Our ARCH-etypical St. Louis trip

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I promised last week to tell you more about our spring break St. Louis trip, but then had such a weekend of catching up to do — and the kids are still on spring break through today, too! But better late than never, right? St. Louis was fantastic, and I highly recommend the trip.

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St. Louis is about a four hour fifteen minute drive from Chicago’s western suburbs, so we headed down last Saturday, stopping halfway at Cracker Barrel for lunch. (Because that’s what you do on road trips, right?) But really, not a bad drive at all.

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We stayed at a hotel with an indoor pool, so Saturday night we just got dinner and hung around there and swam. I think the boys might have been more excited about the unlimited access to Cartoon Network in the hotel room than the actual sightseeing, because their mean mom doesn’t pay for cable at home. 😉

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On Sunday we visited the St. Louis Arch. The area all around it is currently under construction, so if you’re heading to St. Louis anytime soon allow extra time to get there. The Museum of Westward Expansion inside the Arch also turned out to be closed during construction, so we didn’t get a chance to see that.

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You can choose to head up to the top of the Arch in this crazy tiny pod thing — kind of like Mork’s egg — which goes up the inside of one of the legs. Pre-order tickets online or (during construction) at the Old Courthouse a couple of blocks away: It cost $30 for the four of us: $10 per adult; $5 per child.

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Unfortunately Mr. 8 took one look out of the windows at the top and turned out to be terrified of those kind of heights — then he was not too pleased about going back down in the little pod!

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The view, however, was amazing from 630 feet up! See the courthouse in the distance? That’s where we’re headed next…

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We walked through the Old Courthouse, which had just gorgeous architecture and so much history — it served as the site of the Dred Scott court trials, for one! Some of the museum exhibits were also located there temporarily during construction. Definitely spend some time here. After a wander through downtown, a late lunch, and a trip to a big local mall (yes… the mall… MashupDad forgot to pack a swimsuit), we decamped back to the hotel for more swimming + hot tub fun.

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Monday: The St. Louis Zoo! This is a great zoo, and the place really gives Brookfield a run for its money (literally, as it is free.) Free admission, but $15 to park unless you choose from the ample free street parking a little further down.

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And by the way? 72 and brightly sunny surprised me at the end of March, so we might have come out of the zoo a little sunburned. Bad mom!

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We spent the entire day at the zoo, because it was just a gorgeous day with so much to see. Highly recommended if you are also thinking of a trip to St. Louis!

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On Tuesday morning, we packed up and then hit the St. Louis Science Center on the way home. Also free admission, but parking runs $10 (and things like the Planetarium Sky Show or the IMAX cost extra). But for just that $10 parking fee, the four of us were entertained for several hours — and could easily have stayed longer if we weren’t facing that long drive home.

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The Science Center is very well done. It’s sometimes hard to find places that will keep both kids entertained since they’re 4.5 years apart and very different in temperament, but this fit the bill nicely.

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We did, however, end up having to divide and conquer to suit different ages and interests. MashupDad hung out with Junior High Guy doing DNA experiments and such, while I ran around with Mr. 8 digging for fossils and examining scorpions.

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I’d definitely go back! Such a pretty city, and the downtown was not crowded and easy to walk around, with big public parks, horse drawn carriages, and the stadium and convention center both right there if you wanted to take in a game or other event. We also didn’t get a chance to visit the City Museum, which came highly recommended and is on the short list for next time.

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We could easily have spent another couple of days here, but overall I think we packed a lot into a four-day visit (given that good chunks of two of those days were spent driving). It also turned out to be a pretty affordable trip: It amazed me that the Zoo and Science Center had free admission, and all four of went up in the St. Louis Arch for less than it would have cost for one adult and one child to hit the Sears Tower Skydeck. (Admittedly, it’s a little more cramped up at the top of the Arch, lol…)

Have you been to St. Louis? What else should we see on our next trip? :)

Fantastic Hotel Deal at Chicago’s Essex Inn

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Chicago’s Essex Inn has a Black Friday flash sale on January hotel rooms.

Chicago’s Essex Inn is offering 50% off your 2nd night for two night stays in January 2014, and with room rates starting from only $99 + tax, that is one seriously good hotel deal for a great Michigan Avenue hotel!

The hotel is clean, modern and comfortable, and it has nice amenities, like a swimming pool, a sauna and a fitness center, which guests can use for free. The Inn also runs a free shuttle to the shops of the Magnificent Mile, and up to the Museum Campus. Just ask at reception for the timetable. I also like their range of hotel packages, which range from including theater tickets or pro sports tickets, to tickets to see Buddy Guy. Some of these would make great holiday gifts for your friends and family.

Here’s the fine print on this deal:

  • Get 50% off your 2nd night for stays in January 2014
  • Rates start at $99 plus tax
  • Valid for stays in January 2014 only
  • Limited availability, rates subject to change
  • Advance reservations required
  • Pre-paid at the time of booking, non-refundable
  • Cannot be combined with any other offers

Go to the Essex Inn’s website to book this deal.

Holiday travel? 25% off hotels at CheapTickets.com

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Over at CheapTickets.com, get 25% off hotels with code CHEAPTASTIC through 11/24. Note that this excludes some of the major chains, so you need to go off the beaten path and look for those that say “promo code eligible.” However, some of the other chains have their own discounts, so it’s a nice site to browse for discount hotel deals.

Anyone been to Aruba?

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This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Aruba Tourism Authority for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

When I got this invitation to check out information about Aruba and share it with you, it made me realize how few places I’ve actually traveled to — I mean, I first got a passport way back in 2001 for a rare family trip, and the only time I used it since was for a conference in Canada. (And it’s now expired, lol.) But my gosh, look — gorgeous! Maybe one of these days I will overcome my homebody tendencies and check out Aruba travel.

Honestly, my previous knowledge of Aruba pretty much began and ended with the Beach Boys song. So, let’s see what I’ve learned from the Aruba site:

Deals on vacation packages

Like! They have a “deals” section right on their homepage, which is right up our alley, right? They have deals on vacation options for singles, couples, and families — including a kids eat, play, and stay for free package, which might be the one I’d have to check out, not having anyone to babysit here for days while dh and I take off to Aruba, alas 😉

Activities and attractions

Aruba does, of course, boast your expected Caribbean beaches, and a seven mile strip on the west coast is loaded with resorts. But even at only about 20 miles long and six miles across, it packs in a lot of other stuff, too — everything from a butterfly garden, to Arikok National Park (a desert-like preserve — fascinating!), to historical museums, to an extensive shopping district, to rock formations. Their site also says days run about 82 degrees, so not excessively hot, which is nice, plus they are below the hurricane belt and rarely have rainy days.

Food, glorious food

The other thing that intrigued me was the variety of world cuisine available. In addition to over 100 restaurants in the shopping district, you can wander off the beaten path to explore local favorites as well. They do talk about frogs’ legs, which I think I will pass on — but it seems Aruba is kind of a hotbed of international cuisine, with everything from Argentinian churrasco, to fresh Caribbean catches like mahi-mahi and Caribbean jerks, to… Maine lobster! Check out the Restaurants section of their site for more on the variety available. You know that if and when I ever travel out of the country again, food is going to be a big part of the trip!

Enjoy

Check out their video above for more on the things to do in Aruba, and let me know what you’d like to experience there after visiting their site.

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