as was the little ride on train.  Every inch of space in Moozie's is used well to encourage both individual and group play, but still has plenty of open space for impromptu Plasma Car rides, dancing, storytime, and dashing to the well situated bathrooms.  As a total stroke of genius, Moozie's also has a room made just for more active running and jumping play with almost nothing in it but an exciting whirling disco ball overhead and upbeat  tunes coming through the speakers.

The cafe part of Moozie's is both family friendly and adult friendly, with various sized tables accommodating bigger groups as well as caregivers by themselves.  The tea and coffee are FREE (YES,  REALLY! AND IT'S GOOD!) and the rest of the food and beverage choices range from a quick snack or addition to a lunch brought from home to a full child-friendly meal pieced together with fruits, dairy products, and grains. We also loved that tax was already factored into the prices, so if an item was $1, caregivers could just send their kids over with a dollar bill to go buy it without worry about extra small change.

Along with it's extensive Open Play hours, Moozie's also offers a variety of special classes and events every week.  Sing and dance at the Music Class, get creative with the Craft Class, make believe with the Drama Class, and get centered during a story with Yoga Classes. Classes can be purchased as either three or four week packages or single drop-in sessions. Open Play hours are Tuesdays through Fridays with Mondays set aside as a Special Needs Play Day and weekends are used for birthdays and special classes.  Birthdays should be reserved well ahead of time as the various party packages make throwing a party at Moozie's a popular and easy way to celebrate.

Moozie's also hosts events beneficial to adults and older children such as their Parents' Night Out and Mommy's Mornings Out with safe and supervised play spaces to leave the kids at for that much needed date night, meeting, or errand-running time.  They also host Parent Seminars and other community events.  For the preteen crowd, they have a fantastic Pre-Slumber Party package for a fun way to fill in the early part of any sleepover get together.

When we visited Moozie's, we were there for hours and probably could have stayed for hours more.  It was fun for the whole group and so relaxing to be in a location where everything like good food, clean bathrooms, places to sit, and places to play were all mixed in cohesively together. We definitely recommend Moozie's Play Cafe to every parent who loves providing their kids with exciting opportunities to play and grow, but who, if pressed, would admit that a comfortable chair, a complimentary hot beverage  makes the experience possibly even better for them than the children.

Socks are required in the Play Area
(socks are available for purchase on site)

Follow Moozie's Play Cafe on Facebook for additional
Event and Play Info!


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Friday, September 9, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: 14 Tips for A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road

We were absolutely thrilled to experience another amazing Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road in beautiful Lancaster County, PA.  This was our second year, and it was just as exciting to see Thomas and his best friend, Percy, face to face, ride the trains they pulled, and enjoy all the fun extras around the historic train station.  Now that we've been to this awesome event a couple of times, we have a few tips and suggestions on how to make the experience easy and fun for every family.

1. Don't Freak Out if You Have to Park Far Away

The first time we arrived at A Day Out with Thomas, we were surprised to discover that the parking areas around Strasburg Rail Road were completely filled, and we were directed to park at the Sight and Sound Theatre about 5 minutes drive away.  We were upset thinking that this meant we'd have to wait awhile in line for a bus to get there and then get back, and that we'd be in a real jam if we left anything behind.  However the busing situation was run just as smoothly as the rest of the event with buses making trips every few minutes.  Not 15 minutes after we locked up our car did we find ourselves at the train station (and many, many families took trips back to their car in the middle of the day to drop off lunch coolers or to go back for strollers).

2. Buy Your Tickets in Advance

A Day Out with Thomas is one of THE MOST POPULAR events held at Strasburg Rail Road during the year (yay that it comes three times!), and tickets sell out - especially for the weekend trains.  In order to cut down on significant stress on whichever day you choose to visit, have those tickets already purchased!

3.  Buy At Least the Percy Package

Tickets for A Day Out with Thomas come in different packages from just a ride on Thomas to experiencing both Thomas and Percy as well as one of the nifty steam trains native to Strasburg Rail Road.  You are going to at least want to ride both Thomas and Percy.  Even if you've only decided to ride behind Thomas, you will  find yourself at a point during your visit where you are going to want to upgrade to tickets for Percy as well.  It's going to happen, so you might as well just plan to ride both trains from the get go (Bonues: Percy is NOT a timed ticket, so you can hop on board at any time during the day).

4. Get a Good Seat on Percy

A friendly conductor on the train gave us this little tip.  By sitting all the way to the back of the train (right by the diesel that actually pulls his coaches - shhhhhh...) and staying to the side facing the station, you'll get a great view of Thomas pulling out on the tracks alongside.  The cheers from your little traveling companions when they spot him accompanying his best friend on a short train ride will be worth walking all the way down the aisles. (We also like to be on this side of the train rides, because it gives us a great view of The Red Caboose Motel just down the tracks.)

5. Arrive at Least an Hour Earlier than Your Train Time

One of the things we love the most about A Day Out with Thomas is how well it is run and how helpful the staff is at accommodating families with little ones (since the average age of Thomas fans is 2 to 4 years olds). But even with well timed buses and well trained staff, bathroom breaks, feeding schedules, and random scrapped knees and dropped toys are bound to happen en route from your car to the train.  Give yourself enough time to make the experience fun and easy instead of having to rush.

6. Bring Something Entertaining for the Train Ride

In a similar vein of planning for mishaps or midday crashers, prepare for your little one to get bored in the middle of the train ride.  The time on the trains vary between Percy, Thomas, and the Strasburg Rail Road trains, but even enthusiastic riders may quickly tire of watching farmland go by after a couple of minutes. Many passengers had their own Thomas train toys and books to play with and read.  Our own group enjoyed showing their Thomas and Percy toys the scenery and having them cheer on their big versions out the window.

7. Meet Sir Topham Hatt

It's definitely worth it to stop and meet the Chairman of the Railway himself.  Not only is it a fantastic photo-op, but it brings The Island of Sodor to life even more for all the little visitors. The line goes quickly so don't worry about being stuck for a long time (no confusion and delay here, Sir!).

8. Line up for Thomas and Percy Photo-Ops BEFORE They Arrive

While the lines go very quickly as well for getting your picture with the Thomas and Percy Trains, they are only in the station for a set amount of time before they head back out with more coaches full of passengers.  The line is pretty much non-existent while the trains are out and then fills up quickly after everyone spots them again, so we highly recommend already being in line ahead of the rest of the crowd.  We did this with Thomas and Percy, and it only took us about 5 minutes of waiting and then 30 seconds to get our group shot and be on our way to our next fun stop.

9. Leave Time to Do Extras

One of the best reasons to do A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road is all of the fun extras they have around the entire station all day: hand-cranked cars, a little pufferbelly steam train, the Imagination Station presented by MegaBloks, shops to browse, places to stop and eat, lots of photo ops and fun banners, plus all the different views of Thomas and Percy coming and leaving.  Our first year we didn't realize there would be so much to do, and we wound up missing a lot of it.  This year we made sure to give ourselves lots of time to just play at the train tables and with sidewalk chalk and coloring pages and just roam and do anything that caught the little ones eyes.  Almost all of it is free with your Thomas ticket, so definitely make a day of it.

10. Bring a Bag of Spare Change

Among the extras around the station, are a handful of things that you will need quarters, pennies, and a few nickels for.  There are a few coin-operated rides for the little ones (including a Thomas, of course) as well as a place to squish pennies into souvenirs.  And the nickels will come in handy in Strasburg Rail Road's main shop where a fun player piano is waiting to be danced around.

11. Head to the Storytelling/Video Viewing Area for a Break

A Day Out with Thomas is VERY exciting! It's so exciting that sometimes the little ones we bring get too excited and then wind up crashing in the middle of the day.  Fortunately Strasburg Rail Road has a seated area set up (not too far from the cafe - hurray!) where families can take a break and rest. Get some snacks and drinks and spend a little while watching some of your favorite Thomas and Friends videos before heading back out for more fun with renewed enthusiasm.

12.  Look in All the Shops for the Perfect Book or Toy

Strasburg Rail Road always has their own shop set up with a huge selection of Thomas items (as well as other brand train and farm toys), but during A Day Out with Thomas there are a few extra places to shop set up including a huge temporary store near the Imagination Station.  Our group was on the search for specific characters and new books for the ride home.  We browsed through all the shops until we found exactly what we were looking for. (Searching for already decided on toys also helped reign in the impulse buying that invariably happens when you're surrounded by so many potentially awesome buys.)

13.  Rely on Staff to Help You Out

Both years we attended A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road proved to be a lesson in what happens when a location and event properly trains and prepares their staff.  Everyone from ticket takers and cashiers to photographers and conductors were helpful at providing answers to any question and patiently solving the issues that tend to crop up in a place with so many little ones trying to get around.  We are always very impressed by how kind and amazing the staff is.

14.  Watch Thomas and Percy Arrive at Least Once

This is the big moment (probably even bigger than riding the actual train).  Visitors hear the familiar whistles they've heard time and again in Thomas and Friends movies and episodes, and then suddenly there they are! Full-sized Thomas and Percy steam engines who not only whistle, chuff along, and let out steam - they also smile and TALK! Definitely make sure to be there at least once for that moment for your family to experience being greeted by Thomas and Percy.  Above everything, that is the lasting magical memory that stayed with our group.



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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: Kid Fit Preview at the Garden State Discovery Museum

The Garden State Discovery Museum has recently been partnering with more and more local companies and organizations to bring exclusive experiences and classes to their already amazing facility.  This summer they hosted a variety of programs for different ages and interests (can't WAIT to see what they offer next summer and during the year). We had the chance to check out one of the KidVenture classes run by Brian Hurley of Kid Fit.  We LOVED it and were thrilled to learn that Kid Fit is actually opening its own gym RIGHT NEXT TO THE GARDEN STATE DISCOVERY MUSEUM THIS FALL!!

As adults who go to a lot of children's events and locations, we see first hand the importance of starting kids as early as possible in the pattern of a healthy lifestyle.  Little ones have a lot more energy than the rest of us, so instilling in them a love of moving and physically doing while it's still simple and fun is very, very important.  And Kid Fit is all about making things fun.  We attended the Toddle and Tumble class for ages 2-4 and got to see children attempt gymnastic basics like different kinds of rolls, the high bar, and the balance beam (which was super exciting after these past Summer Olympics!), but they also got to run around with active games like "Clean Up the Yard" and just shooting hoops with whatever sized ball came their way. Everyone broke a sweat at some point but not one kid noticed.

Something we especially love about Kid Fit is how Brian doesn't just give attention to being active and getting physical exercise, but he also gives kids a place to gain confidence in themselves while discovering what their body is capable of.  The instructors were all very encouraging (we liked how they addressed the participants instead of their caregivers) and any attempt was deemed a success. The whole group observed and cheered on each other in turn teaching patience and empathy, and then toward the end they got to interact more with their peers during a couple of team activities.

The Garden State Discovery Museum is extending its preview classes for Kid Fit into September. Four cool programs are being offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (Tiny Tumblers, Junior Gym, Superhero Academy, and Ninja Training - seriously, how fun are these??) with overlapping age ranges to best fit your child's own personal skill level.  We cannot wait to see what Brian Hurley does with Kid Fit once the new facility opens since just the preview in the Museum's Sport Zone gets a big two thumbs up from Daily Vacationer Jr!


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The Academy of Natural Sciences: Dinosaurs Unearthed

The Dinosaurs have returned to The Academy of Natural Sciences.  And we don't mean the bones down in the Dinosaur Hall and the Fossil Lab - we mean THE Dinosaurs.  The ones that move and roar and transport us back to a time when these amazing, terrifying beasts actually lived, breathed, and thrived.  It's true - Dinosaurs Unearthed is back in Philadelphia, and it's even bigger and better than before!  From the moment we spotted the giant T-Rex and Triceratops (affectionately known as Rexie and Trixie) on the sidewalk outside the museum, we knew this exhibit was going to be good, and it definitely did not fail to wow.  We're calling it now: Dinosaurs Unearthed is a MUST SEE exhibit for 2016!

The main highlight is of course the animatronic dinosaurs that roar at passersby and spring out in attack at their prey.  With over a dozen full-bodied beasts, there's a lot to see and experience! We loved being able to control the movements of the Yangchuanosaurus and the Protoceratops. Another favorite is of course the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex who made us feel a little bit farther down the food chain than we are used to being.  Walking among the lifelike dinosaurs was just a thrilling this time as it was the last time the exhibit came to The Academy of Natural Sciences (maybe even a little bit more!).

Dinosaurs Unearthed is an interactive experience with lots different ways to learn even more about the stories that fossils leave behind including a new multi-touch table.  Visitors can also use clues to figure out the quizzes in Dino Detectives, see how they compare to the weight of a triceratops on the big Scale, and touch various fossils within the exhibit.  Be on the lookout for claws, horns, teeth, an Oviraptor egg, and even some dinosaur poop!  What we love most about visiting Dinosaurs Unearthed at The Academy of Natural Sciences was that once we were done enjoying every roaring and exploring moment in the exhibit, we could head over to Dinosaur Hall to experience the museum's permanent dino displays.

For more about where to see and experience dinosaurs in the Greater Philadelphia area,
check out our Dino Week tour!!

Dinosaurs Unearthed is at The Academy of Natural Sciences through January 16, 2017.  

Non-members: $7
Individual, Family, and Family Plus members: $4
Partner's Club members and above: FREE

Stay in the know by signing up for the Academy's eNews!




Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Creative Africa

The summer season may be coming to a close, but fortunately you still have until September 25th to experience Creative Africa on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Perelman Building (an endeavor achieved in partnership with the Penn Museum).  An eye opening explosion of art, we were blown away by the all the different facets of the exhibit, and how they each showcase the beauty and history of the African continent.  We loved the tone of the exhibit - a total celebration of an amazing mix of cultures.  Creative Africa ushers in either a deeper appreciation of a way of life beyond one's own or a deeper sense of pride in a personal heritage. It tells a story of different groups of people with common histories yet unique ways of looking at and reacting to them.

Creative Africa highlights an array of different art mediums spanning centuries of formation from photography and fashion to sculpture and architecture.  The exhibit also shines a light on various locations around and sometimes very conflicting views of the continent.  For example, Three Photographers/Six Cities takes a look at Cairo, Nairobi, Lagos, Johannesburg, Bamako, and Tombouctou while Threads of Tradition showcases textiles from West and Central Africa. We also love how Creative Africa uses less traditional methods of exhibiting artwork and innovation as through the colorful runway of Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Scale and the multimedia look at what The Architecture of Frances Kere: Building for a Community is doing to improve lives in Burkina Faso.

One of the best parts of the exhibit was how interactive each part was with a hands on station in almost every part of the building.  From being able to create your own textiles and guardian image masks to using special "cameras" to go on assignment in the photography area, Creative Africa doesn't just show the results of others' creativity, it also inspires creativity in its visitors.

Daily Vacationer Jr says:  Creative Africa is the focal point of this year's Art Splash with age appropriate tours,  hands on crafts, and loads of fascinating fun!




Sunday, August 21, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road

Thomas & Friends lovers rejoice! A Day Out with Thomas is returning to Strasburg Rail Road from August 27 thru September 4th, and we are SOOOOOO excited! Of all the places that the A Day Out with Thomas tour travels to around the country, it's no secret that the historical Strasburg Rail Road is known as THE BEST place to experience this fun and memorable event! Strasburg Rail Road runs daily steam trains most of the year with special events constantly popping up on their calendar.  Its old time feel (from the ticket booth and cute shops at the station to the costumed staff and the steam trains themselves) make it an awesome place to visit on any day, but when Thomas and his best friend Percy come rolling in for the week, it becomes literally one of the coolest things your child (and admit it, yourself) will ever experience!

We had a chance to check out A Day Out with Thomas last summer, and we were absolutely blown away by how well run the event was and how much there was to do!  Obviously the focal point of the day was getting a chance to watch real life steam trains, Thomas and Percy, chug their way up to the platform smiling and greeting everyone (really! they talk!).  Just seeing them from afar rolling across the countryside was enough to send our Day Out with Thomas testers into an absolute frenzy!  Both trains hang out in the station long enough for lots and lots of photo ops between rides.  After riding behind both engines, we HIGHLY recommend purchasing the Percy package for the full experience. (Don't worry if you already only bought tickets for just Thomas - you can upgrade right at the station.)

On top of the fun of the train rides, there's TONS to do at the station (and most of it is FREE for train ride ticket holders).  Strasburg Rail Road already boasts an impressive amount of fun extras including the hand propelled Cranky Cars and the Pint -Sized Pufferbelly, but during A Day Out with Thomas there's even more to do around the station.  Take your pick of riding Thomas mini Power Wheels, listening in on a Story Time, playing at the Wooden Train Tables and the Imagination Station, viewing favorite Thomas & Friends videos, and meeting the chairman of the railway himself, Sir Topham Hatt!

Tickets for A Day Out with Thomas sell out (especially on the weekends), so book in advance! This is an experience that we feel is an absolute MUST for families who LOVE Thomas & Friends.  We've been there, and if we had the chance we would go back to do it all again every single time Thomas and Percy make tracks to Strasburg Rail Road!


Photos from DVJr's 2016 Day Out with Thomas


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Monday, July 25, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: Art Splash at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

One of our favorite summer activities is back at the Philadelphia Museum of Art! Art Splash returns this year immersed in the middle of the explosively colorful and sensory Creative Africa exhibit at The Perelman Building.  Each week from July 1st to September 5th Art Splash showcases a new take on the different artistic mediums and highlights of the exhibit including Travel, Design, Build, Print, and Sculpt.  Stop in at the Splash Studio between 10am and 5pm daily to create your own take home art project (parents of little ones will especially love the building blocks and puzzles and the little chairs and big squishy pillows).

At 11:00am and 3:00pm little ones can go on Family Tours around the galleries.  We tagged along with the Early Birds (ages 3-5) and found it all to be extremely engaging and very age appropriate. A great way to introduce children to the vast world of art, the tour included a short story time and and ended with a souvenir.  The Art Cart is also out daily from noon to 3pm giving even more hands on experiences to the Creative Africa exhibit.

Families who love Art Splash will be thrilled to learn that the Philadelphia Museum of Art offers family programs all year long with festivals, special tours, classes, and workshops. Caregivers of toddlers can enjoy an Early Bird Playdate while those with babies can join others on a Stroller Tour. Every Sunday is Family Day with the interactive Art Cart and fun Family Tours. Admission for 12 and under is always FREE (check the website for class and workshop prices).  Visit the Museum of Art's Calendar of Events for dates, times, and more information.



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