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Camping 101 Everything You Need for an Amazing Camping Trip

Disclosure: I have been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card but all opinions about camping and the Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST and BLAST portable speakers are my own.

Family travel is our life. There is nothing that we love more than the four of us jumping in a plane, train, automobile, boat and in this case, an RV and going on an adventure. Yes, today we go on our first ever RV trip and we are ecstatic.

Last year, we went on our first ever camping trip. Though it was more like glamping because we stayed in a parked model, which is basically a beautiful cabin with all the amenities of home sweet home. Seriously, there was air conditioning, television, a full-size bathtub, stove top, microwave and full sized refrigerator. We even had a pergola and a deck with a built-in fire pit just outside our door. It was glorious and, for a first camping trip, I’m pretty sure we were spoiled rotten.

We spent our nights roasting s’mores and playing games and our days exploring Traverse City, Michigan; taking in the sights and soaking in the sun and playing on as many of Traverse City’s beaches as we could get to. It was unforgettable and it made me a convert from a strictly 5-star resort girl to a camping enthusiast. There is just something about being outside alone with your thoughts and your family that does the heart good.

Now, if you’ve never been camping you may not know what you should bring. Really, every person needs different things but there are a few things that I think every single person should bring to have the best camping experience possible. Here is my list.

Many campgrounds have a small store on the premises with some of the basic supplies in case you forget something and you will have to buy wood for campfires where you camp because it is illegal to transport campfire wood across state lines. Some campgrounds even have cafes, ice cream shops and souvenir shops

Basic Grocery list:

Cereal / Milk

Eggs / bread / bacon

Sandwich meats / chips

Steaks / chicken / hot dogs / hamburgers – anything you want to grill

Ketchup / mustard / butter / salt / pepper / spices

Any veggies or salads you’ll want with your barbeque – or shop at local farm stands for really fresh, local ingredients. This is our preference.

Sodas / beer / wine / bottled water

Snacks

Coffee / tea/ cream / sugar

Charcoal (or you can buy it at the campground store)

Chocolate bars, marshmallows, graham crackers, long skewers for s’mores, because let’s be honest, you’re not camping until you’re eating s’mores fresh off a bonfire; bonus points if it’s on a beach.

What else to bring:

Soap, shampoo, toiletries

Bug spray, sunscreen

Music / iPod and wireless speakers

Cell phone and charger

Camera / video recorder and charger or fresh batteries

Portable grill – not all campgrounds include them. Luckily, we double checked this year because we had just set our portable grill out to the curb!

Spatula or tongs for grill

Pots, pans, pots, mixing bowls

Paper towels / foil / plastic wrap / paper plates / napkins / plastic ware

Toilet paper

Wet wipes

Garbage bags

Dish detergent / dish towel

Matches / lighter for grill

Bottle and wine opener / can opener

First aid supplies

Flashlight / battery operated lantern

Folding chairs and picnic blanket

Games / cards / puzzles

Binoculars

Pillows, sheets, blankets / sleeping bags are great if you have them!

Bath and beach towels

One of the most important things for my family is the wireless speaker.  We love music. The new features of the Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST and BLAST portable speakers make them the perfect summer accessory.

Features of MegaBlast:

Ultimate Ears most powerful speaker with stunning clarity and deep, heart-pounding bass, brings music to life. Absolutely perfect for sitting around the campfire with friends or a day at the beach.

Taking camping to the next level, Mega Blast hands-free Amazon Alexa built-in lets you have more time to enjoy your summer. Ask Alexa to blast tunes, discover new music, crank the volume and find new restaurants.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capable

Wi-Fi connection range for the speaker is 330′. Bluetooth range is 150ft.

Rechargeable battery

Enjoy up to 16 hours with a large built-in battery. Play and charge the speaker simultaneously using the optional cradle or included wall charger. You can sit around that bonfire way into the night.

Features of the Ultimate Ears Blast:

Blasting 360° intensely rich sound with stunning clarity and deep, heart-pounding bass, brings music to life. You will never forget these summer nights camping with friends.

Water-resistant and dustproof design. The IP67 rated speaker can be immersed in liquid up to 1m for up to 30 minutes. No worries if there’s an unexpected downpour.

Two 35mm active drivers alongside with two 81mm x 39mm passive radiators provide crisp and clear sound.

Multiple microphones with beamforming technology and noise cancellation enable a smooth far-field voice recognition and control experience. And that’s not all.

 

A better way to listen with Spotify Connect (coming soon): MEGABLAST and BLAST will be the first Ultimate Ears speakers to integrate Spotify Connect. When on Wi-Fi, open the Spotify app on your phone and play music directly to our speakers (under “Devices Available”) without the need to pair through Bluetooth. Music fans can also stream the highest quality sound possible from Spotify. With Spotify Connect, text message or make calls without interrupting the music and save your phone’s battery.

New grouping experience for smart speakers (coming soon): You can group up to eight MEGABLAST and BLAST speakers on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Stereo mode is supported when you connect two MEGABLAST or BLAST speakers. Optimized to take advantage of the speakers’ built-in Wi-Fi capability, you will experience greater range for grouped speakers and improved connection reliability. Grouping is expected to be available later this year.

What do you think is the most important thing to take with you on a camping trip?

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sterling Virginia, GoRVing, Winnebago, Hyatt Place, Road Trips, Traveling with Kids, Mission BBQ, Abbot's Custard

We’re headed to Cape Hatteras for our end of the summer road trip but tonight we’re in Sterling Virginia. We love to travel and there is nothing like one last getaway before school and routines go back into effect. The sad story of it is that our girls are at the age where they really have no free time throughout the school year for travel.

We still travel but it is always at the expense of something else. For us to get away, they have to miss something. Give up something. Forfeit something. That’s mostly been okay. I think it’s good to teach kids about making choices and letting them know that we can’t always get what we want and most of the things worth having come at a sacrifice, a cost.

This year, the wiggle room for sacrifice is even slimmer.  This year, we have confirmation and we’re planning for travel over breaks and we’re preparing for high school and possibly a move. There are a lot of balls in the air so this trip, the four of us, the calm before the storm that is our day to day lives is so special.

Tomorrow we head over to Reston, Virginia to pick up an RV that we will be driving to Cape Hatteras, NC. Not going to lie, the Outer Banks have been on my travel bucket list for many years. We used to live in North Carolina in our 20’s but we were so busy with work and life, we just never made the time to go. We kept thinking, we can go at any time. We live so close. But before we knew it, we didn’t live there anymore. So we’re all very excited about this opportunity to not only go on an adventure someplace that we’ve always wanted to go but to be able to do it the week before school starts back. One last taste of salty air and ocean breezes before the minutia and obligations take over.

Tonight we find ourselves in Sterling, Virginia a quaint, charming, beautiful city about 40 minutes west of Washington D.C. which just so happens to be one of my happy places. By degree, I am a political scientist and all things about politics and history make me ecstatic. D.C. makes me absolutely giddy with delight.

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We pick up the RV in the morning and with a 6-hour drive ahead of us to the Cape, I thought Sterling would be the perfect setting for a relaxing night. I used up some points and we are staying at the Hyatt Place at Dulles. Just like last month, when we stayed at the Hyatt Regency, the service is consistently awesome. After a long day of being trapped in the car, it was a welcome relief to be greeted by friendly faces and a room pristine and stocked with the foam pillows that I requested ( allergies to feather pillows make travel a challenge at times).

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The room was a very nice size with a separate sitting area big enough to accommodate all 4 of us on a sectional. We unloaded our belongings and set out to find food. We found Mission BBQ and OMG, am I glad we did. The food was delicious and the staff was awesome. Our server was so helpful with picking out sauces to top our BBQs. There were like 8 choices and he even let us taste test them. His recommendations were spot on by the way. The food was melt in your mouth delicious.

Then, after an hour or so of just relaxing (as God intended vacations to be), we decided to go find something sweet and explore the area. That’s when we found Abbott’s frozen custard located in the cutest little shopping center and fell in love. I had the strawberry cream cheese and chocolate almond and it was divine.

sterling Virginia, GoRVing, Winnebago, Hyatt Place, Road Trips, Traveling with Kids, Mission BBQ, Abbot's Custard

I’m convinced I may need to revisit living in Virginia. I’ve never been to Sterling before but we lived in the Richmond area and we loved it. Sterling feels like Matthews NC and Washington D.C. had a beautiful baby and I want to live here.

It was just supposed to be a stop along the way but I’ve got to say, Sterling Virginia, I think I love you.

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Copper creek cabins, walt disney world, disney vacation club, copper creek cabins, DVC, how does disney vacation club work

Have you ever heard of the Disney vacation club (DVC)? I was introduced to the Disney Vacation Club on my honeymoon which was my first trip to Walt Disney World ever. Like me, you might be wondering how does Disney vacation club work?

Many of you know all about the deal I made with the devil Big Guy. The man didn’t ask for much at our wedding. He let me have my dream wedding. He only asked for 3 things. 1) I had the choice of getting my face licked at our first kiss or having wedding cake shoved into my face 2) He wanted us to walk in to the reception to the Star Wars theme song 3) He wanted to honeymoon at Walt Disney World.

READ ALSO: 25 Top Secret Tips to Rock Your Walt Disney World Vacation

While I was hesitant on all 3 but I did relent. We were fresh out of college and head over heels and what the heck. Why not? So, on my wedding day, I got my face licked in front of my priest, my parents and 300 of our closest friends and family. I enter the reception hall for the first time as a new MRS to the Star Wars theme and yes, we honeymooned at Walt Disney World (concierge level) and I fell deeper in love with the nose licking giant and Walt Disney World became a home away from home for us.

In the midst of me falling under the spell of Walt Disney World magic, we were introduced to the Disney Vacation Club. When we were there in 1999, the hotel de jour was the Boardwalk. We were staying at the Yacht Club and we had no idea what DVC was all about. I didn’t commit. Insert Sad Panda.

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Now, we’ve been to Disney so many times, I’m kicking myself for not being a DVC member. Walt Disney World feels like home to our family. I think it’s time we get our own piece of the magic.

What is the Disney Vacation Club?

The Disney Vacation Club debuted in 1991 with a flexible, vacation points-based system rather than the traditional fixed-week timeshare model. Today, Disney Vacation Club has more than 220,000 member families from all over the world.

Disney Vacation Club Members can choose from among a variety of exciting vacation destinations. These include a stay at any Disney Vacation Club Resort or one of thousands of other vacation options in destinations around the world. If purchased directly from Disney, members can also enjoy the Disney Collection. These include select Disney Resort hotels, Disney Cruise Line, guided vacations with Adventures by Disney and the Concierge Collection. Vacations at a Disney Vacation Club Resort can last anywhere from one night to several weeks.

How does Disney Vacation Club Work?

Disney Vacation Club membership provides families with the flexibility to personalize their vacation experiences as their interests change over time. Therefore, members and guests vacationing at a Disney Vacation Club resort can choose to stay in a variety of different accommodations. These include Deluxe Studios, one-bedroom Villas, two-bedroom Villas and even three-bedrooms, Grand Villas at most locations. Deluxe Studios, accommodate at least four guests and include a kitchenette, queen-size bed, Located just steps away from the Wilderness Lodge and a boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom Park.

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READ ALSO: Secrets to Use Disney World Tickets to Experience Magic Kingdom like an Insider

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Rustic Elegance Meets Disney Magic

Transporting guests to the wonders of the wilderness, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins is inspired by the legendary mining and railroad history of the Pacific Northwest. Rustic elegance trims every part of this new resort, where cozy touches mix with contemporary designs to create a tranquil retreat.

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Deluxe Accommodations

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Offering the widest range of accommodations found at Walt Disney World Resort, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins features 184 vacation homes, including Deluxe Studios, one- and two-bedroom Villas, and three-bedroom Grand Villas, which sleep up to 12.  However, one-bedroom Villas or larger offer the added convenience and many of the comforts of home, such as well-appointed kitchen areas, expanded storage space for belongings and private patios or balconies with scenic views. Natural finishing touches throughout add a sense of nature to each room.

  • _Deluxe Studios – _Sleeps up to 4 guests
  • _One-Bedroom Villa – _Sleeps up to 4 guests
  • _Two-Bedroom Villa– _Sleeps up to 8 guests
  • _Cascade Cabin – _Sleeps up to 8 guests
  • _Grand Villa – _Sleeps up to 12 guests

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Which is yur favorite Walt Disney World Resort and if you could live there forever, would you?

How Does Disney Vacation Club Work and Is It for You?

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Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Last week, we were eating our way through Boston and falling in love with a grilled ham and cheese sandwich like no other. We love Boston. I love the rich history and the big city vibe. I love the friendly people and the smell of salt air and food trucks. In fact, there is nothing that I don’t love about Boston.  The girls love to eat and shop their way through Boston and the Big Guy, well, when his girls are happy; he’s happy.

Unfortunately, for the first three days of this year’s annual Boston trip, I was sick sick. Like running a fever, eat a bite of your dinner, cry sick. Thank God and the Boston Hyatt Regency for a comfortable bed and a beautiful view or none of us would have survived the ordeal.

But by day 3, come hell or high water, I’d promised the girls I’d make the 3-minute walk through the Hyatt Lobby that was connected to Macy’s, out the door and across the street to Primark. My girls are legit crazy for that place. Hey, I can’t blame them. I love a good bargain on cute clothes too.

However, in the time it took me to walk to Primark, I had gone sheet white and was covered in cold sweats. I was seriously going to pass out. Did I mention that Primark is 4 stories tall? The girls were in heaven. It really is a tween/ teen girls shopping mecca. I tried to last as long as they needed me to be upright but once I started to hear the blood rushing around my head, I knew it was time to get out and find some food.  At that point, I had consumed a total of maybe 1 bite of aforementioned sandwich, a granola bar and 3 cheez-its in 72 hours.

READ ALSO: The Ultimate Monte Cristo Recipe

We headed to Pret a Manger. It was our first time but hey, “ready to eat” to a woman about to pass out in public sounds like the best place to be. The girls could see that I was fading fast so we headed to the selection and made our choices; chicken noodle soup for me, a grilled ham and cheese for each girl, a couple of iced chai lattes for the girls and some fruit because mama was in desperate need of some vitamin C.

We paid, got the heck out of dodge before mama went timber and returned to our hotel room. No sooner had I relinquished 2/3 of my soup to the girls before I heard “oohs” and “ahhhs” explode from the other side of the room, like fireworks. I couldn’t imagine what basic option I had just purchased in my haste that was making my children lose their minds. It was the grilled ham and cheese, btw.

It’s hard for me to understand as ham generally turns my stomach inside out. In fact, the very thought of the smell of it makes me want to heave. They begged me to try a bite but seeing as this 1/3 of a cup of chicken noodle soup was the first thing I’d been able to keep down in 3 days, I graciously declined their offer.

READ ALSO: Red, White, and Blueberry Trifle

But they couldn’t stop talking about this Pret a Manger magically delicious grilled ham and cheese sandwich. In fact, they insisted on having it again that night for dinner. As we have no Pret a Manger anywhere near us, I made it might mission to figure out how to make this magical sandwich. I mean, dang, I want them to rave about my cooking like that.

I scoured the Internet and did some sleuthing and found the recipe for the Pret a Manger grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Well, everything except the secret sauce that is. But you know me, I figured that out too! So guess what my girls have been having for lunch every single day since we got home from vacation? Mommy’s Pret a Manger copycat grilled ham and cheese sandwich recipe. Made with love, by yours truly.  It’s so good that all the “oooohs” and “aaahhhhs” at my own kitchen counter convinced me to take a bite and guess what? It truly is magically delicious.

So if you are sick of your kids asking what’s for lunch and then replying that they don’t want “that” again or you’re just plain chicken nuggeted out, I’ve got the super-secret recipe for you. My gift from me to every mom on the planet.

Ingredients

2 slices of sourdough bread

1 slice of Vermont white cheddar cheese

1-2 slices of your favorite thick sliced ham (my girls love wildflower honey ham)

 

*shhhh secret sauce ingredients

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise

1-2 teaspoons of whole ground Dijon mustard (depending on your personal preference)

 

Directions:

Mix secret sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Heat small frying pan to medium heat

Assemble sandwich

Slather one piece of bread with the secret sauce

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Top with ham and then cheddar.

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Add top piece of sourdough.

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Butter both sides of the sandwich.

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

When the pan is hot, place the sandwich in the pan.

Lower heat.

Cover sandwich with lid (to help melt cheese).

Pret a manger, grilled ham and cheese recipe, copycat recipe, Pret copycat recipe, lunch recipe

Toast to your liking.

Flip.

Repeat.

When cheese is melted, remove from heat.

Cut in half and serve warm.

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disney magic kingdom, disney tickets, Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Disney world tickets

You’ve decided to take your family on the ultimate family vacation to Walt Disney World and your first stop with those Walt Disney World Tickets is going to be the Magic Kingdom. Of course, it is! I have been to Walt Disney World many times and I have to say when I think of the happiest place on earth, my brain immediately goes to the Magic Kingdom. It is the epitome of the spirit of Disney World.

READ ALSO: 25 Top Secret Tips to Rock Your Walt Disney World Family Vacation

If you only had Disney World Tickets for one day at Disney World with kids ( or without) hands down, your first stop to get the full Disney experience is the Magic Kingdom. Honestly, there is so much to do and see that we usually get multi-day park-hopper Disney tickets and plan multiple days just to experience all the magic that the Magic Kingdom has to offer.

If you have never been to Walt Disney World let me give you a brief rundown of the setup.  There are 4 parks that make up the magic that is Disney World; The Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom. Each park focuses on a different side of Disney.

READ ALSO: 10 Tips for Maximizing Your Walt Disney World Vacation for Free

The Animal Kingdom is about the animals big and small, real and imagined. It is a zoological park like you’ve never experienced before. This is where you will find the wonder that is Pandora- the land of AvatarEpcot brings the world to you. Experience the ultimate celebration of food, art and entertainment from around the world. Hollywood Studios allows you to take center stage int he worlds of Disney movies, television, music and theater. This will be home to Toy Story Land opening June 30, 2018! I can’t wait!

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Last but not least, the park that makes me feel like an excited 4-year-old experiencing it for the first time (every single time), the Magic Kingdom. It truly is magical and is the place where you can explore lands of endless enchantment and your fantasy becomes reality. I love all the parks but the Magic Kingdom has a special place in my heart.

READ ALSO: The Happiest Place on Earth is Disney’s Magic Kingdom 

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5 Tips to Use Disney World Tickets to Experience Magic Kingdom like an Insider

  1. disney magic kingdom, disney tickets, Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Disney world tickets

 

  1. Get to the staging area for the Happily Ever After fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom at least 1.5 hours before the show begins to get a good spot. You must see this firework show to believe it. If you can, fast pass it and then you don’t have to get there so early because your spot in the staging area will be waiting for you.
  2. Ride the Astro Orbitor at night. Honestly, I have been to Walt Disney World at least 20 times before I realized that      Astro Orbitor was even a ride. I thought it was décor. Then I rode it at night, with my daughter, and I can honestly say, it was magical and I will never forget the experience. We had a 360-degree view that can’t be seen from anywhere else in the park. Also, for a good time, ride Splash Mountian at night.
  3. Be sure to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I recommend getting fast-passes but if you can’t, get there early, so the times are shorter. In fact, I recommend taking advantage of early magic hours to beat the crowds or booking breakfast at the Magic Kingdom before the park opens so that you can get a ride without having to wait in line for a couple hours.
  4. If you are looking for good places to eat, and there are a lot, for a quick bite when we’re in a hurry, we love Casey’s Corner Hot Dog Joint. For a sit-down lunch that has great food at a great price and the gray stuff too, we love Be Our Guest Restaurant. And if you are there and you want to eat a large dinner that is sure to satisfy any craving, Liberty Tree Tavern is perfection. Your belly and your heart will be full when you leave.
  5.  Take a Walt Disney World Tour to really feel like a VIP insider. The Keys to the Kingdom Tour at the Magic Kingdom is affordable and gives you a glimpse of the tunnels and workspaces under the park that only Cast Members get to see. A VIP behind the scenes tour allows you to experience the parks in an exclusive way so you can see how the magic is made. You’ll feel like a celebrity.

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If you want to go beyond the magic of your Walt Disney World tickets and be 100% immersed in Disney World magic in the most luxurious way, I recommend checking out the Disney Dream cruise.

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What is your tip to use your Walt Disney World tickets to experience the Magic Kingdom like an insider?

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3D printing, vinyl cutting, circuit building, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Make Festival, Make Shop, Spring Make, MIY, Make it Yourself, Things to do in Chicago with Kids, Spring break in Chicago

Our Spring Break started on Friday and since we just returned from Walt Disney World and our Disney Dream Cruise, we wanted to head to one of our favorite cities close to home, Chicago and visit the Museum of Science and Industry to experience the Make Festival and the Make Shop. I love sharing my childhood favorites like the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) with my girls. Chicago’s my hometown and I love nothing more than sharing it with my girls.

Chicago is one of our favorite Spring Break destinations because it’s a quick drive away, we get to visit with my parents and sisters and you will never run out of things to do. In fact, last year we spent the entire week drinking in all the sights and sounds of the Chicago.

3D printing, vinyl cutting, circuit building, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Make Festival, Make Shop, Spring Make, MIY, Make it Yourself, Things to do in Chicago with Kids, Spring break in Chicago

Disclosure: We were hosted by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago but all opinions and experiences of the Spring Make Festival and the Make Shop are my own.

We were extra excited to head to the city and MSI this year because they are hosting their first ever Spring Make Festival. What is the Spring Make Festival, you ask? It’s four weeks of MSI hosting a special program for expressing your creativity, including hands-on activities like a high-tech maker workshop (the Make Shop), evening events dedicated to brewing and collective digital art and a marathon Mini Maker Faire. There is something for everyone of all ages but I was most excited about my girls getting some hands-on time with technology.

I remember when I first got to Purdue, everyone I knew was studying to be an engineer and I had no idea what an engineer was or did. I heard “engineer” and my mind automatically went to a train engineer. I don’t want my girls’ to go through life not knowing all the amazing places science and math can take them. I want them to embrace all things STEM.

I’ve come a long way from the girl who was white-knuckling her word processor. I did not go gently into the Internet era but now, I don’t know what I’d do without it. I literally make my living on the Internet. I am one of the biggest tech geeks you could ever hope to meet and I want that for my girls. Let’s just skip the whole white knuckling part.

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What is Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Spring Make Festival?

The first ever Spring Make Festival, which runs March 9 through April 8, offers a robust combination of daily activities and special events designed to help guests see themselves as designers, makers, and tinkerers including the MSI Chicago Mini
Maker Faire; a facilitated workshop offering LED circuitry building, 3D printing, and vinyl cutting; Hebocon, a renowned “crappy” robot competition, adults-only events and new hands-on challenges. Hands-on high tech 101 and the facilitators make it all seem so easy and attainable. My girls never felt overwhelmed with any of the concepts.

Simply put, the Spring Make Festival is a vacation from all the things you have to do and an opportunity to create your heart’s desire using today’s most technologically advanced methods. You are truly only limited by your imagination. It’s the place where your innate creativity meets high tech and anything is possible. It’s teaching our children that they can rule the world with their minds.

3D printing, vinyl cutting, circuit building, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Make Festival, Make Shop, Spring Make, MIY, Make it Yourself, Things to do in Chicago with Kids, Spring break in Chicago

Spring Make Festival is a celebration of high and low-tech ways that people, especially kids, can tap into their creative potential and see firsthand that there are multiple paths to a STEM-focused career. The Spring Make Festival introduces children to the wonders of modern technology in a way that invites participation and does not overwhelm.

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The Make Shop takes that process one step further with a more intimate setting and a docent to explain the entire process as you experience it.

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My girls are 10 and 13-years-old and they loved the Make Shop. The Make Shop is a place where you and your children can try out the technology literally reshaping the worlds of design and production. My girls were in STEM heaven. Kids today are so tech savvy that they have high expectations from their experiences and my girls were not disappointed.

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The Make Shop introduces you to the kinds of technology that you’ve been hearing a lot about: 3D printing and building, vinyl cutting and LED circuit building. This new facilitated experience allows you the chance to try out some of these cutting-edge fabrication tools in an approachable, beginner-friendly environment. What’s more, you get to bring home the proof you did- a custom craftwork; a constant reminder of the inner designer, maker and tinkerer in all of us. A reminder that there isn’t anything that we can’t do if we set our minds and hearts to it.

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We are all makers. It is intrinsically human to create, tinker, innovate and express ourselves through made objects. As you create, you will learn about problem-solving skills, the diverse community of local Chicago makers and how making can have a positive impact on communities. By exchanging ideas, we push one another forward to invent and build new and innovative things.

3D printing, vinyl cutting, circuit building, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Make Festival, Make Shop, Spring Make, MIY, Make it Yourself, Things to do in Chicago with Kids, Spring break in Chicago

As a tech aficionado, I felt like I was at a tiny CES. I’ve railed on and on about the wonders of 3D printing and now my girls saw it up close and firsthand. My 10-year-old rattled off about a million things she wants to create and invent on a 3D printer. She’s already put it at the top of her Christmas list for next year. I just loved seeing their eyes light up when they accomplished these feats of technological wonder.

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The Make Shop takes technology that seems like far off ideas to most people and breaks it down into digestible parts. It takes it from overwhelming and unachievable to hands on. It removes the doubt and replaces it with, you did it!

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In the Make Shop, you have access to new tools and that is empowering. It inspires you to creatively problem-solve and invent. We shape our world with the ideas we share and the things we make.

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Select experiences and events require an additional ticket purchase. A full schedule with pricing along with additional information is available online at msichicago.org/springmake

3D printing, vinyl cutting, circuit building, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, Make Festival, Make Shop, Spring Make, MIY, Make it Yourself, Things to do in Chicago with Kids, Spring break in Chicago

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Best Walt Disney World Resorts for Families to stay on your next family vacation., walt disney world, disney world vacation, 10 tips for maximizing yoru walt disney vacation for free, magic kingdom, happily ever after, mickey mouse, pandora, #disneySMMC, Toy story land, epcot, astro orbitor, rose gold ears, disneyfamilia, familia first, disney family, family travel

I’ve been to Walt Disney World many times and each time I go I learn something new so I am sharing my 10 tips for maximizing your Walt Disney World Vacation for free. These are simple tips that every person that takes a Walt Disney World vacation should know before going. I’ve been about 20 times and some of these I just learned this year when I attended Disney Social Media Moms Celebration so these tips can even teach a seasoned Disney World vacation taker a thing or two or ten. Hold on to your rose gold Mickey Ears because you’re about to be blown away.

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10 tips for maximizing your Walt Disney World Vacation for free

1.There are outlets and charging areas in each park. Some are well-known and easily found others are hidden in plain sight. One option available at all 4 Walt Disney World parks is to drop your phone off at Guest Relations in the park for charging. You provide your own charging cord and they will give you a claim ticket. There are outlets throughout the parks if you know where to look. My favorite charging stations are the ones in the Magic Kingdom, particularly, the false tree stumps across from the bathrooms in the Rapunzel/Tangled area and the outlets in The Yellow FastPass+ Tent in Storybook Circus.

2. You don’t have to pay $3.25 for water to survive the raging Florida heat. Disney World provides free ice water/ water bottle refills at all quick service restaurants. All you have to do is ask.

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3. Everyone knows that you get three fast passes per person per day on your Walt Disney World vacation. Did you know if they are used before 3 pm, you can then schedule 1 more at a time for your group so the earlier you schedule your fast passes, the better.

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4. If you are celebrating a special occasion (birthday, 1st visit, honeymoon and anniversary) every cast member will wish you a happy, pixie dusted celebration and some places you even get royal treatment like free desserts and fast passes. It’s a great way to make a celebration even more special but please, don’t say you’re celebrating if you’re not.

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5. If you love Walt Disney World but hate long lines, have I got a tip for you. Lines are always shorter for rides during parades, fireworks and mealtimes. I know, it is total common sense but if you are like me, you might get swept up in all the Walt Disney World magic and totally lose all that common sense when you hit the parks. I do.

6. Speaking of long lines. I tend to get hangry and a hangry mom is a bad situation. It’s even worse than hangry toddlers. So to avoid both, use Disney’s new mobile food ordering option on the My Disney experience app. It’s like the Starbucks app, you place your order, pick up your food and eat and avoid the lines and the hangries. It’s a win, win, win. Nothing ruins a nice Disney World vacation with your family like turning into monster mom because you need food.

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7.  As I just mentioned the My Disney Experience app, I’m going to mention it again because it is THAT good. I use it to schedule fast passes, meal reservations and know the extended magic hours (if you are staying on grounds) 180 days in advance. Believe me you will want to get those coveted reservations as far in advance as possible. But even if you miss that 180 day window of opportunity, by using the My Disney Experience app, you can check while you are on grounds and reservations open up all the time and if you want to go old school and you like to do your Disney World vacation with no tech whatsoever, most restaurants do take some walk-ups.

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8. Speaking of magic hours, like the way I did that? If you are staying at one of the Disney resorts on grounds or one of their participating partners, you can take advantage of magic hours which are either an extra hour in the morning before the general public is allowed into the park or a few hours at the end of the night. It is a great way to grab photos that are not saturated with strangers and get in line for the most popular rides and avoid some of the wait time. At night, it is so much fun to ride the rides in the dark and also to have access with so many fewer people. I highly recommend planning your days in the park according to the days they have extended hours.

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9. Memory Maker is your friend. As a mom, I’m usually never in the photos and that makes me sad especially when we are making all those amazing memories on our Disney World vacation. However, with Memory Maker I can just let Disney take all the photos and not worry about it. Then I have access to 100s of photos including those hilarious ride photos. It’s simple you find the photographers in the parks ( they are everywhere) and they will take your photo. They scan your magic band and voila, they appear in your my Disney Experience. Same protocol when you get off the rides, go to the kiosk and scan your band. They even do some Disney Magic and add fun little surprises to some of your photos.

 

10. Last but not least, my best tip for maximizing your Walt Disney World vacation for free is to simply be in the moment, enjoy yourself and most importantly enjoy your family. Those little ones will only be little for a little while and it goes by in a flash. Who stole my toddlers and gave me these teens? Luckily, magic is not just for the little ones. Walt Disney World has a way of transforming us all into happy, excited 4-year-olds every time we walk through the gates. That’s the real magic and I love every single minute of it, every single time.

What is your best tip for maximizing your Walt Disney World vacation for free?

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Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive, How to have an Amazing Florida Vacation on a Budget, Wyndham, Orlando, iDrive, Resort, Walt Disney World, International Drive, Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds

Normally, when you think of a vacation to Orlando, Florida it’s synonymous with a family trip to Walt Disney World. Believe me, I get it. We are huge Walt Disney World fans. Our first trip was on our honeymoon in 1999 and I believe we’ve been at least 20 times since then. Honestly, I think we’d live in the Magic Kingdom if there were real estate available but, obviously, that is not realistic.

Have you been dreaming of taking your family to Florida for vacation but just can’t seem to get there because saving up the whole year for a week’s long spring break feels daunting and overwhelming? Maybe it’s not as impossible as you imagine. Maybe you can have an amazing family vacation in Florida on any budget. Sometimes we just have to broaden our perspective and reimagine the idea. Don’t break the bank, but don’t shortchange yourself of a stay in a beautiful resort, located near everything like the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive.

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive but all opinions are my own. 

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Recently, my family had the privilege of being invited to the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. For the duration of the conference, we would be staying on grounds at Disney’s Coronado Springs resort but we wanted to get in town earlier to enjoy the parks. I had some difficulty finding a room the nights we needed at that resort because they were booked so I started looking at other resorts on and off grounds because, for the first time, it hit me that there are a bajillion hotels and resorts in Orlando.

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After talking to a friend (@BeckyBoricua) who lives in Florida she recommended I consider one of her favorites, the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive and so I did. It was beautiful and it had all the amenities we were looking for, plus a separate sleeping area for the girls in the family suite, which was awesome. It gave us all a little privacy. And it was located only a 15-minute drive from the Disney parks and even closer to the Universal park. Did I mention it is only a 90-minute drive from the ocean and Gulf beaches?

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On top of all of that, from the moment of your arrival, you will know that you are someplace special. Whether you are seeking to experience the thrills Orlando is known for or to unwind and relax, this true Florida resort has exactly what you need.

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The Orlando Wyndham resort is the official hotel of I-Drive 360, putting you right in the heart of exciting new attractions, outstanding dining, and world-class shopping. The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, offering breathtaking, 360- degree views of Central Florida, is just a short walk away. The resort offers a complimentary shuttle to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and SeaWorld Orlando theme parks.

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Not only is the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive located at the epicenter of Orlando’s ever-popular International Drive, the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive boasts newly renovated surroundings—everything from guest rooms to their poolside restaurant is new and improved.

One of the great features of Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive is you can stay where you play! Conveniently located near I-4, Florida Turnpike, SR 528 and only 12 miles from the airport, it is easy for you to get here.

As the official hotel of I-Drive 360, the Wyndham is just steps away from the heart of outstanding dining, world-class shopping and exciting attractions on International Drive. Attractions like the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, Madame Tussauds Orlando, Skeletons: Museum of Osteology and 7D Dark Ride Adventure.

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There are no shortage of choices of places to eat in Orlando but at the Wyndham Orlando resort you can literally walk to Sugar Factory, Lisbon Portuguese Cuisine, Cafe 34 Istanbul Turkish Kitchen & Hookah Lounge, Tin Roof, (one of our favorites) Shake Shack, Yard House, Tapa Toro, Uncle Julio’s Mexican, Cowgirls, Rockbar, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sofra Mediterranean Grill, Kotai Sushi, iCafe de Paris, Ben & Jerry’s and so much more.

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The 22-acre resort property immerses our guests in tropical landscaping, winding lagoons, and relaxing courtyards. Two spacious outdoor pools and a heated spa are nestled among lush gardens, and the property features multiple on-site dining options, including the relaxing lobby and a poolside bar.

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A recent multi-million-dollar renovation also means the resort’s 613 guest rooms feature all of the latest upscale touches, including pillow-top mattresses, massaging showers, mini-fridges, 40-inch flat-screen TVs and complimentary high-speed wifi access and concierge service.

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Family-friendly suites include an area just for the kids, complete with fun bunk beds and a kid’s TV with parental controls. And because the resort is pet-friendly, even the furry members of the family are welcome to join the fun. We didn’t bring Lola because we were there for a conference and part of the conference was on the Disney Dream Cruise but it was nice to know we could have brought Lola with us if we wanted to.

Bottom line, the Wyndham Orlando Resort on International Drive is a great place for families to stay in Orlando.

I love that it’s located centrally to everything in Orlando.For a lot of families, a trip to Orlando and Disney World is something that happens once in a lifetime. There is a way to enjoy the fun and sunshine of Orlando and even Disney World without breaking the bank and sacrificing all year to pay for it.

Also, if you use my special booking code you can save 30% off their Best Available Rate with NO minimum nights required.

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Disney Cruise, Disney Dream, Castaway Cruise, Bahamas, Disney Social Media moms Celebration, Disney dream cruise, Walt disney world, #DisneySMMC

Last week at this time, I was debarking from a Disney cruise with my family. We were living the dream, the Disney Dream that is, thanks to Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. Life was magical. Today, not so much. My husband and I both have the flu. Now, I get why they kept handing me sanitized wipes for my hands.

Let me tell you about cruising because a Disney cruise was my first ever cruise. I think the Disney Dream may have ruined me for all other cruises. I’ve always wanted to try a Disney cruise. I love being on the sea, I love traveling with my family and I love, love, love Disney so what was there not to like? But, I had no idea what to expect. I think cruising is one of those things you really need to experience for yourself, like childbirth and marriage, no one can explain in words how it actually feels but I will try.

Cruising on the Disney Dream was like no other vacation we’ve ever had. I used to think to vacation in the great outdoors was the best a family vacation could get but I see now that a Disney cruise gives you the best of both worlds.  It was luxury beyond anything I could have imagined. I get why they call it the Disney dream.

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For someone like me, who is always connected, the Disney Dream allowed me to live one of my biggest dreams…being present and in the moment. Yes, I had WiFi and was still connected but not in the same way as I am in my day to day life. I was semi-connected but I was 100% plugged in and present for my life and my family. I was given the gift of time to breathe and exhale and to look around and see all the beauty and wonder that was right in front of me. I think that is a gift that all of us deserve and can use in today’s world of fast-paced living.

I woke up to sunrises on the horizon of the ocean and went to bed with the sounds of the ocean waves lulling me to sleep. It was definitely magical but of course, it was a Disney cruise so I would expect nothing less.

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Everything You Need to Know About the Disney Dream Cruise

  1. Excellent service from the cast members from everyone on board, everyone was so kind and generous with their time and efforts just as we’ve all come to expect from all Disney employees.
  2. Amazing food, high-quality meals and options galore. You will eat like a King/Queen while onboard a Disney cruise ship.

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3. Amazing Broadway shows like Beauty and the Beast. It was beyond amazing and as a theater freak, I’m telling you, that it is a must see.

4. More food. There was so much good food, I wished a had more days but I’m not sure my jeans would have survived the trip.

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5. Lots of onboard activities for adults too, so there is no chance of getting bored; beer tasting, mixology course, tequila tasting, BINGO, fitness center, several pools, Aqua Duck, Nightclubs and lounges, Senses Spa and Salon and movie theaters.

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6. Relaxation beyond anything you could have ever imagined. There are separate adult only areas and a Spa onboard but beyond that, they’ve even thought of ways to keep the kids occupied so that you can relax.

7. Kids clubs with different age-appropriate activities for kids of all ages. They are full of activities like putt-putt golf, basketball, foosball, dodgeball, crafts, movies and video games to name a few. My girls were at Edge (for kids ages 11-14) and it was amazing because they were in a safe and secure environment being supervised by trained cast members. They got some freedom and it gave us some time alone. It was a nice perk, I hadn’t expected.

 

8. Thoughtfulness, it is apparent in everything from the towel characters they leave on your bed with the chocolates at turndown service to the royal proclamation of your family upon your arrival. The cast members notice the little things and remember your preferences. It really makes for a special trip.

9. Free 24-hour room service, including Mickey Mouse ice cream bars and pizza.

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10. Cleanliness. Our staterooms were spotless and so was everything else on the ship. In fact, they even handed us sanitized wipes before entering all restaurants to help stop the spread of germs.

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11. Unlimited ice cream. This was my daughters’ favorite thing ever. All the soft serve your heart can desire.

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12. Time alone on a private island. Our Disney cruise culminated with us spending our final day on Disney’s Castaway Cay; Disney’s very own private island, perfectly manicured and peaceful right in the middle of the Bahamas. If you’ve never been on a private island, and who of us have been, you are really missing out. It’s having the best of all worlds with just a fraction of the population. We tubed, we rode in a paddle boat, we swam with the fishes, biked and hiked and that was just tip of the iceberg as to what is available. There is parasailing, chartered fishing and so much more but I will save that for another post.

13. You will never forget it and you will be changed for the better once you take a Disney Cruise. The Disney Dream allowed me to slow down enough in my life to set reset and shuffle my priorities. Being with my family on the cruise made me realize how lucky I am and how important and fleeting these next few years are with my family. I want to make the most of every single second. The Disney Dream gave me fresh perspective by letting all the noise of our day-to-day fall away and focus on what’s really important; the people.

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14. Last but not least, the first 24 hours you might experience a sensation of feeling a little unsteady on your legs while the boat is moving. No worries, you just haven’t found your “sea legs” yet. Make sure to take your dramamine before you start to move and you will be fine in no time.

But the Disney Dream is only one ship in a fleet and only one adventure you can take. New itineraries for May through September are available and you can book your very own Disney Cruise starting March 8 at 8 a.m. EST!

Check out the new destinations and set your sights on a high seas vacation brimming with excitement and allure—and be among the first to experience special sailings in Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean or The Bahamas.

This is everything you need to know about the Disney Dream Cruise but if you have any other questions, please leave below and I will answer.

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Kia Soul, why buy a kia soul, kia, kiafamily, pros and cons of buying a kia soul

Have you ever driven a KIA SOUL? I did recently and honestly, I was expecting to be underwhelmed but if you’ve ever wondered why buy a KIA SOUL? I think I may have figured it out. Well, aside from being an award-winning compact crossover and starting as low as $16,200!

Driving for me has always been something that I did to get from here to there. I started driving when I was 13-years-old, (shhh, don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to get retroactively arrested) running simple errands for my mom like picking up milk or toilet paper at the local grocery store. It was only a few blocks away but my parents needed help with 6 kids and I did my part. Fast forward a couple decades and I’m still driving to get kids from school to extracurricular and I’m still running errands. I’m a mom chauffeur and when you have to do something, it becomes menial and not fun.

There have been cars that I prefer over others for one reason or the other but mostly, it boiled down to how well it got me from here to there. Only recently have I really started to consider that driving isn’t just about destinations, it’s about the journey. I know it sounds cheesy but it is true.

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For me, the car is my decompression space. It’s where I can play the music as loud as I want. Listen to what I want. Drive in silence. When I drive, it’s a little bit like going to church. There is this weird peaceful feeling I get when I am driving alone. You noticed, I said alone. It’s because I am the mom of a tween and teen girl and sometimes the silence in the car when I am alone, is the only thing that gets me through the day.

As I said, I do have my preferences in cars. I’ve driven enough cars to know that some are better than others. And all the bells and whistles can’t make up for subpar engineering. You can definitely tell the difference between a well-made vehicle and a lesser vehicle. It has nothing to do with looks and everything to do with what is under the hood. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Also, sometimes we underestimate the performance of a car because it’s cute. I never realized I did this until recently. The way most people assume attractive blonde women are less serious than brunettes. But in the same way we need to get to know people beyond the color of their hair, we need drive a vehicle before we can know anything about how it performs.

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I was loaned a KIA SOUL to drive around for a week. My expectations were low. Not because I think KIA is a subpar brand because I know that they are not. I’ve just always associated the KIA SOUL “cute”. The commercials are cute and they come in cute colors and they don’t seem like something I’d take very seriously. Then, I drove one.

The KIA SOUL surprised me because even though it was indeed adorable, it handled like a high-performance, seriously engineered vehicle.

It hugged curves and handled amazingly in the snow and the rain. It was serious on the road and party on the inside, my girls loved the light up speakers that “danced” to the beat of the music. The SOUL is affordable, dependable, well-built, beautiful and cool.

So if you’re still asking yourself, why buy a KIA SOUL, I want to ask you why would you not buy a KIA SOUL?

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