Thursday, December 11, 2014

Holiday Family Fun Review: Sunday Brunch with Santa at Pinstripes #PintasticFun

In my recent Chicago Parent post I mentioned a few holiday events in the NW 'burbs including Brunch with Santa at Pinstripes in South Barrington.  I mean how could you go wrong with seeing Santa, eating some grub, and a round of bowling? It was the perfect Sunday afternoon with the family during the holidays...and totally stress free!

Nitty Gritty:
When: December 14th
Time: Santa is available from 11am - 2pm
Admission: Adults $30; Kids 6 -12 $15; Children 5 and under are free.
Where: Numerous locations throughout the area. We went to the South Barrington Pinstripes location at 100 W. Higgins Road, South Barrington
Parking: Plenty of parking
Crowded?:  Not at all!
What is it? Pinstripes normally has a Sunday brunch but during the holidays it becomes extra special with a visit from Santa.


  • The delicious food, of course! There was a nice selection including a prime rib section, omelet station, and a first - a waffle station. Bananas fosters waffles with nutella - need I say more? 

  • Kids section. They had a Kidz Korner with mac 'n cheese (delish), pizza, fries, and more yummy eats made just for them. 

  • Desserts - need I say more? Rice Krispies treats, strawberries, marshmallows, and pretzels - all waiting to be dipped in the oooey gooey chocolate fountain. Don't forget about the cookies and biscotti. A nice selection for those with a sweet tooth.

  • Seeing Santa! The kids first spotted him by the entrance as we walked in and immediately scampered to him. He also went around the bistro and chatted with diners, took photos, or listened to wish lists. We didn't have to wait in any lines (thank goodness!)

  • Bowling right after eating. A definite must since we were already here. My little one especially LOVED it!
Bowling -- Power Rangers style

Tips to enjoy Brunch with Santa:

  • Make a reservation! Better safe, then sorry! 
  • Going to the South Barrington location? Head straight to the Bistro (as you enter head towards the back to your left). We waited a few minutes for someone at the front desk but they were tending to bowling customers. We could have saved a few minutes by heading straight to the Bistro.
Don't miss:
  • Go on Mondays for Mom & Tots bowling. It only costs $5 per kid; shoes are included and moms are free! 
We wish:
  • ...wouldn't change a thing - everything was fantastic!

Bottom Line:

For a fun day out with the family with Santa, I highly recommend visiting Pinstripes for Brunch with Santa then bowling afterwards. It was the perfect Sunday afternoon! In fact, the boys can't get enough of bowling and our asking when we can go bowling -- and see Santa!

Disclosure: Though our family was provided complimentary meal and bowling, I was not required to express a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Family Fun Review: Nickelodeon Universe at the Mall of America

Last month we took a trip out to Minnesota to the Mall of America. Many may not realize this but the Mall of America is such a family-friendly place, and it's definitely more than just a mall. One of the reasons we love it so much is because the amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe, right in the very center of the mall. It's totally kid-friendly (especially for the younger set), and so convenient because it's indoors. It's a win-win for the entire family!

Nitty Gritty:
Ticket prices: Unlimited rides wristband - $31.99 and point passes start at $6.90.
Location:  Center of the Mall of America, 120 East Broadway, Bloomington, MN
Parking: Attached parking garage
Stroller-friendly? Yes, plenty of room for strollers, and there is stroller parking before you hop on a ride.
Food: Head to the food court or any one of the Mall's eateries
Crowded: We were here on Halloween for their fun Blackout event and also on a Monday. It was more crowded on Halloween (as was expected).

  • Perfect temperature. You don't have to worry about the notorious Midwest winters here. Forget lugging around jackets, or needing to apply sunscreen here. It's a balmy 70 degrees year-round. 
  • Meet your favorite Nickelodeon characters! Check the times for character meet and greets. We've met Dora and a couple of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

  •   Fun toddler-friendly rides. There are 27 attractions and rides. Some of our favs included: 
    • Diego's Rescue Rider - To tell you the truth, I think I was more afraid of going on this ride than my tykes. They absolutely loved it!!

    • La Aventura de Azul - A short but still fun train ride - a definite must at any amusement park

    • Carousel - Because who doesn't like riding on carousels an amusement park?

    • Balloon Race - Fun for the whole family!

  • Cost effective. Unlike most amusement parks, there are no admission fees. You pay only if you play. Plus a few of the rides for the younger set allow chaperones, so essentially you only pay for the kiddos! You can see all the rides and how many points it would be here
  • Convenient. Again, since there are no admission fees, you and the hubby can take turns watching the kids, while the other one shops (or enjoys a spa treatment at Solimar Spa - recommend!)

    We wish...

    • .....All the rides were open all the time! Right by the ride there are posted times when the ride would operate. It seemed that every ride they wanted to go on was closed for the time being.

      Tips to enjoy Nickelodeon Universe: 

        • Time it right! Check their website for character meet and greets.
        • Each ride/attraction costs a number of points. You can check them specifically here. Take a peek at what you'd be interested in riding. If you'll only be at the amusement park shortly, it may make sense to purchase points instead of a wristband.
        Bottom Line:
        Nickelodeon Universe is tons of fun for the family! Younger kids will love going on the rides and meeting their favorite characters, and parents/grandparents will love the convenience of having an indoor amusement park at the largest mall in America. It's a win-win!

        Read my entire review on

        Disclosure: Our family was provided complimentary admission to Nickelodeon Universe. I was not required to express a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.

        Monday, November 24, 2014

        Top Reasons Why We Love The Abbey Resort During the Holidays AND GIVEAWAY!

        We are always on the lookout for family friendly destinations and I've raved about The Abbey Resort (here) and also on Chicago Parent (here). We had such a fabulous and memorable visit that I'd love to highlight it again...and guess what, The Abbey Resort is offering a promo discount and even better - get this - one lucky family will win a one night stay at The Abbey!!

        Why we love The Abbey during the holidays:

        1. Holiday decorations to put you on the holiday mood. The Abbey itself is gorgeous with its renovation, and gets even more festive during the holidays.
        2. A chance to visit with the jolly ol' man himself - TWICE! And we didn't need to wait in lines that took forever! The boys met Santa in the lobby of the resort and also at a Sunday brunch.

        3. Can you say yummy? The brunch was delicious with plenty of food to choose from.
        4. A visit to "Santa's Workshop" with crafts and cookies! On our visit we made our own stocking and decorated our own cookies

        5. A Christmas music show where they sing your favorite holiday classics. Tip: They have a matinee show perfect for youngsters.

        6. Moms (or dads) can get away too! The lovely Avani Spa is perfect for relaxing.
        7. A fun arcade!

        8. Tons of other activities to do!  Yuletide bonfires, story time with Santa's elf, holiday movies shown at the pool
        9. Comfortable nautical-themed rooms for the whole fam, so you can rest and recharge after a day full of holiday activities.

        Bottom Line
        The Abbey Resort was just what we needed – a quick getaway in a beautiful resort full of fun activities. When we visit Lake Geneva again, we will no doubt find ourselves at The Abbey Resort.

        Giveaway Nitty Gritty:

        The fabulous people at the Abbey Resort will be will be offering one family of four 1 overnight stay with $10 in arcade tokens. Can't wait for the giveaway and NEED to get away now? Use the promo code: FNFG at checkout for a discount of $20. The stay is good Sunday-Friday (no Saturday stays), valid for year, excluding holidays and based on availability.

        Disclosure: Our family was provided a complimentary stay at The Abbey Resort. I was not required to express a particular point of view, and all opinions are my own.

        Thursday, November 20, 2014

        GIVEAWAY: Put Me in the Story #BookMagic

        I love sharing my love of reading with my three kids. We visit the library on a weekly basis and our shelves are overflowing with books.  My 4-year-old has really started getting into it, and my almost 3-year-old, as always, follows what his big bro does. It just melts my heart when I see the magic in his eyes as he plops down on his belly and opens a book for the first or the twentieth time.

        That's exactly the reason why every Christmas you can find books underneath the Christmas tree for 
        each of my kiddos. This year I plan on doing the same but I'm making it extra special - the books they'll be getting will feature them! How cool is that? Put Me In The Story personalizes books so that your kiddo is the star of the story. Take a peek at their website - there's so many books to choose from. There are the usual favorite characters such as Hello Kitty and Elmo, plus other books for special occasions such as Halloween, Christmas, and even weddings.

        Although there were tons to choose from, having two boys (ages 4 and 3) in their superhero phase was an easy choice - superheroes Avengers and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.  

        For my 2-month-old baby girl, I though getting the Whoo Loves You? book looked oh so cute!


        Interested in making one of these yours? Put Me In The Story is giving away a $500 shopping spree on Put Me In The Story, plus 50 winners will receive a free personalized book of their choice. So what are you waiting for? Enter away! Winners will be drawn December 6th.

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        About Put Me In The Story

        We think that books change lives, and we love the magic that the greatest stories create for kids – and adults, too!

        As parents, we know there’s nothing better than snuggling up for storytime with your kids. Sharing a good book together is about much more than the story – It is about the small moments with your child:
        ·         Rocking and whispering On the Night You Were Born to your baby

        ·         Watching your child clap his hands as he hears his name in his favorite story

        ·         Seeing your reluctant reader eager to curl up and read a book again and again

        ·         Taking a breath at the end of the day with that extra special snuggle and story

        At Put Me In The Story, we create a personal connection between you and those special books you love. Our partners are the world’s greatest characters and favorite bestselling books. In our stories, you can assist Doc McStuffins on house call, explore the world of great women throughout history, suit up with Avengers, or simply tell your little one just how much you love them.

        By taking the very best stories and giving families a way to personalize them, making their child the star, magic happens!

        Tuesday, November 18, 2014

        GIVEAWAY: Chicago Toy & Game Fair

        Disclosure: Our family was invited to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. I was not required to express a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.

        Imagine yourself as a kid and you've just entered a huuuuuge room full of toys waiting to be played with. That's exactly what the Chicago Toy & Game Fair is - a huge toy room where it's okay to play with everything you see. Not just any toys but the hottest toys of the season., Needless to say, this is always a hit with my boys. We've gone for the past 3 years and we always have a great time. We can try out all the latest and greatest toys. We can even buy them right on the spot if we wanted to.

        Read on for highlights of the .

        • Cool events! Each year there are different main events. This year we are excited to check out Bumblebee from Transformers. Awesome! Plus, there will be dinosaurs and even a Frozen parade.
        Add caption
        • Seeing the latest and greatest toys of the season. You can even buy them directly from the vendors if you wish.
        • Getting to PLAY with the hottest toys of the season.

        Credit: Zachary Johnston, joholla projects
        • Meet the inventors of some of the games. 
        Tips to enjoy the Chicago Toy & Game Fair:
        • Get tickets on the cheap! Click here for ticket info and a $2 off coupon.
        • Bring $$$ if you plan on purchasing anything. 
        • Pack snacks or step out for lunch at Navy Pier.

        While you're here...

        • Stop by the Children's Museum at Navy Pier. Read a review here: 
        • Be a tourist and browse the shops at Navy Pier.

          Bottom Line:

          It's always fun playing with toys, so this is an obvious hit with the kiddos!

          Nitty Gritty:

          Ticket prices: $10 Adult (ages 13+) - $5 Child (ages 3 - 12) - Children under 3 are free
          When: Saturday, November 22 and Sunday, November 23
          Location:  Navy Pier, Festival Hall A
          Parking: Covered parking garage at, Navy Pier
          Stroller-friendly? It does get pretty congested, so I would avoid bringing the stroller if you can.
          Crowded: Yes, we've always gone the first day and have noticed it does get a little busy, but there are places where you can stray away from the crowds (by the walls) if you need to sit down and have a breather
          What to expect: Tons of toys to try out and vendors that are actually selling toys. Get ready to get some Christmas shopping done early or at least have your kiddos add some goodies to their wish list.

          GIVEAWAY TIME!

          Interested in checking out the Chicago Toy & Game Fair? Leave a comment on your favorite toy of all time and I'll randomly pick a winner. Easy peasy! I'll pick a winner on Thursday 11/20.

          Thursday, November 13, 2014

          Holiday Family Fun Review: Cuneo Mansion and Garden's Winter Wonderland Holiday Light Show

          Credit: Cuneo Mansion
          It's Day 5 of our holiday series, "A Few of our Favorite Holiday Experiences." If you're catching up here are some of our favs (with a couple giveaways!)

          Day 1: The Museum of Science and Industry's Christmas Around the World exhibit (AND GIVEAWAY!)
          Day 2: Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour
          Day 3: Morton Arboretum's Illumination: Tree Lights (AND GIVEAWAY!)
          Day 4: Illinois Railway Museum - Happy Holiday Railway

          Today, we're giving away tickets to one of our favorite holiday lights show - Cuneo Mansion's Winter Wonderland Holiday Lights Show in Vernon Hills, IL

          Nitty Gritty:
          When: Friday, November 28, 2014 until Saturday, January 3, 2015 (closed Dec. 24 & 25) from 6 pm to 10 pm
          Where: 1350 N. Milwaukee Ave, Vernon Hills (Note: Entrance is NOT on Milwaukee Ave)
          Admission: $5/car- Monday-Thursday, $10/car- Friday-Sunday


          • Driving through 97 acres and pointing out our favorite lights, scenes, and some of our favorite characters.
          • We could turn the radio on to a station and hear Christmas songs playing.
          • Driving through was the perfect length - not too long and not so short
          • Passengers could participate in a scavenger hunt to find snowmen.
          • Here's a video to get an idea of what to expect

          Tips to enjoying the Winter Wonderland Holiday Light Show with the family:
          • Try to go on a weekday. To avoid crowds (and long lines) it's probably best to swing by during the weekday if possible. We waited a looong time in line just to get in. Thank goodness we had a van with a DVD player, or else our kids would have lost it!
          • Bring CASH!
          We wish...
          • ...that we went on a different day in order to avoid the long lines. Go earlier in the season!

            Bottom Line:

            Our first ever drive thru lights show did NOT disappoint! Even though we waited a long time to drive through the show, we still enjoyed ourselves!

            Interested in checking this out for yourselves? Enter below for free tickets!

            Giveaway Nitty Gritty:
            Win FREE tickets for your family!

            One lucky family will receive a pass to this drive-thru lights show at the Cuneo Mansion in Vernon Hills. I do check each and every entry. Contest ends Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. Winner will be notified by email.

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            Holiday Family Fun Review: Happy Holiday Railway at Illinois Railway Museum

            It's Day 4 and we're excited to share our love of trains. If you're catching up here are some of our favs (with a couple giveaways!)

            Day 1: The Museum of Science and Industry's Christmas Around the World exhibit (AND GIVEAWAY!)
            Day 2: Chicago Trolley Holiday Lights Tour
            Day 3: Morton Arboretum's Illumination: Tree Lights (AND GIVEAWAY!)

            While there may be no shortage of Polar Express rides around, we enjoyed riding the rails at the Illinois Railway Museum.

            This is a repost with updated dates:

            We had such a great time over the summer at Illinois Railway Museum's Day Out With Thomas  that we thought it would be perfect to check it out again.

            Nitty Gritty:
            When: December 6th and 7th, 13th and 14th
            Ticket prices: $12.00 per person over the age of 1
            Location: 7000 Olson Road, Union, IL
            Parking: Plenty of parking
            Crowded?: Tickets for the event were sold out, but the train wasn't crowded as I imagined it would be
            Stroller-friendly?: These are vintage trains with narrow aisles -  I would leave the stroller at home
            Tips: Mark your calendars for next year - they are selling the tickets on October 1st, 2013


            • Just riding the rails - my son just loves being around trains, so he was extra excited to be riding on one
            • The conductor, Mrs. Claus, and Santa gave the kids plenty of goodies to make my train-obsessed toddler happy - coloring books, cookies, a cute train card, and a goody bag filled with train related items
            Train goodies: coloring book, hot chocolate, DIY greeting card
              • The obligatory Santa photo. My youngest couldn't stop staring at him (hey, at least he wasn't screaming like my oldest last year!)
              Santa drops by!
              •  Picking up train gifts at the "North Pole"
              • Knowing that everyone helping with this event are all volunteers
              We wish:
              • ...there was music or singing on the train. Anything to make it more festive.
              • ...the train ride was a little longer

              Bottom Line:

              The boys always enjoy themselves whenever they get to ride trains. This was no exception. Although we would have liked to spend more time on the train, the kids still enjoyed the activities and the goodies at the "North Pole" and of course, meeting the jolly old man himself.

              Do you have a favorite holiday train event that we should check out?

              Read a list here of other holiday train events.

              Read my entire review on

              Disclosure: Though our family was provided complimentary tickets for the Happy Holiday Railway Event, I was not required to express a particular point of view and all opinions are my own.


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