Reviews & Photos
December 17 2014
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Titanic - the Artifact Exhibition
7711 Beach Blvd,
Iceberg - right ahead! The story of the Titanic has always been intriguing to me, and I must have seen the movie about 3 times in the theatre, so seeing the Titanic Exhibition was something I had really wanted to do.
We took a tour with a tour guide who expertly told us in his Scottish brogue about the artifacts, the way the ship was built, and all kinds of interesting things that happened. There are audio tours available (for extra cost) with different guides for kids and adults. Each room was set up in consecutive order to show the building of the ship, the loading, the first class rooms, down to third class, the boiler room, the iceberg, the sinking, and what was discovered from the wreckage. There are a lot of things to read, but also just a lot of cool stuff to look at - like dinner plates, a toilet, and a first class bedroom.
I took my 12 year old son with me and he took photos of just about everything and appreciated the experience. Most of the rooms and displays would interest kids that are school age and up, but I must caution parents about the "lifeboat demonstration." After the iceberg room, we entered a room with benches that were lit up and shaped like a life boat. A tour guide dressed as a maidservant invited us "onboard" and told the story of what it was like to be on a lifeboat on the night the Titanic sank. A screen projection showed the Titanic as if we were watching it sink from the lifeboat. You could hear voices screaming and then dying away. This would probably feel all to real and scary to young children and could be disturbing. I believe this room could be skipped if necessary.
We each received a "boarding pass" of one of the passengers when we entered the exhibit. At the end of the tour, we checked a large board to see if we had survived or not. This was a fascinating way to feel more a part of the event.
Disclosure: I visited as part of a media tour. I was not asked to present any point of view and all opinions are my own.
December 13 2014
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Heritage Hill - Victorian Christmas & Candlelight Walk
25151 Serrano Road ,
"Roasting chestnuts and Fun kids Christmas activities"
My kids loved the fun at both of the Christmas events at Heritage Hill! It's a beautiful spot with old buildings but the fun of seeing them decorated and with kid's activities made each Christmas event great.
The Victorian Christmas is held during the daylight hours on the first Sat in December. My 6 year old and I traipsed through the area, passing up the vendor booths with gifts for sale. She didn't want to stop to see Santa (a bit shy) but there was no line, and he looked very friendly. There were storytellers in the schoolhouse and we sat in the desks and were entranced with the interesting stories. What she loved most of all was the "cookie decorating" (this year it was an ice cream cone to decorate with frosting and sprinkles - looking like a Christmas tree). She ate it up. There was candle dipping and butter churning - all staffed by volunteers who were friendly. There were quite a few people, but it wasn't too crowded. The activities were included in the price of admission ($4 for adults/$3 for kids).
The old buildings are all lit up at night with hundreds of luminarias lighting the pathways. It's a beautiful effect! We listened to the Victorian carolers strolling around and stopped in at the school and church. My kids favorite was watching a magician perform simple, but stunning card and ball tricks outside the church. He interacted well with the kids and surprised them several times. We toured the Bennet House, all decorated for Christmas and stopped to say hi to Santa - again, no line! A team of volunteers were roasting chestnuts over an open fire and they were handing out samples. It was hard to peel the nuts but the kids worked hard and finally tasted the soft nut inside - which they didn't love- but I loved that they got the experience. Inside the buildings felt crowded with many people coming to visit, but it got quieter around 8pm.
Bottomline - The value for both events is totally worth it. It's a low price and the value lies in enjoying the rich sights and sounds of an old-fashioned Christmas along with some fun activities for kids! We will be returning each year!
Disclosure- I was given complimentary tickets to visit this event. I was not asked to present a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.
December 01 2014
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Downtown Fresno Ice Rink
1060 Fulton Mall,
Our family loves to ice skate and this rink was a fun place to enjoy over the Thanksgiving holidays. It's completely outdoors without a cover so it is at the mercy of the sun and dropping trees - but seeing the tall buildings and feeling the sunshine made it quite enjoyable.
The rink is fairly small with a tree in the center of it making for a narrow passage on one side. Having a tree in the middle meant that there were walls to hang onto and rest on occasion. The warm sun shining melted the top layer of one section of the rink making it constantly slippery but it was easy to glide on top. The backside of the rink had lots of shaved ice which slowed us down considerably.
The skates were solid and worked well. Lots of skaters were using the "walkers" which were pvc pipes welded together. It made for some congestion, but I could tell they all liked using them.
It's not the best outdoor ice rink in the world - a bit dirty from the trees and uneven ice surfaces, but the fun of ice skating made it ok. Rental prices were on the cheaper side at $10 a person and with an unlimited time. It started getting crowded in the evening around 4 pm on a weekend so come early to avoid major congestion!
December 01 2014
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Christmas Train - Irvine Park Railroad
Irvine Regional Park,
"Magical with thousands of lights"
The whole area around the Christmas train at the Irvine Park Railroad was like a magical lit up forest. The surrounding area (the park) is completely dark and so seeing ancient (some 100 years old!) trees lit up all of their tall branches was incredible. The train depot, picnic areas, and activity center all had lit up trees and it was so fun to explore the area and enjoy a fun Christmas-y night with my 6 and 8 year olds.
Just telling my kids that they could jump on a bounce house and decorate cookies had them jumping up and down for excitement. Most of the activities in the area behind the train depot cost 1 ticket ($5 per ticket) and are quite fun for kids. Cookie decorating, ice fishing (get a small prize at the end), 10 minutes in the bounce house, and carnival games (win inflatable toys), all cost one ticket.
Free activities were available as well, which is a relief to parents! My kids ran like banshees through the "ice maze" which was a bunch of hay bales stacked up (higher than their heads) in a good sized maze. The entrance and exit were right next to each other so I enjoyed letting them run in and then wait for them at the exit. There were coloring sheets at a station for kids to spend some creative time. We spied Mrs. Claus across the train tracks in a beautifully lit up area reading to a group of kids. This is free too! My kids had stranger anxiety though and so they didn't want to stay for story time.
New for 2014 is the Christmas Tree Ranch with fresh cut varieties of fir and pine for purchase. We played hide and seek in them and stopped to take in the delicious scent. The prices seemed pretty good, ranging from $30 - $75 from the few that I noticed.
Most people come for the train ride to the North Pole and to visit Santa and this was definitely the highlight of the evening for my kids (besides gorging themselves on icing covered cookies.) Tickets are sold for an hour block and you can wait in the line for the train (arrives every 10 minutes or so) and ride it any time during that hour.
We loved riding the lit up train through the dark park and then arriving to the lit up area of the North Pole. We spied lit up peacocks which made us think of the gorgeous peacocks we have seen at this park many times during the day. This area has oak trees that are over 100 years old and they were all encircled with lights to show off their huge size and unique shapes.
The line to see Santa was quite long, but I suppose it was no longer than a typical wait at a mall - and the scenery and experience made it all that much better. There were tent awnings for rain and hay bales that marked the waiting queue which provided seats for us. Hot chocolate, water, popcorn, and cookies were for sale at about $2 each. We waited for about 45 minutes - watching others visit Santa and take a million photos in different combinations of kids and family groups. It was funny and painful at the same time. There are restrooms - but they are a bit of a walk away from the area and in the dark - although they have lights strung up on the roof.
Santa himself (and all the staff) were incredibly nice and still had smiles and warm greetings at the end of the night. My kids liked saying hi to him, telling him what they wanted for Christmas, taking a photo, and getting a candy cane. We saw our photos at the digital booth directly after our visit and purchased one ($10 each).
The experience is quite unique and magical. The cumulative cost is on the high side at $12 a train ride and $5 per ticket. But if visiting Santa and having a beautiful light display and unique experience is what you are looking for - this is PERFECT and worth the cost, in my opinion!
* Entrance to the park and parking is free after 5pm.
* Activities end at 8 pm so be sure to enjoy all of them before you board the train (if you have a train scheduled between 6 pm and 8pm.)
* Use the restroom before boarding the train.
* Bring your camera/phone with a full battery because you will want to take lots of photos!
* Bring a bag to hold all the stuff you collect. I had tickets, a free calendar, cookies that were decorated, jackets, and more to carry and forgot to bring something to carry them in!
Disclosure: I received free train tickets and activity tickets in order to enjoy the festivities at the Christmas Train and for this review. All opinions are my own.
November 20 2014
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Coastkeeper Natural Play Garden
Santiago Canyon College,
I love how the creators of this garden thought about what kids would enjoy doing in an outdoor space - and then created it. There is a section near the north end of Coastkeeper Garden that is made for kids. A tunnel through the hill, logs to cross, and arched branches make discover, running, and playing all very fun.
This park seems newly planted when we visited in fall of 2014. I think with time and growth, this will be an amazing place. For now, the trees are small and the vines don't cover the archways. I imagine it being like a secret garden someday with trees, vines, shade, and amazing places for kids to be kids.