5 Ways to Play in Fall and Winter

Meteorologists are predicting the winter of 2016 to be a warm one! Take advantage of it with plenty of ways to play this fall and winter. #CLIFkids [ad]

Just a few days ago, meteorologists in Kansas City started releasing their weather reports for winter 2016. Most of them agreed– winter would be mild, and at times unseasonably warm, with little snow. While that may be a bummer for snow-lovers, it’s a great thing for everyone who loves to play outside! This fall and winter is going to be a great one for PLAY, and today, I’m sharing my 5 favorite ways to play in fall and winter (with a few tips on where to play in Kansas City, too)!

Read more

Must-Have Annual Memberships for Kansas City Families!

Looking for the perfect gift or great summer activity for your family? If you live in or near Kansas City, here is the run-down of what memberships to get (and which ones to skip!) so you can spend your money wisely, and save by getting an annual pass!


This winter, I had what many of my friends referred to as my “grinch year.” I was up to my eyeballs in too many toys, and I put a ban on the entire family– NO. TOYS. PERIOD. I was not going to let another toy come into my house when we were overloaded even after getting rid of a bunch. Instead, I encouraged my family to consider ideas that might be more long-lasting and educational, but still fun (like subscription boxes or annual memberships). I also put my money where my mouth was and got my son an annual pass to SeaLife Aquarium, the Legoland Discovery Center, and to Union Station, 3 places we visited last fall and loved.

And this summer? I’m so thankful for my grinch year, because the memberships we have now are perfect for our summer fun, and we’ve been getting tons of use out of each. So, now that my son and I are well-versed in what memberships are worth it in the KC area (and which you might want to skip).

Read more

Crown Center Staycation Guide: Part 3

Looking for the best Kansas City staycation or vacation? You can't miss out on a Crown Center staycation! It's perfect for families of all ages (and only minutes away from P&L for adults, too!) Here's a roundup and review of the best things to do!

When it was time to think about getting away, I considered whether Zach and I should take a vacation or a staycation, then worked hard to plan our trip. When it was time to visit Crown Center we had a great time staying at the Sheraton Hotel and eating Minsky’s Pizza. We loved our visit to the SeaLife Aquarium, Legoland, and Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant. But when we checked out of the hotel, our Staycation wasn’t quite over– there was still more to do!

We decided to visit Union Station, literally less than a minute from the Sheraton in the car. Growing up, I remember when Science City opened, but Union Station, to me, meant some science activities and not much else… boy, has it changed! While Science City is still there, it’s grown and changed a lot, and there are other great experiences at Union Station that you can’t miss!

Planetarium at Union Station

If you’re going to visit Union Station, I’ll tell you that the planetarium is a must-visit. And no, your kids aren’t too young or too old to see it, because there are amazing shows for any age. We went to the Sesame Street show (expected to continue through the end of November, 11/21/14), where Big Bird, Elmo, and a new friend from China show us how parts of the sky are the same, no matter where you live in the world. The show, meant for a younger age, encouraged interaction and participation, asking kids to draw shapes in the stars and answer questions verbally.

For older planetarium fans, there’s a Dinosaurs at Dusk show that is engaging for young minds who are past the Sesame Street age, running until 1/2/15. Black Holes is great for older fans, with discussions about what Black Holes are and the mystery behind them. That show runs until 1/4/15.

Finally, the Planetarium offers a show called “Stargaze Kansas City” which is perfect for learning more about the stars right above our own heads, some of which we’re missing due to sunlight or bright city lights. What’s amazing is that this show, which will run through 1/4/15 in it’s current state, changes throughout the year to show the stars that are currently visible as the night sky changes when seasons change.

Tickets to the planetarium’s shows run around $6, with some shows being free for Union Station members.

A tornado tunnel at Science City inside Kansas City's Union Station allows kids to see a tornado form and even touch the wind inside of it.

After the planetarium show, we decided to visit Science City, which is a Union Station classic. With ever-changing exhibits, many things are new, but others stay the same. When you first enter Science City, you see a corridor of activities that are simple and engaging. Honestly, this first corridor was our favorite part of the entire experience, and we could have spent most of our Science City time in there. Depending on your child’s age, they may find it equally entertaining or not. Regardless, there’s something for everyone inside of Science City.

Science City inside Union Station KC near Crown Center

One thing Zach really enjoyed was a table near the entrance of Science City where you could set objects (like balls and round pieces of PVC pipe) on a spinning tray and see how they’d move in reaction to the sudden force.

Science City inside Union Station KC near Crown Center


To me, the best part of Science City is seeing the awe on a child’s face as they test something out and it either does what they had expected it would, or doesn’t do what they anticipated at all– either way, they learn something, and can continue testing it out as long as they’d like. Zach played with this for a good 15 minutes, just placing the ball on top, and watching it fly in the air, then trying different balls of different styles and sizes to see what would fly the best.

Melody Park at Union Station  encourages kids to listen for sounds and make their own music.

It’s after the initial corridor that you get to the real “meat” of Science City, with 3 levels of various interactive exhibits. I will say that it seems at least a little bit of Science City is always under construction– I don’t think I’ve ever been that part of it wasn’t blocked off because they’re adding a new exhibit in place of an old one, so be prepared for restricted access to some sections of the museum. However, part of that construction is really nice– it means that there is something new to see again and again (while some sections of the museum, like melody park, are long-standing features).

Inside Science City at Union Station KC near Crown Center

Science City is, in parts, designed to be like a real city, complete with “hotel,” playground, the melody park, and more. Other exhibits stray from this theme completely, but most of them tie into the idea that you’re essentially in an indoor city that you can explore and play in, while learning great new things.

Watching robots at Union Station KC's Science City near Crown Center.

Zach particularly loved watching this robot, which would place marbles on a track that would roll through a maze. A very helpful employee at Union Station took the time to tell us about the class of the day, which was a robot building class, but Zach was just a bit too young for us to participate. With master classes most days, young science-minded individuals can try a hands-on activity within the museum.

Inside Science City at Union Station KC near Crown Center

One section of Science City that is particularly aimed at older kids is the amazing space exhibit, which shows how astronauts live and sleep. The idea of being able to see this in life-size is really exciting, and do some simple training tasks is very cool, but lost on a younger child. However, almost every exhibit has something that is exciting regardless of age, and for the space section, this rocket launcher was pretty cool. You pump a lever as much as you can as the clock counts down, and when it hits 0, the rocket will fly up a certain height depending on how much power you gave it by pumping. Pretty exciting!

The kinder room at Science City inside Union Station KC near Crown Center

Entire rooms were set up dedicated to different ages and stages, which meant there were some great dedicated activities for a younger age group, including soft-build block projects and musical activities.

Magnifying Glass Discovery inside of Union Station KC's Science City near Crown Center

Many of the sections were set up with the idea of free play and free discovery, but others had a watchful eye from Science City employees and were a bit more… strictly guided. In some ways, this dampened the natural exploration that children have, but in others, there were opportunities to learn a bit more past where a child may have discovered on their own. Because of this, there were some areas we just moved on entirely– at Zach’s age, free, open-ended discovery is a great way to learn. He did, however, enjoy looking at the bugs through the magnifying glasses and identifying different parts of their bodies through that up-close look.

Train Watching inside of Science City at Union Station KC near Crown Center

One nice feature of Science City is that it’s great for railfans, especially on a rainy or cold day. We were able to sit at a checkers table inside of Science City and watch trains go by.

Energy exhibit inside Science City at Union Station KC near Crown Center.

Most of the exhibits are very self-paced and interactive. One of the best exhibits in the entire place, in my opinion, was the exhibit where you learn about energy and power. There were various body-power exhibits that allowed you to run on a hamster wheel or ride a bike to light a bulb, and others where you could crank a handle to create wind to power wind generators and light up miniature homes. It’s always a good idea to open communication about renewable resources, and to do so in a way that helps a kid run off energy in a big hamster wheel is the best way, in my opinion!

Science City Magnet Wall inside of Union Station KC at Crown Center

Zach’s favorite exhibit was the PVC magnet wall, where you took PVC pipes with magnets and arranged them in different shapes, then dropped the ball into the pipe to see how fast it would roll. Different configurations produced different speeds, allowing the ball to get to the bottom straight away, or sometimes, not at all… we also enjoyed setting up different configurations and putting the ball in to see who would get to the bottom fastest.

If you want to check out Science City inside of Union Station KC’s website, you can find out more information about ticket pricing, parking, and hours to plan your visit, as well as find out about the most up-to-date attractions.

The FREE Model Rail Experience inside of Union Station KC near Crown Center

One final great perk that Union Station KC has, which is awesome for any train lover, is the model rail experience, where you can view tons of different model trains whirring around cities. Various scales, scenery, and time periods are a backdrops for the important part– the trains!

Model Rail Experience inside Union Station KC near Crown Center is FREE to visit!

When I say they’re large, they’re definitely large. If your child loves to sit and watch trains like mine does, then it’s a great opportunity to watch them go through tunnels and over bridges and around houses.

Walk on a bridge overlooking the tracks at Union Station KC near Crown Center


As part of the rail experience, there is a bridge that you can take to walk directly over the tracks. It can get a little loud up there, but otherwise, it’s an amazing chance to stand above the trains and see them drive by. Again, the rail experience and this bridge are completely FREE parts of Union Station, so you can stop by and visit even if you choose not to visit the Planetarium or Science City. Combine the model rail experience and this train bridge with a trip to Fritz’s, and you’ve got the perfect “best day ever” for any future engineer.


Kansas City area readers, what’s your favorite place to visit? Let me know in the comments and I may make it a part of our next KC Staycation Review series!

Kansas City Crown Center Staycation Guide: Day 1

Looking for the best Kansas City staycation or vacation? You can't miss out on a Crown Center staycation! It's perfect for families of all ages (and only minutes away from P&L for adults, too!) Here's a roundup and review of the best things to do!

Though I haven’t lived too far south of the metro for most of my life, and while I have been to Crown Center and seen a few of the sites and activities at one time or another, there was still plenty I was missing out on. For the longest time, I was spending my vacation time, energy, and money outside of my own city, trying to see other places. Then I got it through my thick skull that I needed a vacation, pronto. When a local homeschooling week offer came across my inbox, I knew I needed to take the leap and plan a Crown Center vacation for my little one, whether or not we went during that week. There was just way too much family-friendly stuff for us to miss out on Crown Center!

Our staycation started on a Monday afternoon when we first arrived at Crown Center. We were staying at the Sheraton Crown Center in Kansas City. The Sheraton hotel is one of two hotels that connects directly to Crown Center, which is really convenient– you park once and that’s all you have to do the entire time, since you can essentially walk wherever you’d like to go.

I will note that, regardless of what anyone might tell you when you book your hotel, the parking is $16 per night. I’d initially been informed that it was $16 for the duration of the stay, so I wasn’t a happy camper. However, the Sheraton worked really hard to make it right, which was awesome of them. You’ll also want to note that when driving to the Sheraton, the parking garage has the address of the Sheraton on it, not the Sheraton hotel name– I drove past it three times looking for a parking garage that said “Sheraton.” Oops. Keep an eye out for the garage and you can’t miss it, but if you’re expecting a clearly marked Sheraton garage, you’ll run into problems like I did.

Looking for a great place to stay in KC? Check out this review of the Sheraton Crown Center!

At the front desk, I talked to the really awesome desk attendant, who actually happens to be from the small town right next to mine. Because Sheraton internet is $10 each night, I asked if there was anything he could do for me there, and he was able to waive that fee– the point there is that it never hurts to ask for an upgrade or a special something thrown in when you’re checking into a hotel. When I had booked my room, they actually had me on a lower floor, but when I got there, he was quick to tell me that another room on a higher floor was available, and we were moved up to the 28th floor! Zach loved looking at the amazing view from our window, and watching all of the buses drive by. I’m so glad we were able to stay on the 28th floor, because one of the best parts of our stay was the incredible view.

Even though an SPG rewards account can’t guarantee you upgrades, getting one is a great idea, because it’s free, and if you stay at any of the Starwood Preferred Group hotels (including Sheraton, Westin, and many others), you’ll earn points for your stays that can be redeemed for free nights or even airline miles– it’s worth joining the club!

Finally, the desk attendant also asked us if we’d like to forgo housekeeping. If you’re making a short stay, it’s a wise choice– you’ll get a voucher for $5 off at the hotel restaurants if you do! To me, if I’m staying just a couple of nights, I’m fine using the same towels and sheets. How many of us really change our towels and sheets every night at home? Housekeeping on a two night stay just isn’t necessary for me, and saving $5 is awesome!

Looking for incredible Kansas City pizza? This review talks about why Minsky's pizza is the way to go!

For dinner, we decided to order Minsky’s Pizza. Our thought process was essentially that we wanted affordable pizza that would deliver to our hotel, and Minsky’s did just that. Plus, I’d read some good reviews online, and Minsky’s has the distinction of being rated Kansas City’s Best Pizza since 1976– no small feat! While there were definitely other pizza places that delivered to our hotel with a wider variety of options (like a pizza/deli that had cake!), Minsky’s was by far the most affordable choice, and it’s high rating for gourmet pizza made it a must-try. For around $30 including tax, tip, and delivery, we got a large cheese pizza, a good sized order of breadsticks, and some breaded mushrooms. Not bad!

One thing to note that threw me a bit was that even if they ask for your room number on the phone, Sheraton does not allow the pizza delivery to go up to your room (it’s a safety concern). You’ll need to meet them in the lobby, so be ready– they call when they’re approaching and you head down to pick it up. I was totally unaware of this (because I’d stayed in other hotels where pizza deliveries go right to your room), so I wanted to share this detail.

Review of Sheraton hotel at Crown Center in Kansas City

Because the Sheraton has a mini fridge in-room, we were able to save leftovers for a midnight snack. We are a big fan of bringing our own snacks and breakfast foods along to cut down on the expenses that room service incurs (the Sheraton doesn’t have a complementary breakfast, but there is complementary bottled water and coffee in your room!), so we paired our pizza with grapes we had brought along.

After dinner, we decided to head over for a swim. The Sheraton has an outdoor pool, but it’s heated, meaning even when it’s chilly, you are able to go for a swim. To get to the pool, you need to go down to the Mezzanine level from your room, then go across a walkway and over to a small, gold elevator. That will then take you up to the health club, where you can take the stairs or another elevator up to the key-access pool. If you get lost, the front desk is always happy to give directions as to which elevators to take and where they’re at.

Kansas City-- sunset over Union Station, as photographed from the Sheraton Crown Center pool deck

One unique feature of the pool is the little tunnel– there’s an area where you can enter the pool indoors (no larger than a hot tub) and then swim out through a tunnel. In the cooler months, it helps you get adjusted to the water before hitting the cool air, and allows you to exit and enter in a heated room instead of the cold breeze. Plus, what kids don’t love swimming through a short tunnel? My big recommendation with the pool is to visit around sunset. Whether or not you choose to swim, the pool deck is the best place to watch the sunset– it’ll set just past Union Station, giving you an amazing view. We loved watching sunset over Union Station from the pool– it’s the perfect viewing place! Because the pool is open from 5am until 10pm, there are plenty of hours in the day for a dip in the pool.

I will note that, when we returned from the pool, we had thought we’d watch a little TV before bed. There’s very little children’s programming on the hotel TV, so if that’s part of your routine, I’d suggest just bringing some books to read or a device like we did, so we could Netflix on our Kindle. There is PBS, but that programming ends around 5 or 6pm, and then there’s Nick, but that programming ends fairly early before switching to Nick at Night, also, so definitely plan to bring a backup plan for kiddos.

Overall, we had a wonderful experience at the Sheraton hotel, and definitely plan to stay there again the next time we’re in Kansas City. I’m also a huge fan of Minsky’s pizza now, and can’t wait until I’m able to grab those breaded mushrooms again– yum!


Stay tuned to hear more about our staycation adventure, with reviews of other great Crown Center hot spots like Legoland, Sea Life Aquarium, and Fritz’s Railroad Restaurant!