BirdDay in ATL

Having not been to Atlanta since 2011, it was nice to be planning a fun holiday visiting with our extended family on Nellie’s side. This was our first official trip out there as ‘The Carrolls’.  It was exactly 6 months ago that Nellie and I made a life long commitment to each other through the exchanging of vows.

It’s sometimes scary to think how quickly time passes, it seems like only yesterday when I had first asked Nellie’s father permission to marry her, and popped the question on the flight out to visit with her Dad’s family. Thankfully we got through the turbulent period of dating and found real value in one another.  Now we were traveling as a pod; Nellie, Jake and Madison!

It felt great bringing Madison with us on this trip.  She had grown to be quite close to Nellie’s younger sisters over the course of the long-awaited wedding week that we had this past May.  With her anticipation maxed out, she couldn’t wait to rekindle her friendships, especially with Destina and Tiana.  They had been face-timing and texting / calling each other for months now and for us to be going out there allowed her to grow as a person and to experience a different family setting and she relished the time with them.  The running joke was that Destina who is only about a week older than Madison is her auntie, too funny.

With all the details figured out in advance, Madison helped me get all packed up the morning of the trip. Nellie completed a half day and was sure to print a voucher for the airports Park ‘N Fly, which ended up being extremely convenient, I would totally recommend it. We arrived early enough to ensure we would make it through security checkpoints and get to our gate in plenty of time to depart. Luckily my wife has clued in that I am much easier to travel with when we have the time to relax and not rush.  With time to spare, I got a cup of Caribou Coffee as the girls caught a which Subway sandwich for lunch. We chose to fly with AirTran because they are a lower-cost provider and we have had a pretty good experience with them in the past. #LoveVacation – As a family, we were on our way to A-Town!

Take off and landing smoothly behind us, the three of us made our way to pickup our rental car. After getting checked out at the Hertz rental desk we began making our way to Woodstock, GA where we would be staying the next few days at the Francis household.  When we arrived, we were warmly welcomed by an extremely excited Destina! She was impatiently awaiting our arrival and bugging her mom every half-hour or so until we finally got there. I carried the bags in and was greeted by the rest of the family.  I feel very fortunate to have them as extended family and have come to highly respect their family. I can also tell that my wife now has a greater understanding for her step mother Auntie Lilly as she is now in a similar parent and role-model position to Madison; it has come full circle for her which is a real blessing.

We arrived the night before Thanksgiving which was nice and allowed us to find our welcome and comfortability before the big celebration.  Surrounded by freshly prepared rice bread we spent the evening snacking and sharing conversation. Destina was busy showing Madison her room and her American Girl doll collection along with the family puppy, Gypsy.  Meanwhile Nellie and her two sisters Dennisah and Tiana were busy catching up and discussing their different worlds with each other.  I took this time to enjoy conversing with Nellie’s father Destin and getting re-acquainted. We sipped on some really dry red wine and talked family, work and life as a married man.  After socializing into the late/early hours, we cashed in our chips for the night.

It was officially Thanksgiving day and after sleeping in and getting cleaned up for the day we made our way downstairs to visit with the family.  The Francis home is very beautiful and they did a great job as hosts and made sure we had all that we needed.  A bit later, Destin needed a hand in deep-frying a turkey and quickly I was slated with the task of cooking the bird as he ran some other errands.  I was happy to help out with the cooking, but this was my first attempt at frying a bird.  After a good hour of frying at 300 degrees, the bird was done and I was able to pull it out and get it wrapped up.

Frying up the Thankgiving day turkey, yummy! Looking forward to smashing on all this food!

Frying up the Thankgiving day turkey, yummy! Looking forward to smashing on all this food!

Family and friends started pouring through the door and quickly the basement of their house was full of boisterous laughter.  Kids were running around and folks were impatiently waiting one more family member to bring the rest of the sides so that we could begin the feast.

Some pictures in front of the Francis household! Nellie and her sisters sharing smiles and striking a pose for the camera man, me!

Some pictures in front of the Francis household! Nellie and her sisters sharing smiles and striking a pose for the camera man, me!

At long last, missing family arrived and with a very nice blessing of the food by Auntie Lilly, we were let loose and gorged.  I must have eaten 5lbs of the best African food and traditional American dishes.  My favorites included spinach, greens, baked mac n’ cheese, turkey, and of course many different cakes and pies, YUM! After a couple of hours of being in a fairly vegetative state, I was strongly encouraged to get up and show the kids how it’s done on the trampoline.  After a minor bit of showing off, I gladly relinquished the thrown to the kids.  I did enjoy the warmer than normal weather that Atlanta had to offer, and spending a little time outside without a coat did feel like a luxury to this midwest boy. The remainder of the night was dedicated to watching a little football and when that wound down out came my favorite part of being married to an African queen, the music and dancing! We had some more wine and danced to PSquare and Timaya until the night wore down. I just really felt happy and relaxed, it was such a blessing to have no agenda and nowhere else to be and I had my wife and my daughter with me. #lovinglife

Family fun throughout our Thanksgiving celebration! What a blessing to be around family and friends!

Family fun throughout our Thanksgiving celebration! What a blessing to be around family and friends!

The next day we decided to venture out of the house and take the girls to the mall, after all it was Black Friday and we wanted to get the girls a few gifts.  We made it to Lenox Mall and did some minor damage, lol.  The girls got some cool clothes while I was able to get my caffeine fix at Starbucks. I officially became carrier of the shopping bags, but I didn’t mind.  I was happy to watch the girls enjoying themselves so I had no complaints.  Once all the excitement from our day of commerce wore down, we realized that we had worked up a serious appetite. Once we left the mall we stopped to have dinner at an Olive Garden, it was salad, pasta, pizza and bread sticks for everyone!

With full stomaches we left and headed to the Hilton DoubleTree in Roswell. Subsequent to this vacation, we met with my Mom and her life partner Matt to celebrate me turning 29 and at dinner they offered up a two night hotel stay in Atlanta that they won at a silent auction.  Funny how their gracious gift worked out perfectly.  The hotel was less to be desired and we were rather cramped with two double beds and way too many girls, so guess who ended up sleeping on the floor? Yup, that would be me. Before we called it a night, the girls played with their tablets and listened to music.  My little sister-in-law Tiana decided to play Hunter Hayes on repeat as we went to bed, lol. It was cute for the first hour and after that it became misery to my ears.

After an uncomfortable night’s sleep for me, we got up early and headed back to the Francis household because Dennisah and Tiana had track practice that morning. Glad to see them being involved in a positive activity like this; they are both quite athletic. While they were away, Nellie and I had made a game plan to go to World of Coke with the girls after they got back.

Tickets in hand, we entered the World of Coke! Super excited to find out top-secret ingredient to the Coca Cola formula!

Tickets in hand, we entered the World of Coke! Super excited to find out top-secret ingredient to the Coca Cola formula!

Time for 4-D baby! This was seriously the best part of the World of Coke tour if you ask me!

Time for 4-D baby! This was seriously the best part of the World of Coke tour if you ask me! The shades just make us look so awesome, hahahaha!

Once they returned, we made our way downtown with the girls.  My father-in-law gave us his badge so that we could get discounted tickets. Destin has worked at Coke for several years now as a financial auditor, and we were able to get a sweet deal with his help. After getting our tickets and taking a handful of selfie pictures, we got a cool introduction into the history of the company.  Next we entered the main hall where they had all the various exhibits sectioned off. Our favorites were the 4-D video of Coke’s secret formula vault, which was a very cool experience.  Lastly we took advantage of the ‘tasting room’ where we were able to sample over 70 different types of Coke products from around the world which was really cool. As we exited we picked up a few souvenirs and snapped a couple of family photos.

Snaping a few family pictures to remember our great 2013 trip to Atlanta! I love my sisters-in-law!

Snapping a few family pictures to remember our great 2013 trip to Atlanta! I love my sisters-in-law!

By the time we got back to their house, we had decided to drop them off and run to the hotel and checkout early and to stay our last night with the family. Nellie and I gathered our remaining items at the hotel and grabbed a warmed cookie as we exited. This also gave Madison one more night with Destina and Tiana as they had grown even closer throughout the trip.  As the night wound down, we prepared for an early departure.

We had a fantastic vacation in Atlanta and couldn’t have been taken care of better by Nellie’s family. At a very early hour, we were woken up and got all that we needed loaded up and said our goodbyes. In true African fashion we took several tupperware of Thanksgiving leftovers to-go.  The rest of our return trip to the Twin Cities went quite smoothly and when we finally got home we were very pleased with the time we had spent with family on this special holiday trip!

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Chula Vista Resort @ Wisc. Dells

After a couple of attempts to get some of my extended family to come to the Dells with us, they finally caved and agreed to enjoy a weekend adventure with us at Chula Vista. In order to get them on the hook, I played the ‘Family Christmas Vaca / Madison’s Birthday’ combo card and sold them on the idea.  On the attendee roster besides us three (Nellie, Madison and myself), would be my brother Justin and his girlfriend Liz; my sister Janeen and her husband Joel along with their two little girls Chloe and Scarlet; lastly my dad agreed after some serious pleading. Throughout the remainder of this autoblography post, I will do my darndest to paint a vivid picture of our family getaway and provide insights into the pros and cons of the Chula Vista Resort.

Chula Vista – 2013

Given the sheer number of family members attending this year’s Dells trip there were two potential ways we could handle it: 1) split up and get several rooms or 2) get a big suite to fit everyone.  We chose to get a three bedroom family condo suite to adequately fit all 10 of us without feeling too cramped. This would be roughly the same cost to us and would allow us more amenities such as the hot tub and a full kitchen to make meals and family social time much more cohesive. It ended up working out great.

Driving to the resort was a coordinated effort in which all of us would be arriving roughly at the same time and checking in.  The stars must have aligned because we didn’t have terrible weather and we were all able to get there relatively close to our check-in time, my dad being the exception (arriving much later that evening). Once Nellie, Madison and I arrived we quickly rendezvoused with my sister’s crew and made our way to the room.  Bursting at the seams, the girls full of excitement rushed through the condo door and got a lay of the land.  The room was awesome and provided ample space for everyone!  We quickly designated rooms for everyone and because I did majority of the heavy lifting with the booking and planning of the trip, I felt entitled to the master room; it was lovely!

Before I knew it, Justin Liz and my Dad had arrived and everyone was urging the group to hop into their swimsuits and make our way over to the water park. We hit the water park hard and made the most of our introductory three hours to the park.  After exhausting ourselves on the rides, we decided as a group to make our way back to our room.  The whole facility was connected so we were able to stay pretty warm to and from the park, which is always nice!

When we got back, I whipped out my Jambox and started playing some music as we opened a few spirits and began prepping dinner as the girls were running around.  I had brought some amazing ham that I had cooked and cured with a nice honey / brown sugar glaze and everyone was snacking on it until it was quickly devoured.  Equally appetizing was the low-fat spinach dip that I had bought from Costco, super tasty!  As we were enjoying some good tunes and snacks the girls quickly made use of the hot tub and especially liked the water jets and the LED lights that illuminated the water.

After we settled down for a while, the kids were excited to sing Madison a happy birthday and to devour some cake and ice-cream. Eagerly everyone surrounded my daughter, I took the honors of lighting the candles and starting the song once the room lights were turned off.  I could tell that she felt very loved and special at that moment!  After blowing out her candles and making a wish, my beautiful daughter was officially 8 years old!

Thankfully my Dad was content on continuing the celebrating and spending time with the girls that evening which allowed adults us the ability to take advantage of the resort’s bar (Howler’s) and to have a couple more hours to socialize.  I think that the excitement and the pre-partying in the room had taken their toll on me, but I was having a good time and let my self enjoy the moment (perhaps a little too much).  After a few too many spirits with my siblings and their partners, we all limped back to the room to have one last night-cap and to take ourselves to bed.

The next morning, life was rough for me and it took me a good part of my day to just get moving, note to self, do not repeat! After getting up and motivated the family once again hit the water park and enjoyed the water rides.  I found the most enjoyment in racing both Nellie and Madison down a water slide ride called the Matador Mat Racers. We loved how we could be independent in the water park but also be around family and enjoy talking and joking as we waited in the lines or relaxing in their hot tubs.

The remainder of the trip was spent laughing in the condo suite and splashing in the water park.  Totally worth the work that I put in to orchestrate everyone and ensuring we had all the supplies needed.  I would strongly recommend this as an extended family vacation destination; there is no substitute for quality family time.  After checking out we all hit the water park one last time

Family fun in our condo suite at Chula Vista Resort! Happy 8th birthday to my amazing daughter Madison. It was really a blessing to have my family on this vacation, we love you all!

Family fun in our condo suite at Chula Vista Resort! Happy 8th birthday to my amazing daughter Madison. It was really a blessing to have my family on this vacation, we love you all!

Below is my detailed review of the water park, I hope this assessment is helpful to any viewers looking to plan a future stay at the Dells!

Chula Vista Resort Review: Rating B+

Best Features: great customer service, fun resort theme, luxury condos, connected resort and water park, good on site bar
Worst Features: water park size, indoor activities (beyond the water park), resort towels

Resort Style & Theme: The Chula Vista Resort provides a fun atmosphere that blends the ancient Mayan time period with modern touches which delivers a positive experience to the guests, however, I think that they could have been a bit more ‘grand’ about the theme and incorporated it more into the resort rooms and common spaces.  I think that overall it does feel like a unique vacation destination, but I think that they could accent it a bit more.

Rooms and Amenities: You get what you pay for on this one.  This year we traveled and split costs which allowed us to have a sweet condo. The condos are pretty decked out and came fully stocked with cooking utensils and majority of the amenities that a house would have.  The beds were okay, but still not quite top end hotel grade, but it did the job. Our condo included a nice living space, a couple flat screen TVs, a pullout couch, a really slick Jacuzzi hot tub, and sectioned off rooms.  My least favorite were the condo’s bathrooms, which left something to be desired, nothing fancy in regards to nice shower heads or elaborate tiles which would have made us feel more like royalty. Overall the condo room earns an B+.

Indoor Water Park: The water park was only about 80,000sqft but they did make great use of the space and really offered as much as one could expect with the space.  The nice think about this resort is that the water park offered a good variety of family rides and slides that didn’t require a super long wait.  However, as this place begins catching more tourist’s attention, we may find that the wait time increases. By far the most family fun came from the Matador Mat Racers a ride which allows up to 3 racers compete for title of the fastest racer. On this ride, you lay on a mat and zip down on your stomaches and see who beats who. Additionally, they have a water coaster called the Flyan Mayan which is quite powerful and jettisons its riders around a quick loop of the indoor park, though because of the short track we felt like it should have sent the riders around twice! . It’s definitely got a lot of fun perks but I would recommend that visitors limit their stay to only a couple of days as any more time spent would potentially leave a family feeling bored.

  • Tikes (1-3) are provided an area available that includes a wadding pool and mini water geysers with ample seating for parents to keep a keen eye on their little ones as the play.
  • kiddos (4-9) are provided many different options of water rides and slides. Please note, There are restrictions based on height requirements. You must be at least 42 inches tall to be allowed on most of the intermediate rides. Some will also require a parent to come along for the fun. For this group there are several indoor activities offered, one that my daughter enjoyed was the Croc Walk. My personal favorite for this category was the a water slide that Madison called the “Weggie Maker” which was a steep water slide leaving you feel abused as you get to the bottom, lol.
  • Tweens (10-17) will still have a blast darting around the water park and hitting some of the most thrilling rides. Being 48 inches tall earns you the ability to ride even the scariest rides without your parents. In this category the Flyan Mayan reigns supreme.
  • Adults (18, 21+) The resort was geared towards more family time and less customized for adults within the water park, but this might be a good thing to keep you involved with your kids. There is also a shorter lazy river called Rio Rapids that will allow you to catch some chill downtime too. This is a family favorite and great for grandparents or anyone that’s looking for a slower pace.

Food Options: There are several food options made available at each of the indoor water park areas and sufficient seating too, however, the prices are out of this world and it makes sense to pack a lunch or head back to your room for a meal. I strongly recommend stopping in town at the nearby Walmart and pick up a few things to hold the kids over between meals.

Other Indoor Activities: I found nothing in this space to really be memorable, in fact I think that this could be an area for investment for the resort.  Not a wow factor here.

I hope this resort assessment was helpful, and after having been to a few indoor parks at the Dells, I would say that this resort is a great choice for a quick family weekend and offers a fun theme. Overall, I would think about returning to this water park again in the future.

So what are you waiting for, if you’re looking to have a blast this winter check out the Wisconsin Dells!

The Wilderness Resort @ Wisc. Dells

Having had such a wonderful debut, I felt the urge to book another family getaway this time at the Wisconsin Dells’ largest indoor water park, Wilderness Resorts. Selecting this resort was an easy decision after looking at all it has to offer a family.  Consisting of three different housing complexes: The Wilderness, Glacier Canyon Lodge, and Wilderness on the Lake, it has the various accommodations that can appease both the budget vacationers and those looking to stay in a more lavish environment. The resort offered a rugged woodsy wilderness theme but was well done, almost manicured to the extent that it was still meant to impress the ladies too. Now, I will share with you a bit about our weekend staycation at this resort and also provide a detailed review for those looking for the inside scoop.

The Wilderness – 2012

Based on the same premise as the previous year (2011), I thought that it would be fun celebrating Madison turning another year older by making a splash with some friends!  This year Nellie and I had decided that we wanted to invite my good friend Russell and his two sons and also his girlfriend Tina and her son. Since we were traveling as a larger pack this year we had to make different travel arrangements and also had to book a larger room. After getting Russ onboard and committed to the weekend we decided that we would travel out to Wisconsin in his Dad’s van.  Once again we would leave on a Friday morning and make our way to the Dells!  We stopped in Chippewa Falls to pick up the most important package, my Peanut Butter Bar!

After loading up on snacks and topping off the gas tank, we were well prepared for the remainder of the road trip. Luckily, Russ’s two sons are like Madison’s brother and they all were able to get along and joke around.  Meanwhile, us adults were busily catching up and doing our best to avoid talking about our day jobs. Eventually we arrived at our destination, I was super excited to get settled and hit the water park.

As usual, I put a lot of effort into planning and preparing this trip. I knew we couldn’t have cramped corridors so I made sure to book a really nice condo room at the Wilderness on the Lake.  I made sure that it would have several bedrooms, our own kitchenette, and our own hot tub that we could all enjoy throughout the trip.  My buddy was great at pitching in and really helped to make the trip affordable.  Totally doable even on a budget if you can plan ahead and split costs and get your own supplies ahead of time.  One useful tip that I would recommend to anyone looking to bring your own food and snacks / supplies – try to limit your provisions to the bare minimum and set a little time aside to pick up things locally at the Walmart (about 10 minutes away from the resort).

The kids stormed the room and were wowed at the accommodations! Just like I assumed, as soon as we arrived we dropped our bags, changed quickly into our swim attire and made a mad dash for the indoor water parks.  The cool thing about the Wilderness is that it has three separate indoor water parks available to its guests, but this came with a catch; to get to the other water parks we were required to take a shuttle.  Given the frigid temperatures of a crisp January in Wisconsin, this was a bit of a pain point for me.  Luckily the drivers were friendly and the trips to and from didn’t take too long.

This year I was much less worried about Madison as she had been now taking lessons and had become a much more proficient swimmer. She was able to relax and take in all that this resort had to offer and I was able to give her a bit more freedom here as she had her two ‘brothers’ to look out for her.  It appeared to me that this resort had a much larger volume of guests which made the lines for the various water slides and raft rides much longer, but it seemed well worth it for the thrill that each group ride offered. A few hours later, we were waterlogged and tired.  We made our way back to the condo and relaxed to some cool tunes flowing from my Jambox. The kids played in the hot tub for a while us parents were enjoying margaritas and getting dinner ready.  Later that evening, as tradition would have it, we sang Madison the birthday song and she enjoyed a slice of her marble birthday cake.  She really got a kick out of having her face screen printed on the cake, my baby girl was now officially 7 years old!

The rest of the trip was a lot of fun, Russell and I were able to be boys and run around and cause a minimal amount of ruckus and still remain responsible parents.  The girls bonded too and the kids were smiles all weekend long. The trip was a huge success and I once again reaffirmed my love for this mecca of water park glory. Here is a fun picture collage of our weekend adventure at the Wilderness, enjoy!

Family fun at the Wilderness Resort @ Wisc. Dells!  Best way to celebrate a winter birthday if you ask me! :-)

Family fun at the Wilderness Resort @ Wisc. Dells! Best way to celebrate a winter birthday if you ask me! 🙂

The Wilderness Resort Review: Rating B

Best Features: water park size, luxury condos, variety of group water rides.
Worst Features: indoor temperature (left us all feeling cold), food costs, far to overcrowded.

Resort Style & Theme: The Wilderness Resort provides a fun experience and can leave a great impression on guests, however, being from the midwest, the ‘Wilderness’ theme didn’t evoke much of an emotional reaction. They did a nice job blending the theme throughout the entire compound and into the hotel condos/rooms.  It definitely gives you the cozy cabin / campfire feeling.

Rooms and Amenities: You get what you pay for on this one.  This year we traveled and split costs which allowed us to have a sweet condo. The condos are pretty decked out and came fully stocked with cooking utensils and majority of the amenities that a house would have.  The beds were nice but still not quite that upgraded plush Marriott we all love so much, but it did the job. Our condo included a nice living space, a couple flat screen TVs, a pullout couch, a really slick Jacuzzi hot tub, and sectioned off rooms.  My favorite was a dual shower in what would be considered the master bathroom, very nice! I would rate the room at an A, it left me feeling like royalty and this was a trip where we did spend a bit of time in the room shutting down the evening and having a nightcap.

Indoor Water Park: The water park was really large but I felt that the space was not optimized for as many cool raft rides and water slides that you would expect when you have over 500,000sqft of indoor space. It’s definitely big enough to consume an entire weekend, but I found that the two main indoor water park places Klondike Kavern and Wild West were very similarly constructed and were really not all that different. However, their indoor wave pool the Wild WaterDome was enormous and offered a lot of additional lounging space; great for parents that just want to lay back and keep one eye on the kiddos.

  • Tikes (1-3) are provided an area available that includes a zero depth walk-in pool at Cubby’s Cove with many kiddy things to do. Especially nice if you are bringing a little one under 3 or a non-swimmer.
  • kiddos (4-9) are provided many different options of water rides and slides. Please note, There are restrictions based on height requirements. You must be at least 42 inches tall to be allowed on most of the intermediate rides. Some will also require a parent to come along for the fun. For this group there are several indoor slides and water-coaster type rides. My personal favorite for this category was the ‘Hurricane’.
  • Tweens (10-17) will still have a blast darting around the water park and hitting some of the most thrilling rides. Being 48 inches tall earns you the ability to ride even the scariest rides without your parents.
  • Adults (18, 21+) somewhat limited privileges inside the water park, as you will likely be too busy trying to keep tabs on your kiddos, but if you get a moment you can enjoy the Sulfur Springs (hot tub) and relax. The resort also has a few bars that also offer some adult beverages. There is also a shorter lazy river called Bonanza Brook that call allow you to catch some chill downtime too. This is a family favorite and great for grandparents or anyone that’s looking for a slower pace.

Food Options: There are several food options made available at each of the indoor water park areas and sufficient seating too, however, the prices are out of this world and it makes sense to pack a lunch or head back to your room for a meal. I strongly recommend stopping in town at the nearby Walmart and pick up a few things to hold the kids over between meals.

Other Indoor Activities: I found nothing in this space to really be memorable other than going mini golfing.  I think that this could be an area for investment for the resort.  Not a wow factor here.

I hope this resort assessment was helpful, and after having been to a few indoor parks at the Dells, I would say that this resort might be best suited for a summer time visit as it never quite felt warm and often was over crowded. Overall, I would think about returning but might venture to other options before I go back.

So what are you waiting for, if you’re looking to have a blast this winter check out the Wisconsin Dells!