Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination

The Carnival Imagination is one of Carnival’s many Fantasy class cruise ships, capable of holding over two thousand passengers in over a thousand cabins. The ship was built in Finland, sent out on the first of July in 1995.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination sternThis ship takes passengers on short, three to four day long cruises from Long Beach California to Ensenada Mexico, stopping in Catalina Island on the way. The journey is slow paced yet short, with few activities and a simple itinerary, perfect for kids with autism. It is also a relatively affordable way to experience the Southern California and Mexico coast in the luxury of a cruise ship. We enjoyed our stay on the Imagination, especially our cabin.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pool

Ship Decor

We found the ship decor to be a bit flashy, but we enjoyed the overhead giant Coppola that allowed natural light to stream into the ship. All the colors were bright and shiny, reminiscent of Vegas. In the central area of the ship, we saw glass elevators, grand staircases, and large crystal chandeliers.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination decorOur Cabin

The cruise cabin on our trip consisted of the basic amenities. The decor featured predominantly orange colors, particularly on the bed sheets, the floor, and the curtain over our window. We had a small safe for our devices, an appreciated security feature. The room itself was well lit, especially for a cruise cabin. Our room featured carpeting, an issue for those with allergies but perfect to muffle any noise for passengers below. We also could watch a small overhead TV in one corner of the room with plenty of great channels for kids.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination beds

Guests can book the room either with two single beds or with the singles pushed together to make one queen. We opted for the two singles, and the staff placed both beds to maximize cabin space. We found the temperature control right over the bed, meaning no one needed to get up to adjust the A/C. The room had few outlets, though we did find one by the bed. We had a decent amount of closet space, but one area was blocked by a ladder used for the bunk bed. We could also fit our suitcases under our beds.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination cabin

Though we never used the service, we had the option to call for room service; an option offered on all Carnival cruises.The room service menu offered some free choices as well as some dishes that could be purchased for a couple of bucks.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination electronic

Our Bathroom

Our bathroom also featured the essentials. The room was as well lit as the rest of the cabin, and the blue linoleum floor wasn’t slippery. The bathroom boasted the cabin’s second outlet, perfect for hair dryers or any other electronic devices. We had a little shelf room as well as a place to hang a swim suit, a welcome touch. The shower itself boasted a head that wasn’t easy to use, which would be a bonus. It would be difficult if not impossible for a small child to turn it on high and get scalded.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination corridor

Dining Options

Compared to the newer Carnival ships, the Carnival Imagination doesn’t offer as many options. Like all Carnival ships, we could enjoy the food offerings on the Lido deck. These options included The Blue Iguana, serving fresh Mexican fare, and Guy’s Burger Joint, serving burgers with delicious toppings.


Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination pin

The ship also boasted traditional dining halls were passengers could dine either at set times or anytime during specific hours. The sit-down menu changed daily and offered many choices including gluten free and vegan.

Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination eat


Though the Carnival Imagination is a smaller vessel, we could still enjoy a plethora of activities for patrons of all ages. The ship offered outdoor pools with water slides, mini golf, basketball, ping pong, and shuffleboard. We also noted the ship offered several contests and shows. We chose to attend the family-oriented shows and found the Hasbro Game Show delightful. Music lovers will enjoy the high seas Karaoke and Music Trivia Party.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination ship


Pricing starts at $179 per person when traveling off season. Certain events, such as cruises featuring a live performance from a celebrity, will cause a significant increase in price. Carnival Imagination also offers a cruise line option that skips a stop in Catalina all together, decrease the cruise time to two days. However, this cruise option is on average slightly more expensive, starting at $189 per person and typically costing significantly more.
Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination games

Autism Travel Tips:

  • We experienced many different odors throughout our deck four corridors, mainly smoke cooking. Parents of children with smell sensitivities should keep this in mind.
  • The cruise featured wifi, but it was somewhat slow, which could be frustrating.
  • We did felt the movement and the swaying of the ship. Parents of children who are seasick easily should bring medication to help prevent seasickness.
  • The swaying of the ship can be felt strongly in the cabins facing the ocean. Parents should consider not booking an outside cabin, especially if they or their child is prone to motion sickness.
  • Our Ocean View Cabin Aboard Carnival Imagination court
  • Parents of children with noise sensitivities should book a cabin on deck seven or above to avoid engine noise.
  • The Carnival Imagination offers only a few balcony rooms. Parents may want to consider avoiding booking a balcony room to ensure the safety of kids with autism.
  • Most room types on the Carnival Imagination come in Accessible versions. Parents who might need this option should make sure they request it when booking.
  • Some of Carnival Imagination’s cruise itineraries go directly from Long Beach to Ensenada for a three-day trip. Parents might want to consider this option, especially if they are attempting traveling on a cruise for the first time with their child with autism.



City Sightseeing with San Francisco’s Hop On Hop Off Bus

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus PIN

Many movies set in San Francisco will show a Hop On Hop Off bus at some point – a brightly colored, usually red bus where riders can sit on top and take pictures of famous attractions while listening to a tour guide.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus heartThese buses run through Downtown  San Francisco, showing passengers areas like Union Square and the SOMA district. Travelers can hop off these buses to explore the city and hop back on when they’re ready to go, listening to the City by the Bay trivia from a local guide. Particularly for families with autism, the Hop On Hop Off bus is an excellent option to see the local sites.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus bay

What you will See

The two level buses have a closed area on the bottom and an open area on the top. The top allows for a beautiful view of the city, while passengers can return to the lower part during rainy or windy weather conditions. The seats are comfortable, and riders are allowed to bring food and drinks on board. We’ve listed a few distinct stopping places here.
City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus bus

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a touristy area with restaurants and souvenir stores. Kids will love seeing the sea lions basking in the sun on a specially built platform. History buffs can take a cruise to visit Alcatraz Island. Kids who like arcade games can head to Musee Mechanique for old fashioned games that cost a quarter each. Travelers craving dessert should head to Ghiradelli for an ice cream sundae and watch the staff make cones while waiting in line.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus wharf

Golden Gate Bridge

Some people like to get off the bus and cross the Golden Gate Bridge by foot. It can be an exciting experience for anyone visiting the city for the first time. However, it is typically cold and windy, and fog frequently covers the area.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus bridge

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park, slightly larger than New York’s Central Park, was built in the 1860s on the barren sand and rocks then known as “The Outside.” While enjoying the sights, visitors can also explore the California Academy of Science, a renowned museum. Travelers looking for dramatic views can visit the Palace of Fine Arts. Finally, kids will love the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum for exploring art and science.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus park

Haight-Asbury District

The Haight-Asbury District is an excellent place for walking around and experiencing the spirit of 1960s San Francisco. It is also the best place to get second-hand clothing and unique souvenirs.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus hippy


San Francisco is home to the largest and oldest Chinatown outside of Asia. This Chinatown is the perfect place to experience authentic Chinese eateries and buy bargain priced memorabilia. Visitors should stop and check out the entrance gate with the impressive lamp posts.
City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus view

Unless anyone in the traveling group is interested in getting off to explore specific places, travelers can certainly stay on the bus for many of the sites. We recommend staying on the bus for the Painted Ladies, Victorian Homes, City Hall, Market St, Cable Car Turnaround, Union Square, and Transamerica Pyramid. The guide will explain the history of these places in intricate detail, making staying on the bus worthwhile.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus china town

Time and Cost

Hop On Hop Off buses run daily from nine AM to five PM every half hour. The entire loop can take around two hours, longer if there are any stops.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus cable

Tickets are valid for twenty-four hours from first use. Meeting PointTickets must be exchanged before boarding at 1331 Columbus St. Visitors may board or leave the bus from any of the stops. Potential travelers can buy tickets on the spot, and there’s no need to pre-book.
City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus guide

Our Takeaway

Our son wasn’t feeling well the day we went, so he didn’t want to get off at any stops except for Pier 39 and the Ghiradelli chocolate factory. He happily sat in the comfort of the bus listening to the stories and jokes of our entertaining guide.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus ghiardelli

The Hop On Hop Off bus is an excellent way to get a sense of an otherwise difficult to navigate hill filled city. The service is convenient and relatively inexpensive, especially in a bundle offer.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus museum

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Those with kids who are temperature sensitive should sit in the closed area while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, as it is usually cold and windy.Hard Rock Hotel Universal Orlando:Tmom Travel Disclosure
  • Most buses don’t have a bathroom on board. Therefore, parents may need to get off to use the public facilities.
  • Parents shouldn’t wait to return on the last bus if they are pressed for time or across town since they may miss it.
  • Parents can bring noise canceling headphones for kids who are noise sensitive.
  • There are microclimates in San Francisco, so parents should bring jackets with hoods as it may get cold even on a sunny day.

City Sightseeing with San Francisco's Hop On Hop Off Bus church




Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum



Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum pin

The Broad Museum in Los Angeles is a museum of modern art that all members of the family can enjoy. When we first heard of the museum, we thought it would not be the best destination for little kids since it wasn’t interactive. However, after visiting, we highly recommend it for all ages.
It seemed like every room was filled with whimsical elements that will fascinate visitors of all ages.

And as a trailblazer in its field, the Broad also has a fun smartphone app. This app features audio guides with talks from the artists and a kid-friendly guide narrated by LeVar Burton. Visitors can also look on the app’s map for specific pieces of art or nearby bathrooms as well as plan their next trip.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum america

What You Will See

The escalator into the building carries passengers through an impressive tunnel. One of the first things we saw when we got to the top was a see through glass elevator from the ground to the second floor. While most elevators have the wires on top, this elevator had the wires on the bottom. Our son said it looked like it was straight out of the Willy Wonka movie.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum tulip

The third floor displaying the art is built in a circular fashion, meaning guests will start and end at the same place no matter what direction they walk.

A huge theme of many of the exhibits here is that viewers have to take a second look. For example, one of the first sculptures guests see is a giant “balloon” sculpture. If one walks around the sculpture, they will see these “balloons” are giant metallic tulips.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum color

On the wall in the entrance, room is a huge eighty-two-foot long painting, called In the Land of the Dead Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow by Takashi Murakami. This picture covers two walls and has lots of interesting details put together.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum curve

The museum features plenty of abstract and political paintings. Several of the featured paintings are highly abstract, made up of only colored shapes. Some of the displays are collections of items that have no meaning individually, but in a group setting creates art.

Some areas show more political art, such as one art piece made up of several provocative essays displayed on the walls in different colors. Parents should be aware that a few of the art pieces are more macabre and adult, like Kara Walker’s African’t.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum art

The building itself features lots of spacious rooms which let in natural light through a series of giant “honeycomb” windows. These windows ensure the rooms get a lot of light without actually reflecting directly into the chamber.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum stairs

Kids will love the giant balloon animal in the Jeff Koons room. This entire place is lively and colorful, featuring such interesting art pieces as a metallic train set and Michael Jackson with his pet monkey Bubbles.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum room

Another great art piece for kids is Robert Therrien’s Under the Table, a giant table with several large chairs that guests can walk under.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum pink

Fans of the artist can visit the Andy Warhol Area with his depictions of Elvis and Jackie O. There’s also a Roy Liechtenstein area with several pieces, including Full Fishbowl.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum warhol

Finally, when we went, we got to enjoy Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room temporary exhibit. This area is a fully mirrored room lit with several LED lights. It feels like walking in space among hundreds of stars. They only allow one person in for a minute at a time for safety reasons and since it was so popular..

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum stars

Location, Hours, and Cost

Visitors can find The Broad 221 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Admission to The Broad is free. However, those wanting to see the Infinity Mirrored Room need to make a free separate same-day reservation after arriving at the museum.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum dog

Visitors can park either in the garage under the museum for $12 for three hours or at the California Plaza Garage for $8 with validation from the museum.

The Broad is closed on Mondays. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, the museum is open from 11 AM to 5 PM. Thursdays and Fridays, the museum is open from 11 AM to 8 PM. On Saturdays, the museum is open from 10 Am to 8 PM. And on Sundays, the museum is open from 10 AM to 6 PM. The Broad Museum is closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Taking Kids to the Los Angeles Broad Museum chair

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Parents should talk to kids about not touching the art since many of the pieces are inviting to feel.
  • Visitors can always ask a volunteer to explain various pieces to them. The museum is well staffed with dozens of volunteers.
  • We recommend making a reservation to avoid a wait.
  • The museum has lots of areas to sit and observe pieces or take a selfie.
  • Some of the art in his museum is more adult oriented. Some of the pieces also display frightening images. Therefore, parents of younger kids should keep this in mind while exploring.

Family Fun on California’s Channel Islands Cruise


Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise pin

The state of California with its beaches, forests, mountains, farmlands and deserts has some very well-known iconic landmarks from north to south. These include Hollywood, Palm Springs and Beverly Hills to name a few. With wineries, museums, theme parks and so much more, one could never get bored. However, for some children who are on the autism spectrum, it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise boat

Parents wishing to expose their kids to a less stimulating; yet still enjoyable experience should consider taking a  day trip to Oxnard.The city just north of Los Angeles is a fun place to explore with ethnic restaurants and clean beaches.Furthermore, families who love exploring the outdoors should consider taking a Channel Islands Cruise.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise ship

Last month we had the time for just such an outing, and it was with the Island Packers touring company. We took their Vanguard single-hull trip on a three-hour tour around the five islands that have made up the Channel Islands National Park since 1980 – San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise walk

What You Will See

We set sail with twenty other passengers from the Oxnard Marina. The boat had a covered indoor area as well as an outside uncovered one on the top. As it was a sunny day, we chose to sit on the upper part.Our guide gave us a thorough explanation of the national park and its important role in the preservation of wildlife in this remote part of the world.
Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise water
Not long after we left the harbor, we were joined by dozens of dolphins who were swimming alongside us in pods. They gave beautiful displays of jumps, pirouettes, splashes, and dives.Our fellow passengers enthusiastically snapped photos and recorded video clips of these delightful creatures enjoying their swim

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise side

The islands are made up of unique rock formations with arches and caves. As they rise out of the sea, they have an otherworldly feel. Even though “California’s Galapagos” is only a few nautical miles off the mainland coast, it has remained untouched for centuries. Therefore, one can find unique fauna and flora from what is found on the continent and anywhere else on earth.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise wave

We managed to see beautiful island birds, seals, and even sea lions. It was a real treat. For people who like ancient geography, archeology, birdwatching, hiking and being in nature, there are unique options for landing and spending nights camping, but our tour was a non-landing one. The sights were beautiful, and the tour was educational. We learned so much as we sailed past the lighthouse on Anacapa Island on our return journey after circling the islands.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise rock


Location, Hours, and Admission

The Island Packers touring company is based at 1691 Spinnaker Dr. Ventura, CA. One can find Channel Islands National Park itself at 1901 Spinnaker Dr, Ventura, CA 93001.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise sea

While one can access the guest services centers on the mainland by car, visitors can only access the islands via park concessionaire boats, planes, or a private boat.
Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise sky

One can access the park between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM. Parts of the islands can close due to weather conditions.

Family Fun on California's Channel Islands Cruise blue

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Since these tours book fast, parents need to book ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
  • Parents of kids with autism need to stay in communication with the cruise line if any unfavorable weather might cause a delay or cancellation of the tour.
  • The cruise line recommends bringing jackets as sometimes the wind comes up over the water and it can get chilly.
  • It is critical to listen to the safety announcements given at the start of the tour. The rules are there for the protection of the passengers as well as the preservation of the wildlife.
  • Parents should ensure children are seated and that they hold on tightly to the railings as the waves can cause a rough ride.
  • Those who suspect their child will need something to eat or drink during the three-hour journey should bring snacks. Crackers or small sandwiches are the best options. Under no circumstances should one throw food overboard.
  • Those with children who suffer from motion sickness should make sure everyone takes medication beforehand.
  • Bicycles are banned on the islands.

Our Family Excursion with Belmont Shore’s Gondola Getaway

Our Family Excursion with Belmont Shores' Gondola Getaway pin

Many people know Venice, Italy for its romantic gondolas. But many don’t know that they can get the gondola experience in Southern California! Gondola Getaway is a gondola experience through the canals of Long Beach around Belmont Shore. Families and children alike will have a wonderful, relaxing time at this unique venue.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway top


Back in the 1920s, the canals used by the company today were built to resemble the iconic Venetian canals and staffed with gondolas. The gondolas back then helped show the local properties in a unique and fun way. In 1981, company founder Mike O’Toole was a USC student who knew of the history of the Long Beach gondolas and canals and started working out the details of his own business. After he graduated the following year, he decided to initiate the business, and thirty-four years later Gondola Getaway is still going strong. Currently, the company runs the first and largest American gondola fleet of twelve gondolas.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway water

What You Will See

We had a great experience and considered this to be a hidden gem of Long Beach. The water was smooth the day we went, and our gondolier was Fabio, a Sicilian young man who talked to us a lot as he practiced his English.

Fabio detailed how the gondolas can quickly tilt at faster speeds and how it takes a lot of skill and technique to row a gondola properly.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway gondolier

We saw several interesting sights as we journeyed through the canal.
First, we saw a hydro bar/peddle bar, a floating bar where patrons could peddle as they drank to move around the canal.
Fabio pointed out the oldest house on the block, a home formerly owned by the Hersey family.

Surprisingly,Belmont Shore had lots of people doing various sports like kayaking, surfing, and swimming the day we visited. Everyone we passed by was incredibly friendly. We even saw a lab catching a toy in the water while wearing a life jacket!

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway canal

After the trip, Mike gave us a picture of us in the gondola. The owner also told us a fun fact! Every year, for the past 31 years, O’Toole has taken his team of gondoliers from CA to Venice, Italy to participate in the twenty-mile-long Vogalonga race, usually early in summer. This way, the gondoliers can see where the practice started, learning how it is done in Italy so they can bring back authentic techniques to the states.

Other Unique Features

Guests can request the Message in a Bottle service for an additional $20.
This service means the gondolier will take any given message, put in in a wine bottle, and “find” it during the trip to read aloud. While advertised to couples, this can be a fun event for parents and kids as well.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway boat

Visitors can also request the Brunch on a Boat service for $40 per person. Guests ride the gondola as they dine on various Italian foods such as meats, cheeses, and pasta salads. Those interested need at least eight people in their party to request the brunch, with a maximum of twelve.

For those who love pizza, Gondola Getaway also offers a pizza cruise for $40 per person. Travelers get to ride a private gondola set up with a table, plates, and table cloth. Kids and parents can enjoy fresh pizza from Domenico’s Ristorante as well as salad and garlic bread. Like the Brunch of a Boat, this option is available to parties between eight and twelve people.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway boats

Location, Cost, and Hours

The Gondola Getaway is located near the resort area of Belmont Shore in Long Beach, California. The boats run from eleven AM to eleven PM, seven days a week. Visitors can pay $130 for a four-person gondola, paying $20 for each additional person. They can also reserve the large “Carolina” gondola for $413 which seats seven to fourteen guests.

Our Family Excursion with Gondola Getaway rowing

Autism Travel Tips:

  • If one’s trip ends later in the day, the staff offers guests blankets. This option is useful for kids who deal with temperature sensitivities.
  • Guests should arrive fifteen minutes before their departure time.
  • Parents should make sure kids don’t lean over the side of the gondola.If kids don’t know how to swim parents should ask for a life jacket for them.
  • disclosure-consideration-provided-by-brands-mentioned-in-this-post
  • The ride typically lasts about an hour. Families can request a shorter route if their kid is antsy.
  • Space on the gondola is tight, so parents of children who might have a problem with this should prepare their kid.

Exploring LA’s Grand Central Market with Family

 Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family pin

Los Angeles is a mixture of cultures, and one of the best places to highlight this fact is Grand Central Market. At Grand Central Market, visitors can enjoy all sorts of different cuisines in one location. There’s something for everyone in this busy marketplace.


For almost a century, Grand Central Market has provided for Los Angeles. The market opened in 1917, supported by the popularity of Broadway and the residents of Bunker Hill. The market has evolved with the times and has always featured a wide variety of vendors. Developer Ira Yellin bought the market in 1984, and today his wife, Adele Yellin, continues his dream of a bustling, attractive downtown.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family red

What You Will See

The Market has lots of various vendors selling wares, mostly foods. We saw an ATM near the entrance, though all the vendors do take credit card. We also saw plenty of places to sit along the way.

The Market has lots of places to get a bite to each. One of our favorite places is Eggslut, where diners can get breakfast or lunch of egg on a brioche. There’s plenty of places to get a slice of pizza, and one of the best is Pizzaria, where they make the food fresh in front of guests and even offer fried bananas. Of course, there are plenty of places to get a good burger, like Bel Campo Burgers, a famous restaurant in LA.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family sign

While there are lots of restaurants, most people will recognize in the Market, the real draw of this location is the vendors featuring fantastic foods one can’t easily find elsewhere. There are lots of places featuring Mexican, Salvadorian, Jewish, Thai, and Japanese cuisines. Tacos Tomas, for example, was the most favorite restaurant at this location, and the only one with a sign for corralling the line. Ramen Hood featured vegan ramen and pho. At Sticky Rice, one could get pineapple fried rice and other Thai foods. Bento Ya served Japanese bento boxes for their diners. Roast to Go served Mexican-based roasts. One vendor was just called German Sausages and served what was expected.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family food

Another draw of the Market is the fact that one can buy groceries here as well as to go meals. Chiles Secos and Valeria’s both sell specialty spices and chilis for Mexican and Salvadorian dishes. Most people probably don’t know how many types of chilis there are, and there are so many different kinds sold at these two vendors. Many of the vendors also sell veggies, fruits, meats, fish, and cheeses. For example, Bombo, which sells fish dishes and refreshing flavored lemonade, sells many different types of fresh fish to take home and cook. Wexler’s Deli offers all sorts of various meats.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family mound

For sweeter foods, snacks, and drinks, this Market delivers. We passed by the PressBrother’s Juicery, which sells organic pressed fruits and vegetables. Valerie Confections sells different baked delicious baked goods and puddings right on the counter. Valeria’s offers Mexican candies and candied fruits along with their other Latin products. We also passed by a row of fridges with different cold drinks. Finally, we saw Courage and Craft, a vendor for spirits and alcoholic beverages selling some drinks by companies not available in most other places.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family chrome

When we went, we talked to some of the people working at Knead & Co. pasta bar. At Knead & Co., guests could buy unusually shaped pasta and fresh sauces. When we went, we got to watch them making the fresh pasta as they do every day.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family knead

Location, Hours, and Admission

The Grand Central Market is open from eight AM to ten PM for all seven days of the week. It is located in downtown LA near Port Street, on 317 Broadway. The nearest parking garage entrance is on 308 S Hill Street.

Exploring LA's Grand Central Market with Family pasta

Access to the market itself is free, but of course enjoying anything the vendors have to offer costs a variable amount of money.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The market does play music which can be loud in parts. Also, areas of the market can also get noisy with people talking and vendors calling out orders. Parents of noise sensitive kids should be aware of this fact. This is an open space venue so smells from different cooking areas mix.Parents to smell sensitive kids should be aware of this.
  • It wasn’t incredibly crowded when we went. However, the market can become crowded and claustrophobic in the tighter halls.
  • Most of the vendors are indoors, and there are plenty of places to sit.
  • There are some small stairs to climb to get to some areas.
  • The Market does have their bathroom downstairs.


Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort veranda

The classy Balboa Bay Beach Resort, on 1221 West Coast Highway in  Newport Beach, overlooks the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
This establishment’s spacious rooms and convenient location make it an ideal hotel for families that wish to experience California’s Orange County area. In fact, the resort is only a short distance away from the beach,  amusement parks, and the nearby South Coast Plaza.

Thinking the resort would provide a fun mini-vacation, for our LA-based family, we booked our hotel via Groupon.
After completing the purchase, we contacted the hotel front desk to ask for a feather-free, quiet room to accommodate our son’s autism.
Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort street


The Mediterranean-style resort spread over 15 acres features 159 guest rooms and ten suites with courtyard or bay views.
The hotel public places were decorated in a timeless nautical style with accent colors ranging from tan to burgundy, giving it a laid-back yet sophisticated feel.

Fellow Travelers

During the weekends, the guests were equally divided among beach-going families and couples on romantic holidays.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort corridor

Our Welcome

Upon arriving at the hotel earlier than we had anticipated, a long line of fancy cars greeted us. There was a wine festival taking place that day, and those vehicles were all headed towards the valet parking area.

Despite the opulent size of the hotel, the actual ordinary check-in area was somewhat small and disappointing for us as first-time visitors.

We soon discovered, there was a minor problem with our reservation since the Groupon coupon kept coming up on the front desk computers as null and void. After the error got sorted out, check in was speedy.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort seats

So, how was our room?

Our room, 340, a standard room, was on the hotel’s top floor. For larger families, the hotel offers a variety of accommodations including connecting rooms and two-bed room suites.

The white and beige tones used for space provided an understated elegance successfully carried through the room and bath areas.
The room’s two rattan base queen beds were comfortable and had the perfect ‘bounce’ in them.
Besides the beds, the room had a high dresser housing a large screen TV, a DVD player, and mini cooler as well as a working area with a desk.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort shutters

We appreciated the room had ample seating -two chairs and two benches, as well as the wooden plantation shutters that efficiently blocked the bright morning light out.
Our room, facing the pool had a veranda with a small table and two chairs, making it convenient for us to sit and enjoy the sunsets.Parents should be aware that though the sliding door to the balcony did have a lock, it was placed rather low which would enable some kids to open it.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort chest

Amenities provided by the resort included bathrobes and slippers as well as a coffee/tea maker and a safe for valuables.
We thought the complimentary Evian water was a nice touch.The resort’s complimentary Wi-Fi is very reliable.
However, those traveling with a family may find the number of power sockets provided less than adequate. Bringing along a Phillips ultra-slim USB charger is recommended so that all electronic devices can be ‘juiced up’ faster.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort tub


The well-lit bathroom made lavish use of both marble and granite.
The facilities were sectioned off into four different areas ( tub, shower, vanity, commode) to ensure privacy.The shower glass shower enclosure helped keep it from flooding the room. We never ran out of towels or aromatherapy infused toiletries because the hotel provided more than enough.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort shampoo


The hotel’s well-equipped fitness center was open 24 hours a day so guests could exercise anytime. The hotel also featured a pool, hair salon and onsite spa wth steam rooms, saunas, and whirlpools.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort desk


There are currently three dining venues in the Balboa Resort- the ‘Waterline’ serving seafood and steaks, the ‘A&O  Kitchen and Bar’  for guests seeking a family-style dining experience and ‘Blend ‘ for specialty coffees and sandwiches.


Rooms start at $300 a night, so budget conscious travelers should be on the lookout for deals on discount sites. Parking fees range between 20$ to 30$, the valet option being the more pricey of the two.

Family Weekend at the Balboa Bay Beach Resort food

Autism Travel Tips

The closets have a light that that can be left on at night without disturbing anyone’s sleep.
Parents with noise sensitive children should ask for a quiet room away from the pool, elevators, and street traffic.
The bathroom does not have built-in grab bars for the tub or shower.
Parents should bring an anti-slip bath mat if their child needs one.
There are a DVD  player and a large flat screen TV in every room so feel free to bring your kid’s favorite DVDs.
Parents of children with a tendency to wander off should bring stick -on contact alarms or separate locks for both the front and balcony doors.


Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House


spider gate
If you ever visit Silicon Valley, and if you or anyone you know loves history, the paranormal, or unusual architecture, the Winchester Mystery House is a must see for a tour. The house has a very strange story behind it, and depending on the guide and length of the tour it can be an informative, educational and even entertaining experience for you and your entire family. What better place to visit for Halloween than a “haunted” house?

The Story Behind the House

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, once belonged to Sarah Winchester of the Winchester rifle brand. Construction began after both Sarah’s child, and husband passed away. She was allegedly told by a medium to head west and build a huge mansion to appease the angry spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. Supposedly the spirits were responsible for the death of her child and husband, and there was an implication that Sarah was next. Rumor is that Mrs. Winchester held regular séances and that she created the house in a labyrinth manner to trick the ghosts or spirits that might be following her. There are many mysteries about Mrs. Winchester, but because she was never interviewed and left no journal, we may never know the real story.



What to expect

When Mrs. Winchester bought the house, it was an eight-room farmhouse. By the time of her death it had turned into a seven-story, 160 room mansion. Carpenters worked around the clock for 38 years to ensure that construction never stopped (per the instructions by the medium that Mrs. Winchester consulted) and the story is that she never slept in the same room two nights in a row. It opened to the public in 1923, just a year after her death, and was turned into the museum in 1933. When you walk around the mansion, expect to see elegant Victorian architecture alongside examples of the many oddities of the eccentric Mrs. Winchester. Some interesting examples include doors that open to blank walls, staircases that lead to nowhere, secret passages, and a staircase that is seven flights with forty steps, but only nine feet high because each step is a mere two inches.

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

Tours and General Info

The primary ticket is the Mansion Tour, which gives visitors access to 110 of the 160 rooms and lasts a little over an hour. There is also a 55-minute Behind-the-Scenes Tour (for an additional fee) if you are interested in even more insight into what the house was like when Mrs. Winchester lived there, as well as access to the basement, a rarely seen area of the house. The Grand Estate Tour is 2.5 hours and is the best way to see everything because it includes the Mansion Tour and the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. There is also a Flashlight Tour and a Spirit of Christmas Tour during the holidays.

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

Autism Travel Tips:

  • While fascinating to most adults and older children, there are many strange things in the house and the stories could frighten some children. There are rumors of ghosts/paranormal activity in the house that might be discussed.
  • Expect A LOT OF DUST everywhere. If you or your family member suffers from allergies or are sensitive to smells, you may want to take precautions or reconsider visiting. Not recommended for people with asthma.
  • Many areas look like construction zones, with uneven ground. People with mobility issues should be aware of this. Keep an eye on any small children that want to touch everything.
  • The house is full of staircases leading nowhere and balconies with few or no guard rails.

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

  • Even the short tour is a lengthy tour; the tour is recommended for children over eight or nine that are better listeners and more interested in the history than in the immediate sights.
  • Beware of narrow corridors and plenty of steps. Once you start the tour, it’s hard to backtrack.
  • Children are not allowed on the Grand Estate Tour.
  • There are storage lockers available to rent.
  • Photography/video inside the house is prohibited, but photos and videos of the garden and outside the house are fine.
  • There is a café and gift shop on-site that you should check out since it has a copious amount of holiday trinkets that are interesting to gawk at and even buy.

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

  • This place is quite warm, so bear this in mind if your child is temperature sensitive.
  • The entire tour is almost a mile long through four stories with nearly 300 steps, so it’s not very wheelchair or stroller accessible, and challenging for those with limited mobility who cannot walk for long. Because of this, there is now a Video Access Tour that takes place in the theater and gives visitors a tour of what they would see inside the house. Admission to the Video Access Tour includes admission to the Victorian Gardens and the Historic Firearms Museum.
  • English scripts are available for those with a hearing impairment, and if a companion is necessary, he or she will receive a free entry.

Taking the Kids to the Winchester Mystery House

Location, Hours, Admission

 525 S Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 95128

Hours & Admission vary by season and depending on which tour you prefer. Visit the Winchester Mystery House website for more information

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum statue

During his fifty-year career, Ronald Reagan inspired US citizens and world leaders to aspire to and to achieve more than they had previously imagined.
His legacy lives on for all to embrace and to discover at the Reagan Presidential Library where notable public figures, exhibits, and ongoing events depict and showcase Ronald Reagan’s esteemed values, actions, and his fierce pioneering spirit of determination, vision, and “peace through strength.”.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum oval office

The Library Layout

The Library’s introductory sections include the late president’s childhood, acting career and his California governor days.
The central section starts with his nomination as the republic party candidate for president and continues through his two elections and presidency days.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum displays
Highlights of the White House Years include a replica of the Reagan Oval Office office decorated in brown hues, with the iconic a jar of jelly beans on the desk, newspaper clips of the assassination attempt in March of 1981 and first lady Nancy Reagan’s dresses to various official functions.
Furthermore, the Library has an entire section dedicated to the Cold War era with recorded video clips, pictures and even a replica of a Berlin tunnel that connected East Germany to its Western counterpart.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum berlin tunnel

Guests can enjoy exploring the fascinating Air Force One Pavilion and walk on board the real Air Force One aircraft donning tail number 27000, that flew not only Ronald Reagan but six other US presidents as well.
Many guests are surprised by the modest size of the bedroom and personal quarters in comparison to the office and kitchen.Across from the aircraft, the pavilion showcases several presidential motorcade vehicles including a Johnson-era Sikorsky VH-3 Sea King, the 1984 presidential parade limousine, a 1982 LAPD police car, two 1980s police motorcycles, and a 1986 Secret Service vehicle.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum air force 1

Visitors exploring the grounds can visit Ronald Reagan’s grave and memorial overlooking the Pacific Ocean as well as a large piece of the Berlin Wall.Furthermore, there are picnic areas for those who wish to enjoy dining outdoors.

Know before you go

With its vast expanse of exhibits, it is necessary for most visitors to allow about 3 to 4 full hours to enjoy the galleries and grounds.
The museum operates on a self-guided tour with tour guides available for large groups.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must for trekking the multiple areas of the grounds perched on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific Ocean on one side, and a superb canyon view to the East.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum views

Parking is free, and there is also an area for special needs parking in close to the entrance.Patrons with disabilities can also use the visitor drop-off located at the entrance in the front.

Admission of $16 grants entry to all galleries, exhibits, and all of the outdoor grounds. The entire loop through the museum is approximately ½ mile long. A $7.00, rental fee allows the use of an audio-visual tour device.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum info

Autism Travel Tips

The museum is quite autism friendly and manages to captivate kids with autism with its interactive displays.
If your kid is a history buff like ours, the  $7.00 rental fee, for the audio-visual tour on the museum’s I-pod is a good idea.
Air Force One is a historical artifact and, therefore, is the only place in the Museum that is not wheelchair user accessible.
Other locations contain ramps or elevators to allow easy access throughout the museum.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum plane view

Flash photography is prohibited inside the museum, but visitors are encouraged to take as many pictures and selfies with the different exhibits with their camera or the I-pod rental.
Additionally, no photography of any kind is allowed inside Air Force. One

There are two on-site cafes: the Country  Cafe located on the west side of the property overlooking the Pacific Ocean with a smaller menu and the Ronald Reagan Pub, in the Air Force One Pavilion with a larger selection of beverages, pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, and desserts.

The Autism Friendly Reagan Library and Museum helicopter

The gift shop is hands down the best we’ve seen in any presidential library and worth exploring.
Aside from the standard books and t-shirts there are many kids’ toys and the obligatory jelly bellies in boxes and jars bearing the presidential seal.

Disclaimer: Special thanks to the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum that provided us with complimentary tickets for the review. However, the tips and opinions shared are always our own.

reagan library pinterest image

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids

Located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 201, Los Angeles at the Hollywood and Highland mall; is a 28,000 square foot candy shop aptly called SWEET!
Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids sign

As the name suggests, there are candies galore, and you will find an assortment of sweets and chocolates of all shapes, sizes, colors, tastes and fragrances.

SWEET! Advertises itself as the biggest sweet store in the world and it might even be true because the place is so large, you can hardly see from one end of it to the other.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids entrance

The Store

The first sense to be affected as you walk in the door is the feeling of smell – the sweetness of sugar, vanilla, chocolate, mint and other fragrances that waft into your nostrils.
Next, you go into a visual overload of sorts with a plethora of colors and shapes in all sizes!

The shop is divided into fourteen different areas or ‘boutiques’ each boasting different names like Route 66, STICKY and Peace of Candy.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids car

But this place is so much more than a candy store.

There are sodas, hard and soft candies, along with old fashioned sweets to choose from. And the variety doesn’t stop there. The store sells Hollywood memorabilia, clothing items, souvenirs and trinkets all related to sweets somehow.
Customers are encouraged to wander around the shop, and there are clear signs stating whether things can be touched or not.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids display

At the Wonka boutique, customers get a sample of dark, milk or white chocolate as they walk through.

As you might imagine, the boutique is filled with items related to Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As my son and I wandered through the STICKY, Jelly Belly, and M&M boutiques we discovered a wall hang depicting the face of musician Eminem made from M&M chocolates!

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids emandem

Our favorite boutique by far was the ‘Chocolate Lab’ with a Chocolate Labrador for a mascot. There were long lines of customers waiting the day we visited.
The feature we liked best at the Lab was the fact you could create your own chocolate candy bar by choosing the toppings and fillings you want to have in your personalized bar.
Be prepared to wait about 20 minutes until your bar cools fully congeals and is ready to be wrapped.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids chocolate

Autism Travel Tips

  • SWEET! can be visited all year round with opening hours from 10am-8pm Sunday through Thursday, and 10 am to 9 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • If your child wants to make their customized chocolate bar, make sure to do that, at least, ½ an hour before closing time to avoid disappointment.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids candy

  • The store is accessible to strollers and wheelchairs and is all on one level making the possibility of slipping, tripping or falling slim.
  • children who are sensitive to strong smells, fragrances, and odors; should be warned beforehand that there are pretty strong smells of sugar, coffee, vanilla, chocolate and other fragrances that might be overpowering.Parents should be  prepared to let them go outside to get a break from the smells if necessary.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids samples

  • There is a level of noise from the visiting customers as well as some of the machinery. Let your child know that they can take a break outside if they get too overwhelmed or if they have had enough.
  • Be aware of the signs and make sure your child fully complies with their personal safety.

Exploring SWEET! Hollywood with Kids wonka




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