Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North pin

Over the holiday weekend, my family and I  stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott San Jose North Silicon Valley. Located at 111 Holger Way, San Jose, the Courtyard is a recently opened hotel in tip-top shape and has a lovely newness about it. We felt that it was good value for money and had decent service. It is right off the 880 freeway and close to many company headquarters, so it is easily accessible. Being so close to restaurants and two mini-malls makes it a convenient place for a getaway or prolonged stay for most travelers.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North outer

What Makes it Family Worthy

The cost of the Courtyard is reasonable for most hotels. The hotel is also, as mentioned before, relatively close to the freeway and located inside a mini-mall with various restaurants. There are plenty of food choices literally outside the hotel. There is a Target Mall and a Chipotle, Chic-Fil-A and other fast-food places which serve this part of the Valley very well.

Fellow travelers

Business people coming for interviews or temporary employment in the high-tech companies frequent the property on weekdays. However, families who come to visit or travelers who wish to stay close to San Francisco without paying an exorbitant price for a hotel room also frequent this location.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North fridge

Our Welcome

Our check-in experience hit a snag when we arrived at 4 pm, and the room wasn’t ready.
Though my husband had mentioned our need for a quiet room at booking, the lack of a follow-through call to the property itself saw us allocated to a room facing the busy freeway on the first floor. The manager, to our amazement, was both understand and accommodating and reassigned us to a quieter room facing the parking lot on the fifth floor.
The manager also contacted housekeeping and expedited the change of bed linens and pillows to accommodate our feather allergies.

Hotel Decor

The hotel’s minimalist decor is tasteful with modern silvers, dark browns, and some blues. The modern decor provides a pleasant ambiance with distinct sections for people to quietly work at their computer while others chat with family and friends.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North purple

Our Room

We stayed in room 540. Our door had extra locks and a device to jam the door should someone try to break in, an additional layer of security we appreciated. Earthy hues, including a light brown carpet, decorated the room, accented with turquoise artwork on the walls. In the entry hall, there was a little coffee machine with non-pod coffee and tea provided and an empty mini-fridge, which is handy.

We had a comfortable King-sized box spring bed as well as the fold-out sofa bed which was a bit springy. There was a plug in nightlight, digital clock, and phone by the bed, with enough space to comfortably get out in the morning. Of course, when the sofa is being used as a bed, there is no alternative for seating.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North bed

We turned the couch, which had a standing lamp next to it, into a bed for our son. While the AC unit was right next to the bed, we could close it at night while he slept. Of course, when the sofa was used as a bed, there was no alternative for seating.

The room had a nicely sized desk with a pull out shelf for your keyboard. The chair for the desk was a comfortable swivel chair. Next to the desk sat the set of drawers with the 40 inch TV on top. The hotel offered us many channels, including HBO.

We had both thin and thick light blocking curtains over the window. We had a view of the street, since as mentioned we had requested a room not facing the freeway.

There is a standing closet with an ironing board which was small but adequate for a short visit such as ours. It was certainly enough to fit all of our carry-on size bags.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North desk

We counted six power outlets, enough for charging all our portable electronic devices. We had free Wifi as Marriott Gold loyalty members, and it was reliable and reasonably fast service.

All in all, we found the room to be a compact and functional room perfect for our length of stay.

Our Bathroom

The compact bathroom had modern decor with simple lines, pictures of San Francisco, and a speckled granite counter top. There was a simple glass shower with no grab bars inside a glass enclosure. The shower was also raised, reducing the risk of flooding.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North bathroom

The bathroom only had one hook to hang a towel or robe. Housekeeping provided a sample sized Paul Mitchell toiletry set.

Amenities

The Courtyard Hotel has a small pool and hot tub that is useful for occupying the kids and for adults to relax in the late afternoon and evening hours. They even have a Gym for guests who want to work out while staying.
Like all Courtyards, this hotel features a small store where one can buy snacks and a couple of frozen items. The hotel also features the relatively new concept of an onsite bistro that serves cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North egg
We opted to have the healthy choice sandwich which was egg, spinach and Havarti cheese in an English muffin for breakfast, with Starbucks coffee. However, there are many other more budget-friendly options in the two mini-malls next to the hotel.

One can make use of the spacious, smoke-free lobby with its colorful futuristic designs. It is a fun place to work on a laptop or enjoy a happy hour beer.

Parking is free though the lot can become crowded in the evenings.

Service

As mentioned before, the front desk staff was helpful with accommodating our son with autism’s needs. Also, housekeeping promptly brought requested extra soap and towels when we asked.

Family Stay at Courtyard Marriott San Jose North pool

Cost

The hotel is budget-friendly with prices ranging from $110-$300 per night depending on the date. The price increases when there are conferences in town.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • The design of the property means that half the rooms face a busy freeway and are not a good fit for noise-sensitive travelers. To ensure quiet, make sure that you specifically ask for a room facing the parking lot on a high floor.
  • Bring entertainment for the children as there aren’t that many TV channel choices.
  • Bring a non-slip shower mat, since the hotel, does not provide one.

 

Taking the Kids to San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation

Taking the kids to

 

 

San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation should be on every parent’s bucket list when visiting California’s Silicon Valley. With its entertaining and educational exhibits, the museum engages visitors of all ages.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose face

 

What to See

At the Tech Museum, visitors learn about the importance of technology in the modern world, turning its guests into curious kids. There are various displays on subjects such as computer technology, robotics, DNA testing and genetic engineering, where modern technology plays an important role.

This museum is an inspirational destination for older kids and adults, especially for those interested in the workings of modern technology. Though some of the computer concepts discussed might be a bit too advanced for smaller children,  they will probably still love playing with the exhibits.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose white

Why We Liked It

In this tech ‘shrine’ of sorts, every interactive section strives to educate guests about tech concepts while encouraging them to seek their own solutions to problems. Patrons can build their own hand prosthesis and understand the mechanical difficulties associated with making their invention work. Participants can also grow bacteria in Petri dishes, create security layers to protect accounts from internet hackers, and keep their balance through a major earthquake simulation.
We liked the dance floor that mirrors the dynamics of social media, and the excellent exhibit on cyber security.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose pink

But the highlight for us wasn’t the digital tech (surprisingly) but the biotech. Our son with autism enjoyed the lab that taught him the process of splicing bioluminescent DNA. It gave him a feel for what it’s like to do some real lab work.

Unlike other museums we’ve visited over the past decade, this one had signage with detailed explanations that helped guests understand the concepts and importance of each topic presented. Furthermore, we loved the fact there were many museum docents ready to answer questions.

The Exhibits

The museum consisted of three floors, each with different presentations.
The main, ground level floor, housed the admissions booth, cafe (surprisingly healthy and tasty sandwiches), and the museum store.

The lower floor was dedicated to Space Exploration,  body weight and other topics that engaged the kids.
On this floor, we saw the Exploration Gallery, with the earthquake simulator and a section about planets in the solar system. The highlight of the gallery was a space jet pack simulator where visitors could get propelled across the room in bursts of air.

Next to the Space area, there was a section on “Social Robots,” where patrons could build their own robot. Probably the most memorable exhibit on this floor was the Cyber Detective gallery, a series of interactive exhibits that teach kids about cryptography and cracking passwords.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose science

The top floor had two primary displays.One about silicon and semiconductors detailing the timeline of the integration of the silicon chip tech in computing.
The other featured the innovations in the global health care industry that focused on cost-friendly solutions for third-world countries. On display were inventions such as water-powered contacts (liquid vision), water filters to make polluted water drinkable in Africa, and material-friendly pouches for prematurely born babies that need heat to survive.
Our sons thought the section on Robot Design basics, where patrons can have either have the robot spell their name out with letter blocks or stencil their picture very ‘cool.’

Though we tried to get into the Bio design Studio, we didn’t get to it since the line was quite long. Guests, apparently need to make a reservation for this section in advance.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose robot

Amenities

The building has an excellent gift shop with lots of educational, kid-friendly products available for purchase. Continuing the hands-on theme, the kids can play with the toys before buying them. The museum also has an onsite café where guests can dine in or take their meals to go.

The facility includes an IMAX theater that shows various educational films. The day we visited we enjoyed a 3D movie about the city of Jerusalem, Israel, as seen through the eyes and perspectives of three women who were Jewish, Christian and Muslim.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose arch

Getting there

Located on 201 South Market Street, the museum is easily accessible by The VTA Light Rail line as well as several of the local buses. Travelers arriving by car will want to take either the exit for the Paseo de San Antonio or the Convention Center Station to get to the building from the interstate. Visitors can park across the street from the building for about $5 USD.

Ticket Information

Patrons can pre-order tickets online. Tickets can be printed at home or picked up at the special kiosk in the museum. Admission to the museum costs about $16 for children and $21 for adults. Travelers should also note that the Tech Museum only ever closes for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving.

Autism Travel Tips:

  • Light sensitive individuals should be aware that the entryway is brighter than some of the other areas in the museum. However, the building has plenty of overhead, electrical light.
  • There is an elevator in the building, so people with mobility issues don’t have to use the stairs.
  • The Tech Museum is an entirely indoor venue. Therefore, the museum is not affected by outdoor weather conditions and is an excellent destination any time of year.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose orange

  • If you are a student, you get a discount as well! Bring your student IDs!
  • We highly suggest getting the IMAX and Museum combo tickets. More to explore for one day!
  • There are lockers on two different levels that cost approximately 50 cents to rent.
  • Although the building was full of people when we went, it was not overly crowded, and it was easy to get around.
  • Visitors should  be aware they  need to hold on to their entry ticket throughout the course of their visit since the tickets have to be scanned at each of the exhibits’ interactive features.

The Kid Friendly Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose space

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

How to Survive Your First BlogHer Conference

Last month I finally got to attend BlogHer 2014, my first ‘mega’ conference with more than two thousand attendees.

I got a rare opportunity to meet new friends, connect with brands, had fun and above all., learned quite a few tips that I would love to share with fellow bloggers.
Ready? So, here goes:

Tips on How to Survive Your First BlogHer Conference bloggers

 

Lodging

Unless it is exorbitantly expensive; you are better off staying at the hotel the conference is held at.That way you can sleep in longer in the morning, quickly unload all those freebies you amass during the day and have a drink with new friends without worrying about driving alone late at night.
If you do stay at the hotel holding the conference and are a light sleeper makes sure you ask for a room away from conference rooms and hospitality suites where they hold the evening parties.

Packing

Bring shoes that are comfortable (not brand new) since you’ll have to stand on your feet and walk around quite a bit.Also, bring a pair of foldable shoes or flip-flops in case your feet swell.

Don’t forget to take a shawl or jacket for those rooms where the A/C is cranked up and keeps the room too cold.

Long skirts and pants are the best conference attire!
They transition well from morning to evening, and you can sit comfortably on the floor if there are no extra chairs to be found  (Yes, it can happen with popular presenters.)

Places to power up your phone in conference rooms are scarce so bring your extension cord in case you find a spot that’s far from where you are sitting.

Write your name with a Sharpie on all your electronics for easy identification.If you have colorful stickers with the name of your site, use them, since that will promote name recognition of your blog.

Tape a colorful strip of duct tape on your chargers and cords so others won’t confuse their belongings with yours.

Bring a power bank to power your phone up, as you will be continuously tweeting and Instagramming during the day.

Networking

Order business cards with your social media contacts and picture to make it easier for people to remember you and get in touch with you.

Print a sentence on the back of a business card that people can fill -“We met at…”

Check who else is attending and join FB or Twitter groups so you can make new connections with people who interest you.

Create a2-3 sentence  ‘elevator’ pitch to use as an introduction.

If you haven’t done it yet, learn to use hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

Want company representatives to remember you? Wear a t -shirt printed with your blog name on it so you can stick out from the rest!

Sort nightly through the business cards you collect, photograph them and make files on your laptop for easy access.

Meals are the best time to meet fellow bloggers so make sure you attend all meals.
Water is the first thing you should grab at the buffets and meals since there always seems to be a water bottle shortage towards the end.

And ‘my tip’ for the road:

Make sure you drink responsibly and are on your best behavior at all times unless you want to appear as a total goofball on someone’s Twitter or FB feed.

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