Puddle Jumping Part Two: Denver

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

For the second leg of our trip, after about a half week in sunny Florida, we packed up and took to the skies once more to visit friends in the Mile High City, Denver, Colorado. I was a little nervous about the flight as it was the longest that C had ever been on, just under 3.5 hours direct from Tampa to Denver. He fussed a little while he was trying to fall asleep across our laps, but other than that, he was his usual fascinated self taking his time to inspect all of the flight manuals, windows, and airline magazines.

For anyone who has ever visited Denver and rented a car while you were visiting, you may know that it can be a HUGE pain. The Denver airport is out in the middle of nowhere (about a 35 minute drive from downtown), and all of the car rental lots are off-site requiring a shuttle ride to get to the rental counter. Most of the time, this would hardly be an issue, but when traveling with about 50 bags (ok that's an exaggeration, but still...we had all of C's baby gear to worry about), it was a little hairy. I should also mention that our flight arrived a half hour early, but it took almost as long to get the rental car as it did to fly to Denver. RIDICULOUS! It wasn't until we were almost to the front of the line that we realized that we could have skipped the GIANT 1.5 hour long waiting line and jumped right to the front because we had prepaid for our vehicle directly through the car rental site. Lesson learned. Sigh...So...after finally finding our vehicle (which wasn't in the spot they told us it was)...a brand new Chevy Traverse which was a joy to drive and had more than enough room for all of our gear...we headed to our hotel right during busy rush hour traffic.

Thankfully, upon arrival at our hotel, there were no further hiccups to the day, and after valeting the car (making everything so much more manageable when traveling with C and all of his gear), we got everything situated in our amazing room at the Courtyard Denver Downtown. Usually, I'm pretty skeptical about staying at Courtyards because we've stayed in a few in the past that reminded me more of a truckers stopover. This particular Courtyard, however, is hands down one of the nicest hotels we've ever stayed in...no jokes. I HIGHLY recommend staying here if you are ever visiting Denver and want to stay downtown. We booked a corner suite overlooking the 16th Street Mall - a pedmall area with little coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and shops - and had an amazing view of all the action on the street below from our room. When traveling with a kiddo who has a bedtime earlier than us, and still needs milk as a main source of nutrition, having a separate sleeping area and fridge are key. We were able to put C down to sleep, and then enjoy the rest of the evening in the main room without keeping him awake. Priorities people! Gone are the days of only needing a hotel room to sleep for a few hours. With a kid who needs a nap and early bedtimes, having a nice place to relax without keeping the little awake is worth every penny!

The first morning of our trip, we did some local exploring and hopped on the free shuttle that runs the length of the 16th Street Mall. It happened to be raining, so the shuttle was a nice reprieve from all of the puddles! The weather change was a bit of a shock coming from Florida which was consistently in the upper 80s and humid, to Denver that was in the mid 50s and raining our first morning!

First stop: Union Station for breakfast at one of the most popular breakfast joints in all of Denver...Snooze an AM Eatery. There was an hour wait to get in, but as it is ranked #7 on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Denver, we knew it would be worth it, and we weren't in any big hurry to get anywhere until the weather cleared up. While we waited, we got to enjoy complimentary coffee - So nice after a long day of traveling! - explore Union Station, and read some new books at the cutest little bookstore, Tattered Cover.

'Can I get you a coffee with that yawn?' C, as usual, loved being out for breakfast, and even got to try some delicious pancakes...sweet potato and blueberry danish were the flavors of choice. Oh so yummy! Sooooo wish we had something similar at home!

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next adventure. C had never been on a bus before this occasion, and he was in complete awe of what was going on!

The next adventure of the day involved about an hour and a half drive to Ft. Collins, Colorado for a trip to New Belgium Brewery. Typically, an advanced reservation is needed for the brewery tours, but luckily, we were able to snag a ticket to one last minute. Before the tour started, we hung out in the taproom and did a little tasting.

C is a little boy after his Dad's heart. He loved the brewery, and spent most of the time trying to get his hands on some beer. In case anyone is wondering, he was not the only baby at the brewery! There were several kiddos who were younger than him on our tour, and the whole thing...beer sampling aside...was kid friendly.

Feeling pretty good post-tour! C was wide awake for the whole afternoon, so by the time we got him strapped into the carseat to head back to Denver, it was only about 30 seconds before he called it quits and took a nap.

Day three of our trip, we packed up the car bright and early and headed out to Boulder, Colorado (about a 40 minute drive), for a day hike at Mt. Sanitas. Luckily, we had some friends with kiddos in Denver and were able to borrow this amazing kid carrier hiking backpack to make this day possible. C LOVED it. He thought it was so much fun to be on dad's back, and giggled the whole way up the mountain. Even better, it had a sun shade and extra pockets for water bottles, diapers, and snacks!

We were about a quarter of the way up the trail here, and as you can tell from T's face, his lack of cardio exercise was coming back to bite him!

The trail was pretty rugged, and not for the out-of-shape or faint-of-heart. The whole thing was pretty much straight up on rocky ground. There were quite a few families with kiddos in packs, but not many with little kids too big to be carried. If you have a golden doodle though, you would be in the popular crowd. I think we saw about 10 of them along the hike! All in all, it was great hike that I'm so glad we got to try out since it'll likely be a long time before we could ever do anything like it again until C is much...much older. A great hike if you are looking for a true hiking experience within earshot of Denver!

One of the beautiful vistas along the trail.

We made it! C was soooo proud! T, however, got about 50 yards from the top, and after yapping about how he was going to carry C all the way to the top, finally gave in and passed him off. The best  though was when not more than five steps later, a couple who were both carrying kids bigger than C on their backs called him out on it! Haha.

The obligatory summit picture! We could even see downtown Denver from the top!

I carried C down some of the way on our way back to the car. After the initial tricky descent, the ground finally leveled out a little and it was easier going the rest of the way. So much fun to have awesome places to hike. I told T it's a good thing I didn't visit any colleges in Colorado, or I probably never would have met him at Iowa! I fully understand why so many people love living in Colorado. So many fun outdoorsy things to do right at your fingertips!

We had a wonderful trip to the Mile High City, and discovering there is a direct flight that can get us there in an hour from our nearest airport, I imagine we'll be back! Until next time...

Puddle Jumping Part One: Anna Maria Island

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

On a whim, T & I decided on a return trip to the sunshine state about three days after returning from Florida earlier this spring. My cousin C was graduating from high school, and we were lucky enough to be able to return to attend her pool side party. My family has always been close, taking family vacations together when my cousins and I were younger, spending weekends at the lake together, and attending important life events when it works out, so when we got the invitation in the mail, we knew that we would at least try to fit it into our schedule. I'm not going to lie, we may have had to bribe T's coworker with German chocolate cupcakes in order to finagle some work schedule conflicts in order to make this trip happen!

This picture cracks me up. Notice the flight attendant photo bombing in the background. Looks like he saw C coming and he was about to call it quits for the day!

We had already been looking at a visit out to Denver the weekend after the graduation party, so when it happened to line up with a good set of flights based from Sioux Falls, we booked our puddle jumping trip from Sioux Falls - St. Petersburg, Tampa - Denver, and finally Denver - Sioux Falls. Woo Hoo for discount airlines, free lap child tickets, luggage allowances for traveling with kiddos, and direct flights to all of our destinations! That being said, I did splurge...just a little...and opted for seats near the front of our planes with extra leg room. Soooo worth it when traveling with a LARGE lap child who has become more active on a daily basis this last few months! As you can see, C was none to pleased about thinking he had to sit in a seat all by himself! He was much more happy to be sitting on our laps and reading the safety manual or closing the window shade. See my other travel must haves for traveling with a baby here.

After a whirlwind day of traveling, we arrived safe and sound in Florida mid-afternoon, and got right into the swing of things with my cousin's graduation party. It was lots of fun to be on a family vacation with the whole family (minus a couple of my siblings), and C was absolutely loving all of the attention from my many blonde cousins.

The first morning of our visit, after practicing walking with Grandma J and Grandpa T, we headed out to the beach for a little sand between our toes. C got to do some great people and bird watching from the shade of the stroller, and even got to dip his toes in the ocean for a cool down mid way through. I will say, the weather in early June was a little too warm for comfort for C (the average temps while we were there were right around 88...hot and humid), so most days, we went on a morning walk and then back to the house until the afternoon when the shade hit the pool for some swimming. In the future, I think we'll probably stick to the in-between seasons when the temps are a little more bearable for C.

It was nesting season for the sea turtles, and it was neat to see all of the tracks and nests marked off on the beach. After returning from the walk, it was cool down time for Grandpa T and C in the pool!

The following morning, after some serious playing, the guys went fishing, and C came with the girls for some shopping at the Ellenton Premium Outlets. He continues to be a great little shopper, and it was the perfect activity for keeping cool from the hot afternoon sun.

C made out pretty well, and ended up with several new outfits from Gap and JCrew for his summer wardrobe. This adorable seersucker suit did not end up coming home with us sadly, but since T has practically been begging for one since the Derby a few years ago, we had to get the picture for him to ogle when we got home!

After being skunked the first day fishing, the guys decided on a redo to go further out where the water was cooler - about 40 miles off shore. Success! When we met them at the marina, C was all about getting his hands on the fish as soon as possible. After the initial slimy touch, however, he decided it was gross, and deemed it wasn't for him. He was happy to eat it though! The guys came home with quite the catch, and we were able to have fresh caught grouper for lunch. Uncle T seasoned it with some cajun seasoning, T blackened it on the grill, and Grandma J made some delicious mango salsa and fresh coleslaw salad to go with. Yum! Wish we could get good fish where we live. I guess we'll have to wait until our next trip...or maybe just convince Grandpa D to do some walleye fishing on his next fishing trip! Wink wink!!

One evening of our trip, we hit up the Rod N Reel Pier for dinner out with the family. This restaurant is a complete hole in the wall on the north bay side of Anna Maria Island, and is a local favorite. T and I had visited on a previous trip and waited over two hours to eat here. Luckily, the wait the night we went was just an hour, and the pelicans and birds were busy diving for fish right off the pier to keep us entertained while we waited. The fish was amazing, and C was lucky enough to try fresh wahoo, amberjack, and mahi mahi. He loved them all! Coincidentally, if you ever see wahoo on the menu, go for it. Delicious! 

All in all, we had a fantastic trip to Florida, and had so much fun fishing, shopping, beaching, and swimming. A great start to the summer season!

The puddle jump continues...off to Denver!
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